All though the weather forecast was for clear skies, clouds and fog greeted us as we unloaded our bikes off the ferry. We had just rode a catamaran ferry across the Mackinac Strait, from St Ignace, and were hoping to ride around the island. Our first stop was the visitor center, which was not yet open, so Renita went into a grocery store and got us coffee as I watched the bikes. Armed with some warmth we talked about the ride until the center opened. Once inside, one of the workers, told us of the biking on the island and also told us of the rules of the road. Quite simply, pedestrians have the right of way! He also told us not to worry about the horses as they were so use to bikers and walkers that they would watch for us,(No cars or trucks are allowed on the island!)! He also suggested that we ride the eight mile road around the island first, and then eat lunch followed by a ride in the interior and to the fort. Finishing our coffee, we started our ride, psst one of the most beautiful displays of tulips we have ever seen! The guide had told us that the ride would take an hour, but we stop so often for pictures that we had packed a lunch. As we continued past the flowers the trail followed the waters edge and soon we reached Arch Rock. A family had passed us and were heading up the wooden stairs, and a school group pulled in, as we parked our bikes. The fourth graders, all wearing green shirts with their schools name and grade, raced past us and up the bluff. It was ok as the little germ laden bunch minimized their contact with us and so thoughts of swine flu quickly faded,(I taught for 30 years and have had every flu and cold known to man). The hike up the trail was short but steep and we soon reached the arch. The brecciated rock had been weathered into a sea arch and was really quite impressive! A short trail led us to a monument to the first white person to canoe through the straits. A bike road actually led to the fort from here, but we had left our bikes down below and so we returned down the trail and continued to ride. The skies, cleared off and a cold north wind fought us as we rode by the water. Hooded mergansers were common as were ring billed gulls. Large holes, left by pileated woodpeckers scarred the trees, with huge chips pilled at the bases! We didn't see any pileated woodpeckers but the chips they left were bigger then my fingernail! We continued to struggle against the wind. As the island curved we rode past point after point, hoping each was the northern most tip and that the wind would be at our backs. Our layers of clothes kept us warm and we stopped often for more pictures so it was still enjoyable. Finally, we reached the four mile marker and we headed south. A science center was closed but we were able to use the restrooms and peer in at the displays. A little further there was a concessions booth and ice cream and drinks were available but we passed by. A sign told of the British landing during the War of 1812-1815. Stopping for lunch we sat on a rock in the sun. Bikers went past and waved or smiled in greeting. The Devils Den was a little further, a small sea cave really, and it wasn't long before we rode back into town. The main street was really quite busy, and we dodged the horse apples and rode back to the visitor center. I asked Renita if she wanted to check out the stores so we rode to the middle of the shops and parked our bikes. As Renita shopped I noticed that the horses, pulling the taxis, were almost all matched pairs, and so I amused myself by taking pictures of each pair. Walking by candy store after candy store, 23 on the island, I finally went in and bought an ice cream cone. The Mackinac Island Chocolate Fudge ice cream was maybe the best I have ever had! Finishing both sides of the street we returned to our bikes and rode off of Main and down Market Street. There, we found a bead store that Renita wanted to check out. They had a lot of pretty stuff but she didn't buy any and mentioned to me that she wondered if I noticed she didn't have any sacks? Both of us were tired and decided to call it a day so we returned to the ferry landing. It wasn't long before the ferry pulled in. Loading our bikes we climbed to the top deck where we took images of the town and a Coast Guard rescue craft. The ride back was cold and windy, but we wanted to see the island and straits from the water so we wandered the deck before playing the "Titanic Scene, where we stood facing into the wind. Almost all the others had already headed into a lowered protected deck and so we enjoyed the moment. Too soon we reached the dock at St Ignace. We had to wait a bit for our bikes but we were in no hurry. The day had been worth the waiting for,(it had been raining for two days), and the ride had been easy and fun. Clear skies.
We left Connecticut and headed west. The trip was going to be a fast one as we needed to cover some miles(We have reservations in June in Wyoming and want to spend a couple of weeks with our daughter in St Paul). Now normally we only travel about 200 miles a day but we wanted to go to St Paul by route of the Upper Peninsula so we took off from Connecticut and drove three days straight to the UP, (Might not seem like a lot to some but we are pulling a 37 foot house). The drive itself, or should I say the scenery was spectacular. Following Rudys,(Lahlias husand and my brother Mikes brother in law), advice we quickly crossed Connecticut and New York and entered Pennsylvania. Now we couldn't see much because of the trees but crossing the Appalachians, in Pennsylvania, was about as beautiful as any vista we have seen. Between the mountains and the well kept farms, Pennsylvania is definitely a picture postcard State. Ohio flew by, but we did enjoy a night at a campground in Homerville, (named for Homer Simpson?), and heading north we went through Toledo. Renitas folks were from Toledo and so the churches and the city's buildings were of special interest to her. Interstate 75 was closed in Detroit so we turned to 475 and then headed north until we rejoined 75 to Mackinac City. It was a long and tiring drive but it went pretty easy. We did have a few traffic jams that I wanted to mention, just because traffic jams are so unusual to us. The first jam was in Connecticut and actually took place as we drove back to our campground, the night before we left. We sat motionless for an hour before slowly passing a horrible crash on Connecticut 2. The second jam was actually delightful as we drove through Amish country in Pennsylvania. Yep, a horse buggy jam on hilly roads. Finally the last jam wasn't really much as construction on the Mackinaw Straits Bridge narrowed the roadway to two lanes. While it slowed us down to 20 mph it allowed me to do some sightseeing as we crossed the long span. Safely arriving at Straits State Park we set up for a couple days of rest and sightseeing. Retirement is a tough stage in ones life. Clear skies.
ps Actually I am no longer retired as I sold a blog entry and some photos to roadtripjournal.com and am now a professional writer!
As we pulled into the parking lot, of the US Sub Museum, Renita noticed a submarine being helped up river by a barge. What a fitting sight as we were going to the US Sub Museum in Groton, Connecticut. We passed four small subs, including a Japanese two man sub, like the ones used in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Nautilus stood firmly moored at its dock. Two large rings represented the diameters of the first subs and a modern active trident. Upon entering we signed the guest registry and then headed to the Nautilus, where we were handed a hand held radio that played a guided tour as you passed through different areas of the ship. Upon descending we both were immediately struck with the amount of room inside. It was huge compared to the cramped spaces inside the World War Two fleet sub we had been in in Alabama. I bumped my head as we passed through bulkheads and Renita tried not to laugh, but I had to a little, what a klutz. Steel doesn't give much! I was hoping to see the reactor room but that area was closed and it was ok as just to be inside of a ship that traveled to the North Pole was enough. Later we read the accounts of the voyage and of the perils under the ice. Other kiosks told tales of sub lost and of the sailors rescued. What special hero's, the silent servicemen. (as are all who serve). Clear skies.
As each First Class Cadets name was called, they climbed the stairs, where they were first handed their diploma, and then handed another parchment which signified their commission. As the speaker read their name he also read the name of their first posting. Some were being stationed in Hawaii, some California. Alaska, Boston, Seattle and other places, including flight school in Pensacola were also common. Our niece Louise was being sent to Australia? Now I know your thinking what gives with that? It turns out she had just found out that she had received a Fulbright Scholarship, from the Australian Government and was going there to work on her Masters. A well deserved honor! We tried not to clap or yell in applause, as others did. The speaker had asked that all applause be held in honor of the graduates, but other parents had broke out in whistles and congratulations. It was so hard as we both wanted to yell out a Wyoming cowboy yee haw. After the ceremonies we watched as Roger pinned on her ensign boards,(Roger is a retired Coast Guard Captain who has been a lifelong best friend of my brother and who had been instrumental in Louise's choice of the Academy). Mike and Mona beamed as their lifework had reached a highpoint. Mike asked me if I had heard that she was the only cadet whose name had been mentioned by both the Coast Guard Academy Commandant and the Head of Homeland Security. Later we went through the Coast Guard Museum and then walked across the campus, before boarding our bus which took us back to where we had parked the car. What a day and what a blessing. Clear skies.
Conspicuos comsumption, the gilded age, the classic mansion, a vulgar display of wealth? All phrases used to describe the Breakers, the mansion of the Vanderbilts, I walked through the first three rooms, with my mouth agape! We hadn't seen such opulance since touring castles in Spain. The dining room left both of us speechless. The platinum covered breakfast room, the carved marble bathtubs, all gave us a glimpse of wealth, power, and an understanding of their blessings and curse. Roger and Fran, two long time family friends, invited us to go along with them to Newport, Rhode Island. Not really having any plans we rode with them as we drove along the coast. Occassional glimpses of bays greeted us as we passed rare openings in the trees. Arriving in Newport we first made the usual stop at the local visitor center. There, we got a map of Newport, directions to the downtown area for lunch, and looked at possible tours of the mansions on the islands. The downtown was dissapointing. The usual chain resturants and stores met our gaze, where would an actual local place be? A cop directed us to a bar and grill, the Brickyard, that had been in operation since the 1960's,(and was housed in a buiding built in 1842). Renita had sole and the rest of us had scrod. Roger and I had the fish sandwichs and Fran had the fish and chips, which turned out to be a huge platter of three fillets! We all agreed that it had been an excellant choice for lunch. Walking back to the car we stopped to take a picture of the bay and for the first time we had a view of the charm of the island. Sailboats sat moored at their piers, contrasting sharply with the the busy roads and modern looking stores. We decided to tour the Breakers, the largest mansion on the island. The visitors center had told us that we could buy passes for two or more mansion tours but we decided to visit only one, and take our time. The opening paragraph pretty much descibed our reaction to the Breakers Mansion, the summer home of the Vanderbuilt Rairoad Baron. Upon entering, a greeter handed each one of us a self guided player, which described each room, and had actors speaking quotes from the Vanderbilts and their servants. Now I had attended a workshop, on teaching children of the ultra rich and the poor and so I had an different insight. At the workshop, we were told of how many people of old money were really quite helpless in that they had no idea of how to live without servants. Money slaves, not that I felt sorry for them. It reminded us of the southern mansions built on the backs of slavery, only this was of a different kind, economic slavery? That really doesn't correctly describe it but it was a lifestyle that still exists, although the mansions are empty due to the lack of servants. We had to laugh as the lifestyle, get up, have breakfast, followed by a day at the beach kind of sounded like our lifestyle. One of the Vanderbilt daughters had said that she hoped someone would love her for herself, and not just because of her money...... , and so she found a purpose in life in her sculptures. The tour took the rest of the day. We did make a quick trip to the Naval Base and War College, where Roger had won an award for the highest score in his class(Roger was a Marine Lieutenant at the time and later served as a Captain in the Coast Guard until retirement). Fran told us stories of when they were stationed on the island, while Roger was in school. WE enjoyed sharing the day with them and it was a good day, although we never found the plaque. Clear skies.
Each company of white and blue dressed first class cadets marched past us proudly holding their sword's. The companies then marched into the parade field and stood stiffly at attention as the review took place. Each reported "All present and accounted for!", before being saluted by the Commandant. We were at the Coast Guard Academy, watching our niece march past in Alpha Company. It was just one of the pre-graduation activities that we were here for. We had already gone on the Evening Ferry Cruise, the Senior Picnic, and now were watching the parade of the Cadets. Arriving in East Lyme we set up at Aces High Rv Park, one of the nicest places,(and most expensive), we have been. The first day we went to a barbecue at my brothers house, and surprisingly he can cook, as the barbecue was great! We met Roger and Fran, who had traveled from South Dakota for the graduation,(Mike's best friend and his wife). The next evening we rode with Mike and Mona to the Groton Ferry. Here the graduating class was being treated to a cruise dinner. The cruise was to go into Long Island Sound and then up the Thames River, passing both the Coast Guard Academy and the Electric Sub Works. Fog prevented us from seeing most of the sights but the time with family and friends made it a night to remember. The next day a picnic was planned. Hard rain of course! The picnic was moved indoors, into the pys ed building, and the food found the place so we were able to pig out again,(Hm...., if I don't watch it I am going to be ready for market, an old Iowa saying) We met a bunch of Louise's friends and class mates. I asked her what was her best memory of the academy, and she wisely answered, "Graduating". It was a foolish question to ask a senior. Louise and her sister Yasmeen, posed for their picture, two brilliant and beautiful women, with futures so bright,(Yasmeen graduated from George Washington University in Washington DC and works there). Mike and Mona were all smiles as I complimented them on their outstanding job as parents. It is a blessing to be here! Clear skies.
"I think I remember that cemetery", I said. A little while later we passed a sign for a hill that Renita thought she remembered. We were driving back and forth, on narrow Connecticut roads, trying to find our house and campground. It wasn't that we were lost, but as Davey Crockett once said, "Confused". The drive across New York was pretty easy, but pricey. We took the New York Thruway and spent over 60 bucks in tolls. Along the way we stopped and had dinner with an old teacher buddy, Robert Woolrey. He and his wife Mia and their kids have a beautiful house in Syracuse, New York,(We both had to laugh as they have their hands full with their two little ones!). We can't really say what the area looks like, as its covered in trees. The map said we passed through Albany, but we couldn't see it, too many trees! We crossed the Hudson River and continued into Massachusetts, Hmmm, more trees as other unseen large cities passed by. Turning south on US 84 a welcome to Connecticut sign greeted us. Trees were already trying to grow and hide it from view. Carefully following the directions to the campground we drove down narrow curvy, hilly roads, before pulling into a heavily forested campground,(I was starting to get the urge to buy a double bladed ax). That afternoon the sky turned cloudy and what little light we had on the forest floor, was further blocked. The nights light came on! The next day, we woke to clear skies and decided to head to Rhode Island. We hoped to see a little of the state and visit an REI, where I hoped to purchase a bike. Getting directions from the campground manager we forgot to turn on the gps, (Who could get lost, we have driven over 34000 miles since we begin our journey). The drive was heavily forested. We entered Rhode Island and easily found the REI Store. Excited we parked and entered and went to the bike section. Waiting for a salesman to finish with another customer, we waited and waited and waited, until the other customer left and the salesman disappeared into the back room, never to return. Anyway I lifted the bikes off the rack and rode them around the store's bike section. Playing with all the adjustments, I loosened and tightened things, still no salesman. Finally leaving the store without a bike, we went and ate at a fast food place, before returning home. Now I wanted to see a different route so Renita drove and I played navigator. It was not a good sign as I missed a couple of turns, even though Renits calmly said, "Didn't we take that road?" "Don't worry", I replied as I directed her down one tree lined road after another. "The campground is just ahead on this road". We continued to drive and no campground. "I think I remember that cemetery", I said, as I reached over and picked up the gps, turning it on and hoping she wouldn't notice. Now its really funny cause we had the approximate location on our gps, I just hadn't made a waypoint, so we were circling and circling it, but not finding it. Tree lined road after tree lined road all looked the same and we retraced our path, at least three times, before making the right turn into the road to the campground. Molly, our dog greeted us with warm kisses and wagged her tail. We think she frets about us getting lost when we leave her at home to guard the house. Clear skies.
For the next two days it rained at night and cleared off during the day so we were able to explore more of the Niagara Gorge. The first day was spent at Whirlpool State Park and the next day involved crossing the border into Canada. We packed a lunch and drove up the parkway until we arrived at Whirlpool State Park. The park gets its name from the huge bend in the river where the river tries to cut its way into an old gorge. The river spirals counterclockwise, trapping debris and then plunges under the swirl exiting downriver. There are numerous ways to see this. One way is to take a helicopter flight over the area, Another option is to ride the Canadian Aerial trolley, or you can even ride a jet boat up the gorge and into the whirlpool. We took a different option and hiked down into the gorge! A trail has been built that involves lots of rock stairs,(I counted 380 steps up), and connects to other places in the gorge. As we headed down we were both nervous about the difficulty, but it was really pretty easy and fun, kind of like stair step exercising equipment! As we reached the bottom we turned upstream and were greeted by a family of geese, the male was really angry and hissed his displeasure. Muddy in places the trail also involved crossing some rock fall areas. What was really weird was that the river actually was flowing upstream along the trail, as a strong backwash was circulating from the whirlpool rapids. It was actually somewhat scary as the thought of falling into such fast and cold water was an unpleasant thought. However the trail stayed away from the waters edge and signs frequently warned of the danger,(Hmm they must lose some tourists). There were actually picnic tables along the trail and the hike was fun! Arriving at the whirlpool we watched as the aerial trolley carried people across the whirlpool. Renita waved and waved and finally she got a response. The Canadian side was full of fisherman but we couldn't see any stringers. It was well worth the effort. The next day we were still sore from the climb out of the gorge but Canada beckoned. Now the Canadian side of the falls gives you a better view and is heavily developed. Crossing Rainbow bridge,(we walked), you are first greeted by customs, before being somewhat overwhelmed by all the touristy buildings. A Hard Rock Cafe sign and Casino buildings detract from the beauty of the area. The walk along the falls is beautiful and the flower arrangements are special but.........yeah we actually liked the US side better,(On the US side Niagara Falls State Park is a really nice walk,( I really hate to go places and see the same chain restaurants and casinos don't thrill me at all, give me a hissing goose!) Now don't get me wrong, the Canadian side was well worth visiting and the view of the falls is so much better. So a trip to that side is pretty mandatory and the day was well spent. However, I enjoyed the hike into the Whirlpool as much as anything we did. Clear skies.
As the Maid of the Mist neared the American Falls, both of us were surprised by the gust of wind. It lifted our rain ponchos and we both got wet as the falling water was actually pushing the air aside! It was a magically moment as we looked at the falls and each other. The trip from Kane, Pa was pretty easy. It was a short drive, 130 miles, and pretty flat, once we left the Allegheny's. We hit Buffalo, New York, after rush hour and paid our first toll on 190,($2.65). The traffic eased after we left downtown and we were the only ones on the Robert Morris Parkway. Pulling into Four Mile Creek Campground our campsite was right on the lake and we could see ring billed seagulls and caspian terns out our back window. We set up quickly and ate lunch before heading to Niagara Falls State Park, and a ride on the Maid of the Mist. Now I had taught about the falls for 30 plus years and so to actually be going on the Maid of the Mist was a life goal. Our camping permit got us free parking at the Niagara Falls State Park and we drove by frustrated hawkers yelling at us to park in their lots. Parking, we walked past an alcove of flowering trees. Everywhere the paths were lined with large, striped, and multicolored tulips. Entering the main building we asked directions and then found our way to the tickets booths for a ride on the Maid. Riding an elevator down the observation deck we walked through a building where we each got and donned an official rain poncho. We loaded on board and eventually climbed the stairs to the top of the vessel. With a blast of its horn the Maid of the Mist,(there are really a fleet of these that all are alike and leave from both the US and Canadian side), first pushed upstream, fighting the strong currents, before stopping for a moment in front of the American Falls. To be at the base of such a large falls was simply incredible..... A feeling of peace and utter joy refreshed us both as the water thundered down. The Maid then worked further upstream and stopped at the base of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. It held its place against the current for quite a while and we were able to gaze at the thundering curtain. We kissed, surrounded by the falling arc of water, and too soon it turned and headed back to the dock, but it was fine, the moment was etched forever in our memories. Getting back on land we took our time, before riding the elevator to the top. The observation deck wasn't really agoraphobic, maybe we were too excited by the beauty below us. Along the river, a path led us past rapids and onto Goat Island. We walked to the brink of the American Falls and then to the edge of the Canadian. We wanted to go to the Cave of the Winds, but rocks were scaling off the falls and it was closed. Tired we retraced our steps , across the bridge, past the flowers and blossoming trees. A day well spent surrounded by beauty. Clear skies.
We were still waiting for the truck and so we picked up some phamphlets on attractions in the area. One such was the Kinzua Bridge State Park and so we packed a lunch and headed to the park. Taking the scenic road, we really couldn't see much except trees, and so it was a surprise as we arrived at the bridge and saw all the speeders! Whats a speeder? Well its a motor rail car that was used to inspect tracks for damage. Larger rail cars were also used to carry repair gangs to work. They were phased out with specialized pickup trucks but luckily a few were saved and restored by rairoad buffs and NARCA,(North American Rail Car Association), was born. NARCA was having a ride on the rails at Kinzua State Park! The group was eating lunch at the bridge and we were able to walk along the cars, asking questions and taking photos. As we ate lunch the group loaded up, sounded their piercing locomotive horns and headed off to Kane, riding the rails of course. We later came across the group traveling along the rails near Kane. The Bridge itself is quite a sight and had quite a story. Its over 300 feet high and spans over 2000 feet. Built in 1882, to allow coal trains to carry coal to Buffalo, it was rebuilt in 1900. Unfortunately they rebuilt it using the old wrought iron bolts, on the foundation, leaving the weakness in the whole system. See the bridge was designed to carry a heavy load but not to resist much upward force, (At least on the east side, the west side was built to resist wind speeds and uplift). So when a tornado came along, in 2003, it hit the bridge perfectly wrong, lifting the east side, shearing the old bolts,(which had been weakened by corrosion and fractures), and the tower started to collapse. A collapse that was witnessed by a construction crew that was strengthening the bridge. It took 30 seconds for the 94 mph winds to cause the damage seen in the image. Luckily no one was injured! It was a really amazing site, to see the wreck of the bridge and to see the fallen spiral pattern of the trees. They had planned on building it so people could use it as a bike trail but there is no way most people could have crossed it. Talk about acrophobia, its half the height of Devils Tower! Add a cross wind, no way. Finishing our lunch we watched the rail cars motor away down the tracks and continued on our tour of the scenic highway. Again there are just too many trees here and you really can't see much. Hmmm, maybe I lived out west too long? Clear skies.
We left Gerald Freeman campground and got back on interstate 64, heading for Pennsylvania. The drive turned out to be easy and beautiful. Both of us were surprised as to the beauty of Western Maryland and southern Pennsylvania. All we see on tv, of both states, is the sprawling cities,and so the unexpected beauty of the countryside was simply a joy. The next day we headed north on US 219, the Flight 93 Memorial Highway. The road was curvy, hilly, and passed through every small town and village along the way. In other words it was simply delightful! We loved the beauty of the towns. They reminded us of the small mining towns of the Black Hills. Our target was the Foote Rest Campground near Bradford, Pennsylvania, and we arrived safely after a long but easy day. Planning on spending two night there, we parked the house and went up to the office before heading to town. Just as there are unexpected pleasures, there are also unexpected stops, the truck refused to start. Trying everything I knew, which wasn't much, we called the Chevy Dealer and the GM helpline. They quickly sent a tow truck and we watched as the truck was loaded. Luckily we were able to finally rent a car as the repairs turned into a major fix, ,(bad injector fuel pump which had to be ordered), and our two night stay turned into a five night stay. Time to do some exploring! The manager of the park and the car rental lady both told us that the Winery in Kane was a must see. Never having been in a winery, we decided to follow their advice. We drove to Kane and drove the town. It is a pretty place with neat churches and old houses! The winery itself was ok, just ok, I guess we are not into wineries. The next day we drove into Bradford and the Zippo-Case Museum,(Yup, cigarette lighters and knifes). While small, the knife and lighter displays were interesting and it was a neat piece of Americana. The history and the actual letters from Eisenhower, Montgomery, and Earnie Pyle, thanking Zippo for their gifts, were pretty neat. As we wandered the museum I was reminded of my brother in law, Ronnie as years ago he had explained to me the history of Zippo lighters while using his trusty Zippo,(Ronnie passed from this earth too long ago and at too young an age and I felt anger at the Cigarette makers who addicted so many generations, including me, before I quit six years ago). The Case exhibits were neat. Renita really liked the Christmas knifes, circa 1940's. I liked the John Deere knifes, hmmmmm garage sales or EBay? We drove around Bradford and noticed the oil wells and refinery. It seems so weird to see old oil pumps in a forest, after living in Gillette, Wyoming for so many years. Most of the pumps were still, were the fields played out long ago? Oh well, I guess we have a few more days to figure that out. Clear skies.