Day 1 – “My name is John B. McLemore . . .”
[July 23, 2017]
Despite planning on leaving Saturday morning, Patrick’s friend’s “Operation Delay Departure” was a complete success. An aggressive last night in town caused the packing to not get finished quite in time so, after having one last breakfast with friends, we decided to leave Sunday morning instead.
On Sunday, we woke up at 5 AM and put the final things into our “Big Box” that is being shipped to CT and then packed up Bullseye (our name for Patrick’s truck).
By 7 AM, we were on the road!
We were fortunate to beat any LA traffic and made it into the (shockingly desolate) Central Valley without issue. To help pass the time of today’s long drive — normally we like to limit a day’s journey to 5 or 6 hours — we decided to listen to the S-Town podcast. What an adventure that was! If you haven’t heard about the story of John B. McLemore and his “shit-town” down in Alabama, I highly recommend. (Also, if you have any other podcast recommendations, let us know! We’re in the market for any and all listening material.)
We made great time, passing through Sacramento before dinner, and were able to reach the campground by 6 PM. Our drive off The 5 brought us through some interesting terrain.
Though we had reservations at a private, commercial campground for our tent, we found the NPS Campground to be quite empty and so tried to cancel that unknown for the woodsy beauty before us. The person at “Mineral Lodge” would not let us cancel, however, so we hopped back in the truck and made our way to the park — Lassen Volcanic National Park. (For those new to our adventures, this is our 14th National Park! At least five more new ones to come this trip…)
Although the Visitor’s Center was closed, we knew the “through road” of the park (going from South Entrance to North Entrance) was closed due to snow, so we decided to just drive as far as we could and see what there was to see before sunset. Very quickly we found deep snow drifts and alpine lakes that were still quite frozen.
After parking Bullseye, we took a quick hike up towards Lassen Peak (about a quarter of the 4 mile hike to the top). We had a blast exploring the remaining glaciers and were certainly happy to get out of the car.
After that exploration, we got back in the truck and headed to our campsite. We’re glad we didn’t cancel the reservation (or opt to pay for both) because we were the only tent campers — and one of only about 4 parties staying there that night. Nice and quiet.
A yummy meal of open faced meatball sandwiches — together with potato chips and a beer — brought the first day to a close. Tomorrow, we’ll be up and out early as we head to Crater Lake in Oregon. We’ll be there for two nights before we head to Idaho, so be on the lookout for an update in a few days as the National Parks and their surrounding areas often have little to no cell reception.
San Diego, CA to Mineral, CA – 670 miles (11 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
Day 2 – Oh Hail No!
[July 24, 2017]
Despite not having nearly as long of a drive in front of us today (a mere 4 hours instead of yesterday’s 11…), we wanted to get up and out early so we could be sure we could get a campsite. With the delightful view of the pines and blue skies, we packed up and hit the road with our trusty breakfast of GoGurts — so easy to eat while driving!
With only a quick stop to refill our coolers with ice, Ally was a champ with today’s driving. I’m sure it helped that Mt. Shasta was a fun companion to have and look at for virtually all of the drive.
Relatedly, we drove on this stretch of highway back in 2014 — go read about it here — and Shasta Lake is looking so much healthier now than it did back then. The water level has risen back up to a respectable level, and the drought seems to be a thing of the past.
After a couple hours of off-highway driving, we were into Oregon. Although we had been through the state before, it’s always a bit surprising to see just how green everything is! (Also, the lack of sales tax is a nice bonus.) Although only one day in, we were both craving some fresh food — produce or otherwise — so we had our eyes open for a roadside stand. Seeing a sign for an “organic market,” we pulled in and had a look. Well, perhaps “market” was a bit ambitious for them, as all that was available was two potatoes and an onion.
We got back on the road and, soon, we were at Crater Lake National Park — another new one for us!
No reservation, no problem. Despite not having a spot reserved, we had no issue securing a site.
After setting up Turtle (our name for our tent), we devised a game plan by reviewing the park’s map and weekly newspaper. With a plan of attack in mind, we got back in the truck and headed to the Rim.
The lake is simply breathtaking. Its color and size are both awe-inspiring — the vivid shades of blue are remarkable and no doubt due in part to the fact that it is fed only by rainwater (no river or other water source flows into the lake), while the lake is also the deepest lake in North America. Though the name might lead some to believe the lake was formed by a meteor, it is actually the remaining “caldera” of a volcano (Mount Mazama) that collapsed 7,700 years ago.
Construction on the “West Rim Drive” derailed our day’s hiking plans, so we just decided to drive around the whole lake and explore. (Apparently the “East Rim Drive” opened just last week, due to snow making it impassable.) Every so often there was another turnout that offered a new stunning view of the lake — and it’s centerpiece attraction “Wizard Lake,” a smaller cone created after the original caldera formed.
After a while, we decided snacks and hydration were a must.
We finished our trek around the 33 mile rim and went back to the campground to make dinner. During our meal, though, Ally (our resident meteorologist) noticed ominous clouds approaching — though perhaps the audible thunder helped her notice.
We finished eating, packed up, and got in Bullseye right as the rain began to fall. Not knowing how long the storm would last (there was no cell service at camp), we discussed possibly heading up to the Rim to watch the storm. Verdict? Hail Yes! No, literally, our drive up was interrupted by marble-sized hail!!!
Once to the top, Ally began our three weeks of ukulele lessons; the tuning alone took nearly an hour to figure out. Hopefully we get better quick! Lol.
Once the sun had set (and the rain had subsided), we headed back to camp — only to find our tent living up to its name. Turtle was surround by, and floating atop, about two inches of water. (Full Disclosure: During dinner, we had joked about how the tent was in a bit of a “depression” on our site, but took no steps to address. Well, lesson learned. This is, fortunately, the first time such an incident has happened.)
After moving the tent, and discovering that everything inside was actually dry, we headed to bed. Tomorrow will stay in the park (no driving, yay!) and plan to hike the highest point in the park!
Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA to Crater Lake National Park, OR – 263 miles (4.5 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
Day 3 – Is it the altitude, or are we just out of shape?
[July 25, 2017]
Today was a day for hiking and lounging. We woke up at 7 AM to renew our campsite reservation — they only let you do one night at a time — and didn’t need to break down camp. With a solid breakfast of eggs and english muffins, we were off.
First, though, we needed to restock our ice and water supplies — seemingly simply needs that proved a struggle to find. The store was out of ice and the visitor’s center was not open yet to fill our Camelbak water pouches. Fortunately, the Crater Lake Lodge was our savior. Not only did it have water for us, it had incredible views off its back porch.
Our packs all filled, we drove to “Mount Scott,” a trail that would bring us to the highest peak in the park. Reminiscent of our hike on Mt. Rainier, this trek began in some rolling meadows and even included some patches of lingering snow.
After a while, though, it became more of a traditional wooded hike.
About a mile and a half in (halfway to the top), the clouds started to break and we stopped for snacks at a private little outcropping.
The trail wrapped around the mountain for a most of its length, but every so often there were dramatic vistas alternating between Crater Lake, in one direction, and the Oregon countryside, in the other. Each just as breathtaking as the last.
Finally, after 1,500 feet in elevation gain, and trekking what seemed an interminable 2.5 miles, we made it to the summit! (Seriously though, we were so winded.)
Given the low-key plans for the day, we took our time at the top and spent over an hour just relaxing (and catching our breath).
We were so happy that we brought our new, lightweight chairs with us as they were definitely more inviting than the rocks everyone else were sitting on!
Once down from the mountain, we decided to check out the rest of the scenic turnouts we had skipped the day before — and chose “Phantom Ship Overlook” for lunch.
As we were eating, a loud crack of thunder rang out! But, we were surrounded by sunny skies… Suddenly, a man shouted and pointed to the lake’s edge — “Rockslide!” It all happened so quickly that we didn’t get any pictures, but it was a pretty cool site to see.
We also found a waterfall.
Back at camp, we chose to relax with some champagne — because who doesn’t drink a little bubbly while camping?! Thunder in the distance was a sign of incoming rain and sent us on a walk to explore the campground before we’d be forced to seek refuge in the truck or the tent.
By the time the rain passed, we were all out of champagne. So, we decided to move on to a little frosé (for the uninitiated, that’s just a cup of rosé over crushed ice). Thanks to Patrick’s friends Annie and Aaron — and the trusty crew at Carhartt Winery — for the libations.
With another passing shower, we again retreated to Bullseye for shelter and took advantage of the forced downtime to do some route planning / route updating with our new 2017 Rand McNally Atlas. There’s really nothing quite like a paper map in your hand to get ya excited about exploring the open road.
For dinner, we cooked up some of the last remaining pieces from Patrick’s freezer — Trader Joe’s spinach tortellini and spicy chicken sausage. Delicious as always. We then enjoyed a baby fire before crawling in for an early night. Tomorrow will be a long, long day of driving.
-Ally and Patrick
Day 4 – It Looks Like Crushed Oreos!
[July 26, 2017]
Early to bed, early to rise. Makes the travelers . . .
Thanks to an early night, we were all packed up and on the road before sunrise. The overnight rains and morning dew, though, meant a soggy Turtle was draped over our containers in the truck bed to dry out. As hoped, an early departure was in our favor given the long day of driving ahead — we needed to cross 11 hours, and a new time zone, to get into Idaho (our first new state of the trip!).
With the podcast Serial as our entertainment, we made our way through eastern Oregon (which, surprisingly, looked a lot like the American Southwest). After a stop at Walmart to restock — water, batteries, goldfish, etc. — we were on the final stretch to Idaho.
Before we could make it to today’s destination (Craters of the Moon National Monument), there was a sudden and stark change in the landscape. We found ourselves surrounded by what could best be described as mounds of crushed Oreos.
Inside the Park — well, not a “National Park,” just a “National Monument” — we climbed up a large black hill (of ash?) to enjoy panoramic views of the odd landscape before us.
It even gave us a great view of nearby storms!
Unsure of when, or even if, the storms would arrive — and the late hour in the day (we arrived at 7 PM) — we were a bit hesitant to set out on too long of a hike. So, we decided to explore some old lava flows and lava tubes.
Our first “cave” was more like a circle of collapsed lava rock — rock that sounded like glass as they rubbed against each other.
With our interest piqued, the benefits of lava tube exploration outweighed any negative consequences of (a) getting rained on, and (b) setting up our tent in the dark (we’re not going to melt, and we’ve done it before). We continued along the path for another half mile and found “Indian Tunnel.”
Headlamps and flashlights in tow, we climbed down into the cave and explored all around. We choose to take the “long way” through to an exit on the far side.
The scenic route was definitely worth the extra time and effort clambering over piles of rocks.
At these northern latitudes, it sometimes feels like the sun never sets. We were able to make it to our KOA “kampground” in Arco, ID by 8:45 PM and still had plenty of daylight remaining to set up camp and start dinner. (Though admittedly a bit out of the ordinary, we found that pasta pairs wonderfully with margaritas!)
The long day continued, as we had our latest night of the trip so far — a night of stargazing, complete with multiple shooting stars. (Seriously, the night sky out here is just incredible!) Tomorrow is a short trip over to Grand Teton National Park, but we can’t be too leisurely with our drive — we’ve got to battle for a campsite!
Crater Lake National Park, OR to Arco, ID – 585 miles (9.5 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
Day 5 – Stormy Dinner Among the Tetons
[July 27, 2017]
As we mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post, we wanted to get an early start to Grand Teton — despite it being so close — because we knew we’d have to battle for a campsite. We were up and on the road before 7 AM, and arrived at the park before 11 AM. (This marks our first two-time visit, and it was so worth it!)
The first campground we got to (Jenny Lake) was already full, and so was the second (Signal Mountain). Grrrr — early morning for nothing? The third campground (Colter Bay) didn’t seem full, but it had quite the line waiting to check in. While waiting, we realized there was another campground (Gros Ventre) that was closer to all of our points of interest — and was one that “normally does not fill,” according to the Park’s newspaper.
We headed south to Gros Ventre, got ourselves a site without issue, and headed to the nearby town of Jackson to explore.
We walked around, shopped (new ornament for the Christmas Tree, etc.), and then stopped at Snake River Brew Company for lunch.
After refilling, we continued to walk around. We found a place called “Vertical Harvest” which is exactly what it sounds like — a garden on 1/10 of an acre that grows an amount of food equal to 5 acres of land!
Then, we found some fun wildlife roaming the streets!
Soon enough, though, we were exhausted and went back to camp for a snooze. Once rejuvenated, we headed back to the Park to explore.
Though the clouds looked ominous, we really wanted to have our dinner in the shadow of these greats so we stuck around for a bit. What a great decision that turned out to be.
Over the course of the next hour, we saw quite the storm front move in across the mountain range, start dumping rain on us, then continue on to the northeast.
The result was an incredibly complete and vivid rainbow, and striking contrasts in the sky around us.
After the storm clouds passed, we cooked up a complete dinner of grilled chicken, potatoes, and zucchini.
With our bellies full, we enjoyed the sunset and made our way back to camp. No fire tonight because we’d be up early again tomorrow for a day full of hiking.
Arco, ID to Grand Teton National Park, WY – 170 miles (3.5 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
Day 6 – Spoiler Alert: Glacier Water is COLD!
[July 28, 2017]
Today was a day for hiking.
We were up and out by 7:30 AM to be sure we got a parking spot at the trail head. (They’re doing construction on the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, and had been advising of limited parking availability. Better safe than sorry!) Anyways, the morning light was nearly perfect so we made a pit stop at Mormon Row to snap some pictures of the range.
We got to the trail head without issue, changed, made and ate breakfast, made lunch, and packed up everything – including our trusty chairs – into our packs. By about 9:30 AM, we were ready to hit the trail. Our plan was to hike up to Lake Solitude, which was reportedly about a 20-mile round-trip hike — though, the hike could be cut to “only” 15 miles if you take the boat across Jenny Lake. Seeing that a 10-hour hike would be too close to sunset, we hopped on the boat and started our trek.
The first part of the hike is about a 1,000-ft climb up into Cascade Canyon. So, despite the cold weather during our breakfast and packing, the layers were immediately too much. After shedding the long sleeves, the hike leveled out and meandered along, occasionally opening up to reveal some stunning views.
With all the miles came some hungry hikers. We made plenty of stops for munches, including visiting a rock we enjoyed a snooze on back during our first visit in 2014 (read about that baby hike here). One particular snack stop, though, provided amazing views of the “Grand Teton” and the surrounding canyon we found ourselves in. It was just incredible.
During this stop, Patrick decided to lay down and catch a few winks.
The scenery was ever changing, as we went from woods, to alpine meadows, to rock falls and water falls.
One note about the whole hike, is the ever-present danger of bears. Near the beginning of the hike, one fellow traveler (heading the other direction) mentioned she just saw a black bear and its cub “a few hundred yards ahead, but they seemed nice.” This was awesome, and terrifying. We had recently bought bear spray for just such an occasion, but weren’t exactly sure how to use it. No fear, said Patrick, as he took the canister and practice his defensive positioning.
After about 7.5 miles of hiking, and nearly 2,500 feet of elevation gain, we had made it to Lake Solitude.
Residing at over 9,000 feet, there was still plenty of snow up around and in the lake. In fact, the lake was mostly frozen still!
We saw some crazy person get in and swim all the way to that island, so we thought “Why not?” HA! We could barely tolerate 10 seconds of just our feet in the water. Despite the smiles, it was cold.
Before we turned around, we took advantage of our new water filter and refilled our packs from the glacial run-off.
On our way back, we remarked how little wildlife we had seen. Then, nearly immediately, a few creatures popped out and scurried across the trail.
As miles continued to pile up, so did the pictures.
Before we finished, one more snack stop was in order – so we picked a little overlook and setup shop before the final stretch.
Finally, after 15 miles (and 10 hours) of hiking, plus 5 miles of boat riding, we were back! Go check out the hike’s details here.
Back at camp, we enjoyed a couple warmup hot dogs before making the main course of spinach tortellini. Ally continued with the ukulele practice (20 minutes a day!) and even serenaded with a 5-star rendition of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” We were in bed before 10 PM.
-Ally and Patrick
Day 7 – “Where the deer and the antelope . . .”
[July 29, 2017]
. . . “play” or “roam”???
While yesterday was for hiking, today was for driving. We were up and on the road early, stopping about an hour and a half in for breakfast at a quaint little roadside diner.
During the day’s 8-hour drive, we were able to finish up Serial (Season 1) and moved on to the “Criminal” podcast. (Keep up the recommendations, we’ve got another two weeks on the road.)
Before we knew it — just kidding, it felt like forever — we made it into Nebraska. This was our second new state of the trip (and number 43 overall!).
Once in NE, it was a quick drive to our intended camping area in the Nebraska National Forest in Chadron. We had been playing tag with rain showers for the last hour or so of our drive so, sure enough, when we were ready to set up camp, it was raining.
We waited out the rain at a nearby gas station. Once it passed, we refilled our coolers with ice and made the trek to the campground. The intended destination was the “Spotted Tail” campground but we quickly realized that was not going to happen. After turning off the main road the gravel quickly gave way to dirt. Then we passed over a cattle grate. Then the “road” just became a pair of tire trails in the grass. Finally, we reached what the map showed as the campground and it was just a trail head – with barely enough parking for one car!
Laughing at that adventure (it was only a mile or two off the main road), we got back into Bullseye and headed to the backup spot we found on the National Forest Service’s website – so we figured it would be a bit more legit. It was.
We found about 10 sites nestled into a cute corner of woods off the main road. When we arrived, only one other couple was there. We waved, picked our site, and began setting up camp. Over the course of the next few hours, a few more parties showed up – giving us just enough civilization to not be worried.
Having set up and taken down Turtle over 100 times by now, we have quite the routine. Here’s a short clip showing the less-than-five-minute process for us.
With the tent all situated, we turned our attention to hydration. Patrick had received a bottle of champagne from classmate/coworker Alex to celebrate our engagement, so we decided tonight was the perfect time to pop it open – celebrating exploring a new state deserves that sort of fanfare!
Next up was dinner. Ally prepared a delicious spread of grilled chicken strips, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes. Yum!
After cleaning everything up, we enjoyed a baby fire then headed to bed. Tomorrow is a busy day of exploring all parts of South Dakota.
Grand Teton National Park, WY to Chadron, NE – 475 miles (8 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
Day 8 – Dinner with the Boss
[July 30, 2017]
We were up and out quick this morning. With no running water in the primitive campground, the morning routine consisted of waterless teethbrushing and baby wipe face washing. The day’s plans would bring us through the Nebraska countryside, into eastern South Dakota, then back across to western SD.
First up, was the desolate expanse between Chadron, NE and Interior, SD (home of Badlands National Park). There were no interstates between here and there — so we found ourselves on some country roads.
These roads were quite desolate and often were unpaved for 30- or 40-mile stretches.
However, they did provide quite the picturesque setting for the cows and windmills we encountered. (NOTE: No humans were ever encountered on these roads…)
After many hours of driving through nothing-ness, we arrived at the National Park!
Badlands National Park gets its name from the difficulty early western settlers had in traversing across and surviving on the landscape.
As you can see, its jagged, random landforms would make for near-impossible passage by wagon — and the vast prairie near-impossible to farm because of harsh winds and uncertain rainfall.
These difficulties aside, though, the landscape was beautiful and captivating.
After stopping in Wall, SD for gas — without seeing the infamous Wall Drug — we were on our way to Wind Cave National Park.
This park is particularly unique because almost all of the main attractions are underground. It is home to the (currently) 6th-largest cave network in the world. Most speculate, however, that the caves are much, much larger and will eventually prove to be the largest ever explored — they just need more time to do so. The contrast between the calm rolling meadow/prairie/forest on top, and the caves below, must be striking. (We wouldn’t know, though, because cave tours are all guided — thanks, whoever made a guide be required — and tickets for the day sell out by mid-morning.)
After checking out the Visitor’s Center (and getting our patch / pin / postcard combo), we were off to our campsite — Oreville Campground in the Black Hills National Forest. [Ed. Note: Some of our camping plans the last few days have been more “off-the-cuff” than normal. These National Forests have proven remarkable in having developed campgrounds ready for use. Along with some of the state parks we’ve stayed out, we cannot stress how easy it is for people to get in their cars and go explore around them. Just pack up and go!]
Before we could get to the campground, though, we had to pass by the “Crazy Horse Memorial.” This is a private attraction, in the vein of Mt. Rushmore (giant stone carving of a mountain), that has been in-progress since 1948! Because of the controversy surrounding the memorial — including its long-standing “development” — we decided to just see it from the road. (Check out Patrick’s Dad and nephew Caleb’s blog from 2014. They went.)
We got to the campground and had plenty of sites to choose from. We picked our favorite and set up.
After that, we took some time to clean up and change — tonight we’d be having dinner with one of Patrick’s bosses, who happens to live in Rapid City, SD. A quick stop at Mt. Rushmore, though, before we met up with Susan and her family at their house.
Many we’d spoken to in planning this trip have downplayed its impressiveness — nearly all aggressively so. We could not disagree more. While most we heard was how “disappointing” or “small” the monument was, we found it imposing and simply stunning. Nearly immediately, the faces of Washington, Jefferson, (Teddy) Roosevelt, and Lincoln watch as you walk in.
This walkway gives way to the “Avenue of Flags” — commemorating each of the 50 states — that frames the remarkable feat of engineering beautifully.
Really, the most impressive part to us was the manner in which this monument was made. The hand carving — and precision dynamiting — of such a large “sculpture” is just hard to wrap our heads around. The Visitor Center’s video on its creation was very cool.
Right on schedule, it was time to head back to Bullseye for a trip over to the Boss’s house. Her home was only about a 30-minute drive from Mt. Rushmore, and took us to some remote parts of Rapid “City.” Once there, we were greeted by a sprawling view of horse barns, horse runs, and a sunset over the Black Hills.
Thank you, Susan and Jeff, for a delicious dinner! We had a wonderful time and it was such an awesome break from picnic tables and campground meals. After a long time of chatting away, we had to brave the many, many deer on our journey back to the campsite and were quick asleep.
Tomorrow, North Dakota!
Chadron, NE to Custer, SD – 350 miles (6 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
Day 9 – “Devils” or “Devil’s”?
[July 31, 2017]
Our destination for tonight was only a few hours north, in Medora, ND. Given that short drive, and following up on recommendations from our dinner with Susan, we decided to take a detour back into Wyoming and check out Devils Tower. (Today, we’d pass through four states — South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota.) Because of the day’s schedule, we took the opportunity to enjoy a real camp breakfast — shake ‘n pour pancakes — before we hit the road.
Before 10 AM, we had made it into Wyoming and found the Tower.
Devils Tower is another “national monument” — not a “national park” — and so gives Wyoming the distinction of having both the first National Park (Yellowstone) and the first National Monument (Devils Tower). Some what surprisingly, scientists do not agree how Devils Tower was created, though they do agree how it has come to be seen — specifically, erosion of soil slowly exposing the Tower bit-by-bit over thousands of years.
A notable feature of the Great Plains that may have skipped discussion up until now, is the prevalence of Prairie Dogs. There are little clusters of these critters (called “towns”) all over the place — Devils Tower is no different.
We were also surprised to learn that Devils Tower, the location, is a sacred site to many of the areas Native American tribes — many of whom refer to the area as “Bear Lodge” (rather than Devils Tower) and actively object to the current name given the negative connotations. On that note, it’s only due to a clerical error that the location is referred to as “Devils Tower” and not “Devil’s Tower.”
After checking out the Visitor’s Center and learning all that there was to learn about the geologic formation, we set out to see how close we could get.
At the top of this rock face, there was a boundary that you could not cross without a permit — a climbing permit. Upon closer inspection, we found quite a number of people rock climbing up the face of the Tower. So cool!
With that visit complete, we hopped back in the truck and were off to North Dakota. We again found ourselves without interstate access and instead had to travel hundreds of miles on “back roads.” Along one of these stretches, we decided to stop at a sleepy little town for lunch.
The “Wagon Wheel Cafe” looked promising — perhaps not because of its marginally positive reviews on Yelp! but rather because it was the only place open. Unfortunately, the service was shockingly slow. With full bellies, we restocked our ice and iced tea supplies and were back on the road.
We finally made our way to Medora, ND — home of both the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and (tonight’s destination) the “famous” Pitchfork Steak Fondue. We quickly checked out the Park’s Visitor’s Center to plan out our visit and then went next door to check-in at the campground.
Once situated with a site, we headed across the street to dinner. The location is named because they cook the steaks en masse on pitchforks — no “fondue” is involved in anyway.
Apparently, this place is quite the destination. Perhaps due, in part, to its beautiful location atop the mesa.
Once through the line, we found ourselves with an overwhelming amount of food. There was the main attraction — steak — but also the buffet — offering buffalo, roasted chicken, and ribs. So. Much. Meat.
Place was BYOB. We came prepared.
The dinner is paired with a variety show — one that is a separate ticket, which we did not get — so we saw some historical figures milling about while we ate. We had the opportunity to chat with Mr. President and Mrs. Roosevelt!
Fun Fact: The second Mrs. Roosevelt (his first wife died in 1884), seen here, was happy to learn we were from CT as she was apparently born in Norwich, CT back in 1861.
Back at camp, we took the opportunity to reset. We did long-overdue laundry, enjoyed hot showers, and simply relaxed. (Also, Ally admitted to having murdered a bird during the day’s drive!!!)
Once the tent was set up, we shared a few beers while chatting with our campsite neighbors from Fargo, ND. (No fires here, though, because of “Extreme Fire Danger!” due to a long-standing drought in the area.) Before long, it was time for bed.
Tomorrow is shaping up to be a long day — we’re hoping to get to the Minnesota-Canada border before sunset, but also want to check out Teddy Roosevelt National Park!
Custer, SD to Medora, ND (via Devils Tower, WY) – 350 miles (6 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
Day 10 – B. Bison
[August 1, 2017]
Packed up camp and we were off to the Park! A unique park, dedicated to the “badlands” of North Dakota where Teddy Roosevelt matured into the statesman and champion of conservation he ultimately became, it felt like a drive-through zoo with so much wildlife visible from the road. Up first, wild horses.
Our plan was to just drive the park’s “Loop Road” and see what there was to see. Lots of different landscapes, that’s for sure!
Also, much to our delight, we finally saw bison!
The Bison bison (scientific name for the American Buffalo) even seemed to be out for a morning stroll.
The drive continued, revealing new views and more Prairie Dog “towns.”
As we headed towards the exit, we were lucky enough to see one more bison — sauntering along the edge of the road. These animals are just so, so massive; they’re incredible to see so close. It’s easy to understand the majesty they inspire.
After that morning exploration, we hopped on I-94 and drove east — seemingly forever. A quick stop at Walmart to restock and we were finally into Minnesota (new state!). We got off the interstate and meandered northeast through the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” until we found a suitable spot for lunch. A lake overlook, of course.
Back in the car, we cruised through the final 2-hour leg to Littlefork, MN.
We had called ahead regarding a town park (“Lofgren Memorial Park”) and arrived to see something akin to Osborn Field (or even the Res) — a community park with tennis courts, softball fields, and…a completely empty campground.
As we setup camp, Patrick was reminded of how lovely San Diego was with its bug-less environment — the mosquitos here are like B-52 bombers! Not only are they huge, but they come in swarms. So, so many.
After a bath of DEET (and some extra layers of clothing — Brrr!), we poured ourselves some wine, prepared a snack of cheese and crackers, and relaxed under the stars. As you might imagine, the sky is so vibrant up at these latitudes. And, with no real civilization nearby, no light pollution to speak of.
Once the bottle of wine was gone, it was time for bed. The park is only a half-hour away, so tomorrow we explore!
Medora, ND to Littlefork, MN – 550 miles (8.5 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
Day 11 – “We were VOYAGERS!”
[August 2, 2017]
Today was a day for exploration.
With such great progress yesterday, we only had a short drive left to the park – just about 30 minutes till we were at Voyageurs National Park. (On the way, we even saw a few moose in a field along the road!)
This park forms much of the border between Minnesota and Canada, and is dedicated to the French-Canadian “voyageurs” who traveled these waters, trading furs and other goods from the Canadian Northwest. (It is not, much to Ally’s dismay, about Moana and her type of “voyagers.”)
What’s pretty incredible about this park is that nearly 30% of it is water — and more than 80% of is only accessible by boat. They have no “drive to” campsites in the park. If you want to camp, you have to rent a boat (power, canoe, kayak) and make your way to any one of the more than 130 campsites out along the waterways.
Because of the weird park setup, we decided to just visit each of the three Visitor’s Centers and explore those areas. First up, the Rainy Lake Visitor Center for a North Canoe Voyage. “This is a ranger-led excursion on board a 26-foot birch canoe where we explored the life a voyageur, learned a voyageur paddle salute, and paddled for about an hour.”
Holy. Moly. This was wild.
The immersive experience began with “Pierre” and “Louise” coming out – in full character, complete with Hudson’s Bay Company flag – to recruit new members for their next voyageur mission. We were all assigned personas, with Ally being Florus and Patrick becoming François.
We went outside, got more “voyageur” instruction, and then we suited up.
All decked out, we hit the water. The ten-person boat took us around Rainy Lake – well, we took ourselves around Rainy Lake. (Unlike a kayak, or even a normal canoe, there was no opportunity to switch the sides of our paddling so it became an intense one-sided workout.) During our time on the water, we learned a “voyageur salute” — a synchronized banging of the paddles and choreographed chant — that made us look absolutely bonkers to the other, uninitiated folks out on the water who had no clue we were part of a guided tour. Hahaha! After about an hour out on the water, we headed back to land. [Fun Side Discovery: Other adventurers on our boat were from Branford, CT!]
After that adventure, we drove to Woodenfrog Campground – a state park that is just outside the National Park – to secure ourselves a spot. We were extremely lucky to have our pick of the litter and, of course, selected only the best, waterfront site!
With camp set up, we turned our attention to hydration and hunger. We decided to pair chicken patty sandwiches with pickles and margaritas. Mmhmm!
We then set out to the check out the other two Visitor’s Centers, and took a few “hikes” along the way. One was to an overlook that ultimately didn’t exist – or, at least, didn’t have any views.
Then, we drove another half-mile and discovered a path to a beaver pond. The previous trek into the woods resulted in hordes of mosquitos, so we took care to bathe ourselves in bug spray before heading back in.
The short hike was nice and revealed more of a beaver lake than a beaver pond – it was quite large!
Back at the truck, Ally finally dislodged her road kill from days before (the bird) and proceeded to play with it for a bit.
Finally, we arrived at the Ash River Visitor’s Center – the only “rustic” visitor’s center in the park (an old fishing lodge that was repurposed back in the 1960s when the park was created).
It was here we were able to find a “normal” park welcome sign – on the water, of course.
Back at camp, we enjoyed a relaxing evening on the lake. Uke in the hammock, burgers on the grill, and a fire under the stars.
We fell asleep to the sound of the lake lapping the shoreline – as well as clear sounds of coyotes off in the distance (hopefully). Tomorrow, we’ll make our way to Iowa.
Littlefork, MN to Kabetogama, MN (via Rainy Lake, Kabetogama, and Ash River Visitor’s Centers) – 110 miles (2.5 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
Day 12 – Iowa. Just kidding, we paid the bill.
[August 3, 2017]
Once awake, we began our trek south.
The halfway point was Minneapolis, so we targeted a brewery in the city for lunch. The morning’s drive was pretty much all rain but, thankfully, this was the first time all trip we’ve had large quantity of rain during the day.
In Minneapolis, we found our way to “Surly Brewing Company” – a place that came highly recommended (thanks Jimmy Aseltine and Jeff Meyer!).
We felt it had a very similar vibe to Stone’s Escondido operation, which was probably the goal.
Great outdoor space, paired with a good variety of beer, with delicious food to boot.
We opted for two different types of IPAs and split an order of “hog frites.” The combination of smoked pork, pepper jack fondue, and giardinera was delicious!
With our hunger addressed, we drove through the University of Minnesota campus quickly, found some Surly beer for sale (MN law prevents Surly from selling on site themselves), and we were off to Iowa.
Nearly immediately we encountered an unexpected sight. An amish buggy on the highway!
The night’s destination was Pikes Peak State Park – no, not the one in Colorado – which was in the quaint town of McGreggor, IA. This little town had the misfortune of suffering some pretty severe tornado damage just two weeks ago!
Fortunately for us, though, the campground was unharmed and still open. We set up camp and made a quick trip over the Mississippi River (into Wisconsin) for some propane and paper towels at a nearby Walmart.
Burgers and dogs for dinner (it was so, so windy that we didn’t want to fight with the grill to heat our veggies), a glass of wine to warm up, and we were off to bed.
Kabetogama, MN to McGreggor, IA – 475 miles (8 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
Day 13 – Cliffside Park. They weren’t lying.
[August 4, 2017]
Thanks to a solid staking job, the overnight winds did nb ot cause a problem. The walls of the tent did not flap at all and our sleeping bags kept us plenty warm! We packed up and headed to downtown McGreggor for a coffee.
The town center was very picturesque, seemingly straight out of a movie about the south – complete with swinging door saloon!
Next, we stopped at a random National Monument that we had passed the day before. This place, “Effigy Mounds National Monument,” protects mysterious earthen mounds that are at least 1,500 years old.
We checked out the Visitor’s Center, learned a bit about the prehistoric, “pre”-Native American cultures that created the mounds, and then set out on a short 2-mile hike.
The “mounds” were quite confusing to us because they were very non-descript. (Leading theories are that these mounds are ancient burial grounds for the Native American ancestors, the Woodland Culture.) If the trail and signs were not there, we would have been unable to distinguish a “mound” from the surrounding terrain.
After about a mile of mounds (and climbing up hill), we were rewarded with gorgeous views of the Mississippi River.
The strange mounds notwithstanding, this was an excellent way to start our day. Getting a few miles in before hours of driving ended up being a great decision.
Back at Bullseye, we crossed over into Wisconsin and drove towards Kenosha. Although our campground is in Racine, Patrick’s cousin used to live in Kenosha (and actually just moved to Georgia, about a month ago) and had recommended a particular restaurant for beers and lunch.
After the delicious lunch stop, we made our way the half mile down the street and checked out the shore of Lake Michigan. So blue!
Next up was setting up camp. We drove the half-hour north to Cliffside Park and checked in to our reservation.
One of the few reservations we’ve actually had this trip, we found our site ready and waiting.
For a municipal park, this campground was beautiful. Very spacious, well-manicured sites, and just overall very clean. Lots of fifth-wheels and other large campers, but Turtle held his own.
We enjoyed a relaxing afternoon, with Ally continuing her ukulele practice in the sunshine.
As the sun started to set, we decided to explore the park and find its namesake cliffs. A trail through some lovely meadows lead us to the coast.
After the fields, the trail quickly became much narrower and followed the edge of a cliff overlooking Lake Michigan. Right up the coast was a power plant that looked like a picture against the setting sun.
We hung out there for a little bit, taking in the scene, commenting on the super blue water, and enjoying the waves lapping at the shore below.
We made our way back to camp before completely running out of sunlight and began cooking up dinner. Tonight’s sides included grilled broccoli and sweet potatoes.
While Ally was grilling, Patrick was busy splitting logs for a fire. After dinner, we set up our chairs and put the meticulously sorted wood to use. The fire smoldered until about midnight and then we were off to bed.
Tomorrow we’ll make our way to Michigan!
McGreggor, IA to Racine, WI – 210 miles (3.5 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
Day 14 – “Root, Root, Root for the Cubbies!”
[August 5, 2017]
Our plan for the day was to explore Chicago a bit – maybe see Millennium Park and the Navy Pier – then check out University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Founder’s Brewery in Grand Rapids, and make our way towards upstate Michigan. Once on the highway though, we thought of seeing Wrigley Field, too, and checked to see if the Cubs were in town.
They were – and playing the Nationals no less! We weren’t sure about parking, but found an empty curb spot in a nearby neighborhood. The area said “Resident Permit Required” but added it was a “Tow Zone” from 5 PM to 10 PM. Given that we were there at 11 AM, we asked a guy who was parking nearby for clarification. Before Patrick even got the question out, Alex (the guy, we became buds) was offering us a 24-hour “Guest Pass” that would allow us to park where we were without issue. Score!
On the ticket front, we were having no luck finding anything on StubHub – at least nothing affordable for a spur-of-the-moment adventure – so we decided to just talk with the Ticket Office. We landed a pair for Standing Room Only!
With tickets in hand, we made our way to HVAC Pub for a pre-game pizza and beer. Sadly, it wasn’t a Chicago-style deep dish pie, but rather just a regular ‘ole pizza. (Maybe we shouldn’t have assumed it would be deep dish just because we were in Chicago?)
Wrigley Field is currently the second-oldest ballpark in the majors — only two years younger (est. 1914) than Fenway Park (est. 1912) — and so has many of the idiosyncrasies of an old-style park.
Specifically, unlike many “newer parks” (starting with Camden Yards and continuing after – check out this great podcast on baseball park design), Wrigley Field does not have large “open” concourses where you can see the field while also getting your food. The lack of these open concourses makes it difficult for those with “SRO” tickets to just mill about and still watch the action, so we decided to just pick seats and move when necessary.
First was up behind home plate. We managed to enjoy these seats for a couple innings — and saw lots of runs — until the rightful group arrived and claimed their spot.
We took the opportunity to refill our drinks – no more Old Style at Wrigley, so we had to make due with Corona – and moved down the third-base line where a woman mentioned she had two extra tickets and we could sit and some empty seats by her without fear of having to keep seat-hopping. Thanks, Random Stranger!
After about the fifth inning — having seen tons of scoring and knowing we still had about five hours of driving ahead of us (plus a time-zone change!) – we scadoodled back to the truck but not before catching a picture with Clark the Cub and his giant World Series ring.
On the road again, we encountered toll plaza after toll plaza. Nearly $13 just to get out of Illinois and through Indiana! With the impromptu stop at Wrigley, the Notre Dame and Grand Rapids plans had to be thrown out, and we made our way straight to “Lucky Lake Campground” in Montague, MI. After crossing north into Michigan (new state!), we were surprised to see the time jump forward an hour. We hadn’t really been paying attention to time zones and so this was an unwelcome surprise as we now had a whole hour less of sunshine than we thought.
We arrived at the campground as the sun was setting, and were a bit taken back by what we found. The check-in office was just another camper, set up at the entrance, and their “hot showers” were just a faucet in a random three-sided closet off to the side. Interesting for sure.
The actual sites, however, were very nice. We had a lot of choices as it was not crowded and picked one of the many lake-side sites that didn’t have cattails blocking the views. We set up Turtle and hung around the table for a while – blog writing, uke playing, beer drinking – till we decided to head to bed.
Tomorrow we have a short trek up to Leland to meet with Patrick’s coworkers who are on their family vacation. A day on the lake looks to be in the cards!
Racine, WI to Montague, MI (via Wrigley Field) – 300 miles (5 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
Day 15 – The Borzcik Compound
[August 6, 2017]
With just a short drive planned for the day, we were a bit more leisurely than usual with our wake up and break down of camp. Though, since there was no running water or bath houses at the campground, we still made it on the road before 8:30 AM. Soon, we were driving through the quaint downtown of Leland, MI — reminiscent of Chatham, MA — and pulling into the Borzcik Compound.
At the end of the wooded driveway, we were greeted by two of Patrick’s coworkers – Joni and Sean – as well as Joni’s family, including three adorable kids running about. After introductions, we headed out on the water. After crossing the lake, we made our way through a cozy canal back into the downtown area.
Once docked, we walked over to the historic Fishtown area.
We decided on Rick’s for lunch — mainly because of their great waterside patio, but also because of their infamous “Chubby Mary.” This was, apparently, a must-do for anyone visiting the area and so Ally volunteered to get the concoction. It’s a standard Bloody Mary, but with the addition of a smoked Chub. Although you could say Ally took one for the team, it was actually quite enjoyable and we’d definitely get one again.
Joni and Sean made great tour guides, telling us all about Lake Leelanau as well as the Leland area – including the “Leland Tugboat,” which is incorporated into many of the signs around town (and even Joni’s sandals!).
The ride back brought more sunshine and some great views of gorgeous homes.
The afternoon was equally relaxing. We took a spin on two of Joni’s family’s SUPs – Stand Up Paddleboards – and explored a bit of the shoreline. Surprisingly enough, we both stayed dry! (This was not a guarantee since we were battling wave after wave from the passing waterskiing boats!)
Cocktail hour began promptly at 6 PM – a longstanding Borzick tradition – with wine, cheese, and crackers out on the deck. At 7:30 PM, everyone moved inside for a delicious family dinner (with 11 of us tucked around a large table) and ice cream for dessert.
The adults wrapped up the night playing a hilarious game of Monikers – a combination of Taboo, Catch Phrase, and Charades. (Very similar to the game “Celebrities,” for those familiar with that.) We enjoyed a beautiful moonrise and were off to bed.
It was the first night of the trip we were not in the tent! We miss you Turtle, but we’ll see you tomorrow.
Montague, MI to Leland, MI – 130 miles (2.5 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
Day 16 – Ann Arbor
[August 7, 2017]
Thank you Joni, Sean, and family for such a wonderful visit!
Before leaving town, we made a stop at Murdick’s Fudge Shoppe – it was so highly recommended that we knew we couldn’t pass it up!
In addition to the fudge, we split a great breakfast burrito from The 45th Parallel. (The shop is located exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole. Very cool!) As we were eating on the tailgate of the truck, a passerby inquired about Bullseye’s California plates. After we briefly explained the move, he mentioned a recent visit he and his wife had to Connecticut. He shared his wife’s love for a small town called “Essex” and especially The Griswold Inn. What are the chances?!
Back on the road, our journey across the state of Michigan was fairly uneventful and we arrived at Bruin Lake Campground in the Pickney Recreation Area with just enough time to set up Turtle and make our way to Ann Arbor. Tonight’s plan was to meet up with Patrick’s cousin, John, for dinner and exploration of the University of Michigan campus.
We met up with John and his partner, Hannah, for dinner at The Lunch Room – a vegan restaurant that offered “more traditional” meals but made with “non-traditional ingredients.” For example, Ally got the “Chili Mac and Cheese” that was made with butternut squash and red pepper. It was surprisingly delicious!
With the meal and a local IPA in our belly, we set out for a walk around the town and check out campus. Much of Ann Arbor resembled downtown West Hartford – very walkable streets, with a variety of shops, bars, and restaurants lining the streets. We headed to a nearby home-improvement-store-by-day-beer-garden-by-night but were disappointed to discover its one day a week closure was today.
We made our way to the University and found some absolutely gorgeous buildings.
After meandering through the city, we were back at John’s apartment and picked up another cold 6-pack at the local co-op. We put our trusty hiking chairs to use again for the inaugural “stoop party” with John and Hannah. We shared stores of camping trips, hikes, and rock climbing – and exchanged podcast recommendations, too. Thanks for sharing your city with us! We had a great time.
A 35-minute drive brought us back to Turtle, with another early alarm set. Tomorrow, we’re off to Canada!
Leland, MI to Ann Arbor, MI – 250 miles (4.5 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
Day 17 – USA. Canada! USA. Canada!
[Aug. 8, 2017]
Today we crossed the border three times — and managed to get flagged for secondary inspection only once.
We started out before 7 AM and were in Canada by 8:30 AM, crossing through Detroit without issue. We were greeted by sprawling agriculture fields dotted with giant windmills.
Before long, we had made our way to the day’s highlight — Niagara Falls!
We had planned to check out the Falls from both the Canadian side and American side but, after seeing just how amazing they were from Canada, we figured there wasn’t anything new to see from the other side and so decided to stay longer in Canada. We think it was the right decision given how you get such a panoramic view from the Canadian side that is simply just not possible from the American vantage points.
“Niagara Falls” is actually a name that refers collectively to three different water falls in the area. From “left” to “right,” their actual names are American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horseshoe Falls. American and Bridal Veil are both completely in the United States, with Bridal Veil being a small, single fall at the edge of American span.
Horseshoe Falls is easily the most recognizable — and the destination for the famous “Maid of the Mist” boat ride. This set of falls was simply incredible. The amount of water gushing over was so impressive it’s hard to imagine how there’s any left to keep Lake Erie filled!
During our time along the water, we saw boat after boat — each filled to the brim with passengers — cruise into the rapids created by the falls, turn around, and then leave. To be honest, it seems like quite the business model.
In addition to the sound, the cloud of mist is also quite impressive. It was actually visible to us as we drove in far sooner than the falls themselves.
After we had our fill, we checked out the visitor’s center, got ourselves a new ornament, and headed back to the truck. Couldn’t leave Canada without a picture with a Moose, though, so Ally made sure to capitalize on the last minute wildlife sightings.
Our night’s campground was going to be in Canada, but it would be about 7 hours away if we stayed in-country, so we decided to shave off 3 hours of driving by cutting through New York. We crossed the border back into America, and made our way to Syracuse. We didn’t have any time to stop and explore the city — including the campus of perennial UConn foe, Syracuse University — but we did stop for dinner in the Finger Lakes Region.
Specifically, we stopped at the western edge of Oneida Lake — home to Patrick’s Dad’s family’s long-time summer vacation spot. While they typically spend time on the eastern edge of the 13-mile-long lake, there was a perfect campground / picnic area on the western side that was less than 2 miles off the highway. Though not immediately obvious from these pictures, Oneida Lake is so long (though, not nearly as wide) that from certain vantage points it’s impossible to see the other side.
We set up shop and threw together a snack of hot dogs, chips, and beer. For that easy menu, Patrick was the cook.
With full bellies, we set out to see the rest of the park, including the campground that had eluded our Google Map searching. It was perfect, peaceful and secluded.
After that, we were back in the car for the final two hours back to Canada. Despite having driven nothing but north or east for nearly two weeks, we were a bit concerned when we saw signs for the wrong country — specifically, exits for Mexico!
Right before the border, and with the sun setting, we decided to stop for both gas and firewood. In our haste to get back on the road, we tossed the wood in the backseat rather than its traditional home of in the truck’s bed — hidden by the tonneau cover. Well, at the border, we were told it amounted to contraband and we’d need to “surrender it” or return back to the States.
We opted to leave it behind and were directed to “secondary inspection” — our first such encounter with any sort of border patrol or other inspection stops — and were immediately met with skeptical officers who had a hard time conceal their incredulity that these two harmless Americans, who were staying in Canada for only about 15 hours, were being flagged for firewood. They explained the importance of preventing spread of the Ash Beetle, but then let us pass without taking the wood so long as we promised to not burn it in Canada. Deal. (Oh, they also wanted to see our bear spray and thought that was pretty entertaining, too.)
Once across, it was a 5 minute drive to tonight’s campsite — the 1,000 Islands KOA. We made it just minutes before the 9 PM closing time and were greeted by a comprehensive host who easily took more time to explain the park’s map to us than it would take to just drive around the entire park and draw your own map. Anyways, we eventually made our way to the site and set up Turtle.
Tomorrow is looking to be another long drive — approximately 10 hours to Maine!
Ann Arbor, MI to Mallorytown, ON (via Niagara Falls) – 560 miles (9 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
Day 18 – The signs in Québec are difficult to read.
[Aug. 9, 2017]
We started our day by taking advantage of the KOA’s hot showers and were on the road by 8 AM. Though we started the journey in Canada, it was not until we crossed the border from Ontario into Québec that we really felt like we were in a foreign country.
Québec is the only province in Canada where French is the official language. Thus, nearly all of the signs — both government and private party — are in French. Also, all the face-to-face interactions begin in French and then quickly revert to English if you can’t keep up. It was jarring. Although we both knew Québec was home to many French-Canadians, we weren’t quite prepared for just how French-Canadian it would be. Definitely quite the experience.
We made our way into Montreal and headed for the Old Port. We found parking along a marina that, for some reason, doubled as a beach right along the river. No joke, it was outfitted complete with sand, beach chairs, and permanent umbrellas. Good on you, Canada. Good on you.
After taking in that unique site, we ascended a large clock tower that seemed like it would give us the perfect vantage point to scope our the next few hours’ adventure.
From there, we had commanding views of both the city to the west and the St. Lawrence River to the north, east, and south.
Once back down, we continued to check out the Old Port area which is currently in the process of extensive renovation and construction. One such project is a London Eye-styled ferris wheel that was not quite open but looks like it will become quite the feature attraction along the waterfront.
We then made our way inland a bit and were pleased to discover “Old Montreal.” We had no plans for our stop to the city, and were only utilizing our trusty Rand McNally Atlas for clues on tourist hot spots, so stumbling upon this gem of an area was a welcomed stroke of luck.
We enjoyed these cobblestone streets for blocks and blocks, but then made our way back toward Bullseye as the specter of a long afternoon of driving loomed. With this self-directed tour, we were happy to find so many gorgeous buildings.
We soon decided hydration would be good and so snagged an outside seat at Pub Brewsky for some prime people-watching. We managed to accidentally order the two house-brews — one, a Coffee Stout and the other, an IPA.
After refreshing our directions with the widely available free wi-fi (thanks, City of Montreal), we were back on the road to Maine. After Montreal, we stayed south and travelled through the countryside just north of Vermont and New Hampshire before reentering the U.S. in Coburn Gore, ME.
With no set campsite or destination for the night, our planning gears went into overdrive. The original plan was to stop at Baxter State Park and hike Mount Katahdin — the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and the highest point in the state — but time was just not on our side for getting there and setting up, then being prepared for a full day’s hike and still making our way to Bar Harbor all in one day. So, we called an audible and decided to drive right to Mount Desert Island (home to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor).
A flurry of phone calls later, we got ourselves a site and coordinated for late check in. That flexibility allowed us to visit the nearby grocer for our last supply stop without stress. Once reloaded, we made the short half-hour drive to our site, made dinner, and enjoyed a late-night fire under the stars.
It is our friend Mike’s birthday tomorrow (8/10), so we continued a tradition of marking a log for him and were off to bed. Tomorrow, we explore!
Mallorytown, ON to Somesville, ME (via Montreal) – 475 miles (9 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
Day 19 – Acadia: National Park No. 20!!!
[August 10, 2017]
Having decided to make our way to Mt. Desert Island a day early, we enjoyed a leisurely morning before heading out.
After a delicious breakfast, we packed up and were on our way. A short, 30-minute drive brought us to our 20th National Park: Acadia! The drive here was kind of strange for us as this park is wedged in between many towns, and so the roads are congested and there is just so much more civilization than what we’re accustomed to. (Though it was “only” 30 minutes, it seemed to have taken so much longer because of all the traffic and lights that we normally don’t see around national parks.)
The situation at the Visitor’s Center was no different – a packed house! Given that neither of us are too fond of crowds, especially while exploring, we opted to make a quick drive around the park’s “Loop Road” to get our bearings and then check out the nearby town of Bar Harbor. This turned out to be a great decision.
Despite crazy traffic in town, too, we were able to snag a prime parking spot and began our adventure. First up was the highly recommended “Thirsty Whale” for lunch and a drink. An hour-long wait was not too appealing, though, so we changed course and headed down the street to “Finback Alehouse.” The lobster rolls and midday cocktails hit the spot!
Then, following the suggestion of our super helpful waitress, we made our way to the waterfront. We enjoyed a stroll through the town’s park, then a path along the water’s edge (similar to one in Newport, RI), and then we were back in town.
With all that “physical activity,” we were ready for some snacks. We first stopped for ice cream and enjoyed it on a bench while people-watching. (All the vacationers milling about provided plenty of fodder.) With the treats gone, we hopped over to Beer Works for some hydration and then made our way back to the park.
We drove to our campground, got checked in and set up, then decided to explore the nearby sights. First up was a quick roadside turn-out, providing rocky beaches and gorgeous bay views. (The tide was out so a lot of rocks were a bit slick with their seaweed hats not hidden by the water!)
Next, we went about a mile down the road and found a bit more formal of a hiking area. This was projected to be an hour excursion out and back, and would give us time to head to the nearby lighthouse for sunset. So, off we went!
After some along-the-water trails and some through-the-woods trails, we found ourselves exploring a mud flat. Here, Ally was quick to find all the nearby critters and even snagged a crab before he could burrow back into the dirt.
Eventually, we were back at the water. The rocky coastline makes for perfect tide pool exploration, and explore we did.
While the most numerous creatures we found were the usual barnacles, snails, chitons and limpets, we could hear other guests exclaim of sightings of eels, urchins and sea stars. (Surprisingly, no harbor seals!) A family exploring nearby found DOZENS of baby starfish under a cluster of rocks! We could have spent a full day exploring the pools, had the tide allowed it. Sunset (as well high tide) was approaching, however, so we headed back on the trail toward the truck to continue the drive through the park.
Once back to Bullseye, and with the sun close to the horizon, we skedaddled over to the nearby Coast Guard station to watch the sunset behind the lighthouse.
We had to park along the road because the small parking lot (maybe 10 spots?) was already quite full. A narrow path brought us down through the woods and around the lighthouse, dumping everyone along the shore.
Once down on the rocks, we were able to enjoy beautiful views of the sun as it set beyond the lighthouse. Every minute that passed called for a new picture, as the sky’s palette continued to change – from orange and red, to purple and pink.
One enterprising group made a pizza party out of the event and carried down 4 large pizzas for their tribe. (We certainly hope they packed out all their trash!) Another goofy note about this night—in addition to the crazy amount of people bounding about the rocks, all jockeying for the best positions—was the weird détente everyone had seemed to agree to as far as how close to the lighthouse to get. A few folks had set up their fancy tripods and everyone just seemed to say, “Okay, we won’t go any closer either.” It was strange.
After the sunset, we made our way back to camp, ate some pasta, and enjoyed a small fire. Tomorrow looks to be an early morning (3 AM alarm for sunrise?!?), so it was early to bed. Just a quick shout-out to our friend, Joanna, who provided tons of suggestions—and even some literature—on places to go and things to do in Vacationland. So far, so good!
Mt. Desert, ME to Southwest Harbor, ME (via Bar Harbor, ME) – 50 miles (2.5 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
Day 20 – Ladders. Hand Rails. Views.
[August 11, 2017]
Waking up, it felt like we had barely gotten any sleep. Well, turns out, we hadn’t! Alarms were set for 3:30 AM – and off we went. The super early morning was because we wanted to be sure we got a parking spot up at the top of Cadillac Mountain. (We might have been a bit too eager, because we were only the third car in the parking lot…) Per usual, we made sure we were properly hydrated for the last big day of the trip, preparing a “wemosa” for us to share as we awaited the day’s sunrise.
We bundled up with layers and winter hats, grabbed our chairs, and made our way over to the rocky hillside.
We had heard about the beauty and awe of the “First Sunrise in America” and today . . . well, today disappointed.
Due to some persistent clouds, there ended up being no “real” sunrise. Though, we did catch a glimpse of a fun sliver of color.
Regardless of the sunrise, we both couldn’t get over just how many people ended up showing up. No matter what we turned, our view was full of people.
With a whole day of sunlight ahead of us, we figured what better plan then to hit the trails! We made our way on the Park Loop Road over to Precipice Trail Head and were happy to find an empty lot. We were just the second car there!
We packed up for the 1.5 mile “treacherous” and “strenuous” trek to the top. This trail had only recently reopened after Peregrine Falcons were found nesting in the area.
Based on recommendations of friends, as well as the printed overview of the hike, we knew we’d be in for some decently strenuous hiking. We were able to experience the hike without seeing many other hikers, thanks to our early start. I can imagine the trail would be far less enjoyable, and the metal rungs far more nerve-wracking with lines of hikers both in front and behind you.
Indeed, we were forced to start scrambling nearly immediately. After using all fours to make our way across the rocks, we came upon the first set of railings. Over the course of the next mile, we’d climb up ladders, shimmy across narrow ledges, and even use railings to hold onto the sides of cliffs. Let us tell you, this was not for the faint of heart!
But, at the same time, it was totally doable. And so worth the effort. Though a workout to climb, the ocean and coastline views along the way were stunning.
In fact, one could make the argument that the views are so amazing they help to distract from the literal precipice you often find yourself on. Don’t look down!
The metal rungs and chains reminded us of one of our favorites hikes to date: the Angels Landing Trail in at Zion National Park. That trail, however, was much more intense — with 1,500 foot cliffs on either side of the chains. There really is no more dramatic view than when hanging onto chains bolted into a cliff!
Once to the top, we enjoyed our hike-staple assortment of snacks – goldfish, jerky, and monster mix. The fact that it was only about 8:30 AM was so weird to us, for it felt more like midday. After all, we had already been awake for over five hours.
From the top of the trail, we enjoyed sprawling panoramas over Bar Harbor. The moving sea fog also provided a fun element to the stop – given the early morning time, it still hadn’t burnt off yet and instead was being pushed around to and fro by the wind. We had a great view as we watched it descend upon a cruise ship, hid the cruise ship, then make the cruise ship look like it was floating amongst the clouds.
Our trip back down was largely uneventful and super easy. There were no railings or ladders this time and before we knew it, the trail dumped us out onto the road to finish the last half mile on asphalt. Back at Bullseye, we finished our mimosa that had been chilling and waiting for our return. By now, we were both starving.
Given that it was only a bit after 9 AM, we decided to make our way towards a nearby picnic area and cook up some brunch. More mimosas were in order to continue the Last Day Celebrations, and they helped make all the people watching even more fun. Though we were the only humans at this picnic area for about a half hour, it soon turned into tour bus galore as tour group after tour group stopped, eat their boxed lunches, then continued on their way.
We saw large groups from other countries (maybe that cruise ship?), we saw large families, and we saw groups of senior citizens. Acadia is definitely an equal opportunity attraction. Oh, by the way, lunch was delicious!
After we used the nearby spigot to clean all our equipment, we decided to drive around and explore. With our eyes open for a good snack or maybe even lunch – yes, we were hungry again nearly immediately – we explored all the various small towns that are nestled around the park. Northeast Harbor was a bit blah for our tastes, so we kept on driving until we stumbled upon “Beals Lobster” in Southwest Harbor.
We were so tired from our early morning, that we both actually took impromptu naps as soon as the truck was in park. An unknown length of time later (maybe only 20 minutes), we woke up due to some open-sunroof-induced sunburn and went in. Some oysters and a mule was just what we needed. They hit the spot!
The scenery was awesome, too, as we enjoyed a great spot on the deck that gave us front row views to the fisherman as they came into the town dock, unloaded their catch (or the morning’s shellfish collection), and then head back out to sea.
Back in the car again, we headed to camp for a proper snooze. (3 AM wake ups will drain ya quick!) Now rested, we arose from our slumber ready for more adventure.
Again following the advice of JoJo FoFo, we made our way over to the Beehive Hike late in the day to avoid the crowds and ensure a parking spot. Success! By the time we got there, it was about 5 PM and we were the only car in the lot. This proved to be awesome, as we enjoyed quiet trails and encountered almost no other hikers.
This trail ended up being a “Precipice Jr.” – as it also had railings and ladders, though just not as many – but still provided spectacular vistas of the park and nearby waters.
Very quickly we were able to enjoy cool views of the nearby “Sand Beach.” (Though a seemingly funny name to give to a beach, it’s actually necessary given that so much of the coastline up here is rocky. Having actual sand on the beach is such a notable situation, it warrants the special name.)
Up at the top, we enjoyed as the sky changed colors while the sun set. Another quick snack and we were on our way back down. We had to hustle if we wanted to make it to Bullseye before it was pitch black!
This hike, like the morning’s trek, was not an out-and-back trail but instead a loop so we never had to retrace our steps. That meant even more opportunity to explore! The first part of the descent brought us to a nearby lake (The “Bowl”) where the trail meandered along its banks atop elevated boards. We certainly have seen a lot of unique trail designs in our journeys. (As a quick aside, one ranger shared with us how the NPS is noticing many trails are starting to become wider and wider due to increased use of hiking poles.)
Before long, it was dark. Thankfully, we came prepared and only needed our flashlights for the last quarter mile or so. Disappointingly, no wildlife came to visit us during twilight. Once at the truck, we were quick to take off the sweaty boots and let our feet breathe. It felt so good to put on flip flops, as our feet were quite stinky after three weeks of hiking!
Back at camp, we made ourselves a full dinner and did what we could to extend the night. We just didn’t want the trip to end! After a long, long fire, though, it was time for bed. 😦 Tomorrow is definitely bittersweet as we’re sad to be finishing up an amazing adventure, but so excited to be seeing family and starting the Narragansett Vacation.
-Ally and Patrick
Day 21 – On the Road to Rhode Island
[August 12, 2017]
Maybe because it was our last night, or maybe because of the overnight storm, but neither of us got a very good night’s sleep. We awoke to more rain — only the second time of the whole trip that we had a soggy tent at wake up.
We packed up the rain-soaked Turtle into the truck and immediately hit traffic. It took us nearly an hour just to get off Mt. Desert Island and just like that, our plans for the day were dashed as we were now behind schedule.
After an hour or so of driving, we stopped at a Rest Stop for some lunch and “showers.” Refreshed, changed, and reenergized, we were ready to go! Free from the rain and dreary clouds, the day was starting to look up. Soon, we made it to Freeport and were at Maine Beer Co. for some tasters. The outdoor patio was a perfect place to stretch the legs and enjoy the sunshine.
Once hydrated, we drove through the nearby historic town, used a bathroom at the giant L.L. Bean store, and even located a jeweler to give the engagement ring a quick tune up before the big reveal to family in RI.
Back on the road, we enjoyed the quickest visit of any state as we drove through New Hampshire in a mere 20 minutes. Then, more traffic outside of Boston. As we got closer and closer to our destination, it seemed the drive became less and less enjoyable. The freedom of Wyoming roads easily beats out the congestion of the Northeast. Eventually, we had made it into Rhode Island — state #18 for the trip! Then, finally, Narragansett!
We were so lucky to have the annual First Night Pasta Dinner merged into an impromptu Engagement Party! Thanks to everyone who made the welcome so wonderful — including the lovely decorations. 🙂 It’s so fun to share our excitement with everyone.
Southwest Harbor, ME to Narragansett, RI – 370 miles (7 hours)
-Ally and Patrick
EPILOGUE: Thanks to all who have followed along! We’ve been so fortunate to be able to even have this journey, it’s fun to share with all of you. (Sorry these last few posts were so delayed. As you might imagine, it was quite a relief to get off the road — but then we had to face real life again, as both of us started work right away.) The messages and comments we’ve gotten along the way about those reading or looking at our pictures were wonderful and make the time/effort of these posts totally worth it. Again, thank you!