I’m late on updating because it has been an action packed couple of days.
We drove to Quebec City on the 24th from Montreal. No trouble really getting out of town or finding our hotel. I will say that it was packed with people due to the celebration of St. Jean Baptiste. Many roads were closed to car traffic but where we were staying in Old Quebec, almost all the businesses were open.
I was quite excited to see some of the things referenced in the Louise Penny novels and even had a bit of history under my belt to better understand some of the significance of the place.
In particular, I was interested to see the monuments of the Wolfe/Montcalm battle on the Plains of Abraham. This was a decisive moment in this history of Quebec and helps one understand how such a richly French culture can exist within the country of Canada.
The streets looked exactly like Europe. There were old shops and residences sitting right next to cathedrals and city walls. It was really amazing.
We had lovely crepes as we were walking through the streets and even strolled through the Hotel Frontenac. That was a highlight for sure. Found out that a room there would cost a mere $350 per night, so not for the budget minded. Glorious place though.
It was at this point that I began to feel a little…. iffy. Long story short, I was pretty much incapacitated for the evening with a stomach bug (or food poisoning I suppose, but Richard didn’t get it). I won’t go into detail. It was bad.
Thankfully, it only lasted about 12 hours and I was conscious, if not 100% for pickup the next day. I’m only now getting caught up on the blog.
Total daily miles: 218, Total engine time: 6 hours, 13 minutes (but I think this included the trip out and back to see Marie and Pierre).
We spent the next two days, Monday and Tuesday, just bumming around a beautiful city. We took our bikes down to Old Montreal where there is some seriously magnificent architecture. Along the way, Richard found excellent espresso places. Some of the buildings are very old and there is an Old Port area that has museums and lots of touristy stuff to do. We mostly just enjoyed riding through. There are not only marked bike paths through the city, but also some bonafide lanes, with protected curbs.
Here are some shots from inside the Basilique Notre Dame de Montreal. It rivals some of the most spectacular churches in Europe.
The highlight, however, of our time in Montreal has to be enjoying the warm hospitality and delicious dinner offered by our “Alto friends,” Marie and Pierre. Back last summer, when I was looking for information on the Alto, I discovered there wasn’t much online, or at least not much that wasn’t in French. So I started a Facebook group. It began as a group of 2; just me and the woman who had shown me her Alto in person. Slowly, it grew. As of today, we have 227 members. The group includes people from the U.S., including Alaska, Canada, and now that Safari Condo is shipping Altos down under, Australia. It is a lovely group of helpful people, many of whom already own Altos, some who have placed orders and are enduring the long wait, and some who are interested or are considering placing an order.
So how did we thank them for their gracious invitation into their home? By asking if I could wash Bruce in their driveway, of course. I regret deeply that I did not take a before pic of what Bruce’s poor face looked like after 3,000 miles, but I did not want that to be Dory’s first impression of him. Marie kindly provided me with water (glad I’m not in California!), towels, and even car wash soap and bug grime remover. Marie pitched in, despite my protests, but the boys were mostly happy to provide quality assurance and supervision.
The next day we spent almost entirely in the Musee des Beaux Arts de Montreal. There was a Rodin exhibit there which was quite interesting. Richard found a semi hidden coffee place with excellent cappuccino, and I enjoyed marveling at the architecture all around us.
We are aiming to head out fairly early tomorrow since it will be the day of Francofolies. This is a Quebec tradition celebrating St. John the Baptiste and from the looks of the set up downtown, it seems like it will be a very big deal. We’ve already been warned that everything will be closed. Our only goal is to get to Quebec City, home to Safari Condo. This journey will be very different after Thursday morning.
I spent the first day in Montreal just wandering around taking in some of the nearby sights. It wasn’t hard to find points of interest and right away I was drawn down the street to a park with lots of memorial statues. Close to this, there are stunning cathedrals and I walked in to the Cathedrale Marie-Reine during Sunday mass. This mass was presented all in French. After walking through this lovely church, I went to the nearby Anglican St. George Church where there was also a mass and a baptism. This was presented mostly in English. Very interesting contrasts between, not only the architecture, but also the services. The Catholic version was all showy and imposing; all about the spectacle, the Anglican was more everyman focused and talked about community and humility.
After that, I spent a couple of hours in the “Arts” area, including the Musee d’Art Contemporain. The whole area is setting up tents and stages and booths. I assume they are preparing for a city wide celebration of us picking up our Alto. Thanks guys!
Of course, the very best part of the day was that Richard arrived in Montreal!! The feeling of relief I have with him here now runs through my whole body. Now everything feels right with the world.
Dear Canada, I owe you an apology. See, mostly what I’ve seen of you has been in the form of idyllic camping pictures; remote, lovely, far from signs of other people. And from a trip I took years ago in the Rockies. Also fairly deserted. So I had developed this image of you as generally sparsely populated. I see now that your urban areas are not kidding around. I mean, I knew the big name cities would be dense, I just didn’t fully appreciate the scale, or sprawl. I also now understand why someone would pay $30 to take a bypass route. Shoulda taken that advice. When I first crossed into Canada I discovered these funny road signs with very high speed limits. Took me a few seconds, but I did figure it out. Then I immediately thought “Uh oh. This isn’t something the U.S. has ever been good about teaching its citizens.” Happily, right away I noticed, “Oh hey look! There are tiny, barely legible little numbers on the inside of my speedometer.” I set my cruise control once I’ve determined what “70” means so I don’t lapse into midwest barreling. I think I’m getting the hang of terms like: “Interchanges”, “Collectors”, and “Tim Horton’s”. So things are progressing nicely. Didn’t really take many road shots and as soon as I approached the Toronto area and then the Montreal area, I was just concentrating really hard on the road. So no shots there.
Getting into and through Montreal was nerve wracking. It’s kind of like San Francisco, but with more construction, closed roads, one way streets, and pedestrian and bike traffic. I didn’t think that was possible. It’s also really upsetting when my technology does not work because I don’t have a reliable back up. My nav took me to the right street, but not the right section of the street. So when it cheerfully said “You’v reached your destination”, I was staring at a huge construction site where something used to be, and nowhere to stop the car and regroup. Was that my hotel? Did it get leveled and no one told me? And if that’s not the right place, how am I going to find it without wifi?? …. That is correct. I call Richard. From home, he got on a map and navigated me to my hotel where two nice valet people were waiting to help me with my car. The first thing they asked was whether I could take the bikes off the rack and they even foolishly offered to help. That is, until the saw the Fort Knox locking job we did. Then they backed off and let me handle it. When they offered to bring in my “luggage” and I opened up my car, I got quite the looks. I’m sure one of the things they thought, but didn’t say was: “Is that a grill?” They were visibly relieved when I brought out my two little bags and said that was it. So now I get to relax for a couple of days. I MADE IT. At least, almost. Here are shots from wandering around Montreal and having a bit of dinner and celebratory beer before returning to the room. Forgot to get mileage and engine time from the car and too tired to go get it now. Will update tomorrow. Nighty night!
Update: Total Daily Miles: 429.3, Total Engine Time: 8 hours, 38 minutes
Today was a really good day, with the exception of a sudden and intense withdrawal from internet panic attack that only Richard got to witness over the $1/minute phone call, so I shall not speak of it, except in passing*.
Before setting out, I bandaged up my poor blue bike with paper towels (HA! to the paper products doubters) and duct tape. I tilted the handlebars on Richard’s bike way up and now they sit better on the rack.
From Hobart all the way to the border, it was smooth sailing in terms of traffic. The roads really do suck though. I’m looking at you Illinois and Indiana. California roads are bad too, but I cautiously venture to say these are worse. At least there was lots of construction so it seems you guys are working on it.
Michigan is very pretty. There were lots of fields starting to bloom and it all held a supremely lush feeling, especially compared with my drying up homeland. And I saw a vintage trailer on the road! Here are some pics:
Crossing the border was very exciting for me! I have been to Canada once but that was on a plane, so it didn’t have the same threshold into a new world feel. On the U.S. side, it was really just like paying a bridge toll and moving on. I wasn’t sure if that was all there was to it, but it was still really exciting. The magical bridge that led me into the new world was way too high and made me wonder a lot about how much weight was in all the stopped cargo trucks just sitting there across the span.
On the Canada side, I had the most awesome exchange with the customs officer. I’m glad I’m blogging because I hope to never forget it.
Him: What state are you from?
Him: Why are you coming into Canada?
Me: To buy a camper trailer from a company called Safari Condo in Quebec.
Him (after a classic dead pan pause): You drove all the way from California to Canada to buy a camper trailer?
Me (with childlike enthusiasm and wondering if I should mention I waited a year to do this): Yes!
Him (asking the all time most relevant question): Why?
Me (wondering how much detail to launch into): Because it is unique and really cool. It has this retractable roof…
Him (detecting this could go on for longer than he needs): Ok. Any firearms?
Him: Ok, good luck.
In that deadpan pause, he must have been calculating the risk factor; carefully weighing how likely it is that I’m just a crazy American with money to throw around, vs. a dangerous level of crazy and shouldn’t be allowed into the country. He obviously made his decision and I shall try not to let him down.
The drive to Stratford was truly lovely. Endless fields, charming houses and occasional wind farms filled my view. Here are some road shots:
When I got into Stratford, it became immediately clear that I had arrived right in time for a big festival. Richard had gotten me a room on the outskirts of town, but when I had trouble finding it, I suddenly realized all of my technology no longer worked. After an expensive phone call*, I got checked in and headed back to enjoy the scene. I wasn’t up for sitting down and seeing a play but I did get to stroll by a fairytale lovely pond, complete with swans (and baby swans!), ducks, geese, herons (look closely!), and perfect little bridges and fountains. I got a bite to eat from a booth and strolled the streets while eating gelato. One missing piece was my sweetie. Otherwise perfect ending to a good day.
Thanks to Richard, I had a fantastic place to stay, and now, a cellular travel plan for my cell phone. I have to be sparing though, and it doesn’t take care of data, so I may not be checking in with the online world as much until we get back into the states on June 30th.
Total miles for the day: 411.9, Total engine time: 8 hours, 21 minutes
From the time I got past Sacramento, I really haven’t had to deal with much traffic. There have been occasional slow downs because of road construction, but not the mazes and offramps and merging I’m used to in the Bay Area. Until today. From Davenport, IA, to where I’m staying in Hobart, Indiana, it was several hours of being reintroduced to metropolitan commute hours. Made me really miss the long flat countrysides I’ve been barreling through. Note to self: take a southern route on the way back.
Here are some road shots.
The highlight of the day had to be stumbling upon the “World’s Largest Truck Stop!” I believe it. Iowa 80 it is called, and it is quite the smorgasbord of fast food, travel trinkets, and car parts. It also has fun facts in the bathroom about other World’s Largest things. Plus full size trucks with flashing light displays inside. Very entertaining.
Now here’s a milestone. I am now East of the Mississippi!
Another couple of rest stop shots. I’m beginning to think California rest stops are kind of…. not the nicest. Look at how nice these are:
And so the sad part of the day came after a grueling two hours of traffic and bumpy, pot holed roads when I finally bailed and called it a day. When I got to the hotel, I checked out the bikes more closely and noticed that they had both jiggled off the little saddle holders on the bike rack and mine was nastily scratched. 🙁 I was really quite upset about that, but I was also just coming off a brutal rush hour and was tired and hungry. Still, my pretty blue bike has a couple of boo-boos and I’m not happy about it.
I can’t get touch up paint to match, but the company says I could use model paint or nail polish. Anyone got any blue nail polish on them?
At least my day tomorrow might be shorter since I’ve gone a little extra the past two days. I wanted that cushion in case the border crossing takes time. Tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, I should be in Canada!
Total miles for the day: 535.8, Total engine time: 8 hours, 44 min
I didn’t take a lot of pictures today because it was much the same scenery the whole way. This country is my roots. Have you ever noticed when you look at something deeply familiar, how your eyes sort of relax? Like, your brain recognizes the input and sends yes, yes, this is right signals. That’s how I feel about Nebraska. It’s a lot of flat, open space, but there is something about the colors or the occasional bluffs, I don’t know, but it makes my brain feel at home.
I was thinking about family a lot today and was tempted many times to take a little side step just north to Scottsbluff. I knew though that I would lose time on the detour and would not have any time to really say hello. I’ll save that for the return trip and make it a real visit. In the meantime, I waved vigorously and I assume my loved ones felt it and looked my way.
It appears Nebraska has decided to rip up and redo it’s entire interstate system. Not sure how I’ll feel about that when towing a trailer, but I saw plenty of others towing much larger rigs than Dory.
Every morning I send Richard a text with a picture of the bikes, so he knows they are ok (I assume he is equally pleased to know that I am ok). This was this morning’s photo. The bike cover (not shown here) is great and very sturdy, but we are working on our relationship. It is fairly complicated to get on and off and just figuring out which side goes where takes a while. It is made to be used while driving, but smart people pointed out that this would equate to putting a sail on the back of my car. Which didn’t sound like a great idea. So I just put it on at night.
Wyoming rest stops are actually quite nice. I got a couple of shots of some of the wind turbines. Note in the second shot an example of: if they can get through the road construction, so can I.
More scenery shots, now in Nebraska…
Jay Bro’s. This was an interesting place. Sorry, I forgot to turn around and take a shot of the front because I’m playing a detective game of: where am I? with a friend. I found it because I am staying well hydrated on this trip and found myself once again needing to pee. I took the next random exit that seemed to have a gas station and pulled into this place. Anyway, it is your typical gas and market truck stop along the highway, just like all the others. But this one is owned and run by an Indian family and there is also a restaurant inside. I was looking for something to grab to eat on the road and when the nice lady in traditional Indian clothing said they had samosas, I admit, my first thought was: “Is this a good idea?” I can’t say I’ve ever had Indian food in Nebraska, but it was being offered by what looked like a good source. And in fact, I can happily report those were some damn good chicken samosas and I would make it a point of stopping there in the future. Here’s info about them:
And this is the Platte River Road Archway. Quite the spectacle on an otherwise pretty monotonous stretch of highway. I did not know the backstory on this, but apparently for many years after it was built as a tourist attraction, there was no exit to get to it. I didn’t stop here, but am curious to maybe take the now present exit on the way back.
So that was pretty much my day. Finished the Gamache novel (yikes! Jean Guy is in serious trouble!), and made it a little farther than planned. There are definitely things I am looking forward to when we get our Alto. First, and most obviously, I will be with my sweetie. Next, our own sheets. Next, not having to wonder what is the possible grossness on the floor, or if I do, being able to be reasonably certain that I put it there. Also, not having to worry that I have left something behind.
Total miles for the day: 586.3, Total engine time: 8 hours, 50 min
Long, uneventful day. Made it to the planned destination and was ready to stop driving when I got there. I’m definitely “in the groove” of road tripping now, which is good, because I wasn’t sure if I was going to spend this whole time feeling anxious. As I was leaving home, I felt an enormously strong pull, like a huge invisible bungee cord, telling me I should turn around right now and come home. As I got over the mountains, I could feel it starting to strain. Somewhere in Utah, I could almost feel a quiet, barely perceptible little snap.
It’s been a long time since I’ve ventured outside my comfort zone and away from my family. This is a “good for me” kind of thing to do.
Crossed through the long flat stretch of Nevada and the salt flats in Utah. Once you start climbing into the mountains, all the colors seem brighter and the air seems clearer. Definitely pretty country.
Spent most of the day listening to an audio version of an Armand Gamache mystery novel (by Louise Penny). I highly recommend the series. It has been especially fun since it is set in Quebec and I’m getting to learn about the region a bit.
Here are some random shots out my window from the day’s travels:
Total miles for the day: 528.1, Total engine time: 8 hours, 12 min
Today was the big day. I set this timer on my iPhone nearly a year ago and we have been patiently watching the days count down. We are still 9 days out from actually meeting Dory in person, but this was the day I had to be ready to leave home for around 7 weeks with everything we needed packed in the car. From the time I set this timer, we have bought a new car and a new bike for me, we’ve refinished our driveway so Dory can get into the garage, and we’ve researched and purchased a carload full of trailering provisions. It all had to be ready to hit the road with me bright and early this morning with no turning back.
And it was.
I’m going to call the first 43 minutes of the trip a “transition time”. This was the period when it all hit me that I was actually going to do this. I went through a rapidly fluctuating series of wild swings ranging anywhere from euphoria to terror. There may have been some crazy tears involved during this time. Somewhere past the Martinez Bridge I shouted out loud, “This was my f***ing idea!” That settled things for a bit.
For the next two hours, I began easing into this reality. I also adjusted the seat a lot. The rest of this paragraph is going to be all about how much I love my car, so you can skip ahead if you are not terribly interested. The reason I had to get the MDX is because, against my better judgement, I went and sat in the seats in a dealership. I had just returned from an Ashland trip in the Outback, and my lower back was hurting after a long drive. I’d already decided I wanted a new tow car and the Toyota Highlander was the choice at the time. After the back pain experience, I sat in a top of the line Highlander on the lot for as long as the salesman seemed willing to let me. I wasn’t in love. So I went against better financial judgement and sat in an Acura. Seriously, the seats are amazing. Highly adjustable, good lumbar support, soft yet firm in all the right places. The steering wheel adjusts back and forth and up and down also, AND the car saves all the little micro adjustments to memory so it freaking welcomes you back every time you unlock the door by moving things into your personal pre-programmed position based on whose key fob it recognized! That aspect actually freaks my daughter out because it comes a little too close to sentience for her liking. I’m all over it though. So today’s drive really didn’t take a toll on me in terms of soreness or kinks or anything. As far as that goes, I could have driven longer.
By the time I hit Donner Pass, I was feeling downright giddy. This will be another plug for my car: it is the quietest car I’ve ever driven and the sound system is incredible. Plus, I have been gathering some very fun tunes for a while now. There may have been some loud and gloriously off key singing involved during this time.
Here are some shots of going over the mountains:
Coming into Nevada, it was hot and flat and gusty. And I got a terrible sandwich I really should have seen coming from a truck stop market refrigerator. Sorry Nevada, I’m sure there are nice parts of you, but that’s all I’m going to remember from this trip.
I pulled into Elko a little short of 5pm. Nice time to stop. I put our bike cover on the bikes just to protect from any rain (ha!) or would be thieves. We have so many locks on these guys though that they’d have to be damn determined and it’s not like these are designer bikes.
Overall, a good start. Total miles: 492.9. Total engine time: 7 hours, 58 minutes.