Wine in Cheese Country

This trip was inspired by the second season of the television show “Feasting on Asphalt”.  We are following the Great River Road that runs along the Mississippi River from Venice, Louisiana to the headwaters in Lake Itasca State Park, Minnesota.  When possible we will stop at locations featured in the show, however time has found many of them closed.

I slept like a rock and when I woke up the next morning, I was eager to go for a walk and explore the park a bit.  Ohhhh were the mosquitoes bad when we emerged from the tent and I quickly packed up and we headed back to the Great River Road.  When we came to a town called Prairie du Chien I had to stop.  I mean, what a great name for a town to visit when travelling with a carload of dogs.

It is a small town with a great little cafe called Simply Coffeehouse.  I parked the car on the road out front and went inside to order some coffee and perhaps some food and was delighted to see the menu that had a wonderful breakfast sandwich.  I also saw something on the menu that had me intrigued:  white coffee.  I had never heard of such a thing before but since I was trying coffee during the entire trip, I decided to stick with the americano and I was not disappointed.  Even better was the patio out back where I would be able to sit with the dogs and eat.  So I moved the car to the parking lot at the back of the building and as I was setting up with the dogs, the staff brought out my order.  I sat at one of the tables and enjoyed the food and a lovely americano.  The dogs had ignored their breakfast at camp and continued to ignore the meal I poured out for them since breakfast was obviously more interesting.  And they were getting tons of attention from a slow stream of people entering the cafe.

After I had finished my meal, I took the dogs for a short walk around town to stretch our legs and get some kind of exercise before heading back to the car.  I decided to grab a white coffee to go but when I stepped inside, I was shocked to see how busy the cafe had become since I had first arrived and we hit the road without the extra caffeine.

As we continued to follow the river, I noticed the sky ahead of us was an imposing grey.  We we driving onto drenched pavement and soon we found ourselves catching up with the storm.  Perhaps we were just trailing a system for the duration of our trip.  It was too bad because Wisconsin is such a lovely state to drive through and it would have been nice to get out for some exploration.wisconsin road1wisconsin road 2

When I saw a sign for World Famous Dawg House Depot, I had to stop and check it out.  Hot dogs and dawg in the name?  I figured it was a given that we had to stop.  I parked the car and then saw a boat ramp leading into the river.  Well with a brief break in the rain, I decided to take the dogs for a stroll to check out the water.  Just as we were walking out of the lot, a train decided to run along the tracks between the Great River Road and the Mississippi River.  The dogs did not seem to care one bit about the huge mass of steel screaming by them.  Even Piper, who hates large trucks, calmly watched the cars go by.  And then we got to the river.  I did not see anyone nearby and there would be no way for anyone to sneak up on us so I took the leashes off the dogs to let them sniff around.  I had foolishly hoped that they would maybe wade in to their knees and come out.  Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight.  Part of me was dismayed to see them all chest deep in the river but seeing how much they enjoyed their dip, well that’s why I have a seat cover and lots of towels in the car.  Besides, there were hot dogs to eat which meant time for them to dry.

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Piper seems less than concerned about the train.

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dawg house 4boat rampboat ramp1We went back to the hot dog stand and even though I wanted to get a BUNCH of things on the menu, I finally went for the Chicago style hot dawg: a hot dog on a pretzel bun.  I love me some pretzel buns which was what had me tempted.   With a good layer of saurkraut and some mustard and ketchup, I devoured the hot dog.  It was very good.  Different from our hot dogs from Jack’s Cosmic Dog in Charleston and I think I preferred it a bit more. The owners came out and we ended up sitting there talking for close to two hours.  They are both dog people and road trip warriors who told me about their wintering spot in Alabama so they were naturally curious about the girl with all the dogs in a car with Ontario license plates.  With the nearby road calling to me, I wanted to get going but they were so nice I could have sat there for hours.  Jack glued himself to the husband’s leg and Leo somehow ended leaning into my side while Piper kept the wife’s feet warm.  The funny thing is, I never even got their names.  Finally I loaded the dogs into the car and was about to put the car in drive when I heard a whistle and a tap on my window.  I rolled the glass down and the husband asked if I could drive and eat as he pushed an ice cream treat into my hand.  Chocolate ice cream covered in chocolate.  I will find a way to eat it.  This couple are some of the real characters that make road trips so special.  Oh and the hot dogs are really good especially when washed down with an ice cream treat.

We emerged from the cover of the clouds and continued along the road.  I was in my own little world so it took me a little while to register that I was seeing signs for wineries.  Wineries?  Well that’s a stop right up my alley.  Besides, when one thinks of Wisconsin, I don’t think wine usually comes to mind so I wanted to check out what Wisconsin wine is like.  When I saw that we were passing close by Danzinger Vineyards, I followed the road to the top of a large hill in the town of Alma.

I popped in about half an hour before closing and was asked if I wanted to have four free samples or ten for $5.00.  When I asked if I would be able to take the dogs for a walk after the ten samples to…you know…mull over the tasting, the staff member (who told me she was new) looked to the children sitting near the counter.  I  assumed they were family of an owner or manager or something.  The one young girl just barely managed to look up from her phone to say “no dogs”.  I mentioned that I would keep them on leash and again, more firmly, she replied “No.  Dogs.”  OK then.  I’ll just have a few of the samples and probably end up buying less of the vineyards products.

Now, where I live in southern Ontario, we have three wine producing areas.  Probably the most famous and well-known is the Niagara peninsula area.  Recently, Prince Edward County has had a wine boom which is surprising when you see how rough the terrain is.  The Lake Erie north shore area is now producing some excellent wines.

The wines were quite tasty and I left with a bottle of Marquette and a bottle of Deep Currant.  To be honest, I was surprised at how good the wines were.  Even though some of the wines were not totally to my taste, it wasn’t that they were bad, just not something that I preferred.  When I left the tasting building, I noticed a sign for the Great River Road Wine Trail.  There is a wine trail that leads through this area.  I’m sorry…what?  A wine trail in cheese country?  Does it get any better than that?!  I mean seriously!!!

As the weather had gotten nicer and a bit of a breeze kept the mosquitos at bay, I took the dogs for a walk in a nearby park.  What an amazing view of the river and I took the time to get some pictures of the dogs.almawisconsin 3

Finally I was able to put my camera away and we continued upriver.  Until I saw Nelson Creamery.  And a sign that listed cheese, wine, sandwiches, ice cream, and coffee.  Some of my favourite things in life.  I wandered around the shop but just picked up a bag of cheese curds.  And then I got to the counter.  They had cups of ice cream for dogs.  Well if the dogs were getting ice cream then I had to have ice cream too.  I left with three little cups of ice cream with dog cookies clutched in one hand and my chocolate ice cream cone with a bag of cheese curds in the other.  I brought the dogs out of the car and let them enjoy their treats while I talked to a woman who had stopped to visit with them.  I figure if I’m chowing down every chance I get, then it’s only fair that they get treats too.

As we continued north, I munched on the bag of cheese curds; a fitting dairy dinner.  We crossed into Minnesota and when I saw a visitor centre, I let them out for a walk break.  And the light was really nice for some photos so I just had to take the opportunity to capture my little darlings.  I ended up talking to some couples who were catching Pokemon until the light was almost gone and then started looking for a place to stay.

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Looking lovely in the dusk.

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Piper deep in thought.

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Jack looking majestic…as usual.

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Leo in a moment of calm.

With the chance of rain and a drop in temperature, it was going to be a hotel for the night.  Finally I booked a Red Roof Inn in Minneapolis and began making my way there.  I tried to check in but the woman at the counter told me that I didn’t have a reservation.  I was tired by this point.  I just wanted to fall into bed and sleep so I was a little peeved that there was a problem with my reservation.  The woman let me use the phone to call Expedia and just as the phone was finally answered by their customer care, she asked if I could have been booked at another Red Roof.  Wait…there’s more than one nearby?  Ohhhhhhh nooooooooooo.  Sure enough, I was at the wrong one.  Dammit.  So back in the car I go.

Fortunately the other Red Roof Inn was fairly close by and sure enough, it was the one that I had booked a reservation.  Now when I was booking the hotel, I’ll admit that I wasn’t really paying too much attention to the specifics of the room.  So when I checked in, I realized that I must have clicked on the accessible room.  I felt awful.  I don’t need an accessible room so I went to try and switch to another room.  I mean that’s worse than parking in an accessible parking spot.  The staff told me that there were several open for the night so no one was going to get turned away since I wouldn’t be able to switch to another room.  I kind of doubt her assertion that she couldn’t change my room but since there were lots available, I decided to let it go even though I still felt like a grade A ass.

I got everyone settled and went to have a shower.  Except I couldn’t figure out how to make water come out of the shower head.   Seriously.  I tried everything, I moved everything, I twisted and I think I almost bent the faucet trying to do something.  Perhaps my road weary brain just wasn’t functioning and there was a very easy solution.  I mean I could have called the front desk to explain the shower but finally I just laid down to get my head under the tap to wash my hair and contorted my body to get as much as I could under the tap.

By the time I got washed off, the dogs had taken up most of the bed.  So the contortions were not done until I had twisted myself around the snoring dogs and fell asleep.

Gold on the Road and Gold in a Glass

This trip was inspired by the second season of the television show “Feasting on Asphalt”.  We are following the Great River Road that runs along the Mississippi River from Venice, Louisiana to the headwaters in Lake Itasca State Park, Minnesota.  When possible we will stop at locations featured in the show, however time has found many of them closed.

I slept really well that night, no doubt a combination of a poor sleep the night before, a long day, and wine slushie.  And even though I was up early, for me anyway, there were several people up before me and out on the water behind my campsite.  I couldn’t see what it was through the thick stand of trees but I think it was a small tributary and not the Mississippi River.  As the dogs seemed content to lounge a bit longer, I left them in the tent while I went to have a quick shower.  I noticed that I had been a little light with the sunblock and had a lovely shade of pink on my left arm; the unmistakable mark of the road traveler.

jack tent

I don’t wanna Jack today.


leo tent

Why do you do this to me?


piper tent

If I don’t look at you, you’re not talking to me.


sunburn

Mark of the road warrior.

I was deep in that spaced-out shower state, OK not really since I was barely awake, when I glanced down at my thigh.  It took me a second to process what looked like a new freckle.  OH JEEZ LOUISE NO!!!!!  My blood ran cold.  There in all its tiny glory was a tick.  My arm grazed my hip and I felt a bump.  Suddenly the water felt like a million little feet running along my skin.  I braced my right hand on my back and tried to twist to see my hip when it slipped in the soap and stopped on my, shall we say, very lower back area.  ANOTHER ONE.  Thankfully I was alone in the shower building as I’m sure it would have sounded like a lot of groans and splashing.  In actuality I must have looked like a dog chasing its tail as I kept twisting around to see the unseeable parts of me.

Realizing that I was asking for either a fall or a visit to a chiropractor, I stopped and took a deep breath before I reached to the very lower back area hoping that it was just another piece of vegetation.  The little bump pulled away easily enough and for a split second I felt relieved.  Until I looked down and saw a small lone star tick pinched between thumb and forefinger.  Crap.  I broke Rule #1 when it comes to dealing with ticks: never leave the head embedded.  I was optimistic that since the ticks were so little that either I couldn’t see the head or the head was so small that it wouldn’t cause any issues. Like an infection.  I thought about just washing off and going back to my tent where I had tweezers to remove the ticks but in that moment of almost-panic, I just brushed the other two off.  Had they been the larger ticks from home that I’m more familiar with, I would have gone for the tweezers. At least that’s what I tell myself and not that I had a mini-meltdown.

I finished washing off the soap, checking for any more hangers-on, and then went back to the tent where I went over the dogs.  They had none.  I had three and they had none. Oh well.  I guess that since Piper and Jack had each had some in Natchez, it was only fair that I joined in the fun.

 

boys tent

They wait until I tell them they can leave.


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Breakfast of champions. I may have taken this with one shoved in my face.

For some reason, I had the urge to make my own coffee so I set out my little camp stove to boil water as I began to break camp.  I noticed a white truck that was slowly driving around to the campsites and figured it was the ranger checking on permits.  Sure enough, he stopped at my site and asked if I had a permit.  I mentioned that I had gotten in after everyone had left and there were no permits in the box.  “Uh huh,” with that “suuuuuuure you did” look was the response I got.  Perhaps because my coffee had not brewed yet, and perhaps because I was nursing a slight sunburn, and perhaps because I had just pulled three ticks off while contorted into shapes that would make flipping Cirque du Soleil take notice, I almost almost let the inside voice out: “Oh really?  I could have been out of here before you even knew I existed. Poof puff of smoke like.  For crying out loud I went and paid for a site in Natchez that gave me ticks LITERALLY for days and you’re busting my chops about paying for a flipping permit?!?!?”  Fortunately I just smiled and filled out the permit.

He left and I made my coffee.  In case you’re curious, I have a collapsible cone filter that rests on top of my mug.  Add the grounds and pour over the water and soon you have a delightful cup of coffee to enjoy with leftover donuts.  You can’t let donuts sit for too long after all or they go stale.

With donuts safely packed away (in my belly), a coffee in hand, and camp packed up, we headed out down the road.  We drove right next to the Mississippi River which was a nice change from when we first started out in Louisiana and were driving next to levees.  It’s also much less built-up and a pleasant place to stop to let some travelling dogs out to walk around.  Of course even this far north, the flooding was still severe enough to cover over roads and a few of the parks that we had stopped at were off limits because of the water level.

illinois sign

You can actually see where we are.


illinois flood

Well there’s your problem…

We crossed into Iowa and drove to Muscatine looking for “The Clamshell”, one of the “Feasting on Asphalt” locations.  It wasn’t there anymore so we stopped at Riverside Restaurant instead.  I left with a waffle, another coffee, and the dogs got some loving at the front (of course).  Then we drove to a park at the side of the river to enjoy breakfast.  As I parked the car, I noticed a man setting up a smoker nearby.  I looked around, trying to surreptitiously figure out if there was something going on as I found a shady picnic table.

The waffle was really good with a nice crispy exterior and a soft chewy interior.  I added a little bit of butter and just the barest hint of syrup and I was in waffle heaven.  It was a warm sunny day and we had finally escaped some of the humidity, there was a nice breeze blowing off the Mississippi River right in front of us, and the smell of smoke kept the air perfumed with the smell of barbecue.  I just had to find out what was going on.  That and a creepy guy that I’m pretty sure was higher than a kite was wandering in the area and I figured that at least if I was moving it would be harder for him to approach me.  I wasn’t worried that he’d try anything but the thought of having to push him in the river or having to pull him from the river made me want to move on.

waffle

Doesn’t look like much but it was so tasty.

I told the man with the smoker that it smelled amazing and he told me he was getting ready for a graduation party.  If that isn’t the most awesome grad party I don’t know what is.  I was a little sad that there wasn’t any to sample but having crushed four donuts and a waffle thus far, it probably was for the best.

We continued on along the river.  I’m not quite sure where I was when I looked to my right and saw a massive golden dome in what looked like an industrial area.  It took me totally by surprise especially since I never saw a sign to give any indication of what it was.  It looked way too pretty to be a factory.

dome

Well there’s something you don’t see every day.

We drove on until I saw Bellevue State Park and we stopped for a short hike.  As we were far above the river, we were able to enjoy some spectacular views.  Unfortunately the lack of a breeze and the thick trees meant that we were feeding the local mosquito populations, especially Leo with his thin coat and large patches of black.  The dogs had a quick run around that soon turned into lazy sniffing which told me they wanted to move on.  So we did.

riverview

You lose perspective of how big the Mississippi still is until you see it from up high.

We stopped at Kalmes Restaurant in St. Donatus and I was hoping to sample Luxembourg -style noodles.  I mean, they looked really good on “Feasting on Asphalt”.  And even though the internet said they’d be open and the sign on the door said they’d be open, they were not open.  Darn.  So back in the car we went.

We crossed into Wisconsin and were following the road north when we came to Potosi.  At first I was struck by what a cute town it was and HOLY CRAP THEY HAVE A BREWERY!!!!  Quick turn into the parking lot of Potosi Brewery, a hustle through a patio, and into the side door.  Yes I can bring the dogs onto the patio (SCORE!), yes I can order food to go so I can sit on the patio (Double SCORE), yes we have several beers on tap (excited hopping from foot to foot).  I was handed a menu and so many things called to me but the brisket sandwich seemed to be calling the loudest.  I sampled a few beers then settled on the golden (Good Old Potosi) and went out to the patio.  It is one of the nicest patios I have ever had the pleasure of sitting on.  There was a waterfall streaming out of the rock face behind the patio with a koi pond at the base.  It was nice and shady, a welcome respite from the heat of the day, especially for this northern girl.  The tables weren’t crammed in next to each other, I’m sure partly because the patio wasn’t technically open yet.  And even though it wasn’t open, one of the staff brought my food out to me and stayed for a minute to play with the pups.  And several people that were passing by took my lead and also joined us on the patio  It was just way too nice to sit inside.

The verdict on Potosi Brewery: YOU MUST GO.  The food is outstanding, the beer is incredible, and the people are just ridiculously nice.  When I popped back inside to tell them how much I enjoyed the food, I noticed growlers for root beer and had to ask about it.  I’ve noticed that alcoholic root beers are showing up all over the place but this is one that’s non-alcoholic and after tasting a sample, I left with a growler in hand.  I’m not a big fan of re-visiting places but this is one place that I would go back and spend some time really exploring.

potosi4

A patio with a waterfall demands that you stay.

Having made the mistake more than once of waiting too long to start looking for a place to spend the night, I decided to stop when I saw the signs for Nelson Dewey State Park.  I’ve lost the “get a bit further down the road” gamble a few too many times on this trip already.  So when I pulled off the road, there was a sign that says you have to get a vehicle sticker and if you’re camping go find a site then come down and fill out a permit for the site.  I didn’t see the permit box as we drove in and we drove up to the sites and sure enough, there were a bunch open.  So I drove back down to the front to see if I could find the permit box.  I did find the box which I had passed as soon as I drove in, but then I had forgotten to remember the site number, so I drove back up to the site that I picked, set up the tent (checking for ticks as I did), and drove back down to the entry and filled out the permit info then drove back up to the site.  And for some reason I decided that I wanted to have a fire so I passed by our site, bought a bag of wood, and finally parked the car.

Usually I don’t have fires when I’m camping because, well I’m not sure.  I like fires and I like sitting around fires.  I think it’s because when you’re by yourself you have to sit there and watch the fire.  And since you’re not supposed to transport wood from one place to another you have to use it all up.  However, the dogs all seemed exhausted and were content to flop down rather than explore so we were going to be up for a while.  I didn’t even bother running their leashes to their tie-out since no one was camping near us any way.

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Hey Piper.  You’re so far away.  Leo is chowing down.  And yes Jack usually grabs a seat at the table.

I had brought a blanket just for them to act as a base layer for their sleeping blankets.  I got the idea from Jamie at Hiking Girl with Dog and the dogs really seemed to like it.  Except Piper who seems to have no faith in my fire-tending skills.  As soon as it was lit, she got as far away as she could.  In fact, if she could have squeezed under the fly of the tent I’m sure she would have.  What’s funny about that is  that I heat my house all winter with a wood stove so there’s always a fire going.  It may have something to do with the fact that I once set a skillet on fire in said wood stove.  But that’s another story.

Once the fire had burned out and were were all dozey on the blanket (yes even Piper eventually joined us) we crept into the tent and were all snuggled up and asleep.

Of Meat and Mosquitos

This trip was inspired by the second season of the television show “Feasting on Asphalt”.  We are following the Great River Road that runs along the Mississippi River from Venice, Louisiana to the headwaters in Lake Itasca State Park, Minnesota.  When possible we will stop at locations featured in the show, however time has found many of them closed. 

The damaging winds passed but the rain continued on into the morning.  I took the dogs out for a stroll around the parking lot but they are a delicate and finicky bunch when it comes to rain.  They have no problem diving into water if it’s on the ground but as soon as it’s falling from the sky, they seem to think that they are going to melt.  So while they recovered from the indignity of going out in the rain with bowls of food, I planned out the day.  Who am I kidding?  I looked for coffee.  And I found it with The Tamp & Tap in downtown Memphis.

We crossed the bridge into Memphis during a break in the rain and when I saw the Welcome Centre, I took the opportunity to stop and let the dogs have a bit more of a leg stretch.  Even though we had been next to the river, from our elevated vantage point, I was able to get a real sense of just how big this river was.  I mean, what better gauge of size than to watch full-grown trees float past you?  As we walked around the Welcome Centre, I stopped to speak with one of the staff and asked where we should go for barbecue.  When there is “Memphis-style barbecue” you have to eat it.  That’s just part of the rules.  He told me a few places but two stood out: Interstate (which was on “Feasting on Asphalt”) and Central.  Then I asked the all-important question: if you had to go to only one, which would it be.  The hesitation before he answered said it all.  He replied that Interstate was an institution but the food was better at Central.  Well friends, I think we know which one I went to.  After coffee of course.

memphis

We came ready to rock.

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Trees in the Mississippi River for scale.

The parking situation around the Tamp & Tap, well let’s just say it leaves much to be desired.  I mean, there is plenty of places to park, if you don’t mind paying for it.  I risked a parking ticket when I left my car in the lot across the street and dashed inside, practically dancing from foot to foot as I waited in line.  When I mentioned that I wasn’t properly parked, she warned me that they are usually really strict with parking but they had already been by so I should be good for a few minutes.   And despite the fact that I was in a rush, I couldn’t help myself and asked if they had any specialties of the house and as she was rhyming off a list of prepared coffee drinks, my ears perked up at raspberry chocolate.  So I ordered one to go and practically bowled over everyone between me and the door, grateful to see that no one in uniform was anywhere near the lot. Downtown Memphis looked like the kind of place that I would have liked to wander around but the sky was a menacing grey so I punched in the address for Central BBQ and noticed that there were two and both were listed on bringfido.com as being dog-friendly.  I picked the one at 2249 Central since it had slightly better reviews and started the drive.

It was a short drive and soon we were in the parking lot.  For a brief moment anyway because a gentleman who was directing the traffic in the lot had us park across the street.  Navigating across four lanes of traffic was a bit of an inconvenience but I was hoping that it would be worth it.  What usually happens at Central is that if you were sitting on the patio, you would order food at the counter and then go sit down and it would be brought to you.  That wasn’t going to be so easy for me for a couple of reasons: there were a lot of people and I would have to find a place to tie the dogs where they would be close but still out of the way and about half of the patio had a heavy-duty tent around it so that meant walking through flaps and between narrow tables.  I must have had an expression that begged for pity because one of the servers told me to sit down and she would bring me food.  I practically hugged her right there and grabbed a table in the open area.  It took me a bit to figure out how to open the umbrella and almost as soon as I did, the skies opened up.  I sat in the chair, and into the puddle that was on it, to wait for my new best friend.  I ordered the platter with three different meats and two sides, confident that I would be able to eat most of it.  Well this time the food won.  I ate my macaroni and baked beans but I barely made a dent in the turkey, pulled pork, and brisket.  It was good but I found the meat was a bit dry and needed liberal dosing with the accompanying sauces. It was flavourful on it’s own but the flavour was kind of drowned by the sauce.  The macaroni and cheese was outstanding and was my favourite part of the meal.  I packed up what was left of my food and then spent way too long trying to get back to our car while standing out in the rain.

central

This round went to the meat.  From top left: mac n’ cheese, buns, baked beans, brisket, pulled pork, and turkey.

The dogs were so drenched, that when we did get eventually back to the car, I didn’t put their harnesses on until they had a chance to dry off since I was a little worried about them getting rubs from the straps.  I followed the placards for the Great River Road out of the city and while we passed by some beautiful homes, we also passed by some neighbourhoods that stood in stark contrast, with more plywood than glass and restaurants sporting bars across windows and doors.

It’s a shame that it rained as much as it did since it would have been nice to get out and explore.  It also would have been nice not to be a walking buffet for legions of mosquitos.  When we had to turn around to detour because of yet another flooded section of road and since there was a break in the rain, I took a chance to walk the dogs in what looked like a state park.  Yes we braved the mosquitos and the possibility of another downpour to get in a bit of a hike.  And it was quite a find when we stumbled upon Fort Pillow.

flood

Well we won’t be going that way then.

I had parked the car on what kind of looked like a parking area but no signs to indicate as such.  We followed a well-marked path but there wasn’t much in the way of signage to tell us what was ahead at least not like most parks that we have been to.  When I did see signs for Fort Pillow, I expected to see maybe a sign and a drawing of what it would have looked like, not the fort re-created complete with a tent and guns.  There were signs posted that explained that the fort was positioned over an area of strategic importance over the river, thus allowing control over boat traffic as well as the history of the fort.  Considering how well it had been restored, I would have expected to see more people there or at least more signs for it.  As it was, we had the whole place to ourselves and I spent longer than I expected, poking around and reading everything I could.  If you’re a history buff, this is a great place to spend some time to reflect and really appreciate how these forts were constructed and what it would have been like to live there.  In downtown Toronto, we have Historic Fort York which is huge but probably not reflective of how many other forts were constructed.  When I was tired of being a blood donor, we headed back to the car and continued on.

pillow sign

Words of wisdom.

pillow gun

The dogs checking the firepower.

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The land side of Fort Pillow.

As it was getting late, I started looking for a place to sleep.  We were in an area towards the north border of Tennessee and there was little in the way of hotels but I did start seeing a lot of signs for campgrounds.  With options pretty limited and no call for rain over night, I set out to try and find them.  And I did.  Problem was a lot of those campgrounds were under water.  Crud.  Then I turned down one driveway, convinced that this would be the one.  It was dark but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve set up my tent by the light of my headlamp.  I saw piles of leaves across the driveway but that’s to be expected after a flood.  What I didn’t realize was that those leaves weren’t in piles but were covering tree limbs until BAM.  To say that the language was colourful would be an understatement.  So there I was trying to back up and I just kept hitting more branches and limbs as I attempted a 98-point turn and continued back down the road, really hoping that every noise my car made was my imagination.  Of course the noises go away when you turn up the music.

flood2

I seem to be seeing this a lot.

By this time, we were in Chester, Illinois which, as near as I can tell, has only one hotel.  So I went there to see if they had any rooms available.  And there were.  With the room fee and the pet fees it would have only been just over $200.00.  I tried to barter at least the pet fees down.  I mean $25.00 per dog is a bit much but with no luck.  So finally I just asked if there was somewhere I could park the car.  He told me that he wouldn’t mind if I parked the car in the lot but there was a campground nearby that shouldn’t be flooded because it’s on a hill.  With the directions burned into my brain, we set out to find this campground.

And we did find it and sure enough it wasn’t flooded. I drove around to get my bearings but the sites, or at least what I thought were sites were not well-marked so I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at especially in the pitch dark.  By this time I was too tired to really care.  And too tired to eat anything.  In fact, I hadn’t eaten anything since we left Memphis.  I put some food and water out for the dogs before they all hopped back into the car and into their sleeping spots: Leo in the front seat with me, Jack in the front passenger seat, and Piper sprawled across the back seat.  Needless to say, they were asleep long before I was.  I guess Piper was a bit out of sorts since she usually snuggles with me so she kept her nose tucked into the crook of my neck.  It’s sweet until she did the boxer snort and sprayed the side of face face with snot.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, Leo kept shifting next to me so I ended up trying to contort around him.  Heaven forbid the dog isn’t comfortable.  I think Jack passed out the second he curled up.  I’m so jealous of that.

Ticks, Fried Chicken, and Pig Heads

This trip was inspired by the second season of the television show “Feasting on Asphalt”.  We are following the Great River Road that runs along the Mississippi River from Venice, Louisiana to the headwaters in Lake Itasca State Park, Minnesota.  When possible we will stop at locations featured in the show, however time has found many of them closed. 

I did not sleep well that night.  Every time something brushed against my skin, I imagined I was being overrun by an army of bloodsucking ticks.  At one point during the night I had to step outside the tent to…errrr…check the perimeter (the downside of having a bladder the size of a walnut).  With this being a primitive site, I normally would have gone far from the area but with no clear trail away from camp and very little in the way of cover from my neighbours, I went as far from my tent as I dared.  Which wasn’t very far.  And as soon as I got back inside, I checked myself all over.

When I opened my eyes, I saw more ticks climbing across the top of my tent in the growing light.  I decided that we would stay inside as long as possible and began packing up as much as I could.  I was getting dressed when I thought I felt something, and this is going to sound weird, down the back of my pants.  I literally froze as my mind started racing.  This is as close to a transcript as I can safely write because there was a lot of colourful language running through my head: Oh no.  Lower back…nope…butt…oh maaaaaaaan…OK OK don’t panic.  OK phone you can use your phone and figure out where it’s at and then…wait how am I going to remove it?  Am I going to have to use a mirror in the shower room?!?!  Aww come ON.  It was as I was trying to figure out how to contort myself to remove a tick from my backside that I realized it was a leaf.  Somehow a leaf always ends up down the back of my pants.  I checked the dogs over and sure enough they had beasties: Jack two, Piper three, and surprisingly Leo had none.  I decided to wait until we were at the shower shed to take the ticks off since there was a paved parking area which meant less chance of more hopping on.

I don’t think I have ever broken camp so fast.  I was spurred on by the ticks that I kept brushing off the fabric of the tent, and me, to get everything away and it seemed we were set to go in no time.  I felt bad about not taking the dogs for a walk so we went down the road, staying as far out of the grass as we could and walked around the closed off campground.  I wanted to see what it was like and it was quite nice indeed.  It would have been a good place to stay although I doubt it would have changed the tick situation.  I drove to the shower building and went over the dogs really well.  They are on a flea/tick prevention program but these little vampiric spiders were not going to be attached for longer than necessary.  Once everyone was bug-free I had a bit of a quandary: do I leave or do I go to the park office and pay for my spot?  I was tempted to just leave but then that little voice in my head that knows right from wrong and that park fees support the park and keep up the maintenance and even though I could have been bled dry it’s still the right thing to do.  So I went to pay for my spot.  As I was talking to the ranger, I was asked what was the biggest difference between Mississippi and Ontario.  I mentioned there were a lot of ticks. ‘Oh yeah,” chuckled the ranger.  “We have a lot of them”.  Understatement of the year.

I munched on the last donut (still can’t believe I ate five donuts the day before) as we headed out of Natchez State Park.  I saw a sign for the Natchez Trace Parkway which is an historic scenic route, and turned to follow it.  If you’re in the area, take it.  Drive the Trace because it is just so darned pretty.

When I saw a sign for the Emerald Mound, I decided to stop and check it out.  It’s not flashy in any way as it is just mounds of dirt that were created to support temples and ceremonial structures of the Mississippians (see below).  It turns out that Emerald Mound is the second largest mound in the United States after Monks Mound in Cahokia, Illinois.  There is one main mound and then two smaller ones on top of the main mound.  I hadn’t realized that there was entire mound trail that runs up the Mississippi River.  If you’re not a lover of history I could see why it would not be high on a list of things to see.  But stand at the top of this mound and look around.  This was created by hand.  There was no machinery involved.  The amount of effort and manpower needed to make the mound is astounding and there was this connection to the past that I hadn’t expected.  It’s like that moment when you go to a museum and you realize that all of these things you’re looking at were once prized possessions, were once people with hopes and dreams and fears.  There was a strange feeling to this place and I wanted to both linger and leave.  We did stay for a little while before we made our way back to the road.  I wanted to give the dogs a good walk but they also seemed to sense that there was something to this place and were a bit more subdued than I would have expected them to be.  I even dropped their leashes when no one else was around (shhhhhhhh don’t tell) but they just trotted along beside me.emerald mound sign

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That is one of the smaller mounds on the main mound. Do you see the couple on the stairs? How’s that for scale?

And then after a short drive down the road, we were at the Old Country Store in Lorman, Mississippi, a restaurant that had been featured on “Feasting on Asphalt” and supposedly had the best fried chicken in the world.  The building looked a little rough outside and not much better inside but hey, I was there for the food.    There’s a seating area inside and I was met by a woman at the front.  I explained to her that I had dogs with me and asked if I could make a plate and sit outside.  She hesitated and told me I’d have to speak with Mr. D.  She walked me to the area where the food was and there sitting at the cash register was Mr. D, also known as Arthur Davis.  I recognized him immediately and waited patiently while he finished joking around with the people in line ahead of me.  And then I stepped up to the desk.

You know how they say you should never meet your heroes?  I would say that you should never meet anyone from TV.  I told him that I was from Ontario and heard he had the best fried chicken and I wanted to try it but I had my dogs and was hoping I could eat outside.  “You can’t bring dogs in the restaurant.”  Ummmmm yeah.  Kinda figured that.  Then he asked if I wanted the buffet or a plate.  This was breakfast and lunch for me so naturally I went for buffet.  He nodded his head and told me that I could eat outside.

I was a little put off by the change from laughing and joking to not but oh well.  Maybe it was me.  Maybe not.  I stopped caring once my gaze fell upon  a golden pile of chicken at the hot table and I loaded my plate.  I went heavy with the veggies to kind of make up for the fact that I had eaten very little of them the day before and then went outside balancing my plate and a large cup of swee’tea.  I got the dogs out of the car and tied their leashes to the railing at the side of the stairs then I perched on one step and used another as a table.  I bit into that first piece of chicken and it was as though I had never eaten chicken before.  It was crispy and not overly seasoned, the meat was moist and flavourful.  Needless to say, the chicken was the first thing to disappear from the plate.  I heard a noise and looked to see Mr. D come out the front door.  This is amazing I called out.  “I know” was the response.  I guess when you have people coming from everywhere to say the same thing, it gets a bit old.  He stood out there for a while and I suddenly wondered if he thought that I was feeding someone else or feeding the dogs.  At first I felt a bit insulted but then I realized that is a very valid concern.  I didn’t let it bother me when I went for my second plate.  I drove this far for chicken and dammit I was going to eat chicken.  And vegetables because I have to.

As I was working on the second plate, some of the staff came outside, again to check on me.  I guess they didn’t figure that someone like me could put away as much food as I did.  Well joke’s on you guys because I can.  I waddled my way inside to pay and I again found myself in front of Mr. D.  You know when you have that really awkward and strained conversation?  The kind where you think “we should just stop this because it’s that awkward”?  That was the conversation we had when he told me that he had gone on a long road trip into Canada.  I mean, we were on the same wavelength about driving because you can see everything but it was just so strained.  Here’s my verdict on the Old Country Store: if you’re anywhere near there, you HAVE to go.  Don’t go for the decor or ambiance.  Go for the food.  It is so worth it.  Oh and in case you’re wondering, yes the dogs had tiny samples of the chicken.  Those teensy bits that cling to the joint that you just can’t bite off.  The pieces that would normally have been left on the bone and tossed so I don’t feel bad about it.  They were a little peeved that all they got were those bits but they’re lucky I didn’t suck the bones dry.

Oh were my guts aching when we left so when I saw a sign for another mound site at Winterville Mounds, I took the opportunity to get out and walk the dogs around.  While the mounds were smaller, there were quite a few of them and the woman at the visitor centre explained the history of the site pretty much as soon as I walked in the door.  I could only visit about half of the site because some of it had been damaged by flooding but it was still a nice place to stop.  If I had been looking for a place to picnic (which I most certainly was NOT), this would have been a great place.  Not only are the lands around the mounds well-mowed and flat but there is a lovely little pond with lots of trees for shade and plenty of benches in the area.  With my tummy in slightly better shape, we headed back out.

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I have no idea what this is pointing at besides up.

As we headed into Rosedale, the first thing that struck me were some gravestones right next to the road.  And I do mean right next to the road.  No fence at all just some areas mowed out of the tall grass.  Then we found Joe’s Hot Tamale Place – White Front Cafe, another “Feasting on Asphalt” location.  I had never had hot tamales before and I was looking forward to changing that.  I bounded inside and laid my eyes upon the menu.  Ohhhhhhhh boooooooy.  Bundles of three, half a dozen, a dozen….my mind spun.  I asked Miss Barbara Pope what I should get since I wasn’t sure how filling they were.  She had appeared on “Feasting on Asphalt” but I didn’t say anything about how I recognized her because that just seemed kind of weird and groupie-like.  What I hadn’t realized was how soft-spoken she was and I felt like a bull in a china shop especially when she stepped behind the counter.  I was looking at the menu and when I turned back to her, her head was almost at my waist.  I did a bit of a double take and even looked behind the counter to see that, yes the floor was a step down.  I felt like a lumbering monster as I ordered my dozen hot tamales.  Hey if she said that she can eat a dozen how could I do any less?  And since this was later in the day it was shaping up to be my dinner.

I paid for my tamales and drove back towards a sign that we had seen for a park.  I thought it would nice to sit in some shade, enjoy my tamales, maybe go for a short walk and enjoy some of the sunshine.  I crested the levee and as I started to drive towards the gate I was so lost in my thoughts that it took me a second to understand what I was looking at.  A gate.  Across the driveway.  And water behind it.  Ohhhhhhhh the road was flooded.  Hmmmmmm time for a Plan B.  I reversed back up the levee and pulled off to the side of the road that ran along the top.  I brought the dogs out of the car and after offering them water, I sat in the grass with my container of hot tamales and set to eating them.  So what is a hot tamale?  It’s a mix of highly seasoned cornmeal and pork that is wrapped in corn husk and boiled in a flavourful broth.  You can eat them by either unwrapping the husk to reveal an almost sausage-like roll or push up on the bottom and slurp them out the top.  I made an absolute mess eating with my hands but it was just so gosh-darned fun.  Then I switched to a knife and fork. I got plenty of stares from the people that drove by but I’m used to it by now.  The tamales were really tasty and I enjoyed them.  I wanted to share with the dogs, and they wanted me to share with them too, but I had a feeling they would just be too spicy for little tummies.

I groaned my way back into the car and set out back down the road.  Unlike Louisiana, the Great River Road is really well marked in Mississippi and we had no trouble navigating into Arkansas at Helena-West Helena.  We stopped at the Welcome Centre to get our bearings, and some photos of course.  There was a good-sized strip of grass next to the Welcome Centre and I let the dogs have a play there.  After Leo had his obligatory roll, he started to play tug of war.  With Jack’s leash.  While it was attached to Jack.  I sat on the grass and watched them pull each other around as Piper snuggled up to me.  As the boys were getting their sillies out, I started looking for a hotel for the night since the forecast was calling for rain.  Actually the forecast was for “quarter-sized hail and damaging winds”.  I think I’ll pass on camping out in that.  I saw that there was a hotel just down the road and started driving…it should be right here…nope map says I passed it…OK U-turn…noooooooo…hmmmmm…back around……..no hotel…but there is a sleep centre.  Well that’s just great.  I’m looking for a sleep centre too.  Just one where you pay some money to sleep for the night.  With nothing else nearby, we kept heading upriver.arkansas

Now I have a feeling that when they were mapping out the Great River Road, someone said, “Hey do you think they’ll follow all the signs?” because at one point we turned off the paved roads and were soon crunching along a dirt road at the top of the levee.  At first I wondered if we had missed a turn but no, there was a sign up ahead.  As we approached the sign, I saw a little beagle-looking dog out on the road by himself.  Me being me, I stopped to see if he had a collar and he ran away.  I shrugged it off and brought the dogs out for photos next to the sign.  For some reason I looked back and saw the beagle with two other, much bigger, dogs making their way towards us.  I’m not sure what their intention was but if the beagle ran away before and now he was coming to us…well I didn’t want to stick around to see why they were up to.

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The Great River Road along the top of a levee.  Piper noticed the dogs approaching.  The boys didn’t.

As if that wasn’t weird enough, the road finally turned off the levee and met with another road.  I stopped to make the turn then realized I had seen something out of the corner of my eye and backed the car up.  No my eyes had not deceived me: I had seen two pig heads on spikes.  Well there’s something you don’t see every day.

pig head

You never know what you’ll see on the road.

The road then led us through a tangle of forests and swamps.  In some places the road had been so flooded that I had to back up and detour around it.  There weren’t too many places to get out and hike and with the failing daylight, I wasn’t too inclined to be out in places I was unfamiliar with.  I was sure that we had left the alligators behind but I wasn’t so sure about snakes so discretion won this round.  It’s too bad because it was a stunning section of forest.  However when I got out to snap some pictures, I was promptly eaten alive by mosquitoes.  Snakes, mosquitoes, and ticks…oh my.pondpond2.jpg

Eventually, we got to the Red Roof Inn in West Memphis and it was not too long after that the rain and damaging winds began so I was glad that we had a solid roof over our heads.  Oddly enough, I wasn’t the least bit hungry when I went to sleep.

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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pool

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.

 

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.

 

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.

trail2

Leo stretching his legs.

trail1

Checking out the scents.

trail3

Do we have to pose again?

piper

Piper surveying her domain.

piper-leo

Always up for a hike.

trail4

Jack has no problem with heights.

bridge

A first look across the Gorge.

bridge1

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

The Season Begins

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.bigfallblurgroup

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.donutparking

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.

stop

Not quite the same stance on the sign.

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.

Maybe Tomorrow…Until Tomorrow

You couldn’t have grown up in Canada without having heard of “The Littlest Hobo”, a show that has been on the air since October 1979.  I don’t remember it for the somewhat nebulous plot of an extremely intelligent dog that wanders from town to town to help those in need;  I remember the theme song.  I can’t tell you how many times I catch myself singing it, especially when I’m itching to get on the road.  Right now I can’t get it out of my head.

There’s a voice that keeps on calling me
Down the road, that’s where I’ll always be.
Every stop I make, I make a new friend,
Can’t stay for long, just turn around and I’m gone again

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down,
Until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on.

Down this road that never seems to end,
Where new adventure lies just around the bend.
So if you want to join me for a while,
Just grab your hat, we’ll travel light, that’s hobo style.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll want to settle down,
Until tomorrow, the whole world is my home.

So if you want to join me for a while,
Just grab your hat, we’ll travel light, that’s hobo style

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down,
Until tomorrow, the whole world is my home.

There’s a world that’s waiting to unfold,
A brand new tale no-one has ever told.
We’ve journeyed far but you know it wont be long;
We’re almost there, we’ve paid our fare with a hobo song.

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll find what I call home,
Until tomorrow, you know I’m free to roam.

So if you want to join me for a while,
Just grab your hat, we’ll travel light, that’s hobo style.

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down,
Until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on.

Until tomorrow, the whole world is my home.

  • Terry Bush (Maybe Tomorrow)
  • Lyrics by John Crossen