While this is the first experience with a trip this long in this rig, the journey isn't new. We've done it four times prior, albeit with a smaller vehicle (two CRV's and a Volvo XC90), but this is the first with our rig. Two of the trips were without kids, but now we have a road-trip seasoned 10-year old who has travelled over 10,000 kms on road journeys and gone to South America.
The rig we have is a bare-bones, (almost) stock 2010 F-150 4.6L 3v 4x4, with 3.73 rear gears. It has roll-up windows, manual door locks, along with a Sony aftermarket DVD deck and backup camera. We run Goodyear Dura-Tracs (10 ply), use a Bak Industries Roll-X cover and have a Back Rack "modified" for the flotilla of bikes we seem to travel with.
Just a warning, Duluth thinks their hotels are worth a good night’s stay in Paris. They aren't "bike friendly" either, which meant sneaking a flotilla of bikes into a hotel. This isn't exactly what one wants after 12 hours of driving.
From here, we got stuck on detours and bad GPS directions that added at least six hours to the drive. We were fighting with our TomTom GPS and its updated interface, and with a map that seems to dislike the Great Lakes. The irony is that we've done this trip a few times, in the pre-internet days, without a problem. There's something to be said for using a real map.
After getting back on track, we were in the "Sioux" where we found a Marriott hotel that offered to help with the bikes AND put them in a special locked up area. Great service, can't say enough about that.
By Day 3 we arrived in Ottawa where we experienced one of those classic Ottawa Valley storms, which was incredible. Luckily, we were off the road by then.
Following the short stay in Ottawa, we headed south of Montreal to a quaint village called Hemmingford. This is less than an hour from Montreal but has some of the best road cycling that I have experienced, both in North America, and in Europe. Quaint country roads, little traffic, respect for bikes, and a coffee shop within 20 minutes, in every direction.
Hemmingford is a mix of retirees, Montreal commuters, agriculture (apples, tomatoes) as well as the strangest collection of animals in a drive-through safari called, "Parc Safari." This guy decided to get up close and take his time as we drove though. I can't imagine having this experience on a highway at night!
The gravel roads above are also just for cycling!
Riding requires fuel, and if you are ever near St. Raymond, I highly recommend visiting my good friend Hector (below) for poutine.
But as good things come to an end, so did the visit at the Auberge. We packed up all the bikes and headed back to the Trois-Rivières area to visit near Saint-Tite, which hosts Quebec's biggest cowboy festival Festival Western. I will definitely come back to see that! We scooted back to Hemmingford, as the area is just so nice, and then planned the trip up to Northern Quebec, headed for Rouyn-Noranda.
As an update, I should mention that the truck was running perfectly; it had a really thorough walk-through with two highly qualified mechanic friends from outside Winnipeg, fresh oil change, new battery any some gentle driving. We tried to keep the speed around 100-110 km/hr, with ample time to cool down during the hot drives. Fuel economy ranges from 10L/100km up to around 13l/100km. This is really quite decent, considering the drag on the back and it has the poor man's engine. The 4.6L 3V isn't going to set any land speed records, but I definitely agree with the thought of it being a relatively reliable, economical workhorse. It's not hard for this rig to get reasonable fuel economy, if I keep it around 97-100km/hr.
Following the quick visit in Rouyn, we headed for Thunder Bay via the northern route that included Matheson, Cochrane, Kapuskasing and Nipigon. Once again, the GPS took us off course. A bit of forward planning would have saved us three hours, which ended up causing some grief later that day.
The real excitement happened 150km north of Thunder Bay when we started getting dangerously low on fuel. We have a 130 litre tank and I am quite good at judging distances, but I made the mistake of not keeping topped up before the petrol-free stretches. We ended up stopping and paying $1.60/litre for a top-up to get us into Thunder Bay. And what else do they offer at the last chance service station? Nothing, they wouldn't even let us use the bathroom. Not even for a child who "really needed to go." One more reason to think about a better self-contained setup.
After rolling into Thunder Bay, we had an hour-long drive on some whacky gravel roads to a quiet little lake with a great view. This was a fantastic end to a really long day of driving, and what was at this point a 6,500km adventure.
From here, it was an early start and a hot day back to "The Peg". All told, it was a total of 7,500 km, over three weeks, three provinces and with quite a few lessons learned.
So what have we learnt?
1) Travelling like this can get expensive and having to rely on unpredictable lodgings isn't easy. So, outside the generosity of good friends, it seems that having portable lodgings, like a roof top tent or small trailer, keeps the costs in check and allows for greater flexibility. Having a place to hang your proverbial hat at night, wherever you want, makes a substantial difference on the old budget.
2) Crawling into the truck bed gets old really quick. The notion of a bed slide or tray system just makes so much sense. Luckily, one came our way following this trip.
3) Lighting is key both in the truck and out the front and back. The factory dome light just isn't enough. I welcome any suggestions for improvement or third-party solutions. For the front end, I did finally build up the courage to buy some DOT / SAE Legal fog lights, as my truck didn't come with any. With the help of a great local installer (electrical and tires), we now have superior lighting. I'm still trying to figure out what to do for bed lighting, maybe a few work lights, and a simple in-bed light. No decisions made on this yet.
4) iPhone-based GPS apps aren't all good. TomTom used to have a great, easy to use interface, but now it's overly complex with overview maps that aren't easy to use. In Canada, we found Google Maps to be top notch, but a dedicated GPS might be the answer for future expeditions. Better yet, not cheeping out on the aftermarket deck to begin with would have solved a lot of these problems. All this and a sturdy paper map to use as a fallback.
5) Having the ability to make a meal without relying on civilization close at hand is really useful. A simple cooler of food and a two burner stove can make it or break it when you have a truck full of hungry travellers.
6) Gas cans are your friend. After running low, even once, there's a realization that extra fuel can be a trip-saver. I am not sure where extra cans will be mounted, but we wont be travelling without them again. I estimate that one or two 20L gas cans will limp you along for a few hundred kilometres, which is enough to get back to Northern Ontario and civilization, or to an over-priced end-of-the-line gas station. Just don't ask to use the bathroom.
Modified rack to secure bikes upright. This setup relies on the use of a Bak Industries Roll-X cover.
Brian's rig resting over the long prairie winter.
What is this red light? Brian's turbo boost for travelling the long stretches of his route!
About the author...
Brian is one of our earliest supporters. He lives in Winnipeg (or WinterPeg as he often refers to it) and is frequently found biking and exploring the back country. We look forward to seeing more of Brian's rig as he develops it for his own personal needs and travelling.