The morning after our rude awakening by the police, we were up and out before sunrise, exactly as promised. Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula felt practically abandoned in early November, with no sign of vacationers and just a few locals out and about. Our encounter with the cops had left a bad taste in our mouths, and we weren’t exactly eager to linger in the area, but we still spent the morning exploring some of the area’s parks and taking in the beautiful fall colors and lake scenery.
Heading farther north, we entered Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where we spent a night with my Yooper friend in Marquette followed by a night of van-camping at gorgeous Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Administered by the National Park Service, the area is known for its series of dramatic cliffs along the south side of Lake Superior. Did you know that Lake Superior holds as much water as the four other Great Lakes combined? It accounts for 10% of the earth’s surface fresh water; the thing is friggin’ huge!
As was the case in many places we visited this trip, we hardly saw another person.
We headed south from there, making pit stops in lovely Traverse City (“Cherry Capital of the World”) and at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore before camping for the night in Manistee National Forest, north of Grand Rapids. We spent another night brewery-hopping and enjoying the comforts of a hotel in Kalamazoo before heading east to Ann Arbor, where our friends were getting married. The weather was unseasonably warm, and we found ourselves enjoying A2’s beautiful downtown in jeans and t-shirts.
With a few days to kill between commitments, we made the four-hour trip east to Toronto, where we burned a few of my remaining hotel points for a weekend at the Park Hyatt. It was our first time in Canada’s largest city, and we enjoyed warm weather, great food, and the company of a couple American friends who made the trip up from Buffalo. We also took the opportunity to visit Niagara Falls, the easternmost point of our three-month trip.
After a brief return to Michigan, we pretty much cruised through Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee on our way down to Asheville, NC. I had high expectations for Asheville, and it exceeded pretty much all of them. Great food, lots of street art, tons of music venues, a handful of breweries, a walkable downtown, and a hippie vibe… if it were closer to family, I’d seriously be considering a move!
After two nights there, it was a mad dash home – though not exactly on the most direct route. We zig-zagged around Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and half of Texas in about a week, an exhausting itinerary I’d prefer not to repeat. Public land is practically non-existent in those places, so we spent a few nights in Walmart parking lots (legally!) between staying with friends.
Oh, and did I mention we had another damn breakdown? We were headed to Austin the afternoon before Thanksgiving when the van decided to shut itself down just west of Lafayette, Louisiana. Our friendly tow truck driver, with his open-carried handgun and “Make America Great Again” cap, brought us back into Lafayette that evening. We spent two nights in a depressing roadside hotel waiting for a mechanic to re-open on Friday.
Frustratingly, the culprit was a new alternator we had installed at a Firestone in Arizona back in June. The part had not been installed correctly, our Louisiana mechanic told us, and we were very lucky not to have an engine fire. So, hey, at least we’ve got that going for us!
We did make it to Austin, eventually, but spent only one night before moving on to Big Bend National Park. One of my most-anticipated destinations, the park is gorgeous and was once again almost devoid of other tourists. In late November, the Rio Grande is at its lowest levels, and you could easily wade across into Mexico (though we saved our Mexico visits for the new year).
We camped three nights at Big Bend before heading west again, making a quick stop at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and another to visit friends in Tucson.
Almost home! We swung by L.A. for a weekend visit with my family, then hauled all the way up I-5 to meet up with Daniel’s family in Whistler, B.C., where we alternated between skiing and sitting by the fireplace for a week. Not a bad way to wrap up three months on the road.
Much as we loved our two road trips, it felt great to finally park the van. Between the shorter autumn days, lots of really long drives, and a few too many Walmart camping nights, we were feeling eager to do a different type of travel for a while. Hence our 2017 travel plans!