Good things come to those who wait.
05/19/2011 - 06/25/2011
After much internal debate rather to write a blog or not and after multiple requests from friends and family to update them with fun pics and videos…we have decided to continue the travel blog. Now we are faced with the arduous task of updating the last month of travel in an abbreviated version of our blog. Note: After finishing this blog we realized it wasn’t so abbreviated. Please feel free to skim through the pictures if you wish.
The trip began as all trips do…a multitude of goodbyes and a cooler filled with the assortment of snacks, treats, and drinks. With the longest day of travel so far still being day one, it was especially hard because it began at 4:00am. Our first stop, NOLA, or New Orleans for non-natives, was a quick visit with Jen’s good friend Mandy.
The mighty Mississippi all swollen.
Fun times with good friends.
The city can be best explained by the food adventure we took while there; oyster po-boys the first night, muffeletas for lunch and 5 lbs. of crawfish the next day…
with a little slice of heaven with the Creole Creamery’s ice cream delights, and brunch the next day at our first DDD (Diner’s, Drive-In’s, and Dive’s) experience of the trip.
Gotta love eggs benedict with fried oysters!
One afternoon was spent in the Lower Ninth Ward touring the Make It Right homes. On the way out of town we visited the Abita Brewery for a fun filled hour of all you can drink with 5 minutes of tour thrown in the middle. Oh and the best part was that the tour was FREE!
I like beer.
We were headed for Memphis on a full belly, staying with Savannah’s parents for the duration of our visit. Excited to see the city I grew up in we first visited my old homes, navigating to them only by memory. I showed Jen where I went to school and we ate lunch at the famous Corky’s BBQ.
Just as I remembered.
For our first animal encounter of the trip I took Jen by Shelby Farms to see the Memphis Bison population, just as I had remembered them. The rest of the days were spent driving around the city, walking downtown and Beale St., and enjoying ribs at the Rendezvous. I was glad to have seen some old friends and met up with one of my favorite teachers and her daughter one day for lunch. The trip would not have been complete though without the famous “Wing Night” at the Wigingtons. Way to kick it up a notch, Chuck! We really enjoyed staying with Cathy and Chuck and were especially impressed by the fish feeder in the pond. Delaying our departure a bit due to the recent tornadic weather, we finally headed for St. Louis.
Just as we arrived in the city though, a tornado decided to touchdown so we immediately took shelter in the closest building…the Budweiser Brewery.
What better way to hunker down than with a nice cold beer.
We waited there for a while, enjoyed our 2 free beers but then were hurried out because they were closing. Heading downtown in the hail and wind, tornado sirens blaring, we found the closest parking garage and waited out the storm in the nearby Hilton. St. Louis was rather abridged with really only one day spent visiting the arch (Jen actually got me to go up in it),
We made it to the top!
nearby Indian mounds,
That's one big mound...and that's only half of it.
and enjoying the brief company of our Couchsurfing hosts. I was too excited to head to Iowa to see Bennett and Ashleigh, so we left that afternoon.
Hearing the stories told by my brother of the environment he lived in I wasn’t surprised to find miles and miles of cornfields on all sides.
This is the area you always see depicted in the documentaries of American agriculture and farm life. Most of the week included relaxing during the days and partying with his fellow Polar Scholars at night.
Polar Scholars go out with a bang!
We obviously got a tour of the infamous Grundy Center, IA, which lasted all of 45 minutes…on foot, stopping to pose for some fun pics on the enormous Case tractors.
We debated taking this baby on the road.
One day included a visit to nearby Des Moines which was really fun. The city was rather hip and seemed to have a strong art influence downtown.
Fun times with fun peeps.
Later in the week we packed up the apartment and headed for a week long adventure in Chicago.
Bennett and Ashleigh stayed for two nights where we spent all day downtown seeing the sights. We immediately visited the Willis Tower which in all of our minds is still the Sears Tower. They’ve added an interesting addition to the structure called the ledge, a class box that extends out from the 130th floor. After a little coaxing I hesitantly moved out on it for some quick pics. Even though I know the mechanics are completely working, it still freaks me out a little.
Jen keeps taking me to these high places, what is she up to?
We ate deep dish and enjoyed a boat cruise, all the typical tourist things to do, strolling through Millennium Park for a picture with the bean.
It's so shiny!
It was fun travelling with Bennett and Ashleigh again and reminded us of the good times we had in Toronto during the coldest week of our lives. Our next few days would be spent staying with our new host who lived just north of downtown and easily accessible by the “El”.
Hanging with our hosts.
There’s something about transit and subways that’s exciting. Mainly because of the convenience and ease of not dealing with stupid drivers and stupid parking but also for the simple fact that it provides endless opportunities for people watching. Every stop involved an influx of individuals hurrying to their next destination. We really enjoyed the extra time spent in Chicago, or Chi-town as some call it, but I refuse (it has always made my skin crawl a little when hearing it for some reason). It’s amazing to see so much growth in a city that was practically wiped out by fire. We spent the next few days just wandering different neighborhoods, eating locally, and enjoying the little things the city had to offer. For our first time since we started travelling together, Jen and I spent one morning visiting separate places. I went to see the IIT’s architecture buildings while Jen went to the Museum of Modern Art and we met in Chinatown for a quick meal afterwards.
It had been suggested to us by other travelers along the way and we thought we’d give it a try. It worked out pretty well and we may even do it again. After a weeklong visit in the big city we were itching for some outdoor time and immediately booked 6 nights of camping between two Michigan parks.
The first camping experience of the trip started at Ludington State Park along the western coast of Michigan, directly on Lake Michigan. Our campsite was only two hundred yards from the beach, guarded by a massive sand dune. We were surprised by the immense size of the lake, reminding us of the ocean. We spent 3 fun nights trying out our skills of cooking over a fire while warding off the somewhat frequent visits from local raccoons.
Readying the fire for a night filled of encounters.
With some preparation in mind before the trip we quickly realized we were lacking some essentials for camping. Thanks to the local Wal-Mart we easily supplied ourselves…a quick note: though we extremely loathe Wal-Mart and all its existence they were unfortunately the only thing around and we are on an extremely tight budget. We really enjoyed the beauty the park had to offer, hiking multiple trails and climbing the lighthouse.
Trying not to get blown off.
On occasion we would see a friendly deer and even caught a glimpse of a new fawn. Excited after our first camping expedition we headed to the upper peninsula for a more secluded experience.
Arriving at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, it rhymes with phenomenon for those of you playing at home, we were abruptly greeted with an onslaught of swarms of mosquitos.
They must have been after all of our wood.
We must put this into some perspective; the temperature was around 39 degrees at night, extremely chilly for us Floridians, and it had no effect on the bugs. For three days we anguished with never ending of buzzing around our ears. It did not deter us from hiking the 5 mile trail from the lower falls to the upper falls, but definitely made it a little less enjoyable.
All that hiking made us hungry.
The best thing though had to be the brewery at the end of the trail. Unfortunately it meant that you had to still hike back to the campsite, now just feeling a little more tired. We tried our chances at hitching a ride to no avail. We knew everyone was headed back that way, especially since the road was closed in the other direction, but I guess we were looking to sketchy to be picked up.
I guess we weren't showing enough skin.
After contemplating leaving early we hung out the entire duration but decided to pamper ourselves a little once arriving in Canada.
Crossing the border to Canada has to be one of the easiest things in the world. Two questions of: “Why are you here?” and “How long are you staying?” and a nice, “Have a good time!”. We thought back on our re-entry to the US after our 4 month excursion to Europe. Returning to our own country of origin was more difficult. Since I had decided to not shave too much as can be seen in past photos, I was asked for additional forms of identification and Jen was asked if she had “sanitized her bag” when she informed the customs attendant that she had been backpacking Europe. Not only do I not know where one sanitizes a bag but have never heard of doing such. Anyways, we were glad to be easily welcomed in and were headed to Sudbury, Ontario…pretty much the only thing halfway from Michigan and Algonquin Provincial Park. We were planning on only staying for one night and had arranged for us to stay in cute B&B but on entry into the city the ole Tiburon began to shake a little. With this unexpected event we stayed an extra night with a local host and learned that I needed new CV axles. After a hefty bill, which was even heftier due to the conversion rate and high taxes in Canada, we weighed our options and decided to find the closest HelpX for the next week and a half to recoup the money spent.
They may be known for their nickel, but we spent a pretty penny there.
Headed for Algonquin Provincial Park, the oldest park in Ontario known for its plethora of wildlife, we were on the lookout for moose. We headed through the park and to the other side to stay at the Red Deer Cabin.
On the way to the falls. I hope we're on the correct side of the them.
We had a fun time canoeing to the local waterfall, meeting other helpers, and the tasks were pretty easy…unfortunately all was tainted by the mood of the host. She was quite smart but was rather pessimistic and always felt that she was right and everyone was out to get her. We made the best of our time while there and were glad we had each other. The highlight of the time spent near Algonquin was heading to the park on 3 different occasions. The first time was spent hiking a few trails with the other helpers and watching the beavers interact with each other.
I guess that's why they call it Beaver Pond.
With Jens goal to see a Moose we learned that the best time to spot them was around sunrise and soooo, since sunrise was at 5:30 we made an early visit to the park. After a few hours driving around we needed fuel and had begun to lose confidence when instantly we saw our first moose just chilling on the side of the road. It was a female and we watched as she scurried away into the tree line. We refueled and came back and there she was again, crossing the road. When you see a moose for the first time you then realize why they are so sought after. They have to be one of the most oddly proportioned animals I have ever seen. Their head is rather large and looks as if it will tip the animal over. They have a weird turkey-like gobble beard thing which has no real use and they are immensely tall. Excited for our first sighting we spent the rest of the day reviewing pics and hanging in the park. Our next trip didn’t start so early and it was really rainy that day. Jen spotted the male moose up on a small rock ledge and we immediately stopped and watched him for about 30 minutes. We went somewhere else and about an hour later we saw him again near the visitor center where we watched him some more. After a little souvenir shopping we saw him again in the same spot. This time he came within about 15 feet of the car. We were a little nervous but realized he had no interest in us at all and only cared about eating, and because of this Jen has dubbed him “Sir Smack-a-lot”.
Just Moosing around in the woods.
We wrapped up our time there with a quick visit to drop off another helper at the park for an overnight camping trip. We are now headed for Montreal to see a friend we met while traveling through Budapest and then, who knows where.
Here is a small compilation of the few borders we have passed through, for you viewing pleasure...at least the ones we could snap a picture of.