I’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.
But 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). Jim 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.
The “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. We 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.
After 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. Then 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. We 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.
In 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. Friday 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.
Saturday 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.
Saturday 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!
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.
Some 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?