I take my time leaving Hotel Alma this morning. Traffic is light as I drive west from Calgary through the Foothills and the Kananaskis area to Canmore, where I stop to recharge my Tesla at the Supercharger. I grab a cappuccino from Beamers Coffee, which is about a 7-minute walk south of the Supercharger. Back at the Supercharger, while enjoying my coffee I take a photo of the old Moon over the south end of Mt. Rundle before resuming my drive.
The very popular Castle Junction rest stop offers the classic view of Castle Mountain, the Sawback Range and the Bow River. I use three different focal lengths of lenses with my dSLR to capture the scene (see banner image above for cropped fisheye view). I discover later that my telephoto shot of Castle Mountain also captured a raptor in flight near the mountain – bonus! I pull into the rest stop at Eldon in Banff National Park for a rest and to have some lunch. Before resuming my drive, I take a panoramic photo of Castle Mountain from this viewpoint – there is spectacular scenery everywhere you look in the Canadian Rockies!
I recharge at the Golden Supercharger for a half hour before driving Rogers Pass to Revelstoke. Tackling the highway construction westbound doesn’t seem as bad as the eastbound experience. This is the second-longest driving segment for my road trip, so I’m tired by the time I arrive in Revelstoke later in the afternoon.
I’m staying at the Swiss Chalet Motel in Revelstoke on the main drag: Victoria Ave. The Village Idiot Bistro is recommended by the desk clerk, so I go there for dinner. It’s a very casual place with a patio going full bore since it is about 27°C downtown. I sit inside out of the sun and have a High Country Kolsch draught (Mt. Begbie Brewery). It is kind of sweet, but it’s a good summer beer that goes well with my grilled halibut which is excellent, and is served with grilled tomatoes, green beans, onions, and goat cheese – a very heart-healthy choice.
I have a Standard Queen Room in the motel, which is small, but nicely updated with a Queen bed, fast Internet, full bathroom, and air-conditioning. Each unit has a parking spot right outside the door, and the office doubles as the breakfast room. The motel is centrally located – it’s an easy five minute walk to the railway museum, and a 15-minute walk to the shops downtown. There is free parking downtown if you drive.
After eating the very modest continental breakfast the motel offers, I drive across the street to charge at the Tesla Supercharger in Golden. I pickup an acceptable cappuccino from the nearby MacDonald’s drive-thru before starting my journey. This is one of the shorter road trip segments today, which I planned to allow me to enjoy the scenery along the way through Yoho and Banff National Parks and the Kananaskis area on my way to Calgary. The Canadian Rocky Mountains are awe-inspiring on this beautiful sunny day as I take my time along the route.
Flying drones in national parks is prohibited in Canada, so I wait until I’m out of Banff National Park near Canmore before launching my drone, and capturing some beautiful panoramic photos and video of Mount Rundle and the Bow River. I stop to recharge my Model S at the Canmore Supercharger, and have a quick bowl of soup at Craig’s Waystation restaurant before continuing down the valley and emerging from the Foothills and onto the flat prairie farmlands east of Calgary.
I am staying at the Hotel Alma on the campus of the University of Calgary, which is easy to access from the Trans-Canada Highway. As I park in front of the hotel, I meet several astronomy buddies even before I check-in. The hotel arranges for me to charge my vehicle at the Level-2 chargers available on the campus in Lot 22, which I take advantage of a couple of times during my week-long stay.
The RASC General Assembly registration desk is setup in the hotel lobby, so after I get settled in my room, I go downstairs to pick up my delegate’s package. I connect with a few people I know in the lobby while we wait for buses to take us to the Members’ Welcome BBQ dinner and First Nations performances at the Rothney Observatory, in the country south of Calgary. We also get to tour the observatories operating from this site.
I’m up just after 7AM, get cleaned up and go downstairs for breakfast. Afterwards, I try to fly my drone from the parking lot, but the whole of Merritt is a no-fly-zone since the airport is nearby. I spend about a half hour across the highway at the Tesla Superchargers at the Best Western Plus hotel before starting my drive north on Highway 5. This is my longest road trip today, driving a total of 446 kms over 6 hours elapsed time.
First stop is Kamloops Visitor Centre, where I charge the car at one of the four Tesla Superchargers. This takes about 20 minutes, so I have time to get a cappuccino at a Blenz in the Aberdeen Mall across the street, I leave Kamloops eastbound on the Trans-Canada Highway 1, heading to Salmon Arm, where I have a quick lunch at a Tim Hortons before proceeding to the Revelstoke Supercharger. I get my fastest charge rate so far at that location, but have time to walk to a Starbucks for a cappuccino.
After leaving Revelstoke, I drive over the Rogers Pass to Golden, where I am staying overnight. Highway 1 through Rogers Pass is dotted with construction zones where they are repaving. I wait about 20 minutes at one location. The snow shed lighting is also being worked on, so it is slow going. Despite all the construction and delays, Rogers Pass is always spectacular, and today is a lovely sunny day, so the mountains and valleys live up to all my expectations.
After driving all day, I am exhausted by the time I get to Golden. Since it is 6PM, I go to a nearby Boston Pizza and have a beer and some lasagna for dinner, and then check into my motel. I am staying at the Ponderosa Motor Inn, which is a very modest motel. It is clean, but they obviously cater to work crews and truck drivers, since it is located on a highway access road, instead of being downtown. I wouldn’t stay here again, but there’s really nothing wrong with the room: it’s clean, quiet, and everything works.
I’m pretty well packed for my road trip to Calgary, which starts this morning. My partner and I packed a 14” Meade SCT telescope in the back of my Tesla last night. It just fits in the back with the back seats still upright. I jam other stuff around the telescope so it won’t move when I’m underway. My travel bags, snacks, drinks, and camera gear go into the back seat. I have a medical appointment this morning, but arrive at the ferry terminal at 12:10PM, identify myself as a senior in order to get a free passenger fare on BC Ferries, and get on the 1PM sailing to Tsawwassen (see banner image above). I grab a Cobb Salad from the snack bar and have lunch in a quiet area of the ship. The Strait of Georgia is calm as we cross to Tsawwassen, arriving on time at 2:35PM.
Driving Highway 17 along the Fraser River to Surrey is a stressful start to my road trip since it is so congested with trucks. The Langley section of the Highway 1 freeway is under construction, so it isn’t much better, except as an electric vehicle I can use the temporary HOV lane to bypass some of the congestion. Once I get to Mission/Abbotsford the traffic starts to speed up and thin out a bit, and past Chilliwack is easy going all the way to Hope.
The Hope Supercharger is located right downtown, so while my car charges for 40 minutes, I go next door to the Dairy Queen and splurge on a small Blizzard. Hope is a very run-down town, so I’m glad to get out of there and onto the Coquihalla Highway.
The speed limit is now 120 kmh along most stretches, so that combined with the steep climb out of Hope to the Summit means my Model S is using 450 watts/km of energy, as compared with about 200 watts/km in the city or on flatter sections of the highway. Of course, I get some regeneration on the descent from the summit, and the stretches on the last half hour along the Nicola Valley into Merritt are much flatter. I stop at the Britton Creek Rest Area to have a look at the pair of Fast DC chargers and a Level 2 charger for electric vehicles. This allows shorter range electric vehicles to now make use of Highway 5. Previously they had to stick to Highway 1 or 3.
After checking into the Comfort Inn in Merritt, I meet a fellow amateur astronomer to transfer the telescope to his car. I’m glad to get rid of that beast, so I have more room in my car. The hotel appears to be brand new, and is located right beside the highway and airport. It is quiet and well-run.
I’m awake at 5:45AM, probably due to jet lag. I turn off my alarm, get cleaned up, and go downstairs for breakfast at 6:20AM. The coffee is acceptable, and I have some toast, yogurt, and a muffin before going back to my room to finish packing. I catch the 8AM airport shuttle, and arrive before WestJet has opened their baggage drop counter in Terminal 2. Once they take my checked bag and check my passport, I ask them to print my boarding passes, despite having already checked in using their app on my iPhone.
To my relief, I have TSA Pre printed on my boarding pass for the flight to Vancouver. I clear the TSA Pre-cleared security check in literally two minutes, and I’m in the gate area for my flight. I grab a cappuccino from a nearby coffee shop and find my gate. It is controlled chaos in this very congested area with 5 gates where there should probably be two.
My WestJet flight loads quickly and since I’m in Group 2, I board before most. The aircraft pushes away from the gate on-time at 12:05PM, and the captain announces the flight will take two hours and 20 minutes – a bit faster than the stated flight duration. As I did on the way down, I again buy the hummus and crackers snack at a cost of $4, and along with some Coca Cola, call that lunch. It’s a very scenic flight north to Vancouver – I see Pyramid Lake in Nevada (see banner image above), and the weather in Vancouver is perfectly clear, so the approach to the airport is quite scenic.
I clear Canadian Customs and Immigration at Vancouver airport in short order, clear security again, and find my last gate for this trip for my 20-minute flight to Victoria. I calculate that I’ve traveled some 35,500 kms or 21,300 miles in the last 20 days!
I wake up at home by 6AM. and I’m at Victoria airport by 8AM to check my bag through to LAX aboard WestJet. I calculate the elapsed time from leaving home to arriving at our Kuala Lumpur hotel will be about 33 hours! After we board the flight to Vancouver, there is a miscount of passengers. The flight attendant counts passengers in the aircraft several times, however we finally pull away and take the scenic southern route over Boundary Bay approaching Vancouver Airport from the south and the east.
After arriving in Vancouver, I have to walk a few kilometres – the full length of the airport to get to the USA-bound flights. After taking off my shoes, coat, belt and watch, I’m still hand-searched by the TSA staff before I can pre-clear US Customs and Immigration. The US customs agents ask if I have a bag, but their procedure obviously doesn’t include having bags with passengers anymore…at least the automated kiosks for entry to the USA in this area speeds up some of the pre-clearance entry process!
I have four hours to wait in Vancouver for my flight to LA, so once I find my gate, I have some lunch at Tim Hortons. My flight departs on time at 4:14pm, so now I can relax, since Michele and the tour company will be responsible for coordinating the rest of the flights until we return to LA.
I watch a movie on my iPhone using the in-flight networked entertainment offered by WestJet – Bucket List with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. It is a beautiful flight south as we pass by Mount Shasta and other snow-capped mountains in southern Oregon and northern California. The Sun is setting over the hills as we approach LAX.
The LA airport always seems to be out-of-control, where confusion reigns. I arrive in Terminal 2 and have to get to Tom Bradley International next door, but I can’t find any directional signs. I ask the staff at the baggage desk near where I retrieve my bag and they show me the right direction to walk. It isn’t far, but again, once I’m there, I can’t find any signs to indicate where the check-in counters are located. After asking for directions yet again, I find my way to the third floor of the terminal.
Thank goodness I have Premium Economy, so I can use the Business check-in at the Cathay Pacific counter. The clerk urges me to make my way to the departure gates as soon as possible, since he says security clearance will get crazy in a couple of hours. That may be, but when I go through security, it is almost at the level of being dehumanizing. The TSA staff are yelling at the passengers, there is no TSA Pre-clearance available, and everyone has to go through a full body scan. Combined with taking off shoes, belts, and coats, it is a dreadful experience. I’m glad to get through it and find my gate.
I grab a cappuccino and a chocolate chip cookie from Starbucks and sit down at the gate to unwind. By 9:30PM, I see some of my tour group arriving. I recognize some people from my previous trip to Arabia with InFocus Travel, and another clue is the yellow yarn tied to their carry-on bags – our tour leader Michele keeps track of her group this way. Those of us who upgraded to the Premium Economy get to board right after First Class and Marco Polo members. Loading goes smoothly, but our Cathay Pacific flight leaves a bit late at 12:45AM.
April 3 & 4, 2018 – Tuesday & Wednesday – Flying from Los Angeles to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Once our Boeing 777-300ER levels off after leaving Los Angeles, dinner is served. Those of us in Premium Economy are given a menu of four entrees and complementary wine. Our seats are pretty deluxe: they recline more than the regular economy seats, have a recliner-style foot rest, and there is both USB power and regular 120 volt power at each seat. There are only two seats instead of three beside the windows, where I am sitting. Once dinner is over, the cabin is darkened, we are given lots of pillows, blankets and an overnight kit. I manage to sleep a fair bit for the first 8 hours or so of the flight – a first for me! By my count, the Premium Economy cabin has 36 seats, with slightly over half of them occupied. We have our own bathroom, and since the bulkhead row ahead of me is empty, I move up there after takeoff so I have room to spread out, and I won’t disturb anyone when I get up to move around a bit during the long flight.
Since we are flying westward across the Pacific, we lose a day as we cross the International Date Line. A couple of hours before our arrival in Hong Kong, the crew serves breakfast. I’m pretty hungry by this time, since our last meal was dinner some 12 hours ago. They serve eggs Benedict with hash browns, spinach and a tomato. It’s pretty good, but what I really appreciate is the coffee, since I last had a cappuccino from Starbucks in the LA airport some 15-20 hours ago!
We arrive in Hong Kong a bit late – 6:58AM instead of 6:45AM. That may not seem like much, but our group’s connection is very tight, we have to go through an entry check point even though we are transiting to Malaysia, and the gate for our flight is on the other side of this huge airport. Our long walk takes us almost a half hour before we finally find the gate, and a few minutes later they start loading. But wait, they have a surprise for us. We are loaded into a bus and taken even further out on the airport aprons to a waiting Airbus A330, where we have to shlep our carry-on bags up a steep flight of stairs and to the back of the aircraft, where we are all seated. Welcome to Dragon Air, a regional airline owned and operated by Cathay Pacific.
I guess by this point in this endurance contest, we could all be forgiven for being a bit ragged and cranky! I help some of the more senior members of our tour group lift their bags into the overhead bins as we all settle into our seats. After we are airborne on our four hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, breakfast is served. I’m not in the mood for more eggs, but they have a seafood noodle dish which hits the spot.
Our aircraft arrives on time at Kuala Lumpur’s huge airport. We quickly clear Malaysian Customs and Immigration, find our local tour guide Susan and our bus driver Mohammed, who drives us along Malaysia’s beautiful, modern expressways to Kuala Lumpur and our hotel for two nights – the Hotel Majestic.
It takes awhile to sort out our rooms, and everyone has to pay the 20 Ringgit room tax in cash at the desk. Malaysia charges this room tax per night at each hotel we stay in for the whole trip. The hotel has an old, classic colonial section and a new tower. We are staying in the tower. I quickly unpack, have a shower and then have a two hour sleep before our group meets downstairs in the hotel for a sumptuous buffet dinner. After that, it’s back to bed for me, since we have a full day tomorrow touring Kuala Lumpur.
I take my time this morning in the hotel, going for breakfast around 8AM and then taking a walk around the neighbourhood, knowing that I’ll be sitting in airports and airline seats for most of the afternoon and evening. I check out of the hotel just before noon and drive over to the airport’s short term parking lot. I contact the Tesla’s owners to let them know I’m ready to return the car to them. They tell me to just leave the car where it is and they will remotely lock it and pick it up later. The trip display in the vehicle shows that I drove 666.5 miles, used 189 kWh of electricity, and averaged 284 Wh/mi energy consumption. So if I was paying for the electricity to power the car, it would have cost me about $20!
I check in with Delta airlines and see that my boarding pass shows the departure time for my flight from Tucson to Seattle is delayed to 6:25PM (was 3:55PM). Before going to the gate, and knowing how much of an actual delay I’m dealing with, I decide to have a meal at Noble Hops, a bar/restaurant by the Delta ticket area. They serve very nice craft beer on tap, and I have a delicious Shepard’s Pie with my Dragoon IPA – the bill comes to US$37 (CAD$50)! That said, I know the airline won’t be serving meals, so I will at least have one good meal under my belt to keep me going on what is looking to be an endurance contest.
I proceed through airport security and find my gate, and see that the estimated departure time has slipped yet again to 8:00PM. At this point, the gate staff rebook me to the last flight out of Seattle for Victoria at 11:17PM, arriving in Victoria at midnight. Our aircraft is still stuck in Seattle due to bad weather, and will have to be de-iced for a second time before they depart, which means it will be 9:10PM before it will depart Tucson back to Seattle. That means I’ll miss my connecting flight to Victoria and I will have to overnight in Seattle. I hate airlines!
The gate staff are doing their best by offering free snacks and beverages. They hand me three meal coupons worth $15 each for breakfast, lunch and dinner in either Tucson or Seattle airport. I go down a couple of gates and find a bar that serves food and order a grilled chicken sandwich, using one of the coupons. Several of the passengers on my flight are at the bar drinking. After all this, the aircraft finally pulls away from the gate at 9:15pm. It will be a 3 hour and 11 minute flight according to the onboard announcement. This is an Embaerer aircraft, which means it’s small: one isle with two seats on either side, small overhead compartments, and the seats are quite cramped.
Once we are clear of Tucson, we fly through some very rough air while the cabin crew try to serve beverages – it never fails! The captain takes the aircraft to a lower flight level, which smooths things out considerably. I watch a movie using my iPad and Wi-if through the Gogo inflight network for free: “Pirates of the Caribbean- Dead Men Don’t Tell” – the first movie I’ve watched all the way through for probably a decade!
Orion constellation and the Crescent Moon are visible off the wing to the west during the last hour of the flight. Once we land in Seatac, the fun begins. My big bag is checked through to Victoria, so it doesn’t appear on the carousel. I go to the nearby Delta Baggage office. Thank goodness a woman is still there despite it being after midnight. She advises me to go upstairs right away in order to arrange for an overnight hotel with the Delta agents before they go home. There are no agents to help me upstairs, so I return to the baggage office, and I try calling the Delta Customer Assistance number, but nobody answers – so much for customer service!
The baggage clerk indicates this is not something she normally does, but she makes a call and has someone walk her through issuing me a hotel coupon for the Red Lion Inn in nearby Renton. By that time, her co-worker in the back has located my bag and puts it on the nearby carousel for me to pick up as I go to the hotel shuttle area. I manage to squeeze into the last seat in the shuttle that is about to leave with my fellow wayward Delta passengers, taking us on a 20-minute drive from the airport. The night clerk at the hotel slowly checks all of us in. The hotel is no great shakes, but it is clean, and after turning the heat up and having a quick shower, the bed feels good!
Feb 24, 2018 Saturday – Seattle to Victoria
I’m booked on a 1:05PM flight to Victoria, so I can sleep in before going downstairs for breakfast. There is a buffet, but I prefer to have a vegetarian omelette along with the rather mediocre coffee. I check my Starbucks app, but there isn’t one close by and I don’t see any other coffee shops in the mall the hotel is located in, so no cappuccino for me this morning! I take the 9:30AM shuttle back to Seatac airport, since the hotel isn’t running any more shuttles after that until the afternoon.
I have to clear security without the TSA Pre-clearance I usually have on my boarding pass, however I have lots of time, and the procedure isn’t too stressful. The flight leaves on time and I’m back in Victoria airport an hour later. My bag appears on the carousel, I clear Canadian customs and immigration in under a minute and take a shuttle back to town. They drop me off a few blocks from home, so I walk home and I’m greeted at the door by the dogs. I make myself a cappuccino before unpacking. My daily routine resumes tomorrow!
My friend and I take a taxi to Victoria airport and get in what must be the slowest-moving check in line for our United Express flight I’ve encountered for a very long time. Once we clear security to the gates, we have plenty of time to have a nice lunch in Spinnaker’s. The aircraft for our flight to San Francisco is very late arriving. We finally take off from Victoria airport at 4:30pm – three hours late! We have our doubts we will make our connecting flight to Tucson. Our flight arrives 50 minutes before our next flight leaves, but we manage to clear customs and immigration, get through security, and find the gate with 15 minutes to spare – very stressful!
Our flight arrives in Tucson about 10 minutes ahead of time. We call for the hotel shuttle to pick us up and check in by 11PM. We will pick up our car rentals and drive to our friend’s place tomorrow.
I wake up at 4:15AM, just after the ship sails under Lion’s Gate Bridge. I get my dSLR out and take some photos of the bridge, Stanley Park, and the downtown, all lit at night. I capture some excellent photos, especially as the ship turns and docks at Canada Place.
Since it is 5AM, there is no coffee available anywhere on board. I go up to the Explorations Cafe on the off chance they are open at 6:30AM (their usual opening time), but no luck! My continental breakfast arrives right on time at 7:30AM in my cabin, so I have a cup of tea, a scone and pastry, yogurt, and cranberry juice.
I pack my last minute items and get ready for departure, double and triple checking the closets, drawers and bathroom to ensure I don’t forget anything. My friends call me at 8AM saying they are ready to disembark. Although it is a bit early for our time slot, I am ready to go as well, so we meet in the hallway outside their cabin. The passengers who have Expedited Departures are ahead of us, and they are still clogging the elevators, but we manage to get to the gangway deck and scan our ship security cards for the last time and leave the ship. Canada Customs and Immigration are waiting for us in the passageways to the main cruise ship terminal. They take our forms and wave us through, not even wanting to see our passports – welcome to Canada!
We are in the terminal an hour early, but find the waiting area for the bus to Victoria. Unfortunately, there are no chairs to sit on, so we stand, waiting in line until the two buses board everyone. We are on our way at 9:15AM, right on schedule, and our bus goes straight to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal. We are one of several buses on the 11AM sailing aboard the Coastal Celebration ferry, so it is a crush to get up the stairs. However, once we enter the Seawest Lounge, we leave the mayhem behind for serenity and quiet.
The Seawest Lounge has a choice of two Starbuck’s roasts of brewed coffee, so I finally enjoy some good coffee and a bit of quiet time. I go back for some snacks: sliced cheese and muffins, and a second cup of coffee, so I’m finally ready to greet the day properly! As usual, the onboard Internet service offered by BC Ferries is totally swamped, so I use my own cellular LTE hotspot to catch up with online happenings as we sail to Swartz Bay. There is a two-masted schooner sailing along the Pender Island coastline – very pretty on such a gorgeous day.
Once the bus rolls off the ferry, it makes several stops along the way to drop people off. I am dropped off a few blocks away from where I live, and since it’s a nice day, I roll my bags home.
My friends and I take the BC Ferries Connector bus service from Victoria direct to the Vancouver Cruise Ship Terminal. This is a great service, since once your checked (and tagged) bags are on the bus, they will be delivered right to your cabin on the ship! Since there are quite a few tour groups jamming the public areas, we go to the Seawest Lounge aboard the BC Ferry Coastal Celebration. A modest fee is charged in this area, but it is nice and quiet, getting us away from the crowds, and snacks and beverages are included.
It is a cool and cloudy morning as we cross the Strait of Georgia to Tsawwassen Terminal. The bus goes directly to the cruise ship terminal at Vancouver Harbour and takes us right to the entrance, where we pre-clear US Customs and Immigration, go through ship’s security, and finally check-in to receive our cabin key cards. Boarding the ship after that is simply a matter of walking the gangways until we are aboard the Eurodam and have ship-board security scan our cabin key cards for the first time. Within 10-15 minutes after entering my cabin, my checked bag arrives at the door, so I’m all set for the upcoming trip!
I meet up with my friends in their cabin this afternoon while the ship is still docked. My friends found the bars aboard ship have a dozen beer on sale today, so we sit on their verandah watching the loading activity before our departure. I decide to find some lunch in the Lido, bringing a nice vegetarian sandwich back to their cabin to eat and have a beer with it!
Later, we go out onto Deck 5 forward to watch Eurodam leave the dock and depart Vancouver harbour under Lions Gate bridge. I try out my GoPro Hero5 Black camera by taking a video time lapse all the way until we clear the bridge and sail past English Bay into the beautiful sunset. I’m also shooting with my Canon 6D dSLR since it is so beautiful as we leave port.
When we go for dinner in the main dining room by 7:30PM, there is quite a line of people waiting, however we are seated within about 10 minutes or so and have a lovely dinner as the ship sails down Georgia Strait and the Salish Sea. I return to my room and work on my computer since I still have LTE and later 3G connection with my Canadian cellular service as we sail past Victoria to drop off the pilot and continue out the Strait of Juan de Fuca and into the open Pacific Ocean. The signal from the 3G lasts a surprisingly long time past Sooke! I guess it’s because I’m on the side of the ship facing the Canadian shoreline.