Sunrise in the Rearview: The Long Ride Home

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.

Cave Point County Park

Cave Point County Park

How I miss those fall colors!

How I miss those fall colors!

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.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

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.

Fall colors in Traverse City

Fall colors in Traverse City

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

T-shirt weather in November in Ann Arbor

T-shirt weather in November in Ann Arbor

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.

Near St. Lawrence Market on a beautiful morning

Near St. Lawrence Market on a beautiful morning

Awesome and eclectic Kensington Market

Awesome and eclectic Kensington Market

Free breakfast at our free hotel. We'll miss these perks of endless work travel!

Free breakfast at our free hotel. We’ll miss these perks of endless work travel!

Misty!

Misty!

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.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Knoxville

Knoxville

Nashville's full-size Parthenon replica. Who knew?

Nashville’s full-size Parthenon replica. Who knew?

Bentonville, AR

Bentonville, AR

Little Rock Central High School

Little Rock Central High School

Cafe du Monde, naturally

Cafe du Monde, naturally

Great art in New Orleans' City Park Sculpture Garden

Great art in New Orleans’ City Park Sculpture Garden

Evening in the French Quarter

Evening in the French Quarter

Migrating pelicans in Baton Rouge

Migrating pelicans in Baton Rouge

Po-boys at George's, Baton Rouge

Po-boys at George’s, Baton Rouge

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!

Ugh

Ugh

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.

The not-so-mighty Rio Grande

The not-so-mighty Rio Grande

Hiking the Window Trail

Hiking the Window Trail

Mexico on the left, U.S. on the right. How's that for a border wall?

Mexico on the left, U.S. on the right. How’s that for a border wall?

Always-impressive Carlsbad Caverns

Always-impressive Carlsbad Caverns

The van survived another time through Willcox, Arizona, where we last had alternator issues

The van survived another time through Willcox, Arizona, where we last had alternator issues

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.

Crystal-clear skies at Whistler Blackcomb

Crystal-clear skies at Whistler Blackcomb

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!

Cloudy and wet, but it's always good to be home!

Cloudy and wet, but it’s always good to be home!

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18 Comments

  1. The little jam jars! That’s still my favorite breakfast photo ever. What a trip! I am so glad you guys are back on the blog!

  2. Fun pictures!

    I used to live in NOLA… Loved that place! I used to do a lot of road tripping around the U.S. when I was in my 20’s, but now that I’m in my 40’s, sitting two much is bad for me. I’d love to do a walk/backpack/train/bus type trip around the U.S. I’ve already done it in Europe and Australia. We plan to go for a few months to Southeast Asia also, but not until early 2008.

    • It’s a great city. I had been a couple times before, but it had been years. It was nice to be back again! We managed to do only a couple hours a day in the car back in spring, but this trip had a lot more all-day driving days. Not my favorite, but it’s at least time-efficient.

  3. Goodness, you covered a lot of ground! I love the photos, but at the end the road tripper in me was so happy to hear you resting at home. That is a fast pace. =) I’m glad you are relaxing with taco trucks and sandy beaches now! Having that balance in travel is so important to me. Or else it can become a rigorous job.

    • Yeah, 2016 was our year of fast travel. We’re going to try to take it easy this year. My stretch goal is at least one week in each place we visit. That won’t be practical all the time, but even if we can just average that much, it will be a lot less hectic. The beach time has been really nice!

  4. What a trip…! and amazing pictures.

    I did not know you are allowed to sleep on parking lots

    • Thanks, Amber! We didn’t know either until recently! Walmart and a couple other big box retailers explicitly allow people to camp in their parking lots overnight, unless it’s prohibited by local law. We always call ahead of time to ask, and they’ve always been very nice about it. Usually we were parked in a line of other campers, RVs, and big rigs. It’s not quite luxurious, but it’s fine for a short overnight rest.

  5. What gorgeous pictures! I was in NOLA just over a week ago, and your Cafe Du Monde pictures made my mouth water. I’m sorry your van broke down, but it sounded like a small blip in an otherwise spectacular trip. You’ve made me feel travel thirsty now, and I don’t have another vacation planned till September. Oh curses.

    • Yum, I wish we were back right now! The breakdown was a bummer, but it all worked out. We’re well aware of the downsides of driving an old vehicle, but we put around 25,000 miles (40,000 km) on it in less than a year, so it’s hung in there pretty well.

  6. Those are some amazing pictures. My wife and I want to go to Toronto this summer and I specifically want to see Niagara Falls. You have definitely encouraged me with those gorgeous photos. Thanks for sharing!!!

    • Thanks! We really enjoyed our weekend there, and the city was not as expensive as we were expecting. Restaurants were noticeably cheaper than Vancouver and Calgary, for example. Niagara felt like a no-brainer when we were so close, and it was worth the trip! I wouldn’t spend a night there (the town wasn’t super nice; kind of reminded me of Reno, NV) but definitely good for a stop.

  7. Love it! Such great pics. Never stop posting these 🙂

  8. I’ve heard great things about Asheville, NC too! It’s on my list of places to visit. Thanks for sharing your pics with us! What do you mean by public land is practically non-existent? – Can you park overnight in public parks?

    • It’s definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area! I should probably have clarified that I meant public land *on which overnight camping is allowed* is practically non-existent. Most city, county, and state parks do not allow overnight parking or camping. We found a few exceptions (like a city park in some random little town in South Dakota where it was explicitly permitted), but generally the best places for dispersed camping are National Forest and BLM land, both of which are scarce in the east compared to the western states.

  9. Looks like you had a good time. Sorry about the police incident in Snore County WI. It’s rare I read about a place I have been to in the Midwest. WI cops are always like that, it’s not unusual if you are a resident, just be glad that you didn’t get a ticket. That is their usual modus operandi. http://www.thefinancepatriot.com

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