Planning road trips can be daunting. Even though I’m not known for having the whole trip mapped out, I have to decide where we’re going and for how long and…well that’s pretty much it. As my companions get older, I worry that they won’t enjoy travelling as much. Then there’s always that bit of doubt: will I be able to find things to do with dogs? Will I be able to keep my senior dogs happy and not overwhelm them?
So I sat down and made a list of places I wanted to go during the course of the year. I looked at temperatures, average weather conditions, and set my sights on one destination for our first trip. I was tempted to take the dogs back to Charleston since I had had such a wonderful me-cation in December but I decided to venture a little farther from home and to a place that was totally new. (Read my guide to Charleston, South Carolina here)
Hoping to do some camping, I packed my tent and sleeping gear in the car the night before we left. If there had been any doubt about how the dogs felt about a road trip, that worry was quickly dashed as they watched me load the car. Piper stood at the door whining and prancing from foot to foot. Jack was running around and bringing me ALL of his toys; to make sure I knew he wanted me to bring them I guess. Leo kept taking the toys from Jack who would then chase him around until he found another toy that he wanted. They were so excited it made me laugh and extremely relieved.
I wanted to get to sleep early but that just did not happen; excitement kept me tossing and turning until late and then the alarm went off way too soon it seemed. I practically had to push the dogs into the yard for a pee before we jumped into the car for the start of our first road trip of 2018. As it was bitterly cold in Canada, we would be driving south; far south. In fact, this trip would take us farther south than we have ever been but I am getting ahead of myself. The Road Trip Bottle would be Tito’s vodka, a nod to our destination.
As usual, I was a little slower than I had planned leaving the house and we ended up hitting some traffic as we drove south towards Toronto. Yes the highways do start to back up at 6:00 am. I guess when they built the highways they never planned that anyone would move that far north and why do they need more than two lanes anyway? I kept reminding myself that the only timetable was my own and we could take as long as we wanted. Still, sitting in traffic is awful.
Finally we emerged onto the wide open lanes of the 401 and joined the lines of cars making their way west. Traffic was flowing much better and we made good time across the top of Toronto. Once we had left the city behind and found ourselves surrounded by more green than concrete, I decided it was time for a quick bite and we hopped off the highway in Cambridge, stopping at Williams Fresh Cafe.
I mindlessly placed my order and then as I waited, I looked around and it dawned on me: this is a chain restaurant! Oh no! Barely two hours into the trip and I have broken the first rule of the road trip rules: No Chain Restaurants. I consoled myself with the thought that it must be a small chain as I had never heard of it and before I tucked into a lovely bagel with bacon, egg, and spinach. I had the feeling early on that I would need every vegetable I could get.
Soon, I found myself in line to cross the border. I felt the familiar tension build the closer we got to the booth and I prepared myself as we waited: I had my passport open and ready to go in my lap, the dog’s papers were waiting on the seat next to me, music down, sunglasses up, and I even had the address for our destination memorized and the Airbnb listing on my phone. I was set.
I spent more time in line than I spent talking to the (of course) very attractive man in the booth. Where are you going? What is the purpose of your trip? What do you do? Do you have the dogs papers (I had them out the window and he waved them aside)? He told me to have a good trip as he handed my passport back to me. I was stunned. What just happened? No “Are you meeting anyone? How long will you be gone? Open your trunk.” None of that. For a second I wondered if I had misunderstood him and I watched in the rear view to make sure no one was chasing after me. That was the easiest crossing I had ever experienced and I felt a wave of giddiness wash over me, like I had gotten away with something.
I drove onto I-94 and we headed west. Now a few hours west of Detroit is a town called Coloma. I like Coloma although I have never stepped foot inside the town itself. I have however visited a certain establishment called The Chocolate Garden on a stretch of country road just off the interstate. When I saw the signs for The Chocolate Garden, I told myself that I wasn’t going to go there. Nope. Not going to stop. I’m going to drive right on by the exit. That was the plan. The plan failed and I was soon parking the car in the lot of The Chocolate Garden. I’m going to have to apologize for not taking any photos inside but a car load of people arrived shortly after I did and I was having trouble taking photos without people in them, especially kids running around. I mean who wouldn’t run around a chocolate shop? So with the most decadent mocha I have ever consumed clutched in my hand, along with a box of truffles for my friend watching the cats (and a little two-pack for me), I returned to the car.
Next to The Chocolate Garden is another store called Vineyards Chocolate and Fudge. I’ve driven by them before (to go to The Chocolate Garden) but this time the sign declaring Chocolate Bacon required further investigation. Where The Chocolate Garden is almost exclusively truffles, Vineyards had a wide assortment of chocolates, candies, and fudges. The chocolate bacon was a chocolate bark with big hunks of bacon. In the interest of thoroughness, I bought some milk bark and dark chocolate bark and I had to have some of the chocolate clusters made with, get ready for this: potato chips and cayenne pepper. A little bit of salty crunch, a little bit of spicy heat, all wrapped up in chocolatey goodness. While there aren’t any samples offered, I bit a get a few little chunks to help decide what to select. Shhhhh I don’t think that’s standard. With a break in the rain, I asked the extraordinarily helpful gentleman working there if I could let the dogs run in the big field next door to stretch their legs and he said that was not a problem. Awesome. Once the dogs had sniffed and peed, we all climbed back into the car. So now I had a bunch of high-end truffles, some chocolate bacon and chocolate clusters, I could jump back on the highway right? Wrong.
Next door to Vineyards was Jollay Market. It’s a small market in what looks like a former garage. I was tempted by the donuts beckoning from the shelves next to the cash but decided on something a bit more substantial and ordered the beef tacos on corn tortillas. They were delicious for their simplicity: no fancy sauces or garnishes; just beef, onion, and chopped cilantro. Needless to say they did not last long. Next to the parking lot is a “dinosaur farm” with several metal sculptures of dinosaurs. The dogs did not seem to mind the lumbering hulks of metalwork and the labour that must have been put into making them was impressive.
The area around Coloma reminds me of Niagara-on-the-Lake with it’s vineyards, orchards, and craft breweries. I think this is an area that will require further exploration. Just not today.
Skirting Chicago, I drove my pack of snoring companions down I-55. When I saw a sign for the Route 66 Museum, I decided we needed to stop and check it out. Route 66 is almost a requirement for every road trip warrior at some point.
I parked the car in the large lot across from the museum and unloaded the dogs. We walked across the street and found that we had just missed it: the museum had closed mere moments earlier. Oh well. With no rain and a town we haven’t visited before, we did the only thing we could and started walking. We rounded the corner of the museum and came face-to-wall with several incredible murals. The detail in some of them was just off the charts. I even found myself wondering why some guy was staring at me until I got a little closer and realized it was a painting. Holy cow. I didn’t even notice the large school bus that was beside me because of the murals. The bus was the “road yacht” used by Bob Waldmire, an artist and preservationist for Route 66.
We continued our walk around the town and then we found the court house. For a small town, this building was a shock. It was huge and a beautiful piece of architecture. As we walked around it, we happened across a gentleman leaning on a section of fence. He was a tall fellow, very lanky, and had a top hat perched on the railing next to him. We had found a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln, depicting him as a young lawyer. Of course I stopped to take the dog’s photo and as I was gathering up the leashes, I noticed that Piper was standing on a brick that had something carved into it. I had just assumed that all the words were the names of donors until I read a quote attributed to Mr. Lincoln: “Whatever you are be a good one”. Well said sir.
Pontiac seems to be a very interesting town with several museums and other attractions. As much as I would have liked to poke around further, the road was calling to us and we were soon back in the car. As we had crossed into the central time zone, that bought us an extra hour of travel which made for an even longer day. With a little bit of searching, I found a place for us to spend the night in Clinton, Illinois.
The Town and Country Inn motel was everything I wanted and needed for the night: a clean room, comfy bed, and best of all a restaurant next door. I called in my order and soon walked to Wishbone Bar & Grill. Apparently I was a little overeager because my order wasn’t ready and I waited at the bar. You know when you’re in one of those places when everybody knows you don’t belong? That was this place and I seemed to have caused a bit of a stir with my arrival. No one said anything to me and I didn’t feel unsafe, I just felt like people were thinking “You don’t belong here”. Finally I was handed a bag and made the long 40 second walk back to the room.
I sat on the bed and first opened the container with a side salad. Veggies. Gotta get some veggies to counteract the “ultimate burger” that I soon faced. The ultimate burger is a cheeseburger topped with barbecue pork and onion rings that was then doused with barbecue sauce. It was a bit small but it more than made up for it with an ooey, gooey, barbecue mess.
Satisfied, full, and tired, I snuggled down between the dogs and was soon asleep.