Free Camping & the Long Drive Home

Heading North Across the United States

In our last blog post we were hanging out in northern Mexico, making excuses to stay ‘just one more day’. We were so reluctant to leave the gorgeous weather, colourful culture and delicious Mexican food.

The day we finally left to cross the border started out cold and overcast, making the decision to get moving a lot easier. A cover of rain and fog followed us through the mountains but as soon as we reached the open plains, the skies turned blue and we could almost see sunny Texas in the distance. We sailed through the US border, welcomed by one of the nicest border crossing agents we’ve met. Before we knew it, we were back in Laredo, Texas, stocking up on groceries at Walmart.

We always suffer a little reverse culture shock when we arrive back in the US and Canada after so many months in Latin America. It feels almost odd not to stick-out as a foreigner and to have everyone speaking English. It’s amazing how things change just by crossing a border. The roads are smooth, topes (speed bumps) are nowhere to be seen, there are no little roadside tiendas and big box stores filled with everything you could ever need (and more) abound. And, everything is all of a sudden about triple the price (CHOKE!).

I was starved as I wandered the aisles of Walmart and ended up buying so much food we could barely fit it all in the van. More than $100 US later, we decided that free camping for the night was a must and headed to the Laredo Tourist Information Centre. As mentioned in a previous blog, all Texas Information Centres let you park for free overnight and it’s a perfect option after a long day on the road. We parked Sally along the backside of the Visitor’s Centre and celebrated our arrival back in the US with Modelo beer, tortilla chips and salsa – a little ironic!

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We were on a tight timeline travelling back through the US and on a mission to camp for free as much as possible. Marc had done some research and thanks to freecamping.net and iOverlander, there seemed to be lots of good options along our route. In Mexico and Guatemala, we had become accustomed to driving no more than a cushy 3 – 5 hours per day. Our timeline through the US required at least 6 – 8 hours of driving per day, every day – a rude awakening from our snail-like pace. Suddenly, it was Speedy Sally!

Our route through the US took us through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Minneapolis. I’m proud to report – mission accomplished – we only had to pay for camping one night. Our free campsites included fishing camps, welcome centres and side streets. The fishing camps were fantastic places to spend the night and we found it hard to believe they could be free. With the exception of port-a-potties, there were no amenities but with Slow Sally, none are needed. She really earned her keep along this leg of the trip.

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Our only paid campsite was in Lake Thunderbird State Park, Oklahoma. It was a quaint campground with red earth, a blue lake and lots of wildlife. We spent some time hiking the trails and with an abundance of freshwater available, it was a perfect opportunity to give Sally a much need wash. We were loving this place until we discovered it was INFESTED with ticks. I swear it was like they were in the air. Even after we discovered them and kept out of the long grass, we kept finding them all over Walter and us. We retreated to the van and hid out for the evening, making a break for it first thing in the morning. The next day we were still finding ticks.

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We spent our last night in the US in Duluth, Minneapolis. With its’ location on Lake Superior, it’s a gorgeous spot with a really funky port area down by the water. We treated ourselves to a night out at… you guessed it… a Mexican restaurant! They had the best patio in town and great pints but I have to admit, after so many months in Mexico, the food was a bit of a disappointment. We camped overnight on a side street and spent the next morning exploring the water front trail. Apparently it was the first nice weekend of spring and locals were taking the opportunity to break out their shorts and t-shirts. It was warm, but not THAT warm! They were determined – I’ll give them that – shivering away but bravely sticking it out.

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Back in Canada

From Duluth, it was only a few hours of driving to visit Dad and Claire at their new little house in Thunder Bay, Canada. It was our first night sleeping in a real bed since the end of December. We felt totally spoiled with home-cooked meals, hot water showers and a real toilet. We went on a few short hikes during our stay and got a taste of how much natural beauty surrounds the city. Hikes were often followed-up by a visit to the Bean Fiend Café. I always love finding a new favourite coffee spot.

While in Thunder Bay, we also got to visit with two of my stepsisters, which was a real treat. Our stay was a perfect break from the road and after so many months away, it felt awesome to be with family. We spent 5 days visiting and it was actually a little hard to get back on the road and leave the comfy little house behind.

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Our first day back on the road, we planned to drive to Sault Ste. Marie, the halfway point between Thunder Bay and my Grandma’s house in Owen Sound. We got just past Wawa on when traffic stopped. We assumed it was due to construction so we waited. And waited. When people started parking their cars on the highway and getting out, we knew it was a bad sign. Apparently a culvert under the road had collapsed and the highway would be closed until at least the next morning. We backtracked 15 minutes to Old Woman Bay and decided to spend the night. I was super frustrated by the delay because I have no patience for these things. But, the view was spectacular and I reminded myself that this is what road trips are all about. As it turned out, it was one of the best boon docking sites of the trip.

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The road was still closed the next morning so we had to take the long, slow detour. It took us roughly 12 hours of travelling to get to Collingwood, just outside of Owen Sound. We spent the night camped out in the Blue Mountain Resort parking lot. Yes – they actually let you camp for free in the parking lot. We delighted in the fact that we were camping for free and enjoying all the same amenities as the other visitors, who were spending hundreds of dollars per night to be there. Ah, van life!

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We were in Owen Sound to visit my Grandma, Aunt and family and it just so happened to be Mother’s Day – perfect timing! We dropped Walter off at doggy day care so that we could do Mother’s Day brunch. It was the first time that we’d been away from him in 4.5 months. Our family was more than a little disappointed that we didn’t have the adventure mutt with us but unfortunately, dogs are not allowed at the Inn on the Bay! It was a short but sweet visit and we were so glad to see everyone.

One more night of camping outside the fancy Blue Mountain Resort, one more long day of driving, and we arrived home. I always have mixed feelings upon coming home after a big trip. There’s part of me that wants to keep living in the van… even if in the driveway! Another part of me loves having a real bathroom, a full-sized bed and a crate where we can leave Walter from time to time when we just want to do human stuff. Walter really misses the van and stares longingly at it in the driveway every time he goes outside.

The Next Adventure

Now that we’re back, we’ve got some big plans for Sally. Marc has already done some work to add extra storage space. Soon we’ll be mounting solar panels and hopefully installing a composting toilet. We plan to have all that work done by mid-summer, when we leave on our next big adventure. Where to? I’ll give you a hint: lobsters, ocean, red dirt and big tides!


6 thoughts on “Free Camping & the Long Drive Home

  1. Lobstets, ocean and big tides sounds like Maine, but red dirt does not… Now I am curious!
    So pleased to see you out there adventuring. Putting of “Stormy” seems like a good decision to me, and you’re giving Nicki and me ideas for OUR next adventure!

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    1. Glad to hear that we are giving you some travel ideas. Blogger goals! I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to put Stormy off… but for now travelling is a lot more fun than boat work 😉 We’re still hoping to accomplish some boat work at the end of the summer but we’re no longer in a rush to get her in the water. It will happen when it happens… hopefully! In the mean time, we can sail vicariously through you guys.

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  2. Hi Nathalie,

    What a great blog! I just love travelling vicariously with you … and your photos are incredible! I can’t wait for your next adventure to begin. For now, enjoy the down time.

    Cheers,

    Bev

    On Sun, Jun 3, 2018 at 9:47 PM Slow Sally Goes to Guatemala wrote:

    > nat h posted: “Heading North Across the United States In our last blog > post we were hanging out in northern Mexico, making excuses to stay ‘just > one more day’. We were so reluctant to leave the gorgeous weather, > colourful culture and delicious Mexican food. The day we ” >

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    1. Bev – I’m so glad you enjoyed the blog! We’re really enjoying being back in Wakefield for a bit but also excitedly planning the next adventure. Have you guys been to Wakefield since the new boardwalk’s been constructed? It’s amazing! Let us know if you come up this way for a visit and we’ll grab a coffee!

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  3. Another great blog and of course wonderful photos. I toured that Iron Boat you have in your photo, it was fascinating. For your teaser mystery I think you’re going to Nova Scotia, certainly a place known for it’s high tides. Thanks for taking the time and effort to share your travels with us.

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    1. Thanks Keith. And yes, you’re right – we’re heading out to Canada’s East Coast! We’ll be visiting the Bay of Fundy – huge tides – in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. For the red sand, we’ll be spending a few days in PEI visiting some friends. Leaving in less than a week. We’re pretty excited to be getting back in the van!

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