Monday, September 30, 2013


Our next stop was Kouchibouguac National Park, yes, that is really it's name, I am still practicing saying it: Coo-chi-be-gwack. It is a Mi'kmaq word meaning "river of long tides."
Tidelands of Kouchibouguac NP
As we get further into the Maritime Provinces we are seeing the evidence of a harsher existence for life. Peat bogs are common and have an interesting variety of miniaturised life. Life in a bog is not easy. Bogs get started from glacial scouring out of pockets of rock. They fill with organic material that does not rot. There are standing pools of water that have very low oxygen levels, drainage and circulation of water is limited. Decomposition happens very slowly so most nutrients are locked up in the peat. Trees are stunted by harsh weather, low nutrient levels, water logged roots and a short growing season. However, if you look closely, you will see a lovely variety of organisms but on a very small scale. At least 3 plants I have learned about have adapted to these difficult conditions by becoming carnivorous, attracting and eating  little bugs that come their way. It is too late in the season to see these guys in action but I was able to read about them. There are interesting and beautiful varieties of mosses, fungi, blueberries in large quantities, and lovely lichens.

Kouchibouguac NP has many ecosystems interwoven within it's borders. After my bog walk I went for a very nice walk in the woods, wandering by still ponds, splashing little streams, beaver dams and large stands of dark trees. The changing colors of leaves are more evident everyday, with yellows, oranges and reds lighting up the trees and shrubs. The park also has extensive beaches, marshes and grasslands and are very involved in the preservation of the piping plover. The plover is an endangered little bird that likes to nest on the beaches. Seals rest and feed in sheltered lagoons every summer.

It has an interesting cultural history as well. The Acadians (descendants of the first French peoples) farmed the land and fished the seas for hundreds of years in this area. And, of course, the Mi'kmaq people for thousands of years before that. In the 1960's the Canadian government decided they wanted to preserve this land as a national park. They bought out as many of the residents as they could and then started forcibly taking over people's properties. This was not received well by many of the residents being displaced. Well, push came to shove, and the residents were removed with many bitter feelings. The park was created, homes, barns and fields bulldozed and naturalized. The government, after many years, relented somewhat and allowed former residents to continue fishing and lobstering in the area. This has created much needed income for the fishermen and is an added attraction for the park. Visitors can buy fish and lobster from the fisherman and see the boats going out and coming in every day. After the conflict created by getting Kouchibouguac started, the government has vowed to never again remove people from their homes to create parks. It is a beautiful park, still in the process of becoming the pristine natural area that it once was.

At the center we started talking to a lady who is a full time RVer and has been doing it for 15 years. She is 72 years old, travels by herself in a 30 ft. RV towing a small car, and loves to photograph birds and nature. She has a shed that she calls home in Oregon but spends most of her time on the road. She was a character!

Beavers at work in the forest
Little fungi
P1100985 copy
I want lobster!

Fungus among us
The park offers many interesting interpretive programs for visitors during the summer, cultural and natural history in particular. They also offer opportunities for biking, canoeing, hiking, and cross country skiing. We spent most of the day in the park, toured the visitor center, and watched a very informative video.  Though we visited on a cool fall day and we were almost alone, this must really be a happening place in the high summer!
We continued on our way toward PEI, stopping in Shediac when we saw a LARGE lobster on the side of the road. Obviously, photos were needed so we parked and scurried back across the bridge we had just crossed. As we were taking our photos we noticed another Rialta, just like ours, parked in the lot nearby. We wandered to the visitor center to see if we could figure out who was traveling in it. Didn't take long before we were gabbing it up with Charlie and Gina, from Santa Rosa, CA. We quickly found common ground with the desire to have a lobster lunch so we drove into Shediac and found a likely place. We had a nice meal with them, Charlie and I shared a lobster platter while Thayer and Gina went for the prawns and scallops. They are on a 6 month, and possibly longer, sojourn around the continent. Their rig is a little different than ours on the inside but the two rigs look like twins on the outside. We shared stories and plans, swapped contact and blog information and then went our separate ways. They had decided to wait for the better weather predicted for the weekend while we decided to make PEI before nightfall.

Thayer tried to catch this bigger one!
Driving over the massive, 17 km long, Confederation bridge was pretty exciting especially when being lashed with wind and rain. We stopped at the visitor center for maps, watched the movie about the construction of the bridge, and caught up on email. By this time my stomach was not feeling so good, that kind of dull ache that indicates too much rich food...ugh. We continued to Summerside, just a short distance up the pike and found parking in a Nazarene Church parking lot. I went for a walk to try to settle my stomach then we went to bed. Woke up feeling fine and ready for a new day. Takes more than a lobster to get me down. Now, if we can just start seeing the better weather predicted for tomorrow!
Big bridge to PEI
Charlie and Gina
Just don't stand there! Help me!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Old Quebec City

Corner cafe

View from BD site, tidal zone
With our boondocking hosts Andre and Denise's touring advice firmly in hand we drove the 48 kilometers into Quebec. We zipped off the freeway onto a large boulevard where we were able to park for free, just a few kilometers from the city. We bicycled on the excellent bike path those few miles, down the river, into town, uphill (it seemed!), pushing hard into a 15-20 mph headwind.
Chateau Fortenac
Old Quebec is the only walled city in North America north of Mexico. The main part of the city is perched up on the cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence River. The oldest part of the city is located at river level. Quebec was established in 1608 by the French and was the most important strategic site for the trading empires that developed over the years. From the high ground they could defend the city from the English and Americans, who coveted it. The Citadelle is the armed fortress of the city and is still a military base today. The English took over Quebec in 1759 and remained there until Canada became an independent nation. The city contains many of the original buildings from the 1600's: lovely old churches, hotels and inns, shops, and homes. Governmental leaders realized early on that the city was an incredible treasure.  Preservation efforts began in 1872 when Lord Dufferin (Governor General at the time) put a stop to the demolition of the city walls. Other efforts at modernization and "improvements" have been squashed over the years. The city is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 
Is that 3rd guy just laughing?
Gate into the walled city
We wandered the river level part of the city, called Place-Royale, enjoying the narrow, busy streets lined with quaint, old shops catering to people like us. A cruise ship had docked so there were swarms of camera toting tourists. I loved the sidewalk cafes and creatively decorated storefronts that were around every corner. We explored for a while then walked our bikes up the short, steep hill to the top part of the town and locked them up near the Chateau Frontenac Hotel. This amazing hotel was built in the early 1900's, its design based on famous old castles of France. We did a circuit of the city starting with the Governors' Promenade along the cliff and past the Citadelle. There are some wonderfully ornate buildings just outside the city walls housing the Parliamentary offices with each surrounded by statues, flowers and fountains. We entered the city again through one of the beautiful gates and zig-zagged through the narrow streets, taking in several churches along the way. At one time Quebec had the largest Catholic diocese in the world, stretching from the eastern seaboard to the Rocky Mountains. Circling back toward our bikes we took a short rest in the Chateau lobby, though it was a bit of a disappointment to me as they did not design or furnish the lobby for people to sit around and relax. It is a bustling, noisy place with only a few pieces of furniture for sitting and none of it comfortable. The finishes, flowers and chandeliers were fabulous but difficult to enjoy from the positioning of the few seats provided. They need to go visit Yellowstone, Glacier or Yosemite if they want to see what a real hotel lobby should look like. We checked out the menus at the two restaurants and determined that we could eat for a week on what one meal would cost us.

Hopping back on our bikes we circled the town and rode down the hill to the farmers market near the marina. Quebec province is quite the agricultural wonder, producing apples, pears, plums, carrots, potatoes, leeks, peppers, eggplant, and expensive corn. We have been shocked by the corn prices-$6/dozen at the market and not much better at roadside stands. Our boondocking host said that the farmers had a difficult spring and may be saving their corn for feed. I was delighted to find affordable and delicious fall strawberries, grown locally! Do we have these in Washington?? If not, then WHY not?
Tired and chilled we jumped back on the bikes for the spinnaker run back to the rig. It was nearly effortless as we coasted along the bike path with the breeze, pedaling at the small hills if needed. Absolutely no headwind! In the fading light we left Quebec, knowing that we should be spending more time there. From the pictures I have seen, I can see that it would be a lot of fun and very beautiful to come in the winter as Quebec is truly a year round destination city!
Some interesting facts about the St. Lawrence River:
Its deep water ports are the key to trade and commerce in the Great Lakes, the US and across Canada. Quebec is 800 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and yet, this far inland, they have a tidal action range up to 22 feet! Today I've seen water up to the sea wall and now it is out at least 100 yards. This tidal and river action makes for some pretty interesting ice in the winter!
Church in L'islet
We spent the night in a quiet parking lot between Subway and the IGA and the next morning drove the short distance to our next boondocking home on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. It was a quiet day including a much needed shower, catching up on little chores, napping, mending the quilts (they take a beating in the nightly tug-of-war that goes on, now that it is getting cooler), and a gentle bike ride to the village. We have now watched all of the "Anne of Green Gables" shows in preparation for the next leg of the trip to Prince Edward Island. Whew! It rained most of last night and is continuing this morning. The weather report indicates rain for the next 3 or 4 days so we may slow down (is that possible?) a bit and wait for improvement. Made oatmeal for the first time on this trip - the strawberries made it a special treat!
Fall Strawberries!

Into the Adirondacks

Closing ceremony parade of warriors
Our route away from Niagara led us along the south edge of Lake Ontario. On a whim we turned into a little town called Olcott, where we were delighted to find a big festival in full swing. The 13th Annual Niagara Co. Celtic Heritage Festival was still rocking along, even under cloudy skies late on a Sunday afternoon. We wandered through the vendor booths filled with everything a Celtic warrior or maiden needs: kilts, plaids and lovely wovens, leather accessories, chain mail, steel helmets, weapons of all sorts, Welsh biscuits as well as the usual kettle corn, fish and chips, little girl tutus, fried flatbread and beer, lots of beer! As you can imagine, most of the people were dressed in their best Celtic wear. Some were very proper in their clan plaid and knee socks, toting bagpipes while others were dressed in their best fur and steel warrior wear and heavily armed. It was a wonderful assortment of people, all having a lovely time while pretending to be ancient Celts and drinking lots of beer.

Love those bagpipes!
 As is our usual pattern, we approached the stage just as the darling little girl Irish dancing troop finished their performance. We never seem to get there in time to see the kids dance. This has happened to us numerous times. The next and final performance was a rocking Irish group that was best enjoyed from a distance. They were very good but too loud for my old ears. We were happier sitting out by one of two large bonfires by the beer tent. During the band's break the officials and attendees held their closing ceremony consisting of a short parade of the costumed folks and 3 bagpipe bands. We felt a little out of place in our sandals, shorts and shirts but people were kind to us anyway, one very drunk fellow entertained us with rambling accounts of his drunken wanderings around the countryside. I didn't understand much of it but nodded agreeably at the appropriate times. The timing of the rain was about perfect, just as most of the vendors were getting their wares stowed away the wind and rain arrived. We decided to stay where we parked for the night and were lucky to even have WIFI. It was a blustery night and we awoke to see whitecaps and big waves on the lake.

He wanted to sign up just for the sword.
The main goal of the next day was to find a shower! This we accomplished with a short visit to Golden Hills SP which had a very nice facility and lots of hot water. You really learn to appreciate a nice shower when you only get them a few times per week. One of those terrible hardships of the trail. Stopped for some shopping and internet in Rochester then moved along to Watertown for the night. We found a nice dark trailhead parking lot on the Black River Trail and settled in for the night. The next morning I explored the trail and ended up walking 3.5 mi. to the next trailhead where Thayer met me in the rig. It was a lovely walk up a pretty river flowing over limestone ledges. 

We continued driving up into Adirondack Park, one of the largest parks in the nation. It is a mostly a NY state park but is interspersed with private lands and administered by a variety of agencies. We are finding that to be quite common out here in the east. It is a mountainous(by eastern standards) area covered with beautiful 2nd growth forests, lovely lakes and ponds, historic towns, and winding roads. We stopped at the Paul Smith's Visitor Information Center(VIC) where I saw a video and learned more about the park. They have miles of nice trails and varied and interesting ecosystems represented in the park. The Paul Smith's College is an interesting mix of educational opportunities. You can study natural resources, forestry, ecology, fisheries, environmental studies, cooking and hospitality. It has a very famous culinary school, go figure. Actually, these students practice what they learn in local tourist accommodations while the science students have thousands of acres of forest to practice theirs. I guess it does make sense.
Bog walk

The Adirondacks have a colorful history of farming, trapping, logging, and mining which has shaped the land and the towns. Logging and mining took its toll on the woods and mountains but the mining is gone and the forestry practices are more intelligent, working toward sustainable logging. The forests appear to be making a wonderful comeback after the park was basically denuded. Its most interesting industry, we discovered, was the 70 years that it was place to go for the "cure." 

First tuberculosis research facility in the world!
In the 1880's a doctor named Edward Trudeau, who had contracted tuberculosis, came to the town of Saranac to spend his final days. In those days TB was a death sentence. Turns out that the fresh air, good food and exercise cured him! In 1884 he established the first cure center for TB patients in Saranac. His theory was that rest, fresh air, good, high calorie food, exercise and a positive outlook could cure many people afflicted with the disease. By this point in history, germs were  finally acknowledged as the cause of this terrible disease, a big change from the genetics theory. In 1894 Dr. Trudeau established the first research facility in the world to study the disease and research treatment options. The patients, lodged in "care cottages" spent a great deal of their time outdoors, year round, on porches built into each facility. In winter they were bundled in blankets and fur and hot water bottles called stone pigs. Being outdoors prevented the spread of the disease. They were fed a high calorie diet to help their bodies battle the disease, children were employed to be "tray boys" who ferried the heavy trays up and down hills and stairs to the care cottages. Exercise was encouraged if patients were able and even those who could not were kept busy with crafts and hobbies to lift their spirits. One man built a Ham radio and fixed people's clocks and watches for them. By 1920 there were at least 166 care cottages in Saranac and thousands of people were treated every year. Other facilities in the Adirondacks sprang up and many support industries flourished along with them. "The Cure" was the main industry in the Adirondacks until 1954 when antibiotics were developed which cured the disease.

Saranac River in Saranac, NY 
Tourism is now the main industry in the area but the cure industry left a legacy in Adirondack Park that remains today. A world famous research institute, two colleges, and a regional hospital still call the area home. There is a very interesting museum in the old research laboratory built by Dr. Trudeau. The museum is a non-profit organization that receives much of its funding from the Trudeau family (including Gary Trudeau, cartoonist) and the families of patients who were cured by the good doctor. The town of Saranac is filled with restored and historic buildings and houses, all unique and architecturally beautiful. Every winter they have a large winter festival, complete with the construction of a large ice castle on the frozen river. This event dates back to the cure days when the festival was held to brighten the winter days and cheer everybody up by getting them outside!

Ski jumping towers! EEK!
Traveling another 12 miles down the road (we try not to overdo it) we stopped in Lake Placid, site of the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Games. We toured the 3 skating rinks, saw the one where the young US team beat the highly favored Russians in the "Miracle on Ice!" for the gold medal. We also saw the speed skating oval where Eric Heiden made history by winning 5 gold medals and setting 4 Olympic records. On our way out of town we spotted the incredibly tall ski jumping towers. They looked absolutely terrifying. Lake Placid  is still a very happening little town that hosts events year round. Again, another place where we really should spend more time.

We then drove down out of the mountains to the flatlands, crossed the border and pressed on to our boonddocking hosts located about 30 miles west of Quebec. We arrived after dark, visited briefly, ate dinner and went to bed. In the morning we were delighted to find ourselves perched on a hill about 1/2 mile away from and 150 feet above the St. Lawrence River. It is a wonderful view of the big river. We puttered around all morning then rode our bikes to a couple of small towns nearby, Donnaconna and Cap Sante. There were many beautiful little stone homes(is anyone getting tired of me mentioning these yet?) and old quirky neighborhoods.  We talked to a woman who had just made 100 apple pies for the tart festival this weekend. Maybe we should stay put for a few days....hmmm. One steep little road took us right down to the water, more nice houses and a boat ramp.  We are excited about the planned trip to Old Quebec tomorrow!

View from Boondocking home base!
Roughing it again (view from our back window)
More lovely stone cottages...
Getting ready for the Apple Tart festival

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Niagara Falls

Canadian Falls
We arrived in Niagara Falls, Ontario on Wed. evening after a fairly strenuous day of driving, about 300 miles. We were greeted warmly by our Boondocking host, Karsty, who was armed with maps and brochures to get us started the next day. He lives in a nice neighborhood and we just parked right in his driveway. The next day dawned gray and drippy so we spent the morning catching up with email, chores and muddling around. I started getting restless after lunch and jumped on my bike to head to the falls while Thayer opted for a complete rest day. It was about a 3 mile ride into town that didn't take very long. I checked out the town, figured out where the main attractions were, scoped out the routes down the hill and just got the lay of the land. I purchased
Canadian Falls
each of us an "Adventure Pass" which gave us a discount on 4 of the major attractions and a 2 day bus pass for cruising the Niagara River Gorge. When I could finally peel my eyes away from the spectacular falls I was dismayed to see towering dark clouds brewing in the direction I had to go to get back to Karsty's. I was about halfway back when the heavens opened and soaked me in a few minutes. At least it was a warm rain. We visited with Karsty and learned about the local history and current events. That evening we drove into town to see the light show at the falls. They shine a bunch of BIG lights on the falls and it looks very pretty, sort of like oobleck or playdough flowing over the rocks.

Your Worst Nightmare
American Falls
On Friday Thayer and I rode our bikes into town to have our big "Adventure Day" with our passes. I guided him through "new" Niagara, where the real tourists have fun. As you can see, it wasn't the kind of place we wanted to spend much time. We biked on down to the river to admire the falls for a bit, then we started our cheap plastic poncho collection with "Niagara's Fury!" which is an entertaining video presentation on the formation of Niagara's gorge and falls. It was followed by a surround sound, panoramic video, snowstorm, rain, splash sort of "ride". It took us on a virtual arial trip over Lake Erie, down the river, over the falls, through the rapids and whirlpools to Lake Ontario. It had my head spinning from start to end. The next poncho acquisition opportunity was "Behind the Falls" where we were able to walk through tunnels bored behind the falls to lookouts on what amounts to a solid wall of water rushing downward. There were also several lookouts that took us right to the edge of the falling water and the roiling water below. The power of the water is just incredible. It is easy to see why much of the power for the NE and Canada is generated from this river. Fortunately the power people have cleverly kept most of the power generating canals, ponds, generators, dams and such completely out of the view of the falls area. You can certainly see it to the north and south and Thayer had a fun time puzzling out what each building or pond was used for. Since most of the buildings are quite old you wouldn't really know that they are power related because they are beautiful structures made of cut stone with intricate carvings, decorations and windows. It is a very complicated system and is the very first large power generating system in the US and Canada. 
Maria Spelterini at Suspension Bridge
Maria Spelterini with baskets on feet, 1876
After so much excitement we decided it would be a good idea to sit down for a while so we climbed aboard a WEGO bus and headed up river, to the turnaround and then down river to our next activity. We rode the elevator down to near the river then onto a nice boardwalk for the Whitewater Walk. The standing waves that roar along this stretch are HUGE. The signage says '15 meters' but they aren't quite that big. They are rated as Class 6 rapids, which means virtually un-runnable. Also, they don't just go up and down but swirl, dive, swell, and suck. At one point in history entrepreneurs were allowed to run commercial rafting trips down the river, but that finally ended when 8 people were lost off one boat. Much of the information presented along the walk was about the incredible feats (and flops!) people have tried successfully, and not, over the years. There have been many tightrope walkers doing ridiculously wild things on a rope, boaters, swimmers, barrel riders, and an unintentional little boy in a lifejacket. At one time it was incredibly competitive and you had to outdo the last guy in order to draw a crowd. It is very tightly controlled now and they allow a tightrope walker about every 20 years, just to honor the history of the funambulist (there's a good word to look up!) in Niagara's history. A few years ago they allowed a kayaker in the rapids for a National Geographic film. It was certainly an impressive set of rapids that I only briefly considered running.

Maid of the Mist
We climbed back on the bus and continued to the downriver turnaround and came back to the Falls for our next poncho. We rode another elevator to river level and received another blue poncho for our journey to the falls aboard the "Maid of the Mist." It being a cool afternoon there were not huge crowds so we were able to secure good viewing spots right at the bow of the boat. We motored by American Falls on our way to where the real misty part happens in the horseshoe shaped drop pool of Canadian Falls. The mist rises in a giant cloud from the center of the falls. As the boat edges into the swirling cloud and churning water, the warm mist wraps around you, quite a bit warmer than the air outside the cloud. When you look down into the beautiful green water there are so many bubbles that it seems the water is only about half water, the rest is air. The drop pool is over 120 feet deep so the water really churns and boils as it flows through. A Karsty fact is that people who go over the falls sometimes don't surface for a long time or perhaps never. He said that about 18 people a year commit suicide over the falls. Strangely enough there are many birds flying and swimming around the base of the falls, gulls and cormorants mostly, they are feeding on the stunned little critters that find themselves going through the gauntlet of the falls. We spent a short time in the swirling, pounding, misty center of the falls before coming about and heading back to the dock. About the ponchos: they are recyclable but we used just our first one all day and saved the others. We now have the spares in our backpacks and bike bags for emergencies. Millions of them must be used during the season!

Lost verylost
This is where we realized we were lost
It was getting late in the afternoon and we decided that a large hot chocolate was needed to warm us up before climbing back on the bikes. We were so energized that we decided to try an alternate route to get back to Karsty's. The bus ride inspired us to ride upriver towards a nice park area which we did. The path led us through an amazing botanical garden filled with colorful flowers, large and small, and perfectly grouped and arranged. It was simply lovely. We continued toward some electricity generating areas consisting of gates, flumes, canals, and beautiful old buildings. We rode and rode, thinking we knew where we were going, hahahaha. We rode along canals, quiet streets, corn fields, abandoned houses and construction sites. We went over bridges and around corners. As the light grew dimmer, the speed limit increased, the headwind increased, the traffic increased, the size of the shoulder decreased, and my legs grew tired. Finally, as we approached the on ramp for the QEW, I busted out the ipod and consulted my friendly TOMTOM map. Fortunately, all we had to do was go over the freeway, turn right and ride for another 5 miles and we'd be home. ugh. We pulled in just before darkness fell. Thayer calculated the distance the next day, we had turned a 3 mile ride into 15.

P1100376Karsty offered to show us around the next day which we happily agreed to, always preferring the expertise of a local to our own thrashing about (see yesterday's activities.) Because of a big bicycle rally many of the roads were blocked so Karsty expertly navigated the backroads to get us to Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL). Nice to have an ex-cop showing you about, they know all the backroads. NOTL is a lovely little town located on the Lake Ontario end of the Niagara River. It caters to the wealthy, let me tell you. We drove the neighborhoods admiring the historic houses and churches. Great effort has been made to preserve the architecture of the 1800's and many of the buildings are original. The flowers on the main street are fantastic, reminding me of Victoria, BC. There are many chic shops, galleries, fudge and ice cream shops, bakeries and restaurants. The Prince of Wales Inn is a first rate, 5 star establishment anchoring one end of the busy street. Horse and buggy rides are available and the horses are very handsome. 
Prince of Wales Inn
Niagara River Whirlpool

We poked along and looped back to Niagara, stopping to admire the Whirlpool section of the river as it makes a screaming right hand turn after the raging rapids mentioned earlier. It is an unusual whirlpool in that it circulates counter-clockwise.  Try to imagine this: the river, traveling at a vigorous pace, needs to do a right angle turn but it enters a large roundabout and turns to the LEFT, and doubles back on itself. Well, its course is now on the other side of the main flow, so it goes UNDER that flow, creating very turbulent, dangerous and unpredictable currents. It is fascinating to just stand there and watch that tremendous eddy, going the wrong way, disappear (except for wood debris left floating in confusion), and come roiling up on the other side in billowing currents as it flows on down its course. In the area where the water makes it's dive for the other side there are frequent violent whirlpools that swirl swiftly around before the water is sucked to the other side. Seconds later another whirlpool will take its place. Have I mentioned the beautiful color of the water yet? I am kicking myself for not taking video of this unusual site. What was I (not) thinking? 

We drove by the old police station in Niagara, a lovely old stone building that was still in use when Karsty started on the force. He showed us the backside of the neighboring bank where some thieves had tunneled into the vault and robbed the bank right next to the police station! The old station is boarded up and decaying now, a sad site.
Our most gracious host, Karsty

We went out to lunch and when we got back to Karsty's we packed up the rig and prepared to leave. We had decided to go back to NOTL to do some more exploring, visit Fort George, one site of the War of 1812, and give Thayer a chance to photograph some of the beautiful old houses in town. We said our goodbyes and headed down the road. We successfully navigated back to NOTL only to discover that Thayer had left his camera and shirt in Karsty's car. After some vigorous walking around the neighborhood searching for open WIFI, emailing and finally a phone call made from the Prince of Wales Inn, we contacted Karsty who insisted on jumping in his RV and driving the camera and shirt out to us. We met up in the quiet parking area of the Jet Boat outfit, had a great visit and Karsty decided to stay the night as well. It was a nice quiet night and we said our goodbyes one more time the next morning.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ohio Amish Country and beyond

As the incredibly hot (90's) and humid (75%) weather stuck us to anything we touched, we drove deeper into the heartland of America. We had spent a sticky night in a park in Lexington, using our outdoor shower for the first time. We felt great for about 10 minutes then the stickiness was back. Our first stop the following morning was Malabar Farm, the only working farm in the Ohio State Park system. It was built by Louis Bromfield, a well known early 1900's author. It has some animals, barns and a beautiful big house that is in the process of refurbishment.

Using our books and maps to guide us, we wove our way deeper into Amish country. We did a pretty good job of not behaving like the typical American tourist in a foreign land; trying not to stare at buggies, funny haircuts and beards, unusual clothing, ...but there were some moments. Dammit, what do you expect from us? We are tourists in a RV! Anyway, plenty of the kids back home also have funny haircuts and wear unusual clothing. Right?

We had a nice time at Heini's Place, a cheese and goodie factory. Not only was it air conditioned but you could eat all the samples you wished from over 30 kinds of cheese and 12 kinds of fudge. After eating enough to count for lunch and buying even more to take with us, we went on a short tour led by an elderly Amish gentleman who had worked there for many years. "When I was a young man...." He gave us the history of Heini's and then a tour of the facility where they were not making cheese at that particular time. A notable fact is that they only buy milk from farmers who milk their cows by hand. Their cheeses taste so good because they use milk from happy, stress free cows. He told a very funny story about a farmer with a bad batch of butter....

    As the story goes, a local farmer would save up the cream from his milk cows each week to make his own household butter and also enough to sell locally for additional income.
   One time, when he began to make the butter, he discovered that a rat had fallen into the cream, drowned and settled to the bottom sometime during the week. He didn't want to lose a whole weeks worth of income so, discarding the rat, he went ahead and made his butter and brought the entire batch to the local store to sell.
   He thought to exchange his households portion for fresh store butter and proposed this to the store owner. "That seems strange to me." said the merchant. "Why would you want to trade equal amounts of your good butter for some other?"
   "I cannot lie to you." the farmer replied, "A rat died in the cream but I'm sure that it tastes alright and perhaps we can keep this little incident a secret between us. I will take a smaller amount in exchange and you can sell the rest for profit. Besides, what people don't know won't hurt them."
   "That is certainly true." replied the merchant and accepted the farmer's butter. Taking it to the back of the store, the merchant soon returned with the farmer's very own butter, now reshaped and neatly packaged in store wrapping paper.
   "Here you go." said the merchant to the farmer, handing him the repackaged rat butter. "As you say, what people don't know won't hurt them." And each gave a knowing wink to the other.

A stop at the Mennonite and Amish Heritage Center gave us a greater understanding of their beliefs and culture. They had an excellent video presentation and I appreciated the chance to learn about them without feeling like a voyeur or observer as they go about their lives in their communities. Their farms are simple and beautiful, they only farm the amount of land that they can work themselves with simple tools and horses. They raise enough to feed their families and sell locally. Many use their crafts, carpentry skills, and cooking skills to augment family incomes. They are not entirely off the grid but using electricity requires permission from the bishop. For instance, its OK to use battery powered tools where the batteries are charged by a generator but they cannot use the generator or an engine directly. We watched a video about the typical barn raisings that they do on occasion. With the foundation laid and the materials organized, 3-400 men can raise a large post and beam barn by lunchtime (starting before dawn). It was an amazing thing to watch, with just a few men in charge they have everyone working like bees in a hive, each one knowing the task and having the skill to do it efficiently and as a team.

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The Amish wish for a slower paced life with an emphasis on family and community, and an independence from the outside world (hence the buggies, self insurance, small schools, home churches and a very tight knit community). A typical farm may house four generations of the family – each person fulfilling their own important role in support of the others. They believe in non-conformity to the larger society but extreme conformity in their own community. I am sure there are what we would consider hardships in their daily lives, but it also seems like a very successful model for a sustainable future. I loved the well tended farms, bountiful fields and beautiful horses and buggies that we saw, they certainly are skilled farmers and know how to build elegant and useful equipment. Everyone we spoke with was very friendly and polite, and even as we drove the backroads through the rich and green farmland most of those who looked our way would typically smile and wave to us.

We had an early dinner at an Amish styled restaurant (excellent food) before heading out to our boon-docking  destination for the night.  A long hot, sticky drive, slowed by construction and detours eventually brought us to David & Sarah's beautiful home south of Pittsburg about 9:30 that evening. We plugged into their electricity and used our air conditioning for the first time. It is noisier than the quiet we are used to but it worked well enough for us to sleep thru the heat. It would've worked better if it also wasn't so danged humid.

Sarah, David and their three sons Jonah, Levi and Abraham live on a lovely acreage surrounded by woods. David has worked really hard to make the place a little boy wonderland: big play scape, lawns, a pond, dirt bike trail, fire pit, climbing wall, trampoline. and swings. Sarah and David are both pilots in the National Guard, so they have an interesting schedule with deployments and local work. They somehow fit in RVing, climbing, canoeing, backpacking and biking. David is obviously very skilled at carpentry and any kind of project. Thayer was having an extreme bout of shop envy while we toured the garage and David's shop area. We enjoyed our short visit with them.

With a day of driving ahead of us we cranked up the air conditioning and got on the freeway, heading for Erie, PA on our way to Niagara Falls, Ontario. We took a break midday to stop in Erie at Presque Island SP for some biking and swimming. Again we were delighted by the great bike paths and beautiful beaches of yet another park. We went for a swim though the waters didn't seem quite as clear and inviting as other Great Lakes we have visited. We were pretty desperate for some kind of cool. We also got to see a couple of tall ships sailing by the peninsula which always makes it a good day for us. Then onward to Niagara to a hospitable boondocker site just a few miles north of the falls. Again, we were thankful for a plug-in for the air conditioning. The white noise also drowned out the big thunderstorm that rolled through. It is finally cooler this morning and temperatures are expected to plummet in the next few days to typical or even lower fall temps. We'll be happier when it happens.