The Trip That Started it All

Up until recently, travel had always been about a destination.  You go somewhere, spend time there, and go home.  A flight or a drive are just a means to an end.  I would have every teeny tiny detail planned from the roads I would take to the places I would stay, even places to eat.

Then in April 2015, I suddenly found myself with two whole weeks of vacation time.  It’s not that I had forgotten about it, I just lost track of time.  It was too good an opportunity to pass up and sit at home; I do enough of that anyway.

So my options were to book a flight to some sunny beach and fry in the sand or throw the dogs in the car and hit the road.  Guess which one I picked?  At the time my pack was Jack and Piper; Leo didn’t enter the picture for a few more months.  They had done trips with me to visit family in Manitoba which is a trip that I usually do in two days, three if the weather is nice so I was not concerned about how they would behave in the car or in strange places.

Day 1

With no destination in mind, no route, no planned stops, no research on attractions or points of interest we left the house during the early hours of April 21, 2015.  I had packed my camping gear hoping that as we drove, we’d be able to drive out of the rain and snow of southern Ontario. I had the general idea to land at the east coast somewhere but that was a very loose idea indeed.

To make things fun, I came up with a set of rules for the road:
1. No serious destination plans
2. Avoid interstates as much as possible
3. NO CHAIN RESTAURANTS
4. Road trip bottle is Forty Creek (more on the road trip bottle later)
5. Stop whenever I want

When we left home we started heading west and crossed the border at Lewiston.  I had never been to Lewiston and when that was the first border crossing I saw, well that was the one I took.  I stopped at the booth and handed all the documents to the gentleman working inside.  For some reason, border crossings always make me nervous and my pathetic attempt at humour fell flat on it’s face.  Apparently when they ask where you’re going, “wherever the wind blows” is the wrong answer.  I was given a hard stare with a follow-up question of “Where do you think the wind will blow you”.  Oh crud…think fast…The only thing I could blurt out was “North Carolina”.  Another hard look as I received all documents and we were across the border.

I drove the smaller roads back east and stumbled onto Lakeside State Park. I imagine it’s a zoo when it’s warm but when we arrived, it was deserted.  It was a small park and windy and the sun was shining and it was perfect.  It was just what I needed when I needed it and it put me in such a good mood; it was the best way to have started the trip.

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Lakeside State Park April 21, 2015

We were going to put in at Syracuse but after I looked at a map (for the first time) we continued to Watertown which put us much closer for a morning launch to the Adirondack Mountains. I knew that the Adirondacks were close but apparently my geography needs a lot of work because if we had gone east and crossed at Kingston, well, we would have been there that day.

With Fort Drum just outside the town, I expected at the least maybe a little look my way. Nope. Apparently the guys here like their girls German and four-legged.  Piper was loving every second of it.  My self esteem? Who needs it?  Jack was happy to be among other alpha males which is what he seems to think he is.

It actually took us forever to get anywhere because everyone had to stop and play with the dogs.  We went for a stroll around town and walked to a local restaurant to get some seriously good grub.  Watertown has some of the nicest people, from the folks at the restaurant who brought my food out to me where I was waiting with the dogs to the manager at the Best Western that we stayed at for the night.  And some of the old buildings were absolutely gorgeous to look at.

Now about that road trip bottle. I’m not sure how I came up with the idea, whether it was something that I had heard or read or just made up on my own but the idea is simply this: when you put in for the night, you toast to the day’s safe travels.  The road trip bottle must last the duration of the trip.  It has to be sealed when you stop for your first night and you have to finish it when you get home.  It has to be something that does not have to be chilled and you can drink straight because you never know where you might be stopping and it’s a pain to have to worry about mix.

I climbed into bed and some how got myself in between the dogs.  I’m not always a sound sleeper; in fact there are times when I’m lucky to get a few hours at a time.  That night, after a wonderful day on the road and snuggled up with my dogs, I slept like a log.

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Family selfie. The dogs are confused about why they have to stand still

Day 2

April 22, 2015

The day dawned cool and overcast and after a leisurely walk around the hotel, I ran into the first minor complication that came with my travelling friends.  As I would soon learn, most if not all hotels have a clause that you not leave the dogs in the room unattended.  The biggest problem with that was then going to the restaurant to make the most of my complimentary breakfast.  Now that I think about it, it’s really not complimentary since I’m sure I covered the cost with my hotel fee.  I’m sure this has occurred to others before me so I will continue on.  I stopped in the lobby to chat with the manager who was absolutely in love with the dogs and she waved aside my concerns and told me to come back for some food.

As we were talking an older couple had to get in on the dog love.  During the conversation,  I asked if there was anywhere that I had to visit in and around the Adirondacks.  He suggested Cranberry Lake and warned me that there would not be anyone around.  Great.  There’s no cell service.  Even better.  If you get into trouble, you’re on your own.  Perfect.  He seemed to be very confused by my excited reaction.  After a rushed buffet breakfast, we packed up the car and headed towards mountains.

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Leaving Watertown

The sky stayed grey as we wound our way through the increasingly hilly terrain.  Finally we came to the Brandy Brook Trail at Cranberry Lake.  And it started to rain.  It wasn’t too bad, an intermittent spattering; hardly enough to climb back into the car.

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We were here

True to his word, we did not see another person as we hiked the trails around that lake.  It was not quite as rugged as I had expected; in fact it reminded me a lot of Algonquin Park. The trail was very well-marked and there was no danger of getting lost.  I didn’t even find any parts that were particularly hazardous aside from the few boggy patches.  The trail was covered with leaves and as I was enjoying the solitude I didn’t notice some of the leaves were a little less stable until I sank ankle deep into a puddle.  Well that was great.

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There’s something out there

The rain would turn to snow and then back to rain.  When it started to get a bit later, we turned around to go back to the car.  As we sat there waiting for the heat to kick in, I realized that we had been gone for about five hours.  The dogs were asleep in no time…as usual.

The time came then to find a hotel room.  I had decided that I would use an app to find cheap hotels and when we finally got to a place with cell service, I started looking.  I found a motel that I thought would do the trick just outside of Albany.  Now here dear reader, I have a bit of a dilemma: do I mention the hotel and gloss over some of the details of our stay? Or do I deliver a no holds barred account of without mentioning this fine establishment to avoid any, shall we say, issues?

For entertainment purposes, just this once, I think I shall withhold the name.  I should have walked away as soon as I parked the car but I didn’t want to jump to any rash decisions.  And I was tired from hiking all day.  And it was raining and all I wanted was to have a long shower and climb into bed.  I walked into the lobby and there on the counter was a sign saying no pets.  Huh.  I had quite the discussion when I told the man working that this online site had said the place was dog-friendly.  Eventually I got the key to my room and had my first experience with a motel.

Now rain and darkness do not do much to help with the appearances of many places and this was no exception.  It was like something from a movie it was so surreal.  I half expected to hear power tools going or see vats of chemicals being wheeled in to “dispose” of things.

I got the dogs into the room and started taking stock of what I had picked for the night.  Now I probably should have done that before I cracked into the bottle because the more I looked, the more I wanted to leave.  It was so bad I actually called the app people to complain; first about the rating and second about the issue with the dogs.

The operator was quite kind but unfortunately there were no other hotels in the area that were even close to where we were.  So I could suck it up or try and find something on my own.

Well that’s just great.  By this time it was getting pretty late so I just decided to accept it as part of the adventure and try to touch as few things as possible.  The moral of this story: not all two stars are created equal.

I ordered a pizza from a local joint and after it was delivered, I used my pack and anything else I could find to barricade the door before shoving as much of that cheesy goodness down my throat.

By the time I crawled into bed it was getting close to midnight.  I set my alarm for 6:00 and fell asleep listening for…well…anything

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Piper keeping watch
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Possibly my last meal?

Day 3

April 23, 2015

We survived the night in Albany but I can tell you it was an early start back on the road. With the Catskills in our future, we headed out after I fortified myself with a hastily assembled waffle sandwich, or as I have come to know them: a wafflewich. The man behind the counter looked a bit confused as I smeared peanut butter all over my waffles but in my head I’m like “I’m getting out of here before someone wants to wear my skin”. And to be honest it’s good and a very convenient way to start the day as you try to put some distance on the road.

My phone thought this was a face.
Hey the 50’s called…
WAFFLEWICH
I was keeping your spot warm

Normally I walk the dogs as soon as we wake up but given our location, I held off for a bit and I’m glad that I did because we found the Greenport Conservation Area which gave us a great chance to stretch our legs.

A little grey but still a lovely view

We drove a little further until we got into the mountains proper.  Our first hike stop was just off the 23a and was some of the most treacherous and rugged terrain I had ever hiked. Most trail systems I’ve been on have clearly marked trails for safety and to avoid damage to the ecosystem. This bit was like “oh you want some mountains? Here you go. Good luck”. Who knew the bouldering I did last winter would actually have practical applications. It was a relatively short but intense hike through some absolutely gorgeous land and thanks to my superior tracking skills (and the dog’s noses) we emerged right where the car was. It occurred to me after we got back to the car that it wasn’t really a proper trail but one of those trails that lead off the road and then becomes an animal track.

Mountain dog Jack
There’s water down here.
Leading the way
Taking a break

Then we drove a little bit longer and stumbled on the find of the century!!! There on the outskirts of the town of Shandaken, was a dog park with an agility centre. Amazing. The dogs tore around there until a blizzard blew in so back in the car we went.  Check here for details about the park.

Where did all the snow come from?

After the snow stopped we found another trail and wandered through there for a bit.  With tired dogs dragging behind me we returned to the car and began the drive to Allentown Pennsylvania which is where our room for the night was booked.

The 209 took us most of the way and I have to admit it has been the prettiest road so far. I stopped at this little place called Cherries Deli for a peanut butter sundae. I ate it before I even thought of a pic. Soooooooo goooooooood. I had a wonderful discussion with the young man working the counter.  He was maybe 16 years old but surprisingly knowledgeable about politics.  We actually talked for quite some time about the Canadian healthcare system and how it compared to Obamacare and his wanting to move to Canada.  Not what I expected when I stopped.

A bit further down the road and I saw a sign that said gourmet cheese. Tell me: how do I not stop? I ended up with a container of chicken matzo soup for dinner tonight and some local Brie and a fiery pepperoni that I’m going to save for a picnic.

We spent the night at The View Inn. After last night it was been a beacon of clean and comfort. All in all a fabulous day on the road.

What a difference from last night
They seem to approve.

Day 4

April 24, 2015

After a wonderfully restful sleep, we prepared to leave Allentown (turns out we were actually in Bethlehem). I darted down for breakfast and there’s a big note that says you can’t take food back up to your room to avoid infestation. The fact that the rooms are equipped with microwaves and fridges and food gets delivered all the time is just a minor detail. Well fine then. So I had a cup of coffee while I planned our escape.

Now most routes have taken us along state parks. The bigger the green patch on the map, the more likely we are to go that way. So as I was sitting on the edge of the bed I saw a long stretch of green a bit south from where we were. Perfect.  And then I saw it…like a beacon shining from the screen. How did it never occur to me before? Hershey. Hershey Pennsylvania. Oh. Hell. Yeah. 

But first the check out. I loaded up the car. Loaded up the dogs. Then went for breakfast. Since I couldn’t sit and eat, I made my food to go. A peanut butter banana wafflewich. To say I was getting some weird looks would be a major understatement. One of the staff tried to hand me a plate.  I just looked at her and smiled as I wrapped the napkins around my mass of breakfasty goodness.

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Peanut Butter Banana Wafflewich. Yum

On the road we drove to Hersheypark and as soon as I turned into the parking lot I suddenly remembered why I wanted to avoid the touristy places: because even though it was not even 11:00 it was busy. I started looking at all the stuff for sale and it was hard to tell if it was a rip off and the clothes and merchandise….. Ugggg. So a couple of bears for the nephews and a couple of mugs for my dad and my brother and we were out. 

Why are you so excited?
“What’s the big deal Jack?”  “I have no idea Piper but she won’t stop giggling.”

As we continued making our way south toward that strip of green on the map, I saw a sign for Pine Grove Furnace State Park. It was still early in the day so we stopped for a hike. It turns out we were now in the Appalachian Mountains. That meant that we had stopped in three mountain ranges in three days. 

The trails were rugged but well well marked and we soon found ourselves staring out over the valley and it took me a moment to realize that we were at the top of the mountain.  For some reason it struck me at that point how far from home we had come and we sat for some time on the sun-warmed rocks watching the clouds pass overhead.  Finally we started back to the car.  The way down always seems more difficult than up and we slowly picked our way over the rocks.  Since we saw very few people on the trails, I let them off the leashes so I wouldn’t end up tumbling down the mountain.

Guess which option we picked….
Steep it is.
So pretty
Enjoying a short break.
The view from the top.
Looking majestic. Or at least trying to.
But it’s so far down

We stopped for a few minutes before jumping back in the car to speak with one of the locals about a good place to eat or sights we had to see. In less than 30 minutes I knew about him and his wife and their son. Wow.  He never did tell me about food places. 

Back in the car and there was still this strip of green on the map calling to me. At the top is a city called Winchester and with a name like that at a spot like that how do I not go there? I ended up checking into the Best Western before I took the dogs for a leg stretch. While we were out, we got cat-called, but not what you think: “I like your dog”! People pointing and waving, the awwwww face that people made when they looked at Jack.  Poor Jack was so tired by this point; he had started the walk well but then got slower and slower so I finally just scooped him up and carried him for a little while.  Let me tell you: 40 lbs is a lot to lug around.

What is the plan for tomorrow? Well that strip of green is the Shenandoah Valley so I think we have some good hiking ahead of us especially since the weather finally turned nice. I saw people in shorts!!  There were more Ontario plates in the parking lot than I’ve seen the whole trip. Yeah that’s right. We’re taking over Virginia apparently. I gave in and ordered Thai food, saving my cheese and pepperoni for the hikes. 

Mmmmmmmmmmmm Thai
Apparently they’re keeping the bed warm for me.

Day 5

April 25, 2015

Today’s trip started a bit rough and when I say today, I mean at 1:00 in the morning when the phone rang and someone asked “what room are you in?” My sleep-addled brain didn’t think to answer “the room you called jackass”.  It turned out there had been a glitch in the computer and some rooms were overbooked. Oh well.  Then when I thought I got a free breakfast it turns out it was a whopping $2.50 off breakfast at the Perkins attached to the hotel. Had it been free I would have overlooked the no chain restaurant rule but forget that!

So we hit the road on an empty tummy with not even my beloved wafflewich in hand. I had been told by the lovely gentleman in Pine Grove Furnace State Park that we had to go to the Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah National Park and that is where we were headed.

Now I’m used to large attractions having large signs but as we passed through one town I lost my way. Good thing too because we found a lovely little restaurant, The Apple House, that sent me on my way with eggs and bacon and pancakes and home fries and six doughnuts and directions on how to get to where we were going. 

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The Apple House. A great find. Somehow I ended up leaving with some doughnuts.

I drove up to the gate and all of a sudden I learned that I have to pay a $15.00 fee to get in. I waffled on it for a few minutes then figured $15.00 is an acceptable expense.  We stopped at the first rest stop and I shared my bacon and pancakes with Jack and Piper as we getting pelted by ice pellets on top of a mountain.  

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That’s Piper giving me the look for taking a picture instead of giving her another piece of bacon.

When I think back on this trip, that moment stands out so clearly: partly because it was so absurd but also because there I was, literally on top of a mountain, with Jack and Piper and it was just the three of us on this unlikely adventure.

Then we set off down the 105 mile road that winds it’s way through the park. There are 75 overlooks and over 500 miles of trails. All of it is gorgeous.

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Looking out over the valley.

We did a couple of hikes before the rain started to fall again. On one trail I looked up and there less than 50 meters in front of us was a deer. Piper saw it and was frozen. I pulled my phone out of my pocket, got the camera up, switched to vibrate, was bringing the phone up…. And that’s when Jack moved and scared it away. I had their leashes looped over the same arm that I used to hold the phone so I ended up with a great blurry shot that I just can’t bear to erase.  We hiked on a little bit further and came to the perfect spot to turn around: a rock that jutted out from the cliff in a break in the vegetation. The kind of spot that seems as though no one has ever stood there before. We went back to the car and had a break and I finally had my cheese and pepperoni.

The infamous deer picture.
What waits for us down there?
Another resting spot.
Talk about roughing it! Cheese and pepperoni as is. But it was delicious.
To fortify us after all the hiking.

There was a light intermittent rain that fell that day and then fog started to roll in when we were about two-thirds of the way down the road so I ended up missing a lot of the views.  The deer also decided to come out which made up for missing the one on the trail and our slow drive down the Skyline Drive slowed to a crawl. 

They don’t seem concerned at all.
Just grazing away.

We met several people that day including a group of boys out camping, an older man who had fallen down the trail but was still hiking with a bloody face, and I gave a woman a ride to her car since her group came out on the road about 2 miles too soon and it was raining quite heavily at that point.

The view before the fog.
The left side is what we drove into. The right side is where we came from.
The fog starting to roll in.

By the time we hit the end of the Skyline Drive the fog was so thick you could barely see the signs and I had to make a quick decision: go west to Roanoke (the site where an entire town’s population had vanished) or east towards the coast. Since I wanted to go east eventually, that was the way I started until I stopped when I could get a cell signal to start looking for a hotel. Weeeelllllllllll unless I wanted to sell a kidney, it turned out the only hotels in my price range were in Roanoke anyway so back around we went.  The dogs didn’t seem to mind turning around since they were snoring like little chainsaws in the back seat.

We ended up staying at the Comfort Inn in Royal Mount on the outskirts of Roanoke.  I was so tired from the day spent hiking in the mountains that I did not even bother to take a photo.

Day 6

April 26, 2015

This morning I was actually able to have my breakfast in my room for the first time in a few days. No need to wich my waffle! As this was to be my last day south, I planned my route based on available hotels. After sorting through a mess of hotels that were either way out of my price range or did not accept animals, I settled on Havelock, North Carolina. The reasoning being: close to a large state park, it looks close to the ocean, and a Marine base city so there should be some history. Nope. Nope. And huge nope.

We headed straight there with a few short walk breaks including one along the Neuse River and then rolled into Havelock. I certainly would not recommend it as a travel destination.  Now please let me clarify: when we were in Watertown there were old buildings to look at, there was a town centre, there was this feeling that all were welcome.  I’m not saying that Havelock was not a nice city, it just did not have the same charm.  In fact, I’m not sure if we ever made it to the town centre.  If I had to find a word to describe it, I would say the town was tired.

This water tastes funny.
The waves rolling in.
A quick play on the sand.
So much beach to see.
You don’t see this sort of beach back home.
Running down the beach.

When we checked into the Days Inn, I asked about good local restaurants and I was sent to Crabby Patty’s right up the street where I got an order of shrimp cooked three ways then tried to find a spot to park and eat. Well nothing on the main road and no obvious spots for a good view so we kept driving to the nearby coast.  At the Crystal Coast visitor center we stopped and I shared the shrimp before asking the woman inside about places to visit.

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Piper more than ready to help with the shrimp.

The woman working there gave me directions to the coast as well as a few good places to stop for food.  We set off down the road with directions and a stack of brochures, crossing over to Brogue Island. I stopped to grab a shrimp burger and slice of cheesecake and then we went to the beach.  We sat on the sea wall and shared (yes we actually shared) the burger and cheesecake.

Then, on Sunday April 26 at 5:51 pm, three wayward travelers from southern Ontario stepped into the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. There was no one to witness this event other than the flocks of gulls and plovers that shared the beach.

You look like you need help with that.
So all the food is gone?
I’m going to get those waves!
Why does the wind smell so funny?
Piper watching the birds. Jack watching the waves.

A journey of five days and 2773.6 km reached its furthest point as we walked the sands of the coast.  I still remember sitting on the wall, watching the waves as they crashed onto the beach with Piper and Jack sitting next to me.  Normally their desire to explore would have them straining at their leashes, but they sat next to me as though for some reason they knew that this was the end of the drive south.  Slowly we made our way back to the car as the gulls flew overhead.  In the failing light, we returned to the hotel and prepared to allow the wind to blow us back home.

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Our tracks in the sand.

Day 7

April 27, 2015

The Days Inn had a continental breakfast so no waffle this morning. The lack of a waffle made me sad.

Initially my plan had been to follow the coast back north but there were just so many CITIES in the way. It’s not that I don’t like visiting cities; it’s just when I have two dogs with me, cities are kind of boring.  I can’t browse in the shops and the three of us do tend to take up a lot of sidewalk space.  It’s also not as much fun for them to be surrounded by concrete and glass buildings so I decided to stay away from the big cities.

As I looked at the roads north I thought “Not too many options away from the cities and we can go through Shenandoah Park and the Skyline Drive that I was robbed of during our trip south.  And my receipt was still good for admission.  How could we not go back? It’s only a five hour drive.”  Let me tell you friends: when the GPS says that it takes five hours to get somewhere, those will be the longest five hours of your life.  A pleasant surprise was the dog park we found at the visitor centre at The Halifax County Visitor Centre.  The dogs ran around but were bored of it pretty quickly so we were back on the road in no time it seemed.

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These are the best places to stumble on.

On the plus side, we got to see all the sights that we missed because of the fog the last time through. Not only that, but even more deer and a bear with her two cubs ran across the road right in front of us.  Piper was beside herself with all the activity.  Even though they both wear harnesses in the car, she was practically climbing through the back window to see all the action.

We were being watched.
There should be more signs like this.
Don’t mind me. Just going for a walk.
Mama bear. The two cubs popped out after.
Deer? Bear?  Let me at them!
Never pass up a chance to play in the water.
They are getting so good at posing.
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Wow.

We put in at the Hotel Strasburg for the night. It’s in the town of Strasburg at the north end of the park.  It is a small town that was pretty much closed by the time we rolled into town and even the hotel restaurant was closed.  With my no chain restaurant rule, I end up eating a lot of pizza and this was another one.  The hotel was small, basically a renovated Victorian-style house which was one step up from a B & B. It was small and quiet and we were asleep fairly quickly as I thought of what we were going to do tomorrow.

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My room in the Hotel Strasburg.

Day 8

April 28, 2015

The Hotel Strasburg was lovely and quaint and just like staying at grandma’s house if grandma was living in the house her mother was born in. I went to the buffet for breakfast and ended up chatting with the gentleman in the line next to me.  He commented on the turtle necklace I was wearing and the next thing I know, we’re discussing what a turtle sees when it’s swimming through the ocean and what it must think when it finally finds land.

After a light breakfast, we were back on the road. I asked about a place to get a good cup of coffee and was directed to a cafe around the corner. Aannnnnnnndddddd it was closed. No java for me.

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You weren’t planning on coming back to bed were you?

As I was packing up, I made use of the hotel wifi to plot a route.  Normally I don’t like to backtrack but with my travelling companions, hotel availability can be difficult.  I ended up booking a room at the Rodeway Motel back in the Catskills. We stopped at a farmer’s market and as much as I tried to get something healthy, let’s just say the chocolate cream pie was calling to me.

The trip on the road was pretty uneventful and we went for a hike in some of the same trails that we had done on the south though we stayed off the trails that required huge feats of athletic ability since we had done those already so we took it easy.  We had gone south along the west side of the park but then started back north on the east side so we had a chance to see different places, including a portapotty that had an interesting modification in the back wall.

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Ummmmmmm I don’t think that’s standard in port-a-potties.

When we got to the Rodeway Inn, I will admit I was a bit apprehensive. It looked like another road motel but the location had an amazing view, especially the breakfast bar.  The room was nice and clean and I have two dogs that were more than happy to take up a huge portion of a king-sized bed. Just like being at home. 

My room at the Rodeway Inn.
Chocolate Cream Pie!!!

Day 9

April 29, 2015

I didn’t set my alarm to go off that morning since I had been up before it on every other day. Today of course is the day that I slept in and missed breakfast at the motel.  I was surprised with how well I slept and how comfortable the bed was, even though I was twisted around the dogs.

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What a nice place to enjoy breakfast.

We set out and ended up in the Green Mountains in Vermont and when we stumbled across the Big Moose Deli & Country Store, well what better place to grab a bit of food. I went inside and that’s when I saw a sign saying the deli was closed.  All the food they had on display was stuff that needed to be heated up.  My heart sank because so much of it looked so tasty and I had been looking forward to a good, old-fashioned deli sandwich.  I asked the man working behind the counter where I could stop to grab some food and he started giving me directions that involved a plaza with a Home Depot.  I told him I wasn’t eating at chain restaurants during the trip; he paused and I watched him looking for words.  “I’m screwed aren’t I?” I asked.  He nodded and then he handed me an oatmeal raisin cookie and told me to enjoy. Wow. So I bought a double chocolate whoopi pie for later since I felt weird about taking the cookie. It’s a fun place with all kinds of statues and souvenirs. When I brought the dogs out of the car for a stretch and some water Jack was quite taken by a statue of Elvis. Who knew he was a fan of The King? Or it could have been the giant hot dog right next to it. He also was wagging his tail at the Blues Brothers, probably wondering why they were ignoring him. There’s a giant sasquatch in Vermillion Bay just past Thunder Bay in northern Ontario that Piper is terrified of.  A  statue of a bear painted like a cow holding skis? Oh please…. she didn’t even bat an eye.

Say…you look like someone who knows good food.
Giant hot dog.
No Jack they don’t have any food for you.
A cow-bear with skiis? Whatever.
We had to stop for a photo.


We passed through Bennington which was such a lovely little town I could have stopped and wandered through there if the mountains weren’t calling to me. We did stop long enough at the The Brown Cow Cafe to grab a real cup of coffee and a yogurt granola parfait.


We did a bit of hiking in the mountains then stopped beside a river and had a snack. Of course how could I not share at least a little of my parfait?  Now I think of myself as a pretty decent tracker and can find trails that most people would walk right past.  Sometimes there is a degree of stubbornness that gets me into a bit of trouble; like when you hike through a section of forested trail that had been damaged, most likely by heavy snow.  Climb through brambles and over fallen trees?  No problem!  Leave some blood on said brambles and trees?  Oops.

New trails to explore.
Another river to check out.
Piper knows how to get the hard to reach spots.
Yogurt!
A quick stop on the side of the river.
Note to self: brambles are sharp.

We left the trails and started heading north towards Montreal. Now most of the time I found that I was good at following the directions given by locals. This time….well apparently either they told me the wrong highway or I remembered the wrong highway and we took an extremely scenic route out of the mountains.

By the time we got to the border it was quite late.  It was also at the border that I realized what a lousy gift bringer I was.  Maybe it just seemed worse during the conversation in my absolutely awful French:
“How much are you bringing back as gifts?”
“Like $100 bucks. Water bottles. Some chocolate. Ya I think that’s about it.”
“Any food or alcohol?”
“Ummmmmmm half a pizza and part of a bottle of Forty Creek.”  He looked at me and blinked a few times.  I looked right back, shrugged, and that was how I got back over the border.  I finished the last of the pizza from Strasborg on the way to Montreal.

We didn’t get into Montreal until well after 10:00 pm and because it was so late the only non-chain restaurant open was pizza…of course.  I’m kind of glad because it was one of the best pizzas I have ever had. I shoved a bunch down my throat and followed it with a double chocolate whoopi pie. Talk about ending the night right.

So. Much. Pizza.
Chocolate Whoopie Pie!!!
Turn around for two seconds and there’s no space left.

Day 10

April 30, 2015

This morning we woke up…well I woke up squeezed into a small strip of bed. After extricating myself from the covers, I went downstairs and had the last of this trip’s wafflewiches and coffee. With the car packed up we began our journey back to Ontario.  After stopping to let a duck cross the road.

Road Trip 2015-spring edition 457
Just a duck crossing the street. No big deal.

Then I changed direction and headed to downtown Montreal for Schwartz’s smoked meat. See as I was driving I could just hear my brother’s voice in my ear about not bringing back smoked meat. So I stopped, grabbed a few packs of meat, took the dogs for a short stroll around downtown Montreal, and THEN we began the trip back home.

A few quick breaks at OnRoute stops and we delivered the purchased products to my brother and dad.  I took the opportunity to let Piper play with his fiance’s Great Dane while Jack did all he could to stop them, and then we were back on the road home.

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Piper and cousin Athena.

On Tuesday April 21 in the wee hours of the morning we left home and on Thursday April 30 at 7:00 pm we returned.

Finishing mileage back home.
The last of the road pizza and the last of the road trip bottle.
The only souvenirs I bought for myself from Shenandoah. Great for road hydration.

We had set off with no destination and no route planned. Yet over the course of 5426.9 km we had seen and done so much:

  • I learned that the strength of the radio signal is in direct proportion with how much you like the station. If you hit scan often enough, you WILL hear Maroon 5’s “Animal”, Pink Flloyd’s “Brick in the Wall”, or Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” a few times per day. You will also find a station called The Edge or Mix or Kiss.
  • I discussed universal health care in an ice cream shop in the Catskills and what a turtle sees in the oceans before it hits Hawaii over a breakfast buffet in Strasborg. We were out-polited by so many people which totally destroyed the “rude American” stereotype.
  • We met people who literally did not know what was past the next town.
  • We learned that not every two star hotel is created equal (shudder).
  • Chain restaurants are always open but that’s because they lack character and soul.
  • We hiked through rain thinking “we can’t possibly get any wetter” and then learned that yes in fact, we could.
  • We shared pancakes and bacon as snow whitened our heads and shrimp as we breathed in the briny scent of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • We watched the sun set on the mountains and watched clouds broiling over the waves.
  • We learned that you don’t have to plan every move before you make it.

People thought I was crazy, either because I was a woman travelling alone or because I had no destination in mind but for every person telling me I was crazy I had just as many tell me it was amazing.
Could the trip have been more efficient? You bet but just going where the wind blew was the most freeing and therapeutic thing I have felt in a long time.
I don’t know what I was expecting with this trip: whether some great truths of the universe would be revealed or a spiritual awakening.
I did find something though: while sitting on a rock overlooking the mountains I felt a calm that I did not realize was missing. It was something that could not be found in book nor building. Something that could not be given by another. Something I had not known until I did; if that makes any sense.
I found a sticker in a gift shop that said “not everyone who wanders is lost” which I learned was a quote from “The Lord of The Rings”. I have to agree for sometimes it is in the wandering that we truly find who we are, not because we are lost but because we don’t know where we are or where we need to be. We find a strength we did not know existed or peace or love or whatever you seek, it is always within you waiting to be found. Maybe it is best heard in the wind through the trees or off the ocean in the sounds of the gulls or the never-ending cityscape. There is something in the road beneath moving tires and landscape rushing by windows and terrain moving underfoot that is healing.
More than anything, I hope that by bringing you with us, dear reader, you may have a chance to experience it with us.

I hope you continue to journey along beside us.  There are still so many stories to tell.

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