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Cross Canada Adventures - Stealth Camping

Before we left home, I had been doing a little work on the Marmot van because I wasn’t happy with the interior layout. I wanted to install some kind of air conditioning. In 1981, when the van was built, dashboard-controlled air conditioning had not been installed. I priced out some options and an aftermarket installation was going to be more than half of the price we paid for the van. Even if I had gathered up a system from an auto wrecker and installed what I could, I still would have been obliged to have a licensed technician complete the installation and that amount of money and effort was not what I wanted.

The solution turned out to be a home air conditioner, an inverter, and some batteries. It was not really cheap, but the price was at least reasonable to me and the install was pretty straightforward. But before I took on the job, I did a little research on van conversions. That’s when I came across an article about stealth vans. Evidently these are vans that people in cities live in. The owners just move about finding unobtrusive places to park each night. With a stealth van, you don’t pay rent. Cool idea!

So having been paying $30 or more a night for camping spots that weren’t really even up and running, I suggested we “stealth it” and use the money to buy a meal. We agreed on the plan and it seemed a good one.

Here is our stealth van

 

Actually, the plan was quickly modified to read: sleep in a box store parking lot. It turned out that some box stores had hatched the scheme of allowing RVs to park overnight. It actually works in the favour of the store because, instead of making a campfire, visiting with the other campers, or walking to see the river or lake or whatever, the hapless traveller sitting in the RV in the parking lot eventually succumbs to the lure of the hardware department and spends at least as much as a campsite would have cost.

So walking out of the store with our purchases, we were not particularly pleased to see that the parking lot was pretty much empty except for a couple frantic shoppers who ran in and ran out with a carton of cigarettes or a jug of milk and a couple of shady characters sitting in an old pimped-out Oldsmobile. It appeared they had a number of acquaintances who stopped in for a quick chat and perhaps were loaning our guys some money or perhaps were buying homemade jewellery. It eventually occurred to us that their transactions might have been of the unlawful kind. Seems a lot of money was changing hands and they were doing a pretty brisk trade. We decided it was not the place to be in the middle of the night. Okay. Plan B.

Plan B: Find a nice quiet residential street and park overnight. Seems simple enough. A little hitch was that we should have amended the plan to read “nice quiet level street.” We both agreed that having your feet way up or way down was not conducive to a good night’s sleep, nor was a sideways slant with everyone rolling to one side. Rolling was okay for the one who rolls toward the wall, but not for the one who either rolls out onto the floor or has to imitate a Star Trek character and become a Klingon. Unfortunately, the amended Plan B was just not well suited to the city of Nelson, which, we discovered after a thorough search, has no level streets at all. After half an hour of leaning this way and that, and rolling off the bunks, we formulated Plan C.

Plan C: In a flash of insight, I remembered a park from the tourist brochure I had perused earlier that day.

Lakeside Park lies at the edge of the West Arm of Kootenay Lake at the foot of the famous ‘Orange Bridge.’ Streetcar #23’s tracks lead through Lakeside Park to another loop at the East entrance of the Park.

Perfect! At Lakeside Park we found a level place and even washrooms at the streetcar station. In fact, we had eaten our supper at the other end of the park earlier in the evening so it was somewhat familiar. The parking area had been pretty well populated at supper time, but now it was pretty much empty. Great! We congratulated ourselves, closed up all the curtains, and bunked down. YES! Stealth Camping could work! And it did…until about midnight.

It turns out that on Friday night about midnight on a spring evening, the youth of Nelson frequent Lakeside Park. But not as you might suppose: to stroll quietly in the moonlight by the lake and whisper the intimacies of starstruck lovers. No, the youth of Nelson are given to running and shrieking and hollering and playing hide-and-seek. During their antics, they hide behind things like, well, our Stealth Van. And then they loudly carry on an argument with someone at least a hundred yards away:

“YOU’RE BEHIND THE CAMPER VAN!”

“NO I’M NOT!”

“I CAN SEE YOU THERE!”

 “NO YOU CAN’T!”

But even teenagers eventually tire and move on, and after an hour or two of fun, all was quiet again and we got back to sleep.

Now I suppose we could be forgiven for not taking into account that some of the tracks near the park were not for Streetcar #23. Being used to our quiet little Vancouver Island E & N Railway “Dayliner” train, which had one car and used to run north through our neighbourhood one way to tell us to stop for lunch at 12:00 noon, and back south again at 2:30 to announce afternoon coffee time, we may be allowed to use that as an excuse for being naive about rail traffic. We actually liked to see our cute little train, with its two or three passengers, toot on by as it made its way up and down the Island.

So when the first hideous roaring and clanking of an enormous, berserker freight train not 20 feet away rattled us out of our sleep and nearly out of our bunks, we assumed that it must be a solitary, frantic train with its unfortunate crew hurrying home to loved ones after some unavoidable delay in their daylight journey. The poor guys; getting home so late. After about the fifth train, we realized that these bloody trains run all night and that some evil genius had contrived to route all the rail traffic in North America through Nelson between 1:00 and 5:00 am. As is often the case with those who choose to share life’s joys and calamities, some of us were not ready to jointly accept blame for a bad plan. There were even suggestions made that I, personally, should accept responsibility for “THIS STUPID STEALTH VAN IDEA.” Fortunately, the shaking of the van and the hideous squealing and banging of the steel wheels of the passing trains drowned out further discussion of culpability.

Like Voltaire’s cheerful Candide, whose motto was Everything turns out for the best in this best of all possible worlds, I optimistically pointed out the happy news that we were certainly up early enough to be sure to get a space on the first ferry from Balfour to Crawford Bay, which we did. Yes, we certainly arrived early enough, but some of us were not particularly bright and cheerful at the Crawford Bay landing.

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