Monday, August 29, 2022

Springboro Ohio to Waterloo Ontario

After going to sleep so early last night, we were easily up and dressed by 7:00 AM. We didn't have to leave until around 9:00 to be at the Ambassador Bridge at 1:00 PM, the appointed time I had picked when I filled out the ArriveCAN information two days ago, so we took it easy. The hot Hampton Inn breakfast had a wide variety of things but I focused on maple sausage and an omelet thing. Sandy is a breakfast minimalist, usually gravitating towards cereal and yogurt.

Back in the room, we took Rapid Antigen Tests. This was not a requirement for crossing the border but we periodically test ourselves after we have been out and about. This morning's results were negative again. What I am not looking forward to when we get home is the bathroom scale nor the glucose meter readings (I hardly tested during the trip).

Not many arrivals overnight

Always with the negative waves, Moriarty

We hit Dayton Monday morning traffic about 9:25 AM. It wasn't as bad as I expected. The 4 lane north of Dayton had very little traffic.

When we passed this flag southbound last week, we were stuck in a huge traffic jam

I-75 north of Dayton

At SEVROC, Mikey was selling imaginary tickets and giving away real Little Debbie treats

We stopped for fuel at a Speedway in a cornfield north of Lima (pronounced l-EYE-mah), Ohio. As we pulled out, the GPS said we had 118 miles remaining to the Ambassador Bridge and our ETA was exactly 1:00 PM. We hauled north with a purpose.

Right on schedule

Findlay OH

Weather brewing ahead

Another FedEx facility

Cruising along, we saw another Cracker Barrel billboard advertising cheesecake pancakes and I once again regretted being diabetic. I bend the rules sometimes but I think a plate of those might put me into a coma.

In Toledo, the idiot GPS tried to have us exit I-75 to US 25 through downtown. This once again underscored the reality that using a GPS is an art, not a science, and you better have an idea of where you are going from other sources before you start.

We crossed the Michigan state line at 12:06 PM and the road surfaces immediately deteriorated. Between bad pavement and construction zones, I am really starting to think that a few extra miles and a little more time going through Buffalo would be a wise choice next time. When we head for Arkansas in a couple of weeks, I plan to cross at Sarnia and take I-69 south to Indianapolis.

Pure what????

Southbound traffic was tied up in a couple of spots, first by a jackknifed rig and then by construction closing all but one lane. I couldn't imagine the cost of having all those big trucks sitting there for hours. Lucky for us, the northbound lanes were unimpeded. 

No one is going anywhere for a while

Michigan State Trooper vehicles are still blue

The Ambassador Bridge plaza had a somewhat unfinished appearance with marginal signage. They did have a huge gas bar adjacent to the Duty Free store but I just stopped to unlock the side door of the trailer just in case our border agent wanted to look inside. Then I paid the toll ($12 US or $16 Canadian compared to the $8 Canadian it charged my credit card going the other way) and we proceeded almost due SOUTH to Canada (Really) across busiest bridge, in terms of trade volume, in North America.

Toll booths

Not much traffic on the bridge

Detroit River

Before crossing, I made sure I had the ArriveCAN app open on my phone with the receipt visible, had a copy of the Email duplicate receipt the app had sent me and had a photo of our morning negative RAT tests. I honestly had no idea what to expect.

There was very little Canada bound traffic. There were several vehicles lined up in the NEXUS lane because, I guess, they either don't know that they can use a regular lane or the feel that because they went to the cost and effort to get the card, they were above using a regular lane. I pulled into an empty regular lane.

The agent was probably in his early thirties with close cropped hair, a well trimmed beard and tattoos peaking out from the cuffs of his shirt. I handed him our NEXUS cards and the conversation, which started normally, went like this:

Agent: Where do you live?

Me: Waterloo, Ontario (almost said Sudbury).

Agent: How long have you been gone?

Me: Eight days.

Agent: What's in the trailer?

Me: A motorcycle and riding gear.

Agent: Cool! What Kind?

Me: 2005 Honda GL1800 GoldWing

With that, we spent at least five minutes talking motorcycles and then he returned our cards and wished us a good day. No questions about purchases or vaccinations. I found out later that when he entered our NEXUS ID's, it would have brought up our vaccination status from the documents I uploaded. In any case, it was one of our better crossings.

The first thing we encountered when leaving the bridge plaza was a McDonald's. They had dual parking spaces and the "lobby" was open for business so we picked up lunch to go, locked the trailer back up and set out for home. As we drove down the street towards Highway 401, we saw truck after US bound truck lined up and, again, going nowhere. I have no idea what the holdup was but I can imagine there were a lot of unhappy drivers.

Mickey D for lunch to go

Miles of stopped US bound trucks

We were surprised at how many wind turbines there were visible from the 401 through Essex County. This article from two years ago says there were 170 turbines then and I can only imagine there were more today.

I fought fatigue all the way back. There was a short stop in Elgin County so I could get out and walk around and a coffee stop (OK, cold brew) at the Dutton On Route service centre. It looks like there will be major improvements to Highways 401 and 402 around London including upgrading interchanges at some major roads. This should disrupt local traffic for a while.

As we approached Waterloo Region, I planned  to take the King Street exit and follow Highway 8, 7 and 85 to get home. I was going to be careful getting off there because they had made some changes to the ramps. It did not matter because I blanked out and the next thing I knew we were approaching Hespeler Road, several miles further along. That was downright scary. We got off there, flipped around the other direction and caught Highway 8 on the way back.

After unloading the bike at the condo and parking it in the underground garage, we took the trailer over to Access Storage on Shirley Drive. Note to self: avoid Shirley Drive right after 5:30 because every business along that road seemed to get off at the same time and there are no traffic lights at either end. Cars were lined up a ways back. After we parked the trailer, the flash jam had vanished.

On the other end of Shirley Drive, Sandy saw something interesting so we stopped to take a look. The vehicles looked good from far but were far from good. Still, we had our own Cadillac Ranch right here in Kitchener. The first was technically a Lasalle but it was made by the Cadillac Division of GM.

Cadillac Ranch

We stopped at the grocery store to pick up a couple of essential items (bigger shopping trip tomorrow) and then headed home. It took a few trips to get all our luggage up to the 15th floor (elevators are great) but it was all done before too long. The unit was nice and cool because I had engaged the AC from the app on my phone. The new Ecobee unit is great.

So our first trip out of the province/country in almost three years was over. It was great to see old friends again but the time just flew by. We are planning to head back out for the VROC Reunion in Eureka Springs, Arkansas on September 11th. In the meantime, the list of things to do is long. At least now this trip blog is finished.

Today's route (411 Equinox/trailer miles):

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Maggie Valley North Carolina to Springboro Ohio

It was still dark when I pulled the Equinox and trailer down in front of the room and we loaded our overnight bags. It looked like it was going to be a good day to travel, especially important for those who would be riding home. We said goodbye to the early risers and hit the road about 6:30. Our destination today was Springboro, Ohio, where I had made a reservation last night at a Hampton Inn.

Our first stop was the McDonald's in Waynesville. Sure enough, a sign in the door said the "lobby" was temporarily closed but that we could visit them in their drive-thru. I don't like driving thru with a trailer. After seeing DQ, Wendy's and now Mickey D's with closed lobbies (ostensibly due to A/C problems or staffing shortages), I have come to suspect something else is going on. During the period when the indoor options were prohibited due to COVID, I think that these fast food operators discovered that their profit margins were higher if they did not have the expense of operating the counters, tables and restrooms inside. If I am right, expect to see these "temporary" measures become more common, just as phone service lines are now always experiencing "higher than expected wait times". In any case, this establishment did not get our business on this day.

Since we were in Waynesville, we took NC 209 up to I-40 and stopped at the Petro truck stop for fuel. I had noted Friday that the stations here were priced significantly lower than either Maggie Valley or Waynesville. This was the first time on this trip that I encountered the Zip Code Challenge while paying at the pump and it was the first time ever for our new Postal Code. (For those not in the know, take the three numbers in your Canadian postal code and add 00 for a five digit numeric value that will satisfy the pump.) We also went in and got coffee and food to go. I chose a Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich and Sandy picked up some banana bread.

By 7:15, we were heading towards Knoxville on I-40 under lightening skies while listening to an audiobook rendering of Nicholas Sparks' The Return (borrowed online from the Sudbury Public Library). We crossed into Tennessee and, around the Gatlinburg exit, were passed by a pack of jeeps that looked like they had been off-roading. Jeeps were to become the theme of the day all the way to Ohio, augmented by some really muddy side-by-side ATV's on trailers.

The Volunteer State on I-40

I-40 gave way to I-640 as we went north of Knoxville to connect with I-75 North. The day went by without much to note except that I started to feel waves of fatigue. We stopped at a gas station in Jacksboro, Tennessee so I could get a coffee, which I chased with a 5 Hour Energy bottle.

The things you see

That is a lawn mower on the rack on the Mustang

Many, many jeeps both driven and towed

We came down the Jellico Hill and crossed into Kentucky about 10 AM. The smell of scorched brakes in the truck parking section of the Welcome Center was quite noticeable. We used the restrooms and then I splurged for a data connection to tell my DVR at home to start recording the NASCAR race at Daytona, which had been postponed yesterday due to rain. I'll be able to watch it when we get home.

The Bluegrass State

A touch of colour at the Welcome Center

We stopped at a Shell station for fuel and I added one liter of oil since it was looking a little low and a longer dipstick was not an option. It was 91F as we breezed by Richmond, Kentucky, home of the famous VROC Wolfman's Wandering Rally in 2009. Just before Florence, we stopped at a McDonald's that did have an open "lobby". I got a large iced coffee to try and perk me up again while Sandy got her favourite, a smoothie. 

People say they can see things in the clouds

Nice looking truck

We passed through Florence, Kentucky (where we stayed on the way down) and started down the Covington Hill towards the Ohio River and the Ohio state line. There were dire signs about closed lanes and traffic backups but we didn't find much of a problem.

There is the famous water tower

Covington Hill with Cincinnati ahead

Used to be a Rodeway but now a Radisson

The Buckeye State

Low rider in Cinci

The drive through Cincinnati was uneventful and traffic eased up as we moved north. We arrived at the Hampton Inn at a relatively new crossroads adjacent to the Interstate in Springboro at 2:45 PM. I spent some time resting my eyes and then sorted some photos and worked on the blog for a while.

A quiet night at the Hampton Inn

There was a Bob Evans nearby so we walked over there about 5:00 PM for a bite to eat. Oddly, there was no sidewalk on the side street down there so we walked facing traffic. Luckily, there were push to cross buttons on the main road or we would have been roadkill.

Not a sidewalk to be seen

At Bob Evans, a nice young lady named Sierra took our orders. We each had a half turkey/bacon sandwich with chicken noodle soup. After all the food I put away in the last week, it was time to start tapering off. We brought Sandy's sandwich back to the room and I nibbled on it a bit but we were both asleep before 8:00 PM.

Today's route (389 Equinox/trailer miles):

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Maggie Valley North Carolina SEVROC Saturday

This would be our last full day in Maggie Valley on this trip. It was hard to imagine where almost a complete week had gone but I guess that proves that time flies when you are having fun. I had a piece of the leftover Brickhouse pizza for breakfast after warming in in the microwave on a cardboard plate I cut out of the pizza box lid.

Last night, Huffy had said he and Cary would like to do the same route we did yesterday so I took his older Garmin Nuvi and successfully loaded the Gary Bohler GPX file into it. Today, I needed to get some paperwork done to be ready for the border crossing on Monday. The ArriveCAN app seemed to be easy to use but we'll see when we get there. The other task was to determine what we have to declare to Customs.

Slammer arrived mid-morning with Butterscotch Schnapps to share. It had been too long since we last saw Jerry and I have to say that he still looks just the same. All around, people were relaxing and enjoying a pleasant morning.

Slammer - great shirt

Slammer, Susan and Badger catching up

Kudzu and Cargo playing cribbage

Willie Wonka wanted to go for a ride and Sandy and I wanted to go over to Two Rivers Lodge between Cherokee and Bryson City to say Hi to Blain and Kathy so we made that the objective. I told Willie it was his turn to lead and that all he had to do was to follow US 19. I'd tell him when we were there. He and Carlene took point followed Reed, Sandy and I and Butch.

Riding down US 19 towards Cherokee

This is always a fun ride, even when following cars

We got to Two Rivers and found Kathy at home. Blain arrived a few minutes later and we spent some time catching up. It had been some time since we stayed here but it is a great location for riding the Smokies, more centred than Maggie Valley IMHO. The office still has the appreciation plaque presented by the Freedom Riders after they hosted the President's Ride here in 2014.

Blain told me Pappy had headed home yesterday. The lingering effects of long COVID were weighing more heavily on him than he had expected. We really enjoyed seeing him and were sorry he left but understood and hoped he would be feeling better soon.

Kathy, Sandy and Blain at Two Rivers Lodge

Willie and Reed wanted to go for a longer ride but Sandy had come along because I said we were just going over and back. I gave Willie directions to the Blue Ridge Parkway out of Cherokee and we headed out to US 74 through Whittier. The ride across the divided highway was nice but we kept heading towards a couple of building storms in the distance. Then we stopped briefly at the rest area just before Waynesville where I talked to a couple from Atlanta on a Harley. When we pulled back onto the road, the threatening clouds were gone.

Since this was the last outing for the bike, I stopped and filled the tank with relatively cheaper US gasoline.

Clouds building

Darker clouds

Back at the motel, we found that Flip and Renata had arrived by car from Greenville, SC with their new family addition, Kingston.

Kingston and his proud papa

With Slammer

I had more day old pizza while Sandy had yogurt and snacks she had on hand while I got the ArriveCAN app completed, telling them that we would be crossing the Ambassador Bridge at 1300 hours on Monday. Posting the bills to Quickbooks also let me make up a list of the goods we acquired in the US that we would be taking home with us.

Sandy had been packing while I worked on the books. Then we loaded the car with everything except our overnight bags (the ones we take into a motel for a one night stay). After hooking the trailer up, I pulled it down into the parking lot and loaded the bike. It went flawlessly, which was good considering I had an audience. Then I parked the rig back in the field, ready for an early morning departure.

There was a group supper planned at Guayabito's Mexican Restaurant across the street. Sandy is not a fan of Mexican food even though she has hardly ever tried it. Something about not liking the texture. But she agreed to go, have a drink and see if something looked ok. I am not that familiar with Mexican food either, mostly because my wife won't go to restaurants that serve it.

When we were seated, Sandy ordered a pina colada and I got one of their signature margaritas. She ended up ordering something called a taco loco (a crispy flour tortilla shell filled with shrimp, lettuce, tomatoes, grated cheese and sour cream) while I had enchiladas supremas (one chicken, one beef, one bean and one cheese enchilada, all topped with shredded cheese, salsa, lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream). Sandy didn't complain and I found mine to be excellent.

Walking over to Guayabito's

The pina colada was a good size

The MEDIUM margarita was bigger

MT thought I had a large and ordered that - it was huge

Enchilada supremas

Taco loco salad with shrimp

Festival grounds across from A Holiday Motel

A relaxing spot to sit and watch the world go by

It was a quiet evening back at the motel as the rally wound down and everyone who would be leaving the next day mingled. It was surprising how many faces we hadn't seen in a long time had showed up this week. We even had Sherm join us on a Facebook messenger call.


Southern Draw and Cheap B entertaining Skyking

The mood was mellow - we should do this again

As usual, it was a little sad to go around and say our goodbyes before we turned in. But after three years of not being able to attend VROC gatherings, it was good to know that the magic was still alive.

Today's route (61 motorcycle miles):