North West from Florida to the Canadian Border

27th June - 14th July June 2014

We hadn't been travelling long in the Florida heat before we discovered that Harvey's cab air-conditioning wasn't actually working. We were forced to use the old fashioned “2-60” cooling system, i.e. 2 windows open driving at 60 mph. It didn't help much and we spent a sweaty day en route to Andalusia, the one in Alabama that is, not the one in Spain. Here, fortunately even National Forest Service campgrounds were equipped with electricity hook-ups, allowing us to finally cool Harvey's interior while we took a long cool shower!

After our third time change and fourth state in three days, by the following evening we were well across Mississippi. We selected a National Forest Campground at Chewalla Lake and detoured off the, interstate. When we arrived early evening, we were a little perturbed to find the campground completely deserted on a Saturday. Was there something the locals knew about the site that we didn't? Still, undaunted, we set up camp.

Later we discovered that it was possibly the weather forecast which had kept other campers away! A violent thunderstorm had us enjoying the surreal spectacle of fireflies in lightning, but the pounding rain on Harvey's roof all night long didn't help us sleep. Neighbours who had pitched up after us, in a tent, went out for dinner but didn't return to their tent, sensibly opting for a motel instead!

By the time we were crossing the Mississippi River on apparently the only bridge left open, in Memphis, next morning, many of the city's streets seemed to be underwater, yet with the help of our trusty GPS, we managed to pick our way through, avoiding the worst of the traffic chaos.

Stuck halfway across the Mississippi.


Harvey gets chased by a dinosaur in Nebraska.

By the end of day three, we had crossed the 1000 mile mark and spent the night at Walmart in Clinton, Missouri.

Averaging around 400 miles a day in the baking heat was exhausting work and Norfolk, Nebraska, offered a welcome respite with their town campsite complete with electricity and showers.

The evening of day five found us at a campsite in the Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. It was finally time for a break from the hard driving. First thing the next day we took a tour of the Wind Cave, a massive hole in the ground which, despite having over 100 miles of known passageways, had only one tiny natural entrance when it was discovered by Alvin McDonald in 1890. The difference in air pressure inside and outside the cave created a fierce wind which blew the hat right off his head! Now a sacred site for the Native American population, tying in with their creation story where their people crawled from a hold in the ground, the entrance was surrounded with their offerings.

Wind Cave contained over 90% of the Earth's “boxwork” rock formations, making it a very important site to preserve.

Boxwork at Wind Cave

At Wind Cave NP campground

It was to be a day of holes in the ground. Despite its location less than 50 miles from Wind Cave, our second cave visit of the day, Jewel Cave National Park, was a very different type of cave. Discovered around 1900 by prospectors, the cave's walls lined with “jewels” made them think they had struck it rich. However the crystals lining the walls of Jewel Cave turned out to be mostly worthless calcite.

New passages were still being discovered on exploration trips by cavers in modern times despite the fact that over 170 miles of passageways had already been mapped.

To the bowels of the Earth!

These formations we christened “Oods”. Only Dr Who fans would understand!

Cave “Bacon”, rock formations at Jewel Cave.

One more night enjoying Walmart's hospitality at Sheridan in Wyoming and the end of our seventh day on the road got us to Montana, a total of 2319 miles. We camped at Fort Smith where a thunderstorm delayed Phil's fishing on the Bighorn River for a while.

Next day, 4th of July , we set off in our inflatable canoe to float from Afterbay to Three Mile Access. We set off in a confident mood, after all we'd floated this stretch on several occasions previously. However this time the water was much higher and much faster as it was being released much more quickly from the dam following a wet spring.

Bighorn river, waiting to wreak havoc!

Bighorn sunset

This day was fated not to be one of our better ones. Fish were hard to catch as we sped by in the fast current and a foolhardy attempt to deploy the anchor nearly ended in disaster! It failed to hold dragging along the river's bottom until, of course, we'd drifted into some rapids, where it bit hard, leaving us with wild currents streaming by on each side. This by itself wouldn't have been too bad, but by some unfortunate trick of fate, the anchor line was tightly wrapped around the inflation valve and managed to yank the stopper right out. Yikes we were sinking in the rapids!

A hastily deployed thumb-in-the-hole averted immediate disaster until we could rebung the hole. Then all that remained was for Christine, being in the stern of the boat, to heave on the anchor line, hauling the canoe, herself and Phil against the fierce current towards the anchor, to recover it. Once we had safely reached a nearby small island, a lie down was required!

To top off the day perfectly, we managed to lock ourselved out of Harvey-the-RV on reaching the campground. Naturally the secret accessible hidden key had been the one handed to the vehicle shuttle service and now lay inside on the dashboard. With the help and some tools of our friendly neighbours, were forced to break in. Luckily this was achieved with minimal damage but was surprisingly difficult.

Next day our float down the river was less eventful and far more calm. The seeds of the cottonwood trees lining the bank created a mini blizzard and the fish were more co-operative.

From the Bighorn, we headed north towards Helena to Holter Dam where we were joined at dusk by a family of Bighorn Sheep taking a drink from the river about the time Phil landed his first fish. The following day proved to be an excellent fishing day and soon Phil was running a fishing class for the friendly Shaffer family from Missoula, who rewarded us with an excellent cartoon of Phil and his student fishing and a bottle of wine.

The second day the weather was just as hot and the fish weren't quite so eager to launch themselves onto the hook but still two good trout were landed on dry fly.

Christine, meanwhile, wandered around enjoying nature and happened across a Goshawk which had just successfully preyed upon a hapless pigeon and had it pinned down to a tree, while nearby a nest of baby osprey looked on.

Hey, that bloke's stealing our dinner!

We were on a mission to get to Alaska soon, to maximise our time there yet were happy to take a detour to Kellogg, Idaho. Our friends the Frick family were in the process of relocating there from Florida and we were keen to stop by and find out what they were up to. Perhaps we would be able to help them out with their new project.

As it turned out there were no jobs we could help with yet, so Robin and Ryan leapt into action helping us out with a few jobs on Harvey. By the end of our stay at the Frick's, he looked like a new camper.

We did find time for fun, though. A road trip in their Jeep to check out a fishing spot Phil was interested in led to a picnic, followed by a visit to the town of Wallace, where we became guinea pigs for the trial run of a new tea and coffee shop due to open the next day.

Picnic with Ryan and Robin

This was only the selection of teas on offer at “Farm Girls and Flip Flops”!

We were happy to oblige and give feedback on the beautiful interior of the shop and the free beverages we were served. Our conclusion was that everything was just right and the “Farm Girls and Flip Flops” coffee shop was a hit.

We returned to Wallace a couple of days later for a Blues Festival, which we missed by a day but were able to enjoy another visit to the coffee shop.

The weather was extremely hot and we made good use of the town of Kellogg's beautiful outdoor swimming pool to cool off.

The fantastic Trail of the Coeur d”Alenes, a converted railroad, a total of 73 miles, passed right through the Frick's new home town and we enjoyed evening bike rides each day, once the temperature had cooled off a little.

On our last day with the Fricks before heading to Canada, we went on a joint trip, with our two R.V.s to the city of Coeur d”Alene.

Harvey and Bubba ready to head to Coeur d'Alene

Coeur d'Alene surprised us with its artsy feel and sunbathing beach beauties lining the edge of the lake. Once we'd had our fill of outdoors, we amused ourselves in a wonderful downtown toy emporium for a while before heading off in search of some lunch.

Whilst shopping at Pilgrim's Market for gluten free supplies for our trip to Alaska, we noticed that they served food in a small café. Intrigued by the Yak Burger on offer, we decided that this was to be our lunch venue. Only Phil was brave enough to try the Yak burger but everything we ordered from the menu was delicious.

Beautiful Coeur d'Alene lake.

It doesn't taste “yak”!

After lunch we parted ways with the Fricks and began to head for the border, the Canadian one that is. We made it through Spokane and camped at a beautiful lakeside spot at the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area at Kettle Falls. Roosevelt Lake was created with the damming of the Columbia River with the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam, completed in 1942.

Next morning we were headed for the border.....

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