We woke up at like 8:30. Mandy showered while Rob continued to not move a while longer. When we were finally up, dressed, showered, and all that, we left the room to grab breakfast, which was included with the room, at the hotel. With no proper training on how we were supposed to do breakfast in this country, we winged it. I had a piece of toast with chocolate frosting (I believe this was actually something similar to Nutella) and strawberry jam, a stick of Gruyere cheese, and a hot chocolate. I had a kiwi, toast, a cheese stick, and orange juice. No idea if this was the “right” way to do it, but the flavors were delicious!
After breakfast, we brushed our teeth and packed some snacks into Mandy’s purse, then set out for the tram. It was just up the street, around the side of the main train station. We waited just a few minutes for the #18 to arrive, and we hopped on. This is where we need to rewind a moment, to something we left out as insignificant last night. See, when we were at dinner last night out on the sidewalk, a man approached our table playing acoustic guitar and singing in like…Franish? Half French/half Spanish. Anyways, we remember it very vividly – it was Canción del Mariachi by Antonio Banderas and Los Lobos. He (presumably) was begging for change after the terrible rendition. I don’t know, he was speaking French, I think. Anyways, back to today; we were minding our own business on the train when suddenly “AYE AYE MI AMOR” out of nowhere. Same guy, same song. He played for a couple stops, and then got off, just as we were debating getting off to wait for the next train. So we stayed on, and rode all the way to the end.
We hopped off the last stop, and wandered around a while to take a few pictures outside. When we went into CERN reception, we still had about an hour to kill before the tour began. We- okay, MANDY worked hard to get us tickets, so we wanted to be sure we weren’t late. We wandered around the permanent exhibit inside, Microcosm, while we waited. We soaked up as much information as we could about the particle accelerators at CERN before, and during the tour. The tour took us to a decommissioned particle accelerator, the synchrocyclotron, from CERN’s early years. To stand in front of it, it seemed gigantic. To compare it to the current accelerators in use, it is tiny. Although the large hadron collider had no active beams today, we were unable to go underground to the tunnels. We think this is because they were doing maintenance of some sort. After checking out the synchrocyclotron, we went over to ATLAS control room. The control room is ultimately uninteresting to look at; it is just a bunch of computers in an office. But it was way cool to be in the same place where so much cutting edge science happens. Our guide, Alexandro, was a wealth of information about the facility, experiments, equipment, and history. We had a great time soaking up all the information through the tour, and checking out all the equipment on display, and the Universe of Particles exhibit. By the end of it, we were quite hungry and in need of a sit down, so we hopped on over to the tram, and headed back towards the city.
After a little R & R in the hotel room for a bit, we set back out to explore the city some more. We popped into a chocolate shop just to see. We got to talking with the shop owner a while, about chocolate, life and climate in Geneva, snow skiing, and all sorts of things. She was very pleasant, and in the end she gave us a couple truffles for free, and a couple small samples of chocolates. We walked out with a few solid bars of Swiss chocolate, too. We’re pumped to try them out tomorrow. We continued back down towards the waterfront, but this time we headed further east, to a park that we spotted on the map. Once we got there, we threw around our frisbee for a little while, until we’d worked up a thirst.
We were not as hungry as we anticipated around dinner time, but set out in search of food nonetheless. We decided to split a pizza at La Rotonde, a pizzeria. We sat out on the sidewalk again, because the weather was good. I ordered a Lowenbrau beer. I drank water. The pizza we ordered was chorizo, and it came out split 50/50 on two plates. How convenient. We took a few bites and then “AYE AYE MI AMOR”. Same guy, same song, again. What the heck. Eventually, he left, and we finished our meal in relative peace. We enjoyed people watching as we worked on a chocolate mousse for dessert which was amazing. We paid the tab after we finished, and returned to our hotel. We packed up our bags so we’d be ready for an early start tomorrow and then we went to bed.
We woke up at precisely 8-8:30ish. We got out of bed when we were fully ready. Showered. Packed. Today we opted to give the restaurant in the base of the hotel a shot for breakfast. There’s a daily breakfast buffet that’s rather pricey, but heavily discounted for guests of the hotel. It offered a lot of options; more than puff pastry variations that are found at most other breakfast bakeries near here. We tried fruit salad, “omelet” (quiche is more accurate), croissant, bacon, and yogurt. All of it was quite good, though the bacon was a little floppier than we both like. The omelet was packed with all sorts of things; peppers, bacon, brats, and cheese. The yogurt was actually a parfait with dried fruits and nuts and granola. This was probably the most filling breakfast we’ve found, and maybe the cheapest, too!
After breakfast, we had time to walk down the street to a bakery we spotted the day before. Here we bought a couple of sandwiches for lunch since we have a long travel day ahead. On the walk back to the hotel, we also grabbed a bag of trail mix at what appeared to be a health food store. We grabbed our stuff from the room and checked out, then made our way to the bus stop. We were waiting on the 205 because the sign said Baden-Baden Bahnhof. About 3 minutes before the bus was due, Mandy suggested we go across the street to check the map. The map showed that bus line 244 also has a stop called Bahnhof, and the two bus lines are nowhere near each other. With no idea how to confirm which train station we needed to get to, we made a snap decision to stick with the 205 and hope for the best. It was set to arrive before the 244, so we hustled back across the street just in time, and asked the driver if his bus would take us to the station we needed to be at. We had no idea if he could understand where we needed to be, but he said we were on the right bus. Hardly comforting. We rode nervously all the way to the last stop, where suddenly everything looked familiar. Nailed it. We’ve been at this train station before, when we came in to Baden-Baden, and it’s the same station we needed to get back out again. Since we had about an hour to kill before the train was set to leave, we grabbed an iced coffee and a caramel macchiato at Coffee Fellows. They were both really good. I think the coffee may have even been cold-brewed; it didn’t have the typical bitterness of a hot coffee.
Around noon we started to gather our bags and make our way to platform (gleis) 4 to take the train to Basel SBB. We boarded the train and found two seats together, facing in the direction of our travel I prefer this orientation for long trips. There is no WiFi on this train but we decided to use the time to reminisce about our time in Baden-Baden while typing this blog draft for you in Microsoft Word. Rob ate his schnitzel sandwich for lunch, hardly 5 minutes into the train ride. He is a growing boy and often hungry. We enjoyed watching the scenery fly by our windows. As we had gotten into Baden-Baden well after dark we didn’t get to see much of the landscape on the way in. This region of the country is spattered with foothills of the Alps so it is very scenic to watch the villages among the rolling hills pass by out our train windows.
We had booked this train route to build in some longer connection times, thanks to our experience in getting from Ingolstadt to Baden-Baden in the most convoluted way. Our first stop was in Basel, Switzerland and we had about 40 minutes here before the next train. We sat outside and enjoyed the warmer weather than we had had in our previous days. Before long, we boarded our next train and enjoyed the short 30 minute ride to Olten. Here we had a 45 minute break between trains. We decided to venture away from the train station just a bit to get a couple pictures of the nearby river. This was kept short as we did not want to miss any connections on this trip. The next leg of the trip was the longest at around 2 hours. Our plan was to try to get a seat on the restaurant car of the train so that we could enjoy a beer with the scenery. When the train arrived it already had quite a few passengers and the restaurant cabin was full. We made our way through the car to the second class car where we found two seats together and promptly claimed them. The rest of the journey was uneventful. We glided smoothly down the tracks past beautiful Swiss countryside, farms, large lakes, and views of mountains off in the distance. We finally arrived in Geneva around 5:45 pm and were happy to see that our hotel was across the street from the train station.
We checked into our hotel and promptly dropped off our luggage so that we could go explore and find some dinner. We decided on a restaurant that was close to our hotel and offered a mixture of Italian and Swiss specialties. I decided on the chicken cordon bleu. I had the tagliatelle porcini. We decided to split a bottle of white wine which was made here in Switzerland. Rob passed all of the etiquette tests when the server brought the bottle to the table and poured our glasses. After our lovely dinner we ended with a dessert of chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream. It was starting to get chilly as the evening progressed so we retired to our hotel to watch a movie before falling asleep. Yes, I stayed awake through the entire movie!
We woke up around 8:30am. We got dressed leisurely for a change, which was fantastic. We contemplated the hotel’s breakfast, but opted instead to just get outside and figure it out. We found a little bakery just down the street, in the alleys we had explored the previous night around midnight on our way in. Fatih Markt is the name of the bakery. We ordered a kaffee and tee. We picked out a random snack bar. While the coffee was being made, I decided to order a slice of…something. I don’t know what it was, but it had cheese and spinach in a puff pastry. It was pretty tasty, whatever it was. We purchased our goods and stepped out to wander around on foot while we worked on our coffee and tea. We spotted a pretty tall hill and a little hidden staircase going up it. Hoping for a cool view, we made our way up the stairs, which zigged and zagged across the hill all the way up. At the top, we were afforded pretty good views but it would have been better if the weather were clearer. It was a lovely stroll all around the hill, and back down around the other side. We were lucky to stay mostly dry the whole time, because right about the time we got back to the hotel, it started to rain. Perfect timing! We relaxed a while in the room and sorted some upcoming travel plans; buying train tickets and picking places to stay and whatnot.
After we were all square, we set back out on foot. We made our way to Friedrichsbad, a Roman-style bath, which is just up the street. Once there, we checked in and paid for our three hours stay. We found our way to the locker room and put all our clothes in. Then, we found our way to room #1, which was an awesome shower. The water actually felt heavy, there was so much of it raining down. From there, we went to a series of saunas, steam rooms, pools, and showers of various temperatures. Each of the 17 stages had a specified amount of time to spend in it posted on the wall. At the end, when we were feeling good and relaxed, we were to jump into a frigid pool “rapidly”. That part was brutal, but then we got to wrap in a warm towel and dry off. Once we were dry, we lubed up with lotion and were lead to a quiet, dim room. Here we were wrapped up by staff like burritos on a bed for a half hour nap. We heard the church bells ring out at 5:45 and 6pm. Then there was a song or something shortly after 6 on the church bells. We don’t know, but it was a lot of ringing. After the nap, we moved to a reading room where we relaxed a while longer and drank some tea. By about 6:30, we were feeling somewhat hungry, so we put our clothes back on and made our way back out to the street.
We changed our clothes and our gear back at the hotel. We picked up a train ticket that the Hotel Quellenhof Sophia reception had graciously printed for us. We set back out in search of dinner, unsure where exactly we’d go, but comforted by the fact that there are about a thousand restaurants within walking distance here. We ended up at Bistrorante Café Lifestyle. We opted to sit outside because even though the weather was chilly, they have blankets on all the chairs. I ordered a hefeweizen half liter. I ordered a Riesling. We opted to split a pizza Romana, which had prosciutto and salami. All of it was very tasty. We were thankful for the blankets as the night grew dark and the air cooled off further. While we were finishing up the pizza, a light rain began to fall, and so we were thankful for the umbrella over our table. It did not rain long; after we had finished and paid (die rechnung, bitte!), it was dry again. We wandered around the now empty streets to take some pictures. Rob was still hungry, so we were also looking for an after dinner snack. Pretty much everything was closed by 8pm, except for restaurants, so we gave up the search and wound our way back to the hotel to make some phone calls before bed. After chatting with family a little while and making some more travel arrangements, we fell asleep around 11:30.
I woke up around 0715 this morning and began gathering my things together and packing away what items I could. Dan and Chelsea were planning to head out early and catch their train to Paris. Kerri and Theo also had a train booked, but their destination was Berlin. After morning showers everyone pitched in to do their part in cleaning the communal areas. Rob made us all breakfast with the remaining eggs and bacon that we had at the house. Dan and Chelsea had to leave the earliest so we said our goodbyes to them and finished packing our things. And then there were four. Rob and Mandy were all ready to go and went to say our goodbyes to Kerri and Theo. It turns out they were also ready to go. So we headed off together to the train station to go to Munchen Hauptbahnhof (Hbf.). This is Munich's central station. I was starting to get nervous because Rob and I had a tour booked at 11:30 at the Audi Forum in Ingolstadt but we still needed to buy train tickets and I wasn't sure that we would make it in time. Once we got to Munchen Hbf, we waited in line for information at what appeared to be a ticket counter. It may have been a place to get tickets, but not for DB, which is what we needed to get us to Ingolstadt. The lady politely gave us directions for where we needed to be. We quickly made our way to the ticket kiosk for DB trains. Kerri and Theo were behind us as they needed to pickup tickets they had already purchased. I found the tickets we needed and purchased them as quickly as I possibly could. It took about 5 tries because the card wasn’t working for some reason. Our train was leaving in 4 minutes!! We quickly said goodbye to Kerri and Theo and ran off towards platform 16. And then there were two.
We got on the train as the doors closed behind us. We found seats as we started rolling down the tracks. The ride was very quiet and smooth as we rolled through very scenic farmlands. It took us about an hour, and we disembarked at the end of the line at Ingolstadt Hbf. We quickly found a locker on the train platform to throw all our gear into. I raced to get change so that we could pay for the locker. Four “euro dollars” later, we exited with minimal time to spare, and quickly found a taxi to take us to the Audi Forum. We arrived and checked in just minutes before the tour began. Alexandra introduced herself as our guide, and began giving us the history and safety information. After a brief video, we got onto a bus to take us across the gigantic factory. We stepped inside the body shop and watched as hundreds of robots worked in harmony to form complex welded assemblies. We saw a very impressive automated conveyor system which delivered these weldments to each successive location for higher-level assembly. By the end of the body shop line, raw flat steel has been formed and welded and glued together into the vague shape of a vehicle. It is far from complete, however.
We hopped back into the bus before we could see the rest of the process. We followed Alexandra into the assembly shop. Here we could see a rainbow of different colored A3s and Q2s in all different trim levels being final-assembled. It was fascinating to see that they are each assembled in a seemingly random order. I guess I expected that they would build, for example, all the base level trim A3s first, then S3s after, so that the parts wouldn't get all mixed up. But apparently they have all that taken care of by a very carefully controlled just-in-sequence manufacturing system. There is much more manual labor involved in final assembly than the body shop, but that is not to say that there isn't a lot of automation and mechanical assistance. The tooling involved is absolutely fascinating. We got to see the marriage of the chassis with engine/drivetrain assemblies, assembly of wheels, interior bits, and so much more. By the end of the final assembly line, vehicles are driven off the automatic conveyor under their own power. From here they are scrutinized at a final quality checkpoint. Then they are ready for delivery to the customer.
The sheer numbers Alexandra fed to us were astounding. They can produce up to 400 cars per day. The factory covers something like 2 and a half million square meters. There are 44,000 employees in the Ingolstadt factory alone; it’s a large city. It boggles the mind. We very much enjoyed the tour, though by the end we were quite hungry. We made our way towards the museum but stopped in first at the on-site restaurant. That one is for employees only, so we went across the parking lot to a different restaurant. I had a delicious schnitzel, with fries. I had a currywurst, also with fries. After we got some food in our bellies, we checked out the museum. There, Audi displays a huge amount of their history, going back to times before they were Audi, but four separate companies. From there, they became Auto Union for a time, before becoming Audi. There are a lot of really neat cars and motorcycles on display here. There's also a lot of rather boring ones that didn't catch our eye; think mid-70s and 80s econoboxes. Once we reached the ground floor of the museum, we exited onto the street to try to figure out how to get back to our luggage.
We walked up the street a short distance in search of a bus station that was on the correct side of the street. No luck. So we turned around and realized that we had walked past it at the start. We bought the ticket to ride the ride. After about 15 minutes on the bus (which was how long the taxi ride earlier took), we began to wonder aloud if we were in fact on the right bus. Or if we had somehow missed our stop. Just before a real panic was able to take hold, the name of our stop appeared on the screen of upcoming stops. WHEW! We hopped out, back at Ingolstadt Hbf. and collected our gear. We purchased tickets to our next destination and found the correct platform. Our itinerary had us take a train from Ingolstadt to Augsburg. From there, we were supposed to take a train to Karlsruhe. However, the train we were on arrived late to Augsburg and we missed the connection. Our itinerary showed about 13 minutes to make the transfer, which should have been plenty. However, we disembarked the train about 6 minutes after we were supposed to be leaving the station on the next train and our train was already gone. So we found the information booth and requested to be rerouted, which was handled quickly, and with no charge to us. Relieved, we set out to find a coffee to kill a little time. We found a cafe just across the street, and started to relax for a minute. I was just beginning to dig into my pack for my jacket when Mandy said, "What is 'zeit'?" with the new itinerary in hand. I told her it means “time”. “This train leaves Munich at 1845, but how do we get there?” Oh no. So we ran across the street back into the train station, to see that the first train we needed was not listed on the new itinerary. But luckily we had about 15 minutes before the next train left to go to Munich. We made our way to the platform, and waited patiently. For a train that never came. The platform was reassigned, and a different train was set to take us to Munich. Back to Munich. We got on and got seated. It was approximately 6pm. We tried to relax for about an hour; the duration of the trip back to Munich.
When we got back to Munich, we had to transfer to yet another train which would take us to Mannheim. We had about 15 minutes for this transfer, which happened smoothly. We found some seats with a table between and got comfy. This train ride would be almost three hours, but there was work to be done. Thankfully, this train offered free WiFi onboard. We connected all our devices and tried to get accustomed to working with the arduously slow internet connection. Mandy worked housing and Rob worked on the blog. About halfway through the trip, we had a quasi-confirmed place to stay and a couple posts ready to send out. Getting the pictures uploaded was s o o o s l o w. We were comforted to know that although we would be getting in late, we probably had a place to stay for the night. We were able to heave a sigh of relief and actually relax for the remainder of the train ride. You take it when you can get it while backpacking, because the rest of the time is gogogo.
We arrived in Mannheim and searched for our next connection. This train was to take us to Rastatt. We found a platform which showed the next train was headed there, but the train number was different than what our itinerary showed. It also showed that the train was delayed one hour. By now, it was about 10:30pm, so when we saw that, we were both leaning toward seeing if we could just spend the night in Mannheim. An hour delay would mean we’d get to our final destination at about 1:30-2am. We searched for an information booth, to confirm that we wouldn’t have to pay if we just completed our journey the following day. The woman at the kiosk explained that the train we wanted was leaving in 2 minutes. So we scrapped the plan of staying the night, and dashed back to the platform. We arrived just in time to wait for the train to arrive in two minutes. We found seats while we caught our breath. The train took off and we rode about 45 minutes through pitch black lands.
We got off in Rastatt where we learned that there is a section of train under construction. So the next leg of our trip was by bus. Since we were some of the last to cram in, we were stuck standing. I did my best to not move for the entire ride, so I didn’t disturb any passengers with my pack. After about 15 minutes, the bus began to get really hot inside, and smelly. At about the 25 minute mark, we finally stopped. We were in Baden-Baden! Finally in the same town as our hotel. It was approximately midnight. Unsure how far it was exactly to the hotel, we found a map. With no scale, it was hard to be sure, but it looked far. We asked a man who looked like he worked at the station how best to get to our hotel. We pointed to the approximate location on the map. He showed us to a bus nearby, and indicated that it was leaving shortly. We ran. Then we sat forever. We found that there was open WiFi access, so we pulled up the map on Mandy’s phone (of course, the device with the least amount of battery remaining) and downloaded them for offline use. We tried to figure out which stop would bring us closest to the hotel. We determined Hindenburgplatz was probably as close as we could get, but it was still hard to tell exactly how far the walk would be. With Mandy’s phone down to about 10% battery life remaining, we tried to be as frugal with the screen time as we could. But we had to keep referring to the maps to try and get our bearings in this pitch dark, foreign land with no one around to help out. It was great! We found ourselves soon walking down deserted alleys packed with tiny shops, all closed up for the night. Right about the time we were ready to admit we were completely lost, Mandy noted, “Hey, we’re on Sophienstrase. We must be close.” The hotel name had Sophia in it; can’t argue with that logic. We continued about 50m and she saw the sign. We made it! Reception was supposed to close at midnight, but they must have waited up for us because the door was still open when we finally arrived at 12:20am. We checked in quickly, found our room, dropped our bags and crashed. Exhausted.
We woke up at 7am and hopped in the shower straight away. After we dressed, we built breakfasts for ourselves which had been prepared by Dan. Local bacon and eggs and cheese. It was all delicious. The bacons were tiny though, and translucent-thin. After breakfast and after everyone was showered and ready, we set out for the train once again. This time we were only going a few stops. Our final destination was Goetheplatz.
We got off the train and walked the last few blocks to Oktoberfest! It was about 45F outside; we could see our breath. We were able to walk right in at about 9:15am with no line whatsoever. We walked toward the Paulaner tent and were pumped to find no line there either. We walked in and found a table for all six of us and set up shop. A waitress arrived shortly thereafter and just knew, "Sechs litre bier?" "JA!," we told her. We paid up when she returned, and quickly got to work. Round one began at about 9:30am. That makes the rest of the day rather difficult to keep track of, you understand. We did our best though. We ordered gigantic pretzels for a midmorning snack. They were very tasty, and paired perfectly with round 2 beers. Round 3 and lunch occurred sometime around 11:30. Mandy and Kerri shared a half roasted chicken. I had some more weisswurst. I spied a better eating method from a local, and had greater success this time. At yesterday's breakfast, I tried squeezing the sausage out of the end of the skin. A much better way is to slice the skin once lengthwise, then peel the it off entirely. The meat yield is much greater with this method. They're so tasty either way. After what was round 3 for some, round 4 for others, and tabletop dancing for everyone, we made our way outside. We wanted to explore the entire fairgrounds, but there just wasn't time. We were hungry for something more filling than some wurst or pretzels. We were thirsty for plain old free tap water; something that is puzzlingly difficult to come by at restaurants here. We were simply tired from all the festivities.
So we made our way towards home, but stopped at Marienplatz again on the way (actually this was one stop in the opposite direction of our airbnb but we all agreed that we needed food). We returned to Wildmosers, this time for dinner. Mandy and I split a prosciutto pizza which was amazing. It probably could have been anything, and we would have eaten it entirely. We were just hungry. We ordered still water here, but it came in a bottle. Why can't we just get free tap water? After dinner, we hopped on the train for the last few stops to home. Everyone spread out for a bit, and then regrouped to review photos and giggle at remembering (or not) the day's events.
We woke up at about 2am and tried fitfully to get back to sleep. Eventually, we did. We woke up for real at about 7 am. We got showered and dealt with some network issues for blogging. You wouldn't believe the struggle we go through to post this for you. It's hard work travelling the world. Once everyone else was up and showered and dressed and coffee'd and ready, we set out to find breakfast. "Fruhstuck" in German. We found ourselves in Marienplatz when we got off the train. Right in the thick of it. We tried to figure out what and where we would eat and how best to make that decision. We split up for a few, and then regrouped in the middle of the plaza. Kerri and Theo got an appetizer; pretzel and a shokolat - they were the perfect pre-breakfast and then joined us for the main event. We ate at Wildmosers Restaurant/Cafe. I got a pair of white sausages and a pretzel. I got a pretzel and a roll and ham and cheese and nutella and butter and jelly. It was not at all what I expected. In my head I imagined an assortment of pretzel rolls with ham, cheese, strawberry jelly, and nutella. I didn't know that the roll was actually an item on its own so I was confused when I got my plate. It did satisfy my hunger though and the pretzel with nutella was delicious.
A curious crowd began to gather around the square where we were seated. 11:00 dinged and the dancers in the tower began to spin. The spectators (us included) were in awe. After the ten minutes dance, the crowd dispersed. We hung out a while and tried to formulate a plan. Theo needed to get some cash from the geldautomat (ATM) and the girls wanted to try to find dirndls. I opted to go with the girls and we split up with walkie talkies so we could stay in touch easily.
We had been told that H&M sells dirndls. The road just off the square at Marienplatz has at least 3 so we checked one out. No dice. Then another. No dice. Kerri asked an employee if they sold dirndls at any H&M. Negative. So we went to Kaufhof. Eight floors of store. They had dirndls. And lederhosen. And just about anything you could want to buy, really. Theo and Dan caught up with us again at this store. We all shopped around for various goods for quite a while. After we all got what we needed, we got back out and headed to the farmer's market, Viktualien Markt. We wandered around and got some breakfast items for tomorrow, and eventually we found lunch too. I got a slice of smoked pork on a roll. And a beer, obviously. It was outstanding. After lunch we wandered around the market some more. Then we went to the train station.
We made our way toward Dachau train station. Once there, we took a bus to the former concentration camp. We wandered around the memorial for a couple hours, soaking up the morbid history. A lot of horrific events happened there during the 1930s and 1940s. By the time the park was closing, we had hardly read a quarter of the signs in there, but we had to make towards the exit. Theo lagged behind trying to take in more details - we ultimately gave him his own walkie as to not have to wait for him. We caught the bus and train back to where we'd came.
Once home, we got dressed in our newly-found authentic wear. Mandy wore a dirndl and Rob wore lederhosen. We hopped back on the train and went to Sendlinger Tor. We got off the underground into what felt like a college campus. It reminded us of Commonwealth Ave. in downtown Boston. We were headed towards Andy's Krablergarten. Unfortunately, the restaurant was completely full, and we were turned away at the door. Unsure what to do, but hungry nonetheless, Kerri, Theo and I went to grab a slice of pizza next door. We regrouped on the sidewalk to research good food options. Our resources were limited with no WiFi, so we walked instead. We found a few restaurants, but none of them looked appealing to us, so we decided to walk back towards the train. When we got back to Andy's we checked in once more, and they just happened to have a table available for us. We were in luck! We got seated and ordered a round of beers. Then we ordered a schnitzel each. There were so many flavors and they were all fantastic! Rob had the mustard one, or senfschnitzel. Mandy had the Bavarian-spice flavored schnitzel. So good. Kerri had the Schnitzel Obatzter - schnitzel marinated in a cheese sauce - it was delectable. We all shared a small bite with one another, so we could each take the full flavor tour of schnitzel.
After dinner, we made our way back home via the train. Subway is more accurate. We found a shortcut on the walk back from the station, via a hidden sidewalk through the shrubs. Once we were home, we opened a few of the beers that the owner made available in the communal fridge. We sent our friend Cate a few messages on Instagram to coordinate some FaceTime action with Loki with my iPhone. She called us with him nearby so we could see him. We talked to him, but he clearly did not recognize our voices through the phones. Or he just didn't care. It was awesome to see him anyway, but a little sad that he was so indifferent. Typical dog though. We were limited to five minutes screen time by Kerri so we made it quick. We were very thankful for Kerri's generosity in lending us her phone. If there is a bill I was told to forward it to team Cote. Cross your fingers. We hung out a while after, and then found our way to bed.
It’s time for our honeymoon! We have spent this whirlwind of a week unpacking from the wedding, working, getting as much snuggle time with Loki, and packing for the next trip. It feels like we’ve hardly been home. I took today off. I had to work a half day, and left at 11am. I got in some final puppy snuggles before forcing myself out of bed at 5am one last time. Mandy had everything set to go, including dropping Loki off at his friends’ house down the street. He gave one casual glance back and then plodded inside to, presumably, rouse the troops. He likes to get everyone fired up. We met at home around 11:30 to do a final checklist and pack ultra last minute items before the car from Boston Limousine picked us up at about 11:50. We (we in this scenario = Rob) had a lovely chat with our driver, Joe about work for the uneventful ride into the city. Traffic was very light and we made quick time getting to Logan International Airport.
Traffic inside the airport was even lighter, which was amazing! We printed our boarding tickets because the text message version we had requested never came through, and then we headed to security. There were just two people in front of us, and we were through the checkpoint in a matter of minutes. It was unbelievable. Making such excellent time all the way to the gate left us with way too much time and nothing to do with it. So we waited. Eventually, it was time. We boarded with just our carry on backpacks and found convenient overhead storage right at our seats. How rare is that?! We took off from the north end of 22R at Logan at 3:05pm and headed west.
We landed in Toronto, Canada at 4:45pm after an altogether uneventful flight. We were anxious because we had a flight to catch which began boarding just 25 minutes later. We tried to get up as soon as we were allowed, but the flight attendant notified us that they were unable to open the door due to an adjacent plane that was currently boarding. We stood by impatiently. When the doors finally opened, we raced at a brisk power walk through what seemed like miles and miles of airport. We caught a ride on an express, high-speed moving sidewalk which helped immensely. Mandy was struggling to keep up due to wearing her adorable new heels. I had purchased waterproof booties with a slight heel to wear at Oktoberfest to hopefully protect my feet from spilled beer yet still look cute. I decided to wear them as my other shoes would pack down smaller in my backpack.
We arrived to the gate, sweating and trying to catch our breath, to find that the flight was delayed by 15 minutes. Suddenly, we had all the time in the world. So we got a sandwich. Grilled chicken, cheddar and pesto. It was decent as far as airport fast food goes. We loaded up with zone 4 and made our way all the way back to the ultra-poor section in the rear of the A330. This is the biggest plane we’ve ever been on; 8 rows across! We are happy to have 2 seats alone with no third person to step over, under, or around. Note: when checking in for this flight, we looked at upgrading to business class so we would be able to lay down. The fee to upgrade was about $1900USD. Each. Though this is much better than the price Mandy got on the phone a few months back which was about $3200 each.
We took off from Toronto at 6:10pm. Up in the air, we watched some movies to pass the time. I watched Zodiac and I wish I could have heard it better. I think it was really good. I watched Keeping up with the Joneses and Miss Peregrin’s Home for Peculiar Children. We watched the sun set over the east coast of the US and then gazed into the blackness north out of the driver’s side of the plane, hoping to glimpse the Northern Lights. No such luck. We tried to force sleep that just wouldn’t come but in short bursts. Later, we watched the sun rise somewhere over the eastern Atlantic. We touched down in Munich at 2:01am “our” time, which is 8:01am local time.
From the airport, we made our way to Englischer Garten (English Garden) and more specifically, the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower). It took us about an hour to get out of the airport. A combination of being in awe at the architecture, lost, and making it up as we went. Eventually, we found the train station that would get us where we needed to go. We took a train from the airport to Marienplatz, where we transferred to another train that took us to . Once there, we walked about a half hour, thinking we could find the English park on our own. Finally, we broke down and asked for help from a biker. It was about a 5 minute walk from the park if we had done it right from the beginning. Oh well. We grabbed a table outside and spread out all our gear. Finally, we had made it!
It was fantastic to sit for a few and fully relax. After a bit, I got up to explore the area around the tower, and came back with a pair of beers and some cookies. All of it was great, or maybe we were just starving. I don’t know. We reorganized our gear within our packs a bit to better suit us for exploration within Europe. After a little while of relaxing, drinking, and people watching, we caught sight of Dan and Chelsea, friends of ours from home. Not long after their arrival, Kerri (HEY!) and Theo arrived, too! We chatted with everyone over a couple rounds of beers about our respective journies to the park, and what our hopes were for the days ahead. The lemonade and weissbier was best. Eventually we all felt it was time to head out of the park and make our way to our house for stay in Munich.
But first we had to stop into the clothes shop just up the street from the park. The girls all tried on dirndls, but none found any they liked enough to buy. I tried on a few sizes of lederhosen, because I had no idea where to start. Size numbers are in the 40s and 50s. Eventually, I found some and made my purchase. Then, we were able to go to our house. We had to hop back on the train and head in the direction we came, and continue on toward Forestenreider Allee. From there, it was about a 5 minute walk and we were home. A man, presumably the owner, showed us where to go and how to get in. We all picked rooms and dumped our stuff before regrouping to get some dinner. We were so hungry!
We agreed to check out an Italian restaurant recommended by a random woman on the sidewalk. It was called de Gina. The hostess/waitress was very patient with us, and the food was fantastic. I got a dish with spaghetti and bacon. I got penne arrabiatta. By the end of dinner, we were all getting over-exhausted, and we agreed it was a good idea to go home and get some rest, early as it was. We were asleep before 8pm.
We love the White Mountains area of New Hampshire, and unfortunately we don't get to visit near as often as we wish we could. We planned our inevitable return for a while, and finally got to execute the trip. We left work Thursday afternoon to finish packing and make our way north out of Ipswich. The weather was pristine, with a slight chill; textbook New England fall weather. We cruised up 95N to catch 101W, and drove towards the sun. We got on 93N and continued the lovely drive with far less traffic than we are accustomed. Leaving Thursday instead of Friday was brilliant. As we passed Tilton, the skies began to change and dark clouds loomed ahead of us. We accepted the fact that we would probably get wet at camp, but we were more dismayed that we would probably not get to glimpse the Aurora Borealis. There was a prediction of a geomagnetic storm that would make it visible quite far south and we've been chasing it unsuccessfully for years, so we were excited.
We had loosely made plans to get dinner in the area with my dad, stepmom, and brothers, James and Braden. We called them to solidify a plan while Mandy looked for dog-friendly patios on bringfido.com and read aloud about The Covered Bridge Farm Table Restaurant & Bar. Loki was drooling by the end of it, so we all agreed to meet there after we setup camp and my dad & Co. checked into their hotel. Well, not too long after that, those ominous clouds opened up to let loose a deluge of rain. We decided that would make for less than ideal eating conditions, and Loki pointed out that he hates being out in the rain, so we needed a plan B. Another phone call and we learned that my dad had got us our own room at his hotel so we would remain dry for the night. We were very thankful for this surprise, and we met at the Woodstock Inn, Station, and Brewery in North Woodstock, NH.
After check-in, we all crammed into their vehicle and made our way just down the street to our plan B, One Love Brewery in Lincoln. Mandy and I had been here in the past, when they didn't have the brewery up and running, and we were excited to try their beers. Also, all six of us were rather hungry, so we were ready to get our food on, too. We got seated and promptly ordered a round of drinks. I was somewhat surprised to find they only had one of their own beers on tap, but I ordered it anyways. It's an American Pale Ale, and it's not a favorite. It was decent, but not really noteworthy. I got a Spanish mojito, which was very good. We ordered a plate of nachos and Bavarian pretzels for the table. The nachos were really tasty. The pretzels were soft and delicious. Braden claimed most of them for himself. Not totally satisfied, but no longer starving, we decided to split an entree of chicken and waffles. With two whole chicken breasts, this was more than enough food. And it was absolutely delicious! We loved it, and gobbled it all up. We ordered another round of drinks to enjoy while James and Braden had their desserts; a giant piece of lava cake with ice cream...each. After the final round we made our way back to the inn. Just in time, too, apparently, because the inn called to report that Loki was garnering some noise complaints with his barking. This was a first, as he rarely ever barks. We felt bad, and got back to him as quickly as possible. We hung out with him a little while and gave him copious pats on his head and ear scratches before bed, around 10pm.
We woke up around 6:30am and got up leisurely. We had made breakfast sandwiches earlier in the week, which we intended to eat while camping. We heated them in the microwave in the room, which isn't quite as tasty as if they're cooked on the grill, but they're still good! After we'd fully woken (thank you, coffee!), we packed up the few items we'd unpacked and checked out.
We cruised up the highway a short jaunt, past where we wanted to be, so we could turn around and get onto the southbound side. We pulled into Lafayette Place campground under overcast skies. Mandy got some clothes out of the truck bed and executed the change in the passenger's seat. Loki was super rambunctious to get outside the truck, so we got moving as quickly as we could. We started up the Lonesome Lake trail around 11:15am. We took our time getting up to the lake, passing several other hikers along the way, who were all very happy to meet and pet Loki. We arrived to the top behind a group of 3 guys and almost immediately it started to rain on us. We let Loki off the leash for a few minutes so he could run around and get the zoomies out of his system. As he hates the rain, we had hoped that he would go for a swim in the lake and not notice the drops falling from the sky. He didn't seem to care as he was sprinting back and forth in the woods and he opted not to go for a swim.
Contemplating walking around the lake, we watched the clouds and estimated that the rain would stop shortly, and that a break in the clouds was approaching. Hoping for good views and cooperative weather, we hooked Loki back up and went for it. It only took about 5 minutes to get to the opposite side by the hut and we were not disappointed. The sun actually made an effort to come out and warm us up a bit. The views of Lafayette were fantastic across the lake. Loki sort of tried to meet some ducks but I think they were all afraid of each other.
We ate some trail mix and dried mangoes, and got some pictures, then made our way back down towards the truck. It rained intermittently on our way down, and we arrived to the truck about 2:30pm, where we discovered that someone forgot to close the tonneau cover. OOPS!! Luckily, it hadn't rained heavily at all, and our stuff was hardly damp, and none of it grew legs while we were gone. It rained off and on a little bit as we made our way back towards Lincoln. We stopped by an awesome cafe we like to visit, Half Baked & Fully Brewed. I got an iced Old Man Joe. I got an iced spiced chai with almond milk. The drinks were delicious, as usual, and we sipped them on the ride back to Woodstock Inn, where we checked in again. We had pre-existing reservations for Friday and Saturday night but they happened to be in a different room than we were in the night before.
We got settled in and showered to clean of the sweat of the hike. We dressed and made our way out, back up the highway past the hike we'd done earlier and went to Echo Lake Beach. Unfortunately, it wasn't great swimming weather, but we wanted to check it out nonetheless. The clouds seemed trapped in the notch between mountains, and swirled around the top of Cannon Mountain. The beach was quite serene due to the lack of people from the unfortunate weather, so maybe it wasn't so unfortunate after all! We enjoyed the calm a while before we hopped back into the truck to make our way to dinner.
We decided to check out the Common Man Restaurant in Lincoln for dinner. I had been to one in Merrimack years ago and enjoyed it, and Mandy had been to the one in Concord, so it was sort of a return, even though we hadn't been to the one in Lincoln before. We ordered a round of drinks; I got a Finest Kind IPA and Mandy got a mochatini. The mochatini was phenomenal. Seriously. The Finest Kind is always delicious, so no surprises here. When it came time to order food, we went for the same thing; hazelnut crusted chicken. It was outstanding! They're topped with strawberries, which sounds odd, but somehow just works. This was, again, way more than enough food. I muscled through it anyways, and Mandy took half to go. We decided to get dessert but left it up to chef's choice which happened to be strawberry cheesecake. It was very close to being the best cheesecake (maybe it was the best) I've ever had. Not long after dessert, we got back to Loki, who did much better alone this time. We gave him some company for a bit before we went to the bar at the inn for one round.
We woke up around 6 and Mandy took Loki around the block while I showered and got dressed. When they got back, we got our complimentary breakfast in the front room of the inn. I had eggs, bacon, and french toast which was all amazing, but the bacon was exceptionally good. I had scrambled eggs, bacon, and home fries. We went back to the room to hang out with Loki for a while until 11am, when the brewery tour began. The guide talked at length about their history, the brew process, and their equipment. He was clearly very knowledgeable on the finer points of brewing, and offered a lot of technical insight, which was awesome. Afterwards, Alex served four of their beers; Weasel Wheat, Autumn Brew, Scottish Ale, and Pig's Ear. They were all tasty, of course, and Alex was super friendly. After the tasting, the tour dispersed and we returned to our rooms.
Since the weather was awesome, we went across the street to Cascade Park to get some pictures down by the river. Then we decided to go back up the highway to Echo Lake, so we could get some more on the beach up there. Unfortunately, the cloudy weather was still trapped in the notch, but we got some anyways. It was somewhat clearer than the day before, and the sun actually broke through for a few minutes.
We got married in the rain and returned to the Woodstock Inn as husband and wife, where we snacked on appetizers of barbecue meatballs, chicken and waffles, and raspberry and brie stuffed pastries along with a cracker, cheese, and fruit display. We were announced into the reception room and provided an entertaining first dance to Hard to Concentrate, by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Dinner was a delicious feast of chicken, steak tips, ribs, lasagna, mashed potato bar, and mixed veggies. We gorged on a gigantic dessert spread of tiramisu, whoopie pies, cookies, and fruit pies. We partied all night with 70 of our closest friends and family and danced our feet right off. We had the best day and night ever and could not have imagined asking for any more than exactly what we got. By 10:30 or so, exhausted and sweaty, we made the trek down the street to the house at which Loki was being graciously cared for. We collected him and trekked back to our room to go to bed.
We woke up around 6:30am. We worked on cleaning and organizing the disaster we had made of the room while getting ready the day prior. We loaded some things into the truck, and took Loki out for a walk. We had to leave him just one more time so that we could attend brunch at the Inn. Brunch was a fantastic opportunity to chat with all our guests one last time in a much quieter setting. We hung out in the dining room while people filtered in and out to enjoy the breakfast buffet before making their respective rides home. The food was, again, fantastic, and we urged everyone to take desserts with them. We had contacted a few of our guests about making various desserts for our wedding, and we definitely overestimated how much we would need. There are worse problems to have than too much dessert! Our friends and families happily obliged, yet we still ended up taking a bunch home!
After brunch, we packed the rest of our belongings from the room. Actually, after deconstructing the ridiculous display an unknown someone put on the truck, THEN we were able to pack the rest of the stuff. We profusely thanked all the inn staff for a perfect weekend, checked out, and hit the road south. We were lucky to have flawless weather for the ride home. After a quick stop to pick up Mandy's car we made the final leg of the journey home, where the next chapter of our life started, around 3pm.
Additional pictures from our wedding weekend follow below for your viewing pleasure.
That wonderful life-giving substance that is the bane of every homeowner's existence. Water gives, and it destroys. As such, we gave a lot of thought to how we would get water into the tank (that we installed in a previous episode), and how we would get it back out, as well as how we would assure that it won't destroy the trailer around it. There was a lot to consider. What materials would we use? Where would the plumbing go? How do we want to fill it, exactly? Do we want to rely on purification tablets? Would it store drinking water, or will we keep that elsewhere?
What we came up with is a solution that we're really happy with. And frankly, we're pretty pumped (haha!) to get to use it. In the near future, our use will mostly be relatively local state parks where potable water is easily accessible. However, we intend to eventually pull the trailer with us to some very remote areas where it's not. The trailer is quite small, so we were reluctant to give up storage space for drinking water. We imagined a scenario where we need drinking water and the only nearby source is a pond. We designed the plumbing in the trailer to work for us in this situation. Here's how.
We sourced a coarse sediment filter that is designed to be used inline with a garden hose. And we also picked up a pretty compact 50ft collapsible garden hose. We put the two together, and drop the filter into our dirty water source. Connect the other end to the inlet fitting on the trailer.
Next, we turn on our water pump in "suction" mode. This draws the water up through the hose and filter. Once it meets the trailer, it is passed through a much finer charcoal filter. The water goes through a maze of PEX plumbing to the pump and is then pushed into the tank. Bear in mind, it's rather difficult to photograph it all in one shot from the floor looking up.
Once the tank is full, the pump is turned off. We put the hose and filter away. Two three-way valves are switched, and the pump can be turned back on to build pressure in the supply lines. The pump is now in "normal" mode, and the sink and shower can be used as normal. Water will be drawn out of the tank, through the pump, and sent out to each point of use.
Here are some images of what it all looks like.
We took another road trip er, off-road trip, as it were, with the same group as our North Maine Woods adventure last year. Plus a few! I guess it's not really a "Jeep" club anymore, as we were in our 2003 Tacoma, breaking the mold. The Morrises opted to share Topher's yellow TJ this year. Brendan was in his silver 4-door Wrangler again. The Sweeneys were in their new Grand Cherokee with Declan. Bob and Claude brought along Jessica and Ben this year, and they all piled into their 4-door Wrangler Rubicon. Other new additions to the group this year were Andrew in his white Wrangler LJ, and Ryan and Dani in his Grand Cherokee. It was certainly a more diverse mix of vehicles this time around!
We had such a great time in Maine that we wanted to do something similar, but also of course different. In order to keep things interesting, and to add a level of complexity to planning, we decided to cross an international border and head into Canada. This trip would include a couple long legs of highway driving in order to get to and from the off-road portion making the total trip longer, however it involved less off-road driving. The off-road section begins just a few minutes after crossing the border from Ogdensburg, NY, and passes through North Frontenac, Ontario, and makes a clockwise loop toward Ottawa. That's the plan anyways. Let's see what happens.
We packed all our gear into the truck, including Loki and his gear, and we left the driveway at 7:01am. Fortunately, we did our research before this trip. Unfortunately, what we found was that the province of Ontario euthanizes dogs without question if they deem the pup resembles a "bully breed". He's a total sweetheart, but he's full of pitbull and husky, so we opted not to bring him, because we didn't want him to have to die. It's sad, but he's thankful. He went to the sitter's house just down the road and we were officially underway at 7:12.
Our first stop was just a few minutes down the road for gas. This may have been a mistake. While the pump was running, we took the opportunity to move some stuff around and fill in the space that was previously occupied by Loki. It's important to have food and drinks and the camera easily accessible for a long ride. We were rolling out of the gas station by 7:22 am. We set our sights on the Sweeneys house. I would say we set our GPS for it, but we know the way. We had agreed to carry some of their gear, chiefly a grill, because the whole group would be relying on it, and the alternative would be putting it up on their rooftop, and that just stinks. We also carried a couple coolers, one of ours, one of theirs, for food for the group. After chatting a bit and trying to psyche ourselves up (or wake ourselves up?) we rolled out of their driveway at 8:20.
Our next destination was the Westborough, MA service plaza on route 90W at 9:30am, according to the most recent communication before the day of the trip. We hit some rush hour traffic getting there on 495S. We radioed to the Sweeneys on CB to ask if all the traffic was going to Canada, too. No one of us could be sure. We were just hoping that we wouldn't be late, making everyone else wait at the service plaza. As it turned out, we were both late and early! We arrived at 9:12, a full 18 minutes before our planned arrival. But about half the group had been under the impression that we were meeting at 9:00. So although we were "early", we were among the last to arrive. Oh well. A minor communication breakdown. Everyone listed above, except for Bob, Jessica, Claude, and Ben met at this location. The plan was to meet them at the first campsite, later on. We chatted, coordinated communications devices (CB12, because our usual channel 4 was too busy), used the restrooms, and synchronized our watches. We convoyed out of the service plaza at about 10 o'clock under drizzly skies in cool weather. It was not great, but it was not awful, and the forecast was optimistic, so we didn't mind.
After two bio-breaks in MA, the 'pike crossed into New York around noon. We were all getting a bit hungry so the passengers collaborated on the fly to find us a good pit stop for lunch. We agreed on the 518 Grille in Amsterdam, NY. They quickly moved several tables together to fit us all together. I ordered a Brown's oatmeal stout to drink, and a summer salad, which included grilled chicken, granola, pineapple, melon, and cranberries, and a fried dough buffalo chicken pizza. The waitress talked me out of it, citing the gigantic salad. As she took orders from the rest of the group, I mentioned to Mandy how good the pizza sounded and after a few minutes of discussion, everyone convinced me that I should order it. So I did. I ordered a buffalo chicken wrap and just had water to drink. Everyone's food came out, except Mandy's, so she stole a slice of pie while I worked my way through a seriously delicious salad. She was raving about the pizza as I was filling up. Her food finally came as I switched over from the salad to the pizza. It was just a small one, about 10" across. But it was thick; they load the toppings on there. And the dough was so dense and amazing. I justified it citing we'd be out in the wilderness and what if I didn't have access to food or something happened? So I ate the entire pizza. I felt like I was going to pop, but it was so good I couldn't stop. The beer was not noteworthy, if I'm honest. But the food here was outstanding. Well done.
Back in the parking lot, we tackled a few issues. As Topher was hanging out waiting for everyone to arrive back at the vehicles (we all paid separately) he noticed that his front passenger's side wheel bearing was about to fall apart. As he was working on confirming his diagnosis, I was dealing with a strange issue the Tacoma was exhibiting. When were arriving to the lunch stop, I had noticed that that truck's engine would not rev beyond 3250 RPM. I tried. Other than a possible decrease in low-end power (which may have just been due to the added weight of gear) there were no other symptoms. I plugged in my OBDII-to-Bluetooth dongle and pulled up the Torque app to monitor some sensors while I drove around the empty parking lot. Everything appeared normal, except that the top end of the engine's operating range was just inaccessible.
I parked the truck and hopped out to try and brainstorm with the group, and found that Topher had changed his diagnosis to a worn or broken RCV shaft in his front axle. Though a potential issue, it would not likely hold us up with the type of driving that we were expecting to do. So we agreed to leave it alone and monitor it, and we agreed that we were impressed he broke such a stout aftermarket piece.
Unsure of what to make of the Tacoma issue, the best option was to continue to monitor it as we carried on. I was wracking my brain to come up with possible causes, but nothing really made sense. Maybe it was a bad fuel pump? But then it shouldn't run at all. Maybe it wasn't getting a good spark? But then there should be a misfire code, stuttering down low, something. Since it ran fine up to 3 grand, and I don't typically rev it beyond that, it wasn't truly an issue. But it was...something.
So we got back on the road around 3:30pm. The lunch stop took much longer than we anticipated, due to the vehicle non-issues. But it's preferred to diagnose and address problems in a flat parking lot rather than on the side of the highway, or to run the risk of a potential for catastrophic failure. In other words, it's better to be safe, than sorry. We made a quick stop at a Sunoco somewhere along the route for gas and carried on. We exited the highway, and turned onto a minor route. We stopped at a McDonalds here for some of us to eat, get pictures with the giant cow, and I decided to seize the opportunity to get a couple cheap-insurance items at Advance Auto Parts, because it happened to be across the parking lot. Still unsure what was causing the problem with the Tacoma, I used the shotgun method, and bought a set of spark plugs, a bottle of fuel injector cleaner, and a box of fuses (unrelated). I dumped the fuel injector cleaner in in the parking lot, and decided to keep the spark plugs on hand, and only install them if necessary. When we got back onto the road, I was heavy on the gas, and the truck seemed to be running better, but still not 100%. It would rev up to 4000 RPM. Then ~4500. Something was different! So I kept pushing harder, while trying to avoid being too aggressive. Eventually, it was running normally again. I think that the gas I got first thing in the morning was just bad, and possibly gummed up an injector or two. I can't be certain. But, spoiler- the issue didn't resurface for the remainder of the trip.
After some beautiful minor highway and back roads driving, we eventually found Santway Park in Theresa, NY. And the Levesque family. It was about 7:00pm. Unfortunately, this was a couple hours later than our goal arrival time of 5-5:30, but we still had plenty of light, and it could have gone much worse! The cool thing about this campground is that it's free! At least as far as we could tell. The signs were somewhat ambiguous, but we took it to mean that a permit is required if you intend to stay for 5 or more days. Anyway, we didn't pay, and we had no issues. Everyone spread out and found their temporary "home". We hung our hammocks on three trees, with our heads hung from the same tree. Meanwhile, Shayna and Jenny prepared our dinner. The meal was steaks, green beans, chicken, mushrooms, and new potatoes. No surprises here; dinner was fantastic. There were multiple flavors of steaks, the green beans were nice and crunchy. So good. In keeping with tradition, Shaun built us a fire. Declan serenaded us with some ukulele and vocals. Always love live music! Everyone drifted off to bed when they were good and ready. We slept soundly in our hammocks.
We woke at 6:30, refreshed. I packed away our sleeping bags, pads, and hammocks while Mandy worked on coffees and getting my breakfast from the grill. The truck was packed by 6:55. Not bad timing. But the organization needed work. I inhaled an awesome breakfast sandwich from the J&S Grille (Jenny & Shayna, obviously), and then got to work on sorting the gear in a manner that made some sense. The trouble with the truck is there's so much room to store gear in the bed, so it can go multiple ways. In the Jeep, everything has to fit precisely in only one way, so it's easier to figure out. Anyway, we got a leisurely start to the day, and left the park at 8:30am, with a one hour ride to the border of Canada.
We cruised along the south bank of the St. Lawrence River for a while, and eventually stopped for gas and some Timmy Ho-Hos! That's Tim Horton's for any of you southerners reading this. Next stop was Walmart, because we wanted a real American experience fresh in our minds, just in case something happened and we don't make it back. Just kidding; a few of us needed some minor supplies. We got some juices to mix with the rum we were carrying. It finally started to sink in that the trip was starting. We were doing it. It's happening!
We cruised through the American side of the border, and onto the gigantic bridge over the St. Lawrence at 10:30am. We got in the short line at the Canadian side. Bob suggested a group photo op over CB, but stated that we'd have to hustle, so we wouldn't be holding up any traffic. Ryan set his camera up with a self-timer on the tripod, and then we counted down. We all hopped out and ran to the sign at the border, just in time for the picture, and then we all ran back to our rigs. The border patrol officers were not at all pleased with this activity. Apparently, you're not supposed to do that. We were all apologetic; we didn't know. Future reference, you can't get out of your vehicle at all in the line. In retrospect, it was probably suspicious behavior. After a stern talking-to, we were graciously allowed into the country, and we cruised on through and pulled off to the side of the road safely at 10:45. Once we all regrouped, we went a very short distance down the road, and pulled off onto gravel just ten minutes later.
After about 3 hours on the trail, we stopped for lunch in Merrickville. We found a small park downtown and parked just across the street. We got some cheese and crackers and salami out of the fridge and found a nice grassy spot to sit and have our lunch near the Levesques. The plan for the group was to spend a half hour in town for lunch and then wheels up and carry on. We were running a little behind schedule when we got into town so we wanted to make it quick. It as a little tight, but Team Tacoma was ready to roll just in time. Unfortunately, it was too short a window for some of the group, and it just simply wasn't possible. But this was also good for us because it meant no one was waiting on us.
We left Merrickville an hour after our arrival, and planned to skip part of the next off-road section of the route. This would hopefully get us to Black Donald Campground in time to have dinner and relax a while.
We did not cut out all of the off-roading between Merrickville and Black Donald of course! As we cruised the trail, we came upon what appeared to be a bridge that got washed out. We had to divert off the trail into a creek and climb up the other side. It was tight, but the Tacoma was able to negotiate the turns, narrowly avoiding a few small trees and a large boulder. Sadly, the Sweeneys were not quite so lucky. Coming through just behind us, they took some very light scratches from a boulder on the driver's side door. On their shiny, new Grand Cherokee. They took it in stride, and we kept on toward the campground.
We stopped a short way in to make some adjustments. I had to let some air out of the truck tires to soften the ride a bit. They were way too harsh at 35psi. I took them down to about 20-22psi, and it was a minor improvement. Some others did the same. I think some sway bars were disconnected for comfort as well. We cruised on a very straight, very flat trail most of the way to Merrickville. We passed what appeared to be a field burning along the way. We assumed that it was under control, but couldn't confirm.
Arriving at about 7:45, the group quickly set to work on setting up camp. We opted for hammocks again, due to the lack of good flat ground available, and the ease of setup. Mandy made me a drink, and helped with the kitchen setup. J&S Grille whipped up turkey tacos which were most excellent. I had one with nothing on it because I was totally oblivious to all the fixings that were spread out right in front of me. My second one was fully loaded with everything including an awesome handmade salsa! Once everyone had some food and drink in them, the jokes and laughter rang out across the site. I walked down to the waterfront and out onto a super sketchy dock with Brendan and Andrew once it was good and dark out. A terrible idea in hindsight, but you know how it is when something seems brilliant in the moment. It turned out fine, and we got a fantastic view of a super dark night sky before we all made our separate ways to bed.
I woke up because Rob got out of his hammock around 5am. He was just getting some water to calm a moderate hangover. And to pee. I decided to try to beat the rush and go shower when he just wanted to sleep some more. But of course he couldn't sleep. I had just put conditioner in my hair when the five-minutes-for-a-toonie ($2CAD coin) shower ran out. So I put in the second toonie we had gotten for showers, so I could finish. When I got out, Rob was waiting outside to get his toonie from me so he could shower off his hangover. I felt so bad. Thus began the great toonie hunt of about 6:30am. We went down to the main office to see if we could buy a couple more, but the office did not open until 8. There were a couple men inside, but they had no toonies! We went back up to the campsite to see if anyone else was awake and had a toonie. Shayna may have had a spare, but she wanted to first get through her own shower, to be sure. Understandable. She set off to go shower, and Andrew awoke shortly thereafter. I'll trade you a loonie for a toonie. He sold us his only remaining toonie. I was so thankful for this; five whole minutes of hot water. Sorta. The pressure was wimpy and the shower was awkwardly shaped, but I didn't even care. I felt a hundred times better afterwards. Mandy pressed me a cold-brew coffee from our french press, and I got a hot breakfast scramble from the J&S Grille. After devouring breakfast I really felt whole again, like a human being. It was amazing. We packed up the hammocks and sleeping gear, and then we made our way down to the lake for a group meeting and pictures.
There was one other minor issue with the Tacoma that I noticed the night before, but I wasn't really sure what to do about it with the resources I had. See, when these trucks are lifted, especially with longer leaf shackles in the rear end, the leaf pack on the passenger's side has a tendency to hit the exhaust tip where it dumps out the side in the rear of the truck. Old Man Emu makes a bracket to push the exhaust down about 5 inches or so. I have read mixed reviews on whether this works or not. When the truck is empty, there's just a tiny bit of clearance between the exhaust and the leaf pack. Unfortunately, over the trails, with everything jostling around, the exhaust gets pulled down quite a bit. This caused the hanger to break off the exhaust pipe where it was welded. So the last few feet of pipe were just hanging off the muffler, which isn't ideal. But it wasn't a problem, yet. I wanted to address it at this point, rather than leave it with the potential to get worse, and then try to deal with it on a trail, or who knows where. So I asked Topher if he had any good ideas. He whipped out a tiny hacksaw with a metal cutting blade, which was perfect. I set to work cutting as quickly as I could, while everyone else was slowly making their way into their vehicles and getting situated. Topher told me to give up, and took his saw back. I was confused, so he explained that a gentleman who works at the campground was going to grab a Sawzall for me to borrow and would be right back. He handed me his battery-powered saw with a brand new blade in it and it cut through the exhaust pipe in about one minute, like butter. The hope was that this would alleviate stress on the remaining hangers, and at least get us home with an intact exhaust. I tossed the scrap in the truck bed, thanked the man profusely, and we hit the road at 9:15.
It wasn't long before we were on trail again. The modified exhaust pipe was so much quieter. It still hit against the leaf spring occasionally, but now it was only hitting it against the side, and was not being constantly pulled down by the suspension. We cruised along a while, enjoying the gorgeous weather. We happened across some people on 4-wheelers, and they waved as we passed. That was reassuring, because we weren't absolutely certain if full-size vehicles were supposed to be on this particular trail or not. Again, the signage was ambiguous. We were just outside of Killaloe (pronounced "kill-a-loo" by the locals) so we stopped in town at Freshmart because some people needed to resupply. I went in, and it smelled absolutely wonderful inside. Like a cinnamon bomb exploded inside a giant bakery. They didn't have any bathrooms that I could see, but I asked about fuel, and got directions to a few nearby stations. I was also directed to the information center just across the street for restrooms. We decided to opt out of getting fuel in Killaloe, and instead make way for Barry's Bay, which was less than 20 minutes away on pavement.
We pulled into a large Shell station and stopped in front of the "chip wagon". We think chip wagon is a rough Canadian equivalent of a food truck here in the states. But it seems like most of them serve fries, at least. Except fries are called chips. And they're usually served covered in gravy. You know, poutine. Anyway, we obviously had to try some poutine. We ordered a small classic, and then I asked, just out of curiosity "what's on the Scared Polish?" Bacon, onion, fried chicken. YES! We apologized, because she'd already written our order, but we had to change it. No problem. While Mandy waited for our order to be made, I pulled into an empty fuel pump and tried my best to get gas. The machine fought me, though. It was brutal. I slowly began to notice the sounds of frustration from others in the group, fighting the same battle. Finally, I overheard from Shaun that he just pumped first, and would figure out payment after. We're not used to having this option in the states, so what should have been the obvious solution, wasn't. But once I got that figured out I went inside to get my international credit card declined for who knows why. Mildly frustrated, but more so just confused, I used another card, and got out of there. Just in time for Mandy to show up with our poutine. As most of us were finishing up getting fuel and whatever else, Ryan came on CB, and told us to continue down the main road about a tenth of a mile, and take two consecutive rights. This would land us in a parking lot at a park by the beach, where we would relax a while.
We parked the truck and folded down the tailgate to have a makeshift table at which to stand and eat our poutine. It was very tasty. After we ate, we changed into swimsuits and made our way over to the small beach. I was determined to swim out to the floating dock. But not before we threw the frisbee around in the water. Eventually, Shayna, Rob, and Shaun made their way out to the floating dock. Shayna was first to arrive, and she refused to step on the dock, opting instead to jump back into the water from the ladder. Rob went next and stood on the dock, just at the top of the ladder. It was disgusting how much bird poop was on the dock, the smell was atrocious. Shaun said he would only stand on the dock if I did, so I stood there until he started making his way out toward the dock. So gross. Once he made it out, we both leapt off the dock and raced back to shore. I was hoping my shorts would dry off in time, but it wasn't happening, so I changed before our driver's meeting. Then we were all ready to head out at 1:40pm.
We cruised roads a while before we got back on dirt. The weather was perfect, and we were loving it. Although the warm, dry weather was causing the dirt roads to be rather dusty, and we were having flashbacks to the super dustbowl trip in Maine last year. Luckily, we had learned from that trip to keep extra distance between vehicles and to keep lights on for safety. We spaced out along the trail to minimize the truck's dust intake. We had windows up and air-conditioning on for comfort.
At 3:30, we arrived to Bonnechere Provincial Park River Loop Campground. Jenny had called months ago to make reservations for us. During the check in process, we learned a lot. Most importantly, the park staff are not the same people that accept the reservations. Whoever does accept reservations does not know the rules of the campground. This is a terrible design. Jenny explained that we had a large group of people, and several vehicles, and was assured this was not an issue. It was. According to the campground rules, each site may have only one vehicle and no more than six people on it at any time. And only three pieces of shelter equipment. Each additional vehicle cost $13.50 to get into the park. And no having any fun. Just kidding about that last rule, but the point is there's a lot of rules.
We were assigned to sites 109, 111, and 113. These are about a mile or so from the main gate, so we made our way through the park to our sites and began to setup camp. This night we opted for the tent, since there was plenty of smooth, level ground available. We also hung one of the hammocks for relaxing in, since we were so early to the campground. The nearby parking lots had about 6 spaces, and were all full, so we did not move the vehicles, but figured we would wait until spaces became available. We had some drinks and started making our way to the beach. Brendan was coming just behind us, he said. When we arrived at the beach, we realized we forgot the frisbee. DANGIT! We were a little put off when we saw two uniformed police officers strolling by on the beach, so we went back to the site to get the frisbee and see what everyone else was up to. We retrieved the frisbee and made our way back to the beach. When we got back to the beach, Brendan drove past us; he was heading back to the campsite. Unfortunately, he didn't see us. After we tired of playing on the beach, we went back to the site for some adult beverages. We saw Brendan driving again, through the trees, so we darted out of sight. It looked like he was headed back to the beach. Eventually he caught up to us, though, and we laughed at how terrible the timing had been for each beach trip.
We got back in time for dinner. This night was chicken and broccoli with rice from the J&S Grille. It was delicious, per usual. And afterward, the whole group broke the rules as we coalesced around the fire in site 111. Claude called out Jenny for a dance-off so we had some outstanding entertainment. Jenny got absolutely annihilated when Claude busted out some phenomenal break-dancing skills and secured first place for himself. Uniformed campground staff patrolled through the grounds and told us we had to move our vehicles off the sites. We had all been drinking, though, and the closest place there may have been parking available was at the main gate (which only had about 8 spots total), about a mile away on "provincial highways". So we passed on putting ourselves at risk for a DUI in a foreign country, and left the vehicles where they were.
We woke up around 6:30 and made our leisurely way to the free showers, once we figured out where they were located. Jenny followed us. She'd been walking for about 45 minutes previously with no luck in finding them. The showers ran on a mechanical spring-loaded timer/valve for about one minute per push of the button. I tried to stay ahead of it as we showered. The water was hot which was outstanding. Until it turned cold unexpectedly. We waited with it running for what felt like 10 minutes, and it never got warm again. Finally, I gave up waiting and finished rinsing in frigid waters.
When we got back to the site, we packed up our gear while Jenny and Shayna worked on pancakes, bacon, and a few remaining breakfast sandwiches for breakfast. We left the sites individually, as each vehicle was ready, and intended to meet outside the gate. I misunderstood and got onto the main road just outside the entrance, and pulled onto the shoulder. Realizing I'd overshot the meeting location, we circled back and joined the brief driver's meeting. Our goal was to make it to Ottawa by the afternoon, which gave us a lot of free time.
We hit the road and got to Timmy Ho-Hos in Pembroke for another coffee, and a pee break. We continued on, and at some point the road signs switched over to French, which added a level of complexity. Especially when the speed limit signs didn't include units. Along our way, we saw signs for "Chutes Coulange" and Bob asked if it might be a good time to stop, and check out the waterfalls. Everyone agreed, so we pulled in around 11:30. Everyone parked and stretched their legs while a couple people went into the park entrance to see what it was like inside. The report sounded very appealing to everyone, and the cost of entry was low enough, so we packed some snacks and water and headed in. We agreed to meet back at the vehicles no later than 2:00 to make it the rest of the way to Ottawa.
Chutes Coulange park was a really cool stop. We hadn't planned for it at all, but we got lucky and everyone had a good time. We learned quite a bit about the logging history in the local area, which was fascinating, and we got to walk around and check out some pretty impressive waterfalls. We did a ropes course and I injured myself on the tiniest zipline ever. Everyone organically gathered near the ropes course, and we tossed the frisbee around as we waited for stragglers. We ended up leaving earlier than anticipated, which is very rare, at about 1:40.
We got off the highway in Ottawa without a concrete plan. This was probably a terrible idea. We intended to get a last meal together. With 15 people in 7 vehicles. Thankfully we had functional CBs for communications, as it would have been impossible without. After circling a few blocks a few times, we found parking together in a public lot. We paid and set out on foot to a nearby restaurant. They couldn't seat all of us together. After striking out at about 5 restaurants that could not meet our group size and dietary requirements, we gave up and split. Looking ahead to the remaining hour drive to the final campsite, we wanted to get back on the road again as quickly as possible. Mandy and I grabbed a couple seats at the bar in Heart and Crown with Brendan and Andrew. We don't know where everyone else went. We ordered a Guinness and a Mill St. Cobblestone Stout. Rob ordered a bison burger and I ordered a chicken wrap. The burger was outstanding, and the beer was great. We chatted a bit with the bartender before we made our way back to the vehicles just in time for our planned departure of 6:30pm. We tried to stick together leaving the city, but we anticipated a struggle, so each rig had its GPS pointing towards the campsite address. We got split up by traffic and lights, but we reconvened with some of the vehicles on the highway. Then we found the rest of our people at the Oops! Express gas station. We fueled up and got some firewood then hit the road.
We arrived to Whispering Pines Campground in Curran at about 7:45pm. This was a rather unique private campground, but we liked it. The host showed us to our site, which was gigantic. We were allowed the entire beach, a grassy area, a huge fire pit, a stage, and all the area in between. We of course all set up our tents on the beach. As we were setting up, a few raindrops poked at us, so we opted to put our EZ-up canopy thing over our tent to keep it dry. The rain stopped and the skies looked clear so we built a fire and gathered around. Some time later, the rain picked up and came down much heavier, so we moved our chairs to the stage to get under some cover. Eventually we all started to drift off towards our tents to sleep. We went to bed in our dry but open tent around 11pm.
Rob's alarm went off at 5:00am in the truck. I got up to shut it off, and then laid back down. We got up together at about 6:00, and began packing up our gear. We woke up the Sweeneys, because we believed they had said they wanted to drive with us, and we were close to a point where we were ready to go. Bob said he wanted to leave no later than 7:30 because he had a hard deadline to meet. At about 7:45, we left the Sweeneys behind per their request, because they weren't quite ready to go.
We hit the first Timmy Ho-Hos we came to for breakfast sandwiches and coffees. Then we powered on to the US border, arriving at about 10:40am. As we were sitting in traffic at the border, we saw a familiar rooftop cargo box. I called out on CB that the Sweeneys were 6 cars ahead of us. A few minutes later, Shaun came on to say hi, and make fun of our obviously slower route. Pointing out that they had left after us and arrived before us. After one last bout of chatter while we waited, we made it through the border at 11:15. Everyone split up at this point to go at their own speeds, to their various destinations. We stuck with Andrew in his LJ all the way to Concord, NH, making just 2 brief stops, before we parted ways and made our way home alone. We arrived in Ipswich at 3:30pm to do one final unpacking of our gear to dry it out, and one final packing to put it all away.