SOWER projects run for three weeks with workdays from Monday to Thursday each week. In the last week the group leader meets with the group and answers some questions for a form that is returned to SOWER headquarters along with his answers to other questions. In a senior moment I filed that report on the second Thursday of the February project and received a reply in the afternoon e-mail thanking me for the report, but pointing out there was still a week left.
In the same batch of e-mails was a job offer to start work in Canada on March 9th. I had some questions that needed to be answered before I knew if I was interested. It was too late to talk to the person on Thursday and she wasn't due back in the office until Monday so I made the decision to act as if the answers to my questions would be favorable and we started making preparations to head north.
Juanita was concerned about the cold with this being the earliest we had ever headed north in our annual migration. We agreed that we would sleep in motels on the way and not on the frozen memory foam in the rig. Also that if it dropped below -20 once we got there we would move into a motel until things warmed back up.
I booked a spot in the Kings Acres Campground where we normally stay and gave a range of dates we might arrive with the assurance that we would phone when we were close enough to narrow down the arrival date.
The work coordinator at Victory Camp agreed to let me work extra hours on Friday and Saturday so all the agreed upon hours of work would get done and I painted and sanded and painted for Friday and Saturday. I found out later that the ladies who were booked into nearby dorms were not amused at seeing me in the distance wearing my respirator to paint the shower stalls with epoxy paint. As a part of their lenten weekend retreat they were avoiding seeing men. And here I thought I was beyond being a sex symbol!
On Wednesday of the third work week we attended devotions and did the payday thing two days early. The other SOWERS headed off to work and we did all the last minute things to the rig and hooked up and pulled it out into the parking lot and did one last bathroom break and then headed off into the Houston freeway system.
Our normal route is to come out of Houston on highway 59 and go through Northeast Texas, driving through Tyler and then Gladewater. Normally we park in Gladewater for a few days and choose our window of opportunity based on weather reports. This time we were just going to go for it. However, the weather reports were calling for four to six inches of snow in Tyler about the time we would be passing through. Dallas had freezing rain in the morning, but would be okay by the time we got there.
Dallas it was.
We set the GPS for Meadow Lake and came out of Houston on Interstate 45 headed for Dallas. Near Dallas we turned off the GPS and took the eastern loop around Dallas and through a couple of miles of construction and stop and go one lane traffic and then turned back on the GPS and set it for Guthrie, OK. Near Guthrie the roads were good and the temperatures were still well above freezing so we carried on north until I was tired of driving. About nine we stopped and fueled up in Perry, Oklahoma. There was a strong north wind blowing and worse predicted along with plummeting temperatures. We booked a room and huddled down for the night.
In the morning the winds were still strong, but had dropped to manageable levels for driving. Temperature was now well below freezing, but there was no snow and the roads were clear. We carried on north. The winds died down past Wichita and we drove to Sioux City stopping only for fuel and bathroom breaks. It was cold enough everywhere that we did not have to worry about melt water refreezing on bridges or below overpasses. At Sioux City we parked in the snow on the side of the street outside a motel. We registered for a room and brought the overnight stuff into the room. The pizza delivery person came. We ate. We slept.
We got up in the morning and I finished my bookkeeping for customs declarations and we carried on north on frozen, clear and dry roads. No slippery spots. Yay!
The GPS was still set for Meadow Lake, SK. Around Sioux Falls it tried to re-route us, but gave up when I ignored it. It tried again near Fargo and at Grand Forks. Past Grand Forks it got very insistent right up until we crossed the border when it started telling me to go the route I had planned to anyway. We crossed the border and paid the GST (Goods and Service Tax) on our US purchases less our allowed amount for being away for more than a week. They seemed to have trouble with the concept that I would have changed the drive shaft as a choice and wanted to exempt that purchase. There is no tax on purchase of repairs that needed to be done for the vehicle to get back to the country. But overall it was a quick process and we proceeded north and took the loop around Winnipeg and stopped at the Flying J for fuel.
A couple of years ago there had been trouble with the PIN pad on the frozen fuel pumps in the RV lane at this station and the credit card company had put a temporary hold on my credit card until I called them. This time we were proactive. Juanita went inside and prepaid. This time the pump's brains were totally scrambled and it would not pump. They did a reset of the processor in the back room and the prepay had to be re-entered. While I was outside with the station clerk trying the pump a second time my phone rang. They were concerned that there had been two prepays so close together. We sorted that out. No hold on the card.
The pump didn't work a second time. Moved the rig to a new pump. That worked.
Parked. Used bathroom. Bought pizza slices. Back to truck. Back on the road. On to Portage La Prairie. Lots of motels. No rooms in the inns. Hockey tournament. Proceeded westward until close to midnight there was a town with a motel we would risk driving into towing a trailer and rented a room. Clerk took my blood type and way too much credit card info. Next morning after they checked the room for damage they gave the paper back to Juanita.
Towns are a bit sparse along the Trans Canada highway through Saskatchewan. I misjudged and did not pull off when I should have. We pulled off in the next town. The sign said the Co-op station was a mile away across the tracks. There was a meat packing plant right near the highway. It was Saturday and there was one car in the large parking lot. I pulled in and went back to the trailer.
Normally during the winter we stay in the trailer each night. We use the RV toilet as sparingly as possible and make sure that we use about as much RV antifreeze as other liquid that goes into the bowl. Doing that means that the time to dump the tank is extended into a period when there are above freezing temperatures. This time we were travelling earlier than normal and had been being very diligent not to use the facilities in the rig. We had wintereized the water lines in Alvin and had less than a gallon of liquid in the waste tank. There must have been enough liquid in the tank to provide enough condensation on the toilet valve to freeze it solid.
Not sleeping in the trailer and not running the furnace each night probably contributed to the challenge. After my emergency use of the toilet I was faced with a problem. The bowl was half full of liquid and solid waste and antifreeze and the toilet valve would not budge. Everything is plastic so I did not want to force things especially being that cold. I added a bit more antifreeze hoping that would help thaw things. Nope. Just more liquid. Back on the road with visions of stuff sloshing out and under the door and down the stairs with every frost heave and bump.
We arrived at the Kingsacres campground about noon and parked in between the banks of snow and then paid for the next month. I checked inside the rig. Things had stayed in the bathroom. I wiped off the snow cone like pink slush that had sloshed over the edges of the bowl and filled a garbage bag with contaminated objects from the bathroom. The valve was still frozen. We turned up the heat and I washed up and we went for lunch and to shop. When we came back things were warm enough to flush and I spent an hour cleaning and sanitizing all the nooks and crannies and all surfaces even remotely possibly contaminated.
This was the earliest we have come north and the best driving conditions we have experienced on the way north. Looking at the weather reports, if we had left two days later it would have taken a week longer to arrive and been a nightmare driving.
We are parked here until the middle of May or the middle of October or... We'll know when we find out.