Minneapolis, Minnesota

October 19, 2002

We are now officially inland and the fall foliage is SPECTACULAR!!! It’s already the beginning of our forth week on the road and we’re holding up well, though the sheer beauty all around us is exhausting.

On Sunday the 13th we left our camp and drove into New Hampshire and the White Mountains. The scenery just keeps getting better and better. Things are all rolling hills here lined with unbelievable fall colors that photos just can’t capture. We took the turn-off for Mt. Washington because we don’t want our car to be the only one on the road without a "this car climbed Mt. Washington" bumper sticker. Mt. Washington is billed as the highest mountain in the Northeast, weighing in at a whopping 6800 ft. (chuckles of superiority from the west-coasters). It turns out though, that this is one impressive mountain! The 8-mile drive to the summit takes you from idyllic New England woodlands, through stunted wind-swept pines to arctic conditions similar to those found 600 miles north of here! The top of this mountain has "the worst weather in the world," and it is here that the highest wind speeds on earth were recorded in 1934 at 231 mph. It’s covered in rain clouds 60% of the year, with hurricane-strength winds over 100 days of the year.

The drive itself is not for the feint of heart, twisting and turning up what becomes a dirt road averaging a 30% grade with no guardrails. The closer we got to the top, the more socked in the weather became. Pretty soon we were driving in a cloud, with drizzle spitting on the windshield. At least the mist obscured the sheer drops just outside our windows. Once on top we felt dizzy with the height and proud of our trusty "adventure-mobile." The top of the mountain is one of the main stops on the Appalachian Trail, and all the soaked and freezing hikers made us feel slightly wimpy for driving.

Back down at the bottom of the mountain with our breaks thankfully in tact, we carried on our merry way, once again in the postcard roads of New Hampshire in the fall.

We entered Vermont and made a beeline for Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory outside of Burlington. We got there an hour or so before they closed and took the factory tour and supported the cause in the gift shop and ice cream stand outside. Alex had a chocolate and peanut sprinkled waffle cone with Coffee Coffee Buzz, while Tiffany indulged with a chocolate cone of Mint Chocolate Chunk. We have got to get that portable camp freezer working so we can take some of these pints with us!

The rain began coming down pretty good, but by the time we drove for almost an hour looking for a campsite, the storm had passed. We had dinner in one of the over-priced inns that line the roads here, then drove back to our tent.

In the morning we drove in to Burlington for breakfast at Mirabel’s and feasted on their white hot chocolate. We spent the rest of the day in Borders Bookstore writing web stories and pouring through wedding magazines collecting some inspiration. It turns out Burlington is quite the college town and it’s these fine students who keep the members of the band Phish employed. We’ve never seen such a collection of beards, beads and dreds outside of a Grateful Dead pre-show parking lot. Later we found a great Irish pub for dinner and chowed down on bangers and chips. Yum.

On Tuesday morning we left our campsite with frost on the ground as they were closing up for the season. This will be the last of the State Campgrounds we’ll get to see on this trip. It’s now the middle of October and the season for camping is officially over, but we’re only halfway through our trip! What are we to do? We headed south out of Burlington and entered New York State once again. We started seeing signs for New York City and realized we were only two hours up the road from our old home. Should we drive on down and see if we have any mail? It’s amazing to have been on the road for over three weeks and only be a few hours from where we started off. We fought the urge to continue south back to the city, and hung a right at Albany and headed west once again.

The reds and vibrant oranges of the trees were gone now, replaced by rolling farmlands, and we realized that we have now said goodbye to New England. In the afternoon we drove all the way across upstate New York hoping that the rest of our trip isn’t just one big disappointment after the Technicolor vistas of our last few weeks. Our fears were not abated as we got closer to Buffalo and the town of Niagara Falls. We had come to see the falls but found the town a dirty, smelly eyesore of a place with one tacky tour company after another lining the streets screaming for our dollars. We got sucked into one place that advertised itself as tourist information and picked up a map. We got out fast before the slick-talker behind the counter sold us on his package tour. "You’ve come all this way," we heard him say to the poor unsuspecting Swiss couple in his slimy grasp. "These pictures aren’t for you, they’re for your grandchildren…" We drove on through strip malls and industrial wastelands to get a view form the Canadian side. Once across the bridge we found ourselves in an aquatic Vegas. If the US side is a low rent shambles of a place, the Canada side is all glitz and neon cheese. Smack dab in the middle of it all is the reason all this crap is here. The main attraction, the after thought, the gorge to be spanned, the most dramatic and gargantuan waterfall we’ve ever seen. It was all lit up like the pyramids. It felt a mile away. There was no scale. The sound was muffled by the distance and the impact lessened by the artificial lights and overwhelming tackiness all around us.

We crossed back into the US and found a campground on the main drag between the auto parts stores and Dunkin’ Donuts. There was an open patch of grass in the back where a couple of other lonely campers had staked a claim. We set up the tent and crawled inside, hoping to not be run over in the night by the camper/trailers on all sides.

On Wednesday morning the rain came. This began our close association with water that would be a constant theme over the rest of the week. We packed up our sopping things and threw them in the back of the car hoping we’d get a chance to dry out before too long. We drove back to the falls, this time staying on the US side. The day before we seemed to do everything wrong and our first impression of this place was seriously tainted. This day we did everything right, and all was redeemed. We saw this force of nature up close and personal. We parked on Goat Island in the middle of the river between the Canadian and US sides of the falls, and from here walked to the lip of the precipice and were amazed at the rushing torrent that flows over a sharp edge into an abyss. This must be what the edge of the world looks like.

Our views from up here were pretty unbelievable, but after an elevator ride down to the base of the falls things just got better. From here we were handed blue ponchos and boarded the Maid of the Mist boat tour. The weather was still bad so there were only a handful of people on this boat. We all looked like blueberry jawas waddling toward the handrails. We had no idea what we were in store for.

The boat transported us into the womb of creation. The guide said over the speaker, "Ladies and gentlemen, THIS is Niagara Falls!" Damn! We were cradled in its turbulence, tossed like a cork. Its god-sized arms outstretched, towering over us, encompassing our entire vision. Spray, mist and rain buffeted us in a wash. We were held in its spell, fighting to hold the moment, the boat churning against the current to hold us steady. It was unbelievable. You couldn’t see the tears because of the rain & mist, but we cried, dwarfed by this experience. The boat finally turned to wash downstream. Speechless we staggered onto shore to sit for a moment, it felt like we’d just been born.

After this spiritual event, we kept our ponchos on and headed for the Cave of the Winds tour. This took us again to the foot of the falls. This time on foot we traversed a wooden walkway washed constantly by the plummeting waters. We literally touched the falls, and on Hurricane Deck felt like sailors rounding Cape Horn in a gale. The power of this place is awesome.

We finally dragged our soaking bodies back to the car, the only one left in the parking lot, and tried in vain to ring out our socks. We were soaked to the bone and exhausted. With cold jeans clinging to our legs, we shut the rain outside and pointed the car north. We got beyond the glitz of the casinos and let the roar of the waters and the glow of the lights fade into the distance. Our clothes slowly dried as we drove for hours into the Canadian night.

On Thursday the 17th, we woke up in yet another cold and deserted campground, but at least dry. We were now well into Ontario nestled once again in orange and red leaves.

On this day we drove.

We cruised up and over Lake Huron through stunted pine forests and past picturesque lakes. In the evening we were in Northern Michigan where we found a campsite in Mackinac.

In the morning we drove down to the shore of this vast lake to board a ferry for Mackinac Island. We were the only couple crazy enough to make this crossing outside in the wind. The other four passengers were below decks. Mackinac Island is made up of trees, million dollar mansions, horses and fudge shops. There are no cars allowed on the island, horse drawn carriages are the taxis. We found a B&B by the harbor, bought some fudge in town and took the obligatory carriage tour of the island. Our incredibly bored guide seemed only interested in pointed out how expensive all the houses were. Add horses to the list of things that Alex is allergic to. It started to rain (again) but that didn’t stop us from renting horses (bring on the sneezes) for an hour’s ride through the forests. This was the first time in at least twenty years that Alex had been on a horse, but Tiffany is an old pro, so all went well. We headed off into the woods, our horses sloshing along the muddy trail as the rain came down through the leaves. We returned to the stables dripping and cold, and found an Irish pub to recover in.

It was a cold drizzly evening, the streets deserted and the lake was getting wild. On the short walk back to the B&B it started to sleet and snow landed on our coats. We thawed out in our room then had a wonderful dessert downstairs as the Jamaican staff women sang in the kitchen. What a joy to have a cozy bed and our own room after so many nights in the tent. Ahh, luxury.

The next day was Saturday and more tourists began pouring into the island. This was the last weekend for most of the businesses here before they close up shop for the winter. We seem to be closing this country down as we head west. There’s no more State Campgrounds, and the tourist sites are packing things up. We’re just one step ahead of winter all the way. Sooner or later it’s going to catch us…

After an amazing breakfast and more singing from the Jamaicans, we walked up the hill to the Grand Hotel. This is the site of the Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour movie "Somewhere in Time." The movie is why Tiffany has wanted to come to this island for so many years now. The hotel lives up to its name with the longest covered porch on Earth at 688 ft. We paid the $10 each to get in (they’ve got to pay for all those deck chairs somehow), and walked through the lobby and the gardens. We then rushed back down the hill to catch our ferry to the mainland.

Our drive through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula took us along the back roads skirting Lake Michigan. We crossed into Wisconsin as night fell, but continued west slowing as we passed through the sleeping towns. Glen Flora, pop. 105, speed limit 35mph. Poskin, pop. 109. That night we crossed the entire state, pulling into a Days Inn just north of Minneapolis before midnight. In the lobby they had a flier for the Mall of America. Hmmm… we just might have to go there in the morning.

Tune in next week for Alex and Tiffany’s adventures in America’s Mecca of consumerism…



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