I guess it’s that time to look back at the past year and reflect, and blah blah blah. You won’t see any resolutions here my friends since I think they are a waste of time. But just for a laugh, let’s take a boo at what we’ve done this year. OK I’ll admit that it’s a chance to share some of my favourite pics of the pups.
It’s been almost a year since I started this blog. Wow.
I had the chance to go to The Bahamas for my brother’s wedding (Click here for the story). That was pretty spectacular and I definitely want to go back again. A longer visit and more cash to really explore the islands. If anyone has any suggestions for places to go that are off the beaten path (or beach), I’d love to hear them.
After The Bahamas, the dogs and I drove the North Carolina Historic Barbecue Trail. This was our second trip through North Carolina and an exercise in gluttony. I mean from the first stop at the Skylight Inn in Ayden to the last stop around 500 miles away in Murphy at Herb’s Pit Bar-B-Que I ate only at the 23 restaurants listed on the trail. Breakfast, second breakfast, brunch, lunch, mid-afternoon lunch, dinner; every day was fuelled by chop pork, coleslaw, hush puppies, some french fries, and even a banana pudding. I had the opportunity to experience Southern Hospitality and the beauty that is North Carolina. That’s part of the reason why I love reading coach4aday . There are so many things that I have learned that I would not have even thought about before (state dirt anyone?). We had the chance to drive the Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee which isn’t as impressive in a Corolla as I imagine it would be on a bike. (Want to catch up on the trip that I called The Road to Q-Demption? Click here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8)
As if the pig out (haha get it?) wasn’t enough, after that we destroyed a ton of butter tarts, that most totally Canadian of all desserts, at Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival in Midland, Ontario. I ate a lot. They did too so it was a good day. (Get our scoop on the day here: Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival)
Then there was a little drama with Piper (of course). See she’s not the healthiest dog in the world. In fact, I call her my million-dollar baby because I’m pretty sure that she alone is putting my vet’s kids through college. I had come home one morning after working a midnight shift and found her all messed up. Turns out, she appears to have had something like the doggy version of a stroke. I was so worried about her and that she would never recover. Not so much physically but that she would be all depressed. After a few days she was just like normal and now you’d barely notice anything is amiss. Well she does have a slight head tilt to the right and her eye doesn’t open fully but at least she’s not doing that weird “shark bite” thing anymore. And when people comment about “Ah how cute with her titled head”, if I’m in a shit-disturbing mood, which is usually with people who irritate me, I just look at them and deadpan “she had a stroke” then try not to laugh at the reactions. Maybe some people would think that’s mean but I have then had very good conversations about people that want to know more and it becomes an educational experience, especially when they see that a dog can have something like that happen and still live a full and happy life. Piper will let me know when she’s not happy and until that day comes, we’re going to keep doing what we do. (Poor Piper: A Sick Dog and a Missed Trip)
It just so happened that I had some time off around Canada Day and with Piper somewhat back to normal, I decided to take a small trip to see how she would handle travelling again. We stayed close in case it was too much for her so we ended up in Georgian Bay and then wandered around the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario. I had what still stands as the best burger I think I have ever had at a restaurant in the literal middle of nowhere, we had fish and chips from a stand that gets their fish from the lake that’s a stone’s throw away (how’s that for fresh), and we hung out at a cidery. (If you want to check out our Georgian Bay trip, click here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3)
Unfortunately I did lose one of my cats, Martini. I intercepted her and Toby as they were en route to a shelter a few years ago. She was a sweetheart of a cat and because her heart was so big, it eventually gave out. I stayed with her at the vet’s because as hard as it is for me, I just can’t imagine leaving them there alone. This was really the first time I mentioned it and I hardly told any of my friends about it. Considering that’s really been my only loss of the year, I think we came through pretty good.
Then there was our trip to Prince Edward County. It is a gorgeous and rugged part of southern Ontario that is exploding as a food and wine centre with amazing restaurants and wineries popping up all the time. We spent a few days just aimlessly wandering The County and even visited with some old friends that had retired there. (Links to our Trip to the County are here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3)
And then there was the big trip. I take one big trip out west to see my grandparents but I usually take the scenic route. This year the scenic route was via Arizona and Nevada by way of Colorado. Ahem a very scenic route indeed. I think this trip covered the most diverse scenery in one single expedition: from prairies to mountains to desert, we saw it all. It was truly an amazing experience to have had. And if you want to see for yourself, the links are here: Time For One Last Trip, Through Michigan and Beyond, In Search of the Yellow Brick Road, Out of the Plains, Rocky Mountain High, Is There Life on Mars?, Watching for Lights in the Sky, Leaving Nevada, Well Hello Idaho, Crossing North Dakota, Back into Canada, Heading Home, and Last Day on the Road.
As I sit on my couch with a fire roaring away and snow falling outside, I realize that this has been a good year for me. I’ve stayed healthy, my dogs are snoring around me as I type this and all of them are in relatively good health (I’m looking at you Piper), I have a roof over my head, food on my table, and gas in the car.
Goodbye 2016. Not too sad to see you go but hey 2017, you don’t have to do much to be a better year. Just leave Ryan Reynolds and Channing Tatum alone. Thanks a bunch in advance.
So now that you’ve gotten to know about the dogs on their own, there is a certain dynamic that occurs when dealing with them all at once, especially when we’re out on the road.
When we stop to talk to folks on our travels, they always seem to assume that Piper is the boss. I guess it’s because she’s the biggest of the three. Not the case. You see, I’m the pack leader and we all know it. They may get excited and feel the need to mug anyone that gets close enough, but when I start to move away, they come with me. If I make the growly “hey” sound, they will all turn and look at me or stop what they are doing.
But when left to their own devices…
Leo has brought a spark of life to old Jack and he is more active than he has been since he was a puppy. Leo figured out that all he has to do is pick up a toy and Jack is there to join in a game. Or a stick and then they have a crazy game of keep away. It must be a Boston Terrier thing. Leo is the firecracker of the pack, that’s for sure. At least he has two other dogs to help him burn that energy.
When we are in the house, Piper is the most laid back dog and has been known to take up the entire couch. But when we leave the safe confines of our home, she is switched on. No one can get close without a 65 lb boxer leaning on their legs. And she she has been known to join in the odd game of tug too. It’s really funny to watch her instigate: she’ll grab a toy and shake it while she growls, then pause and look around. If that doesn’t get any attention, she’ll shake even harder and growl louder. She’ll repeat this until someone joins in. If she’s digging in the sand, then Leo will come and help her excavate. Often he takes over her hole.
Jack would be quite happy to sit on the couch all day and sleep on the bed all night. And he has no problem with sitting out the odd walk. But if he wants to play, there is no denying him. And if he hears the jingle of his harness, you better believe he’ll be the first one at the door.
The funniest part is what happens when someone comes to the door: Leo will be there first and bark his fool head off. Jack will be next and he’ll join in the barking. If you don’t know my animals, you would assume that there were only two dogs. Then Piper walks around to the door and stands and just stares with that intense boxer stare as she puffs her chest out. The boys are the mouth and she’s the muscle. Even though I know she’s a big suck, even I have to do a double take sometimes when she has that “look”.
Want to see the mutts in action? Here’s Leo being the little pest: The games continue.
Or when we found ourselves on a beach in Nova Scotia: Nova Scotia
Starting mileage: 5861.2
The trains ran almost all night and when I say all night, I mean ALL NIGHT. I’m wondering if that’s the reason why they don’t charge to stay at that campground.
When I woke up and crawled out of the tent, I found the fly was completely coated in ice. My hands got so cold as I was packing up the tent that it took me probably twice as long because I had to keep shoving my hands into my armpits to regain feeling. I put out food for the dogs but they just watched me struggle with the tent and probably added some new words to their already expansive vocabulary of curse words. I had planned to make breakfast but decided to move on.
Pocatello is not too far down the road and we stopped at Red Hot Roasters. I got a really good breakfast burrito and americano which I destroyed as we walked around the town. I have a clip that I use for their leashes that allows me to go hands-free. From the number of people staring at me, it seems that it’s an unusual sight to see someone double-fisting breakfast as they walk with three dogs. The dogs were walking amazingly well so it made us look like superstars.
As we were driving down the highway, I saw signs for Frontier Pie. I wasn’t going to stop. I wasn’t going to stop. Hang on…why are we in Rexburg, Idaho and why are we stopping at Frontier Pies? Well fine, I can’t stop here and not go inside. I mean that would be rude and as a Canadian it is my duty to be polite. I ended up leaving with a slice of peanut butter chocolate cream pie for later.
I saw signs for Yellowstone National Park and my plan had been to cut through there but then when I saw a $30 entry fee, well same thing with all the other parks: if I’m going to pay that much money I’m going to make a day of the trip. We took the highway around the edge of the park and found a parking area which let us hike into the edge of the park anyway.
It was a nice hike and we had not gone in too far when I noticed Jack’s attention was focused on something to our right. It took me a few minutes to see the deer that was watching us. I was able to get the camera out and snap a few pictures before it turned and bounded away. I wanted to let the dogs off for a run but decided that with deer and all the signs for bear, that would probably be a bad idea. When we got back to the car, I poured out their water and ate my pie. It was so tasty.
We crossed into Montana and the first rest stop that we stopped at had a fenced in dog area! While most rest areas have a designated pet walking area, most of them are unfenced and require the dogs be kept on leash. Montana has had more fenced areas and nicer places than most states. Bravo Montana! We also made a stop to take in the fall foliage. The bright yellow contrasted against the blue sky. Stunning.
A short time later as it was starting to get dark, we stopped at another rest area. I saw signs for a pet area with an arrow off to the side that pointed away from the buildings along a dirt track. I was intrigued and followed the trail along the side of the hill and up to the top. There over the rest area was this wide open field with benches at one end. The view from the top was incredible and with no one around and no one being able to sneak up on us, I let the dogs go for a run. We lingered there until almost dark and I followed the paved path back down to the parking area. And that’s when I found the sign warning about rattlesnakes. Well it would have been nice to see that a little sooner.
Remembering what the temperature had been the night before, I decided on a hotel and stopped in Mile City, Montana. As I was checking in at the Motel 6, I asked if there was a good place for food and was directed to the Gallaghers across the street. I popped in there and ordered the Rodeo Hoagie. So good.
Piper decided that she needed some space and took up the other bed, leaving me to snuggle with the boys as we watched TV. I discovered the show “The Last Alaskans” and stayed up late into the night before falling asleep.
Starting mileage: 3073.6
After a wonderfully restful sleep, we were up early to hit the road. To be honest, Chad from Palmer Divide Run Co. had me a little concerned about the traffic and what we may find on the mountain so I had wanted to be there as close to opening time as I could. The hotel had a nice breakfast and I loaded up with wafflewiches (waffles smeared with jam and syrup) along with a bunch of little yogurt cups. I tried the coffee but it was wretched. Fortunately Kairos Coffee House was a short distance away. It’s off the beaten path for sure but well worth the visit. If I’m back in that neck of the woods, I will definitely be stopping there.
We made the drive to Pikes Peak, stopping on the way up to admire a Bigfoot Crossing sign and again at the gift shop. I just had to get a picture of the dogs with a carved Bigfoot after all. The staff warned that there was a film crew working on the road so the drive up was a little bit scary with people and cars stationed at several hairpin turns. And the shoulder? Non-existent in most places so there was road then drop sheer drops. Yikes.
Then finally we found ourselves above the treeline and not long after that, in the clouds. Honestly in the clouds. I have never been so high in my life. I checked the temperature and according to my car, it was a mild…5 degrees celsius. Well was I ever glad that I had pants and several tops on.
There wasn’t much to look at on the top of the mountain itself but the views were amazing and I got a few quick pics of the dogs before I put them back in the car. They were happy to sniff around but I was worried about the buffeting wind and the effect that the thin air would have on them. I popped into the visitor centre and, again at Chad’s suggestion, bought the world famous donuts. Hot and soft…I shared one with the dogs as soon as I got back into the car. Two donuts didn’t make it out of the lot. I was feeling a tad bit lightheaded so I figured the food would help.
Then we began the drive back down the mountain. There were signs that advise to use the lowest gear of the vehicle and I totally understand why. It would have been very easy to ride the brakes and lose total control. We did make a couple of short stops to admire the view and have a few leg stretches. They had so much fun climbing over the rocks and I think Jack is trying to give me a heart attack because he seems to have no fear of heights. In fact, he will perch himself as close to the edge as I’ll let him and bask in the sun. Cheeky monkey that he is. Meanwhile, Piper and Leo tried to poke their noses into every nook and cranny they could find.
We stopped at Catamount Reservoir for another walk to enjoy the amazing colours of the changing aspens…and more donuts. As a tip, if you go to Pikes Peak and you buy the donuts, eat them as soon as you get them. They’re great warm off the rack. They’re OK once they’ve cooled down.
We continued westbound, passing through Lake George and right past the aptly named Lake George Pizza. I was hungry so I ordered the chicken caesar pizza. A few slices into my belly and off we went. Right into wicked bad rain with some hail thrown in for good measure.
I was heading towards Manuso looking for another “Feasting on Asphalt” location, this one being Ted’s Tacos. I tried to find it but had no luck. So we ended up going to Cortez and spent the night at Aneth Lodge. It’s an older motel and the decor is a bit dated but it was very clean and the room was quite spacious.
After a few more slices of pizza, we were off to sleep.
I walked through my front door the morning of Monday April 18 at 2:30 on the dot. During the drive home from the airport, I had toyed with the idea of sleeping for a couple of hours and getting on the road. I knew I didn’t need much in the way of supplies since this was to be an eating road trip and I keep my gear packed and ready to go at all times. It’s actually one of the few things that stays organized. However the drive was exhausting and I needed some serious sleep or I’d have fallen asleep at the wheel so I spent most of Monday running errands and leisurely packing.
Obviously standard road trip rules would apply. The road trip bottle was Woodford Reserve; bourbon seemed appropriate.
Then on Tuesday April 19 at 6:01 am, we left home. I had hoped to be out sooner but I was dragging my backside a bit. The long day of travelling Sunday had caught up with me as we joined the rush hour traffic. I decided that I would not stop for coffee until we were past Toronto, just because of how sticky traffic can be. And since I was very destination-driven, I had punched the first pit into my phone and let it tell me where I was going. Unless I saw something really interesting, we were sticking to the GPS; until we got to where we were going anyway.We found Station 1 Coffeehouse in Grimsby which is just outside of Hamilton. If there had been more time, I could have lingered there for hours. I loved the ambiance and all of the coffees are fair trade, organic, and roasted locally. The americano I walked away with had that lovely full-bodied flavour that I love. I was tempted by the selection of baked goods but I decided that I was going to be eating plenty soon enough so I settled for a homemade granola bar.
Now if you’ve read a few of my previous posts, you’ll know that I seem to have an issue with crossing the border. It doesn’t matter which way I’m going I still turn into a babbling fool. So as we sat in the line to cross at the Peace Bridge, I actually rehearsed everything I was going to say. Then we pulled up to the booth and the questions began:
“Where are you from?” I gave her my address.
“What is the purpose of your trip?” Vacation.
“What is your destination?” North Carolina for the Historic Barbecue Trail.
She stopped with her hands hovering over the keyboard and literally did a double-take. I explained the whole story about how I had heard about this trail, what it was, how long, everything. As I was talking to her, she got out of the booth and reached into the back seat to start petting the dogs. I can only imagine what the people behind us were thinking.
After we passed into New York, we ended up driving through Hamburg and stopped at Comfort Cafe. So I ended up getting a second cup for the day. It was not as good as Station 1 but for a small town it did the trick. While chatting with some locals, I learned of a small dog park next to the vet office. They weren’t kidding when they said small. At least the dogs had a chance to walk around but they were soon standing at the gate staring at the car. They knew that we would stop at some point for a good walk.
We were passing through Ellicotville when I saw signs for EVL Cheese Company. Cheese? Yes please. I found that it had a great selection of cheeses which was kind of disappointing because I had no means of safely keeping anything perishable. I ended up just buying a container of cheese curds before we continued on.
I almost drove straight past McCarty Hill State Park. We stopped and hiked up a couple of mountain ridges. This was the site of first blood drawn on a dog: as we were walking back to the car, I noticed red on the right side of Jack’s face. Rather than go around some brambles, he in his stubborn Puggy way decided to go through and gave himself a little cut on the tip of his ear flap. Finally I was able to spring purposefully into action with my first aid kit to find the cut that was barely there. We sat and had a few cheese curds since Jack was such a brave boy.
We soon passed into Pennsylvania and stopped for another hike in Moshannon State Park. We stumbled onto what I can only imagine is a pump house seeing as how there was a small stream that seemed to come out of one. I’m not quite sure of the purpose but Leo is never one to let a chance to climb pass him by and jumped up onto the roof until we were eye-to-eye.
The day was slowly coming to an end and I was looking for a place to eat. After asking at a gas station, I was pointed in the direction of a bakery and restaurant down the road on the outskirts of Williamsport. I ended up ordering the fish and chips and a chocolate coconut cookie. The cookie was the best part of that meal.The fish was good but the crust was more like breadcrumbs and kind of soggy.We stopped that night in the Red Roof Inn in Williamsport. I can’t believe that it took me this long to figure out that they don’t charge for dogs. It’s not like I hide them when I check in; the dogs come right inside the lobby with me. After dealing with just me all day they need other people for a break.
Even though it was a relatively calm day, we all fell sleep shortly after crawling into bed.
August 28, 2015
If I had thought the trip the day before was rough, well my friends, we put some serious road under the tires this day.
It was quite cold when we woke up that morning. The Rocky Mountains…who knew it would get cold. Funny thing was it was still not as cold as that one night in Montana. We went for a short hike then packed up. I tend to want to just keep waking but we were on a bit of a schedule and would have to get going at some point.
Fortunately Jack seemed to be moving better, but we still kept the walks easy just to be on the safe side. And if I had stopped at every pretty outlook or stream or view, I never would have left British Columbia.
We did stop quickly in the town of Banff. Talk about the polar opposite of Whistler. I could have wandered around there for hours. But a coffee and snack from Whitebark Cafe and away we went.
And we went. It’s amazing how quickly the terrain changed. One minute I’m driving along going “Oh look pretty mountains. Look at the snow. Look at the….wait… Where did the mountains go? There’s some big hills. Did I fall asleep or something?”
And then the prairies. The view was severely reduced by the smoke from the fires still burning to the west, so I couldn’t even get the full “I saw my dog running away for five days” effect. I felt like I was driving in a bubble.
I decided to stop for the night around Regina. I thought briefly about a hotel but the cost of the “pet fee” in the hotels I looked at would have almost been as much as the room! The rest were either too expensive or no pets at all.
So when I saw a sign for a private campground just off the highway, I figured problem solved. I mean, it’s just a place to lay my head for the night.
As I was driving up I saw rows of RVs crammed in tight together. Uh oh. I went into the office and spoke to the woman working behind the counter. They do have tent spots available but they aren’t sites. It’s just a grassy corner of the lot. It was getting late and I was getting tired so I went to set up my tent.
It could have been worse. There weren’t too many people there and the people that were there didn’t seem to be too concerned with me at all. I found it to be a little weird since almost every where I had gone, people at least say “hi” to the dogs. I figured that’s fine. I didn’t stop to make friends.
As I was pitching my tent, the mosquito swarm found us. I hadn’t dealt with mosquitos like that since we left home. And I didn’t want to use any bug spray since I’d be sliding into my sleeping bag soon.
I took the dogs for a walk in the “dog area” which is the only place that you’re supposed to walk your dogs. The area turned out to be a gap just inside the front perimeter fence of all of maybe two metres. Or 10 feet. Whichever you prefer. Another thing I really wasn’t impressed with was one particular clause in their dog policy. No aggressive dogs allowed; that I get. Saying that a dog could be labelled as aggressive based on breed alone, well that boggled my mind. I am familiar with breed-specific legislature and am completely opposed to it. This oblique way of saying that certain breeds are not welcome made my blood boil. Just say what breeds you don’t want and have that posted right in the front office. If I had seen that before I got my site I likely would have moved on and tried to find somewhere else on principle alone. I would have rather slept in my car (again) than give this kind of business my money.
But this place did have running water which we had not had in a few days and I was thinking about a having a shower in the morning. A nice long hot shower to wash away the road grime and then I see a sign that says I have to pay $2 for 8 minutes of water. Are you kidding me? Because you know you always spend the first minute getting the temperature right. And not just $2. It was very specific that it had to be two loonies. Well forget about that.
I knew that I’d be at my grandparent’s cottage the next day. One last drive then a chance to relax for a few days before heading home. So I decided to ignore the jingling of change in my pocket for a little bit longer and just go right to sleep.
I remember looking up at the tent above my head and seeing the swarms of mosquitos and thinking “Well…I guess it’s an adventure now.”
August 27, 2015
This was a day of hardcore driving…sort of.
After a short walk and some tropical oatmeal, you know to mix things up, we hit the road. We actually got going a little later than I had wanted to. Taking our time seems to be a recurring theme but it IS the a major part of the trip.
We had a couple of quick stops but Jack’s hike in the mountains the day before had taken its toll on him and he was a bit slower than normal. So whenever I stopped the car, I would get them out for easy walks to help the old guy stretch his muscles.
I also stopped at a couple of farmers stands and picked up some nice bread and cheese and more cheese and jerky and some more coffee. At least I stayed away from the sweets this time. Mainly because I was still working on the fudge (almost all gone by this point) and some cookies I had made before we left that I was planning to bring to my grandparents. I considered it quality control…to make sure they were still up to my standards.
I was in awe when I finally started seeing full on Rockies. The mountains we had been driving through did not have the same impact. These mountains were magnificent. These were the mountains I had seen on TV and in magazines. There were several places to pull off the road and I took advantage of many of them; for Jack of course. In truth, if I had stopped at every scenic overlook or river or lake we would still be in the Rockies.
We ended up stopping at one of the campgrounds in Yoho National Park between Glacier National Park and Banff National Park. The first campground we stopped at was nice and in a protected sunny spot, but it was almost crammed full with trailers. Just not my thing.
The next campground we found was quite a drive up some very steep and sharp switchbacks that snaked up a mountain. I loved it before I even saw it. For a moment I was disappointed when we arrived at the parking lot and it was full of cars until I realized that most of them were parked at the trailhead for some extensive hiking trails. The actual campground had quite a few vacant sites. This was another cart in campground and I can tell you that maneuvering a wheelbarrow full of gear and three leashed dogs is quite an experience.
The site that I ended up picking was out of character for me. Usually when I have options, I like to go as far from main pathways and other campers as I can. This site was one of the first ones that you came to and was right beside the path. It was also as far as you could get from the huts that housed the toilets and sink. I figured that the huts would be the busiest places and the sounds of movement in the dark would likely set my little noise makers off and the sites further away were not as nice. Besides, I picked a site that was almost directly across from a huge waterfall spilling down the side of a mountain. It was true wilderness that we had finally found. For the first time, I felt as tiny as we truly are.
Setting up camp had gotten almost mechanical by this point. We walked around the grounds, then had a quick dinner before crawling into the tent. They had all established their own little spots in the tent and they quickly curled up on their blankets; after a few good night kisses of course.
The sound of the water pouring down the mountain was so loud it almost drowned out the sound of three snoring dogs.