The new place fell through. I’m not sure what I’m going to do at this point. Just letting people know, specifically not asking for suggestions or sympathy, but thanks.
Back to Red Lodge’s information center this morning, where I was informed that the pass was open today! According to the lady at the desk, there wasn’t even any ice up there. So off I went.
Dear godlings. I will never drive over Beartooth Pass again. Ever. It wasn’t bad at first, and the scenery was lovely, but that didn’t last long. Oh, the scenery did, what I saw of it while I was hanging onto the steering wheel for dear life, but I am not fond of narrow roads climbing up the sides of 11,000 foot mountains with 1000+ feet straight up on one side and 2000+ feet straight down on the other, with a multitude of hairpin switchbacks and no guard rails! Well above tree line for miles, so there was nothing to stop the howling wind that caught Merlin like a sail, to the point where I was scared to pull over in the turnouts hanging over the edges of the cliffs to take photos for fear he’d get blown down the mountain. Or that I would if I opened the car door.
At least it wasn’t snowing since it was in the forties at the top (10,979 feet), not counting windchill. But criminy. That was terrifying. And I don’t scare easily when it comes to that sort of thing.
But that’s the main reason I don’t have a lot of photos. There was just no way.
Once I got down on the other side of the pass, back below the tree line, I did manage some good photos, but I’ll be honest. Yes, the Beartooth Highway is beautiful, but give me U.S. 12 between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef in Utah any day. It was much prettier, and a lot less scary.
I entered Yellowstone National Park at the northeast entrance, to discover that this was actually a really good thing because the road between Mammoth and Norris is closed early for the season for construction, so I would have had to go way out of my way to get to West Yellowstone. Which was really my only choice at this point. The first thing I saw after I entered the park was a sign listing all the campgrounds and their status for the day. Half of them are already closed for the season, and the rest were already full for the night.
It’s always difficult to do Yellowstone as a last-minute thing, and I knew that going in. The lodging in the park gets reserved well over a year in advance (the reservations for each year open on May 1st of the previous year, and they’re usually all taken by June, although I have been lucky to get a cancellation with a couple of weeks’ notice in the past). I didn’t think the campgrounds would be such an issue, though – I’ve arrived in the park and gotten a campsite on the spot before. But not this time.
So it was on the 90 miles (Yellowstone is a big park – over 3000 square miles) to the town of West Yellowstone. I didn’t stop much along the way because I figured the earlier I got to West, as the locals call it, the more likely I was to find a place for the night. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to West until about three, and when I stopped at the tourist office, I was told it would be almost impossible to find a motel (also that the average room in West goes for $250 a night – eep! – that’s gone way up in the last few years). So I said what about campgrounds? And she said, there’s a nice forest service campground about three miles north of town, and they have some sites left. So I drove up, and here I am.
Tomorrow I will get up early and go wander around the geyser basins and hopefully catch an eruption of Grand Geyser, then drive on out of the park late in the afternoon. I have a reservation for tomorrow night for a cabin at Hebgen Lake, about 25 miles northwest of West, in the direction I’d have been heading, anyway. I wish I could spend more time here, but logistically it’s just not going to work. It’s time to head home. I’ve probably got two more nights on the road after this one, if all goes according to plan. The cabin at Hebgen Lake, and probably the campground about ten miles west of Missoula where I’ve stayed before. That’s a day’s drive from home.
I can’t believe the trip’s almost over. I’ve got some seriously ambivalent feelings about it. Part of me wants to keep on going, even though it’s getting late in the season and if I did I’d have to head south again, and part of me knows I really do need to settle back down again. At least for now.
Sigh. I guess there’s always next year…
Er, Merlin. I’m sure he’ll forgive me the LotR quotation. Anyway. Today I saw Real Mountains [tm] for the first time since June 12th, back in Colorado. I knew I’d missed them, but I hadn’t realized quite how much.
I drove west from Billings a few more miles before I turned southwest on U.S. 212, aka the Beartooth Highway. Well, not quite yet. It’s a bit over forty miles to the town of Red Lodge where the highway actually starts. But I started seeing mountains almost immediately, which made me so happy.
That whole drive was lovely, actually. I’d gotten a really late start, knowing I wasn’t going to go all that far today (I’d figured on camping in one of the half dozen or so forest service campgrounds between Red Lodge and the pass), and I got to Red Lodge just about lunchtime. I stopped at the tourist information center looking for a restroom, only to hear the lady at the desk tell someone else that the pass was closed! Apparently, even though it was in the sixties in Red Lodge, it was snowing up there!
So that threw a serious monkey wrench in my machinery. It was either wait till tomorrow to see if things would get better, or turn around and go back to I-90 and across to Livingston, where I could drive down to Gardiner and the northern entrance to the park. I really didn’t want to do that. And Red Lodge has a laundromat, so I decided to do laundry and wait. If worse came to worst, I’d drive back to I-90 tomorrow.
My clothes all clean, I went looking for a campground. Fortunately, there’s a very nice one just four miles up the road from Red Lodge, so I had a pleasant, quiet rest of my afternoon. It is getting cold out there, though, and it’s been spitting rain a bit. This does not bode well for tomorrow, alas.
It does occur to me that I should bring this up to speed, being sick aside [wry g].
I woke up on Manitoulin Island the morning of the 8th to a misty, moisty morning. It rained on me off and on as I drove north to the swinging bridge, which is the only other way, aside from the ferry, off the island. It’s called the swinging bridge because that’s what it does to let boat traffic through. Not a drawbridge, but a swinging bridge, which supposedly is closed for fifteen minutes every hour on the hour for this very purpose, but I got there right on the hour, and it wasn’t closed. Then again, there weren’t any boats in the passage, either, and it would have been silly of them to open it if no one was waiting.
Rocks and trees and trees and rocks [g]. At least three different people described the scenery in western Ontario to me using this phrase, and I have to admit they’re right. It’s still pretty, though, and I stopped to enjoy a little cascade called the Serpent River Falls, and to note the glacial marks on the rocks nearby.
I was getting tired much sooner than normal by the time I reached Sault Ste. Marie, so I found a motel and holed up for the rest of the afternoon. The following morning was worse, so I paid for a second night, and the only time I got out that day was to go get food and hit a drug store for some meds and vitamin C and more tissue.
The next morning, September 10th, I was feeling enough better (and stir crazy) that I wanted to go ahead, so I crossed the border back into the States, where the only thing the pleasant customs officer asked me was if I’d bought anything to bring home over the past month. I told him about the cross-stitch patterns and the quilt fabric and the kitchen magnets and the three prints, and he smiled and waved me on through. Which was a good thing because getting the receipts out would have slowed things down considerably, since they were stowed away in one of the bins under my bed in the back.
It’s actually sort of a relief to be back in the land of miles and Fahrenheit again, if only because now I don’t have to peer down at my speedometer (I can’t read the kilometer part without taking my sunglasses off, which has been really annoying), and, more importantly, do all these calculations in my head all the time (exchange rate, too — I can’t seem to help myself [wry g]). I love Canada, but it is just enough of an uncanny valley for me that I don’t feel quite “right” there – I’m not explaining it well, but anyway. Like I said, I probably should have done it as the first part of the trip, when I wasn’t so worn out.
Anyway. I drove about halfway across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the absolutely pouring rain yesterday. I actually had to pull over once because the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with it and I couldn’t see where I was going. Fortunately, the really hard rain didn’t last long, but it did rain all day long.
I spent the night just outside of Marquette, Michigan, in the little, rather oddly-named town of Ishpeming. I’ve been through this part of Michigan before, which was why I had originally had my heart set on driving up and around through western Ontario in spite of the drive being longer, but oh, well. I ate a pasty for dinner. I had vividly good memories of one I’d eaten in Marquette the last time I was here, but this one wasn’t as good, alas. A pasty is a meat pocket (hand-held) pie, filled with beef and potatoes, and, I think, turnips, and they can be delicious. This one wasn’t bad, just not as good as I remembered.
I actually overslept this morning, which was wonderful since I hadn’t really slept all that well for a few nights, and I am feeling better, although I still don’t have my voice back (why, oh, why do I always get laryngitis when I catch a cold???). Which is great fun when you have to communicate, especially with strangers. “Why are you whispering? What did you say?” Laryngitis isn’t painful, at least not for me, but it’s really annoying.
Anyway, I drove the rest of the way across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and all the way across the top of Wisconsin to Duluth, which is just across the river in Minnesota. Not really as far as it sounds, maybe 150 miles? I got here in time to watch my Seattle Seahawks (actual Jeopardy question from a few years ago: What’s the only NFL team whose name starts with the same three letters as their city?) win their season opener against the Miami Dolphins at the last moment by the skin of their teeth (final score: 12-10).
I still don’t know exactly what I’m going to do tomorrow, or for the rest of the trip, for that matter. I guess I’ll see how I feel in the morning, but I suspect I’m back in the States for good. We’ll see.
One of the weirdest and most unpredicted (at least by me) things about blogging this trip has been that I’ve felt reluctant to change my plans for fear of disappointing people, which is really stupid. About the only really big change I’ve made so far was to not go to Newfoundland, and even then I felt like I had to explain why [wry g].
Anyway. I’m not feeling a whole lot better today, and when I took my temperature early this morning (I have a thermometer in my first aid kit), I was running a slight temperature. Which seems to have gone down since then, thank goodness, but still.That said, the last time I had symptoms like this, they got worse and worse instead of better (thanks to a nurse practitioner who insisted I was just getting over a cold) and I ended up in the hospital with pneumonia (just about two years ago, actually). The other thing is that as an American, going to the doctor in Canada is an expensive proposition, even with travel insurance. And the other thing is, I’m at the last border crossing where there’s a city on both sides of the border for a long, long way. As in over 1000 miles, at least. The next border crossing, period, is at Thunder Bay, which is almost 450 miles away on the other end of Lake Superior. Also, from Sault Ste. Marie to Kenora, ON, on my original route, is actually a few miles shorter going through Michigan than around through Ontario.
Also, I’m starting to get to the point (and was, before I got sick) where I’m ready to start heading home. If there’s one thing I regret about this trip, it’s that I didn’t start it in Canada and come back home across the U.S. (I’ve been saying that practically since I hit California, alas). But there’s not much to be done about it now. On the bright side, my passport is good for eight more years and my Canadian national parks pass is good until August 2018 [g].
Anyway, I’m going to cross the border this morning, go across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and see how I feel about the time I get to Duluth, Minnesota. That way, if I need a doctor, I can hit a doc-in-the-box (aka urgent care) and get antibiotics before it gets worse. If I’m feeling better and ready to explore more, then I’ll cross back over in Minnesota, head for Kenora, and continue on with my original plans. If not, then I’ll head on home.
Hey, at least I haven’t rolled my car. Yet.
I hate being sick on the road.
I woke up with a sore throat yesterday, which turned into a full-fledged cold, complete with laryngitis, by the end of the day. So I’m taking a day off here in Sault Ste. Marie, to rest.
This morning I got up and out and made it out of the parking garage and Quebec City without any mishaps. Of course, the day I decided to leave, the weather turned off nice and dry and sunny and cooler, but oh, well.
I didn’t take a lot of photos. Basically what I did was drive down to Montreal, although I did get off the freeway for a little bit just to explore on some backroads. This did not turn out to be the brightest move on my part. Getting out of the tourist areas in Quebec has been problematic for me at best, and it was a challenge to make my way back to the highway, especially after I apparently got in the way of a fellow who backs around that particular corner every day and why didn’t I know that? (at least that’s what I think he was conveying with his gestures when I beeped politely at him because I was afraid he was going to hit me)
I spent the night in Montreal, and if you read my FB account, you’ll know I was dithering about whether to spend the next day there or to go up to the Laurentian mountains. By the time I went to bed I’d about decided to go to the botanic gardens and a fur-trading historic site in Montreal, then head on to Ottawa, but when I woke up in the morning, I changed my mind and decided to go up to the Laurentians.
Which turned out to be a very good idea. The Laurentians aren’t really mountains – as I’ve said too many times, I’m a mountain snob – but what they really reminded me of, in a very pleasant way, were the Adirondacks in upstate New York, which makes sense, as I don’t think they’re more than 150 miles north of the Adirondacks. Montreal itself is a lot closer to the U.S. border than I’d realized, only about 60 miles. I sorta did a doubletake when I turned on the radio in Montreal and found a station that was not only in English, but was doing weather reports in Fahrenheit [g].
Anyway, the Laurentians were really lovely, even when I noticed some of the leaves just starting to turn. Already! And it’s not even September! Rolling hills just covered with heavy woodlands, and rivers and lakes and a ski area (at Mont Tremblant) that really reminded me of Sun Valley, Idaho, or Jackson, Wyoming.
I found a campground in the little town of Brebaux, just south of Mont Tremblant, and I’m camped on a pretty lakeshore. The town has one of those “no franchises here, sir!” fast food joints, and I ate a smoked meat sandwich there, which sort of reminded me of pastrami, with lots of mustard. It was good. The town also has a really pretty waterfall right under the main road.
Tomorrow I’m off to Ottawa, and Elizabeth, who is yet another listee friend. I’m looking forward to meeting her in person.
Today I drove the forty or so miles down just past the modern-day town of Louisbourg, walked through a visitor center, and caught a shuttle bus into the past.
Louisbourg Fortress (a fortified town, as opposed to a fort, which is just a fort) was built by the French, back when they were battling the Brits for supremacy in North America. The current fortress is something like Williamsburg, only even more so. With Williamsburg they had a few existing buildings to start with. With Louisbourg they had archaeological digs and historians. What they’ve achieved with that is pretty astonishing. You really do feel like you’re walking through an 18th century (they’re portraying the 1740s here, the height of Louisbourg’s prosperity) walled town. You almost feel like you’re in France, not Canada, which is rather disconcerting.
The living history part of the deal is toned down here, though. Not a lot of demonstrations, at least not today. But a good many of the buildings were filled with exhibits, about how they did the research and the rebuilding, and telling the stories of some of the people who lived here. I was surprised (although I have no idea why I was surprised) to discover that a few African slaves lived here. I was also fascinated by the hierarchy of the place, who was on top, and who was unfortunate enough to be at the bottom. I learned about the soldiers’ lives, and saw where they lived, and all in all it was another part of history that I didn’t know about. I also had a very nice chat with a gardener about the local climate, and another with a soldier on the ramparts about how most English language military terms come from the French language.
I’ve been charmed by the way I’m greeted with “hello, bonjour” ever since I crossed the border into Canada. I keep meaning to mention it, but what I’ve learned is that this is how they ask you which language you speak. You’re supposed to respond in your language so that the person addressing you knows how to go on. Which is pretty nifty, IMHO.
I spent most of the day at Fortress Louisbourg, in a misty moisty morning and cloudy (and windy) was the weather, and then just in the brisk wind that made me glad I’d put my hoodie and my raincoat on.
After I left Louisbourg, I wasn’t in the mood to make a decision as to what I was going to do the next day, so I stopped at a provincial park campground nearby – and promptly got read the riot act for speeding in the campground. I had not been speeding. I’ve been paranoid about the whole kilometers vs. miles thing ever since I crossed the border, and I know for a fact that I was not speeding. But I didn’t argue with the man, and he didn’t do anything more than fuss at me.
I’ve already been feeling sort of weird about Cape Breton ever since I got here. I’m not sure I can explain it, but I’m more than ready to leave. It’s almost like I’m a rubber band, with one end fastened in western Washington, and apparently Cape Breton was just stretching me just a little too far. That’s also part of the reason I didn’t go on to Newfoundland.
There’s more to see here, and I could have stayed another night or two, but I’m ready to head west. Not directly west, not yet, but west.
So. I was sorta counting on catching up online, doing blog posts, etc., while I was staying here on Prince Edward Island, but the place I’m staying has The World’s Crappiest WiFi [tm] (as in it was barely working last night, and not at all this morning), so it looks like I’m going to be out of touch until I leave.
I’m sitting in the parking lot of a fishing charter place that had a “free wifi” sign, which is how I’m online, but it’s not the greatest arrangement.
Anyway, I’ll catch up to you all later!
Yesterday was mostly a driving day, from Halifax to Cape Breton Island, and a nice relaxing afternoon at Cape Battery Provincial Park’s lovely waterfront campground.
It was gorgeous and sunny and everything (although breezy and cool, not that I was complaining about the cool part, anyway), then, in the middle of the night, I heard rat-a-tat-a-tat on Merlin’s roof, and was suddenly really glad I hadn’t left anything outside, oh, like my folding camp chair, because when I woke up this morning, it was to the kind of rain I normally associate with a Pineapple Express in the winter back home. Well, it wasn’t that cold (although it never got above 62dF today, according to Merlin’s thermometer), but it was easily that wet. This is the kind of weather that words and phrases like “driving rain,” and “teeming” were invented for. Oh, and it was windy, too, so it’s been raining sideways pretty much all day.
I didn’t want to spend the day cooped up in the back of my van, so I went ahead and drove to the town of Baddeck, on Lake Bras D’Or (did you know that Cape Breton Island has a huge lake in the middle of it? I didn’t – although since there is a water passage from the lake to the ocean, I’m not sure it really qualifies as a lake, even though it’s named that way), where Alexander Graham Bell had a summer home, and where there’s a National Historic Site dedicated to him.
There was a visitor center/museum, which was very crowded because I wasn’t the only one looking for something to do indoors out of the rain, but it was still well worth visiting. I didn’t know much about Bell, except for the obvious that he invented the telephone and that he and Helen Keller had met several times (which isn’t as ironic as it, er, sounds – his wife was deaf, and one of his major passions was helping deaf people). I had no idea how much of an inventor he really was. Among other things, he was involved with early aviation and hydrofoils.
But the most arresting thing, at least sensorily, was the “try it!” display of an old-fashioned (omigosh, really?) dial telephone. The sound of it was just – wow, it was weird. I hadn’t heard the sound of a dial phone in decades. That seriously made me feel old. When I walked up, a woman was teaching her little kid how to dial it. So. Very. Weird. Sorry.
So. I really wanted to be indoors (not just in the van, but real indoors) tonight, and there were no rooms to be had in Baddeck (ba-DECK, not BA-deck), so I got a late lunch at a café with terrible service called the Yellow Cello (a 12” hot dog dressed like a Philly cheese steak, which was better than it sounds), and headed the thirty or so miles north to the Sydneys (there are three of them, Sydney Mines, North Sydney, where the ferry to Newfoundland leaves from, and just Sydney, which is the biggest city on Cape Breton Island), where I found a nice, warm, dry motel room.
The weather is supposed to improve somewhat, at least so far as the rain goes, by late tomorrow, but it’s supposed to stay windy and chilly, and that’s about what’s decided me to not take the ferry to Newfoundland. Four hours one way on the open ocean in weather like this (I get seasick unless the water’s pretty calm, and I should have realized long ago that it wasn’t going to be) does not sound like fun. Plus, the whole trip would probably take me at least a week, what with a day each on the ferry on either end, plus two days driving each way to get to L’Anse aux Meadows once I arrived on the island and just one day there. And that doesn’t even count seeing any of the rest of it (the other part I’d like to visit, St. Johns – Great Big Sea territory! – is clear on the opposite corner from L’Anse aux Meadows – probably a three-day drive one way, plus three more days back to the ferry). It seems like so much effort and time and money without as much return as seems reasonable. I’ve spent a lot of time driving through rather monotonous taiga in the last few days, and a lot of getting anywhere in Newfoundland is going to be 99% taiga.
So I’m afraid that’s just not going to happen. Still, I’m glad I got this far. Tomorrow I will probably go see Cape Breton Highlands National Park if the weather is improved enough, and I also want to see Louisbourg National Historic Site before I leave Cape Breton and head west, once and for good.
I can’t believe I’m saying that. Wow.