Campshaws Internationale

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? The summer has passed, with little camping for the Campshaws. But, it’s September, one of our favorite times of the year to head out. So, you’re going to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly in Campshaws Internationale. Yep, the Campsh@ck is in Canada – home of fabulous Provincial Parks, poutine, a beautiful capital city, and lots of other treats

To get to Canada, we started our journey in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, specifically Brimley State Park. Although it stormed, or threatened to every day, we still managed to do some typical UP stuff – eat smoked fish, watch a freighter pass through the Soo Locks, and quaff a beer or two. There’s lots of good cycling here, and many great views.

That’s in spite of being cheek to jowl with hundreds of other campers. I’m sorry to say that the more I camp in Michigan, the more I dislike our State Parks. The goal here seems to be maximim density, minimum genuine camping experience. It just isn’t good.

But the best, most interesting thing about being at Brimley at that time happened late at night on our second night in camp. John had gone in for the night, and I was feeding the campfire while trying to finish a book. It was overcast, and very dark in the campground as my fire faded away to embers near midnight. I looked up into the trees behind our site, and it was as if someone has strung hundreds of fuzzy, hazy green lights in the trees. Randomly. As far as I could tell, it was only the trees behind our campsite. I woke John, and made him come out to see this. When we shined a flashlight into the trees, the green lights vanished. Know what this is? Foxfire! It was amazing. I don’t have the ability on my camera to take a time exposure, so this is the best I could capture. There were three exceptionally bright spots low to the ground. I realize its not too impressive, but I wish that you all could actually have been there to see this. Makes me smile to think about it more than a week later. It looked like fairies had strung Christmas lights. It was such a disappointment not to be able to get a representative photo.

Of course, the next night I was all geared up to explore this further. I decided to find a few spots which were readily accessible, and put a twist tie around that branch, so that I could examine it in the daylight. Oh yeah, I had my Junior Scientist cap on! Sadly, we didn’t see them again, despite my staying up into the wee hours of the morning, waiting for it to happen. But, being able to experience it one time was thrilling.

If you never have the chance to travel Queen’s Highway 17 from Ste Sainte Marie to Ottawa, just do it. What a fantastically beautiful roadway. Rolling hills, waterways, wildflowers, AMD mosses/lichens of every color (green) imaginable pass by at speeds of 40-60mph. John drove, while I was on High Alert for moose along the roadside. It’s the kind of scenery where one would actually expect to see a few casual moose lolling about in the ponds. Roadside picnic areas are everywhere.

For the three days it took us to wander toward Ottawa, we loved every mile.

Our first night was spent at Chutes Provincial Park. Since our travel time was relatively short, we had time to enjoy a five mile hike along the old logging river. It was named Chutes, because the loggers actually had to build wooden chutes to get the logs down the twisting river – the twists and turns were too sharp to force the logs through the bends. This was the perfect way to begin our Canadian adventure.

Day 2 took us to Samuel Champlain Provincial Park. Have I mentioned that it has barely stopped raining since we left home at week ago? We arrived in a deluge, and stayed inside, and out of the muck as much as we could. This may be a lovely Park, but that determination will have to be made on a future visit. It was miserable.

On to Ottawa! If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that we are fans of visiting US state capitals, and exploring the amazing government buildings and public areas . Ottawa would be our first foreign Capitol, and it did not disappoint. Cantley Camping was our home for a couple of nights, and it was a good choice, despite being a few miles out of from town. We had an easy commute to the local bus station, and a great experience with public transportation into town. We got dropped off at Parliament Hill, the government hub. Wow!

Many of the buildings were undergoing exterior cleaning, but the disruption was minimal. We toured the Parliament, which was reconstructed after a fire destroyed everything but the library 100 years ago. Most of the areas were difficult to photograph with my phone camera, so I didn’t even try. But, the library, (not touched by the fire because iron doors separated it from the rest of Parliament), was jaw-dropping.

My apologies to Queen Victoria for cutting off her head. Queen Victoria was the Monarch who selected Ottawa to be the capital of Canada. Her official portrait displayed in Parliament is one that she disliked, because she felt that it made her left arm appear deformed. But, since she never actually visited Canada, it had hung with all the other Kings/Queen’s portraits there.

An amazing feature in Ottawa was the Rideau Waterway. A series of huge locks in Ottawa make the passage from Kingston to Ottawa possible. It’s over 125 miles long, constructed in 1832.

Ottawa is beautiful city, which we surely didn’t explore in just two days. I’ve already got places to visit mapped out for our next trip.

Getting to Montreal was a challenge. Endless road construction and detours, combined with our lack of ability to speak French made it a tense trip to Camping Amerique. Don’t be fooled by the greenery in the photos – these are seasonal camping sites. We were assigned a few square feet in a gravel parking lot, vitually on top of our neighbors. It was bad.

One of the main reasons we went to Montreal at this time was to see the Grand Prix (pro cycling race). Held on a hilly 7k circuit in the central city, it was exciting to watch. We had front row seats from every vantage point. These are Tier 2 pro cyclists – some will probably make it to the top tier of Tour de France racing. But these are top pro teams, and we had a blast watching them.

Our hearts were with the Cannondale team, which didn’t place well, but it was a blast, anyway. This is a whole level of cycling we hadn’t experienced. These are amazing athletes.

I had watched a video of two guys slurping noodles in Montreal Chinatown, and marked two restaurants I’d like to visit, so we found ourselves at Maxim. John is an excellent slurper, I’m less so. This simple, inexpensive food was probably the best we’ve had in a long time.

Omg, that was tasty! We each had a noodle bowl, and shared a scallion pancake. I want to make noodles like this guy!

We spent time just wandering around, enjoying the sights of a big city. Once again (and we knew in advance), we didn’t budget enough time to really explore. The Basilica Notre Dame was awe-inspiring. We were a bit chagrined to realize (upon exiting), that we had entered unofficially from a side street, and had not paid the admittance fee. Oops.

(I apologize for the unedited photos). We have had little or no internet since we left home, and I’ve often uploaded photos when we found a bit of WiFi). Using the WordPress app instead of my laptop is cumbersome for me, so things might look a bit haphazard.

We’re back in the States now for two weeks, then heading to Quebec City, and on to the Bay of Fundy. Not sure if we’re going to go to PEI and Nova Scotia, or leave that for another trip. Perhaps part of that decision will be weather-driven. We are soggy and a bit mildewed around the edges after endless day nof rain. We get a snippet of sunshine, followed by a deluge.

Camping is more fun in good weather than bad. That’s Rule #1.

More to follow…

Wild and Woolly

There’s an old saying in Michigan (probably in every other state, as well) that goes something like this….”If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes – it’ll change.” So true!

The weather news had been full of high wind warnings for the latter portion of the week. So, I bustled around in the early days (warm, bright, and sunny) getting yard work done. November has been a spectacular month weather-wise, with many days where it was warm enough to enjoy being outside without a jacket. Rare, indeed. But that all came to a screeching halt on Thursday when West Michigan got walloped with cold and wind.

So, what do we do when it gets windy like this? Head to Lake Michigan to watch the action, of course. Wind gusts of up to 40mph for a couple of days had the Lake whipped up like I’ve not seen in years.20151113_132506 How windy was it? So windy that the current in the channel was actually running backward – IN from the Lake, instead of OUT to the Lake. Incredible.20151113_132312So, I braced myself as well as I could and snapped a few photos. The beach was full of folks with camera with huge lenses – there have been lots of terrific photos posted on Facebook this week. 20151113_131415We hung around for awhile, and left when it started to sleet. It felt like the wind was driving the ice pellets right into my face. Nasty!

Here’s the best of the photos I took. The lighthouse at the end of the pier stands 36 feet high – and waves were smashing up over the top.  What a crazy Michigan day.20151113_130746There was so much sand blowing around that the City was running front end loaders up and down the street, plowing sand.20151113_133222For those of you who have never camped in a Michigan State Park, this is what passes for a campground along the Lake Michigan lakeshore. I know, it looks like a parking lot – incredible that the competition for these spaces is intense in the summer. We met some folks from Indiana who mentioned that they were so close to their neighbors that they were unable to put out their slide. We don’t camp here.20151113_132622And, a few more videos, just to top things off. As I write this, it’s beautiful and sunny. Temps back up in the low 60s.  For now, I’ll take that.

Brighton, Birds, Bats, and Bikes

Ka-WAAUK!  KA-WAAUK!!!!  WAAUK!

That’s the sound I’ll associate most with our most recent camping expedition to Brighton Recreation Area (MI).

Was it the sound of the Detroit Tigers bats pounding the LA Angels? Hardly.

Perhaps the sound of squeeky doors opening in the chilly, overcast air? Nope.

It’s the sound of all the Sandhill Cranes who make their home around Bishop Lake. Many were bold enough to stroll right through the campground in the morning hours. Others flew far overhead, where we never could see them through the ever-present dark clouds. But, there were few times during our three days there where we didn’t hear them. No, I never did get any photos. My best chance was one early morning as I strolled across the campground to the restrooms. Three Sandhills were prancing around an empty campsite. There was lots of wing flapping and hopping going on, as they stretched their early morning bodies. Naturally, my camera was back in the Fireball – who takes their camera to the bathroom, anyway? Besides, you can find superb photos of cranes at some of my birder blogger buddies Quietsolopursuits and LiveLaughRV. (Thanks to Ingrid at Live Laugh, a trip to the International Crane Foundation in WI is on the travel wish list for 2016.)

Since this was our first trip to Brighton, we weren’t familiar with the park. Knowing what we now do, we would opt to camp in the rustic section of the park (pit toilet/no electric) instead of the improved campground, where all sites have electric service. Although we had a pretty good site, overall it’s pretty cramped. The rustic sites were huge.wpid-20150826_124806.jpgWe loved the mountain bike trails, but did stress ourselves out a bit by riding pretty much beyond our technical capabilities. But, we’ll probably never get any better at this if we don’t stretch our comfort zone(s). John’s not so eager to do this – I am really wanting to be a more proficient mountain bike rider. Protruding tree roots and dropoffs caused several anxious moments along the ride for all of us – sister Lynn and brother-in-law Jerry were along for the trip, and for the ride.20150826_12280020150826_122852In additional to mountain bike trails, there are hiking and equestrian trails throughout the Park, which is spread out over several small lakes. 20150825_16104420150828_09160320150828_090926wpid-20150828_093426.jpg20150828_093704On one hike around the lake, we discovered these enormous weeping willow stumps. I had no idea that willows could be so massive. Wow. This stump was easily 4-5 feet across.20150825_155130My love affair with Detroit Tiger baseball is going through a rough spot – it’s hard to love a team that just can’t seem to put together two wins in a row.  We got beat 2-0 on the day we went to the game. But, the loss was tempered by the fact that we had the best seats I’ve ever had for a ballgame. Being close to the field is amazing.20150827_120705 There were 30K+ people at the game, but we just couldn’t cheer/stomp any runs across the plate. Last place sucks! Dont want to be a fair weather fan, but….

Naturally, now that we’re home, the sun has decided to peek out.  First sunshine we’ve seen in a week – honestly.  Lots of cleaning, organizing and planning to do.  The East Coast is beckoning. We’ll be some of the lucky folks for whom camping season really begins in September, vs those for whom the season is ending.

Camping: Good, Bad, and Weird

It was a mixed bag for our first lengthy camping outing of the summer.  Without any really clever way to organize things, I’ll just take things as they came.

Three nights of driveway camping in one of the most scenic spots in NW Michigan started us off on the right foot. My friend Deb rented a cottage near Torch Lake, and when she offered us a spot in her driveway there, we jumped at the chance.wpid-20150811_085029.jpg Torch Lake = pontoon boats, campfires, great food, and best friends.wpid-20150813_115820.jpg This was during the time of the Perseid meteor shower, so we thought there would be great stargazing from the the cottage shore. Well, almost.

Wednesday was the grand finale as far as the meteor showers were concerned, and we were primed and ready.  All seven of us (plus four dogs) were stretched out in lounging lawn chairs, waiting for total darkness to envelop us, and for the big show to begin.  As stars began to pop, we also noticed that clouds were rolling in. Is that thunder? Jezzy’s behavior said that, yes, indeed, it was. We stalled as long as we could, hoping that we’d catch a few meteor sightings before the rain. All of the sudden, a spiderweb of lightening cracked across the sky and lit everything up. We scattered! Holy cow! What a storm. Thunder and lightening like I haven’t seen in years. Almost worth missing the big sky show for.

We headed off Thursday morning for Lake Michigan Recreation Area, our favorite campground in the state, in preparation for the Night Shift.  This was to be the 3rd Edition of the Night Shift, an overnight 100+ mile bicycle ride over gravel roads, trails, and seasonal two-track roads in W. Michigan. We’re not silly enough to actually ride – but we love being crew for this wacky bunch – just five riders this year. To sum up the night, in brief…..

It was a dark and stormy night. Big time. Lots of laughs.  Lost riders. A flat tire (not our truck – the other one) at 4:30am in the middle of nowhere. Weird conversations with curious locals. Sunrise and sloppy joes.wpid-20150815_070617.jpg Coffee galore. Near miss with a whitetail. FINALLY! Into camp at 9:45am – 13hours, 45minutes after rollout.wpid-20150814_202817.jpg Big breakfast. Zzzzz. This sounds like a crazy ordeal, and it is. But, oh so fun.

A day later, everyone has departed.  We’ve got six days of camping left, and a few considerable issues with which to deal.

First of all, this is a rustic campground – no electric, scattered water pumps throughout, pit toilets.  What we love about this campground are the huge shady sites.  Unfortunately, ours is so shaded that our solar panels are totally ineffective. After the first day, we know that we have to shut off our refrigeration to preserve our battery power. Not the worst thing, but inconvenient.

Worse than this is the fact that we’ve contaminated our fresh water supply with hideous, sulfur-smelling water from the outside faucet at the Torch Lake cottage. We now have no shower, nor any water supply for the camper, other than the one-gallon jugs we fill from the pump. Ugh. When was the last time you went a week without a shower? Horrible, horrible smelling water.

But, as usual, Jezzy provides us with comic relief.  We had an extended conversation with a confused gentleman who insisted that Jezzy was probably part Mastiff. Do you see the resemblance? No? (random mastiff on left/Jezzy on right). Neither do we!https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/15/Neapolitan_Mastiff_Male_Head.JPGwpid-20140917_110122.jpg

On the bright side, hiking and biking are great – apart from two rainy days. Tent camping friends Cal and Dot joined us for two days and shared laughs, food, and fire. wpid-20150820_185335.jpgLake Michigan is approachable for swimming.  Beautiful azure waters and decent temperatures.wpid-20150820_120458.jpgwpid-20150814_091813.jpg Such a bonus, since it’s our bathtub!

Other good stuff? Folks camping next to us offered us the rest of their firewood for $20, and delivered it! A huge stack! wpid-20150814_085140.jpg We had lots of reading time – amazing what you can do when there’s no internet to distract you (no phone signal, either!) Few bugs. Other than the rain, it was perfect camping weather.

I’ll quit while I’m ahead after showing a few more photos.  Note to self: polish blog skills!

I took a few photos of UFOs (Unidentified Fungal Objects).  Always a curiousity.wpid-20150816_162315.jpgwpid-20150819_133636.jpgwpid-20150819_130108.jpgI really liked the contrast of these two growing side by side.wpid-20150819_103655.jpgI threw away this Jagermeister cap I found after using it for size comparison.wpid-20150819_124344.jpgMore beach shots….wpid-20150814_095203.jpgwpid-20150814_095807.jpgwpid-20150822_142555.jpgJezzy found this mermaid mummy on the beach on a very windy afternoon.wpid-20150818_133541.jpgWe resupplied in nearby Ludington one afternoon, and stopped for a beer at Jamestown Brewing.  Really liked this kid trying to ride the bike rack.  His dad was having a fit!

One lone cardinal flower was growing along the roadside.wpid-20150816_153636.jpgAfter one day at home, we’ve fixed our water problem (bleach/flush/fill/flush/fill), resupplied and are ready to roll out again tomorrow for another three days at a new (to us) spot.

Rollin’ Again!

Long time, no read, eh?  It’s been a long homespell for us this summer, as we tackled projects long neglected.  Since returning from our last trip in early April, here’s the short list of what we’ve been up to.

John’s folks moved into an independent-living apartment in December.  All the stuff they didn’t take with them was part of a massive estate sale in April.wpid-20150417_075936.jpg Then, we got everything cleaned and shined, and the house is now on the market.  There’s an offer pending, and we’re hopeful that this time it will result in a sale.  Frank and Verna Crankshaw (John’s folks) also celebrated 70 years of marriage this summer.  Can you imagine?

There’s always lots of bike-related stuff for us in the early summer months.  I’m a volunteer for the Rapid Wheelmen 100 Grand Bicycle Tour, and the MSU Grand Fondo.  The New Belgium Clips Beer & Film Tour also comes to town in early summer.wpid-20150611_095228.jpg Love volunteering for these events, as I know what a PITA it can be to wrangle volunteers.  These events all give a big boost to our local cycling community, so it’s fun to give a bit.  Cycling is a big part of our lives (John and I met in the Rapid Wheelmen Bicycle Club).

John’s involved with the National 24 Hour Challenge, both on a Director level, and as crew chief for a variety of riders.  This year, he crewed for the top female rider (423 miles) and also for the woman who set a new record in the 70-74 year age catetory (298 miles).  Three or four of the other riders on his team set personal records.  It was a huge year for him and his team.

We finally got our back yard in shape by adding a new patio. Old back yard…..wpid-20150705_073124.jpg Wow – what an improvement. New back yard….wpid-20150711_191312.jpg Of course, the completion also meant that he could finally get a Big Green Egg grill.  Wish we would have done this years ago – our backyard dinners have been fantastic!  We loved our Weber charcoal grill, but John’s really at the top of his game with the Egg.

We bussed to a Detroit Tiger game. wpid-20150719_122556.jpg (the stands were full – this was early pre-game)  I’m a huge baseball fan, and the Tigers are breaking my heart (and spirit) this year.  They just suck!  Going to a game is still special, though.  Got tickets again later this month, and we’re hoping for better results, although it’s not too promising.  They are hard to love right now

Our clutter reduction program continues.  Spent the worst two days of my life having a garage sale.  Made a measly $200, but took about two truckloads of leftover stuff to Goodwill.  Good riddance!  The struggle to simplify took a big leap forward.

While John was camping/cycling with his guy friends, I had a girls’ weekend at a friend’s cottage.wpid-20150619_151000.jpg Visited an elk ranch!wpid-20150620_120431.jpgThese enormous antlers grow within a period of just a few months.  Impressive antlers like these begin to grow in late March, and this photo was taken in late June. These enormous bulls were docile enough to eat oats from our hands – but when the fuzzy coating begins to drop off the antlers and rutting season begins, it’s another story. The bulls become very aggressive, and playtime is over!

But, finally…..the Fireball is ready to roll again tomorrow.  We’re heading out for two weeks – first to driveway camp at a friend’s cottage for a few days, then on to our favorite campground at Nordhouse Dunes for 10 days..  The first weekend of the Nordhouse trip is tied in with the Night Shift – a wacky 100 mile nighttime road ride.  We’re the support/chuckwagon for this motley group, and it’s a blast.  After that, we’ll be home for a few days, then off to Brighton Recreation Area (on the east side of the state), camping, taking in another Tigers game, and visiting some long-lost relatives.  Both John and I have a bad Camping Jones right now – time to roll!

Hopefully, at the end of the month, roofers will finally come to put a new lid on Chez Crankshaw.  Ice buildup/backup for the last couple of years has damaged some of our interior walls, and we’re hoping that new roof + insulation will fix this.

All this is prep for a two-month trip to the mid-Atlantic states in September/October.  Can’t wait to visit Boston and Providence.  We’re trying to decide if we’re brave enough to camp near NYC to take in the sights for a week.  Our camp style is to hang outdoors and bike/hike.  Not sure if we’ve got the grit to brave the big city, but there’s so much I want to see.  We are still debating……stay tuned.