Safari Condo Grand Rassemblement

pnzV2O9QTU+A6cZHWq8K3QI’ve tried to sit down and write this post several times now, but I end up just staring at the screen not knowing where to start. So I can either give this a shot, or sum up and say the past four days were “awesome” and “way too much fun.” You know when some event, or trip, or life experience far exceeds your wildest expectations and it becomes hard to describe? Yeah, that.

FZA1mYiVSgCawz6iMYsEQgBut ok, here goes. Following the pre-fun at the pre rally rally, we organized ourselves into a parade of Altos in order to make our way to the Grand Rassemblement (the official Safari Condo 20th anniversary rally). qwnZCJVURBCGuIhQ2gxPAgJim Gauvreau (routealto80.blogspot.ca) gave us a meet up location in some residential neighborhood in Ste. Marie and all we had to do was not lose him until we got there. Our small parade of 3 Altos first had to get through the hurdle of the bottleneck at the dump station. After that, it was clear sailing and a 30 mile or so drive.

Those who live in the neighborhood where we gathered must have been fairly confused seeing 15 Altos all parked on their street. It was probably the coolest thing ever seen by humans as we all rolled down the highway together. Ok, coolest thing to those humans who geek out on Altos, that is. Perhaps less cool to the confused non Alto traffic trying to figure out how to not mess with the conga line.

Beyond just creating a spectacle, there was a practical purpose here. Once you arrived at the event, the team of volunteers would be parking you in the order you got there. The Altoises wanted to hang together, so this was the only way to achieve that. Plus, I think we made the Nadeaus (creators of Safari Condo) cry when they saw us all in our own Alto parade. Bonus.

%EtItJp5R7e8kTA12ye4vAThe “pink shirts” did all the parking, even for the units that had Caravan Movers, and they were pretty fast. They did note that Dory was unusually heavy (I believe she lost some weight during the weekend, due to generally constant wine consumption). The location was in a huge parking lot for an upscale private school of some kind. There were large indoor sports facilities, skating rinks, showers, rest rooms, and an auditorium, all located in buildings surrounding the parking area. 2qedmxWuTfySIPNVOWRU0QWe heard there were around 150 Altos there, plus 200 Safari Condo vans, for a total of about 700 people. We were parked across from our Altoiste buddies Malcolm and Tanya, which was a total hoot and a definite highlight of the event.

ekUb9uPiQs+M%gdF2njgXgAfter we’d all gotten settled, Safari Condo treated us to a beer tasting event in the big auditorium. As we sipped, they opened the celebration with an overview of the itinerary, some video clips of people thanking Daniel Nadeau, and a little history of how they got started. Meanwhile, beer was happening. IMG_1148Then it was time to light up the parking lot with decorations! Lots of people hung flags on their rigs and thanks to our other California friend, we got to represent our state in style. What we don’t have is a fancy name plaque. I can see that if we’re going to continue this rally lifestyle, we’ll need to up our game.

Friday was chill in the morning and we spent most of the day connecting with people. I loved seeing Denis, my Canadian boyfriend, again. I got to meet lots of people in the “Les Altoistes” group, including two of their admins who basically did the same trip we did over the summer. MEus8EGrSoCRJIeAbBx3MwWe were just a day or two behind them through Zion, Arches, and Canyonlands, so we’d been posting pictures of the same spots all summer. We had a little lunch with friends, did a little shopping, and got to hang with our down under buddies, Cynthia and Gail. You know you’re having too much fun when someone spits beer out of their nose.

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K77fLH1QQIujesYYA%Xv6wIn the evening, I found the whiskey party! I have never been a fan of hard liquor, but oh dear this stuff was good. Except the one that tasted like cigarette ashes, that was gross. You really can’t beat hearing the process of making Scotch Whiskey explained by someone with a gorgeous Scottish accent. Luckily, the stuff is pretty expensive so I don’t think I’m in danger of making it a habit. I’ll need to work on getting myself invited to whiskey parties from now on. SMtPfngoRISArxdUCmn4XwFriday night was all about seeing a “Beatles” band. Richard lasted maybe three songs, but it was way too loud for him. I had a blast and joined in on the singing and dancing along with everyone else. I have never seen a “Beatles” band before and I have to say, I would pay really good money to see a rockumentary about this one, ala “Spinal Tap.” It would just have to be amazing.

qieyOwETT8SibGRTFuCemwSaturday opened with rain. So we had a laid back morning and took a trip out to Levis where we grabbed lunch in a cute little deli and sampled chocolate (and obtained gifts) at Chocolats Favorits. I should mention here that being in Quebec is not much different than being in France. Everything is in French and, unless you’re in the big cities, the people have limited English. They are very patient with us and seem to appreciate even lame attempts at recalling high school French. They can also tell pretty quickly (by our facial expressions I’m guessing) we are not natives, so they switch to English quickly if they know it.

AduzE4rERFyXPurDvn7I9QSaturday night was dinner on Safari Condo. We got to be silly with snail based table decorations and listened to speakers (mostly in French) talk about how the company has grown over time. They are now producing close to their 1500th Alto, and with four models to choose from, the wait time from order to delivery date is still over a year. They are showing no signs of slowing down!9k8EJUrITGCgCeqaaEwnsA

Finally, we arrive at Sunday, the final day of the huge event. Many headed out on their separate paths, so it was hugs and “see you on the road” farewells all around.

 

WYJ3HPPRQ3qktoHE3jI%XQSome continued on to the factory for an open house and a blessing ceremony. We kind of cheated by staying at a private place very near to the factory with three other Altos, rather than overnighting in the factory parking lot. This way we could dump tanks and run the AC to our hearts content. Then we drove/biked back to the factory for the open house factory tour, speeches, balloon release, and duck race raffle (that, sadly, turned out not to be real ducks). The sun set on a camp chair circle of good friends, the last remnants of the pre rally rally, as we chatted and laughed until it was time for bed. Perfect way to round out a perfect long weekend.

So, at the end of it all, I can say the Grand Rassemblement was awesome and way too much fun. A better summation might be to say it was well worth the trip from California. That’s saying it all right there, don’t you think?

Camping La Jolie Rochelle

img_1007We left Lake Champlain on the early side because it turned out the Safari Condo private factory tour we’d signed up for was scheduled at 2pm on that day. Somehow, we missed that. We really weren’t holding out much hope we’d make it because it would be very tight and we had no idea what to expect at the border.

img_0941We knew the limits of what was and was not allowed in terms of what you can bring in. Our plan was full disclosure and to be prepared to part with bear spray, fruit, or a couple bottles of wine if need be. The crossing turned out to be a non-issue, aside from getting through the road construction. We were asked about why we had bear spray, but as soon as we said “Glacier,” that seemed sufficient explanation.

Once past that hurdle, we saw that we could technically make it in time according to Google Maps. Acura navigation disagreed, so we had to choose whom to listen to. We about lost hope when we got stuck in a major backup due to an overturned trailer (it looked fully destroyed and had to be lifted off the highway by a crane). That set us back at least a half an hour.

From there, Google took us off the main roads and into some more direct, but very bumpy, country roads. Here, we were able to make up a lot of time, but that was only because I was holding on for dear life as we careened over the hills and bumps, Dory bouncing behind us like a water skier on a choppy lake. But we just kept driving, hoping we’d arrive at the factory in enough large pieces that they’d be able to put her back together.

img_0946At 2:10 we arrived at the Safari Condo factory, Dory’s birthplace, just a little frazzled, but excited to be there. We greeted Dominique Nadeau, the CEO of Safari Condo and daughter of Daniel Nadeau, inventor of our beloved Alto. It was wonderful to see my fellow Altoiste admin, Leslie, as well as our California buddy Linda, who was picking up her new larger Alto the next day.

img_0949Dominique took us to factories “Alto 1” and “Alto 2,” the latter having been recently built to accommodate production of their new model 2114 trailer. She is an excellent tour guide and walked us through every step of the manufacturing process in both factories. You know how they say you should never watch how sausage is made? The opposite it true here. img_0980Seeing how much care and attention goes into every single Alto only made us more confident in the company. Daniel Nadeau is some kind of crazy genius who has been able to anticipate and design around potential problems before they occur. His design of the Alto is like a work of art and watching the employees install each piece by hand gives you this sense of pride that I can’t match with any other experience.

When I get back into the land of fast and unlimited wifi, I’ll upload all of the pictures and caption some of the more interesting bits. For now, I will just say we love this company a lot and would buy another Alto to have as a backup if we had a place to store it.

img_1069After the tour, we both realized we were starving so we grabbed a quick lunch inside Dory before heading to our campground. Camping La Jolie Rochelle, was discovered by Routealto80 blogger, Jim Gauvreau, as an ideal location for a sort of “pre-rally rally.” Many Altoistes who were coming for the big 20th anniversary event arranged to meet up ahead of time for a couple of days.

img_0997This place would be an “11” if only it had better service or campground wifi. Richard still needs to work while we’re here and he’s finding connectivity to be something of a challenge. This slight drawback is well offset by the company and views. Holy moly, this place is perfection. Somehow we were all able to snag riverfront sites together. It makes for a spectacular photo and is a ton of fun. My favorite people are here and we get to do the touristy thing and hang out together before the big event. We’re pretty blissed up.

img_1071On the list of awesomeness was a trip into Old Quebec City with three gorgeous women. Richard sadly had to work, but he did get in a bike ride at the end of the day. We took the ferry into town and spent the day wandering the streets and eating poutine, like ya do.

As is typical with great altogathers, we got to enjoy a pot luck together next to Linda’s brand new 2114. Altoistes get very excited by new models, but also by yellow Altos because they are from the early early days and are rare to spot in the field. We had both at the pre rally rally.

Our final day at La Jolie Rochelle was spent river watching, chatting, and doing laundry. In addition to our impressive crowd, I counted three other Altos in the park. I chatted in my terrible French with one couple who just happened to be there at the same time. They backfilled in much better English. After a while, they asked, “Oh, are you Alissa from Facebook?” Boom. 15 minutes of fame achieved. Who knew? If you had asked me as a child how I envisioned making my mark on the world, I’m pretty sure I would not have answered, “Well, I’d like it to involve trailers if possible.”

img_1070That night, we ventured back into Quebec City to have dinner with one of the celebrity sales people from Safari Condo. He brought us to his friend’s restaurant, Restaurant La Gueule de Bois. The food was absolutely outstanding, with some exquisite French cuisine dishes, as well as some very unusual creations. That was a lovely evening. Past my bedtime because I’m a late night wimp now, but well worth it.

Now, we head off in unison to the Big Event. I sure do love Altoistes. It is well worth the several thousand miles traveled to spend time in their company.

Total miles (after going to the factory first): 260.3, 17.7 mpg, 6 hours 16 min. The river side sites are simply spectacular. There are electric and water hookups and a dump on site. Roaming cell service was not so great. We bought campground wifi for $6 that covered 2 devices and that worked sporadically. The bathrooms are communal, like men and women. There’s a pool too, but we did not venture in.

Cumberland Bay SP

img_0939As much as the previous day was a challenge, this day was an absolute pleasure. We took the scenic route (fully researched and agreed upon ahead of time) through the central part of the Adirondacks and toward the point on Highway 89 that was as close as we could get without crossing the border.

img_0919This is such a wonderful area. The roads were almost entirely smooth and recently paved, so the driving was easy. There are a few little tiny towns scattered around, but mostly this is a forest road that takes you along endless rivers and sparkling lakes.

On the advice of the owner of a little store we found, we stopped for a quick hike to Auger Falls. This was a nice break and a good way to stretch the legs for about a half hour.img_0909

Highway 89 is pretty scenic itself and we could tell we were approaching Canada as all of the road signs began appearing in French as well as English. We make a quick gas shopping stop before rolling into the campground at Cumberland Bay SP. Much to our delight, someone had just departed, leaving a premium site at the water available for one night. I kind of think this was the Universe’s way of rewarding us for getting through the day before.

img_0932We briefly debated whether to use the Caravan Mover, but with a site like this, you have to take full advantage of the view. We spun Dory and enjoyed dinner and the sunset while gazing out at Lake Champlain. The lake is so big, it’s hard to believe it is not the ocean. There are even little seashells on the beach. The water is warm and we loved letting our feet sink into the sand at the edge of the water. It was a 12 on a scale of 1-10.

This will be our last night in the U.S. for a while. We’re both nervous about the border crossing and I’ve been disposing of lots of wine ‘overage’ for the past week.img_0928

Total miles: 286.9, 17.0 mpg, 6 hours 33 min. The sites right by the water do not have hookups, but there was availability with electric hookups. Nice dump station and beautiful new bathroom facilities. This would be a perfect location for a long stay. LTE for both of us and stores nearby.

Sampson SP

img_0893Lest you think our travels are all sunshine and daffodils, I will be very honest about this particular travel day. In a nutshell: it sucked. If you go back and look at the hours and miles traveled on each preceding day for the prior 6, that pretty much explains why. It took basically the whole day to unravel some things so we could re-group, so it was a necessary part of the process. Still, not much fun in the moment.

When we’re in the unplanned mode of getting from here to there, we are essentially trading one type of stress for another. If we’d had the whole route planned and reserved ahead of time, that would lead to needing to get to each place on time with no room for the unexpected or spontaneous. If one day falls apart, that could lead to a whole string of missed reservations. So, we make the conscious choice to play it by ear, only reserving sites for specific things, like group gatherings.

How we decide where to stay at the end of each day is complicated, and where we needed to talk some stuff out. If you start by running a Google Maps route from where you are to where you need to be in 9 days, and divide by 9, that should tell you about how many miles you should travel each day. From there, you can use apps like Allstays to look for campgrounds in that general vicinity. Here’s what we learned: Allstays will give you mileage from your location to a campground as the crow flies. So Richard was looking for nice state parks further down the road that I had in my head. We’d plug that in, and I’d think, “Well, that’s farther for today, but that will mean tomorrow could be shorter.” Except that kept not happening. Here’s the other thing we learned: if you stray too far from your shortest distance route to get to a nice state park, you have gained nothing in terms of average daily milage.

So, the gist is that I was getting really tired and the days never seemed to get any shorter. With two days left before we needed to be shooting distance to our gathering in Quebec, Richard said the wrong thing and I freaked out. The next 230 miles were driven grumpy.

img_0891The shame is that this was an otherwise beautiful route that neither one of us was able to appreciate. I could see that the western part of Pennsylvania is a lovely, rolling terrain, fully blooming with all sorts of wildflowers. Likewise, the campground where we ended up looked to be an otherwise gorgeous location, along the eastern bank of Seneca Lake (one of New York’s Finger Lakes), but we were both too spent to really be able to enjoy it. Sigh, I guess we’ll just have to come back for a do over.

img_0886We did re-boot and work out some kinks in the route planning. Like maybe it would be better to stay at dumpy places sometimes if we want to make tracks and earn a two night stay somewhere pretty. That would have really helped. Also, it is probably inherently unfair to leave all of the mapping to the person with the visual spatial disability. Like for him, one scenic route on the map looks about the same as the highway, even when it adds a hundred miles to the day. But actually, despite all of this, I think the lesson here is more to realize there are times when the driver will get tired, and in these moments, it’s best to tell her she’s doing great and hand her a glass of wine at the end of the day.

Total miles: 331.2, 16.3 mpg, 7 hours 51 min. Nice campground with spacious sites, but the electric hookups are very far away on a shared pole with the next site. We didn’t have an extension cord, so just boondocked it. There appeared to be a naval history museum and visitor center but we didn’t visit.

Wheel-in Campground

1F872D57-6D43-4400-8F2C-62526894535CYet another three state day. Today’s participants on the Bingo board were: Ohio, West Virginia (that was a surprise), and Pennsylvania. We traveled through two big cities: Columbus and Pittsburgh, with all the traffic and highway mazes one would expect. In between, we enjoyed the green, rolling hills, filled with colorful displays of wildflowers. It’s hard for me to believe they just grow this way out here. But I remind myself that this part of the country gets a lot more rain than we do.

We had a general direction we wanted to go, and some good friends who happened to fit right into our route planning. On their suggestion, we headed toward a place called the Wheel-in Campground, not too far from their home in Indiana, Pennsylvania (confusing, no?).

D9E44B07-0EDE-4DEE-9370-8786829F258BThey gave us a tour of their city, which by the way, is the birthplace of Jimmy Stewart. It is a charming place, with many buildings erected in the 1800s still standing. Some have been well restored, including the old court house building, which got a nice gold leaf job for its bell tower a few years back. Many of the historic old houses downtown have been lovingly maintained and help to create an overall feel of a window into the past kind of place. Yes, there are hip, modern restaurants, supported by hip college kids, but the first impression is that this is a quaint and lovely little town. We enjoyed every minute with our lovely friends.5A25B619-8DD9-4453-B066-C23B3E372495

Total miles: 282.2, 16.3 mpg, 6 hours 5 min. Friendly staff, popular riverside campground. Electric site. Campground WiFi, bathrooms, LTE for Verizon, not much for ATT.

Buck Creek SP

CA7F3AD7-27E5-4986-AE28-5079F5ED0B20This was another three state day, with one of the states winning soundly in the “Least Favorite” category. After leaving Illinois, we hit the border of Indiana. We’d heard jokes that Indiana’s state flower is the orange traffic cone, and now we know why that is funny/not funny.

The construction itself might not have been so bad if the condition of the roads not under construction had not been so obscenely awful. Going through Indianapolis, I’m frankly shocked we did not blow a tire, or even lose a wheel. There are huge chunks of concrete missing from the road at regular intervals. It was especially bad around areas where traffic was being rerouted due to frequent major highway closures. In some of the wider gaps, it was obvious someone had been paid to lay material that was supposed to help the situation. In fact, the globs of gap filler either created bone jarring bumps, enormous pot holes hardly any better than the missing concrete, or a fun combination of the two. The only thing that could have made Indiana more fun was driving that mess in a rainstorm.

40EF1AA4-0BC9-4BFD-AF3D-D8145D8626BCOh that’s right, we did drive that in a rainstorm. And while I can’t blame the weather on Indiana (I do though), I will note that if you are going to put up concrete barriers in construction zones, thus forcing cars to drive in the shoulder, you might want to first improve the shoulder, at least to the point where it is on the same general plane as the rest of the road.

We really did not like Indiana. Looking back at my blog post from three years ago, it appears I didn’t like it much then either. On the plus side, the rage created by this obvious undervaluing of essential infrastructure kept me alert through most of the 377 miles covered.

This was me as we crossed out of Indiana and into Ohio.97F956B2-5AF8-4CC9-B9F0-515C201DF138

C9CF5CA3-5F4E-418E-A321-C3B1058440DBOhio really rose to the occasion in offsetting the frustrating road conditions. When we got to the state park, we were greeted with a lush and manicured entry road that took us around a lake to the campground office. The people at Buck Creek were very friendly and even though there were lots of campers already, they had many hookups sites still available. And bonus – we didn’t even need to unhitch because the site was so level.

As Richard was making dinner, I watched the fireflies come out. There are no such things in California, so this was a magical experience for both of us. After dinner, we walked in the dark down a short path to the lake. All the while, the fireflies twinkled in the bushes and trees as though the whole place had been wired with holiday lights. Standing there on the beach, under the stars, surrounded by bioluminescence, we could just make out a little show of fireworks being set off by someone across the lake.

Nice job Ohio. Way to redeem the day.

Total miles: 377.6, 17.4, 7 hours 22 min. Electric site, bathrooms with showers, LTE for both of us. Walking trail to beach.

Lincoln New Salem SHP

248F4434-73D1-4BA7-9389-8C1C67520D9DThis was a three-states-in-one-day leg of the journey. We started in Kansas, passed all the way through the top part of Missouri, and landed in Illinois. In other words, the phrase, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” can now be spoken aloud. The humidity seems to be sticking with us though. In many, many ways.

491C25F5-2B75-4AB9-AC4F-D72CC1B43D82Richard found a really amazing place to stay just to the north of Springfield. It is the Lincoln New Salem State Historic Park and makes for an A+ stopping spot. Aside from the fact that there were plenty of electric sites available in the campground, there is a really great recreated town that is walking or biking distance. At last! My pretty blue bike got to get off the bike rack!

1E56F775-7384-45FC-8265-F32372BC5C7AThis is a very well preserved/recreated town and is where Abraham Lincoln spent his early adulthood. There are brochures you can pick up near the Visitor Center that explain all of the buildings you are seeing, plus, they have plaques on each structure so you can do a self guided tour any time. If you visit the Visitor Center when it is open, you can see exhibits of what life was like in this little town back in Lincoln’s time. You can also watch a movie about the short lived history here.

Fascinating and achingly poignant place to find ourselves reflecting on our country, on the 4th of July.

Total miles from Clinton Lake: 360.2, 15.5 mpg, 6 hours 46 min. Almost all of the sites are fully shaded, which is lovely in the heat. Most sites are back in and have electric. Bathrooms are nice. 1-2 bars LTE for both of us.