I Ate my Weight in Donuts

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

It was a rough night for sure.  Piper insisted on sleeping with her face next to mine on the back of the seat.  It sounds really sweet and it is…until she snorts and you get dog snot all over the side of your face.  And then there’s Leo who may be little but he sure likes to take up a lot of space.  I found myself perched on the edge of the seat pressed up against the door more than once with Leo resting comfortably next to me.  Then there’s Jack, the always watchful guard dog.  Any sound from close outside and I’d hear a low rumbling growl from the seat next to me.  When the sky started to grow light, I gave up on any thoughts of sleep and took the dogs for a walk around the campground.  I was still a bit confused as there were no individual sites marked but as we were moving on, I wasn’t too concerned.  It seemed like a nice campground and was well above the flooded river.  I poured food out for the dogs and once they had eaten their breakfast, I loaded them back into the car and we headed back into town.  When we got to the road, I saw the sign for our refuge for the evening: Randolph County State Recreation Area.

We made our way back to the Great River Road and just as we were about to cross the Mississippi River again, we found a statue for what I imagine would be Chester Illinois’ greatest export: Popeye the Sailor Man.  That’s right, Popeye’s creator was from Chester.  Well I’m not a fan of canned spinach (shudder) but I am a big fan of baby spinach and that’s close enough for me.  As I was taking photos of the dogs, a farmer’s market was being set up in the lot of the visitor’s centre behind us and we scanned the early offerings.  I left with a beautiful basket of strawberries and I was busily devouring them as soon as we were back on the road and headed into Missouri.

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


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The river from the edge of Chester.

Strawberries alone will not keep a person fuelled and with the less than fulfilling sleep I soon found myself in desperate need of caffeine and I made my way into Perryville.  Coffee beckoned but I was met by roadblock after roadblock.  What kind of villainy stands in the way between this intrepid traveller and the much needed boost of coffee?  The banners and posters proclaimed that I had arrived in the midst of Maydays.  Had I been planning on staying for a day or two, I would have hung around.  Alas, that was not in the plan and I parked the car as close as I could and walked to Villainous Grounds.  Imagine a sweet coffee chop and comic book store all rolled up in one place.  It was like heaven to this nerd traveller and I lingered longer than I needed to chat with the locals.  I learned that there was going to be a solar eclipse in August and Perryville was in the middle of the path of the eclipse so come August, the entire town will be crammed full of people.  Farmers have even left fields unplanted so they can rent out space for tents.  Brilliant if I do say so.  With a chocolate cheesecake latte in hand (a-freaking-mazing), we were soon back on the road and headed for St. Louis.

Now Feasting on Asphalt went through St. Louis twice: in the first season, they stopped at Ted Drewes for frozen custard.  We had also stopped at Ted Drewes on the way through last September.  In the second season of Feasting on Asphalt, they stopped at several donut shops because apparently the citizens of St. Louis LOVE donuts.  I also enjoy donuts so this was going to be a donut visit.  I decided that we would stop at three donut places: two that had been featured on Feasting on Asphalt and a third to be determined.

As we were heading into St. Louis, and what promised to be donut nirvana, I saw a large park so I decided to give the dogs a bit of a stretch.  I had planned to keep them on leash, but when I saw signs that said dogs have to have a leash not on leash, well they went for a run.  If you’re going to have ambiguous signage, folks like me are going to take advantage of it.  We didn’t wander too long because it was getting really warm.  As the dogs were re-hydrating, I planned out my visits and when I saw a place called Ex Cop Donut Shop that was an obvious starting point.  How could I not go to a place called Ex Cop Donut Shop?  I strapped the dogs back into the car and off we went.

We were pulling into the lot of Ex Cop Donut Shop.  The sign said that it should be open.  It wasn’t.  I’ll admit that I threw a little bit of a temper tantrum.  There may have even been some choice language.  OK.  Next place.

Donut Drive-in was one of the places on Feasting on Asphalt and I was happy to see that they were fairly close by.  It was also close to Ted Drewes and it was a hot day…There was a short line-up out the door of Donut Drive-in but it moved fairly quickly.  Then it was my turn and even though I had been standing in line and eying the donut selection, when the young man behind the counter asked what I wanted, I panicked and asked him to just give me half a dozen of what his choice.  When I took the box from him, I momentarily questioned my sanity.  What the hell was I thinking?!  But when I snuck a peek as I walked back to the car, the smell of yeasty sugary goodness was like a comfortable blanket. I brought the dogs out of the car and we sat on the grass under the closest thing to shade we could find.  I ate two donuts so fast that I couldn’t remember what they were.  They were good.  Very different from the light offerings in Natchez; these were much more dense and substantial and more like a traditional donut.  Feeling satisfied, I looked up the hours for Ted Drewes and sadly they were not open yet.  I’ll confess I wasn’t too disappointed as there were more donuts to eat and we set back out on the road to World’s Fair Donuts.

donut drivein

I should have taken photos of the goods.  Call it donut brain.

World’s Fair Donuts is in a bit of a tricky spot to get to especially with nearby construction but we successfully navigated our way into the parking lot.  When I walked in, I was surprised when I was greeted by a rather rotund bulldog at the door.  She looked as though she had developed a taste for donuts as well, a dog after my own heart.  Having taken the edge off my donut craving, I asked the woman at the counter to just give me two donuts.  She seemed a bit surprised by the request but she soon handed me a bag and said that she thinks I’ll like these.  I went to get the dogs and we again sat on in a shady patch of grass at the side of the property and I opened my bag.  One glazed number was filled with a jam, strawberry I think.  It was good but there was barely any jam inside so it was just a small divot of flavour.  Now the other donut was interesting: it had a definite lemon flavour and what seemed like some kind of a crunch on top.  It was really good.

As I let the donuts settle, I scanned for the next stop and when I saw Vincent Van Donut my mind was made up.  I guess I’m a sucker for fun and whimsical names.  When I parked the car next to Vincent Van Donut, I felt a sort of familiarity and I paused to look around.  For some reason, the area reminded me of Toronto with kind of an artsy area in the midst of gentrification.  I’m not sure if that’s accurate but it didn’t matter; there were donuts to be had.  Then I stepped inside and realized that the vibe was more like Ottawa and Suzy Q donuts for these were artisnal donuts staring back at me from inside the cases.  Large offerings of sweet donuts next to savory donuts beckoned but I settled for a maple bacon donut, the last one.  And an americano to wash it down.

While the dogs were eager to help me, the maple glaze had a bit of cayenne pepper which lent a delicious kick but I felt would wreak havoc on little puppy tummies so I gave them teeny nibbles of unglazed donut and little bits of bacon which seemed to ease their hurt feelings.  It was a struggle to swallow the last few bites but I managed.  With the coffee clutched in hand, I took the dogs for another short walk, partly to check the area but mostly to ease my sense of total gluttony.  It was a very short walk as the day was getting hotter.  We stayed on the shady side of the streets but soon retreated to the comfort of air conditioning as we headed out.

When I saw the Cahokia Mounds were a short distance away, I crossed back into Illinois.  These were the largest mounds of the Mississippian culture left and if I had been impressed by the second largest mounds at Emerald Mound, well then I had to check out the largest.

Blew my mind.  Mounds rose up from the flat ground on either side of the highway and then I saw Monks Mound, the largest of them all.  The steady stream of people going to and from the top of the mound was in direct contrast to the other mounds we had visited.  There were even people using the stairs to work out.  We hiked to the top and I paused to admire the view and give the dogs a chance to sniff and rest a bit before we went back to the parking lot.  There was next to no shade at the top except the little bits found under benches so we didn’t linger too long.  There was far more shade in a stand of trees next to the lot and we sat in the grass as I encouraged the dogs to drink as much as they wanted.  Of course they would rather socialize then drink so I eventually gave up and we got back into the car.

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It doesn’t really look like much but do you see those people on top in the middle?


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Taking a break at the top.


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Looking back at St. Louis.


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No wonder people use these for a work out.

I was going to stop in Alton because, well it’s Alton.  But I just couldn’t bear the thought of eating anything at that point and it was so hot I wanted to keep the dogs in the cool car for a bit longer rather than go traipsing along more hot concrete.  So we continued on.alton

And then we got to Nauvoo.  Not only does it have a fun name, but it is also home to Illinois’ oldest winery which had been featured on Feasting on Asphalt.  I owed it to everyone to stop.  Several things made me happy that we stopped: they sell wine, they serve wine, and dogs are allowed on the patio.  I sampled a few wines and selected a sweet concord.  Then I learned that they used the same wine to make a slushie.  My ears perked right up.  A wine slushie!?  I practically tore the door off the hinges when I left the store area and went to the bar area in the next building.  I ordered my slushie and then decided to get a pizza, chicken bacon ranch please.  I took a table on the patio in between the two buildings, surprised and delighted that I was the only one out there, and retrieved the dogs.  After guzzling some of the water I poured out for them, they were soon flopped out around me.  I’m really happy that they are so comfortable on patios but it made me wonder if I take them to too many patios.  I shrugged the thought off as I took a sip of my slush.  When the pizza arrived, I was in patio heaven.

I had seen a sign for a state park and found it within walking distance of the winery. Had I thought things through, I could have set up camp and then walked to the winery.  It’s probably better that I didn’t do that since I would have just had more wine slushies.  There was no staff working, no permits in the permit box, and zero for cell reception to book online so I just went and found a site to set up camp.  There were plenty of available sites and none had reserved signs so I decided to chance it.  As I was slowly pitching my tent, I was dismayed to see that we had some hitchhikers: more lone star ticks from our campsite in Natchez, Mississippi.  Despite my best efforts to get them off the tent, when we all piled inside, I could still see some walking across the tent.  And even though it was still light out I was soon asleep, the long day and poor sleep the night before having taken it’s toll on me.  I think I may have even been asleep before the dogs.

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.

baldmonkey

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.

gator

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.

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.

In Search of the Yellow Brick Road

Day Three

Starting mileage: 1579.0

It seems that long days of travel are good for my sleep and the alarm jolted me awake.  We went for a short walk around the motel and as the dogs ate their breakfast, I turned to Yelp to find mine.  There were two highly recommended places and after getting a little lost, I finally found myself in front of Hometown Bakery (902 State Highway N, Warrenton, MO).  In fact it would have been difficult to drive past it as I could smell the sweet aroma of baking from inside my car.  When I walked inside I was brought to a sudden and immediate halt as I faced not one but three display cases of baked goods.  Two it seemed held nothing but donuts.  My ordering of breakfast became a shameful display of pointing at various donuts and then, almost as an after thought, I ordered the egg, bacon, and cheese breakfast sandwich.  I had been so consumed with the donuts that I didn’t ask about the sandwich.  I doctored my coffee and giggled about the sinful box of donuts sitting on the counter as I waited for the wrapped sandwich.  I was a short distance and several deep sips of coffee away before I unwrapped the sandwich and found that it was on a croissant!  I destroyed that and two donuts in no time.

Now I wasn’t too far down the road when I started to see signs for KC Baby Back Ribs.  Apparently, according to the signs, they were voted the best ribs.  So even though I was still feeling quite full from breakfast, when I saw the exit for ribs, I had to take it.  I was a little perturbed by the lack of smoke coming from the building, which I had learned from my trip to North Carolina, was one of the calling cards of an old school BBQ pit.  I did not let that stop me from ordering the six rib platter with BBQ beans and green beans.  Hey I needed some vegetables of some kind.  The ribs were meaty and flavourful and came with sauce on the side.  The beans were outstanding and even the green beans had meat in them!  The dogs enjoyed the samples that they had so you know it’s a good spot.

As we continued west we passed by the stadium for the Kansas City Royals.  But we had not crossed the border into Kansas yet.  I thought we had missed signs for the border but it seems as though Kansas City stretches into Missouri, a fact that had me quite confused.

It was hot in Kansas.  We stopped at a rest stop to stretch our legs and walk off some of the breakfast and ribs.  There was a tall hill at the back of the stop and we climbed to the top to see the view, finding a large statue called “Guard of the Plains” at the top.  I did not expect to find anything when we emerged from the trees and I let the dogs sniff around before making our way back to the car and the road.

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The view from the top.

Now initially I did not pay much attention to the signs for Wamego but then I started to notice the “Wizard of Oz” pictures on the signs.  I wasn’t planning to stop but somehow the car made the decision for me and I ended up in downtown Wamego.  I would have kicked myself if someone had asked if I had stopped and I had told them that I did not.  I drove up the Oz Museum and found it…under renovation.  And then I saw the Oz Winery.  With it still being quite hot out and nowhere to tie the dogs up, I rolled the windows down and ran inside.

“I have 30 seconds to buy wine what do you have?”  The women behind the counter seemed to be stunned at this crazy-looking person who just launched herself into the middle of their storefront ranting about wine.  I left in mere minutes with a bottle of Muscat called “Fraidy Cat”.  It would have nice to sample all the Oz-themed wines but I left with the bottle untasted.

 

 

A short time later I saw signs for coffee and gourmet foods at Grandma Hoerners Foods and with the dogs safely stowed I tasted samples of everything and left with a jar of marmalade and a coffee which went really well with another two donuts.

It was getting late and I was happy when I saw a sign for Cedar Bluff State Park.  By this time, the staff had left so I had to do the self-registration.  Now when I skimmed over the signs, I missed the part that said “designated sites” so when I went to pick my site, I only saw some with marking posts.  I was surprised by all of what I thought were picnic sites but after I had set my tent up in the area where the only other campers were (all in trailers) and went back up to submit my money, I realized that all those spots were other possible campsites.  Part of the confusion was because there was only one campground  with a sign.  Oh well.  It was a nice campground with very spacious sites and a reservoir right in front of my site.

It wasn’t until I had poured food out for the dogs that I realized that I hadn’t eaten since the donuts several hours before.  Oddly, I was not hungry.  At all.

 

It was still very hot out and the tent soon heated right up with the three dogs.  I soon had the screens open and the vents on the fly unzipped but it made almost no difference.  I ended up kicking out of my sleeping bag and was trying to figure out a way to create some space from the boxer that kept snuggling up to me without hurting her delicate feelings.  I failed and ended up with her head resting on my shoulder as I tried to get to sleep.

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Watching the sun set.

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I had to stop for this photo.

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I love this tree for some reason.

Through Michigan and Beyond

Starting mileage: 620.0 km

I slept like a champ and then took the dogs for a quick walk.  We were walking by a furniture store and saw a sign posted in what looked like a loading dock that said “No Parking Except for Bob”.  I wanted to wait until later and ask who Bob was and why he got to park there.

The next order of business was breakfast.  A quick consultation with Yelp pointed me towards Zingerman’s Bakehouse, which it turned out, was pretty close to the hotel.  It’s tucked away in an industrial-looking plaza so it’s not likely a place that you will stumble across.  I walked in and was transfixed by the pane of glass that separated the retail side from the production side.  Apparently scenes from the movie “The Five-Year Engagement” were filmed there.  I wanted to press my face to the glass and just watch but more pressing things needed to be taken care of: namely a coffee and chocolate croissant.  The coffee was good for drip and the chocolate croissant…well…it wasn’t bad it just wasn’t how I normally like my croissants.  I like flakey and buttery and melt-in-your-mouth.  This was more crisp and toasty.  It was still a great breakfast and I devoured it as I guided the car back onto the highway.

And pretty soon we were in Coloma, Michigan at The Chocolate Garden.  It was exactly as I had remembered it, right to the rows of jars waiting with shards of chocolate on the shelves.  There were so many packages of truffles that I stood and lingered for a while after selecting some to take to my grandmother for her birthday.  I hesitated at the counter and thought about buying a mocha for myself but decided against it.

I pointed the car south towards St. Louis, Missouri, stopping only to fuel the car and snack on a few slices of last night’s pizza as I walked the dogs.  They were less than impressed that I made them walk instead of sharing with them.

Another small confession: I am a HUGE fan of Alton Brown, the host of Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” and “Iron Chef: America” and a previous show called “Good Eats”.  He also had a short lived series called “Feasting On Asphalt”.  “Feasting on Asphalt” was a show about road trips and finding true American road food.  There were two seasons: the first was about Alton and his crew travelling across the United States from the east coast in South Carolina to the west coast in California.  Season two had the group follow the Mississippi River from Louisiana to it’s headwaters in Minnesota.  Now you may wonder why I mention this.  First of all, my Standard Road Trip Rules were inspired by this series.  Not the road trip bottle; that’s all mine.  The other reason is that there were some places that I was going to be close to and felt that I had to stop at.  One of those places happened to be in St. Louis at a place called Ted Drewes Frozen Custard.

I went to the original location on Chippewa Street and after studying the menu at the walk-up window, ordered the S’mores concrete.  It was a little selfish of me since the dogs would not be able to have any because of the chocolate in it but I figured they would have plenty of other opportunities to share.  I am so glad I stopped because the frozen custard is so good and it doesn’t even come close to a blizzard or Mc Flurry.  It’s creamy and rich and well worth the stop.

I had originally planned to head out of the city but then figured I had to go see the Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis.  The only downside was that the entire area around the Arch was under construction.  It was still pretty incredible though and we ended up walking around a lot longer than I had planned.  I love historic areas and parts of it reminded me of the Distillery District in Toronto.

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Standing on the bank of the Mississippi River.

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Even Lewis and Clark travelled with a dog.

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The old and the new.

It was almost dark by the time we left downtown.  On one hand I was kicking myself for taking so long but on the other hand, I had really enjoyed the walk so I wasn’t too upset.  I had seen signs for campsites before we arrived in St. Louis but as we left, I didn’t see any so decided to get a room rather than continue in the dark.

We ended up at the Relax Inn in Warrenton and curled up as I finished the pizza.

Note:  The bandanas the dogs were wearing are courtesy of HOGdog Swag.  Visit the site on Etsy or check Facebook and Instagram to pick patterns and sizes for fully customized, reversible bandanas.

Time For One Last Trip

With the summer coming to an end, it was time for one last trip.  The priority was to go see my grandparents in Manitoba but me being me, well you know I was going to take the scenic route.

Now I was on nights when my vacation started and with an upcoming transfer, I ended up losing a couple of days so I had to make the most of the time available.  I came home Sunday morning and was able to get a few hours sleep before dragging my rear out of bed and loading the car.  The dogs knew that something was up and Piper was practically singing as she danced by the door.  When I picked up the harnesses for the boys, Jack started spinning and yipping and Leo jumped into his harness.

Standard road trip rules would apply with one small alteration: we had to cover a lot of ground to get to where I wanted to go so unfortunately there was more time going to be spent on interstates than I would have liked.  The road trip bottle was Casamigos Tequila. Hey if its made by George Clooney it’s worth a shot (get it?  Shot?)

We set off later than I had wanted to but since we didn’t have a whole day, I wasn’t as concerned as I normally am when we have to beat traffic.  I’m finally getting better crossing the border but even so, I was still questioned as she studied the dog’s records.  Not so much about what I was doing but how I was travelling with three dogs and tenting.  She shook her head as she handed my paperwork back to me and waved me through.

I was making my way through Michigan but my mind kept going to The Chocolate Garden. I had been there last year and it was some of the best chocolate I have ever had, and let me tell you: I have had A LOT of chocolate.  I kept telling myself it wasn’t worth the detour but then, just outside of Toledo, Ohio I made the decision to turn around.  I mean, isn’t that part of what road trips are all about? Isn’t that what the AdventureDawgs are all about?  Open roads and going where we want?  Hell YAAAAAAAAA.  Now I knew that we weren’t going to make it before they closed, but we could be all set up for a stop first thing in the morning.

Since I was still tired and a bit groggy, I decided to get a hotel room.  When I saw a Red Roof Inn nearby, I thought perfect.  I’ve always had great experiences with them.  When I booked through Expedia, I noticed that there was a two dog limit but booked anyway.  Like I said, I’ve never had issues before.  So I saunter on in and as I’m getting booked in, I mention that I’ve got the dogs.  Well the woman working at the counter tells me they only allow one dog.  When I mentioned that the site says two she quite emphatically told me they can only allow one dog.  I tried to explain that the dogs have been in Red Roofs all across the country but I got shut down again.

Now allow me to clarify one thing: I know I broke a rule and I got caught.  That’s not what had me peeved.  I was bothered by the fact that the site says one thing and she was saying something else and would not even listen to anything I said.  She wasn’t rude but she also wasn’t helpful and was quite dismissive to everything I tried to say.  Frustrating to say the least.  I don’t know; maybe I’m being too judgemental.

So I got on the phone and soon Expedia had me hooked up with another place.  What a pain.  So I cracked into my fresh bottle of tequila and tucked into the first of many pizzas of the trip.

A Trip to The County – Day 3

Starting mileage: 422.7

I woke up squished into some bizarre Tetris-like shape in the morning.  I’m not sure who was where but I know I was not alone on the bed.  I took all of the dogs outside and made friends with Alaska.  Of course, it’s not hard to be friends with a lab; all you have to do is throw a ball…over and over and over and over and over.

I went with my friends for breakfast at the Picton Harbour Inn and if you’re in the area, I highly recommend it.  The portions are huge and the food is great.  It’s a small dining room so don’t be surprised if you end up waiting for a bit.  Trust me: it’s worth it.

After we got back, I loaded up the dogs and headed out with directions to Huycks Bay.  I wanted to get one last swim in before leaving the County.  And the bay did not disappoint.

A long backroad abruptly ended at a thick band of trees and when we followed the short trail, we found ourselves on the now-familiar rock beach.  There were a few people close to the trail but we walked a short distance past them and I let the dogs play in the water.  I think sometimes they run in the water just to see the splashes.  IMG_7342

It’s fun to watch how they all take to the water differently.  Jack likes to wade in chest deep and then sit down which I find odd since he will often find the hottest part of the yard and go to sleep.  Piper does this funny snuffle in the ground with her hind end in the air and then starts running around trying to get someone to play with her.  And Leo just runs around being a pesky little brother.

I sat in the shade for a while until all three of the dogs came back to sit with me, each one dropping down onto the rocks panting their little hearts out.  We slowly walked back to the car with me hoping they would dry quickly.  Piper and Leo did with their nice thin coats.  Jack’s course puggy coat is like a sponge so he was still fairly damp as I put his harness on. Fortunately either he doesn’t stink or I’ve become accustomed to wet dog.  Either way, back on the road.

But not for long.  I saw a sign for Picnic Food Truck.  I had to check it out.  The truck was parked at Rose Hall Winery.  Now first off, I did not sample the wares this time.  Partially because there was a crowd of people.  I happened to pick the day that there was a play being held at the winery and I happened to arrive right before it started.  But the women working the bar outside were just all over the dogs, offering to get us water and a bowl for them, filling my water bottle.  Amazing.

At their recommendation, I ordered the fried chicken sandwich.  It was a long wait, much longer than the 15 minutes they said it would be.  I wasn’t the only one peeved at the wait times, as some people’s orders weren’t ready before the play started.  The wait wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I hadn’t watched a friend of someone in the truck place their order after me then get their food way before me.  I get that you’re friends and all but at least don’t make it so obvious.  I watched him walk away with a chicken sandwich and thought “What the …?”  Or maybe it was the owner or an investor.  Either way, it sucked.

When I finally got my sandwich, I took it over to a picnic table overlooking the vineyard and took a bite.  It was…okay.  Just okay.  Maybe it would have tasted better with a glass of wine.  I didn’t bite into it and feel the earth move.  Maybe I just got my hopes up too high.  The chicken was crispy.  The bun was good.  The mayo was nice.  It was just all…okay.

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Fried chicken sandwich from Picnic.

We drove back to the 401 and made our way westbound.  I toyed with the idea of stopping for donuts again but when I thought back to everything I had eaten over the past couple of days, I decided that I would save the donuts for another time.

I was stopped at a light after we left the highway and reached back to pet the dogs.  Big stretch for Piper, then a sweep back and okay there’s Leo.  I waved my hand around.  Where’s Jack?  I snuck a peek and saw that Jack had worked his way onto the floor of the backseat.  He was still in his harness, just stretched out on the floor.  When he saw me looking at him, he wagged his tail then closed his eyes and went to sleep.  He’s done it before and seems to like it since he will jump back up on the seat if he wants to.  I can’t imagine that it’s comfortable but if that’s how he wants to ride…

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I have no idea how this is comfortable…

That evening we parked the car and the dogs quickly found their sleeping spots while I unloaded the car.  It’s the part of road trips that I like the least since it signals the end of the ride.  I unpacked the least amount that I had to and sat on the couch and soon found myself surrounded by sleeping dogs as I closed my eyes for a rest.

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She didn’t seem to mind that I stood up.

Finishing mileage: 682.2

A Trip to the County – Day 2

Starting mileage: 278.3 km

I’ll admit that I did not sleep well and I’m not entirely sure why.  Part of it was because I had brought a different, slightly cooler and larger, sleeping bag.  This meant that little Leo was able to worm his way inside the sleeping bag and roll up at the base of it.  I’ve tried keeping him out but he somehow manages to slip in when I’m sleeping.  The fact that this bag was a bit more spacious meant that he would be even more comfortable than he is in my mummy bag.  It could have also been the sting on my left leg.  It was not as bad as it had been and the swelling was less distinct but the redness had spread to an alarming degree.  Since it wasn’t as painful, I tried to ignore it as much as I could.  Eventually it was light enough to break camp.

The owner showed up just as I was packing up the tent and I learned a lot about the history of the campground in a very short period of time while talking with her: how she and her husband had camped there 20 years ago and when it came up for sale only five years ago they bought it.  By that time it had been abandoned and fallen into disrepair.  It was obvious that the buildings still needed some work but the grounds were one of the nicest private location we had stayed in.  And the camp sites were HUGE.  Probably would have been a good idea to ask where I was.

Finally we were back on the road and stopped at the first diner we came to.  I still didn’t really know where I was and didn’t really want to know so I had no idea where Cherry Valley was in relation to everything else in The County.  Mike’s Diner is your typical greasy spoon and the waitress (I think Mike’s wife) is one of those old school folks that calls you “Hon”.  Love it.  The food was good and decent portion sizes which is always a bonus since the dogs have to get their little samples.IMG_7334.JPG

After breakfast we aimlessly drove around, stopping at Little Bluff Conservation Area and Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area.  It was hot so I was happy that there were so many places for the dogs to swim.  Or in Jack’s case, sit in the water and just relax while the other two splashed around.  Considering how hot the day had become, I was surprised by how few people were out.  And with it being so hot, we basically ignored most of the trails, only walking what we needed to get into the water.  The shoreline around this section of Lake Ontario is rocky so if you go there expecting sand, you’ll be very disappointed.  These spots do offer spectacular views over the water and the lake stays shallow for quite some distance which makes it great for children.  And dogs.

There was one place that I did want to go to while we were in the area: Three Dog Winery.  How could I not go with my three dogs?  The winery bit is just an added bonus.  When we got there, I asked if I would be able to take the dogs for a walk.  The staff were so friendly and told me I could talk them anywhere on the property and since there were no other dogs, they could go off-leash if I wanted to let them run.  And then come back for wine.  YES!!  We did walk through part of the property but the dogs were tired from swimming and it was hot so soon we found ourselves back in the tasting room.  The dogs splayed out on the concrete floor, after visiting their new best friends, while I sampled my way through the wines.  They were very good but after splurging on ciders, I left with a bottle of Pinot Grigio and the Rose.

By the time we left the winery, I had heard from my friend and started driving to his place. We had a little time to kill so I stopped when I saw a bistro called Agrarian.  I stopped in there for a little caffeine (it had been hours since my last hit after all) and I found that I could not stop staring at the tarts on display.  The lemon curd blueberry tart was calling out to me so I couldn’t leave it behind.  The flavour was very good but the pastry was too delicate for the filling.  I should have taken a spoon to eat it since all the crust disintegrated as I tried to lever it out out the tin which was disappointing.

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It’s so pretty.

My friends live on the outskirts of a small town outside of Picton and retirement seems to be treating them well which makes me so happy.  We went out for dinner at a local pub that I think was called The Picton Pub but I could be wrong.  It was a small place in the middle of nowhere but the food was fantastic.  I could have listed off what we ate and pictures of how well it was presented, but I put all that on hold and just enjoyed a conversation and re-connecting with friends.

Now I must admit that I was a little worried about the dogs being left by themselves and with Piper’s tummy issues, I half expected to walk back into the house to a mess.  Nope.  Their dog Alaska and my three were waiting for us but not a single thing seemed to be out of place.

We sat and talked for a little longer and then with full bellies, we all went to bed.  They have a spare room in the basement and the dogs were, as usual, out before I was.  Alaska seemed to miss her new friends and slept against the door most of the night.  I know because I could hear her shifting every so often over the chainsaw that is a snoring Jack.