Or What it Takes to Get a Picture of Three Dogs
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Starting Mileage: 1675.5
No big surprise here but I slept in. Considering we were up until almost 2:00 am it really shouldn’t be surprising. I had a busy day planned (thanks to BringFido.com) so we went for a short walk, the pups were offered their breakfasts, and into the car we went. This day was a day for the dogs.
I decided to skip a hotel breakfast for the sake of getting on the road and with a quick check on Yelp, I found a place that was on the way to our first stop for coffee. I was following the directions and the farther we went, the more I wondered where the phone was sending me as it was looking more and more industrial. I was about to stop and make sure that I was going the right way when we turned down Montague Street and I found an oasis in North Charleston: the street was lined on both sides with squat buildings, brightly painted with colourful signs, even an historic-looking clock on the sidewalk. I was all smiles as I popped into The Orange Spot Coffeehouse. The shop itself is small and there isn’t much in the way for seating outside, but the picnic table that was there was really all I needed. I asked if they have a house speciality and was met with confused looks before they told me they make their own flavour syrups. Neat. I ordered an iced coffee with a shot of vanilla syrup. As I was waiting I eyed the baked goods and decided on a morning glory muffin. With no need for sugar or cream, I took my purchase and rejoined my pups waiting at the picnic table. I was tempted to share since it was one of the best muffins I have ever had, moist and flavourful, but since morning glory muffins have dried fruit in them, I wasn’t sure if raisins were one of those fruits and I’m not taking that chance. I watched the steady stream of people walking into the coffee shop and noticed that they were not what you would expect to be the kind of people going into a specialty coffee shop with tattoos and rough clothes coming out with lattes and biscotti. I love it.
We walked up and down the street while I finished my coffee, grinning like a fool at this hidden gem of an area. An elderly gentleman asked me if I wanted another brindle dog since his dog was too high-energy for him. I’m not going to lie but I briefly (VERY briefly) thought about it before politely declining and continuing on to the car for our next stop of the day.
In no time, we pulled into Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. I picked this spot because it allows you to walk your dogs around the gardens and from the reviews that I had read, it was a great place to visit. From the minute I turned down the driveway, I was blown away by how beautiful everything was. I had never seen spanish moss before except in craft stores and movies but as I crept down the drive, sheets of moss hung from the trees.
I parked the car, making sure I had a big bottle of water and the dog’s bowl as it was already quite warm out. As soon as we joined the line-up to buy tickets, the dogs were getting all kinds of attention which they were more than happy to put up with.
Having the dogs with me meant that I could not ride the tram or go into any of the buildings but it was so nice out that wasn’t a concern. There are also several other gardens to visit with the purchase of additional tickets. I decided to stick with the general admission of $15.00 and if we wanted to do anything else, I would deal with that later.
If you are anywhere near Charleston this is a place you have to visit. It was GORGEOUS! There were hidden pockets off the trails with statues, magnolias and azaleas rising high overhead, spanish moss draping from tall live oaks, a peaceful and (dare I say it Zen-like) bamboo garden. Two days ago I had scraped snow off my windshield and now here I was walking among flowering trees and shrubs.
We slowly walked through the shady path, stopping frequently for photos. There were several ponds and rivers with bridges arching over them. Jack especially wanted to go swimming in the water but I knew that alligators lived in the area and the many signs posted warning people not to approach or feed them (which really shouldn’t need a warning but…) confirmed it.
We were walking along the nature trail when I looked out over some water and had to stop for a double take. There, sunning itself barely a bus-length away, was a gator. As I was pulling out my camera, I noticed another one. And another. Suddenly I became a lot more alert with that scene from Jurassic Park popping into my head. You know the scene (“clever girl”). Fortunately with the heat, the gators were more interested in laying there and not us. But I’m sure they knew we were there since Jack was panting away and he sounds like a train chugging along.
We kept walking around the various gardens and I don’t think I looked at my watch once the entire time. Even though there were plenty of other people, we felt like we were the only ones for stretches of time but the few encounters we did have, they were special. I had posed the dogs for a photo in a spot off the main path when a group walked by. One woman looked at us then broke away and walked over. As she came closer I saw she wore a name tag with “Make-A-Wish” on it. I could see that she was fixated on Leo and asked if she could pet him. Of course I said she could and when she knelt down I watched tears stream down her cheeks. She explained that she had just lost the Boston Terrier that she had owned for 14 years and she missed her so much. She apologized when she stood up and explained they were at the plantation planning a fundraiser. She seemed to be embarrassed and apologized for holding us up and all I could say was that if she sees us again, she can snuggle with him as long as she wants. After she left, I knelt down and gave them all a hug for being so wonderful.
A little while later I had sat the dogs for a photo when a woman came up and asked if I wanted a picture with them. How could I say no? Of course she got in a few snuggles before she left.
We were almost back to the lot and walking down a path next to a pond. I had stopped to take photos of a statue on a little hummock in the pond when I noticed something in the water. It wasn’t moving and but I had the feeling that it was coming closer. There was a branch sticking out of the water and with that for reference I was able to tell that yes it was indeed getting closer. It was a smaller alligator than the ones I had seen sunning themselves but this one actually cared that we were there. It never got close enough that I was worried about it but I sure was careful to keep the dogs away from the edge of the water. There were some girls that were walking towards me and seemed irritated that I was just standing on the path. When I pointed out the gator, they squealed and hustled away.
Convinced that I was burned crispy since I hadn’t thought to wear, never mind bring, sunblock we went back to the car. The dogs were hot and after they finished their drinks (they had had been offered tons during our walk even though they would have rather gone for a swim in the ponds) we left for another spot. And this spot was just for them. After a quick stop for me.
Another place that I had heard about from “Feasting on Asphalt” was on our way. Apparently Jack’s Cosmic Dogs is a local institution so I had to check it out. Jack’s is not a fancy place but what would you expect from a hot dog joint? With a menu considerably more extensive than ketchup, mustard, and relish, it took me a while to finally settled on a blue galatic dog: a hot dog topped with chili, cheddar cheese, blue cheese slaw, and sweet potato mustard. Then on a lark I also ordered an astro dog which is just a hot dog with ketchup and mustard. The food was ready by the time I brought the dogs out of the car. I poured them a bowl of ice water which they ignored to stare at me. I think I had higher expectations for the hot dogs but in the end they were just hot dogs in nice soft buns. It’s the toppings that made these tasty. And yes the dogs got some of the astro dog. Of course they did. And then back in the car.
Now I had expected that my map would take me to a parking lot. But once it told me I had arrived, all I saw were signs on the street that said “No parking”. I slowly wound my way down streets and even the signs that did say “Parking” did not appear to be anywhere near a spot to park. Finally I found a spot and pulled in behind another car. I brought the dogs out of the car and pulled off my shoes before we walked across the street and down a narrow track towards Isle of Palms beach. The beach has off-leash times and we just happened to be right on time.
As soon as we emerged from the vegetation, Leo dropped onto the sand and rolled his way down the dune, wriggling his way to the bottom before he jumped up and ran as far as the leash would allow back up the dune before he rolled again. It took me a while to grab him to unclip the leash but eventually I was able to free them all. The first thing they did was run straight to the water and began to splash in the water. They ran and rolled and splashed and played. We walked up the beach for a while until the dogs stopped running and were content to stroll around next to me.
It made my heart melt as I watched them. I struggled to think of a way to put how I was feeling into words and I just can’t. Words alone cannot express the sheer joy of watching them.
With coats soaked and full of sand, especially Leo, we made our way back to the car. I’m glad I had brought a towel and dried them off as much as I could before loading them back into the car. We had one more stop to make.
Page’s Okra Grill is a dog-friendly restaurant and we were soon seated on the patio next to a tiny puppy and across from a chow chow. As we were seated near the exit, there was plenty of attention given to my pooped out puppies. I wanted the true southern experience so I put myself at the mercy of my server. Soon a plate of shrimp and grits with andouille cream sauce was placed in front of me followed by a quartet of sides: sweet potatoes, collard greens, fried okra, and succotash with some biscuits. On a side note: I LOVE FRIED OKRA. The food was so good and so filling I was too stuffed to even think about dessert.
It was well after dark by the time we got back to the hotel room and I had briefly thought about giving the dogs a bath to get the last of the sand out of their coats but I was so tired I basically passed out as soon as I sat down.
Starting Mileage: 994.0 km
I had a very good sleep. When I woke up I had Jack on the pillow next to me, Leo had slipped under the blankets and was tucked up against my legs, and Piper’s head was laying on my chest. Somehow we almost always end up snuggling and when I try to get up, Piper pushes me down with her head and sometimes puts her leg across me as well. I try to oblige the cuddles for as along as I can but eventually the road, and a rumbling tummy, forces us up.
As the Travelodge had a free breakfast, I did not have to go looking for food but I know from experience that hotel coffee is usually horrendous. So I collected the dogs for our morning walk which somehow took us down the road to the Chocolate Moose. As we walked past the embankment from last night, I had to shake my head. It looked so much worse in the day light. And then we were past the slippery slope and soon found ourselves at the Chocolate Moose. Not only is it a coffee shop, but there’s also a climbing gym and mini golf. Awesome.
I stood and stared at the menu for a while making small talk with the gentleman that I can only assume is the owner. Finally I decided on The Mothman. One sip and I knew I was hooked. For life. Coffee and chocolate and cinnamon and cayenne and whipped cream and OH MY! I greedily gulped it down as the dogs sniffed this way and that on the way back to the hotel.
Oh and the back door that I had mentioned the night before? Still unlocked. The latch was embedded inside the lock so it could not be secured even when I hauled on it (which I had done last night as well).
I poured food out for the dogs then went to the breakfast area. It was actually slightly better than I had expected but still your standard breakfast set-up: a waffle station, cereals, muffins, bagels, oatmeal, spreads, and juices, coffee, and tea. I was disappointed that the only fruit offered were apples so I had to forgo my standard peanut butter and banana waffle-wich. Oh well. I made up a waffle, grabbed some grape jelly and an apple, then went back to the room.
On a side note: I love the waffle machines that hotels have. You dispense a measured quantity of batter into a cup, then spray non-stick spray onto the waffle iron. Pour out the batter, flip the iron and wait for the beep. That beep tells you that your waffle is golden brown and waiting for whatever toppings you have. For some reason, the flip makes it fun.
As I ate, I charted our route. I’ve never been to Charleston, South Carolina so I figured that this trip, I would change that. When I left home, I hadn’t decided if it was our end point but it would definitely be a stop that we would make. I had heard of an app called BringFido, and for some reason, this trip was the first time I actually remembered it. It lists dog-friendly hotels, restaurants, attractions, parks; all kinds of things to do with dogs. So when I looked up Charleston, I noticed that there were plenty of things for a girl and her dogs to do. One item in particular called to me and I booked my spot for that evening. I also booked a hotel for not just one night but two. We were going to stay put for more than one night! And in a city! How out of character.
With food in our bellies, I packed the dogs into the car then went to check out. Remember that bit about the door? OK here’s where it gets important. I’m checking out with the assistant manager and first mention that when I booked the room, there was both a pet fee and pet deposit listed. She told me that it was a fee. I suggested that someone should fix that and she seemed confused until I explained that it’s conflicting information. And then I mention the door being left unlocked. Well she insists that it’s always locked. Noooooooo and then I tell her that it’s open right now. Well she calls the maintenance man to tell me that it’s locked. I’m thinking to myself (thank goodness for the inside voice although I guess typing it now is kind of an outside voice) that it’s unlocked now and she can go and check if she wants. No she insists that it’s always locked.
Well the maintenance man comes around and says that it’s unlocked until he locks it with a key. This goes back and forth for a while because I think we’re all trying to explain something different. Then finally he says that it’s unlocked until around midnight but he wasn’t working last night so he can’t say for sure but the person working last night would have locked it. Then assistant manager makes it sound like that was what she was trying to say all along and I just shrugged my shoulders and left. Was it a horrible place to stay? No. Would I stay there again? After the song and dance routine I had to go through I would rather avoid it. Granted if someone really wanted into the hotel, they will find a way but let’s not make it so easy.
Fighting the urge for another Mothman, I jumped back onto the interstate and headed south. I had business in Charlotte you see. Anyone who has been reading my blog for a while will know that I LOVE Alton Brown and his series “Feasting on Asphalt”. If you haven’t watched it, you have to watch it. Long story short, there are two seasons to the show: the first where he and his cohorts drive across the United States to see if authentic road food still exists. The second season, they follow the Mississippi River. So in the first season, one place they stopped at was the South 21 Drive-In in Charlotte, North Carolina. Well we were going through Charlotte so I figured it as a no-brainer.
After taking a quick peek at BringFido, I found a dog park in Charlotte so the dogs could have a romp and we ended up at Frazier Park. There are two spacious, and fenced, areas. In fact, one area was huuuuuuuge. There were a few other dogs in there and I brought then dogs into the space between two gates and let them sniff through the fence to see if there was going to be any tension. Piper can be a bit…let’s say…difficult sometimes when meeting new dogs. With lots of tail (and stump) wagging and excited licks through the fence, I let them loose.
If you’ve never watched dogs run loose in a new area, it is something that will make you smile. They ran and jumped and chased around. OK Jack didn’t really do that. He waddled but it was still fun to watch him explore this new area.
I walked back and forth a few times until the dogs stayed close to me. Jack pretty much went to where the gate was and waited for us to get close. There were lots of balls left in there and I threw them for Leo and once he picked one up, I would grab another to throw and he’d chase after that one. It’s a game that gets him tired quickly.
Just as we were getting ready to leave, a new dog came into entry area. She was a little pitbull with the most stunning colour pattern I have ever seen: like a tan harlequin but different. Anyway, when the owner opened up the inner gate a bunch of dogs rushed in, Piper being one of them. The poor new dog ended up getting squished between the gate and fence and she protested, and rightfully so. Well Piper decided to yell back at her and when Piper barks and kind of pounces, well she looks vicious. When I saw the crush of dogs, I started moving to the gate but I wasn’t fast enough to call Piper back before the tiff started. I was worried that with so many dogs in such a small space it would escalate into a full-on dog fight. Fortunately it did not. I tried to chat with the owner of the other dog but she wasn’t having any of it. I get it and I don’t blame her. On another side note: I love pitbulls. They are wonderful dogs that unfortunately have gotten a bad name because of some bad owners. Yes they can be aggressive and yes there are a certain kind of person that will bring out all of the negative aspects of the breed And yes part of what makes them awesome is also what makes then (potentially) dangerous. But I have never met a pitbull that was aggressive to humans or dogs. I’ve been bitten by lots of other breeds from tiny chihuahuas to German Shepards. In fact, my brother has a massive scar on his face when he was bitten by a Doberman/German Shepard cross. I have one from a St. Bernard cross right underneath my eye.
So once everyone calmed down and had one more lap around the park, I took the dogs back to the car. It was hot. It was so hot. I was glad that I had worn my convertible pants as I unzipped the lower legs and changed from my Blundstone boots to short socks and running shoes. So this is what summer feels like. I had forgotten what summer felt like. Hello summer my old friend.
With clothing all sorted out, we drove to the South 21 Drive-in which was less than 15 minutes away. I’ll admit that I had never been to a drive-in diner before but it was just like I had seen on TV: car stalls with little speakers and a tray table. Some of the stalls had picnic tables in them. Perfect.
I hurriedly studied the menu that was posted and then pressed the button to place my order. I thought that a Super Boy (double patty with no tomato or onion and yes I would like cheese please), an order of onion rings, and a chocolate milkshake, oh and a big cup of ice water, would be a good way to experience this establishment. I brought the dogs out of the car and was just getting their bowl when the food appeared. I dumped out some of the ice water into their bowl before I tucked into my burger. It was good in an old-school diner kind of way. And what I mean is that it is like the giant fast food chains but it actually has flavour to it. Now I have quite the appetite so I hardly felt that it was “A meal in itself” as the menu had promised but it was good. I will say, that while the milkshake was thick and chocolately, the best part were the onion rings. I was a little disappointed that there were only, like, six to an order, but they were a very good six onion rings. I’m sure they were fried but there was none of the greasiness that usually comes with fried food. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought they were baked. And of course the dogs had tiny pieces of the patty just to see if they liked it. They did. Then back in the car.
Because we didn’t have to be in Charleston until later in the evening, I decided to take the back roads between Charlotte and Charleston and it was almost 8:00 pm before I checked into the Red Roof Inn in North Charleston. The dogs had some water and were offered food, which they ignored, and we took a quick stroll. Some places have designated pet areas with poop bag dispensers and garbage cans. Some just have a sign on a grassy place for pets. This had neither. Narrow strips of grass surrounded the property and in some parts, you could barely see the grass through the poop. It’s not the hotel’s fault but it is unpleasant and makes me mad that people can’t clean up after their pets because it looks bad on the rest of us.
Back in the car for the drive downtown. I plugged the address into my phone and let it tell me where to go. The directions were simple but for some reason, what the phone calls streets and what the signs on the streets say are sometimes different. And I missed a turn somewhere. I wasn’t sure about it until I noticed that I was driving through a somewhat sketchy area. Hmmmmmm dark parking lot and several high-end cars parked in an industrial area…It took me a little bit to figure out where to go but soon, we were in downtown Charleston.
My first impression? Gorgeous. Historic buildings, clean streets, just lovely. I parked the car and since we had an hour to burn, we walked around a little. I was a bit peckish and was looking for somewhere to grab a snack. Then I got distracted looking at the scenery and forgot I was hungry until it was time to go back to Washington Park for our Ghost Tour. That’s right. We went on a Ghost Tour.
Our walk was through Old Charleston Tours and was 90 minutes of walking around downtown Charleston with our guide, Mike Brown, who also has a podcast series. It was highly entertaining and he is a very engaging speaker. For $20.00 USD, it was a great way to spend time with the dogs. And they were so well behaved, sitting or laying down at our stops, when they weren’t getting attention from others on the tour or passersby. We didn’t see any ghosts but we did have a wonderful time.
After the tour, I walked around for a few more minutes to take some photos. I was surprised at how empty the streets were even for a Tuesday night. I think we were the only ones left out. I drove back to the hotel (without taking the scenic route) and realized that I was STARVING. I set out trying to find something within walking distance that was not a chain restaurant but to no avail. Turns out, there was a diner back down the road that we had passed on the way to the hotel.
So back in the car we went to Nick’s Gyros and Philly’s. I decided to go through the drive thru and when I got to the speaker, I ordered the chicken gyro. Anything else? My brain said a salad but my mouth said “shrimp po boy” before I really even knew what a shrimp po boy was. Well it’s a sandwich roll with provolone cheese, lettuce, and sauce. Oh yes. When I pulled up to the window, the man working there saw Leo looking out the window and started talking to him: “hey buddy this isn’t for you” with a big smile. OK anyone who talks to my dogs like they’re people gets big respect from me.
I tried eating the gyro in the car but it was a bit soupier than I normally like. It was still almost gone by the time I got us back to the room. I wasn’t sure if the po boy was a good idea but after the gyro, I was still hungry so I was glad that I got it after all because I was stuffed by the time I finished.
With the dogs sprawled out around me, I slid and twisted my way under the blankets after a very long and fun day.
The weather may not be good for a road trip in Canada, but there is plenty of sun if you drive far enough south. So with my first week of vacation this year that is exactly what I did. For some reason, I did not prepare as much as I have in the past. OK I’ll be honest: I think I was feeling a bit burned out and exhausted from work and just wanted to GO. So while I packed my tent and sleeping bag, I did not have much in the way of food reserves. I had also left my inflatable sleeping pad and stuffable pillow in my locker at work soooooooo that put a bit of damper on things.
And even though I went to bed late and completely beat, I woke up around 3:00 am. I dozed off and on and then finally was tired of not sleeping so climbed out of bed at 4:45 am. A leisurely breakfast of left over banana fritters (not my best work but it was a new recipe) and we were out the door at 6:00 almost on the dot. Everything was going well until we hit traffic north of Toronto. It really says something about infrastructure when you’re crawling along before 7:00 am.
Big shout out to Matthew Wakelee who had posted about Eternal Flame Falls (https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/44878580/posts/1318698544) and with south in our sights, it seemed like a good place to start. But to start, we had to get there. For some reason, when I entered Eternal Flame Falls, my phone tried to send me to Europe. After almost throwing the stupid phone out the window, I did a bit more digging and found that the falls are in Chestnut Ridge Park. OK so now I have a starting point.
Now anyone who has read my posts knows that I seem to have issues with getting across the border. Don’t know why I turn into a babbling fool but this time was no exception. I pull up to the booth and there is this gorgeous man staring back at me. Imagine a Spanish version of Jason Statham. On a side note, I wonder if they intentionally put the good looking staff at the border to trip you up. So anyway, I’m trying not to humiliate myself more than I do on a regular basis as I hand over my passport. He asks where I’m going and what I’m doing and is it just the four of you? I almost melted when he made my dogs sound like little people. Then “are you meeting anyone down there?” The outside voice said “no” but the inside voice added “want to change that?” Fortunately it stayed the inside voice and soon we were through the border.
Less than 30 minutes later, I pulled into Chestnut Ridge County Park. I put leashes on everyone then we set out looking for a map. Hmmmm there was no map and no signs for these falls. Finally I met a couple out walking their dog and it turns out I was at the wrong end of the park and I had to go to Seefort Road. So back in the car and we continue on. The next road we saw didn’t have a sign so I figured this was Seefort Road. I drove into the park and there were signs for all kinds of things but nothing for a waterfall. I get the dogs out of the car and head towards trees and finally I found a map. And Seufert (not Seefort) Road is the next one down. So back in the car we go. Finally I see a sign for Eternal Flame Falls and I park the car. The dogs looked at me with the “Are you sure this time?” look as I opened the door for them. Can’t blame them for that I suppose.
The warning signs at the trailhead were encouraging (sarcasm). The trail is an out and back that is only 0.56 miles each way. I had read reviews about it being a tricky hike and not well marked. At first it was muddy and rooty, just the kind of trails that we hike at home. I found that the trail was extremely well marked with little numbered flame placards but they looked as though they were fairly new. The trail leads down a ravine, then back up, then cuts back and down long the river. You have to cross the river a few times which would be no big deal in the summer but in the winter, the water had frozen on the rocks leaving a slick sheet of ice on everything. I’ll admit that I almost went down a few times and trying to navigate with the dogs on their leashes was a bit tricky.
We were picking our way over some fallen trees when we rounded a corner and there it was. I had seen photos but actually being there left me speechless and standing awestruck.
I stayed for a while taking photos (of course). I loved the fact that we were the only ones there. It is such a magical place that I wanted to imagine that we were the only ones that knew about it. But I’m glad that we left when we did because we passed a woman and her dog who were going to the falls. I was a little irritated that she didn’t put her dog on a leash meaning I had to pick by her across slick rocks but I was in too good a mood to be bothered much.
After that, I was in need of a cup of coffee so after a quick Yelp consult, we made our way to Bean Coffee House in North East Pennsylvania. Yes the town is called North East. I ordered an americano and then decided on a roasted red pepper hummus sandwich with cucumber and black olives. The sandwich came with kettle chips and a pickle. I was looking for some place to park and was dismayed to see parking meters everywhere. A shame because the park would have been a nice to sit. I had my eyes peeled for a parking lot when out of the corner of my eye I saw “Little Shop of Donuts” as I drove by. I almost slammed my brakes right there but the car riding my rear bumper would have put an end to the trip fast. So I drove the block wondering if my eyes had deceived me but no…there it was. I was so excited I ended up missing the parking spots in the front and drove around the building before I launched myself at the front door.
Here’s the scoop: they have vanilla and chocolate donuts and put toppings on them to order. I felt a tear form at the corner of my eye as I examined the menu. A donut shop with a menu. I decided to get two donuts and both were going to be chocolate: a Peanut Butter Cup and a Happy Camper. One donut was covered with chocolate and peanut butter and the other got a smear of marshmallow, some chocolate, and graham crackers. Yes I know it’s selfish to get chocolate because the dogs couldn’t have any but I think the unopened pack of treats in the front seat would buy me out of any guilt they may throw at me.
I was so fixated on donuts, that I didn’t think to eat my lunch there and continued on down the road. Or maybe I didn’t want them to watch me as I laughed maniacally while I shoved chocolate and peanut butter and marshmallow into my mouth. After a short drive to the outskirts of town, I found an empty church lot and parked there to have my food. The sandwich was kind of disappointing. I really wanted to like it but the bread had that almost-toasted or slightly-stale feel to it and the toppings were pretty much piled in the centre of the bread so the edges of the sandwich were just bread. The best part about it was the pickle. The americano was excellent however. I had the Happy Camper donut first. The donut was good: light and cakey and not overwhelmed by the toppings. I was going to save the other one for later in the day but later turned out to be less than an hour. So it wouldn’t get stale…yeah that’s it.
Because I was limited for time, I spent longer on the interstate than I normally like to which meant that we visited a few rest stops. For the record, Montana still has the best rest stop pet areas. By far. We stopped at one in West Virginia that was so thick with poop that the dogs didn’t even want to walk there. Although I did notice that the silhouette they use for dogs is a boxer. Strike a pose Piper.
I booked a room at the Travelodge in Beckley, West Virginia. I’ll admit that the room was cleaner than I had expected it. Not a big fan of carpet but it’ll do. My room was on the ground floor at the end of a hallway with a door to the lot. The door opened to a rather secluded and concealed area that was surrounded by trees and next to a cemetery. All of that was no big deal but the fact that the door didn’t lock was a bit concerning to me.
After a quick check on Yelp, I noticed there was a Mexican restaurant close by; just a few blocks away and on the other side of the street. Rather than wait for the lights to cross the street, I stayed on the hotel side on what appeared to be a wide grassy strip in lieu of a sidewalk. Well soon the grassy strip started to slope. Next thing I know, we’re picking our way across a grade of more than 45 degrees. So I guess I can turn a walk around the block into a hike.
By the time I walked into Campestre, I was hungry. The kind of hungry where you don’t want to talk, you just want someone to put food in front of you. After some quick questions, I ordered the Tapatio. I had to wait another ten minutes so I took the dogs and we continued walking. And then I saw something. A sign emerging from the pools of light cast by the streetlights and passing headlights and the glow of nearby stores: Chocolate Moose Coffee. I was tempted. Really tempted but decided that would be a visit best saved for the morning.
We went and picked up my food and decided that we had had enough hiking for one day so we stayed on the sidewalk and crossed at the lights at the hotel. I sat on the bed and after toasting the days safe travels with the Road Trip bottle (Jack Daniels Honey), I opened the container to reveal chicken and ribeye steak and mushrooms and cheese and beans with flour tortillas and salsa and a sour cream with some kind of spice and fresh tortilla chips. It was so good I barely stopped to breathe. I would definitely go back there again. For some reason I found the sour cream to be intriguing; perhaps because I could not quite identify the flavour.
Sleepy and satisfied, I squeezed myself between the dogs and drifted off to sleep.