🏔️ Road trip from Montreal to Vancouver

July 2017

Day 1

After getting breakfast at Timmy's in the morning, mandatory stop for properly starting an adventure, we drove from Montreal, going West without any plan.

We crossed the border to the states. Us, two dudes, in a van, carrying a bunch of climbing gear, going "West" for "a couple days", and without a precise address of where we're going to sleep at night. While all of this is about fine, no need to say that they instantly had us pull over to check the van for drugs, as even though we told them we weren't carrying any, they insisted that we did.

After they go through the whole van and confirmed that we were actually telling the truth, we keep going, and randomly stopped in Dunkirk when it gets late, to crash for the night.

Day 2

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We kept driving West, stopped for gas in Barcelona (state of New York, as opposed to Spain). There's a bunch of bikers riding and I manage to quickly take a picture. I've now been dreaming to ride motorcycles for more than 20 years.


We continued driving, now in the state of Ohio, we did a stop in Cleveland where I didn't take pictures, but where we had a monstrous (as in extremely and dauntingly large) apple fritter, which must have served as lunch and dinner for the both of us.

We keep going by Indiana, and stopped for a bit at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as suggested by a friend. The views were beautiful, and the water of Lake Michigan, while substantially cold, was bearable enough for us to dip.

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We keep going in the Illinois state, where we drive around Chicago as the sun is setting.

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When it gets really late, we start to look at a place to park the van for the night. We search for green and blue spots on the map which usually is a good sign that there's something more than asphalt and concrete to see.

We finally find a decent spot in a park, in a random village somewhere in Cherry Valley, just next to a river. Exhausted, we go to bed, after I take a couple long exposure shots, and maybe a couple comforting shots of the Chartreuse bottle I brought with us.


Day 3

At 3 in the morning, we're waken up by the soft, delightful flare of a Maglite as well as heavy knocks on the van door. We go out of the van in pyjamas, to discover two police cars high beams on and a handful of police officers sur le qui-vive. When they see we're just two harmless (and half asleep) campers, they kindly ask us to move the van away as we're not allowed to camp there. They carefully watch us drive away, and we finish the night parked on the side of a street in the village.

The next day, we drive to Madison, and have brunch at Monty's Blue Plate Diner. The food was delicious, and Blue, the van, fitted perfectly in the landscape.

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We cross to Wisconsin and make a stop at Castle Rock Lake for a quick swim, but need to get going so we can be in Minneapolis, Minnesota for the night.

Day 4

We keep going West, then North, by North Dakota.

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A bit before sunset, we cross back to Saskatchewan, Canada, where we get dirt cheap 24 packs of Coors Banquet and Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy at the duty free. More on those later.

We drive for a couple more minutes to the city of Estevan, and keep going a little bit more find a spot on an empty dirt road in the middle of the canola fields. There's absolutely nobody around in a radius of several kilometers. At that point, we had driven 1050 km since we left from Saint Paul, Minnesota in the morning.

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The wheat king of the prairies.
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We have a couple of those beers there, when we see a Jeep driving on the path we're parked next to. A guy gets out to say hi. As we start talking, we offer him a beer, and he tell us stories about the many road trips he did across Canada with his Jeep.

He leaves us when he's done drinking his beer, and we keep chilling there for the night.


Day 5

The next morning, we go for a drive around the dirt paths of Saskatchewan and go for quick hikes where we get to see pretty landscapes.

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Little did we know, the alternator belt of the van broke a little while ago and we would soon be out of battery. We could easily have stayed stuck in the middle of nowhere, Saskatchewan, on a random dirt path with nobody for miles around.

Luckily, the battery held for another hour or so. We noticed the radio would have a harder and harder time playing, but couldn't tell what was wrong. We saw some hitchhikers on the side of the highway and decided to pick them up. We stop and go out of the van to help them put their stuff inside. When we're ready to go, the van won't start.

We figure it's a battery issue, and try to stop other cars to ask for a jump start. After what felt like a pretty long time, and seeing dozens of cars go by without stopping, a truck stops and gives us a jump start. We're able to get the engine running again, and we're quickly back on the road. While it hardly makes sense, we hope that it was just a one time issue and that the alternator will just recharge the battery as we drive.

We drive for a bit, but we reach a point where we're nearly out of gas, and find a gas station. At that point, the radio completely stopped working and we noticed the signal lights were busted as well. As we feared, after putting gas, the van wouldn't start again. We asked around for another jump start to get going. As we open the hood, when looking a bit more carefully, we figure the alternator belt is just gone and that's why the battery isn't getting recharged. We had a spare alternator belt in the van but had no idea how to set it up. We decide to head to a garage to get it replaced.


Since it would take hours before they would start working on the van, we say bye to our hitchhikers, and go get a coffee inside. Once the belt replaced and the battery charged, we get going again, relieved of all those problems, happy and the mind free.

We drive all the way to Alberta, but after a couple hundred of kilometers, we notice that the music is going away again and that the signal lights are no longer working. Bad sign. At least, as long as we don't stop the engine, we're good to go, but if we stop or if it dies for some reason, we'd be stuck again. We target a Canadian Tire in Brooks, where we arrive in the evening. The auto parts and service is closed already, so we go get some Domino's Pizza a couple blocks away (by the way they have Halifax donair meat and sauce in Domino's in Alberta), and we crash on the parking for the night.

Day 6

The next morning, we try to get the van fixed again but the quote was insane so we decided to attempt to fix it ourselves. The new belt was still present but got pretty loose, so we try tightening it again and get another jump start, hoping after some driving the belt holds and is tight enough to recharge the battery.


We drive around Calgary, and keep going until Banff. We stop in Canmore, and go for a hike in what I believe was Goat Mountain next to Spray Lakes Reservoir.

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When we get back from the hike, a couple posing for wedding pictures right in front of the lake (and the van). That was indeed a sweet spot.

We then get a camping spot at Spray Lakes West Campground and spend the night there. I can sure say the view in the morning was nice.

Day 7

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We hike Centennial Ridge, which is apparently the highest maintained trail in the Canadian Rockies. The views were incredible and definitely worth the 1350 meters of elevation.

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We got welcomed at the summit by many chipmunks that weren't afraid at all and would get really close to us.

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We enjoyed a Summer Shandy on the top of the mountain, savouring the views, before starting the hike down.

Le Summer Shandy bien mérité on top of the Canadian Rockies.

We drove to the city of Banff and spent the night there. The next morning, wandered a bit around the city.

Day 8

Banff classic shot.

We then went climbing on Sunshine Rock, which was great but ironically it started in the middle of the day and we had to stop climbing.

As it was my birthday, we went back to Banff and had dinner at The Keg. We then spent the night in the van parked right in front of the restaurant. How convenient!

Day 9

We went climbing in Tunnel Mountain. The views were breathtaking, especially while on the cliffs.

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We then met with some friends from Calgary, and found a camping for the night.

Day 10

In the morning, we wake up to hundreds of elks walking around. I couldn't believe my eyes.


Once the elks gone, our friends pulled out a couch and a barbecue from their van, so we had breakfast like this in the forest.

Casual breakfast BBQ.

While they were going back to Calgary, we went back to Tunnel Mountain, but this time with mountain bikes.

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I eventually had a pretty stupid fall which left me with a considerable wound on my back and a teared tank top. I couldn't do much right then, so we just kept biking for the rest of the day. At night, I tried to clean it up in the bathroom of a Tim Horton's, and used some paper towels and tape to make a dressing. Because I couldn't get stitches, it eventually turned into a pretty bad scar. While I don't have any tattoos, I like to say scars from such adventures are kind of the same thing to me.

Day 11

The next morning, we headed to the notorious Lake Louise, and climbed the outhouse area during the day.


We then went back to the van to drop our gear, and because we still had a couple hours of sunlight, decided to hike Big Beehive.


We were literally alone in the mountain, and we could see a storm forming in the sky as we arrived at the top. The scenery was unreal.

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It was the perfect time to enjoy a little Coors Banquet.

La Coors Banquet des montagnes.

We then went back down doing a loop by Lake Agnes. It was now pretty much night time, and when we started to get anxious about the bears that we knew are present in the area. Luckily, we didn't meet any. When we went back to the van, the night was already pretty advanced.


We drove the van back to the Lake Louise village, more precisely the village market, so we would be able to get groceries the next morning. After doing groceries, we tried to start the van but it was again out of battery.

We didn't have much time to deal with the van. We tightened again the alternator belt, found someone to jump start the van, and parked it behind a gas station where we knew a bunch of campers were staying as well.

Day 12

Our next target was Moraine Lake, and we wanted to hike to it from Lake Louise. We took a bus there so that we wouldn't have to bother with the van, as we would have to hitchhike back and the village which was more convenient than Lake Louise itself.

We started in what seemed to be called Paradise Valley, which definitely did deserve its name.

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We keep hiking for a while in the direction of Moraine Lake, and as the day goes by, the path takes us higher and higher in the mountains, while we expected the hike to be mostly flat. A couple hours later, as we start to wonder if we're getting lost, the path slowly disappears and leaves us in a giant scree of loose rocks.

While we're getting pressured by the limited hours of daylight left, we're somewhat confident that we'll find Moraine Lake on the other side, so we decide to scale it.

We later learnt that this scree was Sentinel Pass on Mount Temple, with 1250 meters of elevation. The views we had up there were definitely worth the struggle.

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We kept going on the other side, this time on the way down, and as expected, reach Moraine Lake a bit before sunset.


We hitchhiked back to the village, with the plan to get some driving in during the night, but the van was again out of battery. It was pretty late already, we were really tired, and we couldn't find anybody around to give us a jump start, so we decided to crash there and wait for the next day.

Day 13

After attempting to tightened the belt one more time and getting an umpteenth jump start, we drive North to Jasper. While we don't have time to stop along the road to hike, just the views from the road are impressive.

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Everything goes well until we need to stop for gas. At that point, every time we stop the van, we're worried it won't start again. And indeed, it does not, so we get another jump start and drive to the closest garage, which is in Valemount, a bit more than a hundred kilometers away, outside of the Jasper (also, in British Columbia).

After inspecting the van and charging the batteries, the mechanic tells us that one of the batteries is "toast" and we need to get another one. He kindly tells us we're better off going to the Lordco in town and replacing it ourselves, so that's what we do.

The mechanic.

We go again with a brand new battery, thinking the van issues are finally over. After driving for the rest of the day, we make it to Kamloops, where we stop for groceries. When we're done, we hold our breath as every time we start the van, and to our despair, it won't start. But this time, it sounds different than usual, not as if the battery was dead, but more like if the engine was flooded. There's many ways described online to start an engine in that case, including waiting for a couple hours that the gas evaporates and trying again, but none of them worked, so we crashed on the parking lot of the grocery store for the night, hoping the night gives enough time for the gas to fully evaporate.

Day 14

Sadly, the next morning we still can't start it, and after a dozen of tries, we give up and call CAA. Less than an hour later, a CAA agent comes and we explain him the situation. He gets in the van and tries to start it, and it instantly works. We couldn't believe it.

Less than an hour later, when we're about to stop for gas in Logan Lake, the van dies right in front of the gas station. Before we even ask, a bunch of villagers come see what's up and offer help. One of them gets his truck to give us a jump start, and show us the path to the closest open garage in the village.

The mechanic figured it wasn't a problem with the battery but the alternator belt was still busted, and we needed a new one. Luckily, he had a compatible one in stock. To save costs, we attempted to install it ourselves, but while manipulating parts under the hood to be able to get the belt through, we start to notice something's leaking, and quickly need the mechanic help to manage the situation.

Turns out we accidentally perforated the radiator and all the cooling liquid was spilling. This actually required replacing the whole radiator, which they didn't have in stock, but they might be able to order it for the afternoon, so we wait there and have lunch in front of the garage, down in the mouth.

They effectively received the radiator in the afternoon and replaced it, as well as the belt. According to the mechanic, the radiator was really old and would probably have had trouble keeping the engine at a reasonable temperature while we drive through the high mountains passes on the Coquihalla Highway on the way to Vancouver, so breaking the radiator while fucking around under the hood might have saved us from overheating the engine. I'll take it.

We drive for the rest of the day and finally make it to Vancouver.


Day 15

Dipping at English Bay Beach.

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In the evening we go for a walk around Stanley Park, where we get to see the Siwash Rock.


We walk around the Lions Gate Bridge while the sun is going down.

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We then walk back to the van looking at Vancouver by night.


Turns out the van wouldn't start one more time, and there was nobody around, so we spent the night in Stanley Park.

Day 16

We get a jump start to get going, and while we drive in town, the engine just dies and we're stuck on the side of the road. We call CAA and get towed to a garage.


The van needs to stays at the garage until the end of the day if we're luck. Since we can't go very far, we wander in the Commercial Drive area for the day.

We're lucky and the van is repaired right before the garage closes. It turned to be a problem with the alternator rectifier, and we didn't have any issue with the van after then.

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Day 17

We hike the Lions.

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We spend the night at the Squamish Spit.

Day 18


We then do the Sea to Summit hike, still in Squamish.

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We spend again the night on the Spit. The sky is perfect for shooting the milky way.

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Day 19

We planned to climb the Stawamus Chief, but we realized it's only trad climbing and we only were equipped and trained for sport.


We found some climbing to do in Murrin Park instead.

Finally, I flew back the next day, the head full of adventures, with the idea of coming back to live in Vancouver.