Monthly Archives: October 2012

Breaking News… Hurricane Sandy!

We’ve had several messages from friends and family wondering about our location and safety. Thought we’d throw a quick post up to let you all know what we’re doing in the face of the Frankenstorm! We’ve been in Boston, and our plan was to be there for a few more days then go to Philadelphia before visiting Brian’s parents in Ohio for a couple of weeks. But since the bus doesn’t float and we don’t want it to fly, we decided to head for the hills. We’re headed north and then west, which will take us into some snow but out of the wind.

The whole East Coast is bracing for the storm. We’ve passed convoys of utility trucks heading into the coastal areas to be positioned for post-storm clean-up. People here are fueling up generators and stockpiling food and water in expectation of power outages. We have friends and family right in the path and we’re definitely worried for them.

We’re driving along Lake Ontario now and it’s churning. When the storm hits here late tonight they’re expecting 25 ft waves and wind gusts up to 70 mph. By then we should be parked safely at the lake house in Ohio, watching it all on the Weather Channel.

We had a great time in Boston — pictures coming soon!

In the meantime, here’s Sandy…

Sandy from space

The projected path…

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Portland to Portland

Miles since Portland, OR: 8548
Miles on the jeep: 6352
States we’ve been in: 17
Bears that have crossed our path: 1
Bare asses that have crossed our path!: 1 (Thanks, Paul!)
Number of books we’ve acquired along the way: too many to count
Number of bookshelves in the bus: not enough
Number of fill-ups: you don’t want to know
Number of new tires: 2
Number of microbreweries visited: 15!
Number of those that were in the U.P.: 8! The Great Beer State!
Guest passengers: 3 🙂
Number of times we’ve listened to On The Road Again by Willie Nelson: a lot!
Number of songs in our On the Road playlist: 19 — suggestions welcome!
Most unexpected thrill: seeing the aurora borealis in Houghton
Number of times Brian’s shaved since July 26: 0!

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O Canada!

After hanging out in the U.P. for longer than expected, we thought that our trip into Canada would be a quick dash across Ontario with perhaps a brief stopover in Montreal. Buy some maple syrup, let Carson dust off his French, check out the most European city in North America, and then head on to Boston for some early American history.

We crossed the bridge over the Soo locks into Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario as another giant freighter was heading off toward Lake Superior, made a quick stop at the customs checkpoint, then turned east on 17, the Trans-Canadian Highway. It was a beautiful drive – some fall colors lingering in the boreal forest, lots of boulder strewn shorelines and hills, and numerous signs warning drivers to be careful of moose and deer on the road at night. We stopped early evening in the town of Sudbury, checked the tourist information we’d picked up at the border, and headed for the Lake Laurentian Conservation Area for a hike before dark. En route, we passed a large complex called Science North. Hmmm… Back at the bus a quick Google search had us intrigued – science museum, planetarium, and IMAX? Here?

We decided to check it out the next day, assuming that we would spend a few hours before hitting the road again. Wrong! It was spectacular! We got to pet a beaver named Drifter and a porcupine (porc-épic in French) named Quillan, helped feed the skunk named Rosie (ha!), and generally had the run of the place. We did experiments on the effects of weightlessness with a micro-zero-gravity apparatus, built and raced electronic cars, polished rocks in the lapidary lab, and watched a 4D movie about Canadian firefighters. Everyone there was helpful, friendly, and extremely knowledgeable about their particular fields (we met lots of -ologists!). We couldn’t believe it when they kicked us out at closing time! “Wait, we didn’t see everything!”

So, we stayed another night, hit the museum a second time, and still didn’t see it all. This wasn’t a huge place, either, just really well laid out, well executed, and extremely engaging. Kicked out at closing time for a second straight day and we were on the road again.

We spent Sunday exploring Old Montreal, the waterfront quays, and the downtown area of Quebec’s capital city. It was odd to be just an hour from Vermont but feeling like we were back in Europe. We had been noticing the bilingual signs all across Ontario, French and English on everything, but as soon as we crossed the province border into Quebec, it was only French. We ate poutine (the local French fries, gravy, and cheese dish that’s a full week’s supply of calories and salt), saw an excellent exhibition by First Nation artists, and just walked the city and soaked up the cool atmosphere. Our last stop was the Montreal Botanical Garden to see the annual Gardens of Light exhibit, a beautiful way to end our day.

Au revoir, Québec! Next stop – Boston!

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Campfire Halloween

From St. Ignace we headed north to Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Our plan was to see the falls that evening, see the Shipwreck Museum the next morning, then head for Sault Ste. Marie and the Canadian Border. When we got to the campground it was packed, and there were kids and pumpkins everywhere! Turns out we stumbled into the annual Tahquamenon Falls Fall Festival. We missed the chili cook-off and pumpkin carving contest, but we were just in time for trick or treating. We decided the falls could wait. We had 45 minutes to come up with a costume for Bridger and find some Halloween candy to give away!

The state park is kind of in the middle of nowhere. Luckily the convenience store just up the road had some Halloween candy, I’m sure in anticipation of campers like us. Now we just had to figure out a costume. No problem! We recently bought a couple of faux bearskin rugs for the boys’ room after complaints of cold feet. Two bearskin rugs, Sam’s leather longline, and one pair of Uggs later, we had a caveman! Did I mention I’m the queen of homemade Halloween costumes? Brian created a weapon based on Bridger’s sketches and we were all set! Carson and I stayed in camp to carve a jack-o-lantern and pass out candy while Brian and Bridger went hunting and gathering. It was so much fun. People had gone all-out to decorate their campers and campsites. Everybody was totally into it and the kids had a blast!

The next morning we made it to the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. It’s a small, privately owned museum dedicated to the many shipwrecks on and near the Point. It houses a 3rd degree Fresnel lens and information and artifacts from many of the discovered shipwrecks, including the bell recovered from the Edmund Fitzgerald. It’s an amazing little museum. One of the most dramatic exhibits was about Surfmen of the U.S. Life Saving Service, a group of first responders I had never even heard of. They were forerunners of the Coast Guard, basically lifeguards on steroids. It’s a fascinating history— if you get a chance, you should look it up.

We finally made it to Sault Ste. Marie, or the Soo as the locals call it. As with everywhere else in the U.P. we spent more time there than expected. When we got to the Soo Locks the first morning there were no vessels scheduled to pass through until evening. We decided we couldn’t leave without seeing the locks in action. So we learned all about the locks at the visitor’s center, met a bookstore owner who shared some local history with us, caught up on the laundry, made a visit to Grooves music store for new guitar strings, then back to the locks. We watched the Cason J. Callaway, up-bound to Lake Superior, pass through. It was worth the wait. Those freighters are just awesome and watching them go through the Soo Locks is pretty unforgettable.

*On a side note: Remember the freighter we watched load up and put out in Marquette? Turns out there was a reason that thing looked so huge. It was the Paul R. Tregurtha, the biggest laker on the Great Lakes! It’s 1013 ft long and 105 ft wide. The widest of the Soo Locks is 110 ft. It must be exciting to watch the massive Tregurtha squeeze through!

After the Callaway, Brian and I checked out the Soo Brewing Co, a great little brewery with a real feeling of community. No TVs, no kitsch, just conversation and conviviality. The owner introduced us to Skittles, an English pub game that’s addictive. So much fun!

We had a great time in the U.P., and we fell in love with Lake Superior but we really did have to leave! So, on to… Canada! Headin’ across the border to get some french fries and gravy…

More soon, eh?

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classic rewind…

Did I mention that, as the keepsake coffee mugs say up here, “I yoosta be a Yooper!” back in grade school? Lots of fun memories from back then: going to a really small school (only 4 other kids in my grade and 3 teachers for grades 1-10), walking a mile and a half home along a country road, ice skating on the frozen river that runs through town, building snow forts. The list could go on and on.

We drove down to see my old stomping grounds, stopped in at Camp Sagola, and met up with Aaron Berger, my best friend from those years, and his family. We had such a good time that when they invited us to come down to their farm we happily agreed to turn the bus back toward the Lake Michigan shore.

We got to Wilson just in time to help with the evening milking on their third generation family dairy farm. It was amazing! Aaron, his brother, and their dad welcomed us in, answered all of our questions, gave us a great “behind the scenes” tour, and even let us help with the milking. Really, I don’t think I can adequately describe how smooth, efficient, and well thought out their milk parlor is but it was very impressive. They milk about 70 cows in just over an hour, use well water to cool the milk, then use that heated water to warm and wash the barn. After the chores it was Reuben pizza, remote controlled cars in the driveway, looking at grade school yearbooks and family photos, and catching up. It was funny how the years just seemed to fall away, even though we both have boys now who are about the same age we were when I moved away. It felt like a family reunion and we’re already looking ahead to the next time we can get together.

Aaron and Cindy recommended the Straits Park in St. Ignace as our next stop. It’s right on the northern end of the Mackinac Bridge, the third longest suspension bridge in the world and the only connection between Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the rest of the state. It’s pronounced “mack-i-naw” thanks to the early French influence here. Also, Carson built an awesome model for his science and engineering class last year based on this bridge, so it was cool to finally see it in person. The Mighty Mac is also the reason Yooper’s refer to their fellow residents from down state as “trolls” – they live under the bridge! We parked the bus within sight of the bridge and hopped a ferry to Mackinac Island in Lake Huron, a fudge mecca and site of Fort Mackinac on a bluff overlooking the Straits of Mackinac. No cars are allowed there, even for locals, so we rented bikes and rode the 8 mile loop all the way around the island on M-185, the only state highway in America with no cars and trucks. We stopped along the shore to mark our passage with a rock cairn, re-energized with some famous fudge, and caught the last ferry back to the mainland.

No visit to the U.P. would be complete without a stop at The Mystery Spot! The lore surrounding this geographical oddity is that some surveyors in the 1950s discovered a 300 yard oval of land here where their equipment didn’t work right, their sense of balance was thrown off, gravity acted funny, and water ran uphill. Could it be the rich deposits of iron ore in the ground? A supernatural nexus of some sort? The reality is that is was just as cool as I remembered from visiting some 30+ years ago, we saw water run uphill, and Carson seemed to grow a foot right before our eyes. 🙂 We were literally climbing the walls before we left!

Mystery Spot – check!! On to the next adventure…

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Marquette, Michigan

We might have found a new home. OK, we won’t be retiring the bus anytime soon but this town really rocks! A couple of days turned into a week, new friends, and serious consideration of the U.P. as an eventual stopping point. Great downtown, awesome breweries, waves crashing along the shore of Lake Superior, miles of running and biking trails, fishing, paddling, skiing, hunting – it’s perfect… except for the mosquitoes that will carry you away in the summer. Still.

Backing up a step – on the way out of Houghton we stopped at the Adventure Mining Company to explore an old copper mine. There’s no electricity in the mine so you have to wear a hard hat and headlamp. Our guide, a recent graduate in chemical engineering from Michigan Tech in Houghton, took us through two levels of the old mine. We were all excited to see bats hanging on the walls and ceiling, then there were more bats, and more bats, and more bats. At the last annual official count of bats in this mine, there were 25,000! We turned off the headlamps and saw the interior by candlelight, tried our hand at pounding boreholes with a hammer and steel rod, then rappelled down an 80-foot mineshaft to the second level, some 200 feet below ground. It was good, muddy fun.

Once we hit Marquette, we ate down by the old ore dock, day hiked around Presque Isle, scrambled out along the piled-boulder breakwater to the small lighthouse, and sat there in the sun to watch an iron ore freighter cruising out into the deep waters of Lake Superior. We found some great microbreweries, including possibly the coolest open mic night ever at Blackrocks, hosted by the owner, Andy, on guitar and throwing what felt like an awesome house party. We got our first snow of the season, drove down to see my best friend from grade school, and explored my old stomping grounds. For the record, my driveway really was a half-mile long, even if it wasn’t uphill both ways!

From Marquette we headed over to Munising, just down the road and a great stepping off point to hike in along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We parked the bus in a relatively empty park that is right on the shore of Lake Superior. We had a beautiful view of the waves, some islands, and the shoreline that was just 50 feet from our campsite. Grabbed some pasties to go (pronounced “pass-tee”, a regional favorite!), packed our raingear, and headed for the shoreline. A six mile round trip hike took us past Chapel Falls, Chapel Lake, and Chapel Rock, one of the most beautiful natural rock formations on the Lakeshore. We got a little more Superior beach time, then hiked back up through an amazing beech and birch forest to the trailhead. On the way, we walked right up on a doe and her two fawns grazing just off the trail. After a long while of posing for pictures, they literally high-tailed it off into the woods. We love the U.P!

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Say Yah to da U.P. eh!

Despite our love affair with Ely, Minnesota, we dragged ourselves away from the beauty of the Boundary Waters, the fun Ely crowd, and the sound of wolves howling across Fall Lake. Destination? Michigan! More precisely, we were headed for the Upper Peninsula, known up here as the U.P.

A few quick facts about the U.P. –
– contains 198 of the 199 waterfalls in Michigan
– has the largest Finnish population outside of Finland
– has a regional dialect/accent known as Yooper that features a heavy Scandinavian influence
– received a record 391.9 inches! (995.4 cm) of snow in the winter of ’78-79
– was where I started first grade and lived from 1977-80

We spent a week in Houghton exploring the Keweenaw Peninsula (yes, another peninsula!) that protrudes north into Lake Superior, the biggest freshwater lake on the planet. We ran and skipped rocks on the beaches, hiked to waterfalls, and drove thru fall colors that made us catch our breath at nearly every turn. Seriously, the boys got completely jaded after the umpeenth time of, “Oh, look at that red! And that orange across the field!” On Michigan highway 41 driving up into Copper Harbor we were literally driving through a tunnel of fall colors, with birch, maple, and oaks reaching out from each side of the road to meet overhead.

On our final night in Houghton, we were having a beer at a local brewery called The Library when we heard and saw a ripple of excitement go around the room. Ayrril asked the bartender what was up. He told us, “Northern lights. You can see them right now if you step outside.” We immediately headed out to join the locals down by the river just a block off Main Street. We watched the dancing, waving green lights off and on for the next hour or so, ducking back inside to finish our IPAs. We had to laugh — after a week near the Arctic Circle in Sweden and Norway last January, we finally saw the aurora borealis in Houghton, Michigan. It was just amazing.

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