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When the World is Closed

Franklin Beecham
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It was 2019. We had enjoyed a fantastic trip from Ontario to Prince Edward Island, stopping along the way in eastern Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick. On our return home, we managed a few smaller local trips. At the end of the season, our Leisure Travel Van Wonder RTB needed a safe place to wait out the winter. As we had sold our house and now live in an apartment, there was nowhere to store our van. Local storage facilities were full and had long waiting lists. Luckily for us, close friends graciously offered their driveway and a 15 amp service (to keep the batteries charged). Our Wonder was safely stored until the spring.

The big plan for 2020 was to travel from Ontario to the west coast, visiting family and friends along the way with stops in places like Calgary, Penticton, and Vancouver Island. We had always wanted to travel around Lake Superior rather than cut through the States (which we would possibly do on the return trip), and using the RV Parky app for planning made the tentative route a simple matter. A few details that we were waiting on would play a part in the plans; we had warranty work scheduled at our LTV dealer in April and possible rallies to attend, one of which was the annual fall LTV owners’ rally in Manitoba. We had wanted to go to this rally ever since we bought our van, but spaces are limited, so a lottery draw is set up to give everyone an equal chance of attending. We were hoping to hit Winkler, Manitoba, on the way back to Ontario. In March, the LTV rally lottery results were announced and yes, we were awarded a spot! I was a happy camper – here was a chance to meet fellow LTVers, learn some tips and tricks, and visit the birthplace of our van. What could go wrong?

In January, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Canada. By March, the situation had worsened and the government mandated a state of emergency as the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. Wow! This was getting scary. The world would shut down. International borders would be closed. Globally, life as we know it would change. Our LTV dealer shut down their day-to-day business, with appointments postponed indefinitely. Questions on social media were mounting; people were asking about the rally. Eventually in May, LTV announced the cancellation of the fall rally. It was a big blow to all us newbies who hoped for better news. A spring rally was also cancelled by the Ontario Sun Risers, our local LTV owners’ club, and we’re still not certain if a fall rally will happen. With some provincial travel restrictions and the Canada/US border closed, all we could do was regroup and mull over a potentially wasted year. The RV was safe. We were safe and our families and friends were safe. It was time to stock up on supplies: masks, hand sanitizers, soaps, toilet paper, and non-perishable foods. We were glued to news channels for any and all updates. This pandemic was serious!

As snowbirds were told to return home, some chose to wait it out in the States, which allowed for more RV storage to become available. Being optimistic, I decided to de-winterized our Wonderwheels and left our friend’s driveway for a local outdoor storage facility. Even though there is 24-hour video surveillance and optimal security, I checked in on Wonderwheels every week. Batteries were charged, tanks were clean. All we had to do was wait. And wait. South of the border was looking bad and provincial borders were still restricted to essential travel only. Even some municipalities didn’t want travelers.

However, we’ve been sheltered at home, isolated from everyone except for necessary grocery shopping. We wear masks and squirt sanitizer on our hands, and walk or stand the prescribed 2 meters from anyone. People avoid coming close as others pass by, like we all have the plague. It’s all a strange new reality. Our local neighborhood was beginning to look like a ghost town. No cars. No people. Everything was closed. Even local friends were leery about getting together. I’m sure this was happening everywhere!

By late May, Canada was doing okay and our province was easing up on restrictions, so we decided to take a short trip to test the van and our own social distance safety. With four solar panels on the roof, an onboard generator, our own fresh water, and kitchen and bathroom facilities, our well-designed home-on-wheels would keep us safe, mobile, and isolated.

We arranged to drive to Keswick, Ontario, about 2 ½ hours away, where we mooch-docked in our friends’ driveway. It was great to be on the road again and to see familiar faces, even if we had to keep our distance.

The next day, after breakfast, we drove 4 hours west to Wiarton, Ontario, visiting our favourite Harvest Host friends whose rural property was closed due to the mandatory business shutdowns. Being immersed in nature is good for the soul, especially after being cooped up in our apartment, and after a couple of days of relaxing in the forested reserve we headed back home. The highways were oddly quiet, with not another RV in sight and only a few trucks passing by. All the parks and campgrounds were still closed. Luckily, the Flying J near us was open so we could dump our tanks and gas up before putting the van back into storage.

As local areas were reaching Stage Two in terms of opening up, we had a conversation with fellow RVers and neighbours to do a mini caravan road trip in southwest Ontario, staying at Harvest Hosts. It was planned for the end of June. I booked three different Harvest Hosts as our friends were new members. First was our favourite Rural Rootz Nature Reserve in Wiarton. As always, we had a great time being in nature away from the city and the traffic. We all pitched in to help with some chores on the premises while they were closed to the public, like helping Tom with his bunky construction, and spent a relaxing couple of days there. Dee even conducted a tea leaf reading session. I love to walk through the colorful gardens taking photos on my phone. I also got to try out our new Blackstone grill in the wild. It worked great! We had a peaceful hike to a serene beaver pond on one of the many trails.

Next on the agenda was a stop at Bad Apple Brewing as we made our way south along the shores of Lake Huron. Bad Apple had space for two rigs. Their grounds feature apple orchards, grapevines, cornfields, and even a fire pit, and their beers were excellent plus the location was very quiet. We had taster flights and bought some beers for the RV. The setting sun was a stunning sight. After breakfast the next morning, we said goodbye to our traveling friends, as they had to cut short their trip due to work obligations.

Robyn and I continued south to Lake Erie, where we stayed at Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery. Being in a hotspot area, everyone was required to wear a mask and use hand sanitizer. Ours was the only rig, which made for a super quiet evening. We purchased some wine and a vegetarian charcuterie picnic lunch that we enjoyed at one of the secluded picnic tables on the private beach. It felt weird being the only people on the beach. Afterward, we took a stroll around the property. Amongst the rows of grapevines is a tall pole with a raptor nest at the top. Maybe a hawk protecting the grapes? After the last guests and staff left, we definitely felt alone in the empty parking lot. It was quite peaceful.

Still itching for travel, a week later I booked two more Harvest Hosts. This time we headed south to tobacco country, only an hour from home. Our first night was at Ramblin’ Road Brewery Farm. They have some excellent beers! I had a taster flight and stocked up our RV fridge. They also have an excellent kitchen with tasty food. We had a great parking spot next to the hop vines. After breakfast, we headed to the beach at Turkey Point Provincial Park for some sun and sand. We scored a shaded spot a few yards from our parked RV. At first the sun worshipers were practicing social distancing –some were even masked – but by noontime it started to get busier and more crowded. Time to head back to the RV for a nap, then drive to our next Harvest Hosts destination.

Burning Kiln Winery didn’t disappoint us. This winery takes the coronavirus seriously. All staff are masked, even the groundskeepers tending to the vineyards. Their wines are excellent; we thoroughly enjoyed our tasting and purchased a few bottles for the RV. The property also has a restaurant and food truck. Behind the tasting tent is a short, wooded hiking trail. We did part of it but the mosquitoes were too much for us. There’s a pond on the grounds where several Muskoka chairs are situated, a perfect place for our coffee and breakfast, watching the bullfrogs and birds and listening to nature’s voices. Again, we were the only rig, though a shiny Airstream was parked during our wine tasting. The groundskeepers do an amazing job of tidying up the property, making it the classic photogenic vineyard destination you see in tourism literature.

A few days later we prepped for our first campground trip of the season. Now that provincial park camping was open again, I found that the pickings for available campsites in Ontario’s provincial parks were slim indeed. Seemed like everyone was camping! After seeing some fellow LTVers’ Instagram posts, I decided to try booking a spot at our favourite campgrounds. No such luck, but one park had an opening for us. Emily Provincial Park, which is located in the Kawartha Lakes region, is about 3 ½ hours east of our home. Once we reached the Emily Park campground, we found out that there was a fire ban and the beaches were closed – what a drag. As it turned out, a lot of campsites were empty, probably due to pre-booking before the coronavirus hit. I was impressed with the size of the site we had and the electricity post was well within reach, 15 and 30 amp. On the way in, we went to the water fill station to load up our freshwater tank.

We spent four days at the Park, which was pretty quiet except for the times when huge trailers were trying to manoeuvre the old campground road into their campsites. Lots of frustrating yelling of words like, STOP! LEFT! RIGHT! I am so glad our van is less than 25 feet. Evenings were very quiet, possibly due to the fire ban. Upon leaving the campground, we used the complimentary dump station, then headed west. Good timing, as the recent heatwave peaked and it rained all the way home.

Soon it was the end of July. COVID-19 was still here and now there were a few signs that parts of Ontario opened up too early. South of the border was seeing major upsurges! Not to let it bother us, we decided to forge on and continue exploring and enjoying our Wonder. Checking the local weather is another tip for travelers – it’s hurricane season down south and we tend to get remnants of those storms up here in Canada. With the persistent heatwave that is affecting North America, we knew there had to be rain in the forecast, but I found a sunny and dry gap that we could take advantage of, if only for a day or two. Checking the Harvest Hosts app, I found two openings. The first, near Hamilton, Ontario, was a sweet alpaca farm. Bred solely for their wool, we had fun with these gentle creatures. The owners of Alpacas from Eighth and Mud, Sharon and John, were very friendly, fun, and passionate about their business. We had a great parking space next to the male alpaca enclosure which offered us an amazing sunrise.

The next morning, after meeting and feeding the female alpacas, we took a side trip to the Devil’s Punch Bowl, a waterfall feature carved out of the Niagara escarpment showcasing beautiful rock strata. A tip that John gave us was that there was a great bakery close to the site. We weren’t disappointed!

We then keyed in the GPS for Niagara-on-the-Lake. We hadn’t been to the village or the surrounding wine country region in a very long time. Considering we were in a pandemic, it was quite busy with tourists, though many were masked. Our next Harvest Hosts destination was one of their latest additions, Palatine Hills Estate Winery, located outside the village of Niagara-on-the-Lake. After checking in, we were shown to our parking spot. Nestled between fields of vines was a small copse of trees, large enough to shade and shelter our LTV. Our server was very friendly and knowledgeable about the available wine selections, of which we enjoyed a good tasting. Spending the rest of the afternoon sipping our new wine purchases, we lazed in the peacefulness of the vineyard, reading. With the awning out and the camp furniture in place, we enjoyed a savory pasta meal for dinner, forgetting the rest of the world and its dilemmas. After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we headed towards home, stopping for a hike around Albion Falls. Putting the Wonder back in storage and switching our gear into the Fiat, we made it home just as it began to rain. Now that’s timing!

Franklin Beecham

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