Thursday, October 29, 2015

Learning about History and Exploring New England

We keep saying that we don't spend enough time in each location, but in reality we are spending a good bit of time in most states we visit and the regions in general. The most recent area we have been exploring is the beautiful New England area. After we left Canada we headed south into Maine, a state that neither Andrew or I have ever visited. We have been trying to keep our drives to at least 5 hours or less so our first stop was at a winery we found through our Harvest Host membership in Unity, ME. Younity Winery is a small, unique winery in the outskirts of Unity. Our host, Clem, was the friendliest host we have had so far. He gave us a tour of the vineyards, where they make the wine and we enjoyed tasting all the wines they had to offer. The 2 hour tour was a great way to finish our day of driving. The girls loved seeing how the wines were made and we loved hearing all about the process and how they came up with their creative labels and varieties. The girls ran around the fields, played with Clem's dog, picked apples and we camped under a tree in front of the winery. Harvest Host spots are a great option especially when so many campgrounds are closing for the season, and with such friendly hosts, it almost feels like we are staying with friends or family.
Low Tide in Bar Harbor

After Unity, we ended up staying one night in Bangor because we needed some work done on the truck. The "Oil Needs Changing" light came on and after a number of calls to Ford dealers in the area we got an early appointment in Bangor. We decided we weren't going to drive from Bass Harbor (over an hour and a half) to get the oil changed at 8am, so we stayed at hotel, ran some city errands: Halloween costumes, groceries, etc. And enjoyed a hotel with laundry and a nice bar in the lobby. When we got to the dealer, we were grateful they could change the oil with the camper on. The girls did their school work in the waiting room of the Ford dealer and after an hour or so, we were on our way. Next stop we headed down to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. This is a park that has been on my bucket list for awhile. Years ago, Andrew and I toyed with the idea of attending a photography trip in the park, we decided not to go, but ever since that I have had the idea of visiting this park in the fall to see the Fall Foliage. It did not disappoint. We explored Bar Harbor, walked out to Bar Island at low tide and had an amazing lobster lunch after. The town was pretty crowded because there was a cruise ship in town, so we made our way in around the town for a bit and then eventually retreated to our camp site in Bass Harbor, via the loop road of Acadia and Cadillac Mountain. The drive was breathtaking and the views from the mountain were spectacular. We lucked out with a sunny day and enjoyed driving through the park. The Bass Harbor Campground was small, quiet and charming. A little older than the recent KOA's we had been staying at, but our site was nestled in the woods and there were not many people near us, so it was perfect. The campground was also walking distance from the Bass Harbor Head Light house, so the next day we got to have a down day with a hike to the light house and just hanging out at the campground. The girls were able to paint pumpkins and we all just relaxed.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse
View from Cadillac Mountain 
The next day we did some more exploring in Acadia. After a visit to the Visitor's Center the girls and Andrew decided they were going to conquer the Precipice Trail. I was not quite sure about this trail. We hiked a little way up to the first ladder and while I knew I was physically able to hike the trail, I was fearful of the huge drop offs and cliff walls. If I had gone on the hike with them I would have been scared, anxious and freaking out the whole time - which inevitably would have worn off on Nadia and I likely would have ruined the hike for everyone with my anxiety. So, I let them go on with out me to enjoy the hike. Which they did. Instead, I hiked around the lower levels, found a nice, flat rock to sit out on and enjoy the views and then headed to my camper. Caught up with my mom on the phone and had some nice "me" time to read my book and relax. Not too bad. The nice thing about traveling in a truck camper is you always have your home with you, so I was perfectly comfortable. Besides being nervous about their return, especially when Andrew called me and I saw them from the side of a cliff. But they all returned safely and then we were on our way to see the rest of the park and enjoy the sunset.

After we left Acadia we headed to the coast and the small town of Freeport. We stayed in another adorable campground near Wolf's Neck Farm called Recompence Shore Campground. This was one of the only campgrounds open in the area. The staff at the campsite were super friendly and we loved visiting the farm and seeing all the animals. While staying at Wolf's Neck Campground we visited the town of Freeport and the epic, flagship LL Bean store. Even with our complaining of too much stuff, we still don't learn and we all picked up a few essentials at LL Bean. We also enjoyed one of our new Maine favorite treats, the Maple Latte. Don't knock it until you try it - it was AMAZING!

The girls in front of the Witch Dungeon Museum
We spent a few days in the Freeport area and then made our way into Massachusetts. At first when we were planning this trip, my thought would be that we would stay in Salem for Halloween. As reported earlier, we didn't necessarily plan perfectly and I had no real idea how busy Salem would be for Halloween, so a few weeks ago when we figured we should make a reservation, there was no space for us the weekend of Halloween. So we needed a new plan. I still wanted to see Salem and there was space up until Friday of Halloween week, we just couldn't camp the weekend of Halloween. Instead we decided to come for the week and made reservations for Halloween close by in Cape Cod. We have spent the past week here in Salem and took a day trip to Boston. After visiting Salem and reading online events for the area, I have decided its a good thing we are not going to be here on Halloween. Most of the festivities are targeted to adults and those interested in witchcraft. While in Salem we dove into the Witch Trials history, which is not surprising pretty depressing. The stories at the various museums we visited - the Salem Witch Museum and the Salem Witch Dungeon, both stressed how most people were wrongly accused and in the end it seemed to me that the girls that first accused the witches were young girls, probably pre-pubesent, that were looking for attention and got in over their heads with their stories. Both Andrew and I felt these museums were really dark and pretty depressing. But I was happy we were able to see it. Part of our time in Salem we also did a Hop-on-Hop off Trolley tour. The main reason we did the tour was because one of the stops was our camp ground at Winter Island which highlights Historic Fort Pickering Lighthouse and Salem Harbor. Not only did we get a ride to and from our campground we also got to hear all about the history of where we were staying and a tour of the city. I really enjoyed Chestnut Street which was basically the first planned housing development, where most of the wealthy people in Salem lived, including Nathaniel Hawthorne. The homes are beautiful.

One of the homes on Chestnut Street 
After a day in Salem, we decided we needed a day in Boston as well. Last year, Siena studied the Boston Tea Party in school so we were all excited to see where that happened and learn more about it in person. We took the train in and the first half of the day we toured the city on foot. We all really enjoyed the interactive Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. It was fun for the girls to get to throw tea in the harbor and we loved the talking paintings. We all learned a lot about our American history. After the museum the rain set in and we decided to see the city by tour bus, again a Hop-on-Hop off bus, but at our time of day and due to the rain we stayed on the whole tour with our awesome guide Hollywood. We started the tour at 3pm so we were going right into Boston rush-hour traffic. We saw lots of great sites including: the outside of the Cheers bar, Make Way for Ducklings in Boston Commons, Paul Revere's house and learned lots about the history of the start of the American Revolution. Many of my photos are through a rain covered window, but we still enjoyed the tour, and it was pretty amazing to watch our driver navigate the traffic in a giant trolley.

Girls throwing tea into the harbor.

Entrance of the Cheers bar. 
We have one more day in Salem, and then tomorrow we will stop off in Plymouth, MA to learn about the pilgrims then we are on to Cape Cod for Halloween. We're planning on some safe and quiet trick-or-treating in Hyaniss and then after that it is on the Pennsylvania for some more history at Valley Forge and Gettysburg. More on that in another blog.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fort Pickering Lighthouse

We rolled into Salem Massachusetts yesterday around 4pm. It was stop and go traffic all the way from interstate 95 to our campground on Winter Island. The campground was less an RV park than an old parking lot converted to a RV campground with water and electric hookups, so that your neighbor is literally parked next to you. But the view from our waterside spot was incredible.

After we got settled, I noticed a number of folks set up with cameras on tripods pointing towards the lighthouse (I had to look it up, it's not the Winter Island Lighthouse, it's the Fort Pickering Lighthouse). It was a beautiful clear evening, but everyone was pointing their cameras toward the lighthouse and away from the sunset. I took a quick look and the direction the cameras were pointing, and thought that it did make for a nice line of sight from the Fort Pickering Lighthouse to another lighthouse off in the distance. I snapped a couple pictures with my point and shoot camera and went back to finishing getting us all settled in to our new campground. As we were just about settled in I looked back towards the lighthouse and WOW. The moon was rising behind the far off a near full hunter's moon!

My proper camera was deep in the camper, so I grabbed my point and shoot and a couple of Gorilla Pods that were handy and ran to get the best pictures I could. Here's what I came up with. I wish I had my SLR ready, but I was still happy with these last minute photos.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Not Every Day of the Trip is Epic, but...

Early on in this trip, after we had several days that were amazing (whale watching off the north end of Vancouver Island) then we had a string of more typical days. Kathy told the girls, not every day on this trip would be "epic", but then some days would be. After my last post, I figured I should write a more positive post. Enough with the thorns, here's some roses...

Epic Day #1

Climbing the Precipice Trail. The white spot in the background is the camper.
It was our last full day on Mount Desert Island, the island off the coast of Maine that contains Acadia National Park. Our plan was to see as much of the park as possible while driving the park loop road. The first stop was the National Park visitor center, where we watch a 15 minute movie about the park that talked about all the amazing things to do in the park. Midway through the movie, we were introduced to something called the Precipice Trail. It looked like a jungle gym playground for adults on the side of a cliff. After watching this part of the movie I looked over at Siena and shared a 'yah, we gotta do that' look.
Gripping the railing high up on the trail.
Nadia pretending to be terrified (at least I think she's pretending).
Thirty minutes later we were parked at the trailhead for the Precipice Trail. Multiple signs warned of the dangers (serious injury or death), but hey, this is an east coast National Park, we were from the west coast where they have REAL National Parks. So my daughters and I started up the trail with Kathy staying behind. The trail pretty quickly went from steep stairs carved into the granite mountain side, to very steep lumbering over boulders (similar to Aasgard Pass back home), to near vertical up ladders built into the mountain side. Ladders would be followed by very exposed narrow ledges with steel handhold bars secured into the granite rock cliff. The girls and I kept going up, initially I had the idea we'd go up part of the way and then turn down, but we were all having too much fun. After quite a while of hiking (or climbing) we reached the halfway point which offered a turnaround. We opted to continue. At some point, several hundred feet above the parked camper and Kathy, I called on my cellphone down to her to let her know we were all okay and we could see her. She came out and snapped the following picture of us.
Can you find us on the rock wall?
The views from this hike (climb) were incredible, with the October fall colors making it that much more amazing. Several times on the hike up we saw other hikers on the way down. I kept asking, "there is another way down, right?". The only response I ever got was, "I think so". After a series of ladders, and a steep final climb, we reached the top. My daughters and I all on a total adrenalin high. But now we had to go down. The park map suggested the shortest route would be the North Champlain Trail, which we took, but we missed the turn off to get us within a mile of where the truck and Kathy were located. There was a long walk along the park road of maybe two miles before we got back to the car after a 2-1/2 hour hike.
At the summit of Champlain Mountain.

Epic Day #2

Looking towards Penobscot Narrows Bridge from Fort Knox
We were headed out of our campground at Bass Harbor, with the goal of staying near Freeport Maine, a relatively short drive. With a full day to get to our location, we decided to take the scenic route along highway 1 down the coast of Maine (as suggested to us by Clem at Younity Winery). Our primary reason for taking this side route was drive across the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and visit Fort Knox (not the one with the gold). Fort Knox is a fort that was built primarily for the civil war, but also used to defend Maine during the Spanish American War. This was America's first fort built of granite.
The girls exploring Fort Knox
When we arrived at the fort, they were finishing up setting it up for Halloween. I believe the plan was to allow a tour of the fort after hours with all the spooky decorations. The fort reminded me in many way of my home state World War II forts (Fort Casey, Fort Flagler, Fort Worden, etc), but this was of course much older. Plenty of long dark passage ways, with halloween decorations, and few other visitors made for a ton of fun for the whole family. We did take time to learn that the fort was built during the civil war and was used though to the Spanish American War, but that the fort had never seen any real action. However, it was kind of difficult turning this into much of a history lesson as all four of us ran though the mostly empty fort, jumping out and scaring one another.
Siena explores a spiral staircase in the fort
The girls particularly enjoyed running up and down dark passageways and exploring pitch dark rooms. The highlight for Nadia was when she hid in a dark corner only to jump out and nearly give ME a heart attack. We probably could have spent all day at the fort, but we had miles to go still before we reached Freeport so we had to cut our visit short. In the end we felt our $10 family admission fee was well worth it.
Nadia explores one of the long dark hallways.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Roses & Thorns - From the Ladies

Andrew got to get his vent out on the Internet and now it’s the girls and my turn. But with a twist. Some people may have heard of Roses & Thorns, kind of like a pros and cons list, it’s a fun dinner table or (as we have found) hiking game. We share our Roses – which are highlights or bright spots (from the trip, from the day, etc) and then we share our Thorns – not so great or maybe painful parts of the experience. I’ll go first: 

ROSE: I am grateful and blessed to spend unlimited time with my family. 
THORN: I have very little personal or private time.. I do try to carve out some me time, but we all have a lot to see and do, so we generally do it together. 

ROSE: I am proud of myself for starting a new habit of meditating every morning. Which is great for my mind and overall well being. I feel way less stressed and anxious than I did at home. 
THORN: Meditating is not working out. I miss my regular running and yoga work outs. Meditating is great, but it does not get the heart rate up. The only exercise we have been doing is walking and hiking. I need to get better at this and run circles around the campgrounds if I must. 

ROSE: We have reduced our belongings to very few. We are living with less and living more simply. 
THORNS: Our camper is tiny and even with less stuff it feels like we have way too much and there is no place for it all. We have what I call “The Nightmare Closet” even with all the organizational products out there I still have to take everything out to get one thing out. Eventually, we will be letting some stuff go and maybe that will help. But it’s also a vacation, so we do find ourselves picking up small trinkets along the way. Ahhh, its an endless cycle! 

ROSES: I can’t wait to see my sister in almost 2 weeks and stay at her house! I am also super excited to see family in December and visit friends along the way on the trip! 
THORNS: I miss my friends from home. I miss Sunday night dinner with my family. I miss lunches after yoga. I miss hanging out on our porch watching the kids play at the park. I miss throwing the balls for the dogs after school – although, I would still miss that at home since the kids with dogs are now on to Middle School. 

ROSES: I really LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, seeing so many new places and amazing parts of the country. Everyday is new and different and it brings wonder and curiosity to each new day. I love this fresh perspective that each new adventure and location brings. 
THORNS: I am sad I can’t see everything. There is so much to see and even with all the time we have we are just barely scratching the surface. 

ROSE: I like getting to visit new places like Maine, Quebec and Montreal and other cool places. 
THORN: We have to drive a lot. 

ROSE: I like getting to see family in places that we don’t usually get to go – like Montana, Montreal and Virginia. 
THORN: We don’t get to spend a lot of time with them, we only get to see them for a couple days and then we have to leave. 

ROSE: I don’t have to change my clothes every day. 
THORN: I have to take a lot of showers. We have been taking more showers on this trip than we do at home. And I left all the soap, shampoo and the Darth Vader buff puff in the public shower in Quebec. :-( 

ROSE: I like getting to play with my sister more than we do at home. 
THORN: But whenever I don’t want to play she gets really mad at me. 

ROSE: When we get back we will be really happy to see our friends again and everything will seem new to us.  
THORN: That seems so far away from now. 

ROSE: I like experiencing new things, like seeing Mt. Rushmore. 
THORN: I don’t like driving all day and super long trips.  

ROSE: I like calling and sending postcards to my friends. 
THORN: I miss all my friends at school. I am sad I didn’t get to get excited about a new teacher this year. 

ROSE: I like that when I am homeschooled I am more focused, at school with all my friends I use to talk too much. 
THORN: Homeschooling is hard, cause I am starting division and its not that easy. 

ROSE: I like playing play mobile and legos with my sister. 
THORN: Sometimes Siena doesn’t play with me and that drives me BONKERS. 

ROSE: I like being with my family and that Daddy doesn’t have to go to work and I can be with Mommy and Daddy all day. 
THORN: Sometimes I don’t like when my parents are on their phones, because its annoying and I can’t talk to them at lunch time.

ROSE: I am super excited to see my relatives. 
THORN: I am sad that I will have to leave them.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


True confession time. This trip has not been all rainbows and unicorns. Don't get me wrong, the trip has been incredible. At the outset of this trip I really only had two goals: spend as much time with my family as I could, and see the USA and Canada with my family. On those two goals I feel this trip has been a complete success so far. However, I do feel that I owe it to those who have put forth the time to bother reading this blog, to be honest with some of the downsides.
Life inside a box on the back of a pickup truck

We brought too much stuff. That's sort of a "well DUH!" thing. However, we did spend many months trying to cut down our worldly belongings, then weeks trying to figure out just what we would need. Now, almost two months in, there are numerous items that have never or almost never been used and they need to be donated or sent home. You can't open a cabinet or drawer in this camper without stuff shooting out because it's packed in too tight. Yes, Louie, you were right, our camper is WAY too small, and there is an increasing possibility we will upgrade before we get home. Kathy and I often like to imagine what it would be like to have a room where we could close the door and then stand up in the room. I'm not sure what is going to happen when we pick up all of our winter ski gear in New Mexico.

Homeschooling (or roadschooling) is hard. What we found out REAL quick is that our children treat us differently than then treat their teachers. Our children will argue and fight with us in a way they would never argue and fight with their teacher. So some days (many days) school work can be a complete struggle and fight. Kathy does most of the pushing on this, and it's good she does. If it was left to me our children might fall back several grades before this trip is over. Both of our daughters are very smart, and ultimately they will succeed. However when they don't want to do school work they will fight us harder than they ever would fight their teacher, and when they fail with an assignment with us, they are much harder on themselves than they would be if they failed with a teacher. All of this has the potential to causes the schooling process to be a lot more emotional than it would be otherwise. Part of the problem might be that the schedule is weird too. It took us a while to figure out when is the best time for our children to do their schooling (the mornings). Some days we will have long leisurely mornings where they can do homework, other days we need to get going right away. So in order not not fall behind, schooling has to be done every morning where we can do it, which means at least a couple hours of math and spelling regardless of what day of the week it is.

We didn't plan this trip out correctly. I now believe that there is an art to living on the road. There is a time for travel and and time for staying. There are places you need to plan ahead for, and there is a need to keep a certain level of flexibility. There is something that you just can not figure out by lookng at maps and reading articles on the internet. There is something about being transient that is learned with time and experience (hopefully we'll figure it out eventually). Our biggest mistake was leaving at least half of a month too late. As we rolled into the northeast (especially the far northeast and southeast Canada), we realized far too late that much of this part of the world shuts down at the end of September or shortly after. It has become very hard to find places to stay (other than Walmart parking lots...which we haven't done yet). This has forced us to eliminate a large part of Canada that we (or me at least) really wanted to see: New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia.

Being at the mercy of the weather sucks, especially when your home is a tiny box on the back of a truck. I had imagined that we would be living mostly outside and that the camper was only a place to store our stuff and to sleep at night. The problem is that on cold wet nights, out in the wilderness, you want to stay inside, and inside is really small. There is NO privacy at all for anyone. Usually we figure it out, the girls up on our bed playing with their Legos, Kathy and I down below getting caught up with emails. However if more than one person is trying to stand and get something done at the same time, fights can break out.

Health has been a concern. We try and eat healthy and Kathy has done a heroic job at coming up with wonderful one or two skillet healthy meals (we have no microwave or oven), but there are culinary wonders like Canadian poutine, Tim Hortons donuts, or Maine Lobster. Exercise is another concern. I would say that I am definitely more active on a day to day basis that I am when I'm working my normal hours in front of a computer, but with that said, I'm not going to the gym, I'm not running, I'm not lifting weights. I'm active, but I don't exersize. There is just pretty much hiking (and occasionally chopping wood). 

Car trouble is a huge concern. When your car breaks down on the way to and from work it's a big inconvenience, but if it breaks down in the middle of nowhere where you don't have cell service it can really ruin your day. So when a check engine light comes on it's a huge stress. When a tire goes flat and you're at least a hundred miles from any really sizable town you are not happy, especially when you don't have a jack powerful enough to lift your truck + camper. Routine things like an oil change become stressful. Normally you take your car to your mechanic or to the dealership for the oil change, but what if you are more than 3,000 miles from home? Who do you trust? For a vehicle like a Ford F350 with a 3000 pound camper in it's bed you can't just roll into Quicky Lube, you really need to plan ahead (over a week ahead has been our experience). Not everyone can take a Ford F350 with a camper on back and fit it in their shop, and it's not easy to just pull the camper off and leave it somewhere, most campsites actually won't allow you to leave your camper without the truck. 

We miss our friends and family. We really really do. Sometimes you want someone other than a family member to talk to. Sometimes you need to talk to someone other than family about your family. Kathy and I have gotten in the habit of quoting various friends and family ("That would be a NOPE", "Have you tried trying"), it helps, but we still miss you all. I had imagined that we would make many friends along the way, but in almost 2 months I can only think of 4 strangers who I have truly had great conversations with and thought this person is someone I would like as a friend (Peter in Prince Rupert, Sully in Hyder, German guy in Jasper, and Clement in Unity). 

We've been lazy. I'm not sure this is fully a bad thing, but definitely not a good thing all the time. We sleep in. It is rare that this family is up before sunrise. This may sound wonderful at first, but when it takes 30 minutes to get yourself awake (at a minimum) then another 30 minutes to wake up your children, then another 30 to make breakfast, another 30 to break down their beds, another 30 to move all the gear from sleep mode to travel mode, and a couple hours of school work, you've pretty much lost your morning and sometimes part of your afternoon. Which leads me to...

We have surprisingly very little free time. I thought I would be working on developing the next million dollar iPhone app on the trip. We were all going to become ukulele virtuosos. I was going to get up every morning and take amazing sunrise photos and then stay out late every night for amazing star photos. Kathy was going to become a master water painter. There are the morning activities, then we see what we are going to see, or hike what we are going to hike, or drive to where we are going to drive. Then we get ready for bed and then repeat. This is something that we need to fix or at least fine tune before this trip is over. It probably doesn't help that the days are growing shorter. Perhaps after December 22 things will improve.

We collect hitchhikers. Bugs and spiders find there way in the camper, then we drive to someplace new and colder, and they don't want to leave. In South Dakota we picked up giant stink bugs that stayed with us until at least Michigan. In Wisconsin we picked serveral lady bugs and up a fly ("Jeff") who I think is still with us. The other day I found I had been bitten in the posterior by something, the thing is it must have happened in the camper, in bed, when I was wearing shorts. I never found the perp. Most of the little hitchikers are gone now, and we aren't picking up new ones because it's now too cold. 

In the end, I don't regret a minute of the time I have spent on this trip. I do truly treasure spending almost every minute of the day with my family. I feel like I am far closer to my daughters now and know them better than I thought I could have (for example, Nadia is very flatulent sleeper. This is seriously how she wakes herself up most mornings). I have really enjoyed seeing so much of North America. Turns out, it is NOT a small world, it's a very big one, and there is a lot to see without even crossing an ocean, and we've just gotten started. We aren't giving up. Just wanted to let you know it's not all rainbows and unicorns.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Oh Canada, it's been real...

We are now back in the United States and happy we are able to read the street signs and understand what the nice people at the grocery store are saying. We have spent the past week and a half or so visiting Niagara Falls, Montreal and Quebec City and now spending time in Maine and the New England area. 

Niagara Falls was something that has always been on my bucket list. I knew that the falls were big, but I wasn’t prepared for how big or how beautiful they would be. We got into full on tourist mode and signed up for the Behind the Falls tour and the Hornblower Boat tour. Both activities got us soaking wet, but were super fun. It was exciting to get to tour behind the falls and hear how loud the water was coming down, we got an up close and personal view of the falls from this vantage point. Even without the tours, just walking along the edge of the falls was spectacular, once you make your way through the thousands of tourists, seeing the epic waterfalls crashing into the lake below is something I will never forget. After our lunch overlooking the falls, we wondered down the path, taking tons of photos on our way to get to our boat cruise on the lake. Once again, we got soaked – and by soaked I mean full shower with all your clothes on soaked. The free ponchos were helpful, but didn’t quite keep us very dry. The boat tour was super fun because we got to get even closer to the falls, both on the US side and the Canadian side. I couldn’t take too many photos because it was so wet, but because we were so close to the water the mist was so thick it was difficult to see the falls. It was like being inside of a super wet cloud with a booming loud sound of powerful water all around you. Simply amazing. 

After Niagara Falls we made our way to Montreal and Quebec City (with an overnight stop at a small campground in upstate NY). For both cities, we stayed in nice KOA Campgrounds just outside the city limits, just a short drive into town. In Montreal, we were able to park and use the Metro. I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of Montreal, it reminded me a lot of Paris or Milan. Although it is a very old city, it has a really young vibe because there are number of Universities in the city, so there are lots of young students and professionals. We loved exploring the shops and eating at the yummy french restaurants. The main purpose of our visit was to meet up with Andrew’s parents who were taking a cruise on the St. Lawrence river, visiting the cruise ship, having lunch and catching up with family and friends was a nice treat. After our day on the cruise ship we enjoyed a 6 course meal at a lovely french restaurant called Bonapartes – as Andrew mentioned in his blog post, we were a little apprehensive to indulge in such a long and luxurious meal with the girls, they didn’t want the full meal but I also didn’t want them playing on devices while we ate. But they pleasantly surprised us, they did not get bored, we chatted during the whole meal and they tried a little bit of each of Andrew and my meals. I have discovered on this trip that the girls are the exact right age for the trip, they are old enough to enjoy a nice meal, discuss the highlights and lowlights of each area and experience, they can explore campgrounds on their own and they can hang out in the camper alone if Andrew and I want to take a walk just the two of us. On the flip side, they are still young enough to play with each other contently, they still have an eye for wonder and love to experience new things.

After Montreal we headed up to Quebec City, which I enjoyed a little bit more than Montreal. Although I loved the fun city feel of Montreal, I was happy to find there were less people in Quebec City (at least on Saturday, on Sunday the cruise ships came in and the population seemed to triple). I really enjoy the small brick and cobblestone streets with quaint shops and bistros and walking along the pathway of the walled city. We learned a lot more about the history of Quebec while we were here. We visited the Musee De La Place Royal which had wonderful interactive displays highlighting the history of Quebec, we watched a crazy but cool 3D movie about Champlain and had fun dressing up in costumes of the first settlers and playing in the replica homestead. This was a fun way to teach the history of the area to the girls, as they put on children’s clothes and pretended to cook their vegetable over the fire. In Montreal, we also visited a couple museums, Museum of Fine Arts and the Biosphere – both fantastic museums, but the focus for these were on art and sculpture and the environment, so we were happy to round out our cultural experience with some history. 

Both cities were beautiful and Andrew and I can imagine coming back and actually staying in the city, possibly in one of the lovely hotels. We also decided that fall is the time to come to these cities as well. The radiant, orange, red and golden colors of the trees that you can see in the distance from almost any view point in Quebec City is breathtaking. Also it felt more fitting to bundle up in a warm sweater and hat and explore the city on foot. We really enjoyed wandering around the different streets for hours and feeling the energy of the city again, but I am also looking forward to getting back into nature and having a few days of doing nothing. One thing I have found interesting on this trip is that after almost 2 months on the road, we have not had as much down time as I expected. I packed so many things to fill our hours of endless time – paints, games, musical instruments, tons of workbooks, and more, yet we really have not touched much of it at all. It is amazing how much there is to see and do in this country of ours, and now as we head south, we have asked our friends for suggestions on where to go and what to see, and the comments just keep coming, which is awesome – thank you! Unfortunately, I have a feeling that we won’t be able to get to it all, but we will do our best to take in as much as possible and enjoy every single second of what we DO get to experience. And for whatever we miss, we can always add to our list for the next trip. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

One More Request

I apologize to you all, tonight I am being rather needy. First I ask for your help in providing us with suggestions for where to visit on the East Coast, and here I am again asking for more help. However, if you will bear with me, I think you might find this second request more worthy of your attention.

Just after I finished my last post, Kathy tells me she signed all of us up for a race on November 14th, her birthday. My initial response was, WHAT? Granted I used to be quite the runner, and if Kathy was signing me up for a race, my complaint would be that the distance was too short. However, I really haven't been running much in the past year. In fact, since we left on this trip, I haven't even gone out with the purpose of completing a run just for fun. You might say I lost my running mojo. I like to think I am on a temporary hiatus from running. I like to think I'll get back to running after this trip. For now I tell myself, I'm on a break.

Then I found out the cause that the race was raising money for: prostate cancer research. The race is the ZERO Prostate Cancer 5K Run in Virginia Beach on November 14th.

You see, last fall I ran two marathons and a 50 kilometer race, but those were races I signed up for before I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After the diagnosis, I kind of fell into a funk and wasn't as interested in running. Spending time interviewing doctors and surgeons kind of takes up a fair bit of time and really sucks it out of you. I did run a few more races, but the distances were relatively short. Then after a successful surgery, I spent quite a bit of time recovering. Now I am on this trip and that only happened because the surgery was successful. I was lucky.

On November 14, Kathy, the girls, and I will be running with Kathy's sister (Debbie) and her family. So if you feel so inclined, I would ask you to consider making a donation to a cause that is near and dear to my heart, or um... well you get the idea.

We Need Your Suggestions

We screwed up we travelled across Michigan, we didn't draw upon the vast knowledge of all of our friends who grew up in that part of the world. When they found out where we were, they provided tons of great suggestions, but some of it was a little too late since we had a tight schedule that required us to be in Montreal on a specific day.

We are heading south out of Canada tomorrow. Our first major stop will be Acadia National Park for a few days. Next major stop will be Salem, Massachusetts with a stop in Freeport, Maine along the way. Then we will make a trip out to Cape Code. After that it's pretty wide open, but we will generally be heading south.

We need your suggestions for the East Coast. We really don't have a lot of experience to draw from for where to go and what to see along the East Coast. So we are looking for suggestions.

So far we have the following on our itinerary:

  • Acadia National Park
  • Salem Massachusetts
  • Cape Code
  • Valley Forge
  • Gettysburg
  • Norfolk Virginia

The rules:
We need places we can stay in our truck camper. We've done State Parks, National Parks and RV Parks, but we are open to anywhere we can legally stay in our truck camper (hey, we haven't done a Walmart parking lot yet). The problem is that up in New England we are finding many of the places where we would normally stay in our truck camper are closing or closed for the season.

We are avoiding staying in large cities (e.g. Boston, New York) because large cities and a truck camper don't always work well together, but we are open to visiting locations near the large cities if you can suggest a place for us to stay in our camper outside the city that is located near public transit.

Thank you for any suggestions you can provide. Our mascot, Jeff the camper fly, who has been with us since Rapid City, South Dakota is excited to hear your suggestions for where he will be traveling next.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Cold Canada

It's getting cold here in French speaking Canada. Really cold for this temperate Seattle boy. Tonight it is suppose snow where we currently staying, Quebec City. I had planned on the cold weather, but what I didn't realize is that in the north country everything RV and camping related starts to shut down in October. We had planned to travel east from Niagara Falls, to Montreal to Quebec City and ultimately to Prince Edward Island before heading south back into the States. However, as I started doing my research (way too late), I realized that there would be no where available for camping or staying in an RV on Prince Edward Island. In fact, most of the campsites and RV parks in Maine are shut down too. It's getting to the point where I'm starting to look for Walmart's for camping in. So I'm writing this from our final Canadian city, from here we head south. I for one will be glad to no longer insult french speaking Canada with my horrid attempts at speaking French, with my "parlez-vous anglais?", only to hear the response "quoi?", to which I would say " you speak english", always to hear "of course, how can I help you?".

Montreal, where we spent three nights, was really our first real large city that we did anything more than drive though since we left Seattle a month and a half ago. We also stayed at our first KOA, Montreal KOA South. It was the closest place we could find to the city where we could stay in the camper. It was clean, nice, and largely empty. Most of the few RVs at the KOA have been winterized and set aside for storage. The manager told us that everyone left for Florida (sounds like a good idea). I found driving around Montreal to be a challenge, not just because it's a busy city and all the signs are in French, it's more than that. Little things in Montreal like the stop lights being square shaped instead of round just threw me off. So I was happy to find that from the KOA it was about a 15 mile drive to the Metro station Longueuil-Université-de-Sherbrooke where we would park the truck for the day and take the excellent Metro into the city. 

Our first day in Montreal we found a nice cafe where we had an early lunch before meeting with my parents. My parents were in Montreal with family friends (Jan and Larry) for a cruise along the St. Lawrence river. The cruise ship was beautiful, and it was quite a jolt going from our tiny camper onto this amazing cruise ship. I personally felt VERY out of place walking into the dining room of the cruise ship in blue jeans and polar fleece looking like I just walked out of the woods (I did). However, it was great getting to see family and friends again.
The girls with my mother on the cruise ship
After leaving the cruise ship, we searched for a place where we could have a nice dinner. After a little looking we found Bonaparte's in the old part of the city. The restaurant was far nicer than any of our previous dining out experiences on the trip, and again I felt very out of place. When I realized that this was going to be the kind of place where we would probably be sitting down to a 2+ hour meal I was a bit apprehensive, but the food looked so good. Kathy and I decided to just go for it and get the 6 course meal, order a bottle of red wine, and hope our girls don't lose it. In the end, it went great! The girls just ordered a simple entree and salad, but shared a bit of of each of our 6 courses and managed to behave and actually seem to enjoy themselves (they didn't even request to play on our iPhones). The downside is we blew a month's food budget (good thing we are headed to Debbie & Mike's soon, and now might have to stay a lot longer than expected).
dinner at Bonaparte's
The next day we explored the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal and especially enjoyed their excellent exhibit on Rodin. The one downside to the Rodin exhibit was how crowded it was, with me losing Kathy and the girls at one point and having to text back and forth with Kathy sending pictures of an exhibit in the room we were in to try and figure out where each of us are.
A picture I sent to Kathy, "I'm in the room with Rodin's The Thinker"
After the art museum we went to Biosphere Montreal an excellent museum built for the 1967 Worlds Fair and dedicated to education on the environment.
Biosphere Montreal
As I finish this blog sitting in a KOA just outside of Quebec City I'm realizing that once again we are spending far too little time in another part of North America to really begin to appreciate it. Our visit of Montreal only showed me how much I didn't know there was to see; I barely scratched the surface. Perhaps we will come back again, next time during the summer (or without a truck camper to park).

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Thanks Great Lakes State

After a week of traveling through Michigan, we are heading back into Canada to see Niagara Falls, Montreal, Quebec City and possibly even further north, depending on time and weather (we are planning to be in Salem, MA by Halloween). Although we always planned for Michigan to be sort of a “pass through state” we have really fallen in love with the state. We visited four different parks and loved the cleanliness and beauty of all the different areas. Our first stop was Wells State Park on the Upper Peninsula, the park was almost empty but we had a lovely spot right on Lake Michigan, it was a bit windy but we enjoyed the sound of the waves crashing into the bank outside our back door, the girls loved the giant playground, I loved getting to run in the wooded trails and we all enjoyed playing frisbee, football and tetherball in the open field near the beach. We stayed at Wells SP for two nights, which was really relaxing after a number of days on the road. After Wells SP we headed inland and ended up at a super isolated park called Aloha SP, we literally felt like the only people in the park. Andrew registered us with the yellow phone (no attendant at the booth), the only other people we saw felt like they were miles away, but again the campground was clean and well laid out and we liked the quiet evening we spent there. And it was on Mullett Lake – we loved the name, and felt it went nicely with the butt rock/classic rock we had been listening to on the local radio stations. It was probably for the best that the campground was almost empty, this was Monday night, the night the Seahawks played (and barely beat) the Detroit Lions, we didn’t put the flag up because we didn’t want to start any fights, but it was fun to listen to the game on the local station. 

Snack break on the beach after our walk on the Lake Michigan beach.
After Aloha, we headed a little further south and took some recommendations from our good friends from Michigan, we stopped in Petosky and had a great lunch at a fun brewery and then headed towards Traverse City and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (thank you Jen & Chris – we loved exploring your home!). We stayed at Platte River Campground, which was a campground in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. There were a lot more people around but it was a nice, wooded and secluded campground. We stayed three nights here and had a great time exploring the Lake Michigan beachfront, seeing all the leaves changing on the trees and hiking, jumping and playing in the giant Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. The day we did  most of our exploring the sun was shining and we had blue skies the whole day. We were so grateful for the lovely weather and tried to imagine the craziness of this area during the height of the summer. NOPE! We are definetly happy to be traveling in the off season. The second night at this campground we did most of our activities in the rain, but I am happy to report we had another successful cast iron Dutch Oven meal - chicken rice casserole, it was a perfect rainy night meal. This is pretty close to the recipe, I used chicken broth instead of water - but it was delicious and we all enjoyed it, even the girls!
The color of the leaves have been changing in all the areas we have been traveling through. My photos do not even come close to showing how beautiful this transition is.

Photo-op at Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes
After a few days staying put, it was time to move again, we spent a longer visit at Platte River with the idea we would only stay one night on our way to Niagara Falls. We found a nice campground at Lakeport State Park near the border of Ontario on Lake Huron. We pulled in Friday night and who knew the campground is a popular spot for Halloween activities. The park was almost full, but we luckily found a spot among all the other giant RVs, busses and fifth wheels, all completely decked out for Halloween. And when I say decked out – I mean more decorations than we see on houses at home. There were blow up pumpkins, giant corn mazes (seriously), carefully created grave yards and tons of lights, cobwebs and pretty much anything you can imagine. We are sad now that we are leaving early because on Saturday night they have trick or treating. We loved our one night here and our evening stroll through the crazy campground and we have decided Michigan is a special kind of special we have really come to love and enjoy. After talking to our neighbors at the campsite, we know there is so much more of Michigan that we would love to explore, but even with 9 months on the road, we have come to realize we can’t see everything and we will just have to make the time to come back again.
Just one of the awesome Halloween displays at Lakeport State Park

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Nadia's Update - Short & Sweet - Just like her :-)

Dear Fellow Followers, 
I know I have not been blogging much, but that means I have a lot to tell you all. We went to Mount Rushmore and I learned a lot. I learned that Thomas Jefferson had two daughters named Lucy. I also learned that Mount Rushmore only took 20 years to build, but Crazy Horse has taken over 60 years to build and is still under construction. Crazy Horse is a newer monument created for the Native American people. A whole family is working on the construction of the monument. I also learned that if you wake up early you can see so many animals, the one morning we got up early we saw buffalo, turkeys, prairie dogs and cows. After we left South Dakota we made our way to Michigan. My favorite adventure has been the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, because we jumped off mini cliffs into the soft sand. That's it for now! 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Update From Siena...

Dear people reading this blog, 
I want you to know that after a month or so we are still having fun, I will inform you that we did stay in a hotel so far and we have recently left Lake Michigan and we are on our way to Cheboygan, we are trying to make our way to Montreal 

A few things that have been fun INCLUDE:
                   Mount Rushmore 
It was really big and we went on a short walk to see the mountain from different perspectives at one point we were right under George Washington's nose.

                     Crazy Horse
Crazy Horse is a private monument and is probably like ten times the size of Mount Rushmore and it is still in the making and Nadia and I got small rocks from the mountain (Check out my Dad's blog for a photo of Crazy Horse - it was to far away for my phone to get a good shot).

                       Wind Cave
Wind Cave is a national park and part of a huge cave system. We took a tour of it at one point of the tour our tour guide turned out the light completely and no one could see there own hand in front of there face. 

                        Wall Drugs
Wall Drugs was pretty much a giant gift shop with some awesome attractions like a jackolope you could ride and a T-Rex that would eat every fifteen minutes.

So those we some of the highlights. 

                        THE END

Sunday, October 4, 2015

South Dakota

South Dakota has never really been on my radar for a vacation location. Not that I had anything against South Dakota, but it's a long ways away from home, I don't believe I have any family there, it's not really on the route to visit any family that I would drive to visit, and there is no major ski resorts. However, on this trip, South Dakota was kind of a big mile stone: South Dakota is where we marked one month on the road, it is where we cross the middle of the USA (if you take a map of the USA and fold it down the middle you'll find the Dakota's, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas), and it was the our first real honest to goodness motel stay (in Rapid City).

We had 3 days to explore Western South Dakota with our first couple nights in a motel in Rapid City. As we drove from Billings Montana to Rapid City the last few hours of the drive was foggy with a misty rain, signs kept displaying messages to not use cruise control when the highway is wet. We finally reached the motel that Kathy found a Comfort Inn. The motel seemed like such luxury after all of us living for a month in a tiny box in the bed of a pickup truck. To be able to take a shower when ever you want without walking across a campground with your towel and change of clothes was a very welcomed luxury.

The next morning the weather was still a bit overcast, originally we had planned on visiting Mount Rushmore but decided rather than head south we would head east to the Badlands National Park. I opted to go to the eastern most entrance to Badlands National Park park and head back west though the park. On the way to the eastern entrance, we would pass the visitor center for Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Kathy suggested we stop and check it out. As we pulled up to the visitor center I wasn't sure what I would find, there wasn't much there other than a small building. We went inside and spoke with volunteer, the visitor center had only been open for operations for just a few weeks. Despite being open such a short period of time, the visitor center had a lot of information about ICBMs and the cold war. The museum brought back some bad childhood memories of the 1983 TV movie The Day After, but I was intrigued. We decided we should take a tour of the underground command facility. We got tickets with plans to visit after our tour of Bad Lands National Park.

Badlands National Park was incredible. Coming in from the eastern entrance it we were told to stop at the first spot after we entered the park by the volunteer at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, and that from there we could see all the way to Kansas. I don't know if I could quite see that far, but it was a pretty incredible view from an otherwise pretty flat part of the planet. Unlike many other National Park areas, there park didn't seem to have any warnings about not wandering off the trail because you might damage the natural beauty. What they did have were numerous signs warning you about the rattle snakes. That was enough to mostly keep my daughters on the trail.

Lots of scary snake warnings to keep the kids on the path
Badlands National Park did offer a lot of potential hikes. I really would have loved to take a nice long but we had only one day, and we were trying to fit in a tour of the Minuteman Missile command location, and Kathy and Nadia were recovering from colds. So instead we opted to drive though the park and stop at every turn off we found interesting.

Lots of sunflowers in South Dakota
Our home parked in Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park
As we left the northwestern exit of Badlands National Park we got stuck as road construction was limiting traffic to one lane all the way from the park exit to Wall South Dakota. We waiting quite a while for the pilot car to come around and direct us though the construction and ultimately missed our tour of the Minuteman Missile site underground command center.

We decided to make up for the missed tour with a visit to the Wall Drug drugstore in Wall South Dakota, the original Wall Drug Store. It's actually kind of hard to miss because there are signs in a hundred miles in every direction advertising it.
When driving though South Dakota on I-90 you have to stop in Wall and visit the original Wall Drug
The next day the weather had cleared up and promised to offer much better conditions for viewing Mount Rushmore National Monument. The drive from Rapid City to Mount Rushmore takes you though more tourist attractions than I thought possible (Reptile Gardens, Bear Country USA, Old MacDonald's Farm, etc, etc). At Mount Rushmore we got in our obligitory family pictures and then walked the Presidential Trail, which providing countless different angles to photograph the mountain. After a few hours I think we had run out of photograph ideas, and the girls were starting to get tired with anything other than the idea of the gift store, so it was time to move on.
Mount Rushmore
I pushed for a visit to Wind Cave National Park with hopes of making up for a previous family cave experience in the Ape Caves on Mount Saint Helens (turns out an hour plus hike in a pitch dark lava tube with nothing but pen lights isn't a good family activity). The tour of Wind Cave did not disappoint. I even suggested a second tour immediately following our first one, but after hiking over a 1/2 mile to over 200 feet underground, Kathy was ready for some above ground time.
210 feet below ground in Wind Cave in Wind Cave National Park
We decided to stay in Wind Caves National Park at a campground a short distance from the visitor center where we took the cave tour. The campground was mostly shut down, with only one open section and the water turned off, and very few visitors. At night with open skies and very little light we had excellent viewing of the stars, satellites, and falling stars. As we went to bed, we could hear the distant sounds of elk.
The night skies above Wind Cave National Park

The next morning we got an early start. We had planned to make it all the way across South Dakota and camp at a state park in Minnesota, but we still wanted to get in an early visit to Crazy Horse Memorial before we started our journey across the state. Crazy Horse Memorial was pretty impressive considering construction has been ongoing for over 60 years, that the head of Crazy Horse alone will be larger than all of the presidents on Mount Rushmore and that the entire memorial takes no government funds (it's all privately funded).
Crazy Horse Monument
South Dakota is yet another state we will have to return to and visit again. I could imagine a week long visit where we spend then entire time hiking the Badlands and the Black Hills. Perhaps even a visit or two to those tourist attractions leading up to Mount Rushmore.