Now The Real Trip Begins

Ever have that feeling of being completely disoriented?   Like when you close your eyes for what you think will be an hour, tops, and the next thing you know it’s eight hours later and you’re spooning a Boston Terrier in the front seat of your corolla.  I must have needed sleep more than I thought I did.  I had to really coax the dogs out of the car for a pee since it was nice and cozy even with the windows rolled down a bit.  As I was trying to shake the cobwebs out, I did a bit of Yelp scouting for a place to stop for breakfast and some much needed coffee.  With a destination plugged into the phone, we were on the road.

But not for long.  Serda’s Coffee Co. in Mobile, Alabama wasn’t too far away and we parked shortly after they had opened.  I was thrilled to hear that the dogs would not only be allowed on the patio, but I was welcome to close the gate for the fence and let them wander since I was the only person there.  Oh and would they like to have a puppacino?  Would they?!  Trick question right?  I brought the dogs out of the car along their bowls of food and water which they promptly ignored once they saw that someone was coming to visit.  And that someone brought little cups of whipped cream with dog cookies.  Jack was in love.  Pretty much all of the staff and some students that were cramming for exams all took a turn getting dog loving.  Soon a plate of chai spiced pancakes and a small bowl of fruit were placed on the table before me.  The pancakes came with butter and maple syrup but hardly needed either as they were moist and full of warm spice flavour.  There was a steady stream of traffic for the drive thru and Piper stood by the fence watching all the cars and trucks go by, her little stump wagging slightly as she waited for someone to notice her.  She was kind of hidden by some foliage so I don’t think most people knew they were being watched but if they saw her, I knew it because Piper’s stump would wag as fast as it could.

The woman that I thought of as the manager came out to check on me and we chatted for a little bit about dogs and such.  There was one thing that stood out for me and the fact that it stood out is a bit odd.  A couple of times, she mentioned her wife.  OK cool.  I have no problem with same-sex marriages.  But there’s always been this perception of southern states not being so accepting.  So either the perception is far from the reality or she just didn’t care what I thought.  I was happy with both explanations and just re-affirms why I like to travel so much and actually get out to meet people.

With a full tummy and the contented feeling of being caffeinated, I walked the dogs along the side of the property before we continued on.  After a little while down the road, I reached into the bag of peaches and started munching on the tiny nuggets of happiness.  They were a little hard and underripe which I thought was not a bad thing since it kept me from turning into a walking juice slick.  That was until I licked my lip and felt a sharp edge on one of my teeth.  I poked at it with the tip of my tongue.  Yup I had chipped a tooth.  It wasn’t bad, but of course I had to keep working the jagged little edge with my tongue almost as though I had to confirm that it was there.

A few hours later, and we entered Louisiana.  If you read this trip series from the start, you’ll remember that I said there were three segments to it: getting to the start, the actual trip, and getting home.  Well, Louisiana is where the real trip begins.

If you read enough of my blogs, you will eventually find references to Alton Brown and his series “Feasting On Asphalt”.  The first season was a trip across the United States and the second…well in the second season, Alton and his crew travel the Great River Road.  This road follows the Mississippi River from it’s headwaters in Minnesota to where it enters to Gulf of Mexico.  This was a trip I have been wanting to take for years.  I watched the series, I read the book, I wanted to stand there and eat there and do that.  And now, finally, I did.

Shortly after noon, and having driven 3072.8 km, we arrived at the end of Highway 23 just past Venice, Louisiana.  There is a sign that says you are at the southernmost point in Louisiana.  It’s not a pretty place to sit and you can’t really see the water through the tall grass and the ships that are docked nearby.  And it was hot.  So hot.

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They seem less than impressed.

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A rare family photo. It seemed appropriate.

I sat there and I wanted to be nervous or excited or overwhelmed about this trip that I have been aching to take for years and I just couldn’t.  I looked at the dogs who had found the shade of the car, or like Leo the shade under the car, and realized that to them, this was just another series of days spent on the road.  They didn’t care where we were as long as we were all together.  And it made sense to me.  If I had put all of these expectations about what an amazing or momentous trip we were going to have, it wouldn’t be the trip.  It would be an ideal and we all know that reality never lives up to ideals.

Now a little bit about that trip.  The Great River Road runs along both sides of the Mississippi River through and along ten different states.  My plan was to go through each state with stops at some of the restaurants and locations featured on Feasting on Asphalt.  Unfortunately, in the time since the show was filmed, several of those restaurants had closed.  Even more unfortunate was the fact that the list that I had made of places that were still open was sitting at home.  Whoops.  All part of the fun figuring out what’s still open.  And I wasn’t going to get too caught up on going to the same places.  If I can great. If not, oh well.  Alton didn’t have a car full of dogs to worry about so some of those places weren’t going to be an option any way.

After everyone drank their fill, I strapped them all back into the car and headed north.  Now when I had done research on the Great River Road (yes I actually researched it), the website suggested that the road was well-marked with placards.  In Louisiana, it isn’t.  At all.  I saw one sign.  One.  I think.  It was in the opposite direction so I could be wrong.  At first, it’s not a big deal since there is only one highway going north anyway.  And along that highway, were signs for things like crawfish and boudin.  I had passed all those places on the way south but you better believe I was going to stop on the way north.

I stopped at Dad’s Restaurant and bounded in, excited for crawfish and felt myself deflate when I was told they were sold out.  She told me their seafood is fresh and so I ordered a shrimp burger.  Soon I was holding a soft burger bun loaded with fried shrimp.  It was good.  It was very good and even with the fried crust, I could taste the freshness of the shrimp.  But it wasn’t crawfish.

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Leo is never far from food.

So we drove on and when we came to a stand that had signs for boudin and crawfish and boiled peanuts, I thought we had hit the southern jackpot.  Nope.  All they had was some boudin and peanuts.  I had to ask what boudin was and watched them struggle to explain what they all just knew and what they told me is that it’s a sausage casing filled with rice and pork.  Well I like all of those things so I ordered a boudin.  I did not expect to be handed a hot foil-wrapped package from a slow-cooker.  When I sat in my car I unwrapped, well, a sausage.  I had to wait before I could eat it but I didn’t wait long enough and I think I gave myself minor burns, especially on my newly raw tongue.  It’s not what I would think of when I think of sausage: the texture is soft and it seemed like I could have just sucked it out of the casing.  It was tasty with a mix of spices that I could not quite put my finger on.  I would soon learn that I would be feeling that way a lot.

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Doesn’t look like much but it sure is tasty.

I had hoped that as we got closer to New Orleans I would start to see signs or placards or something to show the route.  Nope.  It didn’t matter because we were going to be spending a couple of days in New Orleans anyway.  I drove to the Welcome Centre and parked in the lot right beside it.  Of course I didn’t see the car behind me with the smashed out window and destroyed dashboard until after I had paid for our spot.  Ohhhhhhh kaaaaaaaay.  I felt a bit of hesitation as we walked away but I thought that since it was in the middle of the day and there was nothing of value visible, hopefully the car wouldn’t be a target.

We wandered around the narrow streets of the French Quarter.  It’s not the best place to take three dogs, especially if one is bigger as Piper is.  I’m sure I could have carried the boys into several stores but there really isn’t enough space to tie them up outside.  Seeing as most of the stores seemed to be catering to the tourist crowd with kitschy offerings, I’m not sure I would have gone in many anyway.

Now I pride myself at being a good navigator and I made a point of noting the intersection where we had parked the car.  But I got myself turned around at some point and when I punched “Welcome Centre” into my phone, it showed me three and none of them were near the streets I had thought we were at.  Not a big deal in and of itself, but the streets were getting warm and Jack does not deal well with heat.  Partly because he has that squishy face but also because he is a diva.  I’m not kidding.  But there are times when he will be panting his fool head off and sounding like a congested train then go outside and find the HOTTEST part of the yard, which is usually the brick patio and flop himself in the sun.  So I wasn’t too terribly concerned about him.

With plenty of shade and water stops, and directions from a woman working at a tour company, we started making our way back to the lot.  We did stop in Jackson Square on the grass under a tree where a little girl came to visit with the dogs.  I didn’t realize until much later that dogs aren’t allowed in the park.  Apparently there are signs posted although I didn’t see a single one.

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Shhhhh don’t tell on us.

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If looks could kill…OK Piper we’re going.

Eventually, we made it back to the car.  And the car was intact.  Yay!  With the dogs loaded and air conditioning cranked to 11, we continued north to an Airbnb that I had booked for our stay in New Orleans in a quiet residential area north of the Quarter.  I met our hosts, who are just lovely people, and flopped down to give the dogs a chance to rest and consider my food options.  I was hungry and so happy to see that a highly recommended place was less than 10 minutes away.  Sorry dogs, back in the car.  We could have walked the distance but I figured that since I don’t know the area and the dogs had done a bunch of walking already, we would just drive.  I mean, what’s another 10 minutes?

There was a couple of concrete tables and benches out front of Sassafras Creole Kitchen and I was able to bring the dogs to sit with me.  The poor waitress had no idea how to deal with this white girl who just kept saying “I want the southern experience” but she did a great job recommending the gumbeaux and smothered okra and shrimp.  The gumbo is off the charts good.  I was torn between guzzling it back and savouring each bite.  I couldn’t, and still can’t, figure out the spices and she was a bit cagey with them.   She did let it slip that there is file powder but that was it.  The shrimp and okra wasn’t quite what I expected as it was a thick stew with lots of tomato, thick chunks of okra, and shrimp.  It was good and I was stuffed after I practically licked the bowl clean.   The dogs had tried to wiggle their noses in for some samples but with Piper’s delicate belly, I didn’t want to deal with any possible aftermath.  Leo sat on the bench next to me since I obviously didn’t see him when he was sitting on the ground.  We certainly provided plenty of entertainment for the people going inside.

It was close to 10:00 pm when we parked the car for the night after a very long and good first day with the river.

 

Note:  The bandannas the dogs are wearing are courtesy of HOGdogSwag

Everything is Peachy

Given how late we were up the night before, we were up fairly early.  I took the dogs for a short walk around the neighbourhood but even at that hour, the humidity was starting to make itself felt.  I quickly had the car packed up and we left our Airbnb, still without having met our host.  We stopped at Way Station Coffee Co. on the way out of Savannah.  It’s a really neat set-up with lots of space inside and a gazebo where I was able to sit with the dogs and enjoy a mocha, breakfast sandwich (bacon, eggs and cheese on an english muffin), and a raspberry-white chocolate scone.  The only downside is that the gazebo does not have any good scenery since it’s right next to the parking lot and a busy road but if that’s the worst thing about it, well that’s pretty good overall.waystation

We weren’t on the highway long before we saw signs for Georgia Peach World.  Well of course I had to stop and investigate.  There was a stand out front with plenty of fresh produce, with almost half of the stand holding baskets of peaches.  I went inside and was promptly handed a sample of a peach slushie.  I told the gentleman he was my new best friend as I finished the small cup in one swift gulp.  They had shelves and shelves of products for sale and everything could be sampled.  After a short course of sampling and nibbling and questioning them about the bestsellers, I left with a jar of peach salsa, praline pecan honey butter, and peach cider.  And the man behind the counter explained how he will take some of the cider, add a bit of vodka or gin, and pour it into a freezer bag to get to slushie consistency.  I felt my eyes go wide.  Yes!  I had never thought of using a freezer bag but that is brilliant.  I then stopped at the stand outside and bought a quart of peaches and ate almost half a dozen as I sat with the dogs outside while they had a drink and some photos before climbing back in the car.

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That’s some peach!

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Bandannas courtesy of HOGdogSwag

We were driving down the highway when I saw a sign for a beach.  I wanted to give the dogs a chance to swim since it was getting really hot so I guided us into historic St. Mary’s and stopped at the visitors centre.  Well the woman working there told me there was no beach close by and that I would want to avoid letting the dogs swim anywhere nearby anyway because of alligators.  I had thought that the beach would be on the ocean so no concern for gators but evidently I was wrong.  But she did tell me that there was plenty of dog-friendly patios nearby and oh there is a dog park.  Yay dog park.  Turns out the park was very close to the welcome centre and I was able to find it even though there were no signs and it’s at the end of an unnamed dirt road.

The dog park was fenced with a smaller section on one side and an absolutely huge main section.  The smaller part was completely treed and very shady while the main section had trees in half.  The rest of it was open to the sun and had some agility equipment for the dogs to play on.  Piper tackled the elevated walk with no problem.  Leo needed a bit of coaxing to get on the walk but once he figured it out, he seemed to wonder what the big deal was.  Jack just looked at me with that “You’re kidding, right?” expression.  After one lap in the heat, the dogs stopped running around and found shady places to sit; or in Leo’s case, a place to roll.  I tried to get them interested in playing but gave up after the second lap.  My only complaint about this park (and it’s a minor complaint) was that there was only one place for the dogs to drink and it had a thick rubber bowl.  It was made of the same rubber as those heavy black rubber horse buckets that tend to get a funky stink.  But since the dogs didn’t want any water out of their own bowl they couldn’t have been too thirsty.  And back on the road.

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What a park!

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Like this is difficult?

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Pfft no problems here. You can just see the fence at the parking lot in the back.

But not for long as we soon crossed into Florida and just had to get a photo to commemorate the occasion.  Not long after it was time to start looking for a place to eat.  A quick consult with Bringfido.com sent me to Wells Brothers Bar and Grill in Tallahassee.  Sure enough, dogs are allowed on the patio in the back and I quickly retrieved my darlings and we got ourselves settled.  Our server brought out a big bowl of water for the dogs and gave them some loving as I faced off with an impressive menu complete with a selection of craft beers.  There were several items on the menu that I thought were intriguing (The Lip Smacker burger with peanut butter and jelly…) but I decided on The Ad Burger with a side of sweet potato fries.  Hands down, this is one of the best specialty burgers I have ever eaten.  Ever.  Why specialty?  For starters, it’s served on toasted sourdough and topped with a fried egg, pepper jack cheese, black bean mix, and cajun mayo.  Even the sweet potato fries were outstanding: crispy with salt, sugar, and cinnamon.  It says something when the dogs don’t get any samples.  Yes that’s right.  I ate it all.

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Part of the back patio.

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The Ad Burger with sweet potato fries. YUM.

Pleasantly stuffed, we headed back out and started to look for a place to spend the night.  We went to check one campground but all of the sites were taken.  No problem, I saw there were primitive sites so went that way.  The only problem with that plan was that you have to register with the office before going to the primitive sites.  And no one was in the office.  Crud.  OK there was another campground further down the road.  And by the time I got there, the gates were closed.  Florida parks close at sundown.  Who knew?

I was driving towards Pensacola hoping to find either a private campground or a hotel that wouldn’t cost a kidney to stay at when I suddenly started getting the sleepies.  I guess a belly full of meat and dark highways can have that effect on me.  I pulled off into the next rest stop intending to put my head back for a few minutes before continuing.  I walked the dogs around the lot and offered them their dinner and water which they promptly ignored.  I tipped my seat back and soon had Leo on my lap, Jack in the passenger seat with his blanket, and Piper stretched out in the back seat.  Even though they were sleeping the entire time the car was moving, they were soon snoring around me.  I pulled one of the blankets up over me and closed my eyes.

Side note:  the bandannas the dogs are wearing were courtesy of HOGdogSwag

Coffee and ghosts

I was up early…well early for me anyway.  It was almost cold compared to the day before and there was the constant threat of rain so the dogs had a really quick pee break outside before I wandered down to the breakfast.  Notes were plastered everywhere that said food couldn’t be taken out of the dining area.  Ugh.  I scanned the offerings and was rather disappointed with the selection.  There wasn’t even a banana or peanut butter for a waffle-wich.  I wasn’t too upset since I had better breakfast plans anyway (insert excited giggling and hopping here).

While I was tempted to stop in Charleston, I decided on a different course and booked a room through Airbnb before we left while I had access to wifi.  It was going to be the first time I stayed at one, though not the first I had ever booked which I will explain later.  I’ve never been a big fan of B & B’s but once I looked at the cost of hotels where I wanted to spend the night, well the choice was a simple one.

The dogs had long since finished their breakfasts by the time I got everything packed up and we were soon back in the car.  But not for long.  I was being pulled towards my destiny.  And in that destiny was a MOTHMAN!!!  If you’re new to this amazing beverage, it’s one of the specialties of The Chocolate Moose in Beckley.  I got HOOKED on them when we passed through earlier this year.  It’s coffee and chocolate and cinnamon and cayenne pepper and whipped cream and O!  M!  G!!!  I’ve been experimenting with making them at home but this…this is just soooooo good.  It must have looked like I was in one of those old coffee commercials once I sat back in the car.  Just picture it: both hands wrapped around the cup, that happy little smile with eyes closed as I took that first tiny little sip.  And the whole wheat berry muffin was really good too.  But really it was just filler.  The mothman was the main star.

We didn’t do too many walks since Piper and Jack were both a little sore from all the hiking the day before.  We stopped at a few rest areas to stretch out before we were back in the car.  That’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of photo ops and of course they met with their legions of adoring fans.  I am always surprised at how many people had boxers or pugs and how many think Leo is a Frenchie (he’s a Boston Terrier by the way).

It was a little after 5:00 pm by the time we rolled into our Airbnb in the Rincon area at the top end of Savannah, Georgia.  I met with one of our hosts, unloaded some of the gear, and drove downtown.

We wandered a bit to kill some time and stopped at Zunzi’s for a sandwich.  They have a massive patio and not only are the dogs allowed on the patio, when I went to the walk-up order bar, they were actually allowed inside just as long as they stayed on my side of the counter.  Wow.  But that’s not all.  They got a container of chicken for themselves and I got some of their rooiboos iced tea on the house.  Wow wow wow.  I ordered the conquistador sandwich which is their roasted chicken on on bun with sauce and lettuce (hold the tomatoes please).  When I took my stack of containers to the patio, I had one woman sit down with me so she could feed the dogs and another gave me a half of her sandwich that she was going to throw out to feed to the dogs.  All the attention was a little overwhelming.  Finally they left and I was able to eat my sandwich.  It was good but the food was far overshadowed by the customer service.

Then we went to Chippewa Square.  We were going to do another ghost tour.  I mean the one in Charleston was so much fun, and Savannah is supposed to be the most haunted city in the United States so we HAD to go on a tour.  I didn’t sign up before we left so I just went to the square as per the website for 9:00 and waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.  I left after some other people that were looking for their tour group but it turned out they were with another tour operator.  On a hunch, I went back to where I had been and saw a bunch more people waiting so I guess what was on the site was off by a bit.  I also noticed they were carrying cups.  Hmmmmm I didn’t know this before but Savannah lets you carry drinks in plastic containers.  That may have had something to do with all the drunken shenanigans I heard going on.  There’s nothing quite like that alcohol-fuelled squeal echoing off building walls.  There were also these bizarre contraptions that were being driven around.  The only way to describe them is as a covered bar with people seated around it and they pedal it.  It’s like those long tandem bikes but around a table with a cover.  And even those drunkards would yell “puppies” when they saw the dogs.  Ugh.

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Waiting for the tour.

Unlike most cities I have been to, Savannah has squares all over the place.  It seems like there’s a different square complete with statues or monuments every few blocks.  They are pretty but if you’re used to only having to navigate by one or two, it can throw you off.   It has a very different feel from Charleston; a grittier, partier version.

The tour guides from Blue Orb Tours showed up and had no problems with letting me tag along.  Because it was such a large group, their were two guides and I went with Adam.  First, he was a great guide and had lots of interesting stories and was a very good speaker.  His style was dramatic but also with a good bit of sarcastic humour.  At some stops, he would show a tablet with photos or video or audio.  Whether you believe or think it’s just the power of suggestion, I would definitely recommend taking the tour, if only for the juicy stories from the past.

On one stop at a square, Adam told us how they used to talk in front of a staircase to the house across the street but there were times when women, always women, described getting “groped” and said they would wait if anyone wanted check it out.  There were nervous looks around the group and a lot of feet shuffling.  Aw heck so I took up the leashes and we walked across the street where we were joined by almost every woman in the group.  We waited but no one got groped.  Or no one admitted to getting groped any way.

The dogs were amazing for the entire tour.  At every stop, they would flop down and wait patiently until we headed out.  They had so many compliments about how well-behaved they were I could not have been prouder.  They still got lots of attention on the tour and I think some people that were really uneasy would sit by them to either ground themselves or to be distracted.

Did we see anything?  Not really.  There were a few places where I had bit of tightening in my chest but I just chalk that up to the stories that say there’s something going on.  The last stop on the tour was at the Sorrel Weed House which is supposed to be the most active house in the United States.  One window on the second floor was open and a ceiling fan inside was turning very slowly.  Then it would stop and turn again.  I was taking photos and noticed that sometimes the fan was spinning very quickly.  The logical part of my brain said that since the window was open, the fan was spinning because of warm air rising from the hot concrete.  The not so logical part of my brain…well that was coming up with all kinds of other stories.  The dogs hardly reacted to anything so they are either really lousy ghost hunters or nothing was there to hunt.

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Love the Spanish moss. Oh and the super haunted square.

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Lonely streets

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See that open window on the top left? That’s the one with the fan…

After such a busy day, it was all we could do to get to our place for the night.  I was so tired I just fell into bed and passed right out.

A Trip Long Time Coming

I have a tendency for ambitious trips.  But one trip has been on my mind for quite some time.  Over a decade in fact.  It seemed as though I could never do it, never get the time off, never afford it.  Then finally, I made it happen.  It’s actually a three-part trip: getting there, the trip, and getting home.  I’ll tell you what the actual trip is soon but first it’s time to hit the road!

I had actually packed most of my things a week before we left.  It’s not that I was super excited to go, but I also knew that I would be working long hours to get as much at work taken care of as I could.  And I was super excited to go.  Even though I only had to pack the car, at 5:00 am it still took longer than I thought it should.  Still, we were on the road by 5:45 am.  Standard Road Trip Rules apply and the road trip bottle is Baron Samedi spiced rum.

Everything was going swimmingly and even the bunch up around the city was nothing to worry about.  Not a worry.  No issues.  Then the Buffalo border.  Crap.  OK.  Get the papers out, passport in hand, music down, sunglasses off, both hoping and dreading it would be some cutie of a border guard.  Roll up to the window and…nope.  The streak was finally broken.  I don’t know if they’ve recently changed the question protocol because the questions I was asked are not the ones I am used to.  Weird ones like “Where are you staying?” and “Who are you meeting?” and, this was a kicker “Do you work?”.  Not the usual “What do you do?” but “Do you have a job in Canada?”.  And she didn’t even want to see the dog’s paperwork.  No worries, we were soon across the border and driving south.

It had been raining for days in Canada and the rain continued with us.  It was a blessing in disguise since I would have been more tempted to stop and enjoy some hikes and in the process get us waaaaaaaay behind schedule.  As usual.  But since my little darlings are made of sugar and would melt in the rain, we pushed on through.  Until I saw a sign for Premium Coffee Roasters.  Score.  And they do their own roasting.  Double score.  I popped out and after wandering around the little gift shop, I pour myself a cup and am promptly waved away.  “It’s Friday it’s free.”  I stood like a deer in the headlights.  She repeated herself and walked away from the counter.  A-freaking-mazing.  It wasn’t a great cup but it was a damn fine way to start the trip.

We continued on. For the most part the rain was fairly light but it did get heavy the odd time.  Finally, I saw a sign for Erie State Park and, taking advantage of a break in the rain, we stopped for a short walk.  The wind blowing off the lake and the damp air was the kind of combo that makes the wind blow right through you and soon we were back at the car.   Perfect timing too because it started to pour again.bridge.jpg

I was getting hungry when we stopped in Meadville, Pennsylvannia.  I saw Al’s Melons Farm Market and hoped to get a sandwich or snack of some kind.  Unfortunately the deli section is in another town but I could get a cup of meat if I wanted.  A what now?  It’s a cup with the end pieces of their cheese and meats.  Well don’t mind if I do.  Oh and some pickles and blue popcorn.  I was soon popping hunks of meat and cheese back as we drove back onto the highway. The dogs may have had little pieces too.  Who are we kidding?  Of course they had samples.

With a tummy full of goodness, soon the sleepies hit and we ducked off in Washington, Pennsylvannia where we found a real treat:  The Shoppes at Quail Acres.  There was something for all of us: Fortuitea where I got a nice cup of americano and a sticky bun and Dogs Rule, a grooming salon AND gourmet dog treat shop where the dogs got to pick from bins of cookies. It was so warm outside and there was a small paddock for them to stretch their legs.  In reality, there wasn’t much leg stretching.  There was some wandering and some sniffing and Leo rolled and that was about it.  OK back in the car.

We were in West Virginia when I saw signs for some hiking trails along the Gauley River and Summerville Dam so naturally we stopped.  I love the sight of misty rivers so we spent quite a bit of time hiking along the bank.  We actually found a pool on the side of the river that almost looked like it had been created.  Seriously, people spend good money for these types of things and here it was au naturel.  The dogs of course had a blast running through the trees and splashing in the river.  I cringed with each splash and the thought of all the wet dog in the car but really how could I be anything but happy to watch them having fun.

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Not quite sure what has their attention.

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Piper smells something interesting.

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Love the mist.

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Jump on in, the water’s warm.

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Double trouble.

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Another album cover.

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Looking majestic.

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The rain was starting to fall again so we continued on.  We stopped in Beckley, West Virginia for a few reasons.  First, I was getting tired.  Second, I was getting hungry.  And third: MOTHMAN in the morning!!!!!  Wahoo.

We checked into the Days Inn which was the nicest Days Inn I think I have ever stayed at, and headed out in search of food.  My first thought was to go to Campestre for some Mexican food but then I thought “I’ve already had that so I should try something different.”  Well it turned out that everything else was closed except for the chain restaurants so Campestre it was.

I was shocked when I saw how packed the lot was until I remembered it was cinco de mayo.  Nice coincidence.  I stood there and was ignored by several staff members.  I mean, some of them actually turned and looked right at me then turned away.  I thought that holding a menu might help but nope.  I get that you’re busy but at least a “Hang on” or “Be right with you” would have been nice.  Finally one man asked if I wanted anything.  Why yes I did and I ordered the tapatio, which I had enjoyed so much on my last trip.  Now my complete lack of language ability was front and centre because I ordered the ta-patio.  His look said “gringa” as he repeat ta-pa-tee-yo.  It seemed as though the food was done in less time than it took to order it which is good because I was starting to get hangry.

Back in the room and I CRUSHED that meal.  It was as good as I remember: the fresh tortilla chips with ranch dressing and salsa, warm tortillas, steak, chicken, beans, cheese, sauteed onions and mushrooms.  I mean it was demolished in short order as I cracked into the road trip bottle and watched some homesteader show before we dropped into a very deep sleep.

 

Dawgs About Town

It happens every year: the dog’s annual visit to the vet.  And let me just say that if I had any doubt as to the weirdness of my dogs, it is dashed to smithereens any time we get close to the vet’s.  My dogs love the vet.  And I do mean LOVE (as in all caps bold underline and italic) the vet.  Piper will wake out of a dead sleep whenever we get close and start whining up a storm as soon as we get into the parking lot.  All three of them will drag me into the office.  I cannot get the door open fast enough for them.  I have worked really hard to make it a positive place for them and have brought them to the vet for visits and treats and gotten them used to everyone there.  My thinking is that in the case of an emergency, I want to reduce the stress as much as possible to make a difficult situation a little less difficult.  Well apparently I did my job too well.  I’m lucky because all of the vets and staff at the clinic are amazing and I know my critters are in good hands.

We got into the office and everyone got weighed and saw the doctor and we collected our year’s supply of flea and tick control and heartworm meds and bloodwork and OH MY GAWD my credit card screamed as it tried to cling to the leather of my wallet.  Four digits; that’s all I will say about the bill.

As much fun as the vet is, I like to make our outings as fun as possible to keep the good vibes rolling so we went for a nice long hike in our local country preserve.  As we climbed out of the car, I noticed a lovely young black lab that was dragging it’s owner towards us.  It seemed friendly but when he led the dog one way, we went the other.  That would not be the last time that we would see that bouncing ball of energy or her not bad-looking owner.

Even with plenty of cars in the parking lot, we barely saw anyone else as we hiked trails that wound through tall grass and tall trees.  We were beginning to make our way back to the car when that same black lab came bounding around a corner, all floppy years and big feet.  At first she didn’t see us but her owner was more on the ball than the pup and she was back on leash as she kept straining towards Piper.  The owner told me that her best friend is a boxer and she just wanted to play.

Now let me just go off on a bit of a side note here: I’ve been single for a while and I’ve come to realize that it is because I am clueless when it comes to either possible interest or possible opportunities.  This being a prime example: had I been paying attention I would have said something along the lines of “Maybe she wants another boxer friend” which could have been chance to get to know the owner.  What do I do instead?  “Cool,” as we walk on by.  I was about 20 steps past when I literally groaned out loud with a full-on face palm.

I’m not going to say that I kept my eye out for that lab and Mr. Cutie.  I may have even lingered in the parking lot to make sure that the dogs were all strapped in.  For safety sake of course.  Eventually, once everyone was safely strapped in, we set out for our next fun stop of the day.

I have been chastised (jokingly I hope) several times at my local pet store for showing up without the pups so I just had to bring them in for a visit since we were passing by.  After they got their first set of treats from the staff, we went to the wall of toys.  They seemed interested in the “Chatterball” which is a ball that makes noise.  So of course, they got a Chatterball.  And more treats before we left the store.

I needed something to take a bit of the edge off after that vet bill so we went to Second Wedge Brewing Co.  I had been there before and knew that dogs were welcome.  We were greeted at the door by the resident brewery dog, another lab named Sadie.  I didn’t quite trust my pack to stay out from underfoot so they stayed on leash which seemed to bore Sadie.  And soon my pack was sprawled out on the floor around me.

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Outside the brewery

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The menu board

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The dogs wondering if they get some.

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A room with a view.

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The dogs with their new friend Sadie.  Jack doesn’t seem to care.

I tried a couple of the seasonal brews: Day Tripper and Smoked Wheat on Rye and fell in love with the Smoked Wheat.  A lovely smoky flavour running through lovely beer.  Soooooooooo good.  I could drink that for the rest of my life and be happy.  As I sipped away, the staff and other customers came to visit with the dogs who would sit up just to get their attention and then flop back over onto their sides.  Then I heard something that made my ears perk up: a food truck was coming by in a few hours.  I was torn.  Do I hang around in town for the truck or just go home.  And then I heard the menu: barbecue.  Problem solved.  Of course I was going to stay.

I collected the dogs and wandered down the main street with plenty of people stopping to pet the dogs or wave at us as they drove by.  We wound our way past people fishing in one of the town ponds then through main park and finally back to the brewery.

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Beside Elgin Pond on Youth Fishing Day.

The truck was parked out front but was still making final preparations so I decided to have one more beer.  I popped into the brewery and was shocked at how many people were in there, a huge difference from a short while ago.  There was another dog that was wandering around in there and he was not on a leash.  I was a little concerned with the dominant body language he was showing so I kept the dogs outside.  The patio is amazing and we were the only ones sitting outside.  OK I was sitting as the dogs were passed out on the ground around me.  Soon I saw people walking near the food truck so I drained my beer and went out to the truck.

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We had the patio all to ourselves.

We were still early and stood staring at the menu, trying not to look too pathetic as we waited alone outside the truck.  Soon others joined us and then the panel of Laura’s Casual Kitchen lifted to expose the interior and we saw the people frantically working inside.

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Laura’s Casual Kitchen truck.

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Patiently waiting.

In no time, I found myself the proud holder of a plate of smoked ribs, potato and egg salad, and a cornbread muffin.  I parked myself on a nearby concrete footing that happened to have a piece of metal sticking up that was a convenient leash holder.  Let’s just say the ribs did not last long and the potato/egg salad was really good.  I usually put eggs in my potato salad so it was nice to see it somewhere else.  I wasn’t fond of the cornbread and found it really dry.  The butter that accompanied it was so hard that it was torn apart to fall down my shirt.  All things considered though, it was a fantastic meal.  The dogs were more than happy to take care of all the crumbs that fell and they had a few samples of the ribs.  I had to ignore Leo’s attempts at Jedi mind tricks to hand over a rib.

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Potato/egg salad, smoked ribs, and a cornbread muffin.

I loaded, practically lifting, the dogs into the car (with some Smoked Wheat and Day Tripper to enjoy at home) and soon we were back home.  The dogs were so worn out that I had to bribe them out of the car.  They slid out, had a drink, and flopped in their usual sleeping spots: Piper sprawled on the couch, Jack on his mound of blankets, and Leo in his chair in my craft room.  Soon the sound of snoring echoed around me.

A Short Trip to Somewhere

I found myself with some time off and the first hint of a gorgeous day a few days ago so I figured “Let’s go somewhere.”  With my newly acquired Parks Canada Discovery Pass burning a hole in my pocket (OK it was pinned to my cork board but that doesn’t sound as good) it was an easy decision to make.  And as there are only five national parks in Ontario and a very limited amount of time, it was narrowed down to Georgian Bay Islands National Park.  So I loaded the dogs in the car, punched in the park name, and followed the directions from my pushy telephone.

I wasn’t really paying attention as I blindly followed the voice in the phone.  I was somewhat familiar with the route since we were headed towards Midland and as we continued north, I saw some ominous clouds ahead of us that had me worried we might have to cancel our trip.  But after a few turns, I was back facing the sunshine.

I turned down the last road and eagerly fixed my pass to the rearview mirror as I drove towards where I thought must be the gate.  Nope…no gate.  An administration building with a ton of vehicles but no gate.  Weird.  I brought the dogs out of the car and headed towards the first thing that looked like a trail.  There were no markings, no maps, but oh wait: there’s a sign that indicates the park border.  OK so at least I’m on national lands.

We went traipsing along the narrow but well-trodden trail.  I stopped at the edge of a river to let the dogs have a drink and of course they can’t just drink from the shore.  Oh no.  They have to wade in chest deep and drink that way.  All of them.  Great.  Wet dogs.  In fact, Piper wanted to go for a full-on swim and kept trying to wade deeper.  Leo dropped into the dirt as soon as he got out of the water and I cringed with every wiggle that sent more dirt into his drenched coat.  Jack, well Jack’s got that thick pug coat that holds water like a sponge so I had the pleasure of repeated shakes.  After they had sorted themselves out, back on the trail we went.

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The river.

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Can’t you just drink from the shore like normal dogs?

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Oh not you too Leo.

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Piper decided to strike a pose by herself.

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I’m always getting butt shots.

Then we exited onto a paved path.  I turned to look behind me, thinking that I had missed more trail as I was enjoying the sun.  Noooooooooo there was nothing else.  Huh a ten minute walk and I find myself on a paved trail behind some houses.  I knew that there were some small parks but this was a bit much; or not.  Oh well, we continued on.  There was a placard for the Trans-Canada Trail so obviously we had somewhere to go.  It was a nice view out over the water and we walked by some really creepy structure that I think was part of the shipping industry from a bygone era.  All I can say is that I would not have been surprised to see a clown peeking out a window, especially since I had just seen the preview for the movie “It”.

Everyone was super friendly and if I didn’t immediately acknowledge someone, like when I was stooping and scooping, they made sure to say “Hi” as they went past.  There’s no better way to meet people than when you’re trying to tie a bag full of poop.

The paved path quickly heated up and the dogs stopped pulling to sniff everything which is the universal signal for “I wanna go back”.  So we turned around and went back through the park.  Thinking the park had to be bigger, we took a few more trails but we still made it back to the parking lot in zero time.  I felt a little silly for having brought my big camera pack complete with tripod and hiking poles.  Bit of overkill with that.  So I left the big pack behind and brought only my camera as we wandered around a picnic area next to the parking lot.  There were some old stone foundations and I just could not resist stopping for a few pics.  Of course it would have been nice if I had brought my tripod for a group selfie but a wadded up jacket and nearby piece of stone will do almost as good a job.  Having said that, there are plenty for a blooper reel.IMG_0839

Feeling a tad bit peckish, we drove into Midland proper.  I had only been to Midland once before for last year’s Butter Tart Festival so I wanted to stroll the town without being run over.  It’s a very pretty little town with an outstanding coffee shop called “Grounded Coffee Co.”  I ordered my usual americano with a splash of cream and bit of sugar and got a blueberry scone because…well I wanted one.  I sat at the table outside the cafe on the sidewalk and entertained passersby as I shared itty bitty bites of scone with the dogs.  Some people would stop and get some dog lovin’.  There was one gentleman who slowly walked by with a cane and appeared as though he had had a stroke or something similar and the dogs were just so gentle, it made me so proud of them.  Especially Piper since she is a master of the full-body lean.

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You look like you need help with that.

After I had refuelled, we continued to walk to the shore where there is a nice waterfront area.  And then, I saw it.  Always looking for landmarks to pose the dogs I could not pass up the opportunity to get them in front of a giant metal goose.  Nor could I miss the seagull sitting on the head of the goose.  How cool.  Although I was distracted (and maybe a little over caffeinated) when I saw a man sitting by the lake with a red toque and red and white sweater.  Holy crap I found Waldo!!!!  It must have been quite a sight for the people sitting in their cars (I don’t know why) as I tried to pose the dogs, get a photo of the seagull, and covertly get a photo of Waldo.  I managed to get two of the three.  By this point, the dogs were bored of my shenanigans and soon sprawled out on the lawn while I snapped happily away.

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A seagull on a goose’s head! How awesome.

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The dogs are decidedly unimpressed.

Once I was done with photos, and Waldo had left, we sat on the end of one of the piers just to enjoy the sunshine and each others company.  After a bit, we walked back to the car, stopping for one more picture next to a boat.  Dark clouds were hanging low over the water and the wind was starting to blow so we hustled the rest of the way.

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Leo’s trying to figure out how to get the water far below. Piper doesn’t care.

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Jack is content to just chill.

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“Oh come on. Another pic?!”

I was giving the dogs some water before loading them in the car when I heard the first rumble of thunder.  I looked up and saw that the sky had gone from dark clouds to having a green tinge to it.  Uh oh.  When ever there are green skies you know there’s a real storm brewing and no sooner had I started the car, then the first drops fell.  Soon the rain was pouring down and my poor little car was getting pelted by hail and the wind blew us side to side.  Fortunately, the worst of it ended quickly and most of the drive was uneventful if too rainy for any side trips.

Oh and the park that I was in?  It wasn’t Georgian Bay Islands Park.  I’m not quite sure where I was.  I’m thinking it’s just a small chunk of land for their administration office and where they park their cars.  So it looks like we’re going to have to go back.  Only maybe this time with no hail.  But I’m not saying I won’t look for Waldo again.

 

Product Review: West Paw Design Toys

I used to give my dogs a ton of toys.  They would get damaged but since Piper and Jack usually just tossed them around and played the odd sedate game of tug, the toys lasted for a bit.  And then along came Leo and he seemed intent on destroying all of them.  Not just destroying them but annihilating them.  I was worried that he would swallow rope fibres and bits of fabric so all soft toys went into the garbage with the odd rope toy that would only get action when I was there to supervise.  They do have several antler toys to chew on; I love antler because it’s tough but they can’t break chunks off like with bone.  I’ve also found that most bones have a coating on them that disagrees with Piper’s, shall we say delicate, constitution.

After reading a review of West Paw Design from Ecohug, I set out to check them out for myself.  Turns out, the dogs had already received one as a gift.  It has held up so well with all the rough play that I have since bought a few more.

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Leo: king of all the toys.  Jack was ready for a nap.

Now I want to state for the record that I have received absolutely no compensation or consideration for these products.  These are items that I have purchased myself or the dogs received as a gift.

According to their website, West Paw Design is based in Montana and was founded in 1996 when the owner, Spencer Williams, purchased a small pet toy company with the goal to make safe and highest quality dog and cat toys.  In 2016, Forbes named the company “One of the Best Small Companies” in America.  I have noticed that most pet toys are made in China.  I’m not looking at it from a protectionist standpoint (I am Canadian after all) but from a quality control standpoint.  And the toys are made from recycled materials and can then be recycled.  It’s a small thing but I like it.

I have three models of toys from West Paw Design: the Bumi (shaped like a “Z”) and the Hurley (shaped like a bone) from the Zogoflex line and the Wox (looks like a 3-legged stool) from the Zogoflex Air line.

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Clockwise from top left: Wox, Bumi, and Hurley.  You can just see the damage on the bottom of the Bumi.

Price:  4/5

These aren’t the cheapest toys out there but I would rather spend a bit more for a toy that’s going to last and not hurt my pups.

Toughness: 5/5

We got the Wox more than six months ago and it shows no damage even though it has been in the middle of some serious games of tug.  The Hurley is too small for tug but gets lots of chew time from all three of them.  The only one that does have some damage to it is the Bumi.  There are some small splits forming on the tip of one end but not deep enough to retire the toy.  In fact the splits are just surface damage at this point.  Considering that Jack and Leo play absolutely ferocious games of tug with it, it’s not surprising that there would be some damage to it.  And when I say they play tug, they put every ounce of their little bodies behind it.  I have stood on other toys and Leo has pulled hard enough to move me.  So imagine two of them tugging like that in opposite directions.

Give up the Funk: 5/5

The toys get a bit grubby from being on the floor but it does not get the funk that rope or other rubber or plastic toys get.  If I had a dishwasher I would test the assertion that they are dishwasher-safe but I have tossed them in the sink and cleaned them up.  I have first hand experience with the lack of smell: I was playing tug with Leo and the Wox.  He had one leg in his mouth.  I was holding one leg and was down on the floor pretending to bite onto one leg.  No stink from the Wox, even when Leo shook his head and that last pesky leg clubbed me in the eye.  But since there was some give to it, hey no black eye.

Fun Factor:  Crank that up to 11!

I have been know to occasionally toss the toys through the house (ahem).  They bounce in unpredictable directions, especially the Wox, which adds to the fun.  They apparently float although I haven’t taken them outside to test that but since they are so easy to clean, I would not hesitate to take them outside.

Overall rating:  A great series of toys that can hold up to rough play and is well worth the expense.

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Piper enjoying a moment with a toy.  Jack waiting until he can grab it.

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Have to chew in comfort.  Na-mes-toy.

No Denying the Mothman

Starting Mileage: 2403.6

It was downright cold when I woke up the next morning.  Rather, it was cold outside; inside it was so warm under the blankets that it took me a while to get out of bed.  But the need to get on the road, and a boxer nose that kept making those exasperated snorts in my face, made me drag my butt out from the warmth.  I took the dogs for a walk around the grassy area but after they had quickly done their business, they were pulling me back towards the hotel.  I got the hint.

After I poured out their breakfast, I made my way to the lobby for mine.  I found the offerings to be consistent if nothing else.  I guess I can’t expect much for free and in short order I was back in my room with a waffle and some yogurt.  I was eager to get going and wolfed the food down before we were back on the highway.  I had been debating whether to take my time or push to get back home that night and figured I would let the road decide: if there was something fun worth exploring then we would explore and we would get home when we got home.

Knowing that we were entering Jefferson National Park, I had my eyes peeled for any sign indicating where we would have to go for a hike.  After I emerged from a tunnel that ran through a mountain, I finally saw a sign.  The sign told me that we were leaving Jefferson National Park.  Huh.  I thought about turning around to try and find our way back in there but I was soon gratefully that we were not in the trails when a sudden snow storm descended on us.  It cleared quickly and I decided to stop for a coffee and made my way towards Bluefield West Virginia.  Some parts of the drive were beautiful and had lovely views that I was able to sneak a peak at as we wound through narrow hilly roads.

When I stopped at the Corner Coffee Espresso Bar and Bistro, I saw some of the biggest cinnamon buns being frosted by the woman at the counter.  I debated getting one as I asked her where some good places to hike were.  She told me about Pinnacle Rock then suggested going to Pipestem Resort State Park.  I ordered a latte and passed on the cinnamon bun (I know! I’m shocked too!) and began to backtrack to the highway.  The latte was nice and warming on such a chilly day and I had planned to stop at a scenic overlook that we had driven past.  Unfortunately it wasn’t so scenic because the snow had began to fall thick and heavy in the swirling hypnotic mess that blows through hill country.

By the time we made it to Pipestem Resort State Park, the snow had stopped and the wind had died down a bit.  I drove through the gate and was surprised to see that there was no one working.  I guess it was an off-season and admission was free.  Wahoo.  I drove all the way though the park until finally stopping near the visitor centre on the way back out.  Seeing as how there was no one around us I had briefly toyed with the idea of letting them run off-leash, especially since there was a trail that headed into the trees near the lot.  But as soon as the dogs got into the forest, both Piper and Jack were on their toes.  They obviously knew that there was something out there and they were determined to find it.  For all his mismatched and unathletic-looking build, Jack is surprisingly good at tracking and has that single-minded puggy stubbornness that will keep him with his nose to the ground as he tries to pull my arm out of the socket.  Piper is also a very good tracker but where Jack is like a fish on the end of the line, she just wants to go.   Leo on the other hand was oblivious.   He just wanted to pee on everything.

I was really glad that I had kept them on leash when not one but two deer went bounding through the forest.  Thankfully it didn’t take long for their attention to be drawn back to the trail we were hiking as it was covered with slippery leaf cover and some steep climbs.  By the time we got back t the car, I think they were ready to take a break.  I never did find out where the name Pipestem Resort came from.

Now when we left the park and were back on our route, I noticed that we were going to drive by Beckley.  I was tempted to stop for a mothman but no.  I just had a coffee-based drink.  I don’t need to stop so soon.  Why would I go back to Beckley?  Hey how the heck did I end up in Backley?  At the Chocolate Moose of all places.  Well since I was there it would be a waste not to support a local business.  I had remembered the owner telling me about the New River Gorge National River when I passed through the last time and I had just finished my mothman (which was as good as I remembered it) when we arrived at one of the trailheads.

I hadn’t done any research (of course), so I just drove around until I started to see signs for trails and randomly picked one.  This time the dogs gave no indication of there being any wildlife nearby which was great because the footing was a bit slick from the recent snow.  The trail is an easy one to follow and I soon realized why they call it Long Point Trail: at a small off-shoot you can look over the gorge and see the bridge that spans it.  A fog had started to roll in and partially obstructed the view, which I think made it look even more dramatic.  And then the snow started to fall again and I decided to go back to the car instead of finishing the trail.  I wasn’t sure if the weather would get better or worse and I didn’t want to risk navigating tricky trails when I’m not familiar with the area.  And we would have to get back on the road unless I wanted to spend another night in a hotel.  Of course, by the time we got back to the car, the snow had stopped and the sun was actually shining.  Oh well.  The dogs jumped into the car and were curled up before we got too far down the road so obviously they weren’t upset that their hike had been cut short.

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Leo stretching his legs.

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Checking out the scents.

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Do we have to pose again?

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Piper surveying her domain.

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Always up for a hike.

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Jack has no problem with heights.

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A first look across the Gorge.

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New River Gorge Bridge.

I was driving along the bridge when I looked to my right and saw the very point that we had been standing on.  I had known that it was high but I had no idea just how high and for some reason that short glimpse of this jutting outcrop of rock that stood in stark contrast to the dark green trees that framed it, well it just got to me.  I would have pulled over if there had been a safe place to do so for a picture.  I can’t quite explain why it had such an impact on me; it just did.

The rest of the drive north was incredibly uneventful.  We stopped at some rest stops, I finished the leftover pizza, and we drove some more.

And then we got to the border.  You know there’s a story with me crossing the border.  First I picked the slowest line.  Of course.  When I pull up to the booth, there’s a woman sitting there and she starts with the “Where were you?”  South Carolina.  “How long were you gone?”  I left on Monday.  “Where did you stay?”  Red Roof Inn.  “Is that a condo?”  I’ll admit that one threw me for a bit of a loop when I replied that it was a hotel…er motel. “Did you meet anyone down there?”  Now this is the second time I’ve heard that question although the stunning guy from the crossing south was a lot more fun to answer.  No I didn’t.  “Do you have any firearms or weapons?”  No I don’t.  “Did the dogs go down with you?”  Yes I answer and offer their paperwork which she takes and shuffles through.  When she hands them back she again asks if I had any firearms and weapons.  I tried not to laugh and I probably sounded like I was choking because all I thought to myself was do you think that asking me the same question twice will trip me up?  Like I’d go yes…Oh wait ya got me.  If it sounds like I’m harping on her I’m not.  I have a lot of respect for the the border personnel and it’s not a job that I’d want to do.

So once that was all squared away, back on the road we went.  I was going to stop at duty free but I was just so tired and it was so close to home that I didn’t want to delay being in my own bed.  I stopped just once to fill up the gas tank and with it being well after rush hour, I made good time across the top of Toronto.

And at 1:41 am, I turned off the car and brought my weary pack inside.  I was so tired that I left most of my things in the car and barely pulled on my pajamas before falling into bed with three dogs and two cats curled up around me.

Finishing Mileage: 3585.7 km

A Biker, a Latte, and a Pizza Place

Starting Mileage: 1823.4

I’m not going to lie: I thought about staying in Charleston for another day.  If it had been as nice as had been the day before, I likely would have tried to stay but the temperature was quite a bit cooler and there had been some rain.  After debating with myself for a while, as I brushed the sand that had somehow ended up in the bed, I finally packed the car up and took the dogs for one last quick walk before we headed out of town.  I wasn’t really feeling the hotel breakfast, I think because I was still full from dinner.

A quick search pointed me in the direction of Bald Monkey Beanery.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to find it but the building that had “COFFEE” painted across the side was definitely a clue. Despite the drive thru, I wanted to go inside and check the place out.  It was a cute shop and I got the run down of the coffee menu and at the insistence of another woman in there, I decided on a Cinnamonkey.  The woman working behind the counter was dealing with the drive thru when a man came in with his young daughter.  Well since the daughter went and sat at the register, I’m thinking this must be the owner.  I give my order then look at him.  Well the first thing that struck me was the Hell’s Angels T-shirt.  Then were the  tattoos down his arms, many with the Hell’s Angels death head.  I felt my own head drop and that was when I noticed the Hell’s Angels merchandise on the bottom shelf of the display case in front of me.  I thought about walking out but with a little girl there, I just couldn’t.  I’m not comfortable with supporting criminal organizations but I’m not going to raise a stink in front of a little girl.  And they give military discounts so I have to respect that at least.

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Something tells me this is the place

With coffee in hand, I hopped back into the car.  OK it was a nice latte, I’ll give him that.  I had read about Wannamaker County Park, an off-leash park that got great reviews that was on the way out of North Charleston.  It would have been nice if the reviews had mentioned the $2.00 admission fee just to get into the park but I guess locals can get a pass so they don’t have to worry about it.  And from what I saw, it looked like a large park with lots of other things to do.  Too bad I was just there to let the dogs burn off some energy.

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And it would have been nice if they had.  They sniffed and wandered a bit and with a bunch of spare tennis balls, Leo had fun trying to get them all.  But it seemed like no time at all before they all just stood there looking at me.  I wanted to get some pictures but how entertaining is a butt shot?  I’m trying to cut down on those anyway.  I had barely finished my coffee before we were heading back to the car.  It some times blows my mind that they are not out of their skin with energy; but then again the day before had been a busy one.

Since we had taken the back roads into the Charleston, I took a more direct route north, at least for a little bit.  I was in my own little world when it occurred to me: I haven’t eaten yet.  How could that be?!  So a quick search on Yelp had me pointed to a BBQ place in a small little town called Swansea.  And as I pulled up I was excited to have some fresh BBQ and maybe some fried okra yeah that’d be good and…closed.  Closed?  On a…wait what day is this?  This place only opens Friday and Saturday.  Dang!  OK back on Yelp and there’s a cafe down the road.  I got the car down there before I started to chew my arm off.

The Swansea Valley Cafe was open (no website or I’d link to it).  Already I was happier.  I looked over the menu and after questioning the servers about what was good (umm all of it) I decided on a buffalo chicken club (hold the tomatoes) and some swee’tea.  Yes that’s how they say it.  Because this restaurant is a small place, they warn you that your food will take a bit.  I was tempted to grab an order of the pork rinds (mmmm deep fried pig skin) but decided against it and sat out on a retaining wall after I evacuated the dogs from the car to wait for my order.  My sandwich came with a small bag of chips and a few slices of pickle.  So the buffalo chicken club is a fried chicken breast dipped on hot sauce with crumbled blue cheese, lettuce, and bacon.  It was like eating buffalo wings in sandwich form.  The only problem was that it was like eating buffalo wings.  I couldn’t taste the bacon through the hot sauce although I did like the tang from the blue cheese and if I hadn’t seen the coating on the chicken breast I likely would not have known it was there.  It was a decent sandwich overall and with the chips I was glad I had that big swee’tea as the salt sucked every ounce of moisture from my body.

We continued down the road and I stopped at more rest stops than I normally do.  Partly because that swee’tea was massive (if you get my drift) and so the dogs could have several  short little walks.  I was not too happy with the pet areas in most of the rest stops because they were tiny little strips of grass but I guess that’s better than nothing.  I’m not going to lie but a few times we maaaaaay have strayed out of a few of the pet areas to an out of the way corner of the property from view from others.  And I maaaaaaay have accidentally dropped their leashes once or twice and they maaaaaaaay have had a short little run around and play.

virginia

Virginia is for lovers…and apparently a creepy shadow sneaking up on some adorable dogs.

As it got later, it was time to start looking at putting in for the night.  I was getting tired.  Finally I was able to find a Red Roof Inn in Wytheville, Virginia.  I could have gone further but Wytheville is right outside Jefferson National Park so I figured it would be an easy place to get to in the morning.  I checked in and as I was parking the car, I was pleasantly surprised to see a large patch of grass at the back of the lot complete with a bag dispenser and garbage bin and a fairly large hill.  I got the dogs out of the car and we walked up to our room on the second floor.  In a hallway.  As in the only window faces the walkway and a brick wall.  I had to laugh about it.  What a great view but considering that we were just here to the sleep for the night and never really have the curtains open anyway, what difference does the view make?

I took the dogs down to the grass and we had a little run around but then I realized it was getting darker and not everyone picks up after their dogs so we went back to the room, with me gingerly picking around any suspicious-looking dark patches.  By now I was famished and exhausted which is a bad combo when looking for food.  There was nothing really even close by the hotel and with the temperature dropping and somewhat poor lighting, I didn’t feel like venturing outside.  So delivery it was.  I had been trying to avoid pizza but alas, I can only resist for so long and in under an hour, a BBQ chicken pizza from Italian Garden showed up.   I was getting my BBQ no matter what.  The pizza was very good with a soft chewy crust and not weighed down under toppings.  It was lightly sauced which was perfect since it was a very sweet sauce that could have overwhelmed everything else.  I ate half of it while we watched nature documentaries.  And I do mean we.  And then we went to sleep.