The Headwaters

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 Itasca State Park, Minnesota.  When possible we will stop at locations featured in the show, however time has found many of them closed.

We woke to another grey, cool day and after a short walk and the dogs had their breakfast, we set out.  Fortunately the Daily Dose was close by and they did not mind me sitting outside on the patio with my dogs.  The americano was very good and the breakfast panini outstanding.  I even had a little treat of the chocolate caramel square after my breakfast which I ate in the car as the rain started to fall.

It seemed like we were chasing the clouds as we continued up the road as the sky wasn’t getting any brighter.  When I saw Cafe Pawz, well I thought I had hit the jackpot of dog-centric cafes.  And that I would be able to get another hit of caffeine with the mutts.  Nope.  There was a big sign on the door that said no pets.  Talk about mixed messages.  Turns out, the cafe is inside Becker Furniture World.  I guess the “pawz” is an homage to the hunting culture as there were plenty of stuffed animals around the store.  The coffee was good but the best part of the cafe were some of the stickers I saw there.  That and the fact that the women’s restroom is also a severe weather shelter.  That threw me for a bit of a loop.

The Great River Road became much more difficult to navigate as we drove through Minnesota since it wasn’t as well marked as it had been in other places and with the river getting smaller and all the lakes to detour, the road also winds a lot more.  I found myself backtracking and no doubt missing large sections so when I saw a visitor’s centre, I stopped in to try and get my bearings and give the dogs a stretch break.  Imagine my surprise when I saw a giant Paul Bunyan statue.  We went for a walk around the centre and took the obligatory photos before continuing on.

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Hi Paul.

Finally I turned down the road for Itasca State Park.  As I was paying for a vehicle permit, I will admit that I was tempted to find a campsite but the wet weather that had been with us for the trip promised to stay with us for some time longer.  And it looked like the temperature was going to drop as well so with no places that I could find nearby, this was going to be a short visit for us.

I was surprised that we did not see anyone, not even other vehicles as we drove through the park.  We stopped at the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center to find that it was locked up; I guess we were visiting before the busy season and that was fine by me.  We set out down the short (800 yards) trail to the headwaters and saw a small statue called Heartwaters-Caretaker Woman.  It’s a beautiful brass sculpture of a woman releasing a basket of turtles.  I found this really interesting article about here.

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Heartwaters-Caretaker Woman

The trail is short and very easy to hike and as you round a bend, the trees open up and the lake appears before you and to the right is a small rock dam with the beginnings of the Mississippi River.  The only indication of the significance of this spot is a sign carved into what had been a tree trunk.  Of course the webcam at the end of the trail kind of gives things away too.

We waded into the water and then when I stopped to take some pictures, I realized that I should have brought my tripod.  So we walked back to the car, got the tripod, and walked back to the lake.  And still, not a soul was seen.  There weren’t even any animals after we had scared off two ducks when we first arrived.

I stood in the middle of this unassuming stream and looked out over the lake to see ponderous clouds hanging in the sky.  Here I was, after how ever many days on the road, having driven the length of the legendary Mississippi River.  A Strong Brown God, Old Muddy, whatever you call it, it had been our companion and our destination.  A trip that I had waited a decade to take had finally been done.  I felt a touch of sadness and satisfaction all at the same time.  Then a wave of contentment washed over me as I watched the dogs splash around in the water.

Since there was nothing and no one to bother, I let the dogs have a little run.  Maybe it was because he hadn’t had much off-leash time or maybe because this place felt like home, for what ever reason, they had a blast running in and out of the water and chasing each other around.  Leo and Jack had a big wrestling match and even Piper got in on a game of chase.  I let them run until they all started to slow down and we made our way back to the car.

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One of my favourite pics from the entire trip.

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Where it all begins…or ends.

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Pack photo.

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Piper having a swim.

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Boys will be boys.

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After a thorough towelling, they all started to jump back in the car.  Then as I was drying off Leo, I happened to notice something on his front leg.  Since that leg is white, it shows up really well if something doesn’t belong.  Like a tick.  Like two GIANT ticks and I picked them both off as fast as I could.  They hadn’t started feeding yet and just looked like they were trying to find a good place to dine (shudder).  I looked over the other dogs and didn’t see anything on them.  And these ticks were big enough, I’m sure I would have seen them easily.

The drive to my grandparents was relatively uneventful.  Figuring out where I was going was a bit problematic as the cell signal was really weak so I just started heading in a generally north direction until I was finally able to get a signal.

When I got to Rousseau, I knew that the border was close and then I had a moment of panic.  This crossing is a small one and I wasn’t sure what the hours were since it was starting to get dark.  Fortunately, it was open until midnight so I was lucky that way.  I drove up to what almost amounts to a shack and waited as the border guard came up to my passenger window.  He was really pleasant but he seemed to have a hard time understanding why someone from Ontario would be coming up from Louisiana to go home back to Ontario via Manitoba.  I explained the trip to him a few times but he seemed to have a hard time believing me.  And I maaaaaaaay not have been as good with keeping receipts as I usually am so there maaaaaaaaaaaay have been a few things that I didn’t declare because I had totally forgotten them.  Like peach salsa.  And cider.  And root beer.  And wine.  Then I told him I was going to visit my grandparents and told him where they live and that seemed to clear everything up.   In short order, we were continuing north.

Here’s the thing with southern Manitoba: there are a lot of deer.  And I do mean A LOT.  I cannot remember how many I saw on the side of the road and I was on edge the entire time, pretty much until I parked at the cottage.  Grandma was still up so the dogs were able to get their snuggles, and I ate a very late dinner before we collapsed into bed.  Unfortunately I always get put in the room with two twin beds and the dogs seem to think that they need to be in the same bed as me.  So either I end up twisted and stuck against the wall or I move to the other bed and then have at least one dog and sometimes all of them follow me.  Of course sometimes I wake up to look across the room and see Piper sprawled out in her own bed.  This time, all three of them had to squeeze onto the bed and I was surrounded by the sound of deep breathing as I fell asleep.

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.

Last Day on the Road

Day 14

Starting mileage: 8879.6

Sleeping in a Corolla with a, shall we say portly pug/boston terrier, on your gut is not the best way to start a day.  On the plus side, we were finally on the road early after a walk and they had some breakfast.  And then down the road in Marquette, we found Huron Mountain Bakery.  Now I’m not saying that I grabbed donuts with my berry scone and coffee.  I’m not saying that at all.  But I did and we all know that I did.

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Berry scone. It may not be pretty but so good.

As we were driving in between bouts of rain, there was a break that just so happened to be near a beach.  The pups needed to have some exercise and there was no one around as far as the eye can see sooooooooooooo they had a chance to run.

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Leo enjoying a roll.

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Piper having a bounce.

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Jack takes his beach stroll very seriously.

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A relatively calm Lake Superior.

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Exploring the beach.

They tore around for a little bit and by the time the rain started up again, they were panting and walking themselves back to the car.  One of the advantages to having short-haired dogs is that they don’t get too dirty but oh my was there ever a lot of sand coming off of them.

They passed out pretty quickly, waking up only when we crossed the border at Sault Ste. Marie which was the most painless crossing of the whole trip.  I was going to stop in Bruce Mines at The Bobber Restaurant but I decided to keep going.

I ended up stopping at a trailer at a gas station and for the life of me I cannot remember where it was.  I’ve done a pretty good job keeping track of food joints for most of this trip but by this point I just wanted to get home.  I ordered a burger and watched the steady stream of locals which I always take as a good sign.  The burger was insanely good.  Or I was really hungry.  Either way it was a good meal.  The dogs had a few bites when they could pull themselves away from their adoring fans of course.

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Somewhere along the side of the road.

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I loved this bridge.

Then, finally, we made it home.  I was so tired I didn’t even unpack the car, just bringing in the blankets for the dogs as they reacquainted themselves with their spots on the couch.  I sat down and soon had Piper resting her head on my lap as Jack curled up on the other side while Leo pulled every toy out of his toy box to make sure they were all still there.

Good to be home again.

Finishing mileage: 9837.9

Heading Home

Day 13 (No you didn’t miss a day.  These are days from home not days travelling)

Starting mileage:8065.9

Even though we stopped moving for only a day and a half, it was a refreshing pause.  Not that we didn’t have some excitement.  Jack decided to go chasing after something in the forest and we ended up losing him for a little bit until my grandma saw him strolling along the side of the road going who knows where.  I also helped my grandpa take the dock out of the water for the winter.

It was a grey and drizzly kind of day which is probably for the best since I had to be home.  I could either do two long days of driving which would get me home with a day before work or three days which would give me no down time.  Then there was the decision of the route.  I usually go north which takes me along the north shore of Lake Superior instead of the south route that takes me back into the U.S.  The map said that the south route would be three hours shorter so I decided to go that way.

It rained almost all day long.  It did break for a little while in Baudette, Minnesota which is where we found Willie Walleye.  That thing is horrifying.  But Cafe X was within walking distance so we were able to stretch our legs while I caffeinated for the drive.

 

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Willy Walleye in Baudette, Minnesota

As it was getting late, I passed by campgrounds thinking that there’ll be more coming up.  You would think by now that I would know better and would stop as soon as I realized it was getting dark.  But there’s always that drive to get further down the road before stopping.  With patchy cell service, it was also hard to find places to stay in case camping wasn’t an option.

And then the deer came out.  It’s funny: I hadn’t seen any deer at home for ages but in a short stretch of road, I saw lots.  After the third deer ran across the road in front of me, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and pulled over into a rest area.  I was hoping that there would be a campground close by but no such luck.  At least it was warmer than it had been in Idaho.

I took the dogs for a walk and poured them some food and water which they promptly ignored.  I fluffed up their blankets and climbed under one for me, draping it over my feet just as Jack jumped onto my belly and somehow wedged himself under the steering wheel when I tipped my seat back.  Piper stayed in the back seat and rested her chin next to my ear which is as adorable as it is irritating.   Yes she’s a snuggler but you try having a boxer sigh in your ear all night long.  Leo piled up the blankets and nested in the front seat and the back seat, hopping from one to the other.

Small price to pay to not run over Bambi.

Minnesota

August 21, 2015

I had a bit of a dilemma this morning when I woke up.  I have an uncle and his family in Nebraska that I haven’t seen in forever and I had planned to head down that way. I had called them when I had an idea of when I’d be passing through but no reply.  I pondered my options over oatmeal I prepared with the coffee maker.  Sometimes you just have to work with what you have.

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Coffee machine oatmeal for breakfast. Necessity is the mother of invention. Or breakfast any way.

While I was planning my route I started out generally westbound but around the time that my route options split, I still had not heard from anyone.  There had been a little town in Wisconsin I had visited eons ago and I decided to head there instead. Problem was, I had no idea what the town was called.  All I could remember was that it had painted cows, much like the moose that had been in Toronto. I had tried all kinds of searches for painted cows but gave up.  For some reason, I thought it was near the House in the Rock which is worth seeing for sure…if one does not have a small pack of dogs with them. So I Googled House in the Rock and started heading to Spring Green Wisconsin.  

Almost as soon as I got there I realized it’s not the same town and I was in a cell dead zone. We still stopped for a walk through the town before we climbed back into the car.  Eventually I found a visitor centre and learned that I’m in the wrong bloody end of the state!  Painted cows will have to wait for another time.

So back on the interstate we go. One thing that I noticed is there is next to no warning when you’re leaving the state. It would have been nice to get some Wisconsin cheese but construction had everything all buggered up. Next thing I know I’m in Minnesota!

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Snoozing the miles away.

As we drove along, I was amazed at the sheer number of wind farms. I don’t know what it was but they were totally tripping me out. It’s not like we don’t have one at the CNE Grounds in downtown Toronto or anything. Maybe it’s just that there’s so many of them and they are all over the place.  It was strange to see them lazily turning all around us with no end in sight as the fields rushed by.

We stopped at a rest stop somewhere in Minnesota and I sat back and watched as the dogs had a rambunctious game of tug.  Normally it’s just Leo and Jack but this time Piper decided to get in on the fun.  I was getting stares from the few other people there but watching the three of them, it was impossible not to laugh.  It made me so happy to see them having that much fun.

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A quick game of tug at a rest stop in Minnesota.

So the next mission was to find a place to sleep. After what seemed forever we kind of stumbled onto Blue Mound State Park. The lady in the office asked me if I want a car site or a cart in site. A what? She explained to me with a cart in site you literally haul your stuff to your site with a cart and that the sites are a bit more private. Sold. So pick my site and off we go.

I parked the car and see that there are tipis nearby. I guess it’s the same as the yurts we have up north. Nifty. It would have been cool to stay in one but I figured dogs aren’t allowed and they are much bigger than what I need.  Had it been raining and we were planning on being there for a few days it might have been different. We set up camp and have just enough time for a quick hike.

And almost immediately find a bison viewing platform. Bison?! We hop up the platform but no bison to be seen. However we did start to hear them way off in the distance. Jack stopped and the stance he had made me think of Billy from The Predator: “there’s something out there. And it ain’t no man.” Thankfully without the “we’re all going to die here” but they have a sign that says “Don’t anger the bison because even a strong fence won’t hold them”. Made me laugh because the fence was two strands of barbed wire and some cow fence. I think we could have pulled it down.

With night falling I finished off the pizza and had some bison vodka listening to the bison lowing in the far off distance.  And for the first time, the entire pack slept in the tent.  I had no idea if Leo had ever gone camping before.  I had nothing to worry about.  With Piper and Jack showing him the way, he took to the tent with no problems.  All Jack wanted was to snuggle up with his favourite blanket and soon his snoring drowned out the sound of the bison.

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Oh blankie…how I have missed you.