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A floatplane adventure

I love planes. I love airports, I love take-offs and landings, I love flying.

It might have started with my aunt – she was a flight attendant for Air New Zealand and sent us postcards from all over the world. Or it might have been my Dad’s love of airshows (I was that kid who begged everyone in the line-up for helicopter rides if I could sit in their lap because kids could ride for free with an adult.) Or it might have been our family excursions to the airport to watch the trainee pilots doing touch and goes.

When we came to Canada, I had a picture in my mind of what it would be like – mounties (thanks to Due South) and floatplanes (thanks to the season of MacGyver when he lived in a floating home in Coal Harbour). In reality, the only time I see mounties is at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (it’s a tradition, he dresses in uniform every year). Floatplanes, on the other hand, are a part of the landscape in Victoria. And yet I’ve only been on one once – now twice!

A few weeks ago I had to go to Vancouver for a work meeting. I was dreading the usual ferry trip. It’s a 30-minute drive, 90-minute sailing, and another 30-minute drive, plus traffic and ferry waits. I don’t mind it when we’re in Ginger (the van) and on holiday, but it’s not so fun going there and back in a day. Then a colleague mentioned the option of taking a floatplane, and suddenly the trip didn’t seem like such a chore.

On the day of my big adventure, I arrived at the floatplane terminal, checked in, and pretended to be cool and jaded like the other passengers who frequent the Harbour Air flights. But my inner 10-year-old was bursting with the joy of it.

When I climbed aboard, the pilot asked if anyone would like to sit up front. Expecting everyone to be clamoring for the chance, I politely waited a couple of seconds (it’s a Canadian thing).


“If no one else is keen, I will!” I said. Forget trying to be cool.

A woman across the aisle smiled at me. “Go for it.”

And that, my friends, is how I found myself up-front with the pilot, wearing headphones and a grin as wide as the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on the trip of a lifetime.

The best laid holiday plans… (part 2)

If you didn’t read the first part of this post, you might want to do that before reading on.

So, where were we up to? We were in Olympia with Ginger, and the mechanic had suggested that rather than continuing on our trip to San Diego, we drive Ginger home. When you’re on holiday, is there anything worse than turning around and going home?

But that’s what we decided to do. Using the trusty smartphone, I made reservations for the first ferry to Victoria the next morning and the last ferry to Port Angeles later that same day. And then we drove Ginger back to Port Angeles.

Since we were, in theory, still on holiday, I suggested we sleep in the Walmart parking lot for free, just to see what it would be like. Patrick wasn’t convinced we’d get any sleep with the bright lights and cars coming and going at all hours, but we actually slept well – worn out from all that thinking and planning, I guess. We even slept through a visit from the local county sheriff, who left us this note under the wiper.


The next morning, we caught the ferry home. Patrick changed the oil in the car and I did a load of laundry (exciting stuff!), and then we headed back down to the ferry for our second trip across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. To my surprise, at the ferry terminal, there were no 20 questions about arriving in the van and leaving in the car – no one even blinked, not the ferry people or the customs/immigration officials.

That night we hoofed it down to Portland. And the following day, we drove through a snow storm to San Francisco, where, I have to admit, I hyperventilated when the hotel’s front desk person told me there would be an additional charge of $49 a night to park in the hotel parking lot. Patrick sent me “the look”, the one that says “if you have a meltdown, I’m going to pretend I’m not with you”, (actually, he says it was more a “don’t worry, it’ll be fine” look), and so I managed to choke out the required “okay” and hand over my credit card. But it was worth it, to wake up on Christmas morning and wander across the street to Boudin for breakfast.

Coffee and almond croissants

Coffee and almond croissants

We spent a delightful day and a half in San Francisco, soaking up the sunshine, walking for miles and miles, and catching all the different forms of public transit – streetcars, cable cars and buses.

Next stop, San Diego…?

The best laid holiday plans…

We were really looking forward to getting away over the Christmas holidays this year, not that that’s really any different than any other year, but this year we had A PLAN. We were organized, sort of.

The Plan: Drive down the west coast of the US, camping at various state parks, to San Diego, where we would stay with friends for a few days before heading home.

We started out on a Friday afternoon with a ferry trip to Port Angeles. Once we were through customs, we took a quick detour to the supermarket to buy food, and then we drove off into the dark in search of our first campground – Sequim Bay State Park. The weather was pretty squally, not yet raining, but windy for sure, so Patrick attached our newest van accessory – the Wasserstopper – which is like a tent fly for the pop top. That worked a treat, keeping us dry and warm all night.

The next morning we hit the road heading south. A storm had swept in during the night and the rain was bucketing down, so when we plowed through a particularly deep puddle and Ginger started to misfire, like the engine was going to die any minute, we figured some water must have got into the electrical system somehow.

All the way down highway 101 we talked through the possible causes of the misfiring, keeping our fingers crossed that it would either sort itself out or we’d make it to Olympia where there were mechanics and vanagon parts if we needed them.

By the time we got to Olympia we were pretty hungry, so I navigated to the Trader Joes and picked up some lunch, while Patrick went next door to the Barnes & Noble to use the free wifi. He’d decided that the problem might be with the distributor cap, wires and spark plugs, and thought we could find an automotive shop to see if they had the right parts.

Sadly they didn’t and there were no mechanics open on a Saturday afternoon, so we had to decide what to do next – carry on south and hope for the best, or stay in Olympia until Monday and get a mechanic to check Ginger. We chose the second option and found a hotel in town (yay for smartphones and mobile data plans!).

On Sunday, we had fun exploring downtown Olympia, with a coffee and treats at the delectable Bread Peddler (if you’re passing through Olympia, I highly recommend stopping in here!) We’d been hoping to have plenty of opportunities to get out for a walk, so having a whole day to wander round wasn’t such a bad thing, and anyway, we were ON HOLIDAY, so it was all good!

The Bread Peddler

The Bread Peddler

By Monday morning though, we were ready to hit the road. We got up early and arrived down at the mechanic’s shop at opening time – 8am – and lucky for us, Pete Lea was obliging and took a look. His immediate diagnosis was that the distributor cap needed replacing, as did the rotor underneath it. He said he could order the parts and get them fitted by lunch time. Two thumbs up! So we headed back to the Bread Peddler, of course, for coffee and more treats, and to read our books.

At lunch time, Pete called to say that the parts had arrived and that he’d fitted them, but that Ginger was still running rough. I can’t remember the exact order of what happened next, but by 4:30 he called us back to tell us the sad news that there was nothing more he could do. The thermostat needed to be replaced, but the nuts holding it in place were frozen and even heat couldn’t loosen them, and the oxygen sensor was also not working properly.

“I strongly recommend that you drive the van back to Victoria,” Pete said.

“Hmmm,” we said. “Maybe we’ll just leave Ginger here, rent a car for the rest of our trip to San Diego, and then pick her up on our way home.” Which wasn’t a bad idea, except that there were no cars available to rent until late on Wednesday. “Hmmm.” I’d promised our friends we’d be in San Diego by December 27, so we had to do something. Maybe we should fly?

To be continued…

Our first adventure in Ginger

For our first trip in Ginger we headed to the Sunshine Coast, to a charming campground recommended by some van owners we met in Victoria. Since we had to go over to the mainlaind to catch a ferry to the Sunshine Coast, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take Carlos to an avian vet in Vancouver, as well as to catch up with our long-time friends in New Westminster. As it turned out, it was the best decision—not only did we enjoy hanging out with our friends, staying in their driveway meant Patrick could replace the left front brake caliper, which had seized as we drove through downtown Vancouver in heavy traffic. Welcome to van life!

Once Patrick had fixed the van, and Carlos had visited the vet twice and we’d stocked up on bird medications to treat his suspected bone infection, we were off. We caught the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to the Sunshine Coast, and then cruised up the highway to the campground, with an obligatory stop in Roberts Creek for ice cream and coffee.

Creekside Campground was a good spot for our first night of real camping. We were just a short walk from a supermarket (where we bought a piece of New Zealand steak to go with our salad), Strait Coffee (good coffee and delicious raspberry bar!), and most importantly, a Canadian Tire, where we bought an electrical adapter so we could plug the van into the power (to plug in Carlos’ heat lamp and run the fridge).

We did a bit of exploring—a trip up to Earls Cove, a visit to Porpoise Bay Provincial Park (add this to your list for future camping trips!), and a lovely evening in Davis Bay eating fish and chips and watching the sun set.

Fun times!

Procrastination – tip #1

OK, I lied. There is no tip, just an admission:

Here I am writing a blog post when I should be:

  1. Working on the draft of my next book.
  2. Reading the first chapter of a friend’s new YA manuscript.
  3. Mailing my nephew’s long-overdue birthday present.
  4. Doing my taxes.
  5. All of the above…and more!

Instead, I offer you a selection of photos from our trip home from Saskatoon:

Alright, alright, you want a tip?

Try using Trello to keep track of all the things you should be doing.

Update: Nephew’s present mailed, chapter read, and some small progress on my book! Taxes – gah – that can wait until another day!

Road trip to Saskatoon

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always liked road trips in the car. I was that kid who would leap out of bed at 4am to wake up the rest of the family so we could hit the road by 5am for our annual trip to the big smoke. Not a lot has changed since then, except now we try to make it in time to catch the 5pm ferry off the Island on a Friday evening, to eke out our holiday and make every minute count.

There are lots of things to like about road trips – talking with your fellow travellers, watching the world spin by, listening to audio books, seeing things you’ve never seen before, experiencing the unknown and unexpected.

Not every trip is a smooth one. Sometimes you’ve got a sore back and you can’t sit still for more than an hour or two at a time, sometimes your parrot decides he’s had enough of the long drive and screams his head off until, in desperation, you cover him up and say “Birdy bedtime, birdy bedtime.” And sometimes the car breaks down and you end up sitting on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck and feeling grateful that you’ve finally done the sensible thing and bought yourself a down jacket so you don’t freeze in the 90 minutes it takes for the truck to arrive.

But this trip wasn’t one of those – fortunately!

Good weather, clear roads, and the Subaru hummed along after a fresh oil change, wheel alignment, new exhaust, reservoir filled with washer fluid good to -45° C, and a brand new set of Nokian winter tires.