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.

Of Meat and Mosquitos

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. 

The damaging winds passed but the rain continued on into the morning.  I took the dogs out for a stroll around the parking lot but they are a delicate and finicky bunch when it comes to rain.  They have no problem diving into water if it’s on the ground but as soon as it’s falling from the sky, they seem to think that they are going to melt.  So while they recovered from the indignity of going out in the rain with bowls of food, I planned out the day.  Who am I kidding?  I looked for coffee.  And I found it with The Tamp & Tap in downtown Memphis.

We crossed the bridge into Memphis during a break in the rain and when I saw the Welcome Centre, I took the opportunity to stop and let the dogs have a bit more of a leg stretch.  Even though we had been next to the river, from our elevated vantage point, I was able to get a real sense of just how big this river was.  I mean, what better gauge of size than to watch full-grown trees float past you?  As we walked around the Welcome Centre, I stopped to speak with one of the staff and asked where we should go for barbecue.  When there is “Memphis-style barbecue” you have to eat it.  That’s just part of the rules.  He told me a few places but two stood out: Interstate (which was on “Feasting on Asphalt”) and Central.  Then I asked the all-important question: if you had to go to only one, which would it be.  The hesitation before he answered said it all.  He replied that Interstate was an institution but the food was better at Central.  Well friends, I think we know which one I went to.  After coffee of course.

memphis

We came ready to rock.

memphisriver

Trees in the Mississippi River for scale.

The parking situation around the Tamp & Tap, well let’s just say it leaves much to be desired.  I mean, there is plenty of places to park, if you don’t mind paying for it.  I risked a parking ticket when I left my car in the lot across the street and dashed inside, practically dancing from foot to foot as I waited in line.  When I mentioned that I wasn’t properly parked, she warned me that they are usually really strict with parking but they had already been by so I should be good for a few minutes.   And despite the fact that I was in a rush, I couldn’t help myself and asked if they had any specialties of the house and as she was rhyming off a list of prepared coffee drinks, my ears perked up at raspberry chocolate.  So I ordered one to go and practically bowled over everyone between me and the door, grateful to see that no one in uniform was anywhere near the lot. Downtown Memphis looked like the kind of place that I would have liked to wander around but the sky was a menacing grey so I punched in the address for Central BBQ and noticed that there were two and both were listed on bringfido.com as being dog-friendly.  I picked the one at 2249 Central since it had slightly better reviews and started the drive.

It was a short drive and soon we were in the parking lot.  For a brief moment anyway because a gentleman who was directing the traffic in the lot had us park across the street.  Navigating across four lanes of traffic was a bit of an inconvenience but I was hoping that it would be worth it.  What usually happens at Central is that if you were sitting on the patio, you would order food at the counter and then go sit down and it would be brought to you.  That wasn’t going to be so easy for me for a couple of reasons: there were a lot of people and I would have to find a place to tie the dogs where they would be close but still out of the way and about half of the patio had a heavy-duty tent around it so that meant walking through flaps and between narrow tables.  I must have had an expression that begged for pity because one of the servers told me to sit down and she would bring me food.  I practically hugged her right there and grabbed a table in the open area.  It took me a bit to figure out how to open the umbrella and almost as soon as I did, the skies opened up.  I sat in the chair, and into the puddle that was on it, to wait for my new best friend.  I ordered the platter with three different meats and two sides, confident that I would be able to eat most of it.  Well this time the food won.  I ate my macaroni and baked beans but I barely made a dent in the turkey, pulled pork, and brisket.  It was good but I found the meat was a bit dry and needed liberal dosing with the accompanying sauces. It was flavourful on it’s own but the flavour was kind of drowned by the sauce.  The macaroni and cheese was outstanding and was my favourite part of the meal.  I packed up what was left of my food and then spent way too long trying to get back to our car while standing out in the rain.

central

This round went to the meat.  From top left: mac n’ cheese, buns, baked beans, brisket, pulled pork, and turkey.

The dogs were so drenched, that when we did get eventually back to the car, I didn’t put their harnesses on until they had a chance to dry off since I was a little worried about them getting rubs from the straps.  I followed the placards for the Great River Road out of the city and while we passed by some beautiful homes, we also passed by some neighbourhoods that stood in stark contrast, with more plywood than glass and restaurants sporting bars across windows and doors.

It’s a shame that it rained as much as it did since it would have been nice to get out and explore.  It also would have been nice not to be a walking buffet for legions of mosquitos.  When we had to turn around to detour because of yet another flooded section of road and since there was a break in the rain, I took a chance to walk the dogs in what looked like a state park.  Yes we braved the mosquitos and the possibility of another downpour to get in a bit of a hike.  And it was quite a find when we stumbled upon Fort Pillow.

flood

Well we won’t be going that way then.

I had parked the car on what kind of looked like a parking area but no signs to indicate as such.  We followed a well-marked path but there wasn’t much in the way of signage to tell us what was ahead at least not like most parks that we have been to.  When I did see signs for Fort Pillow, I expected to see maybe a sign and a drawing of what it would have looked like, not the fort re-created complete with a tent and guns.  There were signs posted that explained that the fort was positioned over an area of strategic importance over the river, thus allowing control over boat traffic as well as the history of the fort.  Considering how well it had been restored, I would have expected to see more people there or at least more signs for it.  As it was, we had the whole place to ourselves and I spent longer than I expected, poking around and reading everything I could.  If you’re a history buff, this is a great place to spend some time to reflect and really appreciate how these forts were constructed and what it would have been like to live there.  In downtown Toronto, we have Historic Fort York which is huge but probably not reflective of how many other forts were constructed.  When I was tired of being a blood donor, we headed back to the car and continued on.

pillow sign

Words of wisdom.

pillow gun

The dogs checking the firepower.

pillow

The land side of Fort Pillow.

As it was getting late, I started looking for a place to sleep.  We were in an area towards the north border of Tennessee and there was little in the way of hotels but I did start seeing a lot of signs for campgrounds.  With options pretty limited and no call for rain over night, I set out to try and find them.  And I did.  Problem was a lot of those campgrounds were under water.  Crud.  Then I turned down one driveway, convinced that this would be the one.  It was dark but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve set up my tent by the light of my headlamp.  I saw piles of leaves across the driveway but that’s to be expected after a flood.  What I didn’t realize was that those leaves weren’t in piles but were covering tree limbs until BAM.  To say that the language was colourful would be an understatement.  So there I was trying to back up and I just kept hitting more branches and limbs as I attempted a 98-point turn and continued back down the road, really hoping that every noise my car made was my imagination.  Of course the noises go away when you turn up the music.

flood2

I seem to be seeing this a lot.

By this time, we were in Chester, Illinois which, as near as I can tell, has only one hotel.  So I went there to see if they had any rooms available.  And there were.  With the room fee and the pet fees it would have only been just over $200.00.  I tried to barter at least the pet fees down.  I mean $25.00 per dog is a bit much but with no luck.  So finally I just asked if there was somewhere I could park the car.  He told me that he wouldn’t mind if I parked the car in the lot but there was a campground nearby that shouldn’t be flooded because it’s on a hill.  With the directions burned into my brain, we set out to find this campground.

And we did find it and sure enough it wasn’t flooded. I drove around to get my bearings but the sites, or at least what I thought were sites were not well-marked so I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at especially in the pitch dark.  By this time I was too tired to really care.  And too tired to eat anything.  In fact, I hadn’t eaten anything since we left Memphis.  I put some food and water out for the dogs before they all hopped back into the car and into their sleeping spots: Leo in the front seat with me, Jack in the front passenger seat, and Piper sprawled across the back seat.  Needless to say, they were asleep long before I was.  I guess Piper was a bit out of sorts since she usually snuggles with me so she kept her nose tucked into the crook of my neck.  It’s sweet until she did the boxer snort and sprayed the side of face face with snot.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, Leo kept shifting next to me so I ended up trying to contort around him.  Heaven forbid the dog isn’t comfortable.  I think Jack passed out the second he curled up.  I’m so jealous of that.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Coffee and ghosts

I was up early…well early for me anyway.  It was almost cold compared to the day before and there was the constant threat of rain so the dogs had a really quick pee break outside before I wandered down to the breakfast.  Notes were plastered everywhere that said food couldn’t be taken out of the dining area.  Ugh.  I scanned the offerings and was rather disappointed with the selection.  There wasn’t even a banana or peanut butter for a waffle-wich.  I wasn’t too upset since I had better breakfast plans anyway (insert excited giggling and hopping here).

While I was tempted to stop in Charleston, I decided on a different course and booked a room through Airbnb before we left while I had access to wifi.  It was going to be the first time I stayed at one, though not the first I had ever booked which I will explain later.  I’ve never been a big fan of B & B’s but once I looked at the cost of hotels where I wanted to spend the night, well the choice was a simple one.

The dogs had long since finished their breakfasts by the time I got everything packed up and we were soon back in the car.  But not for long.  I was being pulled towards my destiny.  And in that destiny was a MOTHMAN!!!  If you’re new to this amazing beverage, it’s one of the specialties of The Chocolate Moose in Beckley.  I got HOOKED on them when we passed through earlier this year.  It’s coffee and chocolate and cinnamon and cayenne pepper and whipped cream and O!  M!  G!!!  I’ve been experimenting with making them at home but this…this is just soooooo good.  It must have looked like I was in one of those old coffee commercials once I sat back in the car.  Just picture it: both hands wrapped around the cup, that happy little smile with eyes closed as I took that first tiny little sip.  And the whole wheat berry muffin was really good too.  But really it was just filler.  The mothman was the main star.

We didn’t do too many walks since Piper and Jack were both a little sore from all the hiking the day before.  We stopped at a few rest areas to stretch out before we were back in the car.  That’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of photo ops and of course they met with their legions of adoring fans.  I am always surprised at how many people had boxers or pugs and how many think Leo is a Frenchie (he’s a Boston Terrier by the way).

It was a little after 5:00 pm by the time we rolled into our Airbnb in the Rincon area at the top end of Savannah, Georgia.  I met with one of our hosts, unloaded some of the gear, and drove downtown.

We wandered a bit to kill some time and stopped at Zunzi’s for a sandwich.  They have a massive patio and not only are the dogs allowed on the patio, when I went to the walk-up order bar, they were actually allowed inside just as long as they stayed on my side of the counter.  Wow.  But that’s not all.  They got a container of chicken for themselves and I got some of their rooiboos iced tea on the house.  Wow wow wow.  I ordered the conquistador sandwich which is their roasted chicken on on bun with sauce and lettuce (hold the tomatoes please).  When I took my stack of containers to the patio, I had one woman sit down with me so she could feed the dogs and another gave me a half of her sandwich that she was going to throw out to feed to the dogs.  All the attention was a little overwhelming.  Finally they left and I was able to eat my sandwich.  It was good but the food was far overshadowed by the customer service.

Then we went to Chippewa Square.  We were going to do another ghost tour.  I mean the one in Charleston was so much fun, and Savannah is supposed to be the most haunted city in the United States so we HAD to go on a tour.  I didn’t sign up before we left so I just went to the square as per the website for 9:00 and waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.  I left after some other people that were looking for their tour group but it turned out they were with another tour operator.  On a hunch, I went back to where I had been and saw a bunch more people waiting so I guess what was on the site was off by a bit.  I also noticed they were carrying cups.  Hmmmmm I didn’t know this before but Savannah lets you carry drinks in plastic containers.  That may have had something to do with all the drunken shenanigans I heard going on.  There’s nothing quite like that alcohol-fuelled squeal echoing off building walls.  There were also these bizarre contraptions that were being driven around.  The only way to describe them is as a covered bar with people seated around it and they pedal it.  It’s like those long tandem bikes but around a table with a cover.  And even those drunkards would yell “puppies” when they saw the dogs.  Ugh.

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Waiting for the tour.

Unlike most cities I have been to, Savannah has squares all over the place.  It seems like there’s a different square complete with statues or monuments every few blocks.  They are pretty but if you’re used to only having to navigate by one or two, it can throw you off.   It has a very different feel from Charleston; a grittier, partier version.

The tour guides from Blue Orb Tours showed up and had no problems with letting me tag along.  Because it was such a large group, their were two guides and I went with Adam.  First, he was a great guide and had lots of interesting stories and was a very good speaker.  His style was dramatic but also with a good bit of sarcastic humour.  At some stops, he would show a tablet with photos or video or audio.  Whether you believe or think it’s just the power of suggestion, I would definitely recommend taking the tour, if only for the juicy stories from the past.

On one stop at a square, Adam told us how they used to talk in front of a staircase to the house across the street but there were times when women, always women, described getting “groped” and said they would wait if anyone wanted check it out.  There were nervous looks around the group and a lot of feet shuffling.  Aw heck so I took up the leashes and we walked across the street where we were joined by almost every woman in the group.  We waited but no one got groped.  Or no one admitted to getting groped any way.

The dogs were amazing for the entire tour.  At every stop, they would flop down and wait patiently until we headed out.  They had so many compliments about how well-behaved they were I could not have been prouder.  They still got lots of attention on the tour and I think some people that were really uneasy would sit by them to either ground themselves or to be distracted.

Did we see anything?  Not really.  There were a few places where I had bit of tightening in my chest but I just chalk that up to the stories that say there’s something going on.  The last stop on the tour was at the Sorrel Weed House which is supposed to be the most active house in the United States.  One window on the second floor was open and a ceiling fan inside was turning very slowly.  Then it would stop and turn again.  I was taking photos and noticed that sometimes the fan was spinning very quickly.  The logical part of my brain said that since the window was open, the fan was spinning because of warm air rising from the hot concrete.  The not so logical part of my brain…well that was coming up with all kinds of other stories.  The dogs hardly reacted to anything so they are either really lousy ghost hunters or nothing was there to hunt.

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Love the Spanish moss. Oh and the super haunted square.

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Lonely streets

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See that open window on the top left? That’s the one with the fan…

After such a busy day, it was all we could do to get to our place for the night.  I was so tired I just fell into bed and passed right out.

A Trip Long Time Coming

I have a tendency for ambitious trips.  But one trip has been on my mind for quite some time.  Over a decade in fact.  It seemed as though I could never do it, never get the time off, never afford it.  Then finally, I made it happen.  It’s actually a three-part trip: getting there, the trip, and getting home.  I’ll tell you what the actual trip is soon but first it’s time to hit the road!

I had actually packed most of my things a week before we left.  It’s not that I was super excited to go, but I also knew that I would be working long hours to get as much at work taken care of as I could.  And I was super excited to go.  Even though I only had to pack the car, at 5:00 am it still took longer than I thought it should.  Still, we were on the road by 5:45 am.  Standard Road Trip Rules apply and the road trip bottle is Baron Samedi spiced rum.

Everything was going swimmingly and even the bunch up around the city was nothing to worry about.  Not a worry.  No issues.  Then the Buffalo border.  Crap.  OK.  Get the papers out, passport in hand, music down, sunglasses off, both hoping and dreading it would be some cutie of a border guard.  Roll up to the window and…nope.  The streak was finally broken.  I don’t know if they’ve recently changed the question protocol because the questions I was asked are not the ones I am used to.  Weird ones like “Where are you staying?” and “Who are you meeting?” and, this was a kicker “Do you work?”.  Not the usual “What do you do?” but “Do you have a job in Canada?”.  And she didn’t even want to see the dog’s paperwork.  No worries, we were soon across the border and driving south.

It had been raining for days in Canada and the rain continued with us.  It was a blessing in disguise since I would have been more tempted to stop and enjoy some hikes and in the process get us waaaaaaaay behind schedule.  As usual.  But since my little darlings are made of sugar and would melt in the rain, we pushed on through.  Until I saw a sign for Premium Coffee Roasters.  Score.  And they do their own roasting.  Double score.  I popped out and after wandering around the little gift shop, I pour myself a cup and am promptly waved away.  “It’s Friday it’s free.”  I stood like a deer in the headlights.  She repeated herself and walked away from the counter.  A-freaking-mazing.  It wasn’t a great cup but it was a damn fine way to start the trip.

We continued on. For the most part the rain was fairly light but it did get heavy the odd time.  Finally, I saw a sign for Erie State Park and, taking advantage of a break in the rain, we stopped for a short walk.  The wind blowing off the lake and the damp air was the kind of combo that makes the wind blow right through you and soon we were back at the car.   Perfect timing too because it started to pour again.bridge.jpg

I was getting hungry when we stopped in Meadville, Pennsylvannia.  I saw Al’s Melons Farm Market and hoped to get a sandwich or snack of some kind.  Unfortunately the deli section is in another town but I could get a cup of meat if I wanted.  A what now?  It’s a cup with the end pieces of their cheese and meats.  Well don’t mind if I do.  Oh and some pickles and blue popcorn.  I was soon popping hunks of meat and cheese back as we drove back onto the highway. The dogs may have had little pieces too.  Who are we kidding?  Of course they had samples.

With a tummy full of goodness, soon the sleepies hit and we ducked off in Washington, Pennsylvannia where we found a real treat:  The Shoppes at Quail Acres.  There was something for all of us: Fortuitea where I got a nice cup of americano and a sticky bun and Dogs Rule, a grooming salon AND gourmet dog treat shop where the dogs got to pick from bins of cookies. It was so warm outside and there was a small paddock for them to stretch their legs.  In reality, there wasn’t much leg stretching.  There was some wandering and some sniffing and Leo rolled and that was about it.  OK back in the car.

We were in West Virginia when I saw signs for some hiking trails along the Gauley River and Summerville Dam so naturally we stopped.  I love the sight of misty rivers so we spent quite a bit of time hiking along the bank.  We actually found a pool on the side of the river that almost looked like it had been created.  Seriously, people spend good money for these types of things and here it was au naturel.  The dogs of course had a blast running through the trees and splashing in the river.  I cringed with each splash and the thought of all the wet dog in the car but really how could I be anything but happy to watch them having fun.

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Not quite sure what has their attention.

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Piper smells something interesting.

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Love the mist.

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Jump on in, the water’s warm.

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Double trouble.

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Another album cover.

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Looking majestic.

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The rain was starting to fall again so we continued on.  We stopped in Beckley, West Virginia for a few reasons.  First, I was getting tired.  Second, I was getting hungry.  And third: MOTHMAN in the morning!!!!!  Wahoo.

We checked into the Days Inn which was the nicest Days Inn I think I have ever stayed at, and headed out in search of food.  My first thought was to go to Campestre for some Mexican food but then I thought “I’ve already had that so I should try something different.”  Well it turned out that everything else was closed except for the chain restaurants so Campestre it was.

I was shocked when I saw how packed the lot was until I remembered it was cinco de mayo.  Nice coincidence.  I stood there and was ignored by several staff members.  I mean, some of them actually turned and looked right at me then turned away.  I thought that holding a menu might help but nope.  I get that you’re busy but at least a “Hang on” or “Be right with you” would have been nice.  Finally one man asked if I wanted anything.  Why yes I did and I ordered the tapatio, which I had enjoyed so much on my last trip.  Now my complete lack of language ability was front and centre because I ordered the ta-patio.  His look said “gringa” as he repeat ta-pa-tee-yo.  It seemed as though the food was done in less time than it took to order it which is good because I was starting to get hangry.

Back in the room and I CRUSHED that meal.  It was as good as I remember: the fresh tortilla chips with ranch dressing and salsa, warm tortillas, steak, chicken, beans, cheese, sauteed onions and mushrooms.  I mean it was demolished in short order as I cracked into the road trip bottle and watched some homesteader show before we dropped into a very deep sleep.

 

A Short Trip to Somewhere

I found myself with some time off and the first hint of a gorgeous day a few days ago so I figured “Let’s go somewhere.”  With my newly acquired Parks Canada Discovery Pass burning a hole in my pocket (OK it was pinned to my cork board but that doesn’t sound as good) it was an easy decision to make.  And as there are only five national parks in Ontario and a very limited amount of time, it was narrowed down to Georgian Bay Islands National Park.  So I loaded the dogs in the car, punched in the park name, and followed the directions from my pushy telephone.

I wasn’t really paying attention as I blindly followed the voice in the phone.  I was somewhat familiar with the route since we were headed towards Midland and as we continued north, I saw some ominous clouds ahead of us that had me worried we might have to cancel our trip.  But after a few turns, I was back facing the sunshine.

I turned down the last road and eagerly fixed my pass to the rearview mirror as I drove towards where I thought must be the gate.  Nope…no gate.  An administration building with a ton of vehicles but no gate.  Weird.  I brought the dogs out of the car and headed towards the first thing that looked like a trail.  There were no markings, no maps, but oh wait: there’s a sign that indicates the park border.  OK so at least I’m on national lands.

We went traipsing along the narrow but well-trodden trail.  I stopped at the edge of a river to let the dogs have a drink and of course they can’t just drink from the shore.  Oh no.  They have to wade in chest deep and drink that way.  All of them.  Great.  Wet dogs.  In fact, Piper wanted to go for a full-on swim and kept trying to wade deeper.  Leo dropped into the dirt as soon as he got out of the water and I cringed with every wiggle that sent more dirt into his drenched coat.  Jack, well Jack’s got that thick pug coat that holds water like a sponge so I had the pleasure of repeated shakes.  After they had sorted themselves out, back on the trail we went.

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The river.

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Can’t you just drink from the shore like normal dogs?

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Oh not you too Leo.

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Piper decided to strike a pose by herself.

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I’m always getting butt shots.

Then we exited onto a paved path.  I turned to look behind me, thinking that I had missed more trail as I was enjoying the sun.  Noooooooooo there was nothing else.  Huh a ten minute walk and I find myself on a paved trail behind some houses.  I knew that there were some small parks but this was a bit much; or not.  Oh well, we continued on.  There was a placard for the Trans-Canada Trail so obviously we had somewhere to go.  It was a nice view out over the water and we walked by some really creepy structure that I think was part of the shipping industry from a bygone era.  All I can say is that I would not have been surprised to see a clown peeking out a window, especially since I had just seen the preview for the movie “It”.

Everyone was super friendly and if I didn’t immediately acknowledge someone, like when I was stooping and scooping, they made sure to say “Hi” as they went past.  There’s no better way to meet people than when you’re trying to tie a bag full of poop.

The paved path quickly heated up and the dogs stopped pulling to sniff everything which is the universal signal for “I wanna go back”.  So we turned around and went back through the park.  Thinking the park had to be bigger, we took a few more trails but we still made it back to the parking lot in zero time.  I felt a little silly for having brought my big camera pack complete with tripod and hiking poles.  Bit of overkill with that.  So I left the big pack behind and brought only my camera as we wandered around a picnic area next to the parking lot.  There were some old stone foundations and I just could not resist stopping for a few pics.  Of course it would have been nice if I had brought my tripod for a group selfie but a wadded up jacket and nearby piece of stone will do almost as good a job.  Having said that, there are plenty for a blooper reel.IMG_0839

Feeling a tad bit peckish, we drove into Midland proper.  I had only been to Midland once before for last year’s Butter Tart Festival so I wanted to stroll the town without being run over.  It’s a very pretty little town with an outstanding coffee shop called “Grounded Coffee Co.”  I ordered my usual americano with a splash of cream and bit of sugar and got a blueberry scone because…well I wanted one.  I sat at the table outside the cafe on the sidewalk and entertained passersby as I shared itty bitty bites of scone with the dogs.  Some people would stop and get some dog lovin’.  There was one gentleman who slowly walked by with a cane and appeared as though he had had a stroke or something similar and the dogs were just so gentle, it made me so proud of them.  Especially Piper since she is a master of the full-body lean.

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You look like you need help with that.

After I had refuelled, we continued to walk to the shore where there is a nice waterfront area.  And then, I saw it.  Always looking for landmarks to pose the dogs I could not pass up the opportunity to get them in front of a giant metal goose.  Nor could I miss the seagull sitting on the head of the goose.  How cool.  Although I was distracted (and maybe a little over caffeinated) when I saw a man sitting by the lake with a red toque and red and white sweater.  Holy crap I found Waldo!!!!  It must have been quite a sight for the people sitting in their cars (I don’t know why) as I tried to pose the dogs, get a photo of the seagull, and covertly get a photo of Waldo.  I managed to get two of the three.  By this point, the dogs were bored of my shenanigans and soon sprawled out on the lawn while I snapped happily away.

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A seagull on a goose’s head! How awesome.

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The dogs are decidedly unimpressed.

Once I was done with photos, and Waldo had left, we sat on the end of one of the piers just to enjoy the sunshine and each others company.  After a bit, we walked back to the car, stopping for one more picture next to a boat.  Dark clouds were hanging low over the water and the wind was starting to blow so we hustled the rest of the way.

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Leo’s trying to figure out how to get the water far below. Piper doesn’t care.

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Jack is content to just chill.

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“Oh come on. Another pic?!”

I was giving the dogs some water before loading them in the car when I heard the first rumble of thunder.  I looked up and saw that the sky had gone from dark clouds to having a green tinge to it.  Uh oh.  When ever there are green skies you know there’s a real storm brewing and no sooner had I started the car, then the first drops fell.  Soon the rain was pouring down and my poor little car was getting pelted by hail and the wind blew us side to side.  Fortunately, the worst of it ended quickly and most of the drive was uneventful if too rainy for any side trips.

Oh and the park that I was in?  It wasn’t Georgian Bay Islands Park.  I’m not quite sure where I was.  I’m thinking it’s just a small chunk of land for their administration office and where they park their cars.  So it looks like we’re going to have to go back.  Only maybe this time with no hail.  But I’m not saying I won’t look for Waldo again.