27 July, 2015


We continue our journey west on Route 2. The scenery is magnificent, rolling ranges straight out of the cowboy films – we feel like we've gone back in time. Except that even at our slow speed of 45-50 mph we are still going way faster than the riverboat steamers and lightening fast compared to the trappers and wagon trains!

After travelling beside the Missouri River all day we camp beside it just below Fort Peck dam, the largest hydraulically filled dam in the US. The lake is 130 miles long and 200 feet deep. It's a lovely spot, we enjoy the Interpretive Centre, and learn about the building of the dam. The day is so still the lake looks like a mirror.  

Here we are doing our impersonation of Lewis and Clark.

We drive for a couple more days through the plains spending our nights at Walmart car parks. We've learned that it's not worth spending money to camp when you just want a level spot and an early start the next morning. 

Where else but on the back roads of America are you likely to see dinosaurs "in the wild"?

The confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers.
 Our first view of the mountains.
We are starting to close on the Rocky Mountains and our near-term destination, Glacier National Park. Mark happens to check the status of the "Going To The Sun" road that winds over the continental divide in the park and discovers that a forest fire has just started on the east side of the park and the only road through the park is closed!

 Bear tracks!

We decide to hang around for a day to see if the fire will be put out, but no luck, the high winds and dry conditions are just making the fire worse. So we skirt around the southern edge of the park and spend 3 days hiking and exploring the West side of the park, probably only about a third of the entire park. We have a great time but now we'll have to return to see the rest of the park another time. Luckily the wind is blowing the smoke away from us so our stay is very pleasant.

On our way out of the park we stop at a roadside stand and buy some huckleberries. The next morning we enjoy some delicious huckleberry pancakes for breakfast.

We stop at Eureka and enjoy the Tobacco Valley Historic Village. Ten old buildings were moved here when the nearby Lake Koocanusa reservoir was created to save them from destruction. Great museum, free, and very informative.

After driving down the scenic lake we stop in at Libby Dam for a tour. Our tourguide, Megan, is great and extremely knowledgable. With only the 2 of us doing the tour we get extra special attention and Mark is surprised to find himself unable to think of a single question Megan can't answer. To quote Mark, "This is the best dam tour we've ever been on!"
These mountain guys are serious about their target practice.
 We have read about Yaak, MT, population 248, in one of our travel books. It sounds interesting and fun, so once again, we head off the beaten path and have a beautiful drive to the most northwest town in Montana. We stop in for a beer at the Dirty Shame Saloon and have a great conversation with our bartender and the owner. After slaking our thirst, we return via a different route and enjoy the Yaak Falls. Outstanding!!

On to Kootanai Falls, where the film "River Wild" starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon was filmed. Also great. Although, to be honest, we aren't too thrilled with the swinging bridge.
Ross Creek Giant Cedars is next. What a great sightseeing day this has turned out to be. An old grove of huge western red cedar trees some 175 feet , protected by their inaccessible location from logging and forest fires, is stupendous! 
The dry creek bed is covered with rock cairns, also quite a sight.
We have spent the whole day on scenic highways, our favorite way to travel. We reward ourselves by paying half price ($5.00) for a National Forest campsite on a beautiful lake.   There we light the last campfire we'll have until we get someplace where the fire risk is less than high, very high, or extreme.  It's been a dry summer all over the Northwest.

The following morning we wake up in the middle of the forest with a flat tyre! Luckily Mark manages to inflate it and it lasts until we get to town. Our new friend Jeff delays his lunch break and fixes it for $15. Great service in Troy, MT from a wonderful guy!

Yet another scenic drive beside Lake Pend Oreille, with the Cabinet mountains to our right and the reservoir to our left, through the Idaho panhandle and into Washington state. A train goes by while we are eating lunch beside the lake and 4 of it's cars contain passenger planes, obviously the wings had been removed! It went by too quickly to get a picture!

Next stop Washington State!

20 July, 2015

North Dakota

On entering North Dakota we stopped at the visitor information center to get a map and any other info we could. We asked the young lady about camping as we crossed the state. She got a worried look and said "You shouldn't get off Rte 2 anywhere west of Minot, it's dangerous!" Whoa!! Apparently there has been a big fracking oil boom in the state and there are lots of workers 'causing trouble', the crime and murder rates are up, housing is hard to find and prices are high. "Oh. Okay. Thanks." we said and left.

Since we wanted to see the International Peace Gardens which span the border of US and Canada, and they were east of Minot, we figured we would be safe up there. It was a delightful 40 mile drive north over rolling plains with lots of wind generators. 

The gardens were beautiful, especially the cactus greenhouse – what an awesome place filled with an incredibly wide variety of spiny plants!

Back to Rte 2 and once again headed west, we were amazed watching the crops and trees being whipped around by 25-30 mph winds. The down side for us was that this wind was dead on the nose and it reduced our gas mileage from 14-16 mpg down to just over 9 – the lowest we've ever seen!! Ouch! We didn't even know it was possible to push that much fuel through our little 4-cylinder engine!

After Minot we started to see more oil derricks and more trains with lots of oil tanker cars. Increasingly we also saw temporary housing, sometimes simply containers that had been converted to housing. They looked like terrible places to live – some had no windows! And there were lots of liquor stores. By the time we got to Williston (pretty much the epicenter of the fracking boom as near as we could tell), near the western border of N Dakota, it was quite depressing. 

Since it was beginning to get late, we decided to wander off the beaten track to a free campsite we had read about. It was right on the N Dakota/Montana border but it was still in N Dakota AND relatively close to Williston.

We were a bit nervous about going there so Julie called the place to check. The woman she talked to reassured us that it was safe there. She said "We just had a troupe of girl scouts camp here this weekend". So we decided if it was safe enough for girl scouts it was probably safe enough for us, too. The campsite turned out to be on the grounds of the Fort Buford State Historic Site, a lovely setting, and we were the only ones there. We even got to watch prairie dogs pop up out of their holes right next to the camper. Also on the grounds was the confluence of the Missouri & Yellowstone rivers. We're in Lewis & Clark country now, the first explorers to find a route west through the US. The Missouri river was an integral part of this exploration, we shall follow it now as we head further west.

Just a few miles past Fort Buford was Fort Union built in 1828. It took a paddle steamer 75 days to get here, 1800 miles upriver from St Louis. It was the main hub of fur trading in the area for 30 or 40 years. We actually had to cross into Montana and, following the driveway, backtrack a bit to reach the fort, just barely inside North Dakota.

On to Montana!

17 July, 2015


Stopped at Eau Train National Forest for the night. While walking along the side of the lake a big white splat fell right in front of us. We looked up and saw a bald eagle...up close and personal, just 20 feet above us. Good job we weren't walking any faster!!

Marquette, on Lake Superior, is a lovely old town. We learned a lot about iron ore here. This huge ship 1,000 feet long and 100 feet wide, transports ore which is unloaded via a huge covered conveyor belt. The processed iron pellets are later loaded via train rail cars which are stopped above these enormous chutes. The chutes are then lowered into position over the hold, trap doors are opened, and the iron pellets drop into the ship. Pretty amazing

We passed the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca, it looks way tamer and narrower here than in Memphis, 2,000 miles downstream, where Julie used to live.

Upper Peninsula Michigan, look on a map and you'll see where it gets it's name. Often referred to as UP (yoo-pee) and it's residents call themselves Yoopers. They are very proud of their heritage, independence, and ingenuity. We stopped at a 'Da Yoopers Tourist Trap' in Ishpeming. This, the worlds largest operating chainsaw powered by a V8 car engine, was just one of many interestinf and funny exibits. Unfortunately, we somehow managed to lose all our other photos from here – you can click here to see some of what we saw.

Drove through Wisconsin, famous for it's cheese, but only saw one cow! What's up with that?

Travelled through 3 states in one day Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Starting to see lots of grain silos, wind generators, and open range.

Sorry we 'lost' some photos so they are a bit slim on this entry.

15 July, 2015


Location: Sault Saint Marie, Ontario, Canada

Big Chute Marine Railway is a boat lift at lock 44 of the Trent-Severn Canal in Ontario, Canada. It works on an inclined plane to carry boats in individual cradles over a change of height of about 60 feet. It is the only marine railway (or canal inclined plane) of its kind in North America still in use. If you look closely at the photo you'll notice that there are two sets of tracks – one for the front wheels and one for the back. When the car goes down hill, the inside tracks descend more quickly than the outside tracks, keeping the car with it's contents level. Very cool engineering.

Georgian Bay is breathtakingly beautiful. The scenery is much like Maine, including wild blueberries, only without the salt water and the 10 foot tide. These pictures are from Killarney Provincial Park.

Sault Ste Marie is on the border of US & Canada. We decided to drop back down into the US for our journey west as fuel in Canada is more expensive than in the US. We walked the boardwalk to the smaller of the locks, on the Canadian side. Then we were stuck in traffic on the bridge so got to see an aerial view of the massive lock system on the US side. The great Lakes is an amazingly huge commercial waterway.

As you can see, we're really enjoyed taking the back roads – you see so much more interesting stuff that you miss on the main highways. 

Technically the moose is a Maine picture as Julie saw her first live moose while driving through Maine. We weren't fast enough to take a picture so this is just to memorialize the occasion. It's included here as it was actually taken in Sault Ste Marie.

At the border crossing back into the US, the officer confiscated almost all of our vegetables. Once back on the US side we filled up the petrol tank and stocked back up on veggies.

10 July, 2015

The New Big Adventure

Location: Collingwood, Ontario, Canada

Once again we're sorry for the long delay in communication. Since deciding in March to put Rachel on the market we've had lots of jobs to do. House jobs, boat jobs, camper jobs and family jobs. This all finally came to an end just over a week ago and we have at last taken off on our newest big adventure. Except that the camper jobs are continuing – not unlike living on the boat....
We've traded living on a 37 foot sailboat for living in a 20 foot camper. Our storage and living spaces are w-a-a-a-ay smaller but we can travel w-a-a-a-ay faster and still have all the things we need to make our lives comfortable. Our 1987 Damon Escaper RV (classified as a "Toyota micro mini motorhome"), whom we have yet to name, is tinier and more cramped than Rachel, but more comfortable and expansive than Wanda the Honda. And a bit between the two for speed with our self-imposed maximum speed of 50 mph (80 kph), as well. We are very happy with the compromise thus far. We get to see a lot more when we travel slowly and avoid the interstate highways.

To date we've traveled the length of the DelMarVa (Delaware-Maryland-Virginia) peninsula, stopping at Chincateague and Assateague islands to see the wild horses. We were lucky enough to cross paths with wild horse #14 on a trail we walked and got a nice photo.

We continued on through Pennsylvania and had a wonderful time visiting the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area where we hiked to 4 different waterfalls, visited Millbrook Village with it's costumed docents, and stopped at Grey Towers, the boyhood home of Gifford Pinchot, first Chief Forester of the National Forest Service (NFS).

From there we headed up to Mark's mum's to help her get organized in preperation for moving to a retirement community in Greensboro, NC. After a wonderful (and busy!!) ten days with her, we headed out again, this time to visit other family members in Massachusettes and Maine.

We found a lovely NFS camp site right on a small pond in the Maine woods. Spent the night and walked some trails. We had the campground to ourselves – it was quiet and stunningly beautiful. A wonderful respite from all the visiting and travelling we'd been doing.

Since we were planning to go to Canada the next day, we went to get out our passports - and couldn't find them! Turns out we'd left them in a file cabinet in the basement of our house in Blacksburg. Sheesh! Luckily our daughter Charlotte was able to send them up to Mark's brother's law office nearby overnight, so crossing into Canada was only delayed by a day.

We crossed the border without incident and headed to a 1/2 price campground we found just south of Montreal. This turned out to be a real find as the last commuter train station in the line was only about a mile from the campground. So the next day we parked the RV at the train station and took the train into town. Old Town Montreal is very cool. We really enjoyed the lovely architecture, great walking and people watching.

From there we started heading to Collingwood, Ontario to meet up with some cruising friends we'd met in Panama. Along the way, we decided to stop at a small town at one of the locks on the Rideau Canal. We went for a walk, checked out the locks, and noticed a Grand Banks trawler named "Hope" at the dock. There was a woman on the back deck so we stopped by to chat. In the course of our conversation, after telling her a bit about Rachel, she said "We had some very good friends who owned a Tayana 37. Butch & Ellie." Julie, not sure if she'd heard correctly, said "Did you say Butch & Ellie? OH MY GOD!" This couple we had just met at a random stop in the middle of Ontario were friends with Rachel's previous owners! How small a world is that? They invited us to ride with them while they moved the boat from the dock around the corner to get set up at the lock. We, of course, said "Yes!" and it was nice to get back on the water – even if it was only a 15 minute ride. What a trip, eh?
The RV developed an oil leak on the way to Collingwood, so, after we got there, Mark researched the issue and, since it looked like a big job and we weren't set up to do something like that, we called the Toyota dealer to set up an appointment. They said "1987? We don't work on anything that old." The Toyota dealer, for crying out loud!! So Mark & Steve ended up doing the work in the driveway themselves. It's just as well, since after all that, it turned out to just be a loose bolt - Steve snugged it up and the leak stopped. The next day Mark helped Steve with a house chore – hanging ceiling fans. It wasn't all work and no play, Collingwood is a fantastic little town and we really enjoyed checking out the trails, Georgian Bay waterfront, downtown area and ski resort. Good friends are priceless.

Steve & Marg are wonderful hosts and great friends. We have thoroughly enjoyed our time here with them and will look forward to seeing them again whenever / wherever we can.

Fair winds and following ... ?roads??