You are homesick… road-weary… in desperate need of some serenity and escape from the tourist crowds. You are craving wide open spaces, communing with nature as opposed to just witnessing it as you pass through. You know deep down you have not found the balance of peace and adventure you seek and it’s eating at you.
Your gypsy heart is tugging at you to move on… keep going… somewhere there is a place that can offer you what you need… you sense this place is close; it must be… needs to be.
After a long day of driving, you’ve passed by potential stops in hopes of finding something better. You navigate a remote and winding road; no cell service, no data available to consult a more detailed map or verify directions. The sun blinds you temporarily as it drops in the sky, but eventually casts a silhouette on the Coast Range Mountains ahead. You are tired and hungry and doubting you will find the place you seek. The sun is setting fast. As twilight envelopes you, your eyes strain for wildlife, praying a deer doesn’t leap out from forest. You wonder if you’ll be sleeping by the side of the road and vaguely consider where you’ll walk the dogs and whether bears are prolific here.
But then, you spot a sign ahead, and a driveway! Though it’s now dark as you pull through a forested drive and then into a clearing, you sense rather than see that something special awaits you in the morning light. The energy of the surrounding area consumes and you know you’ve found where you belong.
Raj and I drastically underestimated the drive to the Terra Nostra Guest Ranch in Kleena Kleene (half way between Williams Lake and Bella Coola). It’s an easy mistake when using paper maps (we didn’t have enough signal to use massive amounts of international data to load the map feature on our phone and get a more accurate estimate, and we couldn’t call the ranch) plus the address my campsite finder app gave me was wrong! The roads were incredibly curvy and we crossed a couple passes so what looked on an atlas to be an easy drive was far from it.
As we approached the second gate, anxious they would be upset about our late arrival, Christoph and his assistant, Ursi, greeted us warmly. They immediately told us the dogs could get out and run with their 9 month old German Shephard/Collie mix (what?? they don’t have to be attached to a leash and subject to a long list of rules like every other RV park?) and London practically jumped into Ursi’s arms and she ended up carrying him to our site. Our site, btw, was 1 of only 2 on the ranch, as most of the accommodations there are in the lodge or cabins. The second site was vacant half our stay, too! Nonetheless, it was tricky for a rig our size to get to, particularly in the dark, but Raj is a natural and with Christoph’s help and me following in the detached Jeep, we weaved around cabins and trees and finally settled in. Though there was barely 20 amp power, and no sewer, we had well water hookup and a nicely built and maintained outhouse complete with a large shower. We had everything we needed, including an invitation for dinner the following night, and we went to bed exhausted, but also giddy about staying in such a place.
As soon as I woke up the following day, I bolted out of bed to look out the front window. I was greeted with a stunning view; right outside Gypsy was a panoramic view of 150 acres including horses and cows at pasture, a lake, glacier topped mountain peaks, forest and nothing else! Well, that’s not true… after investigating a funny noise at the door, I found Chinook (Christoph’s dog) waiting for his friends to come out and play. I hesitated a moment… had I dreamed the dogs were allowed to run free – that I didn’t have to get dressed for the cool morning air and attach them to leashes and carry poop bags?…but then I opened the door and watched as the three ran off to frolic and explore. Heart was happy.
We found such peace at the ranch. We let the kids roam without worrying about traffic, the dogs ran around, barking at cows and horses, yet nobody minded… there were even moments when Raj and I relaxed in our chairs outside, and get this, closed our eyes!!! Ok, it wasn’t for long – not like we actually napped – we do still have 2 toddlers after all, but there wasn’t anything to worry about there. We strolled through the pastures meeting horses and offering them apples (we did this several times a day), we waded in the lake, we enjoyed 5 o’clock cocktails, and the kids helped us wash Gypsy and Lucy (our RV and Jeep) and we didn’t think twice when they both decided to take off all their clothes and play naked in the spray. Yeah… peace.
Raj and I finally got to enjoy some proper Western riding. The ride we took in Lake Louise was quite nice, but it was a typical nose to bum trail ride… no real adventure in it. Though the first ride I went on with Christoph was a group ride catering to beginners, it was nice to ease in and the scenery was beautiful. The other two rides offered terrific cantering and galloping and the opportunity to advance my skills. Since I hadn’t galloped since before I was pregnant with Nina, it was a thrill, but it also took me a few minutes to remember how to sink into my saddle and to just breathe. Of course, my body needed several days to recover after waking up those long-lost muscles. It was worth it. Oh, and the 3rd ride, Raj and I were on together, as we’d been there long enough to trust Ursi to babysit the kids. We hadn’t galloped together since our 2009 trip when we rode in Chile and New Zealand!
We also got both Nina and London on horses! Nina was excited to ride again and was brave – even disappointed- to only stay in the ring. London was hesitant, as it was his first time and he was with Rebecca, Christoph’s helper, but he warmed to the idea quickly and was soon saying “more horsey” repeatedly. They both showed remarkable ease with the animals during the visit – so much so we had to start talking to them about safe practices with horses.
We never got bored at the ranch and only ventured out for one adventure – a 4×4 drive to Perkins Peak. The drive was a bit confusing as about 75% was on a logging road and there were lots of arteries that weren’t on the map. In the end, we only made 1 wrong turn, and after that short detour, and extra test for Lucy, we finally reached the top where there was a lake and glacier. We spent a few minutes watching London throw rocks, and let Nina climb around on a small patch of snow (though somehow she had made it into the car with only 1 shoe without us noticing, so she had to keep one foot on Raj’s foot), but then we got back on with the bumpies. It is so fun to go on these bumpy adventures with the kids; they either laugh hysterically or somehow manage to fall asleep (yes, really – totally zonked out!)… so the entire time is either filled with joyful laughter or unusual quiet.
With days full of horses and adventure, our evenings were quiet by comparison. We ate a couple of dinners at the main lodge with Christoph’s other guests (who were almost all Germans), watched sunsets, ate s’mores (and introduced the concept to the German guests), stargazed, drank wine by the fire, listened to (not so distant) howling of coyotes (or perhaps wolves?) and chatted with new friends. Our last evening we cooked a yummy salmon, corn and zucchini dinner over the fire, then gave the kids s’mores yet again. London was tired and went off to bed but Nina wanted to cuddle by the fire. She was so happy to sit with us and chat and tell stories. As darkness fell, and stars began to twinkle, Nina gasped and excitedly exclaimed “I never seen stars before!” She was in awe! Witnessing her discover the stars that night was one of those moments that make this trip so rewarding.
After Nina happily went off to dreamland, Raj and I were finishing up our bottle of wine when we heard the horses moving toward us in the dark. Most of them were just searching for more grass in the pasture next to us, but a couple of them came over to the fence and greeted us. We assumed they must be looking for a midnight snack, so we quickly grabbed some apples – wouldn’t want to disappoint the horses that took us on such wonderful thrills! Saying goodnight to beautiful, noble horses via firelight… peace.
So there you have it – our time at the ranch – obviously our favorite place yet. Cool, lazy mornings, warm days playing with the kids, nature, wilderness, R&R, adventure, inspiration, orange flickering flames and bright twinkling stars… hard to beat. Of course, Nina did get her first bee sting (a wasp, poor thing), and we didn’t have any phone signal and only had internet unless we found a 2×2 square near the main lodge… but Nina is strong and brave, and we only needed to tell family where we were anyway. I guess after confessing my fear of unplugging completely, the universe thought it was time to test me a bit. We stayed at this fantastic haven for 6 nights total, with a break of 3 nights in the middle to check out Bella Coola (post coming soon). I still miss it. I miss the horses, particularly Toben and Silver, I miss having exhausted dogs, rather than dogs who clearly need more energy output, and I miss those wide open spaces. It was just one of those places – so special – so magical – we will likely spend the rest of our trip, if not the rest of our lives, searching for something to match it.