Colorado Hospitality

Canadians are well known across the globe for their hospitable, friendly, and apologetic nature.  I’m sorry for stereotyping, but it’s generally quite true.  Canadians are genuinely concerned and adept to the state of happiness of our fellow Canucks or anyone else around for that matter.  With that said, I’ve found Colorado hospitality to rival that of most any Canadian experience I’ve had.  We’ve had the pleasure of experiencing 5 or 6 breweries, a few restaurants, as well as a few fuel stations.  At every one of which we were greeted with some of the friendliest folks we’ve ever come by.  Avery Brewing Co., as well as Asher Brewing in Boulder, Colorado, have some of the best staff we’ve ever encountered.  Not only was the beer fantastic, but the staff were incredibly welcoming and eager to help with anything we asked.  For example at Avery Brewery, we quickly realized that their substantial menu of beer ranging from 3.something % up to 16.9% was not ideal for those that wanted to continue trying everything that looked delicious and not drive themselves home after.  They did all they could to find us a way to get home (by home I mean Angela’s relatives place and the street on which our trailer was currently parked) with our dog who was waiting patiently in the truck.  That’s one of the perks of having dogs vs kids.  I find we aren’t judged nearly as much as a parent who goes to a bar and leaves their kids in the truck…

Unfortunately, in our experience, Boulder, Colorado has not developed quite the industry Saskatchewan and Canada have as far as designated driver services go that will drive you home in your vehicle.  Note for the future – business idea.  With that said, we did not stay at Avery long, opting to try out one more recommended local brewery, Asher Brewing.  Back home in Saskatoon, we have a few local microbreweries, one of which has become a bit of a second home.  Now this isn’t because of a serious disease known as alcoholism.  No, there are better reasons.  First of which is the regulars.  Prairie Sun brewery became a “Cheers” sort of local pub where you would walk in the door any given day and be greeted by name with friendly faces that you could sit next to for an hour or two and shoot the shit, whether you had one beer or three.  Asher Brewing had the same feeling.  It is a smaller place on the scale of Colorado microbreweries.  But it felt like Prairie Sun.  The bartender was friendly as could be, genuinely interested in our story of where we came from and what we were up to.  The Canadian I.D. tends to garner questions just about everywhere we go.  Imagine you are at work one day and a talking lama comes in and asks where to find a bathroom.  We feel like the lama.  For some reason, bewilderment is the first reaction, more often than not, when people realize they are in the presence of a Canadian.  Remember as a child when you first saw a rabbit or hare running through the streets?  And remember how you wondered if someone’s pet got out or if it escaped from the zoo?  We are the rabbits.  We really aren’t that foreign, yet we aren’t natural to the landscape.  Fortunately for us we have a common language with which to communicate and don’t simply run off scared.  And thanks to that common language we and the rabbit spotters in Colorado have found that we aren’t really that different.  In fact, this place feels like home.  It feels like Canada.  That is a compliment, Colorado.  We really like it here!

Having spent a couple weeks for family time with Angela’s Aunt, Uncle and their two kids over Christmas, it was time to hit the road.  The Great Sand Dunes National Park was the next target on our list.  As we left Boulder we made one last stop to fill up a few growlers at another great local spot.  Bob, who owned the brewery, Endo Brewing Co., came to check out the trailer and gave us a recommendation for somewhere to see on the way to the dunes.  Salida, Colorado.  We followed Bob’s advice and made a quick detour.  Well, not much of a detour.  More like a different route.  All I can say is Wow!  The province of Colorado just keeps on giving.  After a roadside nap overnight just south of Colorado Springs we hit the road early well before the sun came up.  After an hour drive South, we headed West out of Pueblo, Colorado, and wound our way into the mountains again.  Along the surreal, red rock canyon drive into the hills we saw signs for Royal Gorge Park.

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A place not on our radar or one that we were even aware of became our new next stop.  And what a stop it was.  A small tourist village made up of dinosaur exhibits, rock and gemstone stores, and even a cowboys and Indians store (a bit shocking considering the times).  Through the village and up a winding road we found the parking lot just as the sun was starting to rise over the hills behind us.  It was a beautiful sight watching the red peaks ahead slowly be bathed in bright orange light.  We opted to hit some trails recommended by the park ranger at the gorge bridge, rather than paying the fees to walk across the bridge.  Always looking down so not to trip on a rock or step on a cactus (which were everywhere) we made our way to the gorge’s edge, taking over a viewpoint occupied by a couple bighorn sheep just before we showed up.  Standing a good way above the bridge, I think we had what may be the best view of it all, short of down in the steady little river that lay below, or through the windows of the train that runs along it.  Sheer red walls rise straight up from the edge of the water and the edge of the tracks hundreds of feet.  We didn’t venture to close to the slippery shale covered edge for fear of going over.  How the bighorn sheep navigate those cliffs seems to defy physics.

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On the road again, after the Royal Gorge stop, we continued West through one of the most scenic canyon drives I’ve ever had the pleasure of cruising.  It’s not quite as fun in a truck with a 30 foot trailer in tow as it would be in car or on a bike, but I loved it no less.  Along side the same river that snakes through the Royal Gorge, we wound through 40 miles of scenic, tight, red canyon walls all the way to Salida.  And what a cool city it is.  A mix of Mexican style clay wall homes, typical last 30 year North American homes, and a lot of century old brick English style architecture gave Salida a very unique vibe.  And the people matched.  Thought I didn’t get out for a ride here, we stopped at a local bike shop for a few tubes and advice on trails.  Incredibly helpful is all I can say.  Before leaving town a quick stop at a roadside winery we spotted, Vino Salida, to sample some mead (honey wine) and wine.  I did a flight of mead samples.  I don’t think “flight” is how you refer to wine tastings, but it’s what I know so that’s what we’ll call it.  Angela sampled a “selection?” of wines, and eventually left with a bottle of red something.  Maybe I’ll tell you how it gave me heartburn later, or Angela will tell of how it made her evening…   we’ll see.

We didn’t stick around Salida long, heading South towards the sand dunes, but stopping at another national forest free campsite.  Poncha Pass.  What an incredible place.  We left 3 degree Celsius weather, climbed 2500 feet, and were welcomed with a wide open plateau full of sun and 10 degree bake setting.  The bike came out, shorts went on and Corona’s were opened.  Let the tropical holiday begin!  After a quick loop on the bike around the off-road trails up and down a few adjacent hills it was back to the campsite for a sweater, pants, and the reality that, despite the warm afternoon, we were still at 9000 feet elevation in January.  The sun dropped over the mountains to the West with a glowing goodbye, followed shortly by a full, low moon rising in the East.  Darkness was skipped.  The whole landscape was lit by the moon to the point you could read.  What a scene!

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The next two days were more of the same, except for one adventure.  The typical homebody, Gus, decided to try to catch something.  A chase ensued, Angela on foot, and me not quite out of bed yet.  Eventually, I hopped in the truck and started to look.  Roughly 25 minutes later he was caught with a team effort and brought back to camp.  He will be leashed from now on…

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Hitting the road

Colorado wasn’t the first stop, but it was the first stop beyond a Wal-Mart parking lot or a roadside sight that demanded more than a drive-by “Hey look!  Oh you missed it?  Oh well.”  It was/is the first real stop, other than Devil’s Tower, which was incredible!  Forgive the grammatical past tense and present tense contradictions.  I write this recalling what happened as it happens.  If that doesn’t make sense it’s because it doesn’t.

Colorado is the first real stop.  Everything up until now since leaving Canada has been a step on the way here.  It started with the border.  Neither of us have had anything to be afraid of crossing a border in the past but this is different.  We are towing a trailer that’s 45 years old with no visible serial number, registered as something it isn’t because nobody knows what it is, peppered with bullet holes.  Add to that we have 4 dogs with us entering a country with security that is at an all time high, with inaccessible compartments in the trailer.  I’ve watched a few episodes of Border Patrol and have seen people’s setups ripped apart for less to justify this fear.  The process was surpisingly  smooth though.  The usual questions of “do you have any firearms?” or “any drugs or alcohol?”  to which our answers were yes and no respectively.  Of course we brought along some of our local brewery’s finest fun juice.  And then they asked about food, plants and so on, specifically dog food.  We admitted having about a 1/3 bag of dog food with us, to which we were asked if it contains any lamb or pork.  I’m not sure why that would matter other than maybe some little known disease concerns.  Of course we said “no, pretty sure it’s bison”.  The border agents asked for trailer keys and went back to take a look for themselves.  Upon returning they welcomed us to the country and wished us luck on our trip!  The sense of relief after that was almost overwhelming.  High fives were exchanged between Angela and I and at least one dog.  The other good high fiver was in a kennel (Jake the asshole) and unable to exchange accolades.  We were over the moon.  The adventure has officially begun!  Fast forward 4 hours and it’s time to feed the dogs.  We pull out the bag of bison dog food to see there is no bison at all.  The first two ingredients are pork and lamb!  I wonder what they actually looked at in the trailer?

I’m not sure what I was expecting but for some reason I was surprised to see that Montana looked a lot like the Saskatchewan we just left.  Maybe the high of the start of an adventure deluded me into expecting something completely foreign.  It wasn’t.  Not at the start at least.  But as I stopped counting kilometers and started to count miles it started to change.  The endless flat landscape began to roll.  The horizon became pock marked with brown pimples.  The scenery was changing.

Along with the scenery I noticed the quality of road had changed.  Saskatchewan roads are well known for being some of the smoothest in the universe.  That is when compared to the cratered surface of the moon.  When it comes to North America smooth is not a word I would use to describe them.  It’s typical in other provinces to hear complaints about drivers from Saskatchewan, but it’s not their fault.  I’ve spent a lot of time in a vehicle mostly as a driver, but also as a passenger in multiple provinces.  One observation I’ve made is that when someone displays any sort of below acceptable driving behavior the immediate reaction is to look at the plate, and then the person.  “Damn Alberta drivers” or “of course it’s an Asian woman”.  Well Saskatchewan drivers get as bad a rep as anyone else.  But there is a reason for it.  We drive like we’re lost looking for a street sign everywhere because we’re actually just trying to navigate potholes.  Even if the road is smooth, I believe it has become genetically engraved.  That said, as I realized all I had to do was keep it between the lines I began to observe my surroundings more and enjoy the new sights I was seeing.  Montana is a beautiful state!

The rolling hills slowly grew tall.  And the smooth rolls began to tear apart exposing sharp cliffs of brown sand supporting tufts of yellowish green grassy bushes looking ready to fall over the edge.  The further south we drove the bigger the cliffs grew and more jagged the hills formed.  Soon it became layered sand towers sticking up 50 feet tall from a monotone desert looking field.  With no water in sight.  So what force shaped this place?  Water did.  Millions of years ago.  The entire landscape we were taking in was formed by ancient seas at a time so far past I can’t even associate it with time as I understand at all.  It’s a humbling thought.  To think our presence there is not even a blip in history.  And yet the current impact in my own history I will never forget.

As we continued winding our way South through Montana the sandy towers changed back to rolling hills and back to sandy towers again.  Dry creek beds were lined with ancient looking trees that rose 80 feet in the air, dwarfing large barns.  Many of the leafless trees looked like they’d been through hell twice at least.  The 15 degree weather likely tricked the mind into expected fall leaves but none were seen.  Instead what stood were ragged broken, fallen and regrown relics that appeared burnt.  Dinosaurs not buried with many dead neighbors lying about.  Who knows the last time they had water was.  Soon though we saw green again.

The hills on the horizon grew spikes.  Pine trees started to scatter about the landscape providing some much missed color.  And the ground was stained red in places.  We’re close to Wyoming now.  Within minutes of crossing the border it’s as though a page has turned.  We are almost instantly in a mountain pass winding through spindly pine forest and trying to focus on the road while spotting deer around every bend.  This is more like it.  Something about being in the mountains just feels like home.  Always.

The real work begins…

Anybody that has done any do-it-yourself type of renovation or construction project will relate to my next statement.  Everything is more work than you think it will be.  Of course, there were aspects that went incredibly smooth, but even those took more time than expected.

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Pre-gut Video Tour of Trailer

As far as the condition of the trailer goes; remember when I said at first glance it wasn’t that bad?  Well, subsequent glances really started to contradict that statement.  A few pieces of the aluminum sheet that lined the walls were loose.  They were bent up and dented so the intention was to replace them, and now that we owned the trailer we could remove said panels and look in behind the walls.  What hid there was nasty.  Mice had made a home.  And I learned that mice will shit where they sleep.  With one panel off we could see the mice and their shit carried on behind the next one, so down it came too.  And the next one, and the next one, and the next one.  It became apparent very quickly that we would be gutting the trailer shell completely.  Haz-mat suits and masks were donned and the demo began.  The cabinetry was removed as well as appliances, water tank, water heater, furnace, shower and so on.  You get the idea – everything.  Everything was cleaned and treated with a kill all type spray to which I can’t recall the name of.  Typically, demolition work in a home can often be done with a few basic tools (Sawzall, hammer, big pry bar) and brute force.  Aluminium trailers are nothing like that.  Everything, and I mean everything, is secured, joined and fastened using rivets.  Lots of rivets.  Did I mention that shit loads of rivets were used?  I could happily go through the rest of my life without touching another rivet.

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With the walls all stripped and the trailer empty the next logical step was to repair the floor.  Fortunately, there were no rivets used on the floor.  But that is not to say that the floor wasn’t a royal pain.  It may have been one of the most difficult components to repair.  And now, with all the cabinetry removed we could see the condition of the entire floor.  Sitting for years, not covered, with broken roof vent covers allowing in all the elements it is not how I would suggest one store a camper they intend on using again one day.  All around the perimeter, there were soft spots and signs of rot.  The original 5/8” plywood all had to go.  We began that pain-staking process.  5 feet at a time a process of steps was followed and repeated.  The original construction of the trailer before any indoor buildout went as follows; build frame out of steel, lay thin fiberglass insulation across the top of the frame, cover the frame with plywood and screw down, drop upper shell onto plywood and secure upper shell through plywood and into the steel frame below.  So here lied the problem.  We did not have the means to lift the upper shell off the floor.  Many professional restorers will do just that.  And it makes sense because it really would be easier, if you could.  But we couldn’t.  5 feet at a time we removed the plywood, chiseled and broke it out from where it sat under the walls, supported the walls while we cleaned up everything below, including a squirrel’s winter stash.  I hope he’s doing ok.  The squirrel that is.  He had at least 2 lbs of sunflower seeds stashed below in the floor and I think he may have been sleeping there.  He certainly didn’t shit there.  I like squirrels.  Mice, not so much.  After a week or so we had the floor replaced with new 5/8” plywood, new r20 insulation below, and repaired a few broken welds that tied the cross supports onto the main front to back frame rails.

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With the floor mostly done and a flat surface to stand on again it was time to look at electrical and plumbing.  Just like a regular home, these items need to be completed before any walls are closed in or new cabinetry is installed.  Fortunately for me, I’ve met some great people through the years that were both excited and willing to help with the aspects I’m not well-versed in.  Electrical and plumbing would be what I’m referring to.

Fraser, who own NextGen Automotive and is a shop neighbor came through and did all the wiring except for the 120V wiring.  Starting with the exterior, all marker lights (18 I believe), which were a mix of numerous assorted styles as they’d been slowly replaced over the years, were replaced with new LED lights.  The original taillights were disassembled, cleaned up, repaired and re-installed.  All wiring associated with those lights, the trailer brakes, a new break-away kit, and the harness was replaced and re-wired with a new harness to connect to the pickup.  Cory, from Rooter Man, also a shop neighbor, came over and replaced the old propane lines and installed new regulators for the tanks as well as shutoffs prior to each appliance (water heater and furnace).  And I did the 120V wiring.  In a later write-up, I’ll detail all the electrical components and a review of their performance after we’ve had some time to use everything.

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With the “behind the walls” work is done we were ready to start finishing the inside.  But first, insulation.  The trailer appears to have been spray foam insulated from the factory.  Impressive for 1973.  I feel though that it was less about insulation and more about providing rigidity to the aluminum walls.  It worked.  It held up quite well over the years but was thin in many places.  We called in a spray foam company to top up the spray foam and try to fill the 2” thick walls as best as possible.  And of course, that didn’t go smoothly either.  We were experiencing slightly cooler than ideal temperatures so the foam didn’t set quick enough.  It pushed all our wiring outwards instead of setting around it.  It ran and pooled and cured in grapefruit size lumps, most of which would have to get cut off.  I need a beer break.

Soon the fun stuff begins…

The start of things to come

Building a home is no easy task.  In fact it’s an assembly of numerous not so easy tasks all performed by people who’ve spent years learning and honing their skills.  In part I’m sure that’s why it looks easy.  But as I said, it isn’t.  And yet despite knowing full well that it wouldn’t be easy we decided to do it, telling ourselves “we’ve got this, it will be easy!”  So with with the delusion meter set on full we jumped in and began the frustrating, tiring, maddening, infuriating, defeating and not the least of which; rewarding process of building our new home – on wheels.

It was sometime in June or July of 2017 when we decided it was time for an adventure.  We left the beautiful province of British Columbia in 2011, I think.  I really can’t remember.  I think that’s part of getting older?  So, let’s say in 2011 we moved to Saskatchewan.  At the time it was the land of opportunity in western Canada.  A booming province with good paying jobs was exactly what we needed to kick start life.  Make money, buy house, save for retirement and general adulting.  Fast forward to June 2017, or was it July?  The point is it’s been 6 years and we’ve made money, not bought a house, not saved for retirement, and the idea of adulting in some respects is less appealing than ever.  It’s time for a change.  We want to move back to B.C.  We are outdoorsy, mountain loving folk and we miss it.  B.C. will be home again.  Before it becomes that though we knew we needed a break.  We need to “find ourselves” again and put some perspective on life.  We need an adventure.  We need to spend time with each other and with our much-loved furry friends experiencing new things.  So, with that in mind we set out to travel and explore a bit of the U.S.A. prior to our move to B.C.

Planning for the Adventure

If it was just the two of us we’d throw a tent and the usual camping gear in the back of the truck and hit the road.  But it isn’t.  We have 4 dogs.  Yes, 4.  And none of them fit in Angela’s purse.  Erika, a 12-year-old black lab that thinks she’s 2. Jake is a 9-year-old Australian Shepherd – he’s awesome but he’s also an asshole.  Rubix is another Aussie, she is 5 and has the energy of 5 other dogs in her at all times.  And then there’s Gus.  Gus is a 2 or 3 year old Great Pyranese mix (border collie maybe?) that sort of landed in our lap and has stayed, and he’s scared of the world.  Jake is a jerk to Gus.  So we needed an adventure home for the next 5-6 months that would comfortably accommodate 2 adults and 4 dogs (1 asshole).  We began looking at travel trailers that would work with some minor modification such as removing the dining table and putting some kennels in place.  We found a few that would have worked but upon closer inspection each had issues such as soggy floor, leaky roof, rotten walls and so on.  Then we came across a 1973 Streamline.

“Hey Dylan check out this Airstream!”  Angela has a thing for Airstreams and VW camper vans.  I thought they were cool but I was skeptical.  The ad said things like “great shape” and “all original”.  I didn’t really want or have time to get into a big project.  In July we discussed leaving at the end of October.  So that was only 2-3 months to get our shit together.  We had to deal with our possessions, be it selling or storage or whatever, wrap up work, find a trailer, modify trailer, get the rest of our shit together and get on the road.  Multiple times a day for weeks on end we were scouring the classifieds across 3 provinces looking for “the one”.  Finally in mid August I called the guy about his Airstream.  “Well it’s not actually an Airstream, it’s a Streamline”.  What the hell is a Streamline?  Well it’s what you think an Airstream is but a different brand.  “But it’s in excellent condition, all original, just has a couple bullit holes in it”.  Excuse me?  “Ya well it’s been in storage in a yard and some kids decided to use it for target practice.  But the holes are just in glass that can be replaced.”   So after many questions and a couple days of back and forth with assurances from the seller that it is exactly as he says it is, we agreed on a price and I sent him a deposit to hold it until we could make the 700km trip to pick it up.

2 weeks later we roll into High River, AB to pay the balance on the trailer and take our new future adventure home home.  We met the seller at his place and followed him a few blocks to the storage compound to see the trailer.  First impressions were good.  It appeared straight, the bullit holes weren’t as bad as I’d pictured in my head, the tires looked new, and it appeared to be in original condition.  Then we went inside.  The inside is where the “great shape” stopped.  At first glance it wasn’t too bad.  A few soft spots on the floor, mostly in the corners, appliances were rough looking (I still have no idea if they worked), the bathroom needed a serious cleaning, and it seemed the front 7 feet was missing whatever was supposed to be there (chairs? booth? couch?).  After a fairly thorough inspection Angela and I got back in our truck to discuss.  There was no way we were paying what we’d previously agreed to.  But it was cool.  It was really cool.  Thoughts of what it could be overwhelmed the reality of how much work it would be.  But we just drove 700km and the seller has a sizable deposit that I have a feeling he’d already spent.  So, we negotiated further until reaching a number I was comfortable with considering the extra repairs needed.  700km later we had the beast back home.  We were excited!  What did we get ourselves into?

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The real work begins.

to be continued…