Pursuit of the Road — Memories, Part III

Here we are with the final segment…

(Day 11)
I awoke to a very warm, sticky room upstairs because Ryan shut all the windows in the house overnight. It turns out that he smelled a skunk outside and didn’t think about the closed windows affecting anyone else. That’s how it goes, I guess.

We turned things around quickly though. Sheri, Calliope, and I went down to Barb’s bakery to pick up coffee and yummy sweets for breakfast. We enjoyed the “world-famous” cinnamon twists, plus an assortment of donuts and danishes. After eating and packing up the car, we headed down to Traverse City. On the trip down, the kids continued pointing out all the “Christmas” trees and cherry trees. Among our travels, we stopped for a picture of a giant wind turbine and the huge cherry pie pan (which held a previous world record for the world’s largest cherry pie).

We went to Underground Cheesecake and had cheesecake on a stick for a snack. It was just as good as expected (they were previewed on Food Network a few years back). We also went to Higher Grounds coffee shop. Also while in Traverse, we went shopping at Meijer and had lunch at McDs. Then we headed on to Lake Ann nearby, to stay with Sheri’s friend, Trina.

Sitting at Trina’s last night and enjoying the cool breeze blowing through the house made me want to move here. While I still think the water is cold, I have really grown to like the weather up here. We ran and played tag last night without getting all sticky and without all the smog we get around Atlanta. No one complained that they were “burning up” and everyone was more interested in playing outside than in watching TV or playing games. It was positively perfect in every way.

(Day 12)
We had a lovely day in Lake Ann, Michigan today. We enjoyed a nice breakfast at Trina’s and lounged around. At lunchtime, we headed over to Moomer’s, the best ice cream shop in the nation (according to Good Morning America). The shop is on the property of a farm and dairy, so you can see (and smell) where the dairy products come from. Of course, I got the cherry ice cream and it was full of fresh, local cherries. I must admit that the ice cream was the best I ever tasted. The kids said it was so good that we had to bring Daddy back here sometime!

Once we got back, Ryan and Sheri left for their friend’s wedding. The kids colored and played while Trina and I hung out. Mid-afternoon we went to the local park. The kids played hard and especially enjoyed kid-sized manual backhoes in the sandbox. We enjoyed walking the trail around the park, and Bryan decided to search for pine cones shaped like Pokemon characters. When we got back to the house, Bryan wanted to color and decorate his pine cones, so he and Calliope pulled Trina into craft time. I took Neil upstairs and snuggled with him since he was tired. He fell asleep on my arm, so I got about 20 minutes of just watching him sleep peacefully, before he rolled over and curled up. There’s something so peaceful about watching little ones sleep. While he napped, I caught up with the kids and Trina in a game of Bingo. (It was actually a Disney bingo board from 1969, and one of the characters was Prodigal Pig. Anyone ever hear of this character?)

Well, we eventually had to wake Neil up, and we headed over to the fairgrounds. Sheri’s brother, Garrett, is helping get things set up for the fair in two weeks, and he wanted us to come to a cookout with everyone there. We enjoyed some awesome food and fun company until the sun set. Then it was time to head back for baths (those were some dirty kids!) and for packing, as we’ll be heading into Canada tomorrow.

(Day 13)
It was another long day of travel, but everything went fairly well. While we never heard, “Are we there yet?”, we did hear Calliope continually say, “Are we STILL in Michigan???” The drive through Michigan was fairly uneventful until we got to a road that was equally bad as the roads in Louisiana…I-69. This interstate had so many bumps, ridges, and potholes, that your teeth chattered together at times.

Going through customs into Canada was fairly easy. We crossed at Port Huron (thus getting to see another Great Lake). There was about a ten minute wait (which almost killed Ryan), and they asked all the typical questions (where are you from, where are you going, how long will you be there, etc.). The roads along Canada looked very similar (they have corn fields too), and we passed another industry area similar to Chicago but much smaller. (They had a lot of smokestacks with flames shooting out of them…just like we saw in Chicago. Does anyone know what this is?)

I knew the money in Canada would be different but I didn’t know the $1 coin was called a Loonie or that the $2 coin was called a Toonie. However, there were some bigger differences that I didn’t even consider…like the good old metric system. We first noticed this difference with a speed limit sign of 100 (km/h). There was also the temperature report on the radio of an expected high of 28 degrees (Celsius). Then we saw gas for $1.23 per liter. At our estimations of converting to gallons AND accounting for the exchange rate, this was around $5 per gallon. Thank the queen that we didn’t need gas! Oh yeah, that rate doesn’t include the percentage the credit card company takes for a foreign transaction. You could exchange US money for Canadian money, but the exchange centers take a percentage too! Additionally, we noticed that our phones changed cell carriers from AT&T to Rogers. It would seem that we would’ve incurred $1 per minute charges if we used our phones “internationally”, so we just didn’t use them. Oh, and did I mention that everything was written in French and English? I thought this was just in Quebec, but apparently it’s in all of Canada. So, I enjoyed my Croquant au beurre d’arachides (peanut butter crunch bar) as we traveled the miles, or kilometers, through London and Woodstock (Ontario, that is) and into Niagara Falls.

Our hotel ended up being VERY close to the attractions. And the attractions were numerous. I can sum it up like this: Americans have nothing on Canadians when it comes to tourist attractions. The Canadian side of Niagara looked like someone had squished Vegas and New Orleans and Panama City into one square mile. If you wanted something, you could probably see it from any corner. However, the view of the falls from the Canadian boardwalk was outstanding. It was worth the three block walk through neon lights and speakers (and the faint mist from the falls).

We ventured out to eat dinner and everything was packed. So, we thought of mom and went to Hard Rock. We waited about 10 minutes before enjoying an expensive, but good, meal. Then we walked to the boardwalk to see the falls lit up at night and to watch the fireworks. While the fireworks were beautiful, the most amazing thing was hearing the echo of the fireworks in the falls. It sounded like someone was shooting large cannonballs into the water. It was truly fascinating to hear and feel.

Starting back to the hotel, we witnessed another great beauty of nature. A storm popped up out of nowhere. By nowhere, I tell you that the stars were shining and five minutes later, giant raindrops started pelting us. People were screaming and looking for shelter…that’s how surprising it was. At first, I thought it was part of one of the many attractions lining the road, but then I looked up and saw a wall of rain coming towards us. We ran under an awning and waited about five minutes until it let up some. All was well until we were a block from the hotel and it started lightning. I said a quick prayer and made a bolt for the room. We were drenched before we even got close to the falls!

(Day 14)
Niagara Falls…I can’t possibly do this justice, because there just aren’t words to describe this place. At best, I can say God’s power and beauty are plentiful and quite evident in this place. I am in awe of what we saw and felt today.
Despite my inadequacy to really interpret, into mere words, what we saw and felt; I will try my best to describe the day.

We decided to walk to the American side of the falls and get a package of events to do. We figured we had seen the falls from Canada, so we’d cross over to see it from the other side. (Plus, a similar package in Canada cost a good bit more.) So, “all” we had to do was cross Rainbow Bridge and go through customs. Finding the correct path was difficult (the sign was very small and surrounded by bushesl). Then, there was a Canadian toll of 50 cents per person to get out of Canada (they want to keep the money, I mean visitors, on their side of the river). Customs was interesting because they verified information with the kids. When they asked Neil if I was his mother, he said, “No!” It was scary for about two seconds, but then they asked him who I was and he said, “Mommy.” I don’t know what he was thinking, but all was well.

Once we got over and bought our passes, we decided to see the IMAX movie first. I figured that the movie would be a gradual introduction to the falls before we got on a boat and went up close. WRONG! This turned out to be a terrible mistake because parts of the movie showed some of the dramatic (ie, scary) stories of the falls. More specifically, it re-enacted the original Maid of the Mist steam boat tearing downstream through the rapids (and almost falling apart), the woman going over the falls in a barrel, and kids falling out of a capsized boat in the American rapids (one child being rescued inches before the falls and the other actually going over the falls and being rescued). Bryan loved the movie and Calliope even enjoyed it. Neil was quite scared but seemed to be reassured by the happy endings.

Well, then we went down and got on the Maid of the Mist. Neil was terrified and kept saying that we were going to fall out and go over the falls and the boat was going to crash downstream. So much for the movie easing him into the falls. Thankfully, he calmed down quickly and spent most of the ride watching the little whirlpools in the water with seagulls wading on them. Going past the American falls and Bridal Veil falls was really amazing…and pretty wet despite the ponchos. Then we arrived at the (Canadian) Horseshoe Falls and it was as if time stood still in the presence of the pounding waters and the resulting strong wind and mist (which was more like a pouring rain). I held Neil tight and we all just stood in amazement at the power before us. It felt like the beat of the water matched the beat of your heart as the water washed away every thought from your mind. It was totally overwhelming and emotional. It was one of those moments so joyous that it brought tears to your eyes and left you speechless. Wow. If you’re going to Niagara, you don’t want to miss this ride.

It felt so strange to leave that and go back into the tourist realm. As we went in search of the trolley, we ran across Do Do the Clown in Prospect Park. Of course the boys insisted we wait a few moments. Even Calliope enjoyed all the silly jokes and pranks…from a safe distance of course! The boys also got balloon swords, which we tried our best to protect through the rest of the day. (Bryan’s lasted all day, but Neil’s burst right before the Cave of Winds.) Next, we went to the Aquarium. It was certainly nice, but nothing when compared to the Chattanooga or Atlanta aquariums. We all really enjoyed watching sea lions swim and play in the center tank, but the kids seemed most excited by a yellow funnel to “race” your coins in. We “donated” quite a few Canadian coins here before prying the kids away. After that, we went to the Discovery Center to watch an okay movie about the falls history and to “ride” a cheesy simulated elevator ride down in the earth. The kids loved it, so I guess that’s all that matters. The rest of the center was covered in cool stories and information about the falls. I could’ve spent all day in there reading, but no one was in the same “boat” as me (ha ha). However, now I’ll be on the search for some good books about Niagara, because I’m fascinated and want to know more. I wouldn’t pay extra for either of these places, but it was included in the pass (which was a deal even if you just went on Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds).

Next we headed over to the Cave of the Winds attraction. I was a little worried about doing something so close to the water with Neil (because of his previous reactions), but I decided to go ahead and try. I’m so glad that I did, because he absolutely loved it! We put on our “free” ponchos and rain shoes and walked through several series of stairs and platforms. Neil laughed and giggled and cheered through the entire walk. We even went up to the Hurricane Deck (correctly named) and stood within inches of the Bridal Veil Falls. You could barely hear anything except the constant beat of the water. The spray was cold, forceful, and plentiful. We were soaking wet and happy. The beauty of this natural wonder, the scariness of the power behind that water, and the look of joy on Neil’s face was all quite inspiring. I would definitely recommend this attraction. (We were paired up with the kids, so I didn’t witness Bryan and Calliope’s reactions…but they both said they loved it and wanted to go again!)

Another storm popped up during this time, but there was no lightning and we were all so wet that it didn’t matter. (It turns out that it’s quite normal for storms to pop up over Niagara Falls quickly.) We walked down to Terrapin Point to stand mere feet from the rapids at the top of the Horseshoe Falls. This view was majestic, as you couldn’t see the other side because the rising spray was so strong and so high. It was also a little scary, as you could see the fury of the rapids leading to the falls. It was a reminder that things with so much power demand attention and respect. As beautiful as this all was, I don’t believe I’d want to live near the fury and strength that is Niagara Falls.

Lots of other little things occurred on our way back to the hotel and into the evening, but I just can’t consider discussing them now. The important story of this day was the amazing beauty of this area. I hope I get to come back here again soon and have more time to just sit and look at these waters. It really draws you into an inner reflection and brings you to pause everything else in life, if just for a moment. If you ever get the chance, come see what I’m talking about and, perhaps, you’ll have better words than I to describe these awesome sights.

(Day 15)
So let’s wrap up all the other stuff at Niagara. After a full day of the falls, we headed back and picked up Little Cesar’s pizza on the way. After dinner, Ryan and the kids enjoyed the pool and game room while Sheri and I walked around the tourist stuff. We went down to see the falls lit up again and tried to take pictures again. Neither of our cameras could properly capture the rushing water at a distance with soft lights shining on them. We enjoyed taking in the sights and sounds of wall to wall people speaking in every language besides English. (Actually, most people were speaking french.) Then we went window shopping and ended up at Candy Mountain. It was appropriately named as I believe there were several thousand kinds of candy available. We got a few partial scoops of a few things (including some Turkish Delight…just to show Bryan that it is a real candy). At two cents per gram, we had no idea how much money that would come out to be until we got the bill for $15 Canadian dollars. Good grief!

We also went into the cheapest wax museum around because, well, we had a coupon. Actually, Sheri had never been in one so that was why. We should’ve sprung the extra few bucks to go in one of the bigger, better ones because…guess what? The cheapest one was fairly crappy. Funnier yet, we went in the Famous Criminals wax museum, which was strange because neither of us are really interested in criminals. It was creepy, not because of the realistic figures, but more because of the realistic blood and “parts” from the crime scenes. We got back in time to see someone being arrested from the store next to our hotel (we’ll just say that it had a giant green leaf on the sign). Based on the number of pipes and such for sale, I’d say Canada has some different laws than we do. We came back to the hotel to find that Bryan had made a friend and was furiously trading Pokemon characters from his Nintendo. I’ll stand by my belief that Pokemon is the universal language 🙂

As much as I would’ve liked to stay and look at the falls some more, we had a long day of travel ahead of us. Our trip to Columbus was pretty uneventful. We got through US customs in about 15 minutes (or two lifetimes for Ryan). We got to see Lake Erie and, you guessed it, more corn fields. We crossed New York, Pennsylvania, and into Ohio. We met up with Sheri’s brother, Shawn, for dinner and some hanging out time around the pool. It was a nice, relaxing evening before another long day of driving.

(Day 16)
This was sort of a sad day because it was the last day of our trip. Of course, we’re missing all our family and friends, but this was just an adventure that we didn’t want to come to an end. It was a cool, drizzly day for almost the entire drive. Nothing really eventful happened on the way home. We didn’t stop at any roadside attractions because we left a little later than planned, ran into quite a few construction zones with slow traffic, and it was drizzly. Instead of talking about just this day, I’ll use the space to sum up the trip with all the random bits of information.

We traveled about 2500 miles…being in the car for just over 40 hours total. We traveled through 9 states and a different country. No one asked, “Are we there yet?”, but there were plenty of questions about what state we were in or what day it was. We passed the car time with 10 movies, 24 cds, random searches through local radio stations, and lots of video game time for the kids. We saw four of the five great lakes. (I tried to get someone to ride to the upper peninsula of Michigan to see Lake Superior, but no one was interested!) We saw car tags from 27 states (including Alaska), plus from Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. The most expensive gas was in Canada (about $5 a gallon), but New York was a very close second (at $4.69/gallon). Ohio had the cheapest gas at $3.47/gallon. The most prevalent site on the road was corn fields (it’s obviously what holds North America together), but we also saw cows, horses, deer, raccoons, and a skunk.

We discovered that a breeze across a 200-foot-high sand dune can temporarily block the sun. We found out that the sun comes up at about 4:30am in Nashville, while the sun doesn’t set until after 10pm in Northern Michigan. I found that I’m able to make tea without a “tea-maker”, that I can cook (sort of) on an electric stove, that ice cream CAN be lunch, that you can grill breakfast food in a park (hooray for cast iron skillets), and that cherries are good in everything…especially wine. We knew that northerners didn’t typically have grits or sweet tea, but we found out that they also don’t have Splenda…but they do have beans on the breakfast bar! We found that you must trust the GPS, but not ignore signs about construction or road closings (or maybe you just have to pay the money to update your GPS information).

We learned many lessons about the potty. I found out that the kids can go longer than adults without a rest stop. I often heard, “Didn’t we just go to the bathroom? I don’t need to go!” To which I replied, “Go anyway!” On the flip side, I remembered that you should always go to the bathroom before leaving your current location (in this case, Navy Pier). There’s a lack of bathroom stops near big cities, so you might have to find a bush. In relation to that, you will then have to “un-train” the child who pottied in the bush, because he will think this is a great option for any occasion. (We got to see Neil’s white bottom too many times when in the great outdoors after the infamous roadside potty break.)

We learned that all internet surfing in Canada sends you to the Canadian version of the site (ie, http://www.google.com.ca). When going through US Customs from Canada and they ask, “Where are you coming from?”, don’t answer, “Canada”…they want something more specific! We found out that Canada charges more taxes on goods than Florida. We discovered that Chicago and Niagara Falls are similar in that a storm can pop up and blow through the area very quickly and without warning. It was also quite interesting to see the differences in the Canadian and American sides of the falls. Both were fabulous, but the Canadian view was far better. Canada had the tourist stuff right up to the edge, but America had the beautiful parks all around. (I’m assuming the American side had plenty of tourist stuff, but it must have been tucked further away since we never saw any of it.)

Everywhere we went would be worth repeating. Bryan’s favorite stop was Ruby Falls. This, of course, will be easy to repeat since it’s just over an hour away. Neil’s favorite was Six Flags Great America. We realized later that we missed an entire section of the park, and we didn’t ride many roller coasters, so we’ll just have to go back someday. Plus, we all really want to go spend more time in downtown Chicago and at Navy Pier. (Barbara, Eileen, and Brenda: I promise that next time we’re that close to Madison, WI, we will come visit!) Calliope’s favorite stop was Niagara Falls. If nothing else, I have to go back there with Thom someday.

I’m really glad we took this trip. It was certainly a chunk of change, but then I put that in perspective. The amount we spent on this entire trip (of over two weeks) was the same as we would’ve spent just going to Niagara Falls (for two nights) and flying there. We got 13 more days and lots of fun stuff for what four round-trip plane tickets would’ve cost. I’m happy to drive if that’s the trade-off! I would love to go on another road trip because the kids did really well, and we all had a great time. We’re planning to go to Disney next January, but Bryan said that isn’t a road trip because there’s only one stop. But, since money doesn’t grow on our trees, we probably won’t take another road trip for a few years…probably going to Washington D.C. and perhaps up the eastern coast or something. I have fallen in love with travel, for better or worse. This trip also reinforced my love of nature. There’s just something so fulfilling about enjoying the natural beauty in this world.

I do want to say a special thanks to Thom. He was a trooper putting up with us all being gone for so long. I’m so sorry that your ticket to Niagara fell through! I also want to thank him for not complaining as I hoarded mine and the kids “portions” of Christmas money, tax refunds, and birthday money to put towards this trip. It made it so much more enjoyable to know that everything was paid for in advance. I also have a big thanks to mom and dad for loaning us their car. It was nice to not worry about having car trouble while on the road and to have a van with better gas mileage! Lastly, I have to be thankful to God for blessing us with monetary gifts so we could afford the trip, for keeping us all safe, and for creating such a beautiful world just for us to enjoy.

I hope everyone has enjoyed the tales of our travels and maybe, someday, I’ll post some of the pictures from the trip. For now, we’re all trying to adjust to being back home. We had to bury Bryan’s pet frog this morning and the sky let loose a momentary torrent of rain as he cried and said a prayer over his beloved Xan. We went to the store and went to the gym and now it’s time to unpack. It think I’ll actually miss living out of a bag and on the move. But, life moves on, with the next stop being the start of school in just over a week.
Au revoir!

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