Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 30 American Memorial Day
Lubec by the harbor
Finally HOME

It is amazing that we almost have reached the end of this long journey. In about 2 1/2 hrs. we will see our house again!
We are feeling exhausted. 7 days of driving means a lot to our bodys. For the last time we ready the coach and then we are leaving Bangor on I-95 north. After a few miles we are going onto the Coastal Route towards Ellsworth. Like a sailor being 
shore-bound for too long, I am eager to see the ocean again. Can’t wait to see the shores and smell the powerfull salty scent of the sea.
It must be my upbringing in a small fishing town which has led me back to the ocean. Then all the years on the Norwegian coast… we are what we are and cannot deny ourselves for too long.
Ellsworth is what it used to be, the town is busy, even today on the American Memorial Day. 
Shopping at Walmart goes on, like it always does, though, thanks to the early hour, there are no line-ups at the cashier yet.
Good old Coastal Hwy 1 is as bumpy as I remember it, and as we have to go slow, it’s gonna take some time. We are passing Gouldsboro, Milbridge,Jonesboro, Machias and finally the turn-off to Hwy 189 to Lubec. The U.S. Border comes into view. They are just checking on a passer-through, but I am ascending the International Bridge. 500ft to our Campobello Island! The sun shines and the sea beneath is blue, blue, blue! From the  top of the bridge I can see the Canadian Flag of our border station. 
The female officer asks me the usual questions and I answer them in turn. Then I am released. In the mirror I can see Bea stopping behind me.
When I am pulling up the last hill to our house, the tension leaves me. It’s sitting there, Red and white, in the middle of the green lawn, our house – our summer home.
Alarmed by the noise of the bus engine, neighbors are sticking our their heads. I see one coming towards us with her dog.
We are greeted like long-lost kids. Before we know it, a chocolate cake is delivered to us. Somebody had had birthday and there is the half of the cake – spared for us!  Great neighbors!
I look around. The grass is high and needs mowing. The apple tree is gonna bloom in a very few days. It’s hot in the sun and we have a high humidity. Down below the Passamaquoddy Bay. A red freighter has anchored up there, probably waiting to access the harbor at Eastport on the American side.

 In a short moment I can see the whole summer awaiting us.  And there is something more. Today, 24 years earlier, I married my wife in a small 700 year old Norwegian church by the sea.  May 30 in 1987 was as bright a day as this one. People were especially friendly that day. Strangers were waving to us as we came down the road in that old red 1928 Chevrolet Convertible. Memories of yesterday – coming alive today.

Today I have an old red Convertible in the garage. We are gonna use it tonight to drive to Lubec having supper at the new restaurant which was started last summer. What goes around – comes around!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

May 29

It's a challenge...

It's a challenge to describe the beauty of the States of Vermont and New Hampshire. I hope that the pictures Bea shot out of the driving Motor Home, might assist my words. Where shall I begin? Well, maybe with what we started our day today - FOG!!
Fog at Point Rousse, New York

Marina at Point Rousse
It is really foggy this morning. The air is muggy and heavy as we roll across the two bridges of Lac Champlain, connecting the State of New York with 
Vermont. Looking ahead, the bridge seem to disappear in the fog.
Bridge to Vermont across Lac Champlain

When reaching the other side, we see that huge areas of the land is flooded. 
Flooded house at Lac Champlain
Houses and travel trailers are standing way out in the water, and some places, the water reaches up to the edge of the black top. The rivers we see, are all brim-full of a rushing flood. Breathtaking waterfalls appear along the road - indescribable beautiful. 

Farther to the east the land rises and we see lovely green valleys and gentle mountain slopes beyond, dotted with beautiful homes and red barns.
"Vermont" is French, and means "Green Mountains". And it seems hardly possible to see greener mountains than those in Vermont. 

Not many foot left to flooding THIS bridge
The neatness of New England is beyond words. From the I-89 we drive up country road 104. This road is narrow and winding, but if you want to see rural 
Vermont, this is the road to take. The towns of Johnson, Hardwick and even St. Johnsbury, which is much bigger, are all to fall in love with. The gardens are full of blooming lilac and cherry trees. Along the fields crap-apple trees shine white within all the green.
Beautiful New Hampshire
Then New Hampshire: The mountains are higher, the hills steeper, but the towns are as beautiful as the ones in Vermont. If you have extra time at hand, stop at a little local Cafe, search the garage sales for a treasure, make contact with the people - they are all friendly and want to know where you are from. 
Rain shower during Thunderstorm 

The ride through New Hampshire is rather short, from Lancaster to the State Line with Maine it is only 35 miles! There is a lot more to see if you are going farther south, but we have to catch Highway 26 from Bethel, Maine. It runs down to South Paris, then NORWAY!! Driving through Norway we are looking for signs indicating the Scandinavian Heritage, but can't find any. I guess we'd have to spend a coupla days here to get to know more of this town. Another tour - another chance.

But hey, we are home-bound and eager to reach Bangor, Maine. We have decided to have a last overnight stay there before reaching home.
Alright, we could make it home today, but coming home in the evening hours is not what we want. There is some work waiting for us at home and we better start it during daylight hours.

Anyway, coming down from Hwy26 we reach the big Interstate 95 at Lewiston and continue our way north. $4.40 is the toll we have to pay with our rig, after that there is no stopping.

Reaching Bangor we pull up at Dysarts Truck-Stop and park in the spot we always park in, when coming home or heading out.

Read more tomorrow: Campobello Island - Finally and wow it's May 30!!! Our big day.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

May 28

Go east Cowboy
Another day on the road is starting. It is 7am, and it is still quiet on the road. Today, we will make it across the rest of Ontario and heading down the Ottawa valley until we are in our capital. From there we are south-bound towards the St.Lawrence River and the U.S.-border.

Our Route until today: about 3.700km
I must shoot off an another warning about the TC 17. If the road was bad yesterday, it is much worse today. We are rocking along and I am fearing for the contents in our cupboards. Especially bad it is around the village of Mattawa.
The TC 17 shifts name to Hwy 417 when reaching Ottawa. It curves around the city to the south and heads off towards Montreal and Quebec. We are taking off to Hwy 138 which brings us down to the City of Cornwall right on the St. Lawrence Seaway.  From there two long and very high bridges lead across the St. Lawrence towards U.S. customs. The first bridge (is it under Ontario administration??) has the worst pavement I have seen so far in this province. It is one patch besides the other.
Bridge from Cornwall across the big river

The St.Lawrence Seaway from the bridge
The U.S. customs officer is a friendly one and also has a look inside our Motorhome. Surprisingly he is not interested in the contents of our fridge, but rather wants to know the fuel mileage of our motorhome!!  Always a surprise and adventure to cross U.S. Customs!

Small-Town New York, USA
Then we are rolling into the State of New York. I remember the wonderful drive we had here two years earlier. The little towns and villages are teeming with small-town beauty, and this time of the year a lot of flowers in well-trimmed gardens. Today is Saturday and the towns we are crossing seem sleepy during the early afternoon hours.
A few properties have their spring garage sales going on but the weather forecast has predicted local thunderstorms, and indeed are dark clouds visible on the south-western sky.
Two years earlier we stopped at a truck-stop in the little town of Champlain. Today, we fill diesel at the same truck-stop again and park in the rear of the building. Tomorrow we will be leaving town by driving along Lac Champlain and finally crossing the lake into the State of Vermont. We are truly looking forward to that drive, as we have learned that Vermont and New Hampshire are beautiful states with many small  towns, and lovely valleys. We are having about 9 more hours to reach our Island, but will we reach it tomorrow?
Read on tomorrow: Will we reach home? 

May 27, 2011

 Serious words about the TC-17
Bridge across the St.Lawrence at Sault St. Marie
We leave our lovely spot at the lake and are heading out on the highway. After a little more than half an hour we are approaching the Canadian border station in Sault St. Marie. Before we get there, we fill up with Diesel, as we have no intention to pay Ontario fuel prices. Our trip through Ontario is less than 800km long and we can make that easily with one fill.

The Trans-Canada Highway 17 is of a very variable quality. Right east of Sault St. Marie, it is nice and 4-lane. As we get further east it becomes more and more despicable. Besides of being narrow with no paved shoulder, it is uneven and full of holes. Most 3.-grade country roads in the U.S. have a better road standard. Another very annoying thing are the notoriously small-sized signs along the highway. Take f.ex. the signs to the (very few) rest areas. They are small and brown. From the distance they are extremely hard to make out. Also, the first sign is placed about 500m from the entry road, where it is followed by a second sign. There are no deceleration lanes before you get to them and the turn-off is mostly in a 90 degree angle, making it extremely dangerous to turn if you have traffic behind you. Again, when travelling in the U.S. the warning signs for rest areas are bigger, they are bright blue (which stands out much better in a green forest) and the first sign is placed 2 miles (3.2km) from the actual rest area, giving the driver better time to prepare for a safe turn-off.

The worst rest area we saw today was on the left side of the highway. The entry road went in a sharp angle backwards!!!  We did not stop there, but when passing the place, we saw a white warning sign in the entry way, not to enter with trailers!!  That sign could have been placed 1 km farther back and actually a left turn at such a location should have been prohibited as it would be extremely dangerous on a two lane highway with the traffic volume of the TC 17.

To campers coming along the TC-17 we will say, be prepared to look for an overnight spot early enough. The few rest areas are tiny with very limited parking and on some, overnight parking is prohibited. That leaves you to seek out a truck stop, which you will have a hard time to find, or try to get on a campground. 
Private RV-parks and campgrounds along water bodies are often full with seasonal campers. Roads through the parks can be narrow and winding, besides that you might not feel welcome there. The best bet are actually Ontario Provincial Parks. You will find them along the entire TC-17 with the best parks located along Lake Superior between Thunder Bay and Sault St. Marie.

When  we saw an Rv-Park by a lake at around 4.30pm I had to do a left turn. Right behind me was a big tour bus, a bit too close for my taste, but I hit the brakes and made the turn. His problem if he had to stamp on HIS brakes.

We pulled in and were greeted by a man. The place was full, he said, but hold, maybe there was ONE place we could take. And indeed the “forgotten” spot was available for 30 bucks.  But we were a bit cash-poor these days and there was only 20 Dollars left in Bea’s wallet. No, he did not take a card or a check (I don’t know you…)  Then what? Ok, he said, and took the 20 bucks, "but no water and power for that".  We sure had no problem with that and parked the rig.

Now we are sitting along a lake in clouds of new-sprung black flies.  But, I guess, for 20 bucks you can’t ask for more, not in Ontario anyway, at least it is pretty --- if we dare to go outside to enjoy it.

Campground on Lake Pisimi at the TC 17

Thursday, May 26, 2011

May 26

Back to Canada

Well, we didn't make it to the border today, but almost. Michigan is way too pretty to rush through it. The ride along the south shore of Lake Superior was  -- stunningly beautiful. 

A bridge over a creek and it makes for a beautiful rest area 
With a deep blue sky all day the scenery invited for stopping here and there. And once we are stopped we always must have a bite, something to drink and walk Molly, like here along the creek.

Besides, the wind blew strongly out of the north east which forced us to reduce our speed to between 50 and 55 mph. (80-88km/h)  

When coming down to Marquette,MI we saw the great lake for the first time. The wind produced a massive surf gleaming white in the endless blue of the lake.

When we stopped east of town and got out, it was chillingly cold. 
Lake Superior in all its beauty

Another thing we noticed in Michigan were all the neat and pretty farms and private residences. 

Yesterday I was writing about higher fuel prices in Michigan. Today we were up for a surprise. The farther we traveled east the lower fuel prices got. So it can't be the taxes. Could it be that gas stations are ripping us off? I just ask.

When coming along Hwy 28 we came through Christmas. Christmas is actually a town up here. And as to emphasize their name the people of Christmas have put up a huge Santa in their midst. Bea caught THAT picture from the bus window.
Santa Claus at CHRISTMAS, MI

When the afternoon came Bea started looking at the map for those signs indicating a rest area. Just east of the town of Strong we found a very nice National Forest Campground on Soldier Lake. The little lake is right in the center of the campground, which also offers a picnic area for day use. The fee is $16.00 pr/night.

The sites are back-in sites and we found one long enough to accommodate our entire rig with trailer. After we had set up, we went on a walk around the lake. Choke Cherry trees are in full bloom and when we got out of the wind it was downright warm. Molly loved the hike too --- no wonder after a long day riding with us.

Tomorrow we have only some 30 miles to the border, so you can safely assume we will get back into Canada.

See you here tomorrow!

Soldier Lake in the Hiawatha National Forest

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Duluth and beyond

May 25

A faint light filters through the blinds. Is it morning already? I pull out my watch from under the covers. It is just a quarter past five!! Central Daylight Time it is! Gotto get used to that. 
I could get up and turn on the boiler ....yep lets do it.  A trip to the John and then back to bed. 

Next time I open my eyes it's 6am. We planned to get out early today, so there is no further excuse.
I turn on the furnace too, it's a bit chilly in here. 
Next thing is the coffee pot. Two rolls into the oven, then I can check on my emails. Our Verizon MIFI is working out here, which is pretty surprising given the remote location.

As Bea pops up from the bedroom, the rolls are done and the coffee made. My eyes are still bleary, but the hot coffee helps. 

At 7am we are ready to go. I back out the rig from between the trees and get it down to the Highway.
Traffic is still slow at this hour so I have some time to get the bus up to speed.

Minnesota is beautiful. Endless woods and many, many blue lakes. We stopped at Leech Lake. That lake is huge!! 

Stopping at Leech Lake, Minnesota
At the town of Walker, Hwy 34 comes to an end and we go on Hwy 200, which is in bad conditions. One place road work was going on. Apparently they are putting drain pipes under the road, anyway the passage left to traffic is so narrow and the edges so soft that I am fearing the bus will go over the edge.

yes - these are Dandelions
Finally Hwy 200 comes to an end as well and we turn onto Hwy 2 which leads to the City of Duluth and beyond into Wisconsin. When stopping for a break I am inspecting the bus tires. I have been watching them for a while and getting increasingly worried, especially about the front tires. They show ugly cracks and could delaminate any time. I decide that I have to replace them at first chance.

Bridge from Duluth to Superior
Duluth is an ugly industrial city but a major harbor on lake Superior. The Hwy 2 bridge is closed so we have to go farther into town to go over the Hwy 53 bridge, which gets us into the City of Superior. 
Old warehouse at the harbor
at the tire-shop
When getting off the ramp down from the bridge I see a tire shop down by the harbor. We pull in and ask for service. Turns out they have my big 22.5 Michelins in stock. So we get it done and 90 minutes later we leave with 2 new tires but with 1100 Dollars less in our account. OUCH!!

We are now in Wisconsin. Wisconsin's motto is "The Dairy State", hinting about the major agricultural businesses, the dairy farms. We see a lot more farmland than in Minnesota, but also far-stretched swamp-lands appear along the road. 
It takes only 2 hours to cross the northern part of the state and suddenly we are in Michigan. We notice that fuel prices are much higher than in Wisconsin. Is the state of Michigan more tax- greedy than their neighbors? 

Anyway, east of Bessemer we see a Campground on the left side of the road. Since the day has been a long one we could use a good rest and pull in.

The office is in the main house and inside I meet a lady whose accent seems known to me. So I ask her about it and yes, my feeling was right. She is from the former German city of Danzig (today:Gdansk Poland) Our further conversation is in German mixed in with some English. Inge has left Germany in 1957 and from the walls look the faces of her beautiful daughter and grand kids.

Inge shows us our spot and drives ahead with her golf cart. We park on the huge lawn beside an electric outlet. 
Now we can relax and have another delicious supper.

After supper Bea goes out to catch a few pics from spring flowers. How do you like them?

Read more tomorrow: Back into Canada

A new Day

May 24

As usual, we are up early with breakfast at 7am. We clear up the rig and say our Good Bye's to our friends.

A typical North Dakota Highway 83 with NO traffic. Where is everybody?

It is a cold morning with an even colder wind out of the North-East. The sky is dark grey as we make it out of Underwood and onto Hwy 83 south towards Bismarck.

At Bismarck we are entering the I-94 East and are rolling with 60mph East towards Fargo. Fargo is located right on the border to Minnesota and is quite an important center for North Dakota and western Minnesota.

East of Moorhead we change Highways and go onto Hwy 10. We are in MINNESOTA now, and follow that road until we get to Detroit Lakes. Here we go to the smaller Hwy 34 East. We are now leaving the wide open fields and are getting into more wooded areas. At 4pm we start looking for a place to spend the night. We see many lakes and side roads but no signs pointing to RV-parks. Then a CAMPING sign pops up along the highway and I turn onto the small road north. As we go up that road it appears that there is no camping facilities here. When, after 5 miles the end of pavement is near, we have gotten enough and turn onto a graveled side road to turn around. A truck comes up behind the bus and I get out to ask the driver for directions. The older gentleman has never heard about a campground in this area and thus is of no help. I am wondering what's the purpose of that CAMPING sign at the Highway.

Anyway, we get back to the Hwy 34 and continue eastwards. As we drive we see several more of these CAMPING signs. They are directed towards small side roads which disappear in the woods. We do not take any more chances on them and slowly roll on.

Finally, we see, east of the Hamlet of Snellman, a little rest area high up above the road. I brake up and hesitate. Should I go in here or is it a trap I can't get out of again?
I decide to explore the place by foot and discover an outlet on the other side allowing an exit. So I pull up and park the rig between mighty pine trees. 

Not too bad a place - and free of charge it is too.

High up between the pines in Minnesota
We celebrate the day with juicy pork chops barbecued "to perfection", served with fresh corn and peas. We also have dessert today - a rhubarb cake made by our friends in North Dakota.  

I just wish every day would end like that.

Our route so far -- from Cold Lake into Northern Minnesota

Read more tomorrow: Duluth and beyond 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Through the Border

May 23

We started in Weyburn searching for a gas station with an air pump. One tire on the trailer needs more air and, of course, we wouldn’t think that that would be a great problem, but in Weyburn it is.  When asking at the Co-op Truckstop I am met by some lame excuses and vague directions to a different station. We drive over to ESSO and they have an airpump --- mounted in an inaccessible corner of the station with a hose way too short. After 3 more stations we give it up and drive on to Estevan. Finally I find a station on the way out of  Esteavan with a pump in the back yard in front of a car wash. Not very accessible either --- but we manage.

Shortly after we reach the U.S.-border at North Portal. The officers want me to open the lower compartments in the bus. Another officer, checking the interior re-appears with a tomato he found in our fridge. The rest of  our vegetables are in bags marked with: “Made in the USA”, and we can pass on with them.

The road from Estevan to the border is not of the best to say it mildly. In contrast, Hwy 52 beyond the border is as smooth as can be. At Kenmare we pull up at the Diesel Pump. The entire yard of the gas station is one muddy dirt pool. The rain has done major damage to the facilities and the truckstop in the back.

The sun disappears and a darker cloud cover promises rain as we go on further south to Minot.

Minot is the town known for a major annual event, the 
Norsk Hostfest, which attracts thousands of campers and visitors from Scandinavia. Minot has a major Scandinavian population and names like HANSEN, ANDERSON, SORENSON, or PETTERSEN are witnessing about their heritage. Also a copy of a Norwegian Stave Church has been set up in Minot. It was pre-built in Norway and shipped in parts to Minot.

From Minot we follow Hwy 83 south. It is the main road to the City of Bismarck.

Our destination for this afternoon is the town of Underwood. Just north of Underwood, behind the Garrison Dam, lies the huge Lake Sakakawea. 
This is NOT Lake Sakakawea but flooded fields
The name is after the Indian girl who was the scout of the Lewis and Clark expedition, which in their search for a way to the Pacific Coast followed the Missouri River upstream. 
So the lake is fed by the waters of the big Missouri River and the free flowing Yellowstone River. Both rivers run out of Montana.
The dam was build to produce electricity and control flooding downstream.

It is 3,4km (2,1mi) long and 64m (210ft) high. Hydro-power turbines at Garrison Dam have an electric power generating nameplate capacity of 515 megawatts. Average production of 240 megawatts serves several hundred thousand customers.

The Garrison Power Station
Just below the dam lies the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery. It is the world's largest walleye and northern pike producing facility and also works to restore endangered species, such as the pallid sturgeon.

We are visiting friends at Underwood this afternoon and evening and are enjoying a great welcome dinner in their cozy home.

Read more tomorrow: In the woods of Minnesota