Time to go home. Four days in beautiful Upstate New York had come to an end and it was time to wind up the stabilizers and head north for home, with a quick detour to Waterloo to pick up the dog sitter and the dig sitee.
Packing up is fairly easily when it’s just two highly skilled (ahem!) campers, moving around in perfect harmony and with a common aim. We still missed our target time, but no one was counting anyway.
I had in mind that I didn’t want to go back on the Thruway and end up at the Lewiston international border crossing north of Buffalo, and the Satnav seemed to agree with me, plotting a route north west on I390 from Corning, then due west on NY20A to the south of Buffalo and the Peace Bridge to Canada.
It was quiet on the 390, and the wooded, steep sided valley made for a pleasant run. We though we were in for some more “Porpoising” at one point, but the concrete pavement soon gave way to asphalt, thank goodness. We came across some construction where the right lane (of two) was closed off. There seemed to be a crowd of construction workers milling around behind a concrete barrier, but what caught my eye initially was the two cop cars in the far distance with their lights going. I was already at the temporary speed limit of 55mph, good boy that I am, but I slacked off a bit anyway with thoughts of being chased down by Highway Patrol. Just as we approached the gaggle of workers, I noticed that one was holding a radar speed trap gun and clocking all the cars heading north. Ah, I thought, that’s why the cops are busy. I will make no comment about who was holding the radar trap, but it didn’t look like a cop.
We left the 390 and made our way into Mount Morris with its lovely, broad Main Street. You will of course know that Mount Morris was the birthplace and home of Francis Bellamy, author of the original Pledge of Allegiance. The town is rightly proud of its famous son and certainly lets the casual traveller know all about him.
From Mount Morris we swung west on NY20A, a well paved country road that cut directly through some verdant agricultural scenery. It was all very lovely but I don’t think I was prepared, though, for the switchback ride the 20A was going give us. It started quite up and down, and just became worse. I like to think I know how to handle a heavy trailer on the steep downgrades and I was gearing and slowing down before beginning my many descents, taking it as easy as I could on the brakes, and feeling quite pleased with myself. On the drop down into Warsaw, the signs directed cars with trailers into a side loop and had us stop at a big sign. The sign showed that the steep hill down had a very sharp right bend at the bottom, and narrow bridge to go under. Great information and, better still, it had forced us to stop and start the remaining part of the descent at 0mph. Very clever. As it turned out it wasn’t quite that scary, but if you’d not knocked off your speed and understeered on the bend then things could have become a wee bit sticky.
Up and down the 20A went, often with sharp bends on the hills. By the time we reached Wales Center and another perilous, twisty downgrade, the brakes on the Toadmobile were complaining. I was hoping it wasn’t warped rotors, which it turned out not to be, because the they were definitely upset about the abuse I was meting out to them.
Still, onwards we went and were soon cruising between Lake Erie and south Buffalo. The Peace Bridge, which links New York with Ontario, was another narrow structure but also another that afforded great views; The Niagara River to the right and Lake Erie to the left. Great bridges, but terribly narrow.
Getting back into Canada was no problem and only held us up for a few minutes, so it wasn’t long before were barrelling along the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) past Niagara Falls and onto Hamilton. Just crossing the border showed a marked change in the habits of the drivers, though. Where in New York people seemed OK with driving to the speed limit (maybe because it’s enforced?), on the QEW it was every man or woman for themselves. Twice people used an offramp to overtake us on the right then swoop in front of us to go back to the lane they’d started in. It’s not like we were dawdling, either, on or just above the limit. But I’d forgotten, though, that speed limits in Ontario are only suggestions.
Some of the construction work on the QEW was scary, too with semi-trucks barrelling past us with just a foot or two to spare where the lanes were narrow. It pays not to observe too closely sometimes, and I think the DW was blissfully ignorant of the lack space between other vehicles and us, all moving at 100Km/hr or more.
Despite all that, we arrived in Waterloo to a delirious dog and a student who wanted to go home for a couple of weeks.
The run from Waterloo to London was OK, but I swerved the Highway construction at Iona and went on the 402 to Longwoods Road, then took the slow road home. I’d held off buying gas because I wanted to see how far we could get, before realising that there’s no gas station on Longwoods Road until Thamesville, about 60Km. Gulp!
Always one to hang onto a worry, I took it easy and arrived in Thamesville with gas to spare, so I pushed onto Chatham. It was a close-run thing, but we made it; the poor old Toadmobile was running on fumes when we finally arrived home.
So, there it is. A round trip of 1548 Kms (962 Miles) towing the trailer. I didn’t tally up the fuel, but we averaged 20 Litres/100Km (12 M/US Gal); we’ve done better but most of the driving was at 60mph or more; the one windy day really pulled down the figures. It’s quite hard work dragging an Airstream around, but it’s really worth the effort when you stop and enjoy some different parts of the world.
No plans for future travel, dear readers, so you can have a rest from my blogging now!
Here are a few personal thoughts about the Finger Lakes, Watkins Glen KOA campground and camping this side of the border.
The campground here is pretty busy, as you’d expect in August, especially as we’ve stayed over a weekend. There are golf carts to rent because it’s a long and narrow patch of land with all the exciting amenities at the southern end; I guess if you have a family to move around then it’s a fun alternative to taking your car from one end of the site to the other. It does take a bit of getting used to as the cavalcade of carts seemingly goes on all day and most of the night!
No one on this campground is towing their trailer with anything other than a big and noisy pickup truck. We noticed that driving down here, too; our US cousins really like a great big FO truck for their travel trailers. Each to their own, and we’ve not received any enquiries about our modest tow equipment, so fair play to all. Some of our neighbours like their trucks so much, though, that they like to leave them running, most likely to keep the AC working, but throbbing engines do not a peaceful holiday make. That said, next time I get some grief from an American about our tow vehicle, I will better understand that here, a big FO truck is your starting point and that they will never understand, or have a desire to understand, the qualities of any other kind of tow vehicle. My arguments will be far better informed from now on.
Those here not towing a trailer are housed in some mighty Class A motorhomes, another feature of camping this side of the border. These things are 45’ long, have three axles, are 8’6” wide and quite possibly 15’ high; highway coaches really. They are usually upwards of $250,000 to buy, some going for double or even triple that, and are seriously impressive. Most are towing cars, sometimes using a tow bar arrangement, or sometimes housed in a cargo trailer complete with its own air conditioning unit. If you have the money, you can buy one of these monsters and drive it right off the lot onto a public road on your regular car licence, without any training, all because it’s privately owned. Mind you, if you’ve paid half-a-million bucks for one, I’m guessing you’re going to drive it carefully. Yes, I’m probably just jealous, but I think I have better things to spend that kind of money on, even if I actually had that kind of money.
The Finger Lakes Region is really beautiful and, if you go slightly south of the lakes, the hills get higher, steeper and more wooded. We’ve been to Corning a couple of times, and through the hills to Ithaca, and the scenery is just wonderful. It’s like a smaller, more compact version of the Appalachians which shouldn’t really be a shock because it’s just on the western edge of that range. Watkins Glen is really the only place that’s been busy, but it’s a small town with a big road through the middle of it and is where all the Race fans end up staying when they’re not camping, so it’s going to be a hive of activity. Ithaca wasn’t as busy and is a place that we really like. The Satnav took us through some delightful tree-lined streets of neat and tidy weatherboard houses and we explored the downtown Commons, free of any traffic, but also a bit free of people; if you can’t drive right to it, then places here and in Canada do tend to lack foot traffic and die, which is sad. Ithaca is trying hard to keep its downtown core going and I hope that the City prevails.
We visited the Corning Glass Museum, which was a real treat. Corning is where the glass Corelle dinner sets are made and, and on the back of their glass heritage, Corning the company has setup this great museum. While it wasn’t cheap to get in, it was well worth the discounted price we paid (thank you CAA), and we could go back for a second day on the original ticket. Some of the contemporary glass art was amazing, and the Glass Through the Ages exhibition was complete and delightful. A tiring but excellent Sunday afternoon.
We did try eating out on Sunday night but, as the only place open was seriously packed with other people looking to dine out, we ended up with take out Pizza. Well, we are on our holidays.
We opted for a lazy day in on Monday but ventured into Watkins Glen to get some gasoline and to try out the vegan ice cream at the Great Escape Ice Cream Parlor. I decided on a scenic route so we dived down into the Catherine Valley before heading north again to Watkins Glen via Montour Falls. Catherine valley was beautiful, with a winding road following the creek, all hemmed in with steep, tree-covered hills.
I thought we might visit Clute Park to sample the southern end of Lake Seneca, so took a left out of Montour Falls, and another left that took us along the edge of Catherine Creek Wildlife Management Area. Well, on the map it looked like a regular road, but in reality, it was a narrow track, built from rough stone and sand; I almost turned back, but it was quite pretty with the marshland on one side and limestone cliffs on the other. DW thought we were going to end up in the wilderness and die through a lack of cell phone signal and a car terminally damaged by the rough road. She was thinking “Deliverance” and listening for the sound of banjos. Indeed, there a few dodgy looking shacks in the woods, but thankfully the map was good, and we emerged just a few hundred yards from the park, safe from our sojourn into the badlands.
Clute Park was really only a patch of grass and a small beach at the lakes’ end. It was nice enough but had clearly seen better days. In the parking lot, every other space was reserved for blue badge holders; that’s a lot of disabled folks descending on this small park. I wondered if they’d made a few too many signs and just wanted to do something useful with them. Hmmmm.
Gasoline purchased, we tried the ice cream shop. DW pronounced herself happy with her peanut butter chocolate ice cream made from almond milk, and I enjoyed the vanilla not made from almond milk. We both ordered the smallest size but they were still enormous; goodness knows what the large size was like. Portion sizes are in a league of their own in the US.
So, back at base we made some preparations for Tuesday, our travelling day. Thinking ahead; it kind of makes us look efficient!
Friday is travelling day, so we were up with the lark, sort of, so we could pack up and leave for the second campground on our Lake Ontario tour. I say up with the lark, but in our case it was a very sluggish lark who really didn’t want to get out of bed.
Packing up with just us two old fogeys is really quite easy, and we were done within 30 minutes, excluding dumping the poop tank. We use something called a Sewer solution when we have full hookups at a campground. It’s a water powered macerator that has the ability to drain the tanks even if the sewer connection in the ground is higher than the outlet valve on the trailer, as it often is with the low-slung Airstream. It can also flush out the tanks, which is useful, but the process is slow. It beats the pants off the old stink slinky, though, so it can take as long as it wants.
Our Friday run included crossing an international border, namely from Canada into the US. Said border can be problematical, especially in recent times, and also when towing a trailer, so I prepared well. Camping reservations, passports, licence plate details, car and trailer ownership and insurance, plus a mental note of any food we had on board and stuff that qualified as duty-free. Also, I was using my Canadian passport for the first time.
Physically it was an interesting crossing because it used a pair of narrow suspension bridges to link a couple of islands in the St. Lawrence to both the Canadian and the US side of the St Lawrence. It cost us $9 for the privilege but the views were something else. Mind you, meeting a huge truck coming the other way made sure that I didn’t linger on the panorama too long.
At the actual border, the line up wasn’t too long, and the young Border Protection Officer wasn’t too inquisitive. Why were we crossing? What booze and ciggies did we have? That was it, thankfully. I’ve heard some horror stories about crossing into the US but today it was all good.
We were then heading south on the I81 to Syracuse, before a right turn on to the westbound NY Thruway. It was sunny and warm, but as we picked up speed, I could feel Towed Haul moving us about a bit which can be a wee bit worrisome. It wasn’t anything to do with the car or the hitch, though, it was just really windy, and coming right across us from the west. The poor old Toadmobile was working hard, too, with a really atrocious gas mileage being recorded. We’ve driven into headwinds before and seen the gas gauge plummet, but today we had the side buffeting as well as the awful gas mileage. It wasn’t that the trailer was swinging on the hitch, either, it was the whole combination moving as one. It took a few minutes to get used to things and fortunately apart from the gas guzzling, it was an uneventful run south to Syracuse.
At the Thruway we collected our toll ticket (old technology, where are the cameras?) and started west. We came across a section of concrete paved road with a 55mph limit on it because of construction. At that lower speed we discovered the dreaded “porpoising”, where the car and trailer get out of suspension synch thanks to the spacing between the concrete seams in the road. We were literally bouncing down the road! Where there was a gap in the construction work where we could speed up and the bouncing eased off, but back another 55mph zone and we were bouncing again. Yes, I know, a $2000 Hensley Hitch stops that, but in eight years it’s the first time we’ve experienced that problem, so I think the Hensley can wait. Thankfully we came to some regular black asphalt and we could put our fillings back in.
When we left the Thruway, we were only charged for the car and not the trailer as well, so the toll was less than $4; hardly worth collecting in my opinion. We motored south, through the pretty town of Geneva, then along the entire 36-mile length of Seneca Lake. The road took us up onto the eastern slopes of the surrounding hills among the huge number of vineyards and offered some spectacular views of the lake and the hills beyond.
Eventually we rolled into the town of Watkins Glen, through it and then up the steep hill out of the town and eventually to the campground, nestled in a steep-sided valley. It being Friday, there was a huge line up of trailers checking in, so we took our place at the back of the queue. I went to the office to register (very well organised registration, chaps!), and when I came back all the other trailers had gone. Mrs. M was about to drive up to meet me and to encourage other new arrivals not to line up behind us as they were waiting out on the road by then.
We have a pull through site for a change, with a concrete patio, but I still managed to screw up the parking, ending up backing anyway so I could get the wheels of the trailer off the patio. In a strangely masochistic way, I think I must enjoy backing up. During my parking shenanigans, Mrs. M conspired to fall backwards over the fire ring and collected nasty grazes and bruises on both legs. Ouch!
The campground is full, and with the Watkins Glen Raceway just down the road (I can hear the cars on the circuit as I write this), there are a lot of race fans here, which is only to be expected. There was some loud music playing somewhere when we arrived, but I think the KOA folks were on to that because it soon stopped. As is normal with commercial campgrounds, we’re packed quite tightly here, but we have all mod cons, including cable TV if we chose to avail ourselves of it, which we won’t.
Supplies were needed as it’s difficult to transport any kind of food across the border, so it was off to Corning (of Corning Glass fame) and a branch of that famous Upstate New York grocery store, Wegman’s. We didn’t need much, but it was good to mooch around to see what was on offer. Grocery stores in NY, unlike their Ontario counterparts, sell booze. They don’t sell local wine because they leave that to the many local wineries, but they do sell beer and they sell an awful lot of it. There were six aisles of American craft beer and I could have spent many long hours in there choosing. I didn’t have hours though, long or otherwise, so I selected a 6-pack of the Corning brewery Iron Flamingo’s best IPA. I can happily report that it is a fine (and strong) brew.
Another feature of Wegman’s is their deli, where you can pick up some great hot and cold meals to take away. It’s sold by weight, so you have to go easy on the mashed potato, but Mrs. M and I had a great take out for our supper and we didn’t really look to see how much it all cost; shame on us.
Back at camp, replete and working hard to clear fridge of alcohol, we sat through a DVD before turning in. The campground was quiet but, unusually, it is lit by streetlights. Not a problem but so rare for it not to be pitch black when we go to bed.
We have three days to explore the area, but we were too tired to formulate any concrete plans. I wonder where Saturday will find us?
I thought I’d save you the pain of having to read through detailed accounts of our movements in Ontario’s 1000 Island Region by just listing out some things we did – essentially my back to school essay “what we did on our holidays”.
On Tuesday, we went to Kingston, primarily for a tour of the old Kingston Penitentiary. Closed in 2013, it still looked like it was in use, at least from the outside. We had tickets for 5pm and had a bit of time to kill so had a quick mooch around town. Aside from spending a small fortune in the glass gallery, we didn’t do too much other than discover that parking is in short supply and is very expensive. Expensive is a relative term; parking in Chatham is mostly free, so anything seems expensive to us.
Back at the prison, we had a 90-minute tour with a young and very enthusiastic guide who had the multiple skills of holding open doors, walking backwards and speaking at the same time, and keeping the large group moving. We also met some former Correctional Officers, hauled back in to tell some stories. From “Anyway” Verne to “Don’t Look at the Graffiti” Joan, they were great to listen to. The jail itself as much as it had been, bar the inmates of course, and was a really interesting place to visit. If you’re ever in Kingston, Ontario I can recommend it.
Also recommended is the Penitentiary Museum, across the road in the Warden’s House. The guide and the COs spoke about it, so on Wednesday we paid a visit. Great old house and some great old history.
Kingston is also quite a lively place for touristy stuff like boat trips and castles, Fort Henry being the biggest. It also boasts some great restaurants, and it was to Atomica that we repaired for an early evening meal; great vegan (and non-vegan) options, and cocktails if that floats your boat. there were plenty of other places to choose from in town, too.
We had a monster ice cream, vegan for the missus, from Mio Gelato and spent a little while around the old station; very nice on a not-so-sunny day. Kingston has a lot of buildings like those in Montreal and Quebec City; Steep pitched, stone roofed and very solid. If you’ve ever been to Boulogne Old Town in France, you’ll know what I mean. Kingston will get another visit from us, I think.
On Thursday it was Ottawa’s turn. A 90-minute run northward had us in the Nation’s Capital. My inability to follow the clear and concise instructions from the Satnav meant that we had a little detour around the Rideau Canal and Elgin Street, but we eventually washed up on Main Street at a vegetarian and vegan restaurant called the Green Door. Wow, was it ever popular? It’s a buffet and you pay by weight, so people tend not to take what they won’t eat. Mr. Picky Eater found plenty of good grub while Mrs. Vegan was in seventh heaven, especially with the desserts. Two puddings MD? We might have dawdled there a while longer only the line at the front of the place was growing and we felt we shouldn’t hog our table. As I said, it’s very popular.
Then it was over to the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, across the river and in the Province of Quebec, ooh la la. There are loads of museums in and around Ottawa, but we went for this one because it covered a broad spectrum of interest. It’s in a really funky building down by the river which looks across to Parliament Hill; very inspiring for us Canadians. The museum is huge, so we were selective about what we saw, but Brian at the ticket office helped us there and gave us a suggested route. There’s only so much you can take in at a place like that, but it’s another thing for the list of recommendations.
Heading home we caught a short but violent storm, ran into the Ottawa rush hour and experienced some crazy Quebec taxi drivers and more than a few odd goings on with Ottawan drivers. Still, we had enough time to catch the Chip Truck in Gananoque before it closed, so a great day was rounded off with some A La Carte Fries. Brilliant!
Tomorrow we travel, this time south of the border. No, not Mexico, but Upstate New York. Look out for the travel blog.
This year’s big trip and we’re off to Canada’s 1000 Island area on the St Lawrence River, then over said river and into New York to visit the Finger Lakes region. Those of you with a geographical bent will say “goodness, that’s a circuit of Lake Ontario”, and you’d be right.
Us being us, we have the neurotic hound to deal with first. As she’s getting seriously agitated, we’re loading up Toad Haul and what she doesn’t know is that she’s coming with us, but only as far as William the Wonder Student; Willow is vacationing in Waterloo.
We set off a wee bit late, on account of a certain someone not setting their alarm, no names mentioned of course but it wasn’t me. Taking a wily avoidance measure, we skipped the Highway (motorway) section to London by taking Longwoods Road, thus missing the horrible construction work that’s currently underway on the Highway. You never really know if it’s saving you time, but Longwoods is a pretty way to start your day’s journey.
We did meet up with the 401 in London, mercifully on the correct side of the construction, and bowled merrily along to Kitchener/Waterloo where we were abandoning the moody hound with the dog-sitting student. Traffic was lighter than usual on account of it being a public holiday, another masterstroke by your Planner-in-Chief. I say masterstroke but to be truthful, these were the only dates we could get.
Hound duly deposited we set off proper and made our way to the big city that is Toronto. Actually, it is a big city; very long and spread out along the lake and populated entirely by crazy drivers. The 401 goes right through Toronto, but we opted for the 407 Toll Road to the north, the Toronto By-Pass. I’ll tell you; it may add a few extra kilometres but it’s worth every cent of its (as yet undetermined) toll charge. We’ll get the bill eventually.
Back the 401 on the far side of Toronto and having witnessed some of the craziness Torontonians call driving, and we still had 250 Kilometres to go. It was a hot day and the Toad Mobile was working hard dragging Towed Haul along at 100km/hr for hours on end, but apart from some scary fuel consumption, basically twice the fuel used normally when not towing, the drive went swimmingly. The public holiday was working in our favour again as we breezed along heading away from Toronto, all the while right on the speed limit, but the traffic heading back into town was awful; basically, a 200Km stretch of slow and occasionally stopped traffic. No gloating today, though, because I wouldn’t wish that kind of driving on my worst enemy. Maybe not my worst enemy, but definitely enemies further down the list.
One stop for fuel at a service centre had us staring icily at a truck driver who’d parked his big rig in one of the two RV Only parking spaces. I hope he felt truly sorry after being on the wrong end of not one, but two withering glances. Tsk.
It was about five in the afternoon as we rolled onto the 1000 Islands Parkway and had a glimpse of the great St Lawrence River and a few of the aforementioned 1000 islands. Very nice it was, too.
The campground was a few kilometers along the parkway and, as we’d been before, it was all nicely familiar. The Ivy Lea KOA Campground is a small place and on this hot holiday afternoon, looked pretty busy. We went to the office to check in and find out our site number, only to find (by a series of simple questions) that our host was none other than my boss’ nephew. Small, small world.
Our site, 120, was in the far corner and nestled in among the seasonal campers and rentals. As with any commercial campground, space is tight and as I began my backup onto the site, I caught the front right wheel arch of the Toadmobile on a low-lying rock that was bordering a flower bed. This alerted our neighbour who came out to see and, to my horror, to help. Backing into a tight spot is always a stressful activity but with a “helpful” neighbour giving unsolicited instruction, it gets ten times worse for me. We did get backed in, without catching the wheel arch again, and set up swiftly, but I heard my helpful neighbour tell someone on the phone that I’d damaged my truck on a rock. Wrong on both accounts matey; not a truck and no damage! The rock had caught the inner plastic lining of the wheel arch and it just popped back into place with some light pressure. I know I should be more grateful, but unsolicited help is the worst. Curiously, my helpful neighbour suddenly changed sites. He was sitting there with his trailer still hitched when the campground staff started moving stuff from another site onto his. He drove off to another site and another trailer appeared next to us. I don’t know why, but we had new neighbours and Mr. Helpful went off to spend half an hour deciding how to park his truck.
As is often the case after a long drive (621.5 Km to be precise), an early night was calling. It had been a hot day but with all the windows open, we didn’t feel the need for the air conditioner, which is always nice. No dog, no kids and just a few hours sleep to be concerned about, it was all looking good.
The Toadmobile has performed faultlessly and, even though driving most of the way at Highway speed, didn’t seem troubled at all, other than a tendency to gulp the gasoline. Still towing that with that.
Mr Toad - Airstreamer
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