Montana road trip – day 1

We hadn’t set out to sleep in the car on our first night on the road trip, but that’s what happened. Lesson learned.

The plan was simple, drive 1000 Km to meet up with Ward from Belgium who was volunteering at a Scout Camp on an island in Flathead Lake Montana. Being in Canada has led to some interesting adventure situations, and last years Oregon solo road trip by bike was to be followed by a car journey, this time with Lesley.

A tentative route was agreed. Day one, south of the border and across Highway 2 to Leavenworth, Washington. Unfortunately we left home late and had decided not to book a room anywhere, just to be flexible. We reached Leavenworth and were frankly struck by the bizarre nature of coming across a Bavarian town in the middle of Washington State, USA.

We walked the streets with jaws dragging along the paving trying to figure out what the point was . The town website has the answer. The place was in decline and it was actually in the 1960’s that a decision was made to make Leavenworth in the Bavarian image hoping to make the place a tourist destination. They’ve succeeded, that’s for sure. Leavenworth was booked out solid. So were all the other local places including the far larger Wenatchee. The plan had to change and as night fell, 9pm became midnight and we still hadn’t found a motel with space.

We hadn’t set out to sleep in the car on our first night on the road trip, but that’s what happened. So it was that somewhere along I90 we pulled over in to a rest area and along with a few other cars, trucks and big rigs, parked up for what was left of the night. Not the most auspicious of starts to this year’s road trip.

Changing the commute

I’ve recently changed the commute. The second car has gone and in it’s place is transit and a scooter. It’s been a mixed experience, but on the whole a good one.

After a year of driving to and from Richmond I decided that I’d have enough of the line-ups along the Mary Hill Bypass and to get across the Queensborough bridge. A change was needed. It’s amazing how quickly one’s perspective changes. My final UK job involved a two and a half hour each way commute, not getting home until around 8pm. After a year of travelling to Richmond, I’m fed up with travelling for around 1 hour. Actually, another factor in the decision was the cost of running a second car.

Kymco Frost scooter

The commute scoot. 175cc, good for 100kph (downhill, blah blah) and a great way to commute in the summer – a welcome break from transit. Despite the cost of fuel being around 2/3rds of UK prices, when the maintenance and insurance are added in, the whole 2 car thing becomes a financial drain, or maybe more of a dollar diversion as the funds could be spent, saved or donated elsewhere. However, I wasn’t expecting to make the change quite as soon as I did.

My employer is moving from Richmond to Vancouver in November of 2010 and this was always going to be the prompt to review my commute. One weekend in May I decided that I’d sell the 2nd car. As the car was a manual transmission (we were a bifocal family with black and silver Focus’s/Foci?) and let’s face it, manual transmission and North America are 2 terms that don’t sit together comfortably, my thought was that the car could take an age to sell. So, on a warm Saturday morning I took a few snaps, and the Focus was duly put up for sale via Craigslist.  I was not expecting to be car-less by the end of the weekend. First viewer, close to the asking price and that was it, no car.

So began a month of transit which became and still can be a slog. Life from Lesley to Loughheed or Braid Skytrain. Skytrain to 22nd St. Bus to work. The transit journey can be around an hour a a half, longer than by car, but at least I can sleep. During this time I developed a Plan B. Scoot.

Looking upstreamI’d actually ridden my Ducati to the office a couple of times and as much fun as it was, the journey home was very heavy on the clutch hand as traffic could be very busy through New West. Wouldn’t life be easier with a scooter, no clutch and very manoeuvrable. Having decided to go for it I found myself torn between a classic Vespa and the modern Kymco Frost. In the end, the Kymco won out as I couldn’t justify the Vespa price tag and I managed to find a year old Kymco for a good price.

So, I now have options. The scoot’s a real hoot and I’m smiling on the ride. Not only that, I’m exploring other routes to work to keep me off the highways. My recent find has been River Road in Richmond. On a sunny morning, or late afternoon, the ride along the bank of the Fraser is wonderful, peaceful, scenic and a word away from the bustle of Highway 91.

I’ve changed the commute and it’s actually for the better as I’m smiling more and I get the chance to stop and take pics like the ones below.

New wheels, old wheels

When we bought our first car here it was clear that new tyres would be needed on the front of the car fairly soon. The great day arrived and it was one of shock and awe. Okay, the Focus had after market rims fitted, however, I really wasn’t expecting replacement tyres to require a mortgage to purchase. So it was either bite the bullet and pay $250+ per tyre or think out of the box.

New rims on the Focus

The answer was a return to rather boring, factory fit alloys together with stock size tyres. The rims actually came from a used car parts dismantler (scrappy), Ralph’s, and were a pretty good price. Ralph’s turned out to be like an old school scrappy. I stepped out of the car in to a pool of oily water, the yard was surrounded by wooden fencing and the office was full of guys up to their armpits in grease – this is used car parts as it should be. My mind flew back to days of rummaging around scrap yards for that illusive bit, clambering up a couple of levels of stacked cars and hoping that they didn’t over-balance whilst you tried to remove a coil or similar. I can vividly remember one visit to a yard in Essex with my cousin. I bought an indicator column and he wandered out with a limb caused by the hidden shock absorber under his overall’s.

I didn’t get to see the yard itself at Ralph’s as my replacement rims were already waiting for me when I arrived. Now that’s good service. So, I was spared the complete trip down memory lane and to be honest it was rather pleasant not to have to contort the body around stacks of rusting metal.

So, rather than spend mega-bucks on new tyres I replaced rims and tyres for less than the price of 4, 17″ tyres.

The result is a car that looks less cool (can a Focus look cool?) but actually runs smoother and gets better mpg. Oh, and one more thing. It’s still the normal thing to rotate wheels over here, something I can’t remember having done in the UK for 20 years. I suppose this goes back to the days when rear wheel drive cars were prevalent and tyre wear could be evened out. However, with most cars now being front wheel drive, why on earth spend time and sometimes money rotating rims? I’m really not sure of the benefits.


An old Sunbeam or Horizon

On my back from Ralph’s I had to take a snap of what some may recognise as the rear end of an old Talbot Horizon (albeit in it’s Dodge form). This car must be around 25 years old and is pretty typical of some of the old cars I see on Canadian roads. Before leaving the UK I used to feel that my 7 year old car was, well, rather past it by UK standards.

Over here I see plenty of 20+ year old cars in daily use. Of course there are lots of newer models as well, but I truly haven’t seen so many 1980’s cars in regular use for 15 years or so. I’m not certain if that indicates a lack of car culture, maybe the car is more often seen purely as transport or maybe Canadians like to get what they can from their cars, bearing in mind the daft prices of used vehicles.