I Need a Suggestion Box

Well my friends, the days are slowly getting longer, it isn’t quite as cold, and I have more fur on my floor which means it’s almost time for Road Trip Season!

I have a few trips already (kind of) planned out but I’m looking for your suggestions.  It could be an awesome town, a great cafe, or the must-do hike.  Anything and everything you have I want to know but with one condition: it has to be in the contiguous United States and Canada.  As good as my little Corolla is, it doesn’t handle water crossings well.

If we visit a place you suggest, I’ll make sure you get a shout out.  Now if it’s a secret that you don’t want broadcast (and I get why that would be), send me an e-mail (3adventuredawgs@gmail.com).  We can go and keep the location on the down low.

I have been waiting to hit the road since last year and I cannot wait to see what suggestions you have for what is out there.

Cheers all.

P.S.  I couldn’t resist sharing some pictures of our trips over the past two seasons.

More Than a Safety Dance

I get asked, a LOT, if I’m scared to travel on my own with only my four-legged companions.  It never really occurred to me to be scared to travel.  I don’t think of myself as above-average in the bravery department and initially I had felt a degree of trepidation but that was about being on my own in case something happened, like some mysterious part in the car broke.  But I’ll tell you: if you want to feel like a total badass, get out on the road on your own.  There is something so empowering about being out there and having to be completely self-reliant to make you feel like you can take on the world.

Trust Your Gut

Your survival instinct has been around for a lot longer than you have been and has kept a weak and defenceless species alive, so when it’s telling you that something is wrong, trust it!  Take a second and figure out what may be wrong and if you still have that feeling in the pit of your gut, move on.  Yes you may miss something but there are so many people who say “I had a feeling and I ignored it…”

Don’t be an Ass on the Road

I credit the fact that I have never had any major catastrophes on diligent pre-planning and maintenance of the car.  In bad weather I slow down and keep lots of distance between the cars ahead of me.  Those two things will go a long way to keeping you safe on the road itself.

Watch Your Feet

If you go out for a hike, take care where you put your feet; a rolled ankle can be a minor inconvenience but if you lose your footing and cause serious damage, the consequences can be much more extreme.  I was once hiking through the Adirondacks on a leaf-covered trail.  Everything looked pretty good but the leaf cover camouflaged a small depression and when I was watching the dogs, I wasn’t watching my feet and rolled an ankle.  It wasn’t too bad but it was unpleasant.

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There’s something out there

Dress for the weather, both wen you head out and what it could be and at least take a small snack with you.  I’m sure no one goes out planning to get lost but it does happen.  In fact studies have found that you’re more likely to get lost after you’ve been somewhere a few times.  It makes sense: when you first go somewhere, you’re paying total attention but once you get comfortable, the mind starts to get a bit lazy.  Next thing you know, you’re lost.  Carry a whistle.  And even though you may not get any cell service, bring your phone with you.  Some signals will go through and you can always use it as a flashlight or signalling device.

 

No Valuables

There is no need to wear ginormous diamond rings or expensive watches when you’re driving the roads so leave them safe at home.  Big sparklies can draw unwanted attention.  Same thing with having expensive things visible in the car.  And don’t flash stacks of cash.

Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

Have a plan in mind for what you will do in the event of a flat tire or car stops moving or you run out of gas.  Knowing what you will do in any situation reduces the anxiety of that unknown element.  When we were in Arizona, I had my eyes peeled for snakes and I had read up on care for snake bites.  Maybe a bit paranoid but I’d rather have that piece of mind.  The weirdest thing was seeing signs for poisonous snakes in Minnesota and Montana.

And because we were heading into the desert, I made sure I had a TON of water with me.  And I’m glad I did because we went through a lot of it.  Oddly we went through more when we were at Monument Rocks in Kansas.  But it was hooooooooot.

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Monument Rocks in Kansas.

Do you have a daredevil dog?  Jack is fearless when it comes to heights and will walk to the very edge of sheer drop offs.  Once I realized that he gave zero F’s about heights, I kept him either on leash or next to me to keep him from taking an accidental tumble.

Mind Games

It’s not just car stuff to worry about.  Think about what it takes to make yourself a less than ideal target.  Have a plan of action to deal with people who get up in your space.  The dogs are the best body guards out there and I don’t worry about people getting close without me knowing about it.  And while the boys are less than intimidating, Piper more than makes up for it, especially when she fixates on something: her head goes up, her chest goes out, and she gets that intense Boxer stare that makes her look like she squints a little as her underbite somehow becomes even more pronounced.  Heck, it even makes me stop and do a double take.

If you’re going to be on your own, be prepared to take care of yourself.  Adopt the warrior mindset that nothing is going to stop you from going home safe.  Get the thought into your mind that you will bite, claw, kick your way through anyone and anything that tries to interfere with your safety.

I know a lot of people put their faith in pepper spray and stun guns.  For them I have two things to say: what are you going to do if it gets taken away, and have you ever experienced it?  Like so many other things, TV would have you believe that a spray or zap will drop a person in their tracks.  Reality unfortunately is far from TV.  Neither are the end all be all of safety.  Never mind the legality (depending on where you are).

Personally, when I’m walking towards the car I like to keep the key in a fist so that the metal part is sticking out between my fingers; this turns the key into something that would hurt.  I also keep lots of keys on a carabiner that’s big enough for me to fit my hand through.  That makes a good distraction if I smack someone upside the head with a mittful of keys.

The idea is to avoid being in that situation to begin with.  Look at everyone near you.  Make eye contact.  Walk with your head high because you are a badass explorer taming the road.  It also makes you look like less of a target and gives the impression that you know everyone’s face.  People up to nefarious purposes want the easy target so don’t be an easy target.

Part of not being an easy target is parking your car where it can be seen.  When possible, avoid parking near shrubs, trees, walls, anything that can provide cover for anyone who wants to lie in wait.

Think dirty.  Ask yourself what you would do if you wanted to sneak up on someone and do what you can to prevent it.

When I’m travelling with the dogs, we don’t spend much time in cities since it’s harder to maneuver with them and I can’t really explore shops since I’d have to tie them up outside and I always worry about tying them up outside.  I make sure I keep them in sight as much as possible.  I don’t like to drive much at night since the whole part of driving is to see as much as I can and unfamiliar cities are hard enough to navigate at the best of times, never mind when it’s dark.  That also keeps me out of sketchier parts of cities.

Someone at the Door

Hotels are relatively safe but if someone is knocking at your door there’s nothing wrong with asking who they are and if they say they’re with the hotel, have them wait until you confirm it with the front desk.  Keep the blinds drawn if you’re at ground level or if there’s a walkway that goes by your window.  And use every locking system available to you.

Find the Spot

When you’re camping, spot selection is highly personal but there is one thing to consider: if you’re close to people more people will see you.  If you’re far from people, there may be no one close enough to hear you if you call for help.

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Leo trying to figure out how to get in first.

Gas Makes Car Go

Nuff said.

Now I know there are TONS of other safety tips, some of which I have addresses in earlier posts.  Is there anything that you do to maintain your safety on the road?

Staying in the Great Outdoors

You’ve been driving all day and you found an amazing area that is a perfect place to spend the night.  This is part of why I love freestyle road tripping because you may not have planned to stop at this campground but here it is and here you are and you need to sleep.  I’m going to outline how a camp stop usually works for us.  This is pretty consistent whether it’s a private campground or a state/provincial/national park.

Pick a spot:

You won’t be camping if there aren’t any spots so a stop at the office is the first thing.  If there are people working, you’ll know fairly quickly if there’s a site available.  Don’t be afraid to ask the staff member what spots they recommend.  There are places that may not look great on the map but when you actually get there, it’s pretty sweet.  Even though my dogs aren’t yappy I prefer the quieter places so I tell them right off the bat that’s what I’m after.  I don’t mind walking a bit farther to get places if it means I don’t have the water tap at the front of my site and can hear everyone coming for water at all hours (and the resultant need to pee all the time).

If the office is closed, a lot of campgrounds will have a self-service feature where you pick an available site, set up your camp, then deposit your money in a box with a permit.  I have a love/hate relationship with these.  I love being able to look at a site and see what’s around before settling.  But I hate having to go back to the front of the campground to deposit cash and then back to the site.  It’s not a big deal if the campground is small but if it’s a large campground, you’re back in the car.  If you are going to pick your site, make sure you read the map.  I was at a campground in Kansas and just skimmed over the site map.  As I drove around, I was positive that there had been more sites than the few trailer sites I was looking at.  I saw so many picnic tables and assumed they were all day sites since they didn’t have the permit posts.  Well later on I realized that they were indeed tent sites and I had missed out on primo spots.  Oh well.  We were only there to sleep and it was very quiet any way.

There some things you’ll have to consider:

Proximity to washrooms – do you have little ones that will need to make frequent visits?  Or if you’re like me and you have a bladder the size of a walnut then you’ll want to know how far the washroom is.  There are often pathways that act as shortcuts to the washrooms.  It’s nice to know if there is one that passes through your site so you won’t be surprised if you have a lot of rustling in the bushes.

Electrical hook-ups – these often come at a premium price but it may be worth it if you want to have power.

Playgrounds – If you have kids with you, you’ll likely want to be close and if you don’t then chances are you won’t.

Water taps – having one near your site is convenient but you will have a lot of traffic.  And the sound of running water at all hours.

Laundry/showers – I find that these buildings tend to be louder because they echo more but they usually get less traffic unless they are attached to the washrooms.

When I get to my spot, the first thing I do is let the dogs out of the car and put them on the tie-out.  I fill their bowls with water and lay out a blanket or towel for them before I do anything else.  Usually they sniff around, have a drink, and plop down to watch me.

Most sites have an area that has been used for the tent, and some even have a designated spot.  It’s important to pick up any rocks and debris and then figure out the slope of the site.  I sometimes use the tent sac, laying it out flat and then dribble some water to see which way it flows if the slope is not obvious.  Once that’s done, orient the tent with the highest point where your head will be.  Screw that up once and you’ll never mess it up again.

With the tent up, I first put in my sleeping pad and inflate it, putting it against the back.  Then the dog’s pad goes in and I cover that with the old sheet that I keep in the back seat of the car.  I tuck the sheet under my pad and bring it to the door before folding the excess back over.  It’s just one more layer of comfort for the dogs and protection for the floor.  Then I have to shoo Leo away since this is when he tries to sneak in as I bring my sleeping bag and their blankets inside.

Once the tent is set-up, we go for a walk around the campground.  First thing is to orient ourselves to the washroom and any other amenities available.  We’ll go for a hike if there are trails and time permitting, which gives us all a chance to stretch our legs.  Rarely, very rarely, we find a campground with an off-leash area and I let them run as long as they want to.

Once everyone is good and tired, we head back to our site.  I dish out their kibble and then turn my thoughts to my meal as I have a nip from the Road Trip Bottle (to toast our safe arrival of course).  For some reason I usually have left over pizza so I’ll often eat that by lantern light.  If there are no leftovers, then I set out my stove and will fix something.  This is where I’m thankful for the foodie tendencies that lead me to overpack food.  Most of the time I’ll make a pack of ramen noodles or noodle dish (think Sidekicks) and add some dried mushrooms or chicken or even beef jerky.  I always always always make sure to pick up any spilled kibble and put all the food and dishes back into the trunk of the car.  I NEVER bring any kind of food item into the tent even when we’re not in bear country.  It’s not a good habit to let yourself get into.

Then I will unzip the tent and try to hold back the tide of dogs that want to rush in before I’ve unclipped their leashes.  I leave the clips at the door so that when I wake up, I can unzip the door and clip the leashes while the door to the fly is still closed so they can’t bolt off.

Once I’ve changed into my sleeping clothes, I’ll have to push Piper and Leo both off of my sleeping bag and then try and keep Leo out of my sleeping bag and Piper from squeezing me off my pad.  By this time, Jack will have most of the blankets piled up underneath him as he just watches the spectacle.

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You didn’t want me to move did you?

The dogs are usually asleep before I am but they are quick to wake up if they hear something outside.  I usually sit up for a little bit and jot down any extra notes from the day’s travels or read a bit or plan out the route for the next day.  Not only will I have a lantern in the tent (either the small one from the ceiling or the big one next to me) but I’ll have my headlamp, cellphone, and pocket knife tucked in the pocket next to my head. I don’t keep the knife there so much for defence but in case I have to get out of the tent in a hurry; like if it gets blown over or in the off-chance a bear starts poking around.  Neither of those cases have happened but if I can be prepared, then I will be prepared.

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Tuckered out puppies.  Never mind Leo’s crazy eyes

At home, I will sleep in until the crack of noon but when we’re camping I’m often up before the sun.  I’ll take the dogs for a good long walk once it’s light enough to see where we’re going.  I’ll fill the dogs water bowls and pour out their food before I get my food going.  Breakfast for me is often oatmeal with whatever dried fruit and nuts tickle my fancy.  I’ll often boil a pot of water then use some of that for tea and dump a few pouches of instant oatmeal into what’s left.

Once our whole two dishes are washed, I’ll pack up camp which is the reverse of the set-up.  I usually take them for one last walk after the car is packed up unless it’s a campground that we are in a rush to get out of.  There have been a few that I was happy to see in my rearview that’s for sure.

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Getting comfy as they wait for me to finish.

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Camping on Mars (or Arizona).

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Morning in Arizona.

Think that staying in a hotel is a piece of cake?  My next post will have a few survival tactics that have come in handy and had to be learned the hard way.

Looking to “Ruff” it?

I love to camp.  I love being outside in nature and having the chance to explore the wilderness.  It’s also cheaper than a hotel so financially it helps on cross-country trips.  I’m lucky the dogs like to camp as much, if not more, than I do so I try to spend as many nights camping as possible.  The only times that we stay in a hotel is if the forecast is calling for rain or if the temperature looks like it’s going to drop too much for my delicate little ones.  Wet dogs in a small tent is something that I try to avoid as much as possible as well as frozen pup-sicles.  And there have been a few times when I haven’t been able to find a campground so we hotel by default.

So if camping is in the plan, here is some of the gear that you’ll want to pack.

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The trunk all packed up clockwise from top left: towel, sleeping bag, bins of food, safety kit, sleeping pad, tent and poles, poop bags, bug spray and sunblock, backpack, camping stove and fuel (in the bag), nalgene bottles, gas can, bag with ropes and spare leashes.

Tent:

You need to sleep somewhere.  There are so many options for tents these days that the only limit is your imagination and finances.  Most stores with a sporting section sell some kind of tent and you can get one for cheap if you just want something to use once a year but if you’re looking to use it often or in more rugged areas, I’d suggest going to an actual outdoor store.  I find that the quality is usually better and they often have some set up which means you can climb in and feel it out.  I once spent close to an hour crawling in and out of tents, laying down, and kneeling to see what they were like.  It’s one thing to read the base measurements but when you actually experience the size, you get a whole different sense of it.  If you go with friends it can be really fun (I’m serious about both trying it out and having a tent party in the store).

There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re going out to buy a tent or you have a few to choose from:

The number of people (and dogs) in your party – most tents will say how many people fit in the tent but I would suggest using that only as a guideline since that has everyone squished right next too each other and you may not want to get that close to your travel companions while you sleep.  It also does not account for any gear or other things you would keep in your tent.

The size of the people in your party – if you have someone that is very tall, make sure the tent is long enough to accommodate them with some space on either end to allow for the inevitable shift that always seems to happen overnight and so they are not pressed directly against the tent walls.

Duration in your tent (staying put or moving every day) – If you’ll be setting up your tent as a base of operations for days at a time, you’ll likely want something a bit more roomy than just a place to lay your head every night before packing back up.

Weather – While most tents are good for three seasons, if you’re heading out into the snow, you’ll want a tent that’s a bit more robust.

Ease of set-up – I remember the tents of my youth being heavy fabric and multi-piece tent poles that you had to assemble before several people had to work together to actually pitch the tent.  Most tents that I have seen lately have shock cord poles that snap together and allow a tent to be set up in no time.  I have seen some tents that only require you to throw them out and stake them down.  I’m a big believer in the less complicated the better.

Packed size/weight – if you’re just moving the tent in your car, there’s more leeway was far as size but if you’re heading into the back country, you’ll want the smallest and lightest tent you can find.  If you’ll be sharing with other people, you can divide the various components between you to share the load.

I have the Wanderer 2 from Mountain Equipment Co-op.  This is a two-person tent that has enough room for me and the three dogs with a little bit of extra space for my pack.  There are pockets on either side of both doors, a loop in the roof for a lantern, and loops to attach an extra storage sling.  The fly forms two vestibules over the doors which allows for extra storage.  Some tents have a footprint that acts as a base layer, adding an extra level of insulation and protection from the ground.  I usually use the footprint which provides a sort of floor in one vestibule which helps to reduce some of the dirt that the dogs track in.  I’ve had this tent for about six years and it still looks like new.  One of the best things about it is how easy it is to pitch by myself since the dogs aren’t very helpful.

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Our site in Blue Mound State Park in Minnesota.

Sleeping bag/pads:

I recommend getting a sleeping bag that is rated for lower temperatures than you think you’ll encounter.  You can always unzip and hang parts of your body out but when you’re putting every article of clothing on just so you can sleep, it makes for a very unpleasant night.

Sleeping bag styles are highly personal and there are a lot of options out there.  I have several sleeping bags but my go-to is a synthetic down mummy bag.  The dogs don’t like this one so much because it doesn’t allow a lot of space for snuggling.  When we’re staying in an area that’s going to be warm for the duration of the trip, I have a larger rectangular sleeping bag.  Because it is bigger, I usually have at least one dog sharing the space with me which makes it even warmer.

I have an inflatable sleeping pad that I use for me and a foam sleeping pad that I put down for the dogs, mostly for their comfort but also to protect the floor of the tent from sharp nails.

Stove:

Stoves, like tents, can be as simple or as complicated as you like.  I only have one stove since I’ve only ever had to feed myself.  It is by a company called Trangia and what I like about it is how simple and compact it is.  The entire unit packs small and there are no parts that I have to worry about breaking.  It uses methylated spirits as fuel which is cheap and can be found anywhere.  All you do is pour some fuel into the fuel cup and light that.  A simmering ring fits on top of the cup that controls the temperature.  It’s quiet and foolproof.  And I can eat directly out of the cooking pot so there’s less dishes to do.  It’s a win-win situation.

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Breakfast in Minnesota.  We had to use bottled water because the camp’s water was not drinkable when we were there.

Utensils and dishes:

If you’re going to be cooking, you’re going to need things to manipulate your food in the pot and get your food into your face hole.  I have a set of camping utensils that are light weight and have a clip to keep them together but I usually only break those out if I’m going in the back country when weight is a serious consideration.  I usually just grab a fork, spoon, and paring knife that I don’t mind if I lose or damage and put them in one of the food bins.  And I pack a folding spatula for cooking.

If you’re cooking for multiple people, you’re obviously going to want to bring at least one plate for everyone.  You can get deep plates that will do double duty as bowls as well.  I know that camping instantly brings up thoughts of metal dishes but if you have young ones with you, you may want to avoid metal as little fingers tend to forget about hot surfaces.

I would suggest packing one plate, one fork, one spoon, and one cup per person.  A bowl if you’ve planned for soup or cereal unless you’ve got the deep plate.  As far as knives, you can get by with one big knife that everyone uses to cut their food with if you don’t want to pack a knife for everyone.  I also like to pack light in the dish department because it makes clean up a bit easier.  I’ve found that if you bring it, you’re likely to use it.

Since some campgrounds don’t have a washing station, you’ll want to bring a basin of some sort to clean your dishes as well as biodegradable soap and a scrub of some kind.  If there is a designated cleaning area, please make sure you use it as it limits contamination and helps to protect wildlife.  Yes you may have to lug your stuff but imagine if the person who used the site before you dumped their dirty wash water within spitting distance of where you would be camping.  Food particles rot and that rot can smell and that smell can attract animals.  Need I say more?

If you’re in a place with no designated area, perhaps back country or public land, make sure you dump your wash water far from water sources and your tent.  If you’re not sure about proper back country etiquette, there are plenty of sites to do a bit of research.  And if you are, it may be a good refresher at the start of the season.

Hatchet:

Yes it’s good for the obvious chopping of wood but turn it over and you’ve got a hammer for driving tent pegs.  Scrape your wood and you’ve got tinder for your fire.  Heck it’s good in an emergency if you need to smash glass to help someone in an accident or cut branches for a splint which is why I keep my hatchet right at the front of my trunk for ease of access.

Lighter/Matches:

Why chop wood if you’re not going to light a fire?  I don’t usually have fires but there have been a few times when I’m glad I did.  There is something so soothing about sitting in the growing dusk with a fire crackling away.  And if you’re in a place with no cell service, it gives you something to do until bed time.  And you’ll need some source of ignition if you’re using a stove.

Lantern:

When it gets dark out, you’ll want some means to find your way around your site.  Or it can be a surrogate if you don’t start a fire.  There are even little ones that can be hung from the ceiling of a tent.  Lanterns aren’t strictly essential since you can use a flashlight for the same thing (which of course you have packed in the car) but I like being able to plunk it down on a table or in the tent and read or write out the adventures of the day.  And if you have people with you, can you beat it for a game of cards?

Tarps or screened tents:

If you’re going to be stationary for a bit, these are invaluable for covering your area in case of rain that will keep you huddled in your tent.

Other stuff:

A deck of cards is pretty much mandatory if there’s more than one person.  Flip flops for the shower.  Spare toilet paper because…well you never know.

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You didn’t want me to move did you?

Because this post got a bit long, I’ll do my camping routine in a separate post.

Happy People Packing

And now for gear for the human part of the equation.  There are a ton of things that you can bring, but this is the stuff that I bring for road trips.  While it is tempting to pack your entire house in your car, you’ll want to focus on the things you’re most likely to use.

Clothes:

The name of the game is layers.  Even if the weather is fairly consistent, there will still be cold days and warm days or you may end up at the top of a mountain or driving into a storm.  Besides the standard underwear and socks, here are some of my “must have items”:

  • Sports bras – so there’s no need to worry about straps or underwires and they can pass as a swimming top if the need arises.
  • Pants – I love convertible cargo pants because they go from pants to shorts with a simple zipper and the side pockets are roomy enough that I can carry all kinds of stuff.  Most of the pockets close with velcro or zippers for added security.  I also bring capris with cargo pockets (sensing a theme here?).  They can be rolled up or left down depending on the temperature or the terrain if we’re hiking.
  • Shirts – a selection of T-shirts and tank tops.  I’m not a big fan of long-sleeved shirts and usually end up with the sleeves pushed up so I don’t bother bringing any.
  • Jackets – I have a waterproof shell with a hood, a long-sleeved merino wool zip-up (soooo warm), and a zip-up hoody.  If it were to get really cold, I can put the merino wool zip-up on, then the hoody, and lastly my shell.  That configuration is almost as warm as a winter coat and gives me tons of options depending on the weather.  I don’t pack these and leave them draped over the front passenger seat so I have easy access and can leave them on top of anything in the front that I want to leave covered.
  • Hat – I rarely leave my house without a cap on.  It’s great for shading my eyes from the sun and helping to keep rain out of my face.
  • Sleeping clothes – If there’s the chance that we’ll be camping, I’ll bring warm clothes to sleep in.  If I get overheated, I can always kick out of the sleeping bag but few things are as uncomfortable as being cold in a tent.
  • Bathing suit – optional unless you plan on swimming in public.  In more secluded areas, just undies are often sufficient for a quick cool down.  Then you can toss them in the trunk to dry if need be.
  • Shoes/sandals: I wear my shoes for the most part but keep sandals handy, especially for wet weather.  And if you’re travelling in the winter, you’ll want at least one pair of boots, possibly a second depending on what you’re doing.

Documents:

You aren’t going to get far without them.  Obviously a driver’s license is a must and a passport or enhanced driver’s license if you’re crossing the border.  If you have traveler’s insurance make sure you bring any paperwork for that.  And since people like to get paid, credit and debit cards are a must.  It’s good to have cash as well but I like having that plastic in case of emergencies and it reduces the amount of cash I have to carry.

Make sure you’ve got copies of every document you have and the numbers to call if any of them get lost or are stolen.  Yes if you call Visa they will have your account number, but if you want to report your stuff lost to the local police, having the information handy means that it gets input into their system that much faster.  Which means that if someone tries to use your card, whether they stole it or found it, it can act as an additional safeguard to you losing your money and increases the chances of the person being caught.

Another document that you may want to consider drawing up is one that is totally up to you.  If you or members of your travelling party have any kind of medical issues, are on prescriptions, or even have certain fears or phobias, it may be handy to write all those up for each person to carry in their own pocket.  It doesn’t have to be in depth but in a worst case scenario where everyone is incapacitated, it can help to have that information available for first responders and later for the hospital.  And if you have a Medic-Alert bracelet or necklace, I’m assuming you would be wearing it.

Why would I suggest making note of fears or phobias?  Because first responders are typically very good at dealing with people in crisis and if they know that there’s something else going on besides just dealing with the stress of a crash, they will often take steps to help minimize the trauma as long as it doesn’t interfere with life-saving measures.

Or if for whatever reason a person is non-verbal or deaf, the first responders can stop shouting at them and try to find other means of communication.  Think about what you would want people to know if they had to deal with all of your travelling companions or what you would want them to know if you were unable to communicate.

It’s also a good idea to carry next of kin or emergency contact information and list someone that is not travelling with you.  I know it’s not the sort of thing that people want to think about but there are so many crashes every single day and while most of them are minor, there’s always that chance that one won’t be.  I wear a bracelet from a company called Road ID that has my name and my emergency contact infromation.  I bought it for running since I’m often gone for long periods and don’t want to bring my wallet but I also wear it for road trips.  A “just in case” step for me.

Medications:

If you have prescriptions, make sure you bring them in the original packaging.  That way there is no doubt about what meds you’re bringing with you.  Or if there’s a medical emergency, first responders will know exactly what you are taking and the correct dosage.

Food:

Snacks are definitely a necessity.  They can help keep you from gorging on the aisles of stuff at the many gas stations and are a great way to help keep you alert and your mind occupied.  It doesn’t have to be anything complicated: some trail mix or veggies will do the trick.  Or if you’re lucky enough to pass by some farmer’s stands, well does it get any better than that?

I usually end up packing some bins with an assortment of foods that I hardly end up touching because I usually find food to eat on the road.  But when I do find myself far from restaurants, I’m grateful for the food I brought.  Here are some of the things I make sure I have:

  • instant pancake mix
  • instant rice
  • ramen noodles
  • dried fruits and berries
  • nuts
  • dehydrated chicken
  • beef jerky
  • dried mushrooms
  • instant noodle packages
  • potato flakes
  • skim milk powder
  • pouches of instant oatmeal
  • peanut butter
  • coconut oil
  • tea bags and instant coffee
  • salt/pepper/spices (cayenne pepper, cinnamon, chili powder, garlic powder)

It may sound like a lot, but what I do is remove most of it from the packaging and put everything into zip top bags.  Then I write out preparation instructions onto a piece of tape and put that on the side of the bag.  Most of the food can be prepared just by adding water and a little milk powder if I want to enrich the flavour.  These come in handy whether I’m eating out of my car, a tent, or a hotel room (yes I’ll get into that later).

I just received a collapsible coffee filter cone so I’ll be able to make coffee on the road next year.  I’m so excited to try it out.

Travel mug/water bottle:

Obviously it helps to reduce waste but having an insulated travel mug will keep your steaming cup of morning joe or tea hot way down the road and keep you steadily caffeinated.  It acts as my primary drinking vessel although I do sometimes bring a steel mug as well.  I have two stainless steel water bottles that I fill every chance I get.  Partly for me but it also acts as emergency back-up water for the dogs if they’re particularly thirsty.

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The only souvenirs I bought for myself from Shenandoah. Great for road hydration.

Packs:

I have my main backpack that I use to carry my stuff.  It’s a 30 L pack so there’s tons of space and it even has a side pouch where I carry the Road Trip Bottle.  That does seem to get me a few stares I think.

I also have a smaller pack that I call my “adventure bag” and I break it out whenever the dogs and I go places.  Until recently it was a shoulder bag from Mountain Equipment Co-op which was really handy because it had a clip so I could take it off and put it on with ease.  That bag had to be re-purposed so now I use a small backpack.  It just has to be big enough to carry a water bottle, at least one collapsible bowl, some snacks, and whatever small items I want to carry.   It’s also handy for bringing the dog stuff to a hotel room.  I’m all about as few trips as possible.

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My weight stack one night in Spokane, Washington. I made it as heavy I could with full water bottles.

Bug Spray/sunblock:

I pretty much keep that handy all summer long and keep it in a ziptop bag to reduce the chances of a leak or puncture.  If you’re travelling in the winter, make sure you keep your sunblock in the passenger compartment to keep it from freezing.

Spare sunglasses:

Don’t leave home without them.

Other things:

Now I’m assuming your phone is basically permanently attached to you so check your data plan.  Will you need to get an additional plan if you’re heading across the border?  Are your talk minutes nationwide?  Don’t forget to check the roaming feature in your settings.  What I usually do is wait until I have my route started on the map and then switch it to airplane mode.  I still have my route on the map but will be in a nice little cocoon from the rest of the world.

There are three apps that I use a lot: Expedia, Yelp, and Gas Buddy.  The few times that I have had to use Expedia customer service, they have been just ridiculously helpful even if they could’t help me (if that makes any sense).  Yelp is good for finding places to eat.  And for a road traveller, Gas Buddy is fantastic for finding cheap gas.

I’m going to be looking for a mapping app and in particular one that will show me where I’ve been but that doesn’t need to be constantly connected to a network.  If anyone knows something like that, I’d love to check it out.

Do you know if there are any additional fees for using your debit or credit cards if you travel to a different country?  More than just the exchange rate of course.

Are you bringing a camera and extra batteries and memory card?  What about a laptop?  Do you have the cords and cables and chargers for all of your electronics?  Do you have an adaptor to plug things into your car or will you charge elsewhere?

So that’s it for people gear.  I decided to write a separate post for camping stuff, which will be the next post.

If Everyone Else is Doing it…

I guess it’s that time to look back at the past year and reflect, and blah blah blah.  You won’t see any resolutions here my friends since I think they are a waste of time.  But just for a laugh, let’s take a boo at what we’ve done this year.  OK I’ll admit that it’s a chance to share some of my favourite pics of the pups.

It’s been almost a year since I started this blog.  Wow.

I had the chance to go to The Bahamas for my brother’s wedding (Click here for the story).  That was pretty spectacular and I definitely want to go back again.  A longer visit and more cash to really explore the islands.  If anyone has any suggestions for places to go that are off the beaten path (or beach), I’d love to hear them.

After The Bahamas, the dogs and I drove the North Carolina Historic Barbecue Trail.  This was our second trip through North Carolina and an exercise in gluttony.  I mean from the first stop at the Skylight Inn in Ayden to the last stop around 500 miles away in Murphy at Herb’s Pit Bar-B-Que I ate only at the 23 restaurants listed on the trail.  Breakfast, second breakfast, brunch, lunch, mid-afternoon lunch, dinner; every day was fuelled by chop pork, coleslaw, hush puppies, some french fries, and even a banana pudding.  I had the opportunity to experience Southern Hospitality and the beauty that is North Carolina.  That’s part of the reason why I love reading coach4aday .  There are so many things that I have learned that I would not have even thought about before (state dirt anyone?).  We had the chance to drive the Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee which isn’t as impressive in a Corolla as I imagine it would be on a bike. (Want to catch up on the trip that I called The Road to Q-Demption?  Click here: Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7Day 8)

As if the pig out (haha get it?) wasn’t enough, after that we destroyed a ton of butter tarts, that most totally Canadian of all desserts, at Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival in Midland, Ontario.  I ate a lot.  They did too so it was a good day. (Get our scoop on the day here: Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival)

Then there was a little drama with Piper (of course).  See she’s not the healthiest dog in the world.  In fact, I call her my million-dollar baby because I’m pretty sure that she alone is putting my vet’s kids through college.  I had come home one morning after working a midnight shift and found her all messed up.  Turns out, she appears to have had something like the doggy version of a stroke.  I was so worried about her and that she would never recover.  Not so much physically but that she would be all depressed.  After a few days she was just like normal and now you’d barely notice anything is amiss.  Well she does have a slight head tilt to the right and her eye doesn’t open fully but at least she’s not doing that weird “shark bite” thing anymore.  And when people comment about “Ah how cute with her titled head”, if I’m in a shit-disturbing mood, which is usually with people who irritate me, I just look at them and deadpan “she had a stroke” then try not to laugh at the reactions.  Maybe some people would think that’s mean but I have then had very good conversations about people that want to know more and it becomes an educational experience, especially when they see that a dog can have something like that happen and still live a full and happy life.  Piper will let me know when she’s not happy and until that day comes, we’re going to keep doing what we do.  (Poor Piper:  A Sick Dog and a Missed Trip)

It just so happened that I had some time off around Canada Day and with Piper somewhat back to normal, I decided to take a small trip to see how she would handle travelling again.  We stayed close in case it was too much for her so we ended up in Georgian Bay and then wandered around the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario.  I had what still stands as the best burger I think I have ever had at a restaurant in the literal middle of nowhere, we had fish and chips from a stand that gets their fish from the lake that’s a stone’s throw away (how’s that for fresh), and we hung out at a cidery.  (If you want to check out our Georgian Bay trip, click here: Day 1Day 2Day 3)

Unfortunately I did lose one of my cats, Martini.  I intercepted her and Toby as they were en route to a shelter a few years ago.  She was a sweetheart of a cat and because her heart was so big, it eventually gave out.  I stayed with her at the vet’s because as hard as it is for me, I just can’t imagine leaving them there alone.  This was really the first time I mentioned it and I hardly told any of my friends about it.  Considering that’s really been my only loss of the year, I think we came through pretty good.

Then there was our trip to Prince Edward County.  It is a gorgeous and rugged part of southern Ontario that is exploding as a food and wine centre with amazing restaurants and wineries popping up all the time.  We spent a few days just aimlessly wandering The County and even visited with some old friends that had retired there.  (Links to our Trip to the County are here: Day 1Day 2Day 3)

And then there was the big trip.  I take one big trip out west to see my grandparents but I usually take the scenic route.  This year the scenic route was via Arizona and Nevada by way of Colorado.  Ahem a very scenic route indeed.  I think this trip covered the most diverse scenery in one single expedition: from prairies to mountains to desert, we saw it all.  It was truly an amazing experience to have had.  And if you want to see for yourself, the links are here: Time For One Last TripThrough Michigan and BeyondIn Search of the Yellow Brick RoadOut of the PlainsRocky Mountain HighIs There Life on Mars?Watching for Lights in the SkyLeaving NevadaWell Hello IdahoCrossing North DakotaBack into CanadaHeading Home, and Last Day on the Road.

As I sit on my couch with a fire roaring away and snow falling outside, I realize that this has been a good year for me.  I’ve stayed healthy, my dogs are snoring around me as I type this and all of them are in relatively good health (I’m looking at you Piper), I have a roof over my head, food on my table, and gas in the car.

Goodbye 2016.  Not too sad to see you go but hey 2017, you don’t have to do much to be a better year.  Just leave Ryan Reynolds and Channing Tatum alone.  Thanks a bunch in advance.

Your friends,

AdventureDawgs

More Than The Sum of Their Parts

So now that you’ve gotten to know about the dogs on their own, there is a certain dynamic that occurs when dealing with them all at once, especially when we’re out on the road.

When we stop to talk to folks on our travels, they always seem to assume that Piper is the boss.  I guess it’s because she’s the biggest of the three.  Not the case.  You see, I’m the pack leader and we all know it.  They may get excited and feel the need to mug anyone that gets close enough, but when I start to move away, they come with me.  If I make the growly  “hey” sound, they will all turn and look at me or stop what they are doing.

But when left to their own devices…

Leo has brought a spark of life to old Jack and he is more active than he has been since he was a puppy.  Leo figured out that all he has to do is pick up a toy and Jack is there to join in a game.  Or a stick and then they have a crazy game of keep away.  It must be a Boston Terrier thing.  Leo is the firecracker of the pack, that’s for sure.  At least he has two other dogs to help him burn that energy.

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Brothers ready to hit the road.

When we are in the house, Piper is the most laid back dog and has been known to take up the entire couch.  But when we leave the safe confines of our home, she is switched on.  No one can get close without a 65 lb boxer leaning on their legs.  And she she has been known to join in the odd game of tug too.  It’s really funny to watch her instigate: she’ll grab a toy and shake it while she growls, then pause and look around.  If that doesn’t get any attention, she’ll shake even harder and growl louder.  She’ll repeat this until someone joins in.  If she’s digging in the sand, then Leo will come and help her excavate.  Often he takes over her hole.

Jack would be quite happy to sit on the couch all day and sleep on the bed all night.  And he has no problem with sitting out the odd walk.  But if he wants to play, there is no denying him.  And if he hears the jingle of his harness, you better believe he’ll be the first one at the door.

The funniest part is what happens when someone comes to the door: Leo will be there first and bark his fool head off.  Jack will be next and he’ll join in the barking.  If you don’t know my animals, you would assume that there were only two dogs.  Then Piper walks around to the door and stands and just stares with that intense boxer stare as she puffs her chest out.  The boys are the mouth and she’s the muscle.  Even though I know she’s a big suck, even I have to do a double take sometimes when she has that “look”.

Want to see the mutts in action?  Here’s Leo being the little pest: The games continue.

Or when we found ourselves on a beach in Nova Scotia: Nova Scotia

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A quick game of tug at a rest stop in Minnesota.  Want to see the video? Click here.

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Down the trail

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Snoozing the miles away.

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Ferry? No big deal.

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At Wild Horse Pass in Washington.

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On the beach in Nova Scotia

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Posing in Quebec City.

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I don’t know why Leo always claims the pillow.  Or where I’m going to fit.

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Looking majestic at Childress Vineyards, North Carolina.

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The Marsh Boardwalk.

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Monument Valley Arizona.

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Family selfie in Arizona.

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Montana sunset.

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Looking out over the valley in North Carolina.

Leaving Nevada

Day 8

Starting mileage:  4938.1

Even though I was awake earlier than usual, I guess the little green men running through my mind wore my brain out and I was lazy getting out of bed.  That and the fact that I was squished onto a bed since, heaven forbid, the dogs sleep on their blankets on the floor.  I took the dogs for another short walk before packing up.  The restaurant had not opened yet and I handed my key to the staff sitting out front chatting before their day started.

The road from Rachel was about the same that it had been on the way in minus the Joshua Trees.  I’m still kicking myself for not going back for pictures.

As I drove it gave me plenty of time to figure out my route.  I had wanted to turn this into a real alien adventure and go to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.  But since I hadn’t had time to go to Roswell in New Mexico, it wouldn’t really be an alien tour anyway.  And time was running out since I did have my grandparents to visit.  If I’m going to stop at a park, I’m going to do it right and stay for at least a day so this time around I was going to bypass Devil’s Tower.

We were passing through Ely, Nevada when my tummy started protesting it’s empty state.  We did a short tour along the main streets and I decided to stop at Silver State restaurant.  As usual, I asked for a recommendation and ordered the country fried steak with sawmill gravy, eggs, hash browns, and toast.  Then I saw the display case of pies near the counter and was drawn to it like a moth to flame.  I grilled the poor woman about them and she told me that she made all the pies.  A fellow baker?  Yay.  I tried to ask about her about her preference for butter or lard and does she mix her flours?  But the tables were filling up and that required more attention than me.  I collected my breakfast and a slice of coconut cream pie and hit the road.

We found a small park near the restaurant and I dove headfirst into breakfast.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I had never had country fried steak or sawmill gravy.  Well this Canadian girl is now a huge fan.  I was dipping my toast into the gravy and pouring it over the hash browns.  The dogs made sure that I shared the steak with them.  The crunchy coating had a wonderful seasoning to it that I was peeling it off and eating it in chunks.

Then we took a short walk around a duck pond next to the park as I tried to create room in my now full gut.  While the dogs have all seen ducks and swans at home, usually the birds  fly away.  There was one swan that was standing on his side of the fence and he eyed Jack as he stood across from him.  Even with Piper sidling up next to her older, shorter brother, that swan just stood there, puffed his chest up, shook his head as he flapped his wings, and I would have to say he strutted away as if to say “this here is my pond”.  Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough to record the standoff.  And as a side note, aside from that one posturing swan, the ducks and swans did not seem to care much about the dogs at all.  Had there been any panic or the dogs were going nuts, I would have moved them away.  The dogs were curious and the ducks and swans were not.  In fact, the dogs did not make a sound.  Come to think of it, I don’t even think they pulled at their leashes.

We continued through Nevada and stopped at the Bonneville Salt Flats.  I expected to see… well salt flats.  What I did see was a perfectly flat expanse of water stretching out from both sides of the highway.  And a few tire tracks.  I’m not sure if I would rather they be from people trying to avoid collisions or people thinking they could drive the flats.  Both are kind of sad.

So anyway, we took a walk around the rest area at the flats then sat at a table in a shady area so that I could eat my lunch: the slice of coconut cream pie from Silver State.  I had the dogs water bowl out with a bottle of water and as I was reaching over the bottle to pick up my fork, my elbow spilled the whole litre of water onto my lap.  The whole bottle.  The family sitting at the table next to me pretended not see but I know they did.  I tried squeezing as much of the water out my pants as I could, thankful that they were quick-drying then finished my pie.  Let me tell you friends, sitting in a car with wet pants is unpleasant.

Then we continued on, back into Utah and then crossed into Idaho.  Small confession here: when I think of Idaho, I think of potatoes.  And for some reason when I think of potatoes I think of flat land.  Well that is not Idaho at all.  It is beautiful and the changing foliage was stunning.  I was admiring the land as we passed through it, especially as it started getting late.  I was looking for a place to camp but did not see anything close to the highway.  Finally I turned to Yelp and found a cluster at Lava Hot Springs so I headed there.

I was a little unsure of the temperature so I considered getting a hotel room but when I looked at the prices, I felt my eyes bug out a bit.  I guess it’s to be expected with it being something of a tourist spot but then when you add in dogs…well that price tends to go up a bit.  I tried to do the fahrenheit to celsius conversion and with the weather calling for high 30’s to low 40’s I thought it should be okay.  My limit is 10 degrees celsius so I thought that might be close.

As I was trying to find the camping places that I had seen advertised, I saw signs for Bird Canyon State Park.  I turned onto the road, a dirt track really, and saw that the only facilities were a shed for a toilet and a bulletin board which said this was Portneuf Lower.  I was surprised to see that there were no permits required and no fees listed.  Score!  The sites were quite large with just a fire pit in a spot cleared in the grass.  It was primitive camping to be sure but I had no problem with that at all.  With only two other sites occupied, I picked a site far from them and was able to let the dogs run for a bit while I set the tent up.  There was a train track running close by but I hadn’t seen a train go by and I figured that the trains wouldn’t run at night.  More on that later.

It was getting dark by the time I had everything set up and took them for a walk to explore a bit.  I was finally a bit hungry so I dipped into my food stores and whipped up some ramen noodles with dehydrated mushrooms. It was such a tasty dinner to shovel down as I stood at the back of my car eating by the light of my headlamp.

We climbed into the tent and almost immediately Leo squeezed into the foot of my sleeping bag.  I was worried that they might be chilled so I tried pulling some of the free blankets over top of them.  Jack immediately shook it off and went to his blanket that he balled up underneath himself.  Piper just expects that she will always be sleeping next to me but she soon slipped out from under the blankets as well and tried to climb onto my sleeping bag which upset Leo and he wriggled out of the bag and to the far side of the tent. They shifted their places a few times during the night but each time I tried to throw a blanket over them, they would have none of it.

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Leo trying to figure out how to get in first.

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Checking out the area.

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Heading back to our site.

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This little pond was just downstream of our site.