Monday, December 04, 2017

Woodstock Ontario to Sudbury Ontario

It was a slow morning. We left the hotel room at 8:40 AM. After a quick stop at what is one of the better run McDonald's franchises on Norwich Avenue (fast, accurate pleasant, all the equipment works), we were eastbound on Highway 401 in a moderate to heavy fog bank. The temperature was 35 F so ice was not an issue and there was no snow on the ground.

We got off at Highway 8 in Kitchener and took Sportsworld Drive and Maple Grove Road across to Highway 24. This took us to Guelph, where we bypassed much of the city by taking Highway 7 and County 29. In Eramosa, we reconnected with 24.

Fog on Highway 24

A short jog north on Airport Road at the end of 24 brought us to Highway 9 in Mono Mills. Mono has two gas stations which typically boast the lowest gas prices along our route. Today, 87 octane was going for $1.149 compared to $1.209 in Woodstock and $1.259 in Sudbury.

The Highway 24 & 9 route takes longer than following the super slab to Toronto, but I enjoy it more when we have the time to spare.

As we drove along, I contemplated my GPS. Who would have thought, twenty years ago, that we would have a device that showed all the roads, our position on them, and points of interest along the way. Jester had one when we went to SEVROC in 1999, but it was just a green screen with digits on it.

When we left Highway 9 for 400 North (the new ramp is an opposite turn from the old one), the fog lifted. We made a stop at the Barrie ONroute service area just after 11:30. I got a Tim's Chipotle Breakfast Steak Wrap (without the chipotle) to go. And more coffee.

There was still no snow on the ground but the Mount St. Louis ski area must have had the snow making machines going overtime. Their hills were patches of white in a sea of brown.

Snow on Mount St. Louis

Traffic was light on Highway 400 north

Tom Thomson type of Georgian Bay tree

We have Highway 69 all to ourselves

The four-laning of the 100 miles of highway between Parry Sound and Sudbury, under construction since 2004 and originally scheduled to be finished by 2017, was far from done. One of the features on the new highway was wildlife fencing, largely installed into solid rock at what I presumed was a significant cost.

Wildlife fencing in solid rock

Note that the bottom two feet or so of the fencing consisted of a much finer mesh. Then, when the big fence stopped, a much smaller fence carries on. I used to think this was a turtle fence, since I couldn't see it blocking much else and they are very concerned about Blanding's turtles in Northern Ontario. Then I was watching a documentary on Killbear Provincial Park near Parry Sound and saw the same type of fence. It was to keep rattlesnakes off the road. They go to great lengths to protect the Massasauga rattlesnake in Ontario. The fact that it is illegal to kill them should amuse some of our southern friends.

In fact, driving this highway many hundreds of times over the years, I have never seen a dead rattlesnake. I have hardly ever seen a dead turtle. I wonder how much they spent on this dwarf fence of limited purpose while we are still looking for a PET scanner at the hospital in Sudbury?

The world's shortest wildlife fence

Once we got north of the snake zone, the big wildlife fence resumed without the finer mesh. This fencing even has pass through gates for people on foot such as hunters.

Gate in the big fence

White Pine Chutes, Wanapitei River

As we approached Sudbury, the speed limit dropped from 100 KPH to 90. I was still doing 115 when I went by the unmarked OPP Tahoe, but he didn't seem to care, so we made it home unscathed at about 3:25 PM.

Now we will probably be staying close to home until spring.

Today's Route (314 Equinox miles):

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Woodstock Ontario - Christmas Pageant

Sandy and I slept in this morning while Heather, Tom and the kids went to church. Heather texted when the service was over and we agreed to meet at 11:40 at East Side Mario's, part of a popular Canadian chain. It was just across the street from our hotel and children ate free on Sunday.

 Sandy and I got to the restaurant first

 Everyone looks ready for lunch

 Cute would be an understatement

Sandy and I shared a very generous club wrap while I also had some very tasty roasted tomato garlic soup. Unlike yesterday, I will report that it was very good. We should consider dining out at ESM in Sudbury once in a while.

Fiona was cute. At 18 months, she insists on feeding herself using a fork. Meantime, Jasper needed no utensils for his personal pizza.

 I can do it all by myself

 Can't beat pizza

After lunch, we went back to Heather and Tom's where we played with the grandkids, talked with the kids and, as the afternoon wore on, snacked a bit on leftovers from yesterday's party. There was lots of food and it was good.

Although Sandy and I are not religious and didn't belong to or attend any church while our children were growing up, we didn't denigrate people of faith either. We figured this would allow our offspring to decide for themselves as the grew old enough to appreciate the great questions of life. Both daughters and their families now attend regularly.

Heather and Tom belong to Calvary Church in Woodstock. They were holding their Christmas Pageant this evening and Jasper's age group had a role to play on stage. The church had a very nice auditorium/stage facility and I managed to get in and seated without getting struck by lightning. It was a fine show, very upbeat and positive. Peace on Earth and good will to all men (and women) is not a bad message, no matter what a person believes.

You can just see Jasper in the second row (look for the glasses)

After the pageant, we went back to the house for a bit, and then Sandy and I returned to the hotel. On the way, we stopped at Wendy's where I picked up a bacon portobello mushroom melt hamburger to go. It was pretty damn good. I can't figure out why I am not losing weight.....

Again, we were in bed early. I read a bit on my Kindle before falling asleep. The Kindle is great because you don't need to leave a light on and, when you have had enough, you just close the cover and slip it under your pillow. If you wake up at night, you can read a chapter before going back to sleep without disturbing your partner.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Sudbury to Woodstock - Tom's Birthday Party

Heather planned a surprise party to celebrate Tom's 40th birthday this weekend. Tom's brother Wojtek and his wife Agnes would be hosting at their house in Breslau (part of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo). Sandy and I couldn't miss this, so I skipped a night of driving for Safe Ride Home Sudbury. Once the teams were assigned and the orientation done last night, I came home and got some rest. Tonight, others will cover for me too.

It was 33F when we rolled out this morning, but the Weather Network said it felt like zero. We were on the road at 7:20 AM after a brief stop at McDonald's (where the damn kiosk printer didn't work one more time). A light rain was falling so, with the below freezing temperatures, speed was moderate and no sudden moves were contemplated.

I started out fine but got bitten by the drowsy bug somewhere down the line, so we stopped for coffee at Tim's at Seguin and then again at the Innisfil On Route. Traffic jammed up for a bit on the 400 around King due to a closed lane, but that didn't last long. Because it was around noon Saturday, we took the cheap route and followed 400 all the way to 401 West without incident.

Slow traffic on Highway 400 near King Road

Heather had a special birthday cake made by Too Nice To Slice, which she asked us to pick up at their shop in Kitchener. The place was a little tricky to find because it was in the back of an industrial yard, but we finally spotted it. They had some amazing cakes in there. This one featured a can of Polish beer pouring over the cake. We gently put it in the back of the Equinox and, with great care,  delivered it directly to Breslau.

The cake arrived safely in Breslau

Since it was still early and we hadn't eaten, we drove back into Kitchener and stopped at Oscar's Family Friendly Restaurant on Victoria Street. The food wasn't anything to blog about, so I won't. Then we headed over to Zehr's for a fruit tray to contribute to the party. It was still early so then we took a tour to Guelph to take on some fuel.

Back in Breslau, we saw that there wasn't much street parking on Avery Court. The number of cars would have tipped Tom off except that Heather told him Wojtek had called to say parking would be tricky because "someone on the street" was having a gathering.

The crowd started to assemble. Food was put out. Children played. Adults talked and had a drink or two. The Polish side of the family brought some good vodka, as usual. We waited for Tom, Heather and the kid to arrive.

Decked out nicely

Sandy is looking cheerful

Are they here yet???


Lots of food

The birthday boy gets a plate

Grandson Jasper found a cookie

Son-in-law Mike doing his Grizzly Adams impersonation

Granddaughter Jolene has finished it all (whatever it was)

Youngest granddaughter Fiona looks pleased

It's tough to blow out candles around a beer can

Happy 40th Birthday, Tom

Now how do I cut this thing???

After the food and gifts and visiting were done, Sandy and I headed out for Woodstock about 7:00 PM. We usually stay at the Best Western Plus but I had left it a little late to book the reservation. Something must have been going on because there was no room at the inn. Luckily I was able to get a king room with couch at the Days Inn next to the Tim Horton's on Norwich. The room was OK and I was able to add a few Wyndham Rewards points to the bank.

It was a quiet evening. We turned in early and watched a little TV on the large flat screen before turning out the lights and going to sleep.

Today's Route (335 Equinox miles):

Friday, November 17, 2017

Safe Ride Home Sudbury

The inaugural Safe Ride Home Sudbury campaign begins operating tonight. President Lesli Green split from the national Operation Red Nose organization after eighteen years, saying that a made-in-Sudbury program will address local issues more effectively.

As before, Safe Ride Home Sudbury will see volunteer teams dispatched to drive people home in their own vehicles if they believe they have imbibed too much holiday cheer. It is a free service, although donations are gratefully accepted. These donations support local youth athletic activities, while all the expenses of the program are born by very generous corporate partners and sponsors. The program will run every Friday and Saturday from now until the end of the year and finish up on New Years Eve, a total of fifteen evenings.

The new brand necessitated a new mascot. Stewie the Sober Bear was built in Toronto to Lesli's specifications. We drove down last month and picked him up at the factory, so to speak.

 Greg, Stewie and Lesli yesterday

Lovely vehicle provided by Cambrian Ford 

R.I.D.E sobriety spot check yesterday to promote the program launch

Once again, I will be the Volunteer Coordinator. This involves receiving applications and background checks from the Greater Sudbury Police Service, acknowledging them and entering them in a database. Reminders are sent out for the nights each volunteer selected. When they show up at the headquarters at NORCAT, they are assembled into teams of Escort Driver (delivers the team to clients), Designated Driver (drives the clients in their own vehicle) and, sometimes, Navigator (handles the paper work and usually accompanies the DD in the client vehicle). I am also the head trainer, providing orientation sessions to new volunteers, and oversee the front of the HQ much of the time.

When all the HQ stuff is done, I usually hit the road with my regular partner JM (who also becomes Stewie for promotional activities).

I have been involved in sober driving initiatives for twenty-five years. In 1993, Norm Hein and I worked with police services to develop the Snowmobile Trail Officer Patrol, which helped police interdict impaired sledders. I was also active for a number of years in Action Sudbury - Citizens Against Impaired Driving. Several years ago, I gravitated towards Operation Red Nose and this past year, I helped with the development of and transition to Safe Ride Home Sudbury.

So don't worry about me for the rest of the year. I will be busy and having fun all at the same time.

Monday, October 02, 2017

York Pennsylvania to Sudbury Ontario

It was another dark start to the day as we hit the road before 6:00 AM. The beds and pillows at the Wyndham Gardens were outstanding. We will put this place on the preferred list for future visits.

We navigated through town to I-83 north and then made a quick stop at a Speedway and McDonald's for gas and food before heading north towards Harrisburg. Exit 34 was like a pit lane with an exit ramp that went past the fuel station and restaurant and then merged right back onto the Interstate.

 Once again, I did not consult the map and ended up wandering around Harrisburg following obscure GPS directions before heading north along the east bank of the Susquehanna River on US 22. It was foggy along the river and, after a ways, we crossed the river and took US 15 North along the west bank.

Mishap in the fog along US 15

Almost got the house

We followed US 15 but took an unintended jog onto the new I-180 into Williamsport, home of the Little League World Series. Really, I need to look at the maps. The Interstate detour added a few miles and accomplished nothing. After a stop for a bathroom and more coffee, we continued north to New York.

Fog banks along US 15

Trees are starting to change colour

There are some series viaducts in this part of the country

Welcome to the Empire State

The road got rougher as soon as we crossed the New York line. This was still being billed as the "future I-99 corridor". We stopped at a McDonald's in Painted Post for more coffee. Back in 1978, Sandy and I got lost in a traffic circle in Painted Post because it didn't have any highway numbers on the signs. Now they have all kinds of highway numbers and no traffic circle. It was also here in 1999 that I learned not to eat a Popsicle while riding a motorcycle on a hot day.

Welcome to Painted Post New York

Lots of Highway signs in Painted Post

We took I-86 out of Painted Post and then exited on I-390, which continued northwest to Mount Morris. This was near where the Rochester Peacemakers used to host the Lost Weekend Rally in the 1980's. From there, we followed the dead straight NY 63 to Batavia and onto the New York Thruway.

Nary a bend on NY 63

On to the Thruway and thanks for EZ Pass

We headed west on the Thruway with a last stop for relatively cheap US gas at the Clarence Service Center around noon. Near Buffalo, we exited on I-290 and then took I-190 across Grand Island to the Lewiston/Queenston border crossing.

Not sure why we took this picture

Geese flying north?

One of two Grand Island Bridges

Off Grand Island

Almost on native soil

The NEXUS lane was empty at Lewiston so we pulled right up. The booth was remote, so we declared our T-shirts and camp chairs to a disembodied voice. We were released and then went through the EZ-Pass toll booth. Total crossing time was about two minutes.

I should note that we went through many toll booths yesterday and today, but every one of them accepted our EZ Pass transponder. And the EZ Pass is free as long as you make provision to automatically top up your account when it falls below a certain level. I wish the twits that run our ETR407 would start this idea. Right now, there is a monthly transponder/account fee for a ridiculously overpriced road.

The Maple Leaf forever.....

Welcome home, eh!

OK, the ETR407 is way overpriced but we were in a hurry with a long way to go, so I bit the bullet. We took the QEW across the Burlington Skyway and then got on the 407. As it crossed the 401, we saw the traffic on the free road was dead stopped while we were rolling along briskly. Before long, we were turning due north on the 400.

Stopped traffic on the 401

Near Stonewall's house

Traffic was fine right up to the 400/11 split on the north side of Barrie. The northbound ramp was still under construction. I have a feeling rookie workers will retire before they finish this little project.

400 exit north of Barrie

Some day this will be finished

The home stretch

I was surprised to see how many trees have not started to change colour. We stopped at the new Tim's at the Honey Harbour exit for still more coffee before continuing.

Lots of still green trees

The tiger motif is a little scary

Miller Paving (great outfit) working on 400 south of Parry Sound

Little holdup

As perfect as it gets

There was a wreck near Shawanaga. The road was open but they had a lot of emergency response crews. They even had  Ministry of Natural Resources Conservation Officers directing traffic. The only thing we didn't see was a lot of wrecked vehicles, just a few with some minor damage. Maybe everyone was just enjoying the nice weather?

Lots of emergency vehicles

Another just down the road

And MNR doing a non-traditional role

Four laning of Highway 69 continues south of the French River

Have to save those poor rattlesnakes

We reached town and pulled into our subdivision about 5:45 PM. We had covered over 650 miles in twelve hours, not bad for an older guy who seems to tire more easily these days. This was an excellent trip to a brand new place with old friends and new, and we were glad we did it.

(N.B. - It has taken me a long time to get the last two days finished. My apologies to anyone who has been paying attention.)

Today's Route (651 Equinox miles):