Monday, September 26, 2011

Parlez vous francais?

Sept. 24-25, Quebec City, Que 
Quebec City far exceeded our expectations.  It was a little hard to find a place close to stay near the city, but finally settled on a place called Domaine de la Chute in St. Appolinaire, Quebec. This place stands out as the highlight of our travels and a big surprise as neither of us had heard much about it.  The main attraction is visiting the historic part of the city which is a walled village that is entirely quaint and more French feeling than many places we had been to in France itself.  The setting of the walled village is on the St. Lawrence Seaway adding to the incredible vistas.  This port is a major stop for cruise ships traveling on the Eastern seaboard north from South Florida or the Caribbean. Having learned from our Montreal walking fiasco, this time we checked in with the visitor center and followed a walking tour itinerary laid out for us by a guide.  Still hungry for my French bistro fare, we took a two hour walk and ended up in what looked like a French cafĂ©, but their specialty was pizza.  It was tasty and I did get a bacon-wrapped brie salad to boost the French experience.   Highlights of the walking tour included amazing architecture everywhere, the cobblestone streets, an accordion player, and a woman singing French opera in a courtyard. 

The final pleasure was discovering a huge indoor farmer’s market that was intoxicating.  Like in Paris, it included cheese cases, olives, sausages, wines, seafood, and even a chocolateer.  We loaded up with some amazing vegetables for our residential refrigerator and couldn’t resist the croissants and baguettes.  If we hadn’t been walking (limited by what we could carry), we could have spent a small fortune here splurging on French delicacies.
Vic standing at the entry to old
Quebec City

Quebec City's Notre Dame
Our lunch spot at Portofinos

Street music in old Quebec City

The fabulous Old Port Farmer's Market in old Quebec City
Loved this sign for leashing dogs outside the market in QC

Cruise ship on St. Lawrence Seaway in Quebec City

Decision time: do we keep exploring Canada or drop down into Maine.  Maine is calling me but the idea of campgrounds closing soon persuaded us to save the trip further east into Canada for another time.  The route to Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine is a fairly direct one heading south. Our plan is to spend a few weeks in Maine hoping to hit the peak of the color season while there.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Trekking Eastward across Canada

Sept. 19-22, Crossing Canada
The crossing into Ontario took us from the U.S. Sault Ste. Marie to its Canadian sister city—Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario situated on Lake Huron.  A short trip across the bridge linking to the two cities takes you to Canadian Customs. We were unsure whether to take the Auto lane or the Truck lane. Even thought I had read not to consider ourselves a truck in Canada, we were worried about the clearance going in the Auto lanes.  So we went into the truck one and no one was there on the other side—no booth, no people around to check us.  I saw two men sitting on a brick wall wearing custom agent uniforms so I got out of the motorhome and asked them where we should check in. They asked me how many people were in the motorhome and kiddingly asked me if we were hiding anyone or carrying firearms. I said no to both questions and they waved us on—not even checking our driver’s licenses.  We laughed to ourselves and headed down the road.
Our main itinerary for crossing Canada was to see Montreal on the way to Maine.  There were several interesting looking islands to our south on Lake Huron as we headed across Ontario but we chose not to investigate as we were focused on the urban experiences awaiting us in Montreal, a good French meal for starters.
One of the challenges in traveling through Canada which we had not considered was the use of our phones and internet as roaming charges would apply.  Just before leaving the U.S., Vic decided to join the world of smart phones and bought an I-Phone.  We checked with Verizon about traveling through Canada and they strongly encouraged us to turn off the data roaming plan and not use the MiFi.  The challenge then became how to use the Navigation program on my phone which we had relied on for most of the trip.  We ended up buying a one month international data plan so we would have internet access on my phone for finding campgrounds and using the navigation system.  Text messages are fine on the phones, so we told our family and friends no phone calls until we reached the U.S again.  Another technology challenge would be using the DISH satellite system. I called them and they said it simply wouldn’t work in Canada. They were right.
Our first Canadian campground was in a place called Sturgeon Falls. It looked like a resort town on the internet, but turned out to be more of an industrial working class tonw. The campground was at least ten miles down a narrow road—not big rig friendly, but we made it.  Most of the residents were long term (read trailers and mobile homes) but we managed to get a pull through close to a view of the lake.  I am starting to realize that it’s best to have different criteria for an overnight stop vs. camping. vs.  a home base from which to play tourist in the area.  We don’t need all the amenities of a resort for an overnight stay.  Close to the highway with a pull through where we don’t have to unhitch is ideal.  Wehave so much to learn about campgrounds and their many variables!
Our campground site overlooking Lake Huron
 in Sturgeon Falls, Ontario (with Rico checking things out)
Our second day of Canadian travel took us to a farm that converted its land to camping sites—something sweet about the pastoral setting. Met a Canadian couple who had spent most of the summer in  Newfoundland and Nova Scotia They encouraged us to go the Bay of Fundy and a place called Gaspe.  The only challenge would be that campgrounds were starting to close Oct. 1st so they said to be prepared to do some boondocking.  They also said not to miss Quebec City which they found to be more accessible and more European feeling than Montreal.
Vic (holding my purse--not his)
at one of the confusing
Montreal street corners.
We booked two nights at a Good Sam campground called Camping Alouette about 20 miles outside of Montreal. We discovered that Alouette was a popular summer place for many long term residents but this park was more high end, with those long term residents adding beautiful patios, outdoor fireplaces, etc.   Our main agenda here was to go into the city.  The weather was in the low 70s so we felt okay leaving the dogs in their crates in the motorhome while we ventured into the city.  The recommendation for doing so was to park at a metro station outside the city and take the metro.  We had a map of the historic district and decided to take the metro to the last stop in that area.  Only problem was our map wasn’t to scale and we ended up two or three miles from where we wanted to be—but we didn’t discover this until we had walked for at least an hour looking for the old part of town.  It was rather exhausting and frustrating as even when I used my phone for navigation or we asked for directions, we couldn’t seem to find Rue Paul.  We persevered and finally did find this historic area of Montreal.  By this time we had worked up quite an appetite, but instead of finding  lunch at a French bistro we ended up in a Spanish one, but the food was fantastic—saffron risotto with andouille sausage and artichokes for me; sausage rotini for Vic.  We did manage to see some of the Notre Dame replica and a few other impressive buildings in the area but we were too tired to go on an official tour.  The big surprise was the size of the city (it had been 25 years since I was last here) and the realization that one could spend several days just in the historic area to take in the main attractions. We decided to move on.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Revisiting the Upper Peninsula

Sept. 14- 18--Brimley and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
A photo of Will and Sharon traveling
with my mom and step-father in their
motorhome back in the late 70s!
With a plan to head north, I decided to call my mom’s good friends, Will and Sharon Leino, who were unable to make it her memorial to see if we could visit with them in Brimley, MI. Turned out they also have a place in Wallace, Michigan near Menominee.  They met us at a crossroad where an old school had closed and we parked the motorhome there for the night—our first experience boondocking!  Sharon made a lovely meal for us in their “cabin.” Once again, I felt closer to my mom and I know that she would have loved that we made the effort to connect with these long time friends of the family.

From our night of boondocking in Wallace, we headed to the Soo.  Sharon and Will offered us their driveway at their other home in Brimley as a place to stay, but also suggested the Bay Mills Resort and Casino RV Park.  We opted for the RV park hoping we could have a campfire and maybe meet some folks.  The campground was nice but it seemed like everyone there spent all their time in the casino. No one was around.  We checked out the casino then opted for a log cabin tavern down the street for bar food and a drink.  The local culture was colorful and no smoking (yay!) in the local bars vs. the casino.

Toured around the Soo and found a sweet little campground right next to the locks.  Found the locks pretty fascinating as we watched a large iron ore container ship pass through. The actual town lies on the river joining Lake Superior to Lake Huron.  The big claim to fame around here was the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald nearby.  Decided to move to the Soo Locks Campground for a few days before the crossing to Ontario (just over the Soo bridge.)
Watching an iron ore ship go through
the locks in front of our campground.
Fishing on the St. Mary's River
right in front of our campground!

We loved the Soo campgrounds, but wished I had a fishing rod and license.  Most campers spent the day perched in folding chairs right in front of their sites on the St. Mary's River (which I think joins the two Great Lakes?). 

The campground had lots of campfires at night and super friendly neighbors. A 40 ft. Phaeton was parked right next to us and we immediately connected with them (Mike and B.J.) and the friends they were traveling with, Steve and Diane.  It turned out that we had all been teachers at some time in our careers, so we had more in common than being kindred souls traveling in motorhomes. We shared a few bottles of wine together along with lots of tips on traveling to Florida not to mention how to run things on the Phaeton.  (Best tip was to turn off green light on the antenna for the cable to work and to buy a radio controlled remote to run the DISH network system from anywhere in the motorhome. ) B.J. and Mike also gave us coupons for RV resorts in Florida to try out.  Really neat people whom we look forward to seeing again as they will be in Florida for the winter months. 

Point Iroquis Lighthouse on
Whitefish Bay, built in 1870
Beauiful shoreline of
 Lake Superior, near Whitefish Bay

Friday, September 16, 2011

The beginning of unchartered territory

Sept. 9-16--Madison, Wisconsin
Settled into the KOA after making a wrong turn down a subdivision with no place to turn around; ended up having to unhitch the Toad and back up the motorhome to get back on the main road. There is so much for me to learn in terms of navigation and finding campgrounds. We entered into this journey with the attitude of learning as we go, but it is already clear we are extreme novices in terms of what to expect in campgrounds and how to safely negotiate the highway systems of this great land.  So much of Wisconsin highways were under extreme road construction that it seemed we spent so much time on detours or on narrow one lane highways with barriers that our nerves were frayed after only a six hour drive.  We are thinking three hours would be a better target. There is also the constant worry of facing a low clearance bridge or underpass. I have discovered that all low clearance areas are listed in the Big Rig atlas LD gave us—what a blessing.
Wisconsin Badger fans tailgating at the KOA

Met up with Jesse then he took off to meet a friend who was also attending the game tomorrow. Spent an uneventful evening in the park which is a bit hot and dusty—almost in a cornfield.  It is a classic Midwest setting.  Plenty of Wisconsin fans in the parking lot. Saw one RV with OSU flags but never saw its owners.

The game—super hot day and the game started at noon. Our seats were a mile high and directly in the sun. The Beavers played horribly remaining scoreless throughout all four quarters resulting in a 0-35 loss. We were not good Beaver fans as the heat was too intense, so we retreated to a Madison bar for brats and beer. Good choice!
State Street Brats bar in Madison, WI
View of the game from our mile high seats
We decided to hang out in Madison for a few more days getting our motor home ready for the longer journey ahead. Discovered a Camping World nearby where we bought a few more provisions foto make life more comfortable (outdoor rug, propane stove, and a toaster).

We are having major challenges with the DISH system put in our motorhome while we were in Michigan.  They poor guy did not know how to set up DISH in an RV. Everything was a disaster so we decided to return the equipment and put our service on hold until we could figure out how to proceed.  We found the answer at Camping World.  They sold us one receiver (no DVR L) that would work for all three tvs.  They set the system up for us for another $200.  Not sure if it was worth it, but we didn’t want to go on the roof of the motorhome and fiddle with the Winegard Road Trip dish ourselves.  The system worked but the local channels were still set to the UP and the remote would only work in the front of the coach—challenging if you were watching the tv in the back bedroom.  More to learn.  On the topic of technology, we have not been happy with our choice of wireless—using a hotspot on my Droid phone.  We bit the bullet and bought a 4G MiFi device from Verizon for faster and more independent wireless service.  While many of the campgrounds have wireless service included, we didn’t feel that it was secure enough for bill paying, banking, etc.

Jesse packing up.

Jesse took off for Virginia on Tuesday and I fought the tears—too many goodbyes lately.Kept busy getting organized for the road and mapping out our loose itinerary. The one destination that was important for me to visit on the way to Maine was Montreal. After looking at possible route options, we decided to avoid going through Chicago (even though I would have liked to visit with relatives there). The route through Chicago and Gary, Indiana to Detroit, then Toronto seemed overwhelming in terms of traffic, road construction, and industrial areas.  We decided to head back north to the Upper Peninsula and cross into Canada via the Soo (Sault Ste. Marie).  Happy to have a plan!!!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Seeking solace in nature

Sept. 6- Sept. 9, Hancock, Michigan
After my mom's memorial and saying goodbye to most of my relatives, we decided to spend a few more days in the Copper Country at the incredibly lovely McClain Sate Park on Lake Superior. My brother-in-law Scot and his wife Jeana tent-camped next to us and, along with my son Jesse, we enjoyed a true feeling of camping with cold nights (and mornings!) around a campfire. 
The view of Lake Superior
from our motorhome!
Scot had all the provisions for making breakfast outside too.  Why does coffee on a chilly morning around a campfire taste so good? The weather during the day reached 70, but the nights dropped into the 40s. I have never seen the lake such a deep shade of turquoise and so still. We are starting to feel the season change and the leaves are starting to burst into shades of red and gold. 

Vic (and the dogs) enjoying the campfire
before our dinner guests arrived.
My step-sister Gail and brother-in-law Joe brought the most amazing meal to our campfire—artichoke dip w/garlic bagel chips, crusty bread and rosemary-infused olive oil, spinach salad with feta, asparagus w/mushrooms, marinated chicken breasts and incredible wine from Joe, Scot, and we even opened my expensive box of pinot from Carlton, Oregon--yes, I said box.  Joe, the wine conneisseur, said it was the best pinot he ever had! It was a magical night catching up with new stories and reminiscing about many colorful times we shared in the past.

We were also able to fit in a day trip to Copper Harbor--a special place in my memories of various trips with family over the years. The weather was glorious and the big lake bluer than I ever remembered. I was also surprised to realize how much closer everthing was than I had remembered from my youth.  This trip has certainly evoked memories from all different times of my life--including my 1977 wedding night from my first marriage which we spent at the Keewenaw Lodge in Copper Harbor. 

On what we planned to be our last day in the CC, we decided to hang out another night, this time in Joe and Gail’s driveway.  The weather warmed up and Joe took us all out on the canal in their boat for a sunset cruise complete with their famous margaritas.  We ended the evening with a picnic of Vollwerth’s natural casing hot dogs, baked beans, and nachos.  I haven’t had a hot dog in years , but these were not ordinary ones, they were just like the authentic hot dogs I remember from childhood.
Friday morning came and we were headed for Madison, WI to the OSU vs. UW football game on Saturday. I felt overcome with sadness as we started to pull away as I felt closer to my mom up here, but the road beckons and I know how happy she would be for the adventure that lies ahead for us. My son Jesse left a little earlier than us and will meet us at the KOA campground in Madison for the Beaver Game.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Celebrating the life of my mother

Sept. 3-Sept 5,  Dollar Bay, Michigan

My mother spent the last ten years of her life  in Zephyrhills, Florida, but she had lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for more than thirty years previous to living in Florida. In 2003, my step-father Ken died and we spread his ashes in the Portage entry to Lake Superior; my mother made it very clear that her ashes be put in the same place by the Jacobsville lighthouse. In order to honor this request, we rented a large log cabin home on the water (thanks to my niece Kelly for finding this fabulous place) and reserved pontoon boats for taking her ashes out to the lighthouse. We were also lucky to have permission from the owners of the house to hold the celebration of her life on the same premises and park our motorhome here too! The house had plenty of room for our whole family coming from out of town to stay here together. Check this place out:

The Kemp's Lake House on Dollar Bay
I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude and love as my whole family came together to honor our mother, grandmother, aunt, friend, etc. I also felt some sadness that my son Brooks (with a brand new job in Astoria, Oregon) was not able to join us but I know he has a special connection with his grandma that is not dependent on geography. My other son decided to make a 700 mile solo drive straight through from Omaha to Houghton. I was so glad to see him and show him our new home!

On Friday, we moved the motorhome to the amazing log home we rented for the event; stormy weather threatening the event, but the overwhelming feeling of love and connectedness with family took center stage.

My cousin, Bob Beilfuss, brought his accordion and serenaded the whole family on Saturday night and Sunday morning; loved his singing of “Tomorrow” from Annie—the sun will come out tomorrow—his music inspired me to let go of the weather and be present to the joy of family as well as the sadness of experiencing another layer of loss in bringing my mother’s ashes to her resting place of choice in the waters by the Jacobsville Lighthouse.
The memorial was amazing—forming a long procession of the young and old taking mom’s ashes to the end of a long breaker wall of the lighthouse; the dark stormy skies departed to a patch of blue as we let her fly into what surely seemed like a sacred place; a spiritual ceremony on the lawn back at the log house followed by music and a good meal that she would have loved.

Monday morning—saying goodbye to all my relatives and starting to feel the opening of the road looming ahead. So glad to still have Jesse, ex-brother-in-law Scot and his wife Jeana, and step-sister Gail and brother-in-law Joe to help ease the transition of letting go.
Sunset on Portage Entry--my mom's final resting place

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Climbing northward to a Copper Country reunion

August 31- Sept. 2, Houghton, Michigan

We arrived late in the day on a rainy afternoon to the Houghton/Hancock area. Wisely, my brother Mike recommended that we make reservations for a site the City of Houghton RV Park on the Portage canal as they only have 22 sites. What a beautiful spot we had with a concrete pad, and lovely picnic area with table, bbq, and fire ring overlooking the water.  I had visited the park years before but not as an owner of a motorhome, so I didn't fully appreciate its amenities and reasonable rates (about $30 a night). Another major bonus was the close proximity of my step-sister and brother-in-law's home less than a mile away. The park is also a great location for walking into town and visiting some of the pubs I used to frequent in the 70s! (especially The Library Bar which my brother-in-law used to manage--ahh the memories). I forgot to take a photo of this park, but am including one from their website.
City of Houghton RV Park--website photo
After getting settled in the park and visiting with my sister and brother-in-law, I spent the next three days finalizing preparation for the memorial and reconnecting with family and friends before the event on Sunday. The most challenging part of these three days (aside from the food preparations for 50 guests), was trying to finish the DVD of my mom’s life.  I left Oregon with a thumb drive filled with most of the photos scanned, thinking I would have time on the road to edit them and have them all ready to download into the ProShow Gold video making software I purchased for this purpose. Little did I know how challenging it would be to learn the software program (especially adding music clips that matched certain photos). I was definitely feeling the weight of making sure all the details of the event would honor my mother’s life—a daunting task as she was such an extraordinary and beloved woman. At the risk of getting too caught up in sentimentality, here is what one of her good friends, Sharon Leino, had to say about my mother:
My mom and me on my 50th birthday.
I'll aways look to your Mom as a model of never giving up, she was always so full of life and did not let the hardships she went through get her down. She was always thinking of ways to overcome not to give in. Not only did she strive ever forward but she had a great capacity for forgiveness, much larger than mine and I learned from her that forgiveness helps bitterness flow out of your own life. She loved to teach and what a great teacher as she lived what she believed in. I know she is in heaven and hopefully pursuing all the dreams she had on earth.

I was a lucky girl to have such a woman for my mother. . . .

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Crossing the Rockies

Aug. 27-30: Crossing the Rockies and on to the Great Northern Plains
A view of the Montana landscape from our window
Left Missoula around noon on Saturday inspired by the idea that the perfect Saturday night had to be in Livingston, Montana home of the famous song “Another Saturday Night” by Jimmy Buffet .
Loved the old Western atmosphere of the bars downtown; romanticized about owning property in Paradise Valley and then met a guy at our RV park who had just bid on a 40 acre ranch that used to be part of Peter Fonda’s spread. Went to the classic downtown hotel and nightclub—The Murray to listen to the blues. 
The infamous Murray Hotel
Crossed the Continental Divide –motorhome did fine pulling us up the mountains. Vic awed by the dramatic scenery changes as we headed out to the open plains.
Spent the night in a ho-dunk RV park (a set-up in some guy's backyard; odd but doable) in Terry, Mt on the border of North Dakota. Weather still way warm.
Traveled our longest day yet across the whole state of North Dakota passing through Fargo to its twin city of Superior, Wisconsin.  The end of the drive was extremely challenging crossing on a tall arching bridge with construction barriers in the lanes and confusing signage.  Needed a belt of whiskey to calm my nerves when we finally settled at the campground in Superior, where we experienced our first night of rain (and the resulting glory of muddy dogs).