Pat and Dave’s Eastern Escapade – PART 4: Back in the US of A

This is the final installment of our Eastern Escapade, having concluded Part 3 with our final stop in Canada on September 23, a delightful visit with my sister and brother-in-law. So, as suggested by the title, we crossed the border while that classic Beatles tune played in my head: “Back in the US, back in the US, back in the US of A!!!!” (I know that’s not really how the song went, but the USSR doesn’t exist anymore, and I certainly would not be singing about it if we were going there, especially as Vladimir Putin continues to revert to the old authoritarian ways. At least his best US buddy is gone for now …) But enough of that. Let’s get on with the Escapade, shall we?

Sep 24 (Friday): We left my sister’s place under cloudy skies and encountered a few sprinkles as we drove toward the border crossing at Sarnia, Ontario. As I approached the border, I came to a closed gate-arm and a booth occupied by a man in a uniform. I rolled down the window and extended my hand, holding my Minnesota Enhanced Drivers License to prove I was a US citizen worthy of re-admittance. I was met by a blank stare, before he said, “I don’t need that, just the toll, please.” Silly me, we were still in Canada, yet to traverse the massive Blue Water Bridge across the St. Clair River. I sheepishly dug out my credit card and tapped the card reader, trying to act as if I’d known all along that this was a toll booth and not the border, then trundled off again after the gate arm rose. Once on the bridge, I recognized the scene, since we had crossed this same bridge and entered the US once before, back in June of 2018. (That was when we made our first extended trip with the RV, a journey around Lake Superior with a side trip to my sister’s place.) As I recall, in 2018 there were five or more lanes in use, with backups of dozens of cars and trucks in each lane, and the process took something like 30 or 45 minutes. This time, I drove right up to the border agent manning the only open lane, handed him my license (yes, this time that was the proper procedure), answered two questions, and was on my way in less than a minute. Pat later told me she didn’t even need her license when she pulled up directly behind me; the agent just looked at the computer, asked one question, and waved her through. At least there has been one small benefit from the Covid travel restrictions.

After clearing the border, we stopped at a Tesla Supercharger in Port Huron, MI, a 10-minute drive from the border crossing, where we ate lunch in the RV as it charged up for 20 minutes. We then drove to Holly, MI, to the Holly Recreation Area, a lovely state park where we had stayed back in 2018 as well. We took a brief stroll around the campground before dinner, then listed to the raindrops as we were inundated yet again overnight. At least the rain tapered off to a light drizzle by morning.

Our site at the Holly Recreation Srea

Sep 25 (Saturday): On Saturday morning, we left the campground in the continuing drizzle and headed north to the Tiki RV Park in St. Ignace, MI. We had booked a two-night stay at this park due to its proximity to the Mackinac Island ferry terminals – we planned to ride over with our bikes on Sunday morning and spend the day exploring the island. When we arrived at the RV Park, however, it didn’t exactly fit with our preconceived notions. The office was closed early, but we did find paperwork in a waterproof box confirming our reservation, including the first night’s deposit and a request that we return in the morning to pay for the second night. We then followed the instructions to drive along a rutted, very bumpy dirt road to our campsite, passing dozens of occupied sites along the way, many of which had one or more 4-wheel ATVs parked alongside the RVs. Once we were settled in, surrounded by an almost continuous roar of ATV engines coming and going past our site, I eagerly took the bikes off the rack and plugged them in, to assure we would have a full charge for our day at Mackinac. Then I sat down to study the ferry schedules and discovered to my chagrin that Mackinac Island bans electric bikes! So much for our great plan. Oh well, we thought, we can still go over there and rent bikes on Sunday. So, I set about re-stowing the bikes on the RV rack. No sooner had I finished tying the rain cover over the bikes when the skies opened and rain began to fall in torrents … yet again. As I grumped away in the RV, I noticed that the loud buzzing of ATVs had diminished somewhat but was now joined by the sounds of loud partying a couple of sites to our east. So poisoned have we become by the divisive atmosphere in our country since 2016 that my only thought was: “Here we sit, surrounded by rowdy yahoos spoiling any enjoyment we might have hoped for. They’re all probably Trump supporters.” I’m not proud of such prejudicial musing, but that’s the way I felt.

Sep 26 (Sunday): By morning, we’d had enough. It was still overcast and drizzly, ATVs were still roaring around, and the promised Wi-Fi did not work at all. Having agreed it would be best for our mental health to just leave, we reserved a spot at a nearby state park that held greater promise. I went to the office to tell them our plans had changed, and they graciously agreed to waive the fee for another night. As we drove off, I realized I hadn’t taken a single picture in St. Ignace, not even of our RV site. I suppose that says it all. But we were soon out of the city and having a pleasant drive along a lovely, forested highway on the north side of Lake Michigan, and within an hour or so we had arrived at the Indian Lake State Park near Manistique, MI. We had a very nice site next to the lake for which the park is named, and the sky had even cleared up by the time we were settled in. We took a nice 2-mile walk along a trail that circled the campground, first along the lakeshore and then through the woods and next to a small creek.

Our site at Indian Lake State Park
View from our campsite
Hiking Trail at Indian Lake State Park
This mushroom reminded me of a game that I used to play …

As evening approached, I realized we would probably get to see a nice sunset, so went out to sit by the lake with my trusty camera. (It’s actually just my Samsung Galaxy smartphone, but that’s the modern world, right?) I was rewarded by this beautiful display put on by Mother Nature:

Sunset at Indian Lake

The pleasant day and restful night erased the frustrations of our stay in St. Ignace, to the point that I can’t really remember much about that lousy day. Wait, now which day was I talking about?

Sep 27- (Monday): On Monday morning, we headed off for our next stop, the Pioneer Trail Campground in Gladstone, MI, where we had a lovely site overlooking the Escanaba River.

Our Site at Pioneer Trail Campground

Once we were set up, it was time for another personal visit, this time with a longtime friend of Pat’s named Holly, who lives in the adjacent city of Escanaba, MI. (Does she spend her time “in da Moonlight,” you may ask? I’m going to have to watch that movie, assuming I can stomach some Jeff Daniels slapstick, to see if I recognize any of the locations.) Holly is a very talented artist and seamstress (to use an old-fashioned phrase), and about 5 years ago, Pat had promised to give her a sewing machine she no longer uses. So, we had been lugging that machine in the back of the Tesla, including a fairly large cabinet that rattled around with every bump and turn, for some 4,500 miles since departing from Grand Marais on August 24. As a result, the first thing I did when we pulled into Holly’s driveway was to wrestle that cabinet out of the car, and the three of us had to set up the machine in her basement before any serious visiting was allowed. Once that was done, we had a great time catching up on the years since we last met, and Holly fixed us a delicious dinner (including absolutely the best meatloaf I have ever had in my life). We also got to meet her dog and cat, who were probably glad to see us leave after several hours. As we drove off at dusk, it was eerily quiet in the Tesla, which brought smiles to our faces.

Three amigos in Escanaba (not in da Moonlight yet)

Sep 28- (Tuesday): The next morning, we drove to the Union Bay Campground in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, another place we had stayed during our Lake Superior circumnavigation back in 2018. Our site was right next to Lake Superior, only a short walk away on a stony path through the trees.

Our site at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Path to Lake Superior from our campsite
View of Lake Superior while relaxing

We were thrilled to have our third consecutive rain-free day, which we spent primarily relaxing by the shore. We retired early so we could get up and watch the sunrise in the morning, which was glorious.

Sunrise in the “back yard” at our Porcupine Mountain Wilderness campsite

Let’s see now, Manistique: sunset … Lake Superior: sunrise … I can hear Tevye singing in my head just to think of it: “Sunset, sunrise,” or something like that …

Sep 29-30 (Wednesday-Thursday): Our original plan for the next few days was to camp near Bayfield, WI, and take the ferry to Madeleine Island for some biking. However, we had not been able to find a single campground in the vicinity with vacancy during this time period. So, we decided to head back toward home a bit earlier than intended. Plan B ended up as a two-night stay at St. Croix State Park near Hinckley, MN. We learned that St. Croix (33,985 acres) is the largest state park in Minnesota, and it certainly felt big as we drove for about 5 miles from the entrance sign to the park office. We found the campground to be only about 30% occupied, and we had a large, partly shaded site. We took a short hike along a trail near the campground, then spent much of Wednesday afternoon sorting through everything in the RV and storing as much of it as possible in the Tesla. On Thursday morning, we went on a 5-mile ride along an excellent bike path that wound through a diverse landscape of forest and prairie land, passing by structures built by CCC workers in the 1930s.

Our site at St. Croix State Park
Bike Trail at St. Croix State Park
Chimney of the CCC Recreation Hall

After some more sorting and packing, I drove around the park on tree-lined, gravel roads to visit sites of interest, including the St. Croix boat landing, the Kettle River, and a very impressive, 100-ft tall fire tower built in 1937. I was surprised to see that the tower was open to the public, so I had to climb the 134 steps and enjoy a spectacular view from above the trees. Perhaps the most amazing thing of all was that we had two more days without rain, for the longest run of dry weather since we started the Escapade.

Typical forest road at St. Croix State Park
Kettle River Overlook at St. Croix State Park
St. Croix River channel near the boat landing
Fire tower built by CCC in 1937, with 134 steps to the top
View from the fire tower

Oct 1- (Friday): On Friday, we put the bike rack on the Tesla and stowed the bikes, jammed a few more items in the car, and headed off to Lake Region RVs in Ramsey, MN, the place where we bought the RV back in April of 2018. It was overcast as we packed up to go, and, fittingly, it started to rain cats and dogs during the drive. Mercifully, the rain stopped before we arrived, allowing us to deliver our beloved machine without getting soaked. But why were we delivering it to the dealer, anyway? I’ll explain all that in a future post.

So, we have successfully concluded Pat and Dave’s Eastern Escapade. Here’s a map of the journey, which amounted to a total of 4,880 miles during the five weeks and two days since departing the condo on August 25.

I hope you have enjoyed my little chronicle, and maybe you’ll enjoy reading about our future travels as well. Good day for now!

Pat and Dave’s Eastern Escapade – PART 3: O Canada!

This is the third installment of our Eastern Escapade, having concluded Part 2 on September 10 in a state of limbo (actually in the state of Maine, but what’s a little hyperbole among friends?) wondering if we would be allowed to cross the border into Canada. Based on the title of this episode, you’ve probably guessed the outcome, but feel free to read on anyway!

Sep 11-12 (Saturday-Sunday): We awoke Saturday morning and immediately opened our email apps hoping to find the results of the Covid tests we took at the local Walgreen’s on Thursday. We were delighted to see that we both had received notification of our negative results, meaning we still had 24 of the hours allowed by Canadian authorities to enter their beautiful country. Since we were only a half hour away from the border, we were in like Flynn. So, we packed up the RV and headed east. As we neared the border crossing located smack dab in the middle of Interstate Highway 95, it felt rather eerie. There we were, driving along in our RV and our Tesla on a 6-lane freeway, and were literally the only two vehicles on the road. When we reached the border crossing, there were three cars waiting in the automobile lane and none in the RV lane. We each presented our supporting documents, received some instructions about the requirements for visiting Canada, and were waved through within a few minutes. In short, the requirements for getting into Canada were: 1) be fully vaccinated for Covid-19, 2) show proof of a negative Covid molecular test within the previous 72 hours, 3) agree to wear a mask and social distance in all indoor public spaces, and 4) agree to quarantine for 2 weeks if either of us came down with symptoms after entering. Since we are not Republicans, these all seemed to be reasonable requests rather than existential threats to our personal freedom, so we each thanked our respective border agent and happily drove into the lovely countryside of New Brunswick. After about three hours of driving, we arrived at an RV park in Quebec called Camping le Rayon de Soleil, or (roughly translated) Campground of the Ray of Sunshine. The drive through the pretty countryside was very pleasant, though it was a bit disconcerting that all the road signs were in French only, so we often had no idea what they were telling us to do. C’est la vie, … when in Rome, … er France, … er New Brunswick, … er Quebec …

The campground was nice enough, but rather than rays of sunshine, we mostly encountered drops of rain. We stayed for two nights, and it rained fairly steadily for at least 80% of the time we were there. We did have a brief interlude of non-rain on Sunday morning, so we took the Tesla for a spin around the area and found a lovely little park with some spectacular views of the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River. There was also a nice hiking trail at the campground itself that wound along a small, adjacent creek. The only real disappointment was that the 50-amp circuit did not work for charging the Tesla, so we had to use the slow, 15-amp circuit on the side of the RV. Nevertheless, we had enough time to charge it up for the next leg of the trip.

Our site at Camping le Rayon de Soleil
South shore of St. Lawrence River at Riviere-des-Caps, Quebec
Looking westward from Riviere-des-Caps
Another view from Riviere-des-Caps — here comes the rain again!
Hiking Trail at Camping le Rayon de Soleil

Sep 13-15 (Monday-Wednesday): On Monday morning, we left the Campground of the Drops of Water and drove a couple of hours southwest along the St. Lawrence to Camping Juneau, a large RV park in a southwest suburban area near Quebec City. The friendly man at the camp office gave me a nice map and explained how to go into the city, which we did on Tuesday, an easy half-hour drive along a good freeway that led directly into the city proper. We spent a wonderful, sunny afternoon in the old city, or Vieux Quebec, walking around on the old 18th century walls and the modern walkways, admiring the beautiful buildings, stunning views of the St. Lawrence, and a lovely fountain by the Parliament building. We enjoyed a nice lunch at Bistro 1640, a nice café with outdoor seating, where we needed to show our vaccine cards and wear masks to gain entry. The only sour note was a small but vocal crowd of anti-vax protesters near Parliament, who can be seen in the background of the last photo below. The good news was that the crowd was small and did not attract any attention from the vast majority of the Quebecoise, who were clearly taking the pandemic seriously while getting on with their lives.

Our site at Camping Juneau
Walls of the Old City of Quebec
Walkway along the St. Lawrence, with the Old City Walls to the left
Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City
Armaments protecting Quebec from the formerly unfriendly Americans
Panorama view of the St. Lawrence River
Quebec Parliament Square and Fountain (and protesters)

By Tuesday evening, the sunshine was long gone and it was raining again, so we puttered around in the RV all of Wednesday morning. Luckily, the rain stopped by midafternoon, and we drove to the nearby Montmorency Falls Park, just east of Quebec City. At 272 feet, Montmorency Falls is more than 100 feet higher than Niagara Falls. We spent a couple of hours walking around the park, riding a cable car from the upper parking area to the bottom of the falls, climbing 187 steps up a walkway for a nice view of the area, then down again, then up and down 44 steps again to get a photo of the cable cars, then back up in the cable car to admire the view from the top. (Full disclosure: I myself climbed up and down the stairs, but 187 steps only amounted to about a third of the way due to excessive huffing and puffing. Pat didn’t get winded at all, because she didn’t even try to climb the steps.)

Montmorency Falls
View from part way up the walkway
Cable cars at Montmorency Falls Park
View from the top of Montmorency Falls

After visiting Montmorency, we stopped at Buche Cuisine Quebecois, a nice restaurant in Vieux Quebec, for dinner. Pat had a delicious salmon meal while I enjoyed the national dish of Quebec – Pate Chinois – which is basically a local version of shepherd’s pie. The story goes that this meal was named Chinese Pie when developed as an economical way to feed the mostly Chinese workers building the railroads in the late 1800s, but soon became wildly popular throughout all of Quebec. I gave it two thumbs up, causing me to spill some on my shirt.

Post-prandial view from our parking spot at Place George V in Quebec City

Sep 16-20 (Thursday-Monday): We departed from Camping Juneau on Thursday morning and headed for the Montreal West KOA RV Park. We had decided to stay there for five days because it was somewhat near to both Montreal and Ottawa, and we figured we could travel relatively easily to either city for day trips without having to worry too much about moving the RV around. That decision was made before we learned about traffic in the Montreal area. By the time we waded through the sea of cars and trucks on the Montreal freeways, my poor knees were aching and my head was spinning. The total trip was supposed to take just over three hours. The first 80% or so was smooth enough and took about 2 hours, but then we hit the beginning of the Montreal traffic and it was stop and go for another hour or more for the next 10% due to an accident somewhere in the vicinity – at least that’s what I think the French language traffic alerts were telling me. The final 10% was better, taking about a half hour to get to the KOA. The campground itself was nice and fairly sparsely occupied. There was a short “nature trail” that made for a nice evening walk, and good restroom and shower facilities suitable for a long stay.

Our site at the Montreal West KOA

On Friday we made our first foray into Montreal and discovered that the traffic back into town was just as miserable as the traffic coming out of town had been on Thursday. We eventually made it into the Old Port, or Vieux-Port, where we walked around for several hours. This part of Montreal was pedestrian-friendly, a welcome relief from the stifling traffic on the way there. We had a nice lunch at a café called the Vieux-Port Steakhouse, which again required proof of vaccination and masks for entry. We visited a wonderful square across from the Notre Dame Basilica, where two statues outside the Banque Nationale du Canada featured a pair of whimsical statues: a haughty man carrying an English Pug at one corner and a fashionable woman with a French poodle at the other. The people are looking in opposite directions, but the dogs are focused longingly on each other. We saw the remnants of a hospital founded by nuns in the 18th century alongside modern business establishments. We strolled through an amusement park, where we had an ice cream cone, before driving to Mount Royal Park where we found some lovely views of the St. Lawrence. Best of all, we once again had sunshine. Fully refreshed, we were able to handle the grueling traffic on our way back to the KOA.

Pedestrian-friendly Vieux-Port area of Montreal
Our lunch stop in Montreal
The Englishman and the Pug — who is looking at the French Poodle in the distance
Remnants of 18th century hospital
Amusement park in the Viedx-Port

Saturday was somewhat rainy again, and we just didn’t have the gumption to face that awful traffic again. There was a decent laundry facility at the KOA, so we decided to make use of that instead. I had a little difficulty explaining to the French-speaking woman in the office why I needed so many quarters for the machines, belatedly realizing that $1.50 Canadian in a washing machine or dryer required only 2 quarters, plus a dollar coin, instead of all quarters like US machines. Duh.

On Sunday we opted for a trip to Ottawa. Even though it was twice as far away, the trip was much more enjoyable due to the lack of traffic and rural setting for most of the way. The traffic in Ottawa itself was also less congested, and we easily made our way to a parking ramp in the CF Rideau Center near Parliament Hill. The ramp conveniently had a Tesla Supercharger on its lowest floor, so we stopped for a 12-minute sip of electricity (just to have a comfortable margin for the return trip and to try out a Canadian Supercharger) before parking and heading off to explore Ottawa. We spent several hours there, walking around Parliament Hill with its impressive array of Government buildings, enjoying beautiful views of the Ottawa River, enjoying lunch at an outdoor café, and exploring the upper locks of the Rideau Canal, a 126-mile canal to the St. Lawrence River opened in 1832. We watched a couple of small boats pass through the locks, and it was interesting to see the lock attendants manually opening and closing the water gates to let them pass through five or six drops down to the Ottawa River, a process that took about half an hour to go 500 yards or so. We concluded our Ottawa visit by strolling through the ByWard Market, where Pat bought some tea and we enjoyed watching a bevy of dogs attending some sort of pet event.

Canadian Senate, Ottawa
House of Commons, Ottawa
View of the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill
The Rideau Canal Locks

On Monday, we psyched ourselves up for another trip to Montreal, this time to visit the famous Botanical Gardens. We were pleasantly surprised to find the drive in much smoother, taking only an hour to make it the whole way. The Botanical Gardens were absolutely fantastic, with sections devoted to various habitats and cultures, including a very large exhibition greenhouse with various exotic plants, a First Nations garden, an Alpine garden, a Chinese Garden, a Japanese garden, an Aquatic garden, a Rose garden, and more. We spent four hours exploring the various gardens, with an outdoor lunch at the appropriately named Garden Restaurant to sustain us halfway along, and left totally satisfied.

The Exhibition Greenhouse at the Montreal Botanical Gardens
The Chinese Garden
The Japanese Garden
First Nations Garden
The Garden Restaurant
Alpine Garden
Aquatic Garden
A bit of relaxation

The drive back to the KOA took a little longer than the trip in, about an hour and a half, but it was nowhere near as bad as our previous trips through Montreal. We knew we were still in Francophone land, though, when we saw this sign for that well-known fried chicken restaurant, Poulet frit à la Kentucky:

Sep 21-22 (Tuesday-Wednesday): On Tuesday morning, we departed the KOA and drove to the Sandbanks Provincial Park just north of Lake Ontario. Our campground was near West Lake, which was formed when a huge sand bar, apparently the largest freshwater baymouth barrier sandbar in the world, worked its way across a bay of Lake Ontario, completely sealing off the bay and forming a contained lake. The park area consists of massive sand dunes and regions known as pannes, which are at times completely filled with water and completely dry at others (as they were during our visit). We had an excellent site, very remote from any other campers, with easy walking access to a multitude of hiking trails. We walked along the Dunes Trail on Tuesday afternoon and planned to do more hiking on Wednesday, but – you guessed it – it started raining shortly after our hike, coming down in sheets and buckets at times, and rained all Tuesday night and all day Wednesday. So, instead of hiking, we drove to the nearby town of Picton for groceries on Wednesday and hunkered down in the RV until it was time to move on.

Our site at Sandbanks Provincial Park
West Lake Beach at Sandbanks Provincial Park
Dunes Trail at Sandbanks
Dunes Trail at Sandbanks
Panne adjacent to the Dunes Trail
West Lake viewed from the Dunes Trail

Sep 23- (Thursday): On Thursday morning, we headed for my sister’s home in Dundas, Ontario. We drove through rain for about the first half of the journey, after which it finally cleared up in time to make our way through the massive multi-lane freeways in the greater Toronto area. At one point, my phone’s GPS gave up the ghost so I was following Pat in the Tesla. When she moved a lane to the right, I couldn’t immediately follow due to cars whizzing by in the right lane, and by the time I got over there she was completely out of sight and I was completely lost. It took me about five miles to find an accessible freeway off ramp, but I finally did, stopping to reset my Google maps app and reestablish the route to a Tesla Supercharger in Burlington, Ontario. When I got there, Pat was halfway through charging up the car. We ate lunch in the RV while the Tesla finished charging and then took off for Ellie’s place. She and her husband, Richard, are octogenarians in excellent health, and they did a fine job of feeding and entertaining us Thursday evening, as we caught up on each other’s lives and shared tales of each other’s escapades. We spent the night in our RV, parked in their driveway.

Our RV site in Ellie and Richard’s driveway
Our evening entertainment, with appropriate social distancing
Ellie and Richard’s “million dollar view” of the Dundas Valley

This stop essentially ended the Canadian portion of our Escapade, as our plans called for returning to the US in the morning. Here’s a map of the journey so far:

Pat and Dave’s Eastern Escapade through September 21, 2021

So, this epic post has finally come to an end. All is well. The Eastern Escapade will conclude in the next episode, so stay tuned …