Gold on the Road and Gold in a Glass

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

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

jack tent

I don’t wanna Jack today.


leo tent

Why do you do this to me?


piper tent

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


sunburn

Mark of the road warrior.

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

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

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

 

boys tent

They wait until I tell them they can leave.


3donuts

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

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

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

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

illinois sign

You can actually see where we are.


illinois flood

Well there’s your problem…

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

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

waffle

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

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

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

dome

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

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

riverview

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

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

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

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

potosi4

A patio with a waterfall demands that you stay.

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

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

camp

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.

popeye

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


chester

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.

The Beginning- Road Trip 2015 West Edition

The siren call of the road cannot be ignored.  The two previous years I had driven out to visit my grandparents in the southeast corner of Manitoba which is a drive of approximately 2000 km.  I knew that I wanted to drive out again and had originally planned to leave on August 31, but when the opportunity arose to have a slightly longer stretch of time off, I had to take it.  I had wanted to go for a longer trip and this was my chance.

The catch?  The opportunity arose on a Monday with time off starting on Thursday.  So I had a few days to organize and get supplies, all while working.  I somehow managed to pull it off.

And so begins Road Trip 2015 – West Edition.

 

August 20, 2015
After a frantic few days organizing supplies, we hit the road at 7:00 am this morning.

Standard road trip rules would apply:
1. NO CHAIN RESTAURANTS
2. Stop when we want to
3. Don’t plan too far ahead
4. Listen to the radio until there is no signal
5. Road trip bottle is Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka

The traffic across the top of Toronto was not too bad but then coming into Guelph we got hit with a sudden wall of rain. No drizzle or light rain to ease into it. It was “oh it looks a bit cloudy” and then whoosh. We made it through the rain and got to the border at the Ambassador Bridge.

I, of course, pick the slowest lane. And then when I got up to the booth, I am reduced to a bumbling fool when I lay eyes upon the border guard who is one of the most gorgeous men I have ever seen. Getting across the border is stressful enough for no reason. Then trying to string more than two words together as a raging puddle of hormonal goo? Definitely not my usual charming self.

I have always heard how bad Detroit is but it didn’t look too bad as we went speeding down the interstate.  Then again, most things look like a blur anyway.

Michigan seemed to go on forever. And nothing really piqued my interest. Until we were almost into Indiana. Then we stumble onto this tiny pocket with wineries and breweries and…wait for it…. The Chocolate Garden. Well how could I not stop?

029

Enter here? Don’t mind if I do.

They had truffle tastings, like one would have with wines. I devoured a few samples and then I had to walk away before I bankrupted myself. But not without getting a mocha. No powered or prepared anything. They had jars filled with chocolate, actual chunks of chocolate, and they would add either coffee or water. Oh. My. GAWD.

We got through Michigan and into Indiana. Then I saw one of the most confusing signs I think I have ever seen. It read “Texas Grill”. Which was in Michigan City. In Indiana. I’m surprised I noticed it at all among the signs for adult stores and churches. It makes for, shall we say, interesting reading.

Through Indiana and into Illinois. And here comes the construction. Interstates are confusing enough to an interloper such as myself.  So there I am crawling along trying to figure out if I need the 90 West or 290 West and then I realized I needed gas. So I start looking. Keep looking. Ummmmmm usually gas stations are right on the highway or signs posted near the highway. Nothing. I pulled out the handy Gas Buddy app and think I know which way is south to get to a cluster of stations. Nope. I ended up taking the scenic route for gas. Oh and more tollbooths than I have ever seen.

I managed to get the car back on the road and it was time to start looking for a place to sleep. When I initially looked through the route there weren’t any interesting campgrounds immediately apparent so I figured a hotel room, at least for the first night.

I booked a room at the Extended Stay America in Rockwood. Pulled up to the hotel and waited for the desk staff to come to the desk while I chatted with some other guests as the were fawning over the dogs. When the staff returned, they gave me some surprising news. I was at the wrong hotel. The one I’m booked at is literally around the corner. Two of the same hotels within spitting distance of each other.

After spending almost 13 hours on the road I figured I needed a bit of exercise so I threw on my running gear, put the dogs on a tie rope around a tree and literally ran back and forth in the back driveways.  It was an L-shaped run so I ran it as intervals: alternating fast sprints with slow jogs. That got real boring real fast. Music would have been nice but I hadn’t brought my phone and the music from the business next door wasn’t loud enough to really hear. Oh the business? The Tiger Tail Lounge. A strip club. That I can see from my room.

So I went back to the room and ordered a pizza. Cracked open the bottle. It was a good first day on the road.

035

Pizza.  Again.