A Biker, a Latte, and a Pizza Place

Starting Mileage: 1823.4

I’m not going to lie: I thought about staying in Charleston for another day.  If it had been as nice as had been the day before, I likely would have tried to stay but the temperature was quite a bit cooler and there had been some rain.  After debating with myself for a while, as I brushed the sand that had somehow ended up in the bed, I finally packed the car up and took the dogs for one last quick walk before we headed out of town.  I wasn’t really feeling the hotel breakfast, I think because I was still full from dinner.

A quick search pointed me in the direction of Bald Monkey Beanery.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to find it but the building that had “COFFEE” painted across the side was definitely a clue. Despite the drive thru, I wanted to go inside and check the place out.  It was a cute shop and I got the run down of the coffee menu and at the insistence of another woman in there, I decided on a Cinnamonkey.  The woman working behind the counter was dealing with the drive thru when a man came in with his young daughter.  Well since the daughter went and sat at the register, I’m thinking this must be the owner.  I give my order then look at him.  Well the first thing that struck me was the Hell’s Angels T-shirt.  Then were the  tattoos down his arms, many with the Hell’s Angels death head.  I felt my own head drop and that was when I noticed the Hell’s Angels merchandise on the bottom shelf of the display case in front of me.  I thought about walking out but with a little girl there, I just couldn’t.  I’m not comfortable with supporting criminal organizations but I’m not going to raise a stink in front of a little girl.  And they give military discounts so I have to respect that at least.

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Something tells me this is the place

With coffee in hand, I hopped back into the car.  OK it was a nice latte, I’ll give him that.  I had read about Wannamaker County Park, an off-leash park that got great reviews that was on the way out of North Charleston.  It would have been nice if the reviews had mentioned the $2.00 admission fee just to get into the park but I guess locals can get a pass so they don’t have to worry about it.  And from what I saw, it looked like a large park with lots of other things to do.  Too bad I was just there to let the dogs burn off some energy.

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And it would have been nice if they had.  They sniffed and wandered a bit and with a bunch of spare tennis balls, Leo had fun trying to get them all.  But it seemed like no time at all before they all just stood there looking at me.  I wanted to get some pictures but how entertaining is a butt shot?  I’m trying to cut down on those anyway.  I had barely finished my coffee before we were heading back to the car.  It some times blows my mind that they are not out of their skin with energy; but then again the day before had been a busy one.

Since we had taken the back roads into the Charleston, I took a more direct route north, at least for a little bit.  I was in my own little world when it occurred to me: I haven’t eaten yet.  How could that be?!  So a quick search on Yelp had me pointed to a BBQ place in a small little town called Swansea.  And as I pulled up I was excited to have some fresh BBQ and maybe some fried okra yeah that’d be good and…closed.  Closed?  On a…wait what day is this?  This place only opens Friday and Saturday.  Dang!  OK back on Yelp and there’s a cafe down the road.  I got the car down there before I started to chew my arm off.

The Swansea Valley Cafe was open (no website or I’d link to it).  Already I was happier.  I looked over the menu and after questioning the servers about what was good (umm all of it) I decided on a buffalo chicken club (hold the tomatoes) and some swee’tea.  Yes that’s how they say it.  Because this restaurant is a small place, they warn you that your food will take a bit.  I was tempted to grab an order of the pork rinds (mmmm deep fried pig skin) but decided against it and sat out on a retaining wall after I evacuated the dogs from the car to wait for my order.  My sandwich came with a small bag of chips and a few slices of pickle.  So the buffalo chicken club is a fried chicken breast dipped on hot sauce with crumbled blue cheese, lettuce, and bacon.  It was like eating buffalo wings in sandwich form.  The only problem was that it was like eating buffalo wings.  I couldn’t taste the bacon through the hot sauce although I did like the tang from the blue cheese and if I hadn’t seen the coating on the chicken breast I likely would not have known it was there.  It was a decent sandwich overall and with the chips I was glad I had that big swee’tea as the salt sucked every ounce of moisture from my body.

We continued down the road and I stopped at more rest stops than I normally do.  Partly because that swee’tea was massive (if you get my drift) and so the dogs could have several  short little walks.  I was not too happy with the pet areas in most of the rest stops because they were tiny little strips of grass but I guess that’s better than nothing.  I’m not going to lie but a few times we maaaaaay have strayed out of a few of the pet areas to an out of the way corner of the property from view from others.  And I maaaaaaay have accidentally dropped their leashes once or twice and they maaaaaaaay have had a short little run around and play.

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Virginia is for lovers…and apparently a creepy shadow sneaking up on some adorable dogs.

As it got later, it was time to start looking at putting in for the night.  I was getting tired.  Finally I was able to find a Red Roof Inn in Wytheville, Virginia.  I could have gone further but Wytheville is right outside Jefferson National Park so I figured it would be an easy place to get to in the morning.  I checked in and as I was parking the car, I was pleasantly surprised to see a large patch of grass at the back of the lot complete with a bag dispenser and garbage bin and a fairly large hill.  I got the dogs out of the car and we walked up to our room on the second floor.  In a hallway.  As in the only window faces the walkway and a brick wall.  I had to laugh about it.  What a great view but considering that we were just here to the sleep for the night and never really have the curtains open anyway, what difference does the view make?

I took the dogs down to the grass and we had a little run around but then I realized it was getting darker and not everyone picks up after their dogs so we went back to the room, with me gingerly picking around any suspicious-looking dark patches.  By now I was famished and exhausted which is a bad combo when looking for food.  There was nothing really even close by the hotel and with the temperature dropping and somewhat poor lighting, I didn’t feel like venturing outside.  So delivery it was.  I had been trying to avoid pizza but alas, I can only resist for so long and in under an hour, a BBQ chicken pizza from Italian Garden showed up.   I was getting my BBQ no matter what.  The pizza was very good with a soft chewy crust and not weighed down under toppings.  It was lightly sauced which was perfect since it was a very sweet sauce that could have overwhelmed everything else.  I ate half of it while we watched nature documentaries.  And I do mean we.  And then we went to sleep.

A Day for the Dogs

Starting Mileage: 1675.5

No big surprise here but I slept in.  Considering we were up until almost 2:00 am it really shouldn’t be surprising.  I had a busy day planned (thanks to BringFido.com) so we went for a short walk, the pups were offered their breakfasts, and into the car we went.  This day was a day for the dogs.

I decided to skip a hotel breakfast for the sake of getting on the road and with a quick check on Yelp, I found a place that was on the way to our first stop for coffee.  I was following the directions and the farther we went, the more I wondered where the phone was sending me as it was looking more and more industrial.  I was about to stop and make sure that I was going the right way when we turned down Montague Street and I found an oasis in North Charleston: the street was lined on both sides with squat buildings, brightly painted with colourful signs, even an historic-looking clock on the sidewalk.   I was all smiles as I popped into The Orange Spot Coffeehouse.  The shop itself is small and there isn’t much in the way for seating outside, but the picnic table that was there was really all I needed.  I asked if they have a house speciality and was met with confused looks before they told me they make their own flavour syrups.  Neat.  I ordered an iced coffee with a shot of vanilla syrup.  As I was waiting I eyed the baked goods and decided on a morning glory muffin.  With no need for sugar or cream, I took my purchase and rejoined my pups waiting at the picnic table.  I was tempted to share since it was one of the best muffins I have ever had, moist and flavourful, but since morning glory muffins have dried fruit in them, I wasn’t sure if raisins were one of those fruits and I’m not taking that chance.  I watched the steady stream of people walking into the coffee shop and noticed that they were not what you would expect to be the kind of people going into a specialty coffee shop with tattoos and rough clothes coming out with lattes and biscotti.  I love it.

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Not a bad breakfast.

We walked up and down the street while I finished my coffee, grinning like a fool at this hidden gem of an area.  An elderly gentleman asked me if I wanted another brindle dog since his dog was too high-energy for him.  I’m not going to lie but I briefly (VERY briefly) thought about it before politely declining and continuing on to the car for our next stop of the day.

In no time, we pulled into Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.  I picked this spot because it allows you to walk your dogs around the gardens and from the reviews that I had read, it was a great place to visit.  From the minute I turned down the driveway, I was blown away by how beautiful everything was.  I had never seen spanish moss before except in craft stores and movies but as I crept down the drive, sheets of moss hung from the trees.

I parked the car, making sure I had a big bottle of water and the dog’s bowl as it was already quite warm out.  As soon as we joined the line-up to buy tickets, the dogs were getting all kinds of attention which they were more than happy to put up with.

Having the dogs with me meant that I could not ride the tram or go into any of the buildings but it was so nice out that wasn’t a concern.  There are also several other gardens to visit with the purchase of additional tickets.  I decided to stick with the general admission of $15.00 and if we wanted to do anything else, I would deal with that later.

If you are anywhere near Charleston this is a place you have to visit.  It was GORGEOUS!  There were hidden pockets off the trails with statues, magnolias and azaleas rising high overhead, spanish moss draping from tall live oaks, a peaceful and (dare I say it Zen-like) bamboo garden.  Two days ago I had scraped snow off my windshield and now here I was walking among flowering trees and shrubs.

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I couldn’t resist playing with this image.

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Such a pretty bridge.

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The bamboo garden

We slowly walked through the shady path, stopping frequently for photos.  There were several ponds and rivers with bridges arching over them.  Jack especially wanted to go swimming in the water but I knew that alligators lived in the area and the many signs posted warning people not to approach or feed them (which really shouldn’t need a warning but…) confirmed it.

We were walking along the nature trail when I looked out over some water and had to stop for a double take.  There, sunning itself barely a bus-length away, was a gator.  As I was pulling out my camera, I noticed another one.  And another.  Suddenly I became a lot more alert with that scene from Jurassic Park popping into my head.  You know the scene (“clever girl”).  Fortunately with the heat, the gators were more interested in laying there and not us.  But I’m sure they knew we were there since Jack was panting away and he sounds like a train chugging along.

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A bit warm is it?

We kept walking around the various gardens and I don’t think I looked at my watch once the entire time.  Even though there were plenty of other people, we felt like we were the only ones for stretches of time but the few encounters we did have, they were special.  I had posed the dogs for a photo in a spot off the main path when a group walked by.  One woman looked at us then broke away and walked over.  As she came closer I saw she wore a name tag with “Make-A-Wish” on it.  I could see that she was fixated on Leo and asked if she could pet him.  Of course I said she could and when she knelt down I watched tears stream down her cheeks.  She explained that she had just lost the Boston Terrier that she had owned for 14 years and she missed her so much.  She apologized when she stood up and explained they were at the plantation planning a fundraiser.  She seemed to be embarrassed and apologized for holding us up and all I could say was that if she sees us again, she can snuggle with him as long as she wants.  After she left, I knelt down and gave them all a hug for being so wonderful.

A little while later I had sat the dogs for a photo when a woman came up and asked if I wanted a picture with them.  How could I say no?  Of course she got in a few snuggles before she left.

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Gang’s all here.

We were almost back to the lot and walking down a path next to a pond.  I had stopped to take photos of a statue on a little hummock in the pond when I noticed something in the water.  It wasn’t moving and but I had the feeling that it was coming closer.  There was a branch sticking out of the water and with that for reference I was able to tell that yes it was indeed getting closer.  It was a smaller alligator than the ones I had seen sunning themselves but this one actually cared that we were there.  It never got close enough that I was worried about it but I sure was careful to keep the dogs away from the edge of the water.  There were some girls that were walking towards me and seemed irritated that I was just standing on the path.  When I pointed out the gator, they squealed and hustled away.

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I was standing here…

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While I was taking a picture of this…

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When I noticed this…

Convinced that I was burned crispy since I hadn’t thought to wear, never mind bring, sunblock we went back to the car.  The dogs were hot and after they finished their drinks (they had had been offered tons during our walk even though they would have rather gone for a swim in the ponds) we left for another spot.  And this spot was just for them.  After a quick stop for me.

Another place that I had heard about from “Feasting on Asphalt” was on our way.  Apparently Jack’s Cosmic Dogs is a local institution so I had to check it out.  Jack’s is not a fancy place but what would you expect from a hot dog joint?  With a menu considerably more extensive than ketchup, mustard, and relish, it took me a while to finally settled on a blue galatic dog: a hot dog topped with chili, cheddar cheese,  blue cheese slaw, and sweet potato mustard.  Then on a lark I also ordered an astro dog which is just a hot dog with ketchup and mustard.  The food was ready by the time I brought the dogs out of the car.  I poured them a bowl of ice water which they ignored to stare at me.  I think I had higher expectations for the hot dogs but in the end they were just hot dogs in nice soft buns.  It’s the toppings that made these tasty.  And yes the dogs got some of the astro dog.  Of course they did.  And then back in the car.hotdogs

Now I had expected that my map would take me to a parking lot.  But once it told me I had arrived, all I saw were signs on the street that said “No parking”.  I slowly wound my way down streets and even the signs that did say “Parking” did not appear to be anywhere near a spot to park.  Finally I found a spot and pulled in behind another car.  I brought the dogs out of the car and pulled off my shoes before we walked across the street and down a narrow track towards Isle of Palms beach.  The beach has off-leash times and we just happened to be right on time.

As soon as we emerged from the vegetation, Leo dropped onto the sand and rolled his way down the dune, wriggling his way to the bottom before he jumped up and ran as far as the leash would allow back up the dune before he rolled again.  It took me a while to grab him to unclip the leash but eventually I was able to free them all.  The first thing they did was run straight to the water and began to splash in the water.  They ran and rolled and splashed and played.  We walked up the beach for a while until the dogs stopped running and were content to stroll around next to me.

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Beeline for the water.

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Baywatch baby!

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This makes me think of an album cover.

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Playtime!

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Piper makes a new friend.

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Pack selfie.

It made my heart melt as I watched them.  I struggled to think of a way to put how I was feeling into words and I just can’t.  Words alone cannot express the sheer joy of watching them.

With coats soaked and full of sand, especially Leo, we made our way back to the car.  I’m glad I had brought a towel and dried them off as much as I could before loading them back into the car.  We had one more stop to make.

Page’s Okra Grill is a dog-friendly restaurant and we were soon seated on the patio next to a tiny puppy and across from a chow chow.  As we were seated near the exit, there was plenty of attention given to my pooped out puppies.  I wanted the true southern experience so I put myself at the mercy of my server.  Soon a plate of shrimp and grits with andouille cream sauce was placed in front of me followed by a quartet of sides: sweet potatoes, collard greens, fried okra, and succotash with some biscuits.  On a side note: I LOVE FRIED OKRA.  The food was so good and so filling I was too stuffed to even think about dessert.

It was well after dark by the time we got back to the hotel room and I had briefly thought about giving the dogs a bath to get the last of the sand out of their coats but I was so tired I basically passed out as soon as I sat down.

Southward Bound

Starting Mileage: 994.0 km

I had a very good sleep.  When I woke up I had Jack on the pillow next to me, Leo had slipped under the blankets and was tucked up against my legs, and Piper’s head was laying on my chest.  Somehow we almost always end up snuggling and when I try to get up, Piper pushes me down with her head and sometimes puts her leg across me as well.  I try to oblige the cuddles for as along as I can but eventually the road, and a rumbling tummy, forces us up.

As the Travelodge had a free breakfast, I did not have to go looking for food but I know from experience that hotel coffee is usually horrendous.  So I collected the dogs for our morning walk which somehow took us down the road to the Chocolate Moose.  As we walked past the embankment from last night, I had to shake my head.  It looked so much worse in the day light.  And then we were past the slippery slope and soon found ourselves at the Chocolate Moose.  Not only is it a coffee shop, but there’s also a climbing gym and mini golf.  Awesome.cm

I stood and stared at the menu for a while making small talk with the gentleman that I can only assume is the owner.  Finally I decided on The Mothman.  One sip and I knew I was hooked.  For life.  Coffee and chocolate and cinnamon and cayenne and whipped cream and OH MY!  I greedily gulped it down as the dogs sniffed this way and that on the way back to the hotel.

Oh and the back door that I had mentioned the night before?  Still unlocked.  The latch was embedded inside the lock so it could not be secured even when I hauled on it (which I had done last night as well).

I poured food out for the dogs then went to the breakfast area.  It was actually slightly better than I had expected but still your standard breakfast set-up: a waffle station, cereals, muffins, bagels, oatmeal, spreads, and juices, coffee, and tea.  I was disappointed that the only fruit offered were apples so I had to forgo my standard peanut butter and banana waffle-wich.  Oh well.  I made up a waffle, grabbed some grape jelly and an apple, then went back to the room.

On a side note: I love the waffle machines that hotels have.  You dispense a measured quantity of batter into a cup, then spray non-stick spray onto the waffle iron.  Pour out the batter, flip the iron and wait for the beep.  That beep tells you that your waffle is golden brown and waiting for whatever toppings you have.  For some reason, the flip makes it fun.

As I ate, I charted our route.  I’ve never been to Charleston, South Carolina so I figured that this trip, I would change that.  When I left home, I hadn’t decided if it was our end point but it would definitely be a stop that we would make.  I had heard of an app called BringFido, and for some reason, this trip was the first time I actually remembered it.  It lists dog-friendly hotels, restaurants, attractions, parks; all kinds of things to do with dogs.  So when I looked up Charleston, I noticed that there were plenty of things for a girl and her dogs to do.  One item in particular called to me and I booked my spot for that evening.  I also booked a hotel for not just one night but two.  We were going to stay put for more than one night!  And in a city!  How out of character.

With food in our bellies, I packed the dogs into the car then went to check out.  Remember that bit about the door?  OK here’s where it gets important.  I’m checking out with the assistant manager and first mention that when I booked the room, there was both a pet fee and pet deposit listed.  She told me that it was a fee.  I suggested that someone should fix that and she seemed confused until I explained that it’s conflicting information.  And then I mention the door being left unlocked.  Well she insists that it’s always locked.  Noooooooo and then I tell her that it’s open right now.  Well she calls the maintenance man to tell me that it’s locked.  I’m thinking to myself (thank goodness for the inside voice although I guess typing it now is kind of an outside voice) that it’s unlocked now and she can go and check if she wants.  No she insists that it’s always locked.

Well the maintenance man comes around and says that it’s unlocked until he locks it with a key.  This goes back and forth for a while because I think we’re all trying to explain something different.  Then finally he says that it’s unlocked until around midnight but he wasn’t working last night so he can’t say for sure but the person working last night would have locked it.  Then assistant manager makes it sound like that was what she was trying to say all along and I just shrugged my shoulders and left.  Was it a horrible place to stay?  No.  Would I stay there again?  After the song and dance routine I had to go through I would rather avoid it.  Granted if someone really wanted into the hotel, they will find a way but let’s not make it so easy.

Fighting the urge for another Mothman, I jumped back onto the interstate and headed south.  I had business in Charlotte you see.  Anyone who has been reading my blog for a while will know that I LOVE Alton Brown and his series “Feasting on Asphalt”.  If you haven’t watched it, you have to watch it.  Long story short, there are two seasons to the show: the first where he and his cohorts drive across the United States to see if authentic road food still exists.  The second season, they follow the Mississippi River.  So in the first season, one place they stopped at was the South 21 Drive-In in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Well we were going through Charlotte so I figured it as a no-brainer.

After taking a quick peek at BringFido, I found a dog park in Charlotte so the dogs could have a romp and we ended up at Frazier Park.  There are two spacious, and fenced, areas.  In fact, one area was huuuuuuuge.  There were a few other dogs in there and I brought then dogs into the space between two gates and let them sniff through the fence to see if there was going to be any tension.  Piper can be a bit…let’s say…difficult sometimes when meeting new dogs.  With lots of tail (and stump) wagging and excited licks through the fence, I let them loose.

If you’ve never watched dogs run loose in a new area, it is something that will make you smile.  They ran and jumped and chased around.  OK Jack didn’t really do that.  He waddled but it was still fun to watch him explore this new area.

I walked back and forth a few times until the dogs stayed close to me.  Jack pretty much went to where the gate was and waited for us to get close.  There were lots of balls left in there and I threw them for Leo and once he picked one up, I would grab another to throw and he’d chase after that one.  It’s a game that gets him tired quickly.

Just as we were getting ready to leave, a new dog came into entry area.  She was a little pitbull with the most stunning colour pattern I have ever seen: like a tan harlequin but different.  Anyway, when the owner opened up the inner gate a bunch of dogs rushed in, Piper being one of them.  The poor new dog ended up getting squished between the gate and fence and she protested, and rightfully so.  Well Piper decided to yell back at her and when Piper barks and kind of pounces, well she looks vicious.  When I saw the crush of dogs, I started moving to the gate but I wasn’t fast enough to call Piper back before the tiff started.  I was worried that with so many dogs in such a small space it would escalate into a full-on dog fight.  Fortunately it did not.  I tried to chat with the owner of the other dog but she wasn’t having any of it.  I get it and I don’t blame her.  On another side note: I love pitbulls.  They are wonderful dogs that unfortunately have gotten a bad name because of some bad owners.  Yes they can be aggressive and yes there are a certain kind of person that will bring out all of the negative aspects of the breed  And yes part of what makes them awesome is also what makes then (potentially) dangerous.  But I have never met a pitbull that was aggressive to humans or dogs.  I’ve been bitten by lots of other breeds from tiny chihuahuas to German Shepards.  In fact, my brother has a massive scar on his face when he was bitten by a Doberman/German Shepard cross.  I have one from a St. Bernard cross right underneath my eye.

So once everyone calmed down and had one more lap around the park, I took the dogs back to the car.  It was hot.  It was so hot.  I was glad that I had worn my convertible pants as I unzipped the lower legs and changed from my Blundstone boots to short socks and running shoes.  So this is what summer feels like.  I had forgotten what summer felt like.  Hello summer my old friend.

With clothing all sorted out, we drove to the South 21 Drive-in which was less than 15 minutes away.  I’ll admit that I had never been to a drive-in diner before but it was just like I had seen on TV: car stalls with little speakers and a tray table. Some of the stalls had picnic tables in them.  Perfect.

I hurriedly studied the menu that was posted and then pressed the button to place my order.  I thought that a Super Boy (double patty with no tomato or onion and yes I would like cheese please), an order of onion rings, and a chocolate milkshake, oh and a big cup of ice water, would be a good way to experience this establishment.  I brought the dogs out of the car and was just getting their bowl when the food appeared.  I dumped out some of the ice water into their bowl before I tucked into my burger.  It was good in an old-school diner kind of way.  And what I mean is that it is like the giant fast food chains but it actually has flavour to it.  Now I have quite the appetite so I hardly felt that it was “A meal in itself” as the menu had promised but it was good.  I will say, that while the milkshake was thick and chocolately, the best part were the onion rings.  I was a little disappointed that there were only, like, six to an order, but they were a very good six onion rings.  I’m sure they were fried but there was none of the greasiness that usually comes with fried food.  If I didn’t know better, I would have thought they were baked.  And of course the dogs had tiny pieces of the patty just to see if they liked it.  They did.  Then back in the car.

Because we didn’t have to be in Charleston until later in the evening, I decided to take the back roads between Charlotte and Charleston and it was almost 8:00 pm before I checked into the Red Roof Inn in North Charleston.  The dogs had some water and were offered food, which they ignored, and we took a quick stroll.  Some places have designated pet areas with poop bag dispensers and garbage cans.  Some just have a sign on a grassy place for pets.  This had neither.  Narrow strips of grass surrounded the property and in some parts, you could barely see the grass through the poop.  It’s not the hotel’s fault but it is unpleasant and makes me mad that people can’t clean up after their pets because it looks bad on the rest of us.

Back in the car for the drive downtown.  I plugged the address into my phone and let it tell me where to go.  The directions were simple but for some reason, what the phone calls streets and what the signs on the streets say are sometimes different.  And I missed a turn somewhere.  I wasn’t sure about it until I noticed that I was driving through a somewhat sketchy area.  Hmmmmmm dark parking lot and several high-end cars parked in an industrial area…It took me a little bit to figure out where to go but soon, we were in downtown Charleston.

My first impression?  Gorgeous.  Historic buildings, clean streets, just lovely.  I parked the car and since we had an hour to burn, we walked around a little.  I was a bit peckish and was looking for somewhere to grab a snack.  Then I got distracted looking at the scenery and forgot I was hungry until it was time to go back to Washington Park for our Ghost Tour.  That’s right.  We went on a Ghost Tour.

Our walk was through Old Charleston Tours and was 90 minutes of walking around downtown Charleston with our guide, Mike Brown, who also has a podcast series.  It was highly entertaining and he is a very engaging speaker.  For $20.00 USD, it was a great way to spend time with the dogs.  And they were so well behaved, sitting or laying down at our stops, when they weren’t getting attention from others on the tour or passersby.  We didn’t see any ghosts but we did have a wonderful time.

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Jack is not possessed. I hope.

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Did anyone tell the ghosts that?

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I love iron fences.

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No filter needed.

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Yup iron and trees.

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A theatre we passed.

After the tour, I walked around for a few more minutes to take some photos.  I was surprised at how empty the streets were even for a Tuesday night.  I think we were the only ones left out.  I drove back to the hotel (without taking the scenic route) and realized that I was STARVING.  I set out trying to find something within walking distance that was not a chain restaurant but to no avail.  Turns out, there was a diner back down the road that we had passed on the way to the hotel.

So back in the car we went to Nick’s Gyros and Philly’s.  I decided to go through the drive thru and when I got to the speaker, I ordered the chicken gyro.  Anything else?  My brain said a salad but my mouth said “shrimp po boy” before I really even knew what a shrimp po boy was.  Well it’s a sandwich roll with provolone cheese, lettuce, and sauce.  Oh yes.  When I pulled up to the window, the man working there saw Leo looking out the window and started talking to him: “hey buddy this isn’t for you” with a big smile.  OK anyone who talks to my dogs like they’re people gets big respect from me.

I tried eating the gyro in the car but it was a bit soupier than I normally like.  It was still almost gone by the time I got us back to the room.  I wasn’t sure if the po boy was a good idea but after the gyro, I was still hungry so I was glad that I got it after all because I was stuffed by the time I finished.

With the dogs sprawled out around me, I slid and twisted my way under the blankets after a very long and fun day.

The Season Begins

The weather may not be good for a road trip in Canada, but there is plenty of sun if you drive far enough south.  So with my first week of vacation this year that is exactly what I did.  For some reason, I did not prepare as much as I have in the past.  OK I’ll be honest: I think I was feeling a bit burned out and exhausted from work and just wanted to GO.  So while I packed my tent and sleeping bag, I did not have much in the way of food reserves.  I had also left my inflatable sleeping pad and stuffable pillow in my locker at work soooooooo that put a bit of damper on things.

And even though I went to bed late and completely beat, I woke up around 3:00 am.  I dozed off and on and then finally was tired of not sleeping so climbed out of bed at 4:45 am.  A leisurely breakfast of left over banana fritters (not my best work but it was a new recipe) and we were out the door at 6:00 almost on the dot.  Everything was going well until we hit traffic north of Toronto.   It really says something about infrastructure when you’re crawling along before 7:00 am.

Big shout out to Matthew Wakelee who had posted about Eternal Flame Falls (https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/44878580/posts/1318698544) and with south in our sights, it seemed like a good place to start.  But to start, we had to get there.  For some reason, when I entered Eternal Flame Falls, my phone tried to send me to Europe.  After almost throwing the stupid phone out the window, I did a bit more digging and found that the falls are in Chestnut Ridge Park.  OK so now I have a starting point.

Now anyone who has read my posts knows that I seem to have issues with getting across the border.  Don’t know why I turn into a babbling fool but this time was no exception.  I pull up to the booth and there is this gorgeous man staring back at me.  Imagine a Spanish version of Jason Statham.  On a side note, I wonder if they intentionally put the good looking staff at the border to trip you up.  So anyway, I’m trying not to humiliate myself more than I do on a regular basis as I hand over my passport.  He asks where I’m going and what I’m doing and is it just the four of you?  I almost melted when he made my dogs sound like little people.  Then “are you meeting anyone down there?” The outside voice said “no” but the inside voice added “want to change that?”  Fortunately it stayed the inside voice and soon we were through the border.

Less than 30 minutes later, I pulled into Chestnut Ridge County Park.  I put leashes on everyone then we set out looking for a map.  Hmmmm there was no map and no signs for these falls.  Finally I met a couple out walking their dog and it turns out I was at the wrong end of the park and I had to go to Seefort Road.  So back in the car and we continue on.  The next road we saw didn’t have a sign so I figured this was Seefort Road.  I drove into the park and there were signs for all kinds of things but nothing for a waterfall.  I get the dogs out of the car and head towards trees and finally I found a map.  And Seufert (not Seefort) Road is the next one down.  So back in the car we go.  Finally I see a sign for Eternal Flame Falls and I park the car.  The dogs looked at me with the “Are you sure this time?” look as I opened the door for them.  Can’t blame them for that I suppose.

The warning signs at the trailhead were encouraging (sarcasm).  The trail is an out and back that is only 0.56 miles each way.  I had read reviews about it being a tricky hike and not well marked.  At first it was muddy and rooty, just the kind of trails that we hike at home.  I found that the trail was extremely well marked with little numbered flame placards but they looked as though they were fairly new.  The trail leads down a ravine, then back up, then cuts back and down long the river.  You have to cross the river a few times which would be no big deal in the summer but in the winter, the water had frozen on the rocks leaving a slick sheet of ice on everything.  I’ll admit that I almost went down a few times and trying to navigate with the dogs on their leashes was a bit tricky.

We were picking our way over some fallen trees when we rounded a corner and there it was.  I had seen photos but actually being there left me speechless and standing awestruck.bigfallblurgroup

I stayed for a while taking photos (of course).  I loved the fact that we were the only ones there.  It is such a magical place that I wanted to imagine that we were the only ones that knew about it.  But I’m glad that we left when we did because we passed a woman and her dog who were going to the falls.  I was a little irritated that she didn’t put her dog on a leash meaning I had to pick by her across slick rocks but I was in too good a mood to be bothered much.

After that, I was in need of a cup of coffee so after a quick Yelp consult, we made our way to Bean Coffee House in North East Pennsylvania.  Yes the town is called North East.  I ordered an americano and then decided on a roasted red pepper hummus sandwich with cucumber and black olives.  The sandwich came with kettle chips and a pickle.  I was looking for some place to park and was dismayed to see parking meters everywhere.  A shame because the park would have been a nice to sit.  I had my eyes peeled for a parking lot when out of the corner of my eye I saw “Little Shop of Donuts” as I drove by.  I almost slammed my brakes right there but the car riding my rear bumper would have put an end to the trip fast.  So I drove the block wondering if my eyes had deceived me but no…there it was.  I was so excited I ended up missing the parking spots in the front and drove around the building before I launched myself at the front door.

Here’s the scoop: they have vanilla and chocolate donuts and put toppings on them to order.  I felt a tear form at the corner of my eye as I examined the menu.  A donut shop with a menu.  I decided to get two donuts and both were going to be chocolate: a Peanut Butter Cup and a Happy Camper.  One donut was covered with chocolate and peanut butter and the other got a smear of marshmallow, some chocolate, and graham crackers. Yes I know it’s selfish to get chocolate because the dogs couldn’t have any but I think the unopened pack of treats in the front seat would buy me out of any guilt they may throw at me.donutparking

I was so fixated on donuts, that I didn’t think to eat my lunch there and continued on down the road.  Or maybe I didn’t want them to watch me as I laughed maniacally while I shoved chocolate and peanut butter and marshmallow into my mouth.  After a short drive to the outskirts of town, I found an empty church lot and parked there to have my food.  The sandwich was kind of disappointing.  I really wanted to like it but the bread had that almost-toasted or slightly-stale feel to it and the toppings were pretty much piled in the centre of the bread so the edges of the sandwich were just bread.  The best part about it was the pickle.  The americano was excellent however.  I had the Happy Camper donut first.  The donut was good: light and cakey and not overwhelmed by the toppings.  I was going to save the other one for later in the day but later turned out to be less than an hour.  So it wouldn’t get stale…yeah that’s it.

Because I was limited for time, I spent longer on the interstate than I normally like to which meant that we visited a few rest stops.  For the record, Montana still has the best rest stop pet areas.  By far.  We stopped at one in West Virginia that was so thick with poop that the dogs didn’t even want to walk there.  Although I did notice that the silhouette they use for dogs is a boxer.  Strike a pose Piper.

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Not quite the same stance on the sign.

I booked a room at the Travelodge in Beckley, West Virginia.  I’ll admit that the room was cleaner than I had expected it.  Not a big fan of carpet but it’ll do.  My room was on the ground floor at the end of a hallway with a door to the lot.  The door opened to a rather secluded and concealed area that was surrounded by trees and next to a cemetery.  All of that was no big deal but the fact that the door didn’t lock was a bit concerning to me.

After a quick check on Yelp, I noticed there was a Mexican restaurant close by; just a few blocks away and on the other side of the street.  Rather than wait for the lights to cross the street, I stayed on the hotel side on what appeared to be a wide grassy strip in lieu of a sidewalk.  Well soon the grassy strip started to slope.  Next thing I know, we’re picking our way across a grade of more than 45 degrees.  So I guess I can turn a walk around the block into a hike.

By the time I walked into Campestre, I was hungry.  The kind of hungry where you don’t want to talk, you just want someone to put food in front of you.  After some quick questions, I ordered the Tapatio.  I had to wait another ten minutes so I took the dogs and we continued walking.  And then I saw something.  A sign emerging from the pools of light cast by the streetlights and passing headlights and the glow of nearby stores:  Chocolate Moose Coffee.  I was tempted.  Really tempted but decided that would be a visit best saved for the morning.

We went and picked up my food and decided that we had had enough hiking for one day so we stayed on the sidewalk and crossed at the lights at the hotel.  I sat on the bed and after toasting the days safe travels with the Road Trip bottle (Jack Daniels Honey), I opened the container to reveal chicken and ribeye steak and mushrooms and cheese and beans with flour tortillas and salsa and a sour cream with some kind of spice and fresh tortilla chips.  It was so good I barely stopped to breathe.  I would definitely go back there again.  For some reason I found the sour cream to be intriguing; perhaps because I could not quite identify the flavour.

Sleepy and satisfied, I squeezed myself between the dogs and drifted off to sleep.

Maybe Tomorrow…Until Tomorrow

You couldn’t have grown up in Canada without having heard of “The Littlest Hobo”, a show that has been on the air since October 1979.  I don’t remember it for the somewhat nebulous plot of an extremely intelligent dog that wanders from town to town to help those in need;  I remember the theme song.  I can’t tell you how many times I catch myself singing it, especially when I’m itching to get on the road.  Right now I can’t get it out of my head.

There’s a voice that keeps on calling me
Down the road, that’s where I’ll always be.
Every stop I make, I make a new friend,
Can’t stay for long, just turn around and I’m gone again

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down,
Until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on.

Down this road that never seems to end,
Where new adventure lies just around the bend.
So if you want to join me for a while,
Just grab your hat, we’ll travel light, that’s hobo style.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll want to settle down,
Until tomorrow, the whole world is my home.

So if you want to join me for a while,
Just grab your hat, we’ll travel light, that’s hobo style

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down,
Until tomorrow, the whole world is my home.

There’s a world that’s waiting to unfold,
A brand new tale no-one has ever told.
We’ve journeyed far but you know it wont be long;
We’re almost there, we’ve paid our fare with a hobo song.

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll find what I call home,
Until tomorrow, you know I’m free to roam.

So if you want to join me for a while,
Just grab your hat, we’ll travel light, that’s hobo style.

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down,
Until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on.

Until tomorrow, the whole world is my home.

  • Terry Bush (Maybe Tomorrow)
  • Lyrics by John Crossen

Staying in the Great Outdoors

You’ve been driving all day and you found an amazing area that is a perfect place to spend the night.  This is part of why I love freestyle road tripping because you may not have planned to stop at this campground but here it is and here you are and you need to sleep.  I’m going to outline how a camp stop usually works for us.  This is pretty consistent whether it’s a private campground or a state/provincial/national park.

Pick a spot:

You won’t be camping if there aren’t any spots so a stop at the office is the first thing.  If there are people working, you’ll know fairly quickly if there’s a site available.  Don’t be afraid to ask the staff member what spots they recommend.  There are places that may not look great on the map but when you actually get there, it’s pretty sweet.  Even though my dogs aren’t yappy I prefer the quieter places so I tell them right off the bat that’s what I’m after.  I don’t mind walking a bit farther to get places if it means I don’t have the water tap at the front of my site and can hear everyone coming for water at all hours (and the resultant need to pee all the time).

If the office is closed, a lot of campgrounds will have a self-service feature where you pick an available site, set up your camp, then deposit your money in a box with a permit.  I have a love/hate relationship with these.  I love being able to look at a site and see what’s around before settling.  But I hate having to go back to the front of the campground to deposit cash and then back to the site.  It’s not a big deal if the campground is small but if it’s a large campground, you’re back in the car.  If you are going to pick your site, make sure you read the map.  I was at a campground in Kansas and just skimmed over the site map.  As I drove around, I was positive that there had been more sites than the few trailer sites I was looking at.  I saw so many picnic tables and assumed they were all day sites since they didn’t have the permit posts.  Well later on I realized that they were indeed tent sites and I had missed out on primo spots.  Oh well.  We were only there to sleep and it was very quiet any way.

There some things you’ll have to consider:

Proximity to washrooms – do you have little ones that will need to make frequent visits?  Or if you’re like me and you have a bladder the size of a walnut then you’ll want to know how far the washroom is.  There are often pathways that act as shortcuts to the washrooms.  It’s nice to know if there is one that passes through your site so you won’t be surprised if you have a lot of rustling in the bushes.

Electrical hook-ups – these often come at a premium price but it may be worth it if you want to have power.

Playgrounds – If you have kids with you, you’ll likely want to be close and if you don’t then chances are you won’t.

Water taps – having one near your site is convenient but you will have a lot of traffic.  And the sound of running water at all hours.

Laundry/showers – I find that these buildings tend to be louder because they echo more but they usually get less traffic unless they are attached to the washrooms.

When I get to my spot, the first thing I do is let the dogs out of the car and put them on the tie-out.  I fill their bowls with water and lay out a blanket or towel for them before I do anything else.  Usually they sniff around, have a drink, and plop down to watch me.

Most sites have an area that has been used for the tent, and some even have a designated spot.  It’s important to pick up any rocks and debris and then figure out the slope of the site.  I sometimes use the tent sac, laying it out flat and then dribble some water to see which way it flows if the slope is not obvious.  Once that’s done, orient the tent with the highest point where your head will be.  Screw that up once and you’ll never mess it up again.

With the tent up, I first put in my sleeping pad and inflate it, putting it against the back.  Then the dog’s pad goes in and I cover that with the old sheet that I keep in the back seat of the car.  I tuck the sheet under my pad and bring it to the door before folding the excess back over.  It’s just one more layer of comfort for the dogs and protection for the floor.  Then I have to shoo Leo away since this is when he tries to sneak in as I bring my sleeping bag and their blankets inside.

Once the tent is set-up, we go for a walk around the campground.  First thing is to orient ourselves to the washroom and any other amenities available.  We’ll go for a hike if there are trails and time permitting, which gives us all a chance to stretch our legs.  Rarely, very rarely, we find a campground with an off-leash area and I let them run as long as they want to.

Once everyone is good and tired, we head back to our site.  I dish out their kibble and then turn my thoughts to my meal as I have a nip from the Road Trip Bottle (to toast our safe arrival of course).  For some reason I usually have left over pizza so I’ll often eat that by lantern light.  If there are no leftovers, then I set out my stove and will fix something.  This is where I’m thankful for the foodie tendencies that lead me to overpack food.  Most of the time I’ll make a pack of ramen noodles or noodle dish (think Sidekicks) and add some dried mushrooms or chicken or even beef jerky.  I always always always make sure to pick up any spilled kibble and put all the food and dishes back into the trunk of the car.  I NEVER bring any kind of food item into the tent even when we’re not in bear country.  It’s not a good habit to let yourself get into.

Then I will unzip the tent and try to hold back the tide of dogs that want to rush in before I’ve unclipped their leashes.  I leave the clips at the door so that when I wake up, I can unzip the door and clip the leashes while the door to the fly is still closed so they can’t bolt off.

Once I’ve changed into my sleeping clothes, I’ll have to push Piper and Leo both off of my sleeping bag and then try and keep Leo out of my sleeping bag and Piper from squeezing me off my pad.  By this time, Jack will have most of the blankets piled up underneath him as he just watches the spectacle.

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You didn’t want me to move did you?

The dogs are usually asleep before I am but they are quick to wake up if they hear something outside.  I usually sit up for a little bit and jot down any extra notes from the day’s travels or read a bit or plan out the route for the next day.  Not only will I have a lantern in the tent (either the small one from the ceiling or the big one next to me) but I’ll have my headlamp, cellphone, and pocket knife tucked in the pocket next to my head. I don’t keep the knife there so much for defence but in case I have to get out of the tent in a hurry; like if it gets blown over or in the off-chance a bear starts poking around.  Neither of those cases have happened but if I can be prepared, then I will be prepared.

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Tuckered out puppies.  Never mind Leo’s crazy eyes

At home, I will sleep in until the crack of noon but when we’re camping I’m often up before the sun.  I’ll take the dogs for a good long walk once it’s light enough to see where we’re going.  I’ll fill the dogs water bowls and pour out their food before I get my food going.  Breakfast for me is often oatmeal with whatever dried fruit and nuts tickle my fancy.  I’ll often boil a pot of water then use some of that for tea and dump a few pouches of instant oatmeal into what’s left.

Once our whole two dishes are washed, I’ll pack up camp which is the reverse of the set-up.  I usually take them for one last walk after the car is packed up unless it’s a campground that we are in a rush to get out of.  There have been a few that I was happy to see in my rearview that’s for sure.

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Getting comfy as they wait for me to finish.

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Camping on Mars (or Arizona).

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Morning in Arizona.

Think that staying in a hotel is a piece of cake?  My next post will have a few survival tactics that have come in handy and had to be learned the hard way.

Looking to “Ruff” it?

I love to camp.  I love being outside in nature and having the chance to explore the wilderness.  It’s also cheaper than a hotel so financially it helps on cross-country trips.  I’m lucky the dogs like to camp as much, if not more, than I do so I try to spend as many nights camping as possible.  The only times that we stay in a hotel is if the forecast is calling for rain or if the temperature looks like it’s going to drop too much for my delicate little ones.  Wet dogs in a small tent is something that I try to avoid as much as possible as well as frozen pup-sicles.  And there have been a few times when I haven’t been able to find a campground so we hotel by default.

So if camping is in the plan, here is some of the gear that you’ll want to pack.

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The trunk all packed up clockwise from top left: towel, sleeping bag, bins of food, safety kit, sleeping pad, tent and poles, poop bags, bug spray and sunblock, backpack, camping stove and fuel (in the bag), nalgene bottles, gas can, bag with ropes and spare leashes.

Tent:

You need to sleep somewhere.  There are so many options for tents these days that the only limit is your imagination and finances.  Most stores with a sporting section sell some kind of tent and you can get one for cheap if you just want something to use once a year but if you’re looking to use it often or in more rugged areas, I’d suggest going to an actual outdoor store.  I find that the quality is usually better and they often have some set up which means you can climb in and feel it out.  I once spent close to an hour crawling in and out of tents, laying down, and kneeling to see what they were like.  It’s one thing to read the base measurements but when you actually experience the size, you get a whole different sense of it.  If you go with friends it can be really fun (I’m serious about both trying it out and having a tent party in the store).

There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re going out to buy a tent or you have a few to choose from:

The number of people (and dogs) in your party – most tents will say how many people fit in the tent but I would suggest using that only as a guideline since that has everyone squished right next too each other and you may not want to get that close to your travel companions while you sleep.  It also does not account for any gear or other things you would keep in your tent.

The size of the people in your party – if you have someone that is very tall, make sure the tent is long enough to accommodate them with some space on either end to allow for the inevitable shift that always seems to happen overnight and so they are not pressed directly against the tent walls.

Duration in your tent (staying put or moving every day) – If you’ll be setting up your tent as a base of operations for days at a time, you’ll likely want something a bit more roomy than just a place to lay your head every night before packing back up.

Weather – While most tents are good for three seasons, if you’re heading out into the snow, you’ll want a tent that’s a bit more robust.

Ease of set-up – I remember the tents of my youth being heavy fabric and multi-piece tent poles that you had to assemble before several people had to work together to actually pitch the tent.  Most tents that I have seen lately have shock cord poles that snap together and allow a tent to be set up in no time.  I have seen some tents that only require you to throw them out and stake them down.  I’m a big believer in the less complicated the better.

Packed size/weight – if you’re just moving the tent in your car, there’s more leeway was far as size but if you’re heading into the back country, you’ll want the smallest and lightest tent you can find.  If you’ll be sharing with other people, you can divide the various components between you to share the load.

I have the Wanderer 2 from Mountain Equipment Co-op.  This is a two-person tent that has enough room for me and the three dogs with a little bit of extra space for my pack.  There are pockets on either side of both doors, a loop in the roof for a lantern, and loops to attach an extra storage sling.  The fly forms two vestibules over the doors which allows for extra storage.  Some tents have a footprint that acts as a base layer, adding an extra level of insulation and protection from the ground.  I usually use the footprint which provides a sort of floor in one vestibule which helps to reduce some of the dirt that the dogs track in.  I’ve had this tent for about six years and it still looks like new.  One of the best things about it is how easy it is to pitch by myself since the dogs aren’t very helpful.

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Our site in Blue Mound State Park in Minnesota.

Sleeping bag/pads:

I recommend getting a sleeping bag that is rated for lower temperatures than you think you’ll encounter.  You can always unzip and hang parts of your body out but when you’re putting every article of clothing on just so you can sleep, it makes for a very unpleasant night.

Sleeping bag styles are highly personal and there are a lot of options out there.  I have several sleeping bags but my go-to is a synthetic down mummy bag.  The dogs don’t like this one so much because it doesn’t allow a lot of space for snuggling.  When we’re staying in an area that’s going to be warm for the duration of the trip, I have a larger rectangular sleeping bag.  Because it is bigger, I usually have at least one dog sharing the space with me which makes it even warmer.

I have an inflatable sleeping pad that I use for me and a foam sleeping pad that I put down for the dogs, mostly for their comfort but also to protect the floor of the tent from sharp nails.

Stove:

Stoves, like tents, can be as simple or as complicated as you like.  I only have one stove since I’ve only ever had to feed myself.  It is by a company called Trangia and what I like about it is how simple and compact it is.  The entire unit packs small and there are no parts that I have to worry about breaking.  It uses methylated spirits as fuel which is cheap and can be found anywhere.  All you do is pour some fuel into the fuel cup and light that.  A simmering ring fits on top of the cup that controls the temperature.  It’s quiet and foolproof.  And I can eat directly out of the cooking pot so there’s less dishes to do.  It’s a win-win situation.

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Breakfast in Minnesota.  We had to use bottled water because the camp’s water was not drinkable when we were there.

Utensils and dishes:

If you’re going to be cooking, you’re going to need things to manipulate your food in the pot and get your food into your face hole.  I have a set of camping utensils that are light weight and have a clip to keep them together but I usually only break those out if I’m going in the back country when weight is a serious consideration.  I usually just grab a fork, spoon, and paring knife that I don’t mind if I lose or damage and put them in one of the food bins.  And I pack a folding spatula for cooking.

If you’re cooking for multiple people, you’re obviously going to want to bring at least one plate for everyone.  You can get deep plates that will do double duty as bowls as well.  I know that camping instantly brings up thoughts of metal dishes but if you have young ones with you, you may want to avoid metal as little fingers tend to forget about hot surfaces.

I would suggest packing one plate, one fork, one spoon, and one cup per person.  A bowl if you’ve planned for soup or cereal unless you’ve got the deep plate.  As far as knives, you can get by with one big knife that everyone uses to cut their food with if you don’t want to pack a knife for everyone.  I also like to pack light in the dish department because it makes clean up a bit easier.  I’ve found that if you bring it, you’re likely to use it.

Since some campgrounds don’t have a washing station, you’ll want to bring a basin of some sort to clean your dishes as well as biodegradable soap and a scrub of some kind.  If there is a designated cleaning area, please make sure you use it as it limits contamination and helps to protect wildlife.  Yes you may have to lug your stuff but imagine if the person who used the site before you dumped their dirty wash water within spitting distance of where you would be camping.  Food particles rot and that rot can smell and that smell can attract animals.  Need I say more?

If you’re in a place with no designated area, perhaps back country or public land, make sure you dump your wash water far from water sources and your tent.  If you’re not sure about proper back country etiquette, there are plenty of sites to do a bit of research.  And if you are, it may be a good refresher at the start of the season.

Hatchet:

Yes it’s good for the obvious chopping of wood but turn it over and you’ve got a hammer for driving tent pegs.  Scrape your wood and you’ve got tinder for your fire.  Heck it’s good in an emergency if you need to smash glass to help someone in an accident or cut branches for a splint which is why I keep my hatchet right at the front of my trunk for ease of access.

Lighter/Matches:

Why chop wood if you’re not going to light a fire?  I don’t usually have fires but there have been a few times when I’m glad I did.  There is something so soothing about sitting in the growing dusk with a fire crackling away.  And if you’re in a place with no cell service, it gives you something to do until bed time.  And you’ll need some source of ignition if you’re using a stove.

Lantern:

When it gets dark out, you’ll want some means to find your way around your site.  Or it can be a surrogate if you don’t start a fire.  There are even little ones that can be hung from the ceiling of a tent.  Lanterns aren’t strictly essential since you can use a flashlight for the same thing (which of course you have packed in the car) but I like being able to plunk it down on a table or in the tent and read or write out the adventures of the day.  And if you have people with you, can you beat it for a game of cards?

Tarps or screened tents:

If you’re going to be stationary for a bit, these are invaluable for covering your area in case of rain that will keep you huddled in your tent.

Other stuff:

A deck of cards is pretty much mandatory if there’s more than one person.  Flip flops for the shower.  Spare toilet paper because…well you never know.

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You didn’t want me to move did you?

Because this post got a bit long, I’ll do my camping routine in a separate post.