Summer Travel Map

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Back in the USA

July 30, 2011
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

Yesterday was a travel day and today it's been about getting ready for our upcoming rallies.

We were up early yesterday and reluctantly said our "good-byes" to Dave and Sandy and "crew". I pulled the coach out to the road and hooked up the Rover, and we were on our way right on schedule. It was a nice day for driving, although it got a little warm in the afternoon and we picked up a strong head wind around the same time. Our route took us back to PH-69 and then North to Sudbury where we picked up Trans-Canada Highway 17, heading west. We followed that route along the northern edge of Lake Huron to the border cities of Sault Ste. Marie (collectively, "The Soo"). We were soon on the International Bridge crossing back to the USA, which turned out to be a 45-minute "crawl". We had no issues at the border or toll though, and hopped off the northern end of I-75 at the first exit. We were soon parked at Soo Locks Campground, right along the St. Mary's River, just downriver from one of the major locks (hence the name). Geri whipped up a quick pasta sauce and we had a nice dinner before calling it an early night.

Considering it's out-of-the-way location by today's standards, Sault Ste. Marie is the oldest city in Michigan, harkening back to a time when travel by water was the norm, not Interstates. The St. Mary's River connects lakes Superior and Huron, and the region's name derives from the French for "Rapids of Saint Mary". The freighters that use the locks along the river are quite large by any standard; we've watched several head by since we've been here.

Today, Geri tackled the laundry hamper and I caught up on end-of-the-month finances. We made a quick trip to the local Wal-Mart, billed by locals as the "biggest for miles" (a quick search reveals that it's the only one for miles). Since we have a 30-amp connection and no sewer on-site, we're reminded of our 2009 trip to Alaska, where we didn't let a little thing like limited facilities get in the way. In between, Geri's started work on a nice quiche we'll have for dinner, probably followed by another early night since tomorrow is a travel day.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Go North!"

July 28, 2011
Loring, Ontario, Canada

And so we did, leaving the Niagara Falls area on Monday morning. Back over the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge into Canada, we looped around the western end of Lake Ontario to Toronto via PH-405, the QEW, PH-403 and PH-401, then headed North on PH-400. After a quick stop in Barrie for Costco and Sobey's shopping (OK; not so quick as we had lunch plus had some traffic/construction issues so it took over 2 hours), we continued on and arrived at Dave and Sandy's "cottage" just after 4:00. As we were almost ready for their turnoff, we saw an ATV heading our way and soon realized that it was Dave scouting for us. We were soon parked in a neighbour's driveway clearing (no 2+-hour job backing the coach in this time!) and ready to relax.

We had generally great weather, only one cloudy day, and had a great time visiting with their family (the total group was anywhere from 7 to 11 plus 4 dogs, depending on who was there at any given time. Sandy was super-busy as usual making sure that the household ran smoothly and everyone had enough to eat. We had several great dinners, including deep-fried turkey (a first for us), salmon pie, and some great grilled steaks. One evening we boated over to the Whip-or-Will Lodge for dinner (stuffed pork chops). Throw in solid breakfasts and good lunches (we made a batch of Geri's chicken-parm subs one day) and we ate exceptionally well. Dave's wine cellar got a workout as well, and we pulled a few bottles out of the coach to supplement.

Other than the trip to the Lodge for dinner, we had two other outings. Dave gave us a boat tour around the Lake one afternoon, and we drove down to Parry Sound (a little over an hour) to take a 3-hour cruise (no, Gilligan wasn't involved) around that section of Georgian Bay, which is part of Lake Huron. Otherwise, we relaxed and played with the pups, visited with Jason and Lorraine next door, and generally "hung out". What a great time!

Ready to sail!

To qualify as an "island", a rock has to be an acre in size.  Not all are...

"Nice house".  "Wear pants".

Along the cruise, we went right past an active osprey nest.

The "Swing Bridge" allows large craft and autos to co-exist...
Note: As always, click on any picture to enlarge...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Whole New Wine Country

July 24, 2011
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada

After several years' absence (I looked it up and I'm sorry to say it was the summer of 2006!!), we're headed to visit our Ontario friends this summer. Our first stop was with Brian and Jeanette, and their poodle, Suzi. The last time we visited, we stopped by their place in Mississauga. This time, we were able to spend a little more time at their "weekend place" in the quaint little town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The fact that this is HQ for one of the fastest growing wine regions in Ontario (get it, "growing"?) turned out to be a big plus.

We headed across the border yesterday morning and met them at their place. After "the tour", we were off for entertainment. Brian and Jeanette are consummate tour guides, having already worked through the stops and activities. First up, we attended a concert as part of the "Music Niagara" music series, held at Stonechurch Vineyards. After the music and a tasting there, it was off to Ravine vineyard for lunch in their bistro, followed by a driving tour of the local area, including the Niagara Escarpment and the village of NOTL (as it's locally abbreviated). We then made a quick trip back to the coach on the New York side (it's about a 25 minute drive, plus time for the border crossing) to get the puppies so they could come back with us to enjoy a nice barbeque. We ended up getting home right around midnight. No queue at the border at that hour!

Today, we headed back to NOTL for a few more wineries. We started at Southbrook (lunch followed by tasting), then Stratus (tasting at a very modern facility) and ended up at Peller, where we did our final tasting of the day.

We had a great time and enjoyed the time with Brian, Jeanette, and Suzi, and are psyched to return in the future and spend a little more time in "wine country".

When we got home last night, we were surprised to see Wayne and Eva's coach parked a few doors down; they arrived from Maine a day early. We caught up with them a little bit this morning and afternoon, as they are doing Niagara Falls today and tonight. They are headed to Michigan and Wisconsin like us, but they'll go via Cleveland and Toledo while we're going around the North side of Lake Huron via Sault Ste. Marie. We'll catch up again around August 1 at the first Monaco Rally.

Geri, Jeanette, and Brian are ready for lunch and tasting at Southbrook.

Barrels behind glass - Mmmm...

Ultra-modern Stratus Winery

Had to stop for local fresh garlic on the way home!

Friday, July 22, 2011

"We Miss You Guys"

July 22, 2011
Four Mile Creek State Park, Youngstown, NY

With all of the tasks on the list completed and everything packed up, we were right on schedule for departure this morning. We were up early and on the road by 8:15, with an easy driving day ahead of us. Geri and Alicia did a great job of directing me as I backed out of the driveway, making sure we didn't scrape the hitch on the way out. We got "we miss you already" messages from everyone during the day as we traveled.

Our route was pretty simple: I-91 North to Springfield/Holyoke in Massachusetts, I-90 West to Buffalo, then North to Lake Ontario. We did have an interesting diversion near Albany where I-87 and I-90 converge when I thought the GPS told me to take the ramp to the right and Geri asked me "Isn't that I-90 to the left?". She was correct, of course, and we did a quick loop around a few side streets to get back on track.

We started getting "Call EZ-Pass" messages at the toll booths, so I checked our account online ("good") then called. It sounds like our transponders are getting weak. The batteries aren't user-changeable, so they're sending new ones and we'll deal with any missed payments later. The new ones will go to South Dakota, of course, so we won't see them until our next mail sometime in August. Not that I want to see how much the tolls are, either; it's expensive but better than burning a lot of fuel to take an alternate route.

Speaking of that, we stopped for fuel late in the day (first fill-up since May), and did our annual propane purchase at the same time, since Flying J Truck Stops have a convenient process for that. Since the coach has a 37-gallon propane tank (equivalent to almost 8 of the 20 pound cylinders) and we only use propane for the stoves and, when "off the grid", the refrigerator, we end up filling the tank about once a year. This time, it took 16.4 gallons; not bad since our last top-off was 8/11/2010.

We arrived at our destination, Four Mile Creek State Park, just after 5:00 and were soon set up in a nice 50 Amp site. The park has 275 campsites but only half have electricity and, of those, only a small number have 50 Amp circuits. Like many public facilities, this one was designed years ago when RVs were very different. That said, by reserving early we were able to get the site we needed. This week's heat wave has made having good electrical service a necessity to keep the pups comfortable. OK; to keep us comfortable as well. Actually, it was warm enough today that we ran the air conditioners (via the generator) all day as we were driving. Ah, the comforts of travel...

This park is located right along the shore of Lake Ontario, at the mouth of (duh) Four Mile Creek, which is a couple of miles east of the mouth of the Niagara River which forms the US-Canada border here. While nearby Fort Niagara is the main historical focal point, the area where the park is was used as a launching point for various forces all the way back to the French and Indian War (1756-1763).

We're here for three nights, so I'll continue this over the weekend...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Project Time Continues

July 16, 2011
Broad Brook, CT

The pre-departure projects continue! I thought we'd done a lot of stuff before we left AZ in April, but that was so long ago, it seems. Over the past couple of days I replaced the leaking axle hub cover on the tag axle, padded and tacked in a couple of pieces of plywood under the new (2" wider) mattress, re-programmed one of the MCD blinds that needed adjusting, installed a backing panel so the DVD cables don't get caught up in the MCD blind (again), replaced the Velcro on the sunscreen on the entry door, built a new bracket to fix the support for the charge-air cooler pipe where a weld had broken, built an aluminum bracket to hang the old bedroom TV outside, and replaced/expanded the non-skid strips on the shower floor. Whew!

On Thursday, we treated ourselves to dinner at one of Geri's favorite restaurants, Cavey's in Manchester, CT. Pat and Al joined us and we had a very nice dinner, with the prix fix menu honoring Bastille Day. I wish I'd taken pictures of each plate so we could try to reconstruct some of them. Pricey, but worth it; there goes the dining out budget for the rest of the trip! :-0

Today, we'll try to tackle the remaining tasks where I need Al's help. Over the next few days, I'll finish off a few more to-dos, wash the coach, and pack up all the stuff we've deployed while we've been here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Starting the "countdown projects"

July 13, 2011
Broad Brook, CT

So, where did the time go over the past month+? I sure don't know. I had a good-sized to-do list and seems to get some things done most days, but time has (once again) seemed to slip away faster than expected. Oh, well; at least we're having fun!

Yesterday, I ran a few errands, picking up a battery and charger for Al at Harbor Freight. He bought an 18v Impact Driver (one of my most-used tools) last week, but neither of us read the box: "Battery and Charger Sold Separately". And they meant it, since the battery and charger were, indeed, separate items. Phui...

I picked up a few more items for various projects, a SPST switch at Radio Shack, some aluminum at Lowe's to make a shield for the audio/visual cabinet so the cables don't interfere with the blinds, etc. I stopped at the local truck repair shop to get an air filter (haven't changed that since Alaska in 2009)and an axle cover (has been seeping oil for a couple of years now), but they couldn't get either one for about 2 weeks. Of course, this wouldn't have been an issue if I'd stopped down there a month ago, but we'll be heading out on the 22nd. I spent some time (too much time, I suppose) when I got home searching the Internet before deciding to call the Freightliner shop in East Hartford. The axle cover will be in tomorrow and the air filter by Monday. Should have gone there first.

Today, I got an early start, taking the Pups to the local Doggie Park around 7:00. Back home and fortified with the morning coffee, I started on the project list. First up, literally, was some roof work, cleaning out one vent cover and fan then adding some sealant around the skylight in the shower. I'll have to save the other fan vent for Saturday when Al can help, since I couldn't get the bolts loose (one of those need 3 or 4 hands items). I checked fluids after last week's maintenance and decided we need to tighten up the fuel line (another Saturday job). As it was getting warmer, I moved inside, cleaning the inside of the aforementioned fans, then changing the seal on the toilet (didn't do that when it was replaced by decided it was a good idea). Later, I hung Alicia's TV and ran a new cable coax to her room. Not a bad day's work.

Tomorrow, I'll knock off a few more to-dos, then head to East Hartford for the axle cover. If I get that changed plus the majority of the remaining tasks done Friday, Al and I can clean it up Saturday and next week will just be the air filter, plus giving the whole coach a bath inside and out before we shove off. Whew; I'm tired already!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Still kickin'

July 11, 2011
Broad Brook, CT

OK, OK; I've officially become a Blog Slacker. After a couple of gentle prods, we're back. Things will pick up later this month when there is actually some travel-related stuff going on. I have posted a couple of Blog updates to our travel schedule and map, but nothing substantial. Maybe life is no longer of substance? It seems like when we're just "living life", Facebook is a much more practical way to shoot out quick updates. Maybe if I eventually get that nice iPad I've wanted, I'll do more Blog updates. Hmmm...

That said, the past six weeks have just flown by. We're still at Pat & Al's in Connecticut, enjoying the summer weather. OK, we've had a few warm days and the mosquitoes have been joined by flies and now Japanese beetles, but overall things have been generally nice. We've had a few storms pass but quickly and often at night.

We've done quite a few family things with Pat/Al/Alicia/Britt and Melisa/Paul/Jesse, as usual, often including local friends (Lynne and Mike, John, Ted). Geri's son Pete/Val/Josh/Belle had us over for dinner one evening at their place in Marlborough. We made the trek to the Westbrook Elks on Independence Day. We've done our traditional cooking "nights": Wing Night, Rib Night, Pinot Noir Night (excellent Oregon and California Pinots), Mexican Night (Dos Equis and 'Ritas). Al and I cooked 100+ steaks for Ted's annual Golf Outing to support the local Athletic Boosters. We had Lobster Rolls down at the Shore and decided Pat could do better at home - and she did!

On the coach front, Al and I did all the routine maintenance and then some, spending the better part of a day changing the gaskets on the roof-mounted air conditioning units before we had major leaks (they should be done every five years or so as preventative maintenance). Oil and filters (oil and fuel) changes for the engine and generator are done, the chassis is lubed nicely, and the air conditioner filters are nice and clean. I have a few more maintenance items to do in the next ten days before we hit the road again, and I'll give the whole rig a bath before we go as well.

We did a couple of interior upgrades this summer as well. I finally found the price I was looking for on a replacement TV for the front of the coach, swapping the old 30" Sharp out for a 46" LED-LCD Samsung that's so slim it didn't require any custom cabinet work (it mounts flush to the front of the existing cabinet). While I was at it, I upgraded the DVD/surround sound box to a new Blu-Ray version, plus swapped out the rear TV for a similar/smaller LED-LCD version. We'll have the roof dish upgraded later this summer for full HD all around. I even picked up a wireless transmitter that will allow us to use the old rear TV outside without having to run a cable from the DirecTV box.

We also finally got rid of the original mattress, upgrading to a Sleep Number Bed specifically sized to fit in the RV. We'd tried everything to make the old one comfortable, with various pillow-top and memory-foam add-ons, but it just wasn't going to be acceptable. We're so much happier with the new mattress, we know we should have made that change before.

Yesterday, we had a surprise visit from our friends Wayne and Eva, who stopped by with their coach on their way to the Boston area. Al figured out a way to get them parked in the side yard off the street, and we had a nice visit, including dinner featuring more of Pat's Lobster Rolls.

Tomorrow's supposed to be a rainy day, so I'll work on mapping out our route when we leave here and update our music playlists so we have some tunes (since I refused to continue paying for XM Radio). Along with some updates to the to-do list for the next week+, we'll be in great shape. And, back to Blogging!