Satellite Locators & Communicators & Bronte Creek Provincial Park

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This is the transcript from our episode on Satellite Communicators and Locators and Bronte Creek Provincial Park. If you would like to listen to the episode, you can do so here.

Pamela: Hello and good day, eh? Welcome to the Super Good Camping podcast! My name is Pamela

Tim: and I’m Tim

Pamela: and we’re here because we wanted to inspire other families to enjoy camping adventures such as we have with our kids. Today we wanted to talk about satellite communicators and locators and also about Bronte Creek Provincial Park and Tim has some controversy to stir up so we’re going to talk about the satellite communicators and locators first. Go ahead Tim…

Tim: It’s not controversy, man!

Zoleo Satellite Communicator

When you’re doing backcountry camping, although it does apply to front-country as well depending on where you are, as I become less young I find that people are more interested in knowing how I’m doing when I’m far, far away from them and they’re not able to communicate with us. A good chunk of the time that we, Thomas and I, by and large, spend in the backcountry we’re out of cell service. There’s literally no way to communicate in a normal day-to-day way. Last summer, in particular, when we were at Killarney we were eight days with no communication at all. It made me anxious because I couldn’t convey to everybody that we were fine. Pamela is pretty cool that we can hold our own out there, I don’t think my parents are so quite so cool. It wouldn’t be bad to check in with your boss once in a while just to go “yeah, no that wolf didn’t carry me away” or whatever. So we picked up a communicator last year, for the record, I did a boatload of research and it was simply a choice that fit what I wanted from a communicator driven by what I needed out of it, what I didn’t want in it, and budgets both with the purchase of the communicator and with the cost of the plans. I got a Zoleo just so that it’s on the record that I have a bias towards it because I quite like it. But I will tell you sort of what happens with communicators and locators. They use low orbit satellites for the most part to communicate. You can send messages. Some of them have pre-programmed messages. They all have SOS emergency messaging. Most of them have non-emergency messaging. They obviously are all portable. Most of them have pretty good signal coverage though not all of them. They range in price from $140 to probably over $800. Mostly they keep you in touch with the people that love you and everybody knows it’s good or if something goes for a complete crap you know you break a leg and you’re 14 kilometers away from somewhere, you’re going to need somebody to come and help you get out. So I did some research basically the three big guns are Garmin, Spot, and Zoleo which is a new player but it does all the things that I want it to do. Looking at sales and looking at how often it shows up in search results, lots of other people seem to think the same thing. So I looked at the Garmin Mini, the Garmin Explorer, the Spot X, the Spot Gen Four, and the Zoleo. The Garmin and the Spots, sorry the Garmin Mini, the Garmin Explorer, and the Spot X all have displays on them. They also are able to download GPS maps beforehand, not while you’re out in the boonies, but then they have GPS accessibility so you’ll get a bit of the blinky dots on the screen where you are. For me personally, that’s a wonderful thing if you’re ever lost, but I can read a map and I can use my compass so I don’t feel a need to have one of those. It substantially increases the price. The Spot Gen Four is not dissimilar to the Zoleo in that it’s a box, it doesn’t have a screen. It has buttons that you can push if you need to send an emergency SOS or I believe it also has a button where you just push it and it says “I’m good, here’s where I am” and it sends the coordinates, which is what the Zoleo does. I can speak for the Gen Four, it’s a one-way messaging system. Nobody can send messages back to you. The Zoleo, on the other hand, can send custom messages on it. I link it to my cell phone. It tells me if I were to get a message back and I can fire up my cellphone and read the message. So that’s a nice thing, by and large, they’re sort of the same. They’re all relatively resistant to dust and water and stuff. I think most of them you can actually chuck in the lake, maybe not 10 metres down or down for 10 days, but certainly splash it in a puddle and it’s fine or on the dusty trail behind the kid that’s kicking up dust in your face. I’m going to read out prices and try to run through some plans and give you an idea, at least. For the record, you’re not comparing apples to apples. They go to great lengths to confuse the heck out of you and have additional charges and… It’s the same as your cellphone plan. First up, is the Garmin inReach Mini is $447. These are current Amazon prices, Amazon.ca prices. The Garmin inReach Explorer which is sort of the next step up is $583. The Spot X is about 300 bucks. The Spot Gen Four is 140 bucks. It’s the cheapest. It also has the least amount of things you can do with it, it’s as basic as it gets. I actually read a bunch of reviews that said the coverage was kind of meh! It wasn’t all that awesome. Actually, both of the Spots didn’t fare fabulously for coverage. The Zoleo currently is $269. Garmin has a GPSMap. It’s their huge flagship thing, and it is over $800. I’m sure it does all kinds of wicked stuff, I don’t need that. But I’m just putting it out there if you want to spend a ridiculous amount of money. For plans, for all the Garmins across the board for their annual plan, they have three different tiers. They run from $15 to $65 per month, plus a $45, one-time setup fee. They also have a freedom plan. When I signed up for the Zoleo, the other manufacturers only had an annual plan and you had to pay that fee every month. Regardless, there was no suspending, no pausing, no nothing, which is what led me to make the decision to buy the Zoleo. I had to run an initial three months, no cancellation, no nothing, and then I could pause my service for $5 a month until such time as I wanted to fire it back up again. You fire it up for 30 days. You can pause it again, it goes back to five bucks a month until you fire it up again. So that was the big thing for me. Otherwise, it was going to be just a ridiculous amount of money every year for something that I need to use two months out of the year. Back to the Garmin plan, they have a freedom plan, where you’re not committed to a 12-month plan. You can start it up, stop it, it runs from $20 to $80 a month, depending on options on how many messages, you want to be able to send et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But, you pay a $50 a year fee to have that option. You don’t pay that fee, you don’t have the plan anymore. For the Spot, it is $12 to $30 US per month and that’s from the Canadian site, I couldn’t get Canadian prices. $12 to $30 US a month for their annual thing plus a one-time $20 fee, like a startup fee. For their Freedom plan, we pay the $20 one-time fee, plus you also pay $25 a year to use that. Zoleo was $25 to $70 a month plus a $25 setup fee. And then when you’re suspended you’re $5 a month regardless of what plan you’re on. There are other options in the communicators and locators. Like I said, some of them have GPS downloadable maps. You can also subscribe to weather forecast services, not a bad thing. I carry an emergency radio with me that picks up all the bands that we use. Certainly here in Canada, it’s a little tricky to sometimes hold it and stand on one foot, point the antenna off to the left, while your finger is in your left nostril to make sure that you get the right signal. But I get the Canada Weather Service broadcast and it tells me what I’m looking at in terms of weather. Each has its own plan options. I would like to mention because it’s been a bit of a bone of contention in some of the Facebook groups that I follow, there’s a software app called Three Words. It can give you your GPS location without all the numbers and stuff that mean nothing to you. It uses three words. If somebody else is using the same software, from those 3 words they know exactly where you are. They can see it on a map. It’s meant specifically for Search and Rescue or law enforcement to help you out. I’m not going to get into the issues that the backcountry people are having with it. I just want people to be aware that while it will tell you where you are because it’s pre-downloaded to your phone, if you don’t have cellular service, I don’t know how it’s of any use to you. Because you can’t call your Search and Rescue people to come and get you at the location where those three words are supposed to lead them. If you have a satellite communicator and a locator then you’re good. You push the SOS and Bob’s your uncle. It sends out the signal, they come hopefully and rescue you. I just want that out there. So many people seem to think that that replaces a Zoleo or a Garmin InReach. It does not unless you’re talking about hiking along somewhere along the escarpment in Milton or something along those lines fine because you’re going to have cellular service. If you don’t have cellular service Three Words doesn’t do a damn thing for you. That’s it for satellite locators and communicators.

Pamela: Okay, and then the other thing you wanted to stir up controversy about was…

Tim: Oh, right.

So this is the thing that is also rearing its head quite a bit on the backcountry pages these days. I don’t know how it just suddenly popped up. Somebody must have noticed it and then it’s on every single backcountry group in Facebook as of today, March 14th, 2021.

Pamela: Happy pi day!

Tim: Oh, yeah. 3.1415 That’s it. That’s all the numbers that I remember. Anyways, Ontario parks introduced a trial program apparently last year. It’s going to run through this year as well. It’s so much BS! At least the official Ontario Parks response is very much BS. “We’re leveling”, “We’re making things be equal”. It sounds like politicians. I can’t say that I have my head wrapped around everything. I’m sure I’m missing something because it’s a little too blatant. What they’ve done is for Lady Evelyn and Temagami that sort of area, the backcountry sites have gone from about $9-9.50 to say 12 bucks something like that maybe $14 at a stretch per person per night. The Lady Evelyn-Temagami area is a little over 300% of that rate at the moment and the Massasauga up on Georgian Bay is almost 400% that rate at the moment. In other words, we’re looking at $38 something and then I think the Massasauga is 42 bucks a night which is insane! They’re calling it a flat rate. They’re not doing it per person, they’re just making it be a flat rate. My personal take on it is, I mean that’s front country camping fees. You know that’s where you have showers and toilets and paved roads or at least well-graded gravel roads that are maintained and you have a bunch of wardens. Not like in the backcountry where occasionally, you know once in three years, trip across a warden. It doesn’t make sense to me but it makes sense financially, of course, but it doesn’t make sense in the services provided. I would invite anybody who has any thoughts on that to comment on The Campfire group on Facebook or by all means reach out to us at Hi@SuperGoodCamping.com. I would like to know more about how that’s a fair thing. Oh and to boot I mean looking at how it plays out and how government things go, I have to assume that this is an introductory thing that they’re going to apply across the board in short order. That’s going to change things. If you’ve got four people, or I think backcountry allows up to nine people on one site, that’s an awful lot of trashing going on. No way around it that cost is reasonable at that point, but what about solo trippers? What about Thomas and I? It’s just the two of us! Man, why am I coughing up 40 bucks, the same as nine people? I don’t get it. Anyhow, I’m looking forward to hopefully hearing from you!

Pamela: One other thing that we want to talk about is Bronte Creek Provincial Park. Tim is going to bug out because that was a trip that he wasn’t on.

Tim: I was not, see you!

indoor playground at the children's play barn at Bronte Creek Provincial Park
Bronte Creek Provincial Park

Pamela: Bronte Creek Provincial Park is a trip that Brandon and I did together, we actually did it several times together! Bronte Creek is located just near Oakville, Ontario. It’s quite close to Toronto. I’m going to talk to parents of children that are like 12 and under here – it’s a great place to take kids! We had a fabulous time! The one negative thing that I’ll say about Bronte Creek is that where you camp, where you set up your tent, and where you sleep overnight, is a separate area from where all of the amenities are. So every time you want to actually go and do things like go for a swim, you have to get in the car and drive to where the amenities are. So the amenities and day-use area are in a separate area of the park from where you pitch your tent and sleep. Where you pitch your tent to sleep there really isn’t a whole lot to do there. You can bike around but there’s not a lot to do otherwise. But, where the amenities are in the day-use area, there’s a lot to do especially with younger kids! One of the things we loved about the day-use part of the park is that there’s a big swimming pool. It isn’t my favourite for swimming. I’d rather swim in a lake but it’s nice and clean and there are lifeguards on duty. With younger kids, it’s great because you’ve got somebody there keeping an eye on them as well as yourself and they’ve put sandy areas around it, just to kind of make it feel like you’re at the beach. There are other things that we really enjoyed, though. There’s an old farmhouse there. At the old farmhouse, we learned how to make rope and we made our own rope. We learned how to dip candles and we dipped our own candles. There’s a scavenger hunt there. There are animals in the barn, so you can go and visit the animals. There are also two other things that we really loved: one is the visitor centre is great! At the visitor centre at Bronte Creek, you can get a passport to earn your Park Ranger badge. My son did that. I think we have three Park Ranger badges now. You go around the park, you do different activities and get stamps for doing those activities and then you can return it to the visitor centre and you get your Park Ranger badge. That was lots of fun! The other thing that we really loved in terms of Bronte Creek is that there is a barn that the bottom part of the barn has been converted into a playground. It’s awesome, especially if you happen to have the misfortune of being there on a rainy day. Your kids can go in there and they can run and they can climb and they can jump out of the hayloft area down into this big foam pad. There are all kinds of fun activities and running around that they can do inside the barn. That was fun and then also there are animals that you can visit, sort of like a petting zoo. We quite enjoyed the goats. We dubbed the goats that became our friends with nicknames. One other really cool thing to mention about Bronte Creek Provincial Park is the gnome houses. They’re little whimsical houses someone has carved out of tree stumps. You just need to ask at the visitor centre and they’ll direct you how to get to where the gnome houses are. They are definitely something that’s a must-see if you have young ones anyways. We really enjoyed Bronte Creek! Every time we go camping we take our bikes with us. I do think it’s good to have that when you go to Bronte especially. Although you cannot bike from where you pitch your tent to the day-use you do have to get in the car drive. But, when we get to the day-use area, it was convenient to have our bikes with us to bike around to the different things because they’re not that close together. So we could bike from the swimming pool over to the barn to play in the barn and then we could bike from there over to the farmhouse and do the activities at the farmhouse. So I would recommend taking bikes with you. It does make it a lot easier to get around from A to B when you’re in the day-use area. That’s it for Bronte Creek Provincial Park. It’s quite close to Toronto, super easy to get to, and like I said one downside is just the fact that the day-use and the overnight camping areas are two separate spots that you have to drive from one to the other. There isn’t even a path or a bike path or something that you could bike from one to the other. It’s back on the highway and then off at the next exit in order to get to the day-use. Anyway, it is well worthwhile and there is a lot for younger kids to do there. That’s it for me and us today. We are Pamela and Tim from SuperGoodCamping.com. We would love it if you would reach out to us. Our email address is hi@SuperGoodCamping.com. And as Tim mentioned, we have a public Facebook group that you’re more than welcome to join called The Campfire. There are actually two groups called that, ours is the public one. So please do join us at The Campfire. We have a Super Good Camping Facebook page if you’d like to Like our page, we would enjoy that as well. And otherwise, we’ll talk to you again next week. Thanks and take care. Bye!

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