Big Smile’s New Home
Getting around the Pacific Northwest often means by ferry. Having landed at 2 AM on August 13th, at Sea-Tac International Airport, and catching just a few hours of sleep, we were ready to find Big Smile. I had set up an account with the Washington State ferry system and with reservation in hand we drove onto the ferry for the trip to Sidney, BC. It was a pleasant hour and three quarter ride through the San Juan Islands.
Our marina in Sidney is only several minutes from the ferry terminal. It took much longer than that to disembark. We ended up being the very last vehicle to enter the customs gate and with our Vermont license plates it was obvious we were an anomaly. No issues though and minutes later we saw our new home.
Our arrival coincided with the haze from the fires burning throughout the northwest. There were fires on Vancouver Island, and many fires on the mainland. Tens of thousands of acres were burning and for about two weeks the air in Sidney was not pleasant. Our admiration and appreciation goes out to the many “smoke jumpers” from the States and Canada who fought the blazes for weeks and months.
It did not take long for us to assimilate. We learned quickly that Vermont plates provoke conversation in parking lots, that Sidney residents love their dogs, and most importantly, that everyone is friendly. The town of Sidney, with a population of just under 12,000, is a maritime community with lots of retirees. It also has many restaurants, three grocery stores, and everything else one would want within walking or biking distance of your boat. Victoria International Airport is actually in Sidney and only ten minutes away.
We only had two weeks to adapt, explore and provision before Tara, Andrew and Jordan flew in from DC for a week. They were the first guests for us to pick up at Victoria Airport. How easy.
A week is way too short to cover much ground. We did manage to get them to Victoria, Vancouver, Galiano Island, and Butchart Gardens. It was a fun, busy week and the weather was perfect.
It was already September when the kids departed and only a month left in our much shortened season in the PNW. There wasn’t enough time to do any long distance travel so we took some short excursions to try out a couple of the anchorages that had been recommended by our dock neighbors. We really enjoyed Salt Spring Island and its funky waterfront. We anchored there twice. We had been told about a small anchorage near Butchart Gardens, Todd Inlet. We liked it so much we stayed a few days. You can dinghy or kayak over to the Gardens from Todd Inlet and tie up at their dock. We had bought a year pass on our first Butchart visit so subsequent visits were free.
Not all was roses at our marina. In early September while we were out riding our bikes a major accident occurred. A transient in a large, 60 foot power boat, was trying to back into a slip on our dock. Somehow he jammed the throttle forward using a wireless remote and plowed into several boats on the opposite dock. We arrived about 20 minutes after it happened and what a mess. Fortunately nobody was seriously hurt considering it was a 50 ton vessel.
The month of September passed really quickly. With a week left before our drive back to Vermont we had a lot of arrangements to make. Big Smile was spending the off season “winter wet”. The water at the marina never freezes and temps rarely go below the freezing mark. However I was nervous about leaving her in the water for such a long period of time. Vermont is 1000’s of miles away and we needed people we could trust. Our slip on F Dock proved valuable in many ways. There were other Selene’s spending the winter as well as numerous other trawler type boats in the same size range as ours. All of our neighbors, up and down the dock, were very friendly and helpful. They gave us names of service companies and many other helpful hints. While it was sad to leave we felt like we had left her in good hands.
On September 30th, with our Subaru stuffed with clothes and equipment, we drove onto the Washington State Ferry for the ride back to Anacortes. This ferry also stopped in Friday Harbor on the way back.
Our drive would take us on the northern route back to VT. All of it would be new to us. North Cascades National Park in Washington State was a beautiful drive despite the damp weather. Crossing the border back into Canada brought us to the Okanagan wine region. There are over two hundred vineyards and the region is home to more than 80% of all vineyards in British Columbia. We based ourselves on the south end of the region at the Hyatt Spirit Ridge in Osoyoos, BC.
Our next stop was supposed to be Banff, Alberta. We had reservations at the Fairmont Banff Springs which we were looking forward to. A very early snowstorm hit Banff National Park with up to 11 inches of snow. The Fairmont suggested we don’t drive up so we hugged the US border and drove 200 miles along Canada Route 3. It was gorgeous. The snow was in the higher elevations but the roads were clear.
The snowstorm that skunked us in Banff also prevented us from visiting Glacier National Park. Although some roads were open most were closed due to snow. Eastward we drove thru Montana and Wyoming on our way to Rapid City, South Dakota. Along the way we stopped at Devils Tower in Wyoming to visit this unique Laccolith Butte.
Rapid City was much larger than we expected. It is the second most populous city in South Dakota and known as the “Gateway to the Black Hills”. The Crazy Horse Memorial is a must see. I had read “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” in the spring so this visit was more fascinating than I expected. It is an ongoing project with decades of work ahead.
Not far from the Crazy Horse Memorial is the iconic Mount Rushmore. Conceived in 1923 to promote tourism, the actual carving commenced in 1927. The project was completed in the fall of 1941, shortly before Pearl Harbor. Project records show no fatalities during the construction. Having seen many photos over the years we were very impressed to finally see it up close.
While we were on the shuttle bus that takes you close to Crazy Horse the driver mentioned Needles Highway in Custer State Park. It was not a destination we had thought of but the drivers recommendation was spot on. The “Needles” portion of highway 87 is the northern 14 miles that winds itself through an amazing landscape of eroded granite pillars. The road was completed in 1922. The pillars are famous for its magical rock climbing.
Our plans were constantly changing and the next destination was not one I had considered. Cath wanted to visit Minneapolis. It wasn’t my idea of a fun destination but I was proven wrong. It was an easy, boring drive on I-90 and 610 miles later we pulled into the Minneapolis, Radisson Blu, parking garage. Right in the heart of downtown and connected to the Minneapolis Skyway the two night stop was a lot of fun. As we often do when pulling into a destination we look for a potential music venue. Cath found the Dakota Jazz Club. It is a small funky dinner theater several blocks from our hotel. Playing that night was Elvin Bishop, a blues and rock singer we listened to back in college days. Of course he had a new band and he was looking a little old but the music sounded good. In the audience was Wee Willie Walker who came out for two numbers. Smart phones have completely changed travel for us as we are able to make reservations on the fly.
Minneapolis is a very walkable city and the Skyway makes it more doable especially in the cold and rain we had while visiting. The skyway system is an interlinked collection of enclosed pedestrian bridges covering 80 blocks and 11 miles. We enjoyed it although we found the signage to be poor and often had to go to street level to figure out where we were. I suppose locals handle it better. There is an impressive sculpture garden across the highway. Fortunately a pedestrian bridge spans the 16 lanes. We had a fun time but I think the weather would get to me.
With the weather still raw and nasty we decided to head up the west side of Lake Michigan and spend a night near Mackinaw City. Another 500 miles brought us to the town of St Ignace just north of the Mackinac Bridge. From our hotel we were able to view Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
The next day we crossed the border back into Canada and headed to what we hoped would be a Maine type setting on the east side of Georgian Bay. Parry Sound, Ontario is a small shorefront community and is the birthplace of hockey legend Bobby Orr. We don’t see a need to return anytime soon.
Another last minute decision had us heading to Ottawa. This is a city we will return to. Our hotel, the Lord Elgin, is a large, limestone structure that opened in 1941. It has kept its grandeur and is centrally located. Unfortunately we only booked one night but we visited a few sites including the National Gallery of Canada and the Rideau Canal. Both were fascinating. The gallery had a special exhibit, “Anthropocene” which was chilling.
We had one last stop to make before the final push to Vermont. Clayton, NY on the St Lawrence River is located in what is known as the Thousand Islands Region. It is a small, somewhat historic town of about 5,000 people. It is home to the Antique Boat Museum, a place I have wanted to visit for decades. If you like boats and history this museum is the place to go. Of course we managed to arrive the week after they took the in-water boats out of the water. The museum buildings and exhibits were all open however and the collection is superb. I grew up knowing many of the brands and my dad rented Lymans, Glastrons, Grady Whites and more during my youth. Outboards were also a love of mine. We spent the morning visiting all the buildings. This is another place we will return to.
Back home in Vermont, 3,957 miles later. It was a fun excursion. Early winter weather sidetracked us in the beginning but our adjustments worked. Big Smile is resting easy, we hope, in her new home in Sidney. We have put our trust in several people in British Columbia to keep an eye on her. This will be the last post for 2018. Time for some winter sports.