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.

 

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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.

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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.

I Ate my Weight in Donuts

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. 

It was a rough night for sure.  Piper insisted on sleeping with her face next to mine on the back of the seat.  It sounds really sweet and it is…until she snorts and you get dog snot all over the side of your face.  And then there’s Leo who may be little but he sure likes to take up a lot of space.  I found myself perched on the edge of the seat pressed up against the door more than once with Leo resting comfortably next to me.  Then there’s Jack, the always watchful guard dog.  Any sound from close outside and I’d hear a low rumbling growl from the seat next to me.  When the sky started to grow light, I gave up on any thoughts of sleep and took the dogs for a walk around the campground.  I was still a bit confused as there were no individual sites marked but as we were moving on, I wasn’t too concerned.  It seemed like a nice campground and was well above the flooded river.  I poured food out for the dogs and once they had eaten their breakfast, I loaded them back into the car and we headed back into town.  When we got to the road, I saw the sign for our refuge for the evening: Randolph County State Recreation Area.

We made our way back to the Great River Road and just as we were about to cross the Mississippi River again, we found a statue for what I imagine would be Chester Illinois’ greatest export: Popeye the Sailor Man.  That’s right, Popeye’s creator was from Chester.  Well I’m not a fan of canned spinach (shudder) but I am a big fan of baby spinach and that’s close enough for me.  As I was taking photos of the dogs, a farmer’s market was being set up in the lot of the visitor’s centre behind us and we scanned the early offerings.  I left with a beautiful basket of strawberries and I was busily devouring them as soon as we were back on the road and headed into Missouri.

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Well hello sailor. The dogs are more interested in the market being set up.


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The river from the edge of Chester.

Strawberries alone will not keep a person fuelled and with the less than fulfilling sleep I soon found myself in desperate need of caffeine and I made my way into Perryville.  Coffee beckoned but I was met by roadblock after roadblock.  What kind of villainy stands in the way between this intrepid traveller and the much needed boost of coffee?  The banners and posters proclaimed that I had arrived in the midst of Maydays.  Had I been planning on staying for a day or two, I would have hung around.  Alas, that was not in the plan and I parked the car as close as I could and walked to Villainous Grounds.  Imagine a sweet coffee chop and comic book store all rolled up in one place.  It was like heaven to this nerd traveller and I lingered longer than I needed to chat with the locals.  I learned that there was going to be a solar eclipse in August and Perryville was in the middle of the path of the eclipse so come August, the entire town will be crammed full of people.  Farmers have even left fields unplanted so they can rent out space for tents.  Brilliant if I do say so.  With a chocolate cheesecake latte in hand (a-freaking-mazing), we were soon back on the road and headed for St. Louis.

Now Feasting on Asphalt went through St. Louis twice: in the first season, they stopped at Ted Drewes for frozen custard.  We had also stopped at Ted Drewes on the way through last September.  In the second season of Feasting on Asphalt, they stopped at several donut shops because apparently the citizens of St. Louis LOVE donuts.  I also enjoy donuts so this was going to be a donut visit.  I decided that we would stop at three donut places: two that had been featured on Feasting on Asphalt and a third to be determined.

As we were heading into St. Louis, and what promised to be donut nirvana, I saw a large park so I decided to give the dogs a bit of a stretch.  I had planned to keep them on leash, but when I saw signs that said dogs have to have a leash not on leash, well they went for a run.  If you’re going to have ambiguous signage, folks like me are going to take advantage of it.  We didn’t wander too long because it was getting really warm.  As the dogs were re-hydrating, I planned out my visits and when I saw a place called Ex Cop Donut Shop that was an obvious starting point.  How could I not go to a place called Ex Cop Donut Shop?  I strapped the dogs back into the car and off we went.

We were pulling into the lot of Ex Cop Donut Shop.  The sign said that it should be open.  It wasn’t.  I’ll admit that I threw a little bit of a temper tantrum.  There may have even been some choice language.  OK.  Next place.

Donut Drive-in was one of the places on Feasting on Asphalt and I was happy to see that they were fairly close by.  It was also close to Ted Drewes and it was a hot day…There was a short line-up out the door of Donut Drive-in but it moved fairly quickly.  Then it was my turn and even though I had been standing in line and eying the donut selection, when the young man behind the counter asked what I wanted, I panicked and asked him to just give me half a dozen of what his choice.  When I took the box from him, I momentarily questioned my sanity.  What the hell was I thinking?!  But when I snuck a peek as I walked back to the car, the smell of yeasty sugary goodness was like a comfortable blanket. I brought the dogs out of the car and we sat on the grass under the closest thing to shade we could find.  I ate two donuts so fast that I couldn’t remember what they were.  They were good.  Very different from the light offerings in Natchez; these were much more dense and substantial and more like a traditional donut.  Feeling satisfied, I looked up the hours for Ted Drewes and sadly they were not open yet.  I’ll confess I wasn’t too disappointed as there were more donuts to eat and we set back out on the road to World’s Fair Donuts.

donut drivein

I should have taken photos of the goods.  Call it donut brain.

World’s Fair Donuts is in a bit of a tricky spot to get to especially with nearby construction but we successfully navigated our way into the parking lot.  When I walked in, I was surprised when I was greeted by a rather rotund bulldog at the door.  She looked as though she had developed a taste for donuts as well, a dog after my own heart.  Having taken the edge off my donut craving, I asked the woman at the counter to just give me two donuts.  She seemed a bit surprised by the request but she soon handed me a bag and said that she thinks I’ll like these.  I went to get the dogs and we again sat on in a shady patch of grass at the side of the property and I opened my bag.  One glazed number was filled with a jam, strawberry I think.  It was good but there was barely any jam inside so it was just a small divot of flavour.  Now the other donut was interesting: it had a definite lemon flavour and what seemed like some kind of a crunch on top.  It was really good.

As I let the donuts settle, I scanned for the next stop and when I saw Vincent Van Donut my mind was made up.  I guess I’m a sucker for fun and whimsical names.  When I parked the car next to Vincent Van Donut, I felt a sort of familiarity and I paused to look around.  For some reason, the area reminded me of Toronto with kind of an artsy area in the midst of gentrification.  I’m not sure if that’s accurate but it didn’t matter; there were donuts to be had.  Then I stepped inside and realized that the vibe was more like Ottawa and Suzy Q donuts for these were artisnal donuts staring back at me from inside the cases.  Large offerings of sweet donuts next to savory donuts beckoned but I settled for a maple bacon donut, the last one.  And an americano to wash it down.

While the dogs were eager to help me, the maple glaze had a bit of cayenne pepper which lent a delicious kick but I felt would wreak havoc on little puppy tummies so I gave them teeny nibbles of unglazed donut and little bits of bacon which seemed to ease their hurt feelings.  It was a struggle to swallow the last few bites but I managed.  With the coffee clutched in hand, I took the dogs for another short walk, partly to check the area but mostly to ease my sense of total gluttony.  It was a very short walk as the day was getting hotter.  We stayed on the shady side of the streets but soon retreated to the comfort of air conditioning as we headed out.

When I saw the Cahokia Mounds were a short distance away, I crossed back into Illinois.  These were the largest mounds of the Mississippian culture left and if I had been impressed by the second largest mounds at Emerald Mound, well then I had to check out the largest.

Blew my mind.  Mounds rose up from the flat ground on either side of the highway and then I saw Monks Mound, the largest of them all.  The steady stream of people going to and from the top of the mound was in direct contrast to the other mounds we had visited.  There were even people using the stairs to work out.  We hiked to the top and I paused to admire the view and give the dogs a chance to sniff and rest a bit before we went back to the parking lot.  There was next to no shade at the top except the little bits found under benches so we didn’t linger too long.  There was far more shade in a stand of trees next to the lot and we sat in the grass as I encouraged the dogs to drink as much as they wanted.  Of course they would rather socialize then drink so I eventually gave up and we got back into the car.

mound3

It doesn’t really look like much but do you see those people on top in the middle?


mound 1

Taking a break at the top.


mound4

Looking back at St. Louis.


mound2

No wonder people use these for a work out.

I was going to stop in Alton because, well it’s Alton.  But I just couldn’t bear the thought of eating anything at that point and it was so hot I wanted to keep the dogs in the cool car for a bit longer rather than go traipsing along more hot concrete.  So we continued on.alton

And then we got to Nauvoo.  Not only does it have a fun name, but it is also home to Illinois’ oldest winery which had been featured on Feasting on Asphalt.  I owed it to everyone to stop.  Several things made me happy that we stopped: they sell wine, they serve wine, and dogs are allowed on the patio.  I sampled a few wines and selected a sweet concord.  Then I learned that they used the same wine to make a slushie.  My ears perked right up.  A wine slushie!?  I practically tore the door off the hinges when I left the store area and went to the bar area in the next building.  I ordered my slushie and then decided to get a pizza, chicken bacon ranch please.  I took a table on the patio in between the two buildings, surprised and delighted that I was the only one out there, and retrieved the dogs.  After guzzling some of the water I poured out for them, they were soon flopped out around me.  I’m really happy that they are so comfortable on patios but it made me wonder if I take them to too many patios.  I shrugged the thought off as I took a sip of my slush.  When the pizza arrived, I was in patio heaven.

I had seen a sign for a state park and found it within walking distance of the winery. Had I thought things through, I could have set up camp and then walked to the winery.  It’s probably better that I didn’t do that since I would have just had more wine slushies.  There was no staff working, no permits in the permit box, and zero for cell reception to book online so I just went and found a site to set up camp.  There were plenty of available sites and none had reserved signs so I decided to chance it.  As I was slowly pitching my tent, I was dismayed to see that we had some hitchhikers: more lone star ticks from our campsite in Natchez, Mississippi.  Despite my best efforts to get them off the tent, when we all piled inside, I could still see some walking across the tent.  And even though it was still light out I was soon asleep, the long day and poor sleep the night before having taken it’s toll on me.  I think I may have even been asleep before the dogs.

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

mound

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.

point

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.

arkansas levee

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.

Starting Upriver

This trip was inspired by the second season of the television show “Feasting on Asphalt”.  We are following driving the Great River Road as it follows 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. 

It was time to leave New Orleans and start making our way up the river.  I was tempted to return to Morning Call for another round of beignets and cafe au lait but I found another place on the way out of the city that had highly recommended pancakes, and I love me some pancakes.  So with the car packed up, out we went.

We sooj found ourselves at Russell’s Marina Grill.  Not only did I see a marina but I also saw a large and shady patio, perfect to enjoy breakfast since the humidity was already noticeable.  After I confirmed that the dogs were allowed on the patio, we quickly got ourselves settled.  Usually when I go to a new place, I’ll order what the server recommends but when my eye caught sweet potato pancakes with bacon crumbles, banana, and peanut butter, well all I can say is game over man.  They were insanely good and so filling.  It was almost a fight to finish the plate but I did it.  And washed it all down with an ok stream of coffee.  We walked around a little bit so the dogs could stretch their legs and I could make room in my belly and then to the road (insert dramatic arm point here).

pancakes.jpg

You can’t see the bacon and banana because they’re inside the pancake.  Yummy.

Now when I had researched the Great River Road, I had thought that there would be placards clearly marking the route.  I had possibly seen one as we were heading into New Orleans but had not seen any since.  And did not see any as we left the city so I had to guess which roads to take.  And for the most part it was easy since I just kept the levee on my right.  Every so often I’d lose sight of it and then take the next right and I’d be back.

There was one stretch of road where I could see a trail running along the top of the levee.  I wanted to take the dogs for a walk but all of the driveways to the top looked as though they were private.  Finally I saw one that didn’t have any signs posted at the road so I turned to go up.  Well they put the “No Trespassing” sign at the top.  Darn.  As I was backing up, well I missed a pothole.  Or rather I hit it.  Hard.  There’s nothing like that solid thump of hearing the underside of your car hitting concrete to really get your attention.  Hmmmmm

I drove down a little bit further and saw a sign for a library on the opposite of the road from the levee so I parked in there and did a surreptitious check to make sure nothing was leaking and then got the dogs out for a walk.  Piper has a bad leg and sometimes if she sits too long it stiffens up so frequent short walk breaks are in order.  She starts out with a bad limp but after a little bit she loosens right up.  We made a beeline across the road to go to the levee but with no shade and a midday sun it was soon too hot for all of us we returned to the park next to the library.  The park had lovely old trees that kept us as cool as they could and the dogs had a long drink.  Leo, of course, rolled.  We were parked next to a couple having lunch and we were soon chatting away like old friends.  Southern hospitality strikes again.  I asked them which side of the river we should drive up and was told that the other side was more metropolitan with lots of places to eat.  This side was more commercial and the food would be more like what the locals eat.  Well then, we’ll be staying on this side I thought as I loaded the dogs back into the car.

Even though I wasn’t really hungry, I had to stop at B & C Seafood Market in Vacherie since it had been featured on “Feasting on Asphalt”.  There was no outdoor seating so I was going to have to get my order to go.  With a bag of cracklins in my hand I studied the posted menu before I finally decided on the two most southern things I saw: fried okra and fried alligator.  I sat outside with the dogs and enjoyed the cracklins as I waited for our order.  And what is a cracklin?  Deep fried pork skin.  Oh yeah.  Pretty darned tasty.  Once my order arrived, I sat on the ground at the front of the building in one of the few shady spots and popped open my containers of food.  The okra was good but it lacked the crispy coating that one would expect from something fried.  Having never had alligator before I didn’t know what to expect.  It didn’t taste like chicken.  The only thing that came to mind was that it tasted like a dried out pork chop.  The mustard sauce that came with it was nice.  Our little picnic got quite a few stares from people walking by.  I’m used to it by now.  The dogs maaaaaaaay have had a little sampling of alligator.  And you know they tried the cracklins.  With the food situation taken care of, we were back on the road.

We were driving a particularly desolate stretch of road on top of the levee when I saw what looked like a pullout so I parked the car and we went for a walk.  It was obvious that the water wasn’t normally as high as it was at that moment.  I had heard that there had been serious flooding the week before but up until now I hadn’t seen any signs of it.  Now here I was looking at the tops of trees poking out of the waters of the Mississippi River.  I was tempted to let the dogs go for a swim but our new friends from the library had mentioned that alligators were thick in these areas and even though I didn’t see any signs of them, we stayed well back from the waters edge.

levee

A section of the Mississippi River.  Water looks a bit high to me…

It was a little after 6:00 pm when we crossed a bridge into Mississippi and found ourselves in Natchez.  It was such a pretty little town but I was there for more than sightseeing: I was there for donuts.  And I found them.  I found them at The Donut Shop, another “Feasting on Asphalt” location. The takeout window had these little jewels displayed for all to see and I stared at them in anticipation while I waited.  Finally I stepped to the window and ordered a half dozen donuts.  I was taken aback when all I got back were six plain donuts but I hadn’t specified any of the other flavours so that was my fault.  Then I felt the box in my hand.  It was warm.  The donuts were warm.  I felt my mind reeling at this and I scurried to the car, the box clutched in my arms like a football.  I stared at the crusty goodness as a shaking hand withdrew the first donut.  I bit into it and almost shed a tear as it practically melted in my mouth.  It wasn’t a cake-style of donut and more like the Krispy Kreme style.  But better.  Oh so better.

I was planning to spend the night at Natchez State Park and I had finished four donuts by the time I passed the gate.  That’s right.  I crushed four donuts.  I read the rules for the park as I wiped the glaze from my face.  As we had arrived after 5:00 pm, we could go find an available camping spot and then pay for it in the morning.  However, since only one of the two campgrounds was open, I wasn’t sure what my odds were of getting a site.

We passed the primitive campground first and when I peaked in, I saw there was only one tent so that was going to be our back-up plan.  I’m glad we had that plan because all of the other sites were taken.  I drove back to the primitive campground and I noticed that they weren’t kidding; there was nothing there except for a few fire rings and picnic tables.  It’s ok; I’m a country girl, I’ve spent time in the backcountry.  No problem.  The other campground had all the facilities that I would need in the morning.  It’s all good.

I got the dogs out of the car and set up their tie-out and water before I started to pitch the tent.  I felt something on my leg and looked down to see a tick.  Now my friends, I’m pretty good with most animals.  I have no problem with spiders, I can handle snakes, I empty my own mouse traps.  No problems.  Ticks….well ticks give me the heebee geebees in a way I can’t even begin to explain.  I think it’s the way their bodies swell and turn a disgusting shade of dead-skin grey after they’ve fed on you (barely suppressed shudder).  I briefly considered packing back up and trying to find a hotel but I just couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t let these tiny bloodsucking bugs make me leave.  I got everything set up as quickly as I could and even though it was still light out, the dogs were trying to get into the tent.  I thought about making something to eat but every time I felt something on my skin, I imagined it was an army of ticks so I ate another donut and we all crawled inside.

That last donut may have been a mistake because with all the fried food, my guts were not happy.  In fact, my stomach felt like a solid knot.  I tried to ignore it as I looked over the dogs for hitchhikers and then practically killed my data plan looking up the ticks.  These were different from the big ticks we have at home.  These were tiny and appeared to be Lone Star Ticks, so named because they have a single white dot on their bodies.  Fortunately they were not known to be carriers for Lyme Disease which made me feel a bit better.  Small comfort as I tried to ease an achy tummy and watched ticks crawl across my tent in the fading light.  All I could think about were those movies where the good guys are in a house and they know the enemy is outside… Yup does not make for pleasant dreams at all.

Is it any surprise I didn’t stop to take pictures of our lovely site?

Now The Real Trip Begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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They seem less than impressed.

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A rare family photo. It seemed appropriate.

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

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

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

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

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Leo is never far from food.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shhhhh don’t tell on us.

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

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

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

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

 

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