There’s always great anticipation knowing that Today is The Day! The day that you’re taking your Six Wheels on the Road. There’s excitement in the air no matter if your plans have you leaving for the week. Or the weekend. Or perhaps you’re driving away from Winter and heading towards Summer, conveniently located Somewhere South of Somewhere.
The Journey itself has been planned in your mind for what seems like a long time and now this is it! You’re finally driving the drive, on the road of roads. It’s superb and idyllic and just like you’d imagined a totally pleasant and perfect experience. One that will leave you, at the end of the day, arriving at your destination with a smile on your face.
But is there really such a thing as The Perfect Journey? We should all anticipate hitting a few bumps as we drive the road filled with twists and turns. Some you can plan for.
Not so much. Either way, one thing’s for sure, it’ll make for a great story as you arrive at your destination, ready for arrival beers and an easy peasy scrumptious meal. A really great story, perhaps a little bit like this one:
And for the sake of all great stories, know that all characters and incidents are the product of this author’s compilation of actual events. Any resemblance to anyone out there is total… intentional. We swear it happened to friends of ours.
Imagine for a moment. You’re sitting in the driver’s seat, zooming along at just below the posted speed limit for better fuel mileage and less of a gas-guzzling ride, right? You’re heading somewhere, hoping there are no detours anywhere. But most importantly? You’re in your favourite Leisure Travel Van. Perhaps you’re Exploring with Wonder? Enjoying the Serenity? Or perhaps you’re driving a Unity IB (like us)?
It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining and the radio is tuned in. Perhaps you’re humming along. Or, if you’re tone deaf like me? You’re probably singing out loud.
All is well and good in your world and then all of sudden… Slam-Ka-Thunk !! Holy shoot you swear out loud. What just happened? What was that very loud noise? A quick pull over to the shoulder of the road, because no one ever gets up while their partner is driving (right?) Some investigative sleuthing reveals that it might’ve been the bathroom door that, because it wasn’t latched properly, slammed open when we turned that corner. Or perhaps it was the pantry door that slid open when we hit that bump.
Or how about that time you notice the draft suddenly change the otherwise perfect interior temperature of the vehicle as you’re driving along. You didn’t leave any windows open, did you? You look up and holy shoot, the fan vents are still open! Or worse, the sunroof hatch is up? Another pullover as you quickly secure all windows, vents and hatches.
And then, when you arrive? You’ve noticed that the soap dispenser that usually sits on the bathroom counter? That didn’t get put away before you left. It’s fallen to the ground and of course, it cracked, and now there’s a large sudsy mess of soap on the floor. And in the shower? The shampoo bottle with the cap that just wasn’t clicked shut? It’s laying sideways in a rather large puddle of foamy mess. And that garbage bag has fallen sideways and spilt open, and all those vegetable peels and coffee grounds? Why, they’re all over the floor. Sigh.
Sure doesn’t sound like this was the perfect journey, does it? To avoid some of those holy shoot moments, here’s our habit of a routine that we practice every single time before we leave. Except for that time that… we forgot.
Before every trip, I start at the back of the MoHo. With the bed made, I make sure the nightstands are free from wayward books (in the cupboard or under the pillow they go) and make sure the bedroom window is closed and shut tightly. I check the shower, making sure everything is stored and the caps are on tight. I take the sponge and quickly rinse the bathroom sink, wipe down the countertop, and lock the cabinet doors after I’ve put the toothbrushes away in their bins.
And always, always put the toilet seat down! And not because I am a woman! We don’t even want to discuss what a crappy mess it all could be (no pun intended!) if something fell in that you didn’t want to have fallen in. Like that toothbrush? I look up and make sure the fan vents are closed. I double check that the toilet door is firmly latched, I grab the garbage bag, put the soap dispenser in the sink and head towards the main living area.
I double check that the pull-out TV and all pantry door knobs are clicked/locked shut. I rinse the kitchen sink, emptying the drainer into the garbage. I clear the counter, ensure the fridge door is closed tight, and double check the side door to make sure it’s firmly locked. Oh, and is your outdoor step IN? And last but not least, I look up, making sure that the galley windows are closed, the fans are off and vents shut, and the sunroof is down in the locked position. I tie a firm knot in the garbage bag and I’m ready.
Dave in the meantime has done a walk around outside. Putting everything away, and making sure we don’t leave anything behind. Storage doors closed and locked, and voilà, we’re ready to go. It’s truly a simple 5-minute process and it saves many holy shoot words along the way.
As we travel on our journey of many miles, we need to stop for fuel (and drop off that bag of garbage, right?) The most frustrating problem as we’re travelling through the United States (used to) happen at the fuel pumps.
As Canadians without an American Zip Code, we were always blocked from using our credit card when paying at the pump. Directly from our credit card company to us, and now from us to you, here’s a simple way around the system.
Next time you’re faced with the “Enter Zip Code” query at the pump, enter ONLY the NUMBERS of your Canadian Postal Code, in their order. Once you’ve entered your three numbers, add two zero’s, and voilà… you’re allowed into the system. So if your Postal Code is G4G 2B6, you would enter 42600. Easy, Peasy! Fill’er Up.
And while we’re fuelling, it is inevitable that someone will come over, and start to chat about our rig. How’s it drive? What’s the fuel mileage? Do we like it? And so on, and so forth. Sometimes it ends up in a MoHo-showing, right there at the fuel pumps! Which makes me very glad I took 5 minutes before we left to make sure the insides were ship-shape!
“What’s for supper?” Asks Dave, “want to BBQ?”
“Great minds think alike” I reply, “we have a Pork Tenderloin. How about some Garlic Smashed potatoes?”
I grabbed a Ziplock baggie and pour in some simple ingredients… some soy sauce, something sweet (honey, brown sugar, maple syrup, orange juice are just some ideas), a bit of olive oil, and some herbs and spices. Why not add some chopped garlic, some crushed ginger, along with a large dollop of Dijon mustard. In goes the tenderloin and seal it all up, making sure it’s nicely smothered. Leave it on the counter to marinate, or if you’ve prepped it before your journey, stick it in the fridge overnight or for a day or two, until you’re ready to use.
Then I grab a whole head of garlic and place it on a piece of tinfoil, drizzling it with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and any herbs you might fancy. Wrap it all tightly and securely. And last but not least, I peel and dice some potatoes and leave them in a pot of water.
Dave, who has been busy prepping the table and BBQ, is ready for his arrival beer before I am.
We have a Napoleon BBQ and we love it. It’s sturdy yet light, is a perfect size and when not in use, it stores perfectly on the driver’s side lower exterior bin.
We bought the quick disconnect kit online for approx $30. It was a quick install, and now we just connect the BBQ to the Unity’s propane tank.
Sometimes the picnic table is mobile, and we can move it closer to the MoHo and it all works. We also bought a small table,
That is easy to set up, yet perfectly sturdy and serves to hold the BBQ one those occasions when the picnic table is too far. Or there are no tables, perhaps we’re boondocking?
The campfire’s burning nicely, and we sit back and enjoy the surroundings and the moment for a bit, but our tummies soon rumble their insistence for some food. I head in and start the potatoes, emerging with the marinated tenderloin and the foiled garlic wrapper.
Dave places the wrapped garlic on the edge of the grill, as he preheats the BBQ at the highest heat for a few minutes. Once the BBQ is hot enough, we’re ready for the Tenderloin using our simple “7-6-5” method.
Voilà, it really doesn’t get any simpler than that!
That’s my cue to head in and check the potatoes, which have been simmering gently, and are fork tender! I drain and smash them with a fork, leaving some bits chunkier than others. I add some butter (and milk), and take the grilled head of garlic and carefully separate a few cloves, the skins sliding right off with a pinch, and the mushy cloves dropping right into the potato mash. I season with salt and pepper and mash the garlic into the potatoes and then taste it… hmm, might need another clove or two. This one’s up to your taste buds, not mine. Why not add some parsley for garnish?
The pork tenderloin is ready for slicing into medallions. You can drizzle it with your favourite sauce, or perhaps some mango chutney? Or whatever rocks your pork.
And to finish it all? Perhaps a glass of vino? We select our favourite brand of Cardboardeaux for the occasion. Boxed wine, quite a perfect alternative to bottles, for so many reasons. They store easy, they don’t clink together or worse, shatter! And once you’re done, the cardboard box itself is easily collapsed and can be used for campfire kindling. Our box of red fits nicely under the sink, and I keep my bag of white in the freezer, always perfectly chilled!
So here’s to life on the road. The Perfect Journey will always be full of bumps on the roads filled with twists and turns. Our advice? Take time to prep before you leave, it’s worth your five minutes. And then, when you’ve arrived? Set aside “7-6-5” minutes for a Pork Tenderloin on the BBQ. Everything in between? Sure makes for a Great Story!
We hope you enjoyed Ours. Cheers, my friends, drive safe.
We were facing a problem! It was a problem the geographical size of the entire state of South Carolina. It was a voluminous problem, one that could hold as much water as all of the Great Lakes combined! It was certainly an uncrossable problem, one so large that if we stood on the pebble strewn shores of one end, we surely wouldn’t see land where her blue horizon meets a similarly coloured sky, on the other end. It was a numerically large problem, at approximately 350 miles (560 km) long and 160 miles (260 km) wide. It was a problem that was angled rather awkwardly between the four Cardinal points of the Compass. It was a problem that was going to force us to make a choice of a Route.
We were in Toronto mapping ourselves a driveable, yet hopefully somewhat adventurous route Westwards, to the LTV Rally scheduled in Winkler (MB) on the 6th of September. We had a couple of extra days between now and then to… Adventure! The problem that lay in our path was forcing us to choose between a Northwards direction before going West all the while staying in Canada, or cross American Borders as we headed Southwestwards before going North & West. The problem that lay in our way was Gichi-Gami.
Gichi-Gami is the Ojibwa name for Lake Superior, the largest of the Five Great Lakes and translated means Upper Lake, or Great Sea. The Canadian Province of Ontario sits to her Northern shores, and the states of Minnesota (on her West side) and Michigan (South side) envelop her on the American side.
“So, do you want to drive the North of Lake Superior route?” asked Dave, as we were enjoying our morning cup of coffee. “Or should we explore the Southern route? The one below the Lake?”
“Let’s go the Southern route” I suggested, “we’ve never been that way before!” The excitement of the unknown just the Adrenaline we were looking for. Or maybe it was that double shot of Expresso pulsing through our veins that had us Excited to be on the road again.
We crossed the border into the USA at Sarnia and once in Michigan checked our trusty RV Parky App, double checked with Allstays, and the end result had us pulling into Lakeport State Park.
Our neighbour who’d been eyeing us since our arrival, sauntered over with a friendly wave once he noticed we were comfortably settled.
“Howdy,” he said, “How long you folks here for?”
“Oh, just overnight” responded Dave.
“I knew it!” he chuckled, “your spot has been full of one-night-ers all week. I can’t figure out where everyone is going? Maybe they don’t like the way I talk!”
He laughed, and we too, along with him.
“Where you headed?” he asked. We told him that our destination was Manitoba, and that we had a couple of days to spend exploring, and that we didn’t know which route to take. “Well…” he said, holding up his hand interrupting our passage ponderings, “…you need to go to the U.P.!”
Dave and I looked at each other quizzically, hoping the other could clarify what we weren’t sure we’d heard right, then looked back at him, hoping for an answer.
He took a moment and looked down at his right hand, changed his mind with a shake of his head, and then raised his left hand instead, bending his fingers down at the top joints and with his thumb kind of sticking outwards, making it all look curiously like…
“This is the State of Michigan” he explained, “which really looks like Da Mitten.” I nodded in agreement as his right-hand pointer finger aimed at the bottom. “This is us” and he traced his finger upwards as he continued, “Head up here. Cross the MightyMac and you’ll be in the U.P. Visit the waterfalls at the Qu’M’Non. And them Pictured Rocks are God’s gift,” he stopped for a moment before adding “and stop at the Lake in the Clouds in the Porkies.”
We looked at him, looked at each other, and quickly double checked our arrival beers, which were still rather full and certainly not the reason we weren’t understanding his lingo.
“Give me a minute,” he said, as he walked towards his campsite. “I’ve got some maps for you.” He returned moments later, his mitten hand full of the promised paperwork.
The next morning we drove the red line of GPS directions. Soon the silver cables and towers of a bridge appeared on the horizon and we found ourselves on the tolled Mackinac Bridge; five miles of four lanes of road that is the third longest suspension bridge in the world.
“The bridge opened on the first of November 1957 and it’s called the Mighty Mac or the Big Mac” I read out loud from the tourist pamphlet as Dave kept his eyes on the road ahead, “or the Troll Turnpike!”
“Why is it called the Troll Turnpike?” asked Dave.
“Well, Michigonians who live in the Lower Peninsula, South of the bridge, are called Trolls.”“And I suppose the U.P. the guy was talking about last night stands for the Upper Peninsula?”
“Yup” I laughed, “And the people who live there? They’re called Yoopers.”
We both laughed at the wordage, but truth be told we were intrigued and just slightly curious as to what kind of landscape this jargon was taking us to.
Our hungry bellies were growling their insistence for lunch just as we arrived at the Tahquamenon State Park campground. Thankfully it doesn’t take long to Park’N’Play!
“How about we hike the River Trail?” I asked as I mused over the potential edible contents of the fridge. “The trail entrance is right in this campsite loop. It’s only a couple of miles, and best of all it takes us to views of both the Upper and Lower Falls?”
“Sure, sounds great!”
Armed with water and an afternoon snack, we set a moderate pace as we followed the signs pointing the way to the Lower Falls. The afternoon sun shone brilliantly in the clear blue skies, and the sounds that are tall standing trees with no wind to whisper about their breezes was occasionally broken by the many chirping birds flitting about.
With ever increasing loudness we could hear the roar of rushing water before we actually saw the violent cascade of chocolate brown waters misting about and foaming on the shores.
From there, the River Trail started. For a while, we huffed and puffed uphill. We sidestepped the exposed tree roots, easily making our way over heeled wooden boardwalks.
We made our way down the hills and then counted the way too many stairs that led us back up. But, oh how the watery views here were calming and peaceful compared to the rushing waterfalls we witnessed earlier.
A little over two hours later we finally reached the Upper Falls and sat down on the first park bench we found. The banana we’d brought for a snack did nothing to convince our aching thighs to walk the extra mile to the Upper Falls, nor did drinking our now warm water help motivate our weary bodies towards the 116 step descent to the Gorge.
“Look dear, there’s a shuttle that can take us back,” said Dave as he read the sign out loud, and immediately frowned. “For $20!”
“Well, that sucks” I lamented, knowing full well we had brought Zero dollars with us.
“How was the trail?” asked the family group that sidled close to the same map we were reading.“It’s well worth the effort” we both agreed as we described the hike in greater detail adding, “It’s a linear 4 miles, so count on 8 miles if you’re hiking round trip. Should take you about 2 hours one way, or 4 if you’re going round trip.”
“It’s well worth the effort” we both agreed as we described the hike in greater detail adding, “It’s a linear 4 miles, so count on 8 miles if you’re hiking round trip. Should take you about 2 hours one way, or 4 if you’re going round trip.”
“Perhaps I won’t go,” said the elderly lady to her husband, “I’ll just drive down and wait for you, then you don’t have to walk back.” Then she looked over at us and asked: “Would you like a drive?” We accepted her generous offer and moments later arrived at our camp that was home for the night, where our chairs welcomed us with open arms and a perfect fire pit to rest our weary legs on.
Next day we figured we would stretch out our sore muscles with a flat, yet easy, 1.5 miles walk to the AuSable Lighthouse. We followed what was the old Coast Guard road along and soon an arrow pointed us down some stairs to the pebbled beach, where the mile-long shallow sandstone reef that extends out into Lake Superior was clearly visible to the eyes.
This lakeshore is known to be especially treacherous for voyaging vessels, especially in foggy or stormy conditions and the wrecks that made history are many, and famous, such as the Edmund Fitzgerald. How many tales would this weathered pile of jetsam tell if only the continuous ebb and flow of waters wouldn’t so constantly wash their stories away?
And as we climbed back up to the path and reached the Au Sable Lighthouse, we appreciated the many stories that this light could tell, and the lives it saved, as we toured about.
In Munising, we stopped at the Pictured Rocks National Park. Here we saw jaggedly picturesque sandstone cliffs emerging from Lake Superior’s waterline. Sculpted into the shoreline with a stunning palette of colours that appears when groundwater seeps through the cracks in the rocks and plays around with nature’s embedded minerals. Reds and oranges glow when iron is present, blues and greens shine where there is copper, browns and blacks develop where they find manganese and white arise from the limonite.
A small group of mountain ranges stand around here, their contour shaped rather like a porcupine. Or so the Ojibwa people thought, as they named them the Porcupine Mountains. Or Porkies for short.
It started raining when we arrived at Union Bay Campground, and we got a little wet as we waited for the Park Ranger to process our stay.
“On 11th of July 2016, we had the Storm of the Millenium. A whopping 11 inches of rain in only 4 hours! ” he said as he handed us our Windshield Paperwork and sent us on our rainy way. We hoped we weren’t going to break any new storm records that night as we navigated the large water puddles forming helter-skelter on the ground, and tampered with our ability to park all of our tires in relatively dry and level spots.
After all that Adventuring an early night was quite welcome. The pitter-patter song that is splattering raindrops on the roof lulled us to sleep, with no need to count raindrops, or porcupined mountain ranges, for that matter.
We woke up to the sun and clear blue skies and such a beautiful view from our site that it wasn’t difficult to talk ourselves into a second cup of coffee watching the morning mist retreat into the horizon.
It wasn’t far from our Campground to the Lake of the Clouds Overlook. The Park Ranger checked our pass and pointed the way to the parking lot, still rather empty in the early morning hours. We walked the short path to the Edges of the Escarpment and gasped.
“Look…” I whispered to Dave, getting my camera ready, and we both stared in mesmerizing fashion as the misty grey clouds played tag with the cliffs, and bounced towards the Lake below, singing “Tag! Play Along, Catch me if you can!” as they disappeared from view, and re-emerged with surprising haziness somewhere else.
It wasn’t difficult to understand why the lake was renamed from Carp Lake (originating from the French Term “Lac du Escarpe”) to Lake of the Clouds, for it truly was just that.
Three mountain ridges parallel Lake Superior’s shoreline. And Lake of the Clouds sits on one of them. We visited the other ridge, purported to be the tallest one, where we stopped at the Summit Peak trailhead. Given the impassably wet conditions we opted out of all the trail hikes, and chose the boardwalk type of uphill walk, that had way too many stairs to count but came with many benches where we could sit to catch our breath until we reached the base of the Observation Tower.
With heartbeats pumping out of our heaving chests, we exhaled loudly as we officially reached, at 1958 feet, the top of the Tower and the highest peak in the Porkies. Would this be what the world would look like if you were a bird soaring freely over the dense tree topped porcupine shaped mountain ranges?
And so this is the Story of how, thanks to the unusual lingo of a campsite neighbour, we came to adventure in a State that looks like Da Mitten. Where, for very special few days we visited a land abbreviated as the U.P. Where, for a while, we were Trolls, then continued on as Yoopers but only after we crossed the MightyMac, of course. This is the story of chocolate coloured waterfalls and lighthouses with shipwrecked history. Of where the Lake and the Clouds played a disappearing game of tag all in strangely shaped mountains called the Porkies.
And how, because of Gichi-Gami, our Adventures drove us through one Compass Tale of a Route!