Thursday, October 30, 2008

Honeymoon Day #14: Ironwood to Sheboygan

Just like the day before, this day was all about scenic "fall foliage" drives. But first, we stopped at Copper Falls State Park (#2), which was kind of neat. We have lots of pictures from there located at the bottom of this page, and on this page. Here are two:

After that, we took a scenic drive through Wisconsin's Northwoods region. This must be a popular getaway for Chicagoland residents. I can't say I blame them. It's really nice up there, especially in the fall. (And especially when it's sunny and in the 70s, as it was that day.)

Listening to local radio up here, it's not hard to find out what their top priorities are: 1) The Green Bay Packers, 2) The Green Bay Packers, and 3) The Green Bay Packers. Packers Packers Packers, all the time! If you thought ESPN talked (talks?) about Brett Favre too much, I can only imagine what it was like up here a few months ago.

Here's another edition of "adventures in county side trips":

According to the road atlas, it looked like the town of Pulaski was in Oconto County (the upper-right county on the map). But, nope - it's actually in Brown County, the same as Green Bay, which we were passing through anyway. Damn! So, instead of turning right back to the main road (WI-29) as was originally planned, instead, we turned left. Problem was, the road we were on (WI-32) was on the county line, so we did not see the "Oconto County" confirmation sign I was looking for. Damn! So, we turned right on a county road (#5), then right again (#6), and finally saw an "Oconto County" confirmation sign in the opposite direction, confirming that we did actually enter Oconto County. But we weren't done yet! If we had made the originally-planned side trip and driven directly south of Pulaski, we would have picked up Outagamie County (the lower-left county) as well. But since we were farther east instead, we would have missed it...unless we doubled back west again (#7), which is what we did. Problem was, the road was limited access at that point, so we had to backtrack three miles just to go a few feet west of where we were. Oh well, it's not like we were in a hurry or anything. When are we going to be up here again, anyway?

We considered going up the Door Peninsula (northeast of Green Bay) on this day, but by the time we got to Green Bay, it was too late. It's kind of out of the way.

Once we got to Sheboygan, I had two priorities: 1) find a Piggly Wiggly, and 2) watch the Penn State v. Wisconsin game. Wisconsin has 94 Piggly Wiggly locations, so I would have considered it a waste if we didn't go to at least one. With the help of the GPS, we found one in Sheboygan. I didn't know if it would be a nice grocery store (like Publix), or a dump (like Winn-Dixie). But it was actually exceptionally nice, as if it's the place all the rich people in Sheboygan go shopping. Is this really a Piggly Wiggly?

It didn't occur to me beforehand that we would be in Wisconsin the night of the Penn State v. Wisconsin game. I've heard Camp Randall Stadium is an awesome place to watch a game. But it's just as well, because the game wasn't competitive at all (Penn State won by 41), and the crowd didn't seem all that loud on television.

So...after going all this way, Amber's car got a little dirty:

Honeymoon Day #13: Grand Forks to Ironwood

At this point of the trip, the main purpose was to make scenic drives. And, while we're up here, maybe make a couple of extra side trips or two for the purposes of my county map.

In northwestern Minnesota, we made two such county-related side trips: one north to Red Lake County (which we may have already straddled the border of on US-2, but drove a few feet north on MN-32 just to be sure), and one south to Mahnomen County (which was a two mile side trip each way).

Good thing, too, because the potentially-more-scenic route we took through northern Minnesota actually gave me two fewer counties than we would have picked up had we stayed on the more direct US-2. Whoops! But that's okay, because scenery was goal #1, and driving through as many counties as possible (within reason) was only secondary. I'm not sure how much more scenic MN-1 was compared with US-2, but it was fine. The fall foliage was very nice.

In Bemidji, Minnesota, we stopped at one of the region's many Paul Bunyan statues:

(Did you notice the cow puppet?)

Once entering Wisconsin, we took WI-13 along the southern Lake Superior shore. Now that was a nice drive.

Even though Ashland, Wisconsin would have been more convenient for where we went the next day, we stayed overnight in Ironwood, Michigan, because we got a cheaper hotel rate there. But hey - that's one more county! Two, actually.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Honeymoon Day #12: Riding Mountain to Grand Forks

Manitoba was nice - most of the time - but we were there for six days, and it was starting to get rather cold up there, so it was nice to get to "balmy" North Dakota. Other than a stop for gas, we didn't stop anywhere before reaching the international border. We crossed the border at the International Peace Garden, which I cover in a separate post.

Then, we stopped at a couple of places we thought were interesting in North Dakota. First, the (claimed) geographical center of North America; see separate post.

We also stopped by Devils Lake, because it was supposed to be nice:

It seemed strange to me that there should be a lake in the middle of North Dakota, given how much brown there was everywhere. Shouldn't bodies of water be surrounded by lush greenery? Not here! (Not in October, anyway.)

Finally, in Grand Forks, we met up with relatively-newly-displaced resident Vic, who took us to the local disc golf course (click here for my review) and to a local restaurant. Both Amber and I really liked Grand Forks. It would be a wonderful place to spend six months of the year. The other six months, on the other hand...

The Geographical Center of...NOTHING?

A few months earlier in Kansas, we had some trouble finding the geographical center of the (contiguous) United States. Apparently, I never even mentioned that in my Nebraska trip recap, so here's a brief summary of that, first.

According to our road atlas, the geographical center of the (contiguous) United States was located on a dirt road a couple of blocks away from the road we were on at the time (US-36/281 near Lebanon, KS). Looking at the GPS, we thought we were on the correct dirt road, but apparently not, because we saw nothing. Rather than drive up and down miles of dirt roads looking for it, we then went back to the main highway, where we saw a sign proclaiming that the geographical center is "a few blocks that way". Weren't we just there? Well, whatever. Rather than drive a rental car down miles of dirt roads looking for it, we moved on.

Fast-forward to three weeks ago. As we passed through the town of Rugby, North Dakota, we had no trouble whatsoever finding the geographical center of North America. It's very prominently displayed.

In fact, I think it was a little too easy to find. The marker is located right along US-2 and ND-3 at Rugby's main intersection. Is that really the center of the continent? It seems a little too convenient.

Indeed, according to the USGS, the actual geographical center of North America is actually closer to Balta, ND, which places it 15 miles away from the marker. So, what gives?

Well, here's an official, albeit extremely unsatisfying, explanation I found on a few websites:

"The U.S. Geological Survey does not recognize the geographic center of North America (or that of the 50 States or the [contiguous] United States) as exact locations. The reason for this is that there is no generally accepted definition of a geographic center and no reliable way of determining it. Consequently there are probably as many geographic centers of a given area as there are definitions. Both Douglas (1930) and the U.S Geological Survey define the geographic center of an area as '...that point on which the surface of the area would balance if it were a plane of uniform thickness...' This point of balance is the area’s center of gravity. The U.S. Geological Survey’s published coordinates for the geographic center of North America are based on this definition. Even so, it is clear that any attempt to determine the center of a landmass the size of the North American continent, with its variable and complex topography can only be an approximation at best. The calculation is further complicated by other factors including the curvature of the earth, the presence (or absence) of large bodies of water, and whether or not the term 'North America' should include offshore islands."

Well, dammit, I think there should be an accepted definition for geographic centers. Otherwise, what do the markers even mean, other than that you're "kind of in the vicinity of the center, sort of, to an approximation"?

The International Peace Garden

So, yes, we understood that October wasn't the best time to be going to a "garden" located along the 49th parallel. Instead of blooming flowers, we were greeted with construction vehicles. You know, fine. But here's my biggest complaint. Even this time of year, they still charged $10/car for entry (albeit by the honor system), which wouldn't be so bad except that the bathrooms were closed! If you're going to continue to charge admission, the least you can do is leave the bathrooms open. So much for honoring the honor system. I want a refund.

That said, there was still interesting stuff to see, although nowhere near as interesting as in June through August (I'm assuming, anyway). There's the Peace Tower, located along the international border...

...some World Trade Center remains...

...and finally, a snapshot of the USA/Canada border extending beyond the boundaries of the park. Neat-o!

The garden entrance is located between customs stations, so everyone has to pass through customs upon exit, even if they're going back to the same country they came from. This means you have to bring appropriate border crossing identification when visiting the garden, whether you're going to cross the border or not. I guess that's how you handle the security logistics of a border-straddling park.

So if you're thinking about going to the International Peace Garden, my recommendation is to do it in June, July, or August. Go any other time, and there really isn't that much to see - and you won't be able to use the bathroom, either.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Get Your Digital Converter Box

I'll come back to the honeymoon recaps tomorrow (still four days to go!). But for now, something entirely different.

One of the consessions I made when I switched to DirecTV was that I would no longer be able to watch two things simultaneously on two adjacent televisions. With cable, this is easy; just get a splitter. With satellite, each television needs its own receiver, and I decided it wasn't worth another $5/month for a third receiver (in addition to the primary television and one in the bedroom). That extra television is still just sitting there, but I had only been using it for the PlayStation 2...until now.

It's been well publicized that over-the-air broadcasts are switching to digital-only starting next February, at which point you'll need something called a "digital converter box" to receive over-the-air broadcasts on older televisions. But what hasn't been as publicized is that you can apply for a $40 coupon towards the purchase of one. Even if you have cable or satellite, you can still get a coupon. So, a month or two ago, I did. Let's put that extra television to use!

I received the coupon in the mail upon returning from the honeymoon, and used it this past weekend at Wal-Mart. Including tax, the box cost $53, reduced to $13 after using the coupon. (NOTE: not all "digital converter boxes" are eligible for coupon use, as I found out when I tried checking out the first time.) Then, I hooked it up. Wahoo!

There is one catch, though. You still need an antenna; just having the box isn't enough. Fortunately, I had one lying around, probably from when I first moved to Raleigh (Cary) before I had hooked up the cable. Here's how it works: the antenna cable goes to the converter box, and the converter box output goes to the television. Then, the converter box functions like a cable or satellite box does, using a remote control to change channels. (Great, just what we need - another remote control. That makes five: one for each of the two TVs, plus the satellite, plus the sound system, plus the digital converter box.)

So, now, I can put that extra television to use. This will come in handy next College Football Saturday, as I'll be able to put both the Florida State game (for me) and the Notre Dame game (for Amber) on at the same time, side-by-side. Even better, I now get all of those extra digital over-the-air channels (called subchannels), which give me local news and weather around the clock. Time Warner carries all of those extra channels on digital cable, but with DirecTV, the only way to get them is over-the-air. But that's okay, because now I have them. Wahoo!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Honeymoon Days #10 and #11: Riding Mountain National Park

UPDATE 10/29/08: Corrected the post title. We visited Riding Mountain on days 10 and 11 of the honeymoon, not days 11 and 12. Whoops!

After an uneventful drive south from The Pas, it was time to spend two nights in Riding Mountain National Park. Yes, there are mountains in Manitoba. Here's the view from the top:

Most of Manitoba is pretty flat (surprise!), but there are a couple of mountain ridges in the southwestern part of the province. They aren't particularly steep, though. Going into the national park, a sign warned truckers of slow curves and steep grades. Uh oh! Sounds like fun! But actually, the road into the park was rather tame. And once you got up there, it didn't really feel like you were up on a mountain. That was a little disappointing, which was silly given where we were. This ain't the Canadian Rockies, you know.

We spent most of our time in the park either hiking various trails, like one around a lake...

...or relaxing in the cabin we rented:

(Did you notice the cow puppet in the lake picture?)

Yeah, the original plan was to go camping in Riding Mountain NP, but after our experience from a week earlier, we wussed out this time around. It's probably better that way, given how cold, windy, and wet it was our second day there. The cabin was really nice, and relatively cheap, so we have no regrets. The cabin had a kitchen, too, so we even got to cook macaroni and cheese! Yum!

Side comment: in Canada, Kellogg's Crispix is called Crispix Krispies, and even has Snap, Crackle, and Pop on the box. What the hell? Are they trying to market Crispix as a kids' cereal in Canada? I know it stays crunchy, even in milk, but Crispix is not a kids' cereal. Or maybe Canadian children eat better than American children, I don't know. (By the way, the French language equivalents of Snap, Crackle, and Pop are Cric, Crac, and Croc.)

The cabin was one of many privately-owned shindigs in the town of Wasagaming, located just inside the park's boundaries. Wasagaming can be best described as a poor man's Gatlinburg or Jackson (Hole). It's probably quite busy during the summer, it was delightfully peaceful - albeit not quite "dead" yet - when we were there. After Canadian Thanksgiving (the second Monday in October, the week after our visit), this town probably shuts down for the season, for all intents and purposes. Of all the places we stayed during the trip, I think Wasagaming was my favorite (favourite?).

Mile #19,000

Here's another interesting location for an odometer milestone from Saturday...

On our way back from a wedding in Beckley, West Virginia, my car's odometer reached 19,000 on I-77 southbound in the East River Mountain Tunnel. That's right, in the tunnel. Normally, being in a tunnel wouldn't be a big deal, except that you cross the Virginia/West Virginia state line while inside the tunnel. You don't see the "Welcome to [West] Virginia" signs until you leave the tunnel going each way, but the actual state line goes right through the tunnel. So the question is, when my odomoeter hit 19,000, was I in Virginia or West Virginia? For the purposes of the car mileage log, I must know!

Fortunately, there is a marker inside the tunnel that designates the actual state line. It's hard to see, but it's a little green sign up along the wall. My odometer hit 19,000 after passing the marker, driving southbound, which means the milestone took place in Virginia. Problem solved.

If the milestone had occurred in West Virginia instead, Mercer County would have become the first out-of-town county (i.e. not Wake or Durham) to appear more than once in the car mileage log. But, it wasn't meant to be.

Curling Recap: 10/24/08

End............ 12345678 |TTL
Our team....... 12010200 | 06
Their team..... 00102032 | 08

My once-forgotten theory of playing poorly just playing one week ago seemed to hold true here. Even though it was tied going into the 8th, we had no business even being in this match. At one point, the other team was lying 6, which is pretty bad (or good if you're the other team), but we managed to come back and score that end. I think that was the 2nd or the 4th. But now we have two weeks off (one for Halloween and one bye week), so maybe we'll do a little better next time.

(Yeah, I know my curling recaps aren't as good or detailed as they used to be. I guess I've gotten lazy.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

College Football...Sunday?

Florida State and Penn State both play important football games on Saturday. But we're going to a wedding in West Virginia. So...what do I do? I record the games and watch them the next day! Yes, both of them, start to finish.
I'm fortunate that the games aren't televised at the same time. Sure, I could have recorded them both, but whichever game I watched first would tell me how the other game went.

This means my DVR will be recording the local ABC affiliate for about 10 hours tomorrow. It also means I will be avoiding everyone and everything until I finish watching the games to ensure that I don't "ruin" it. So, don't be offended if I don't return your call right away. (Because, you know, I usually get lots of phone calls on Sunday morning.)

Honeymoon Day #9: Thompson to The Pas

First off, I think yesterday would have been a more appropriate day to post this picture, but oh well.

That's what it looks like up here. I don't know what the deal is with those yellow conifers, or whatever those are. I've never seen trees like that before.
While the road to Thompson was in excellent shape, the road we took back from Thompson - route 39 in particular - wasn't so smooth. Oh well. It still wasn't as bad as the road we took to Piscataquis County, Maine.
We stopped at two places along the way:

1) Pisew Falls; see separate post.

2) Clearwater Lake. We found a nice little trail in the Clearwater Lake area (which I think was actually NOT part of the Manitoba provincial park system) called "The Caves":

We might have also stopped at Grass River Provincial Park (3), except that we didn't see any signage regarding where to go or what to do. Plus, it was raining.
We got to The Pas (pronounced "The Paw") much earlier than anticipated, so we had time to go to the Sam Waller Museum. The Museum was recommended by the AAA (CAA) TourBook, and was a pleasant surprise. Sam Waller was a collector, and he collected all kinds of random crap. For example, here's a moose embryo:

How does someone get a hold of a moose embryo?

Fortunately for us, The Pas was a much nicer town than Thompson. This is more like what I expected to see up here. It was clean and "quaint" with a downtown area you wouldn't feel uncomfortable walking around. According to the museum, The Pas got its name from any one of various Cree words, all which have "pas" somewhere in there (e.g. Opaskwayak). Eventually, rather than refer to the city by one of those longer names, the French started calling it by a nickname, "Le Pas", which I guess is kind of like calling Pittsburgh "The Burgh". Then, when the city was incorporated, English speakers were in control, so they named it "The Pas". But they kept the "French" pronounciation of "Pas". Why'd they do that? The world may never know.

Pisew Falls

Pisew Falls, located about 45 minutes south of Thompson, Manitoba, was much nicer than anything in Thompson. A short walk from the parking lot, and you're there:

This might have been the most picture-worthy place we went to in Manitoba, depending on how much you like waterfalls. There is no shortage of water adhering to gravity in Manitoba, and in Canada in general. Pisew Falls happens to be the "highest waterfall accessible by car" in Manitoba. But if that's not good enough for you, then Manitoba's actual highest waterfall, Kwasitchewan Falls, is a strenuous day hike away from the Pisew Falls parking lot. We did not take that hike. Pisew Falls was good enough for us.

Here are some more pictures:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Honeymoon Day #8: Winnipeg to Thompson

If you like driving through nothing, as we do, then the drive from Winnipeg to Thompson is for you. This drive, and the trip in general, completely changed my perspective on what "nothing" is. Nebraska? Utah? Western Texas? That's something. This is nothing. And it just keeps going...

Once you get past the farmland just north of Winnipeg, and pass through a few small towns, civilization disappears. Even in the most desolate parts of Nebraska, there were still signs of civilization - a farm here, a ranch there, or maybe just a "no trespassing" sign on the side of the road. Not here. All you get are miles and miles (kilometres) of trees.

That picture was from a side trip we took, looking for something called "Steep Rock" along the shore of Lake Manitoba. The public "beach" was closed, and that's probably where the picture opportunities were. Speaking of which, Manitoba has a lot of lakes. Minnesota? Bah! I'll see your 10,000 lakes...and raise you 90,000!

While the roads that incorporated the side trip were not all paved, the main road to Thompson (route 6) was, the whole way. Except for a 20-mile stretch of construction, the road was in excellent shape all the way from Winnipeg to Thompson, and with a speed limit of 100 km/h (62 mph). I was impressed. I guess the road doesn't get as much use as the Trans-Canada Highway does.

Grand Rapids is a very small town, too small to be mentioned on a mileage sign if it were in the United States. But on this drive, encountering a town of 336 people is a big deal. And Grand Rapids is just about the only civilization you see for over 300 miles (480 kilometres). This has its advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is, rather than having to wait for a rest area to use the bathroom, you can pretty much just stop on the side of the road anywhere you feel like, and you probably won't be seen. One disadvantage is, obviously, you better not break down. And you can forget calling anyone on your cell phone out here.

I've never done a drive like this before. It was really nice to just "get away". Honeymoons are supposed to be "getaways", right? The only problem was, the place we were getting away to. I talk about the town of Thompson in a separate post.

Despite how long the drive seemed, we really didn't make it that far north into Canada, and there is a whole lot more nothing to be seen in the rest of the country. While Thompson did constitute the farthest north either of us had ever been (55°45'N), that's still well south of most of Alaska, as well as a lot of Canada. Canada is pretty big, you know. The only thing countries might rival the "nothingness" of Canada are Russia and Australia. One of our goals is to make an Australian road trip from Sydney or Melbourne to Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock), located in the center of the country. From what I've heard and read, that drive is about as "nothing" as it gets.

Thompson, Manitoba

I'm not sure what kind of expectations we had for Thompson, the northernmost city in Manitoba accessible by paved road. But it did see strange that after 300 miles of nothing, you would reach the third-largest city in the province. Yes, with a population of 15,000, Thompson is the third-largest city in Manitoba.

Well, we were not impressed with the town. I'm sure there are nice parts of Thompson, and that the town isn't all bad. But where we were, there was trash everywhere (even in the hotel parking lot), and lots of homeless people were walking around making you feel uncomfortable. Granted, they left us alone, and we never had any problems with crime or anything, but still. It wasn't exactly the most welcoming place. This wasn't like some small towns, where people are out walking their dogs waving as you pass by. There was no waving to be had here. Based on the looks on everyone's faces, everyone basically just wanted each other to leave them alone. Thompson, Manitoba: the happiest place on earth! Come on, guys - what's your problem? It was a beautiful day, especially by Thompson standards - sunny and in the 60s, which is probably unheard of for October up here. Let's get outside and go rollerblading! Or at least pick up your freaking McDonald's wrappers! Speaking of the weather, how could any homeless person possibly survive in a place like this? Do they just spend six months holed up in the homeless shelter?

Actually, we did manage to find where all of the "happy" people were hanging out.

Curling season hadn't started yet, but hockey season must have, because the adjacent hockey rink was buzzing with activity. I guess that's how people survive in Thompson. They stay inside.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Honeymoon Day #7: Winnipeg

So, what is there to do in Winnipeg? Probably a lot, but here's what we did: 1) Bought curling supplies 2) went to the Manitoba Museum; 3) went to a local mall; and 4) did laundry back at the hotel. Exciting!

I cover the curling stuff in a separate post.

After that, our next stop was the Manitoba Museum, located in downtown. We got there an hour before the museum opened, though, so we walked around downtown a bit. It looks like a standard big-city downtown, with plenty of tall buildings with the names of banks on them.

There's also small underground tunnel beneath downtown's main intersection, which I assume is there for winter. Rumor is it gets cold up here.

The Manitoba Museum was pretty much just like the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, except about Manitoba instead of North Carolina. Hooray for glaciers! Recommended for science nerds like us. Then again, these days, almost anything you can learn in a museum, you can learn on Wikipedia.

The main reason I wanted to go to a local mall was to buy a t-shirt for one of Winnipeg's local sports teams. My first choice was the Manitoba Moose, the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, but I couldn't find any Moose t-shirts. Instead, I settled on a Winnipeg Blue Bombers t-shirt. (Speaking of which, I watched a CFL game or two during our stay. I'll comment on that later.) Chances are, I am the only person you know with a Winnipeg Blue Bombers t-shirt. And that was the goal.

Now, about the hotel (the Best Western - Pembina Inn and Suites). The hotel had an indoor waterslide. Weeeee! Actually, indoor waterslides aren't that uncommon at hotels up here. I saw several hotel signs advertising waterslides across Manitoba. It wasn't a lame waterslide, either; it was four stories high! I was expecting something far wimpier.

We were a little nervous about the town beforehand, but we had no problems with Winnipeg whatsoever. Some people may not like the town, but in fact, I might not mind living there - if it wasn't so damn cold and so far away. (We were glad we changed hotels, though.)

Curling Recap: 10/17/08

While we were gone, a large van came by one Triangle Curling Club league night and sold a bunch of club members brooms and shoes, the two essential components of personal curling equipment. So, we missed out on that. But that's okay, because we went to a real Canadian curling store instead. And we got some great deals!

Both Amber and I bought our own curling broom and curling shoes. We got the same kind of broom, Asham's "best seller" and standard new-style curling broom. Many of the older club-provided brooms we had been using are "horse hair"-style brooms, while the newer brooms are made of fabric and are much more efficient. They wouldn't be very good at cleaning your kitchen floor, but for curling purposes, fabric is way to go.

But making much more of a difference are the shoes. "Real" curling shoes are made with one shoe grippy, one shoe slippery; you slide on the slippery foot when releasing your stone. For when you're not throwing, many shoes (including ours) come with a grippy cover that you can place over the slippery shoe. Most of the curlers on TV don't use a gripper, though, because they're so adept at sliding around the ice on the slippery foot at breakneck speed. My goal is to be able to do that someday.

The shoes we bought were on sale due to being only slightly used and returned, and we had a coupon from our club president, so we were able to get two pairs of shoes plus two brooms for $200 (US), including tax, which is a very good deal. We expected to pay $200 per person. Wahoo!

Now, fast-forward two weeks to last Friday night, when we had a chance to try out or new stuff for the first time:

End............ 12345678 |TTL
Their team..... 11000300 | 05
Our team....... 00221041 | 10

Our success was probably due to the other team being short-handed rather than us playing really well, but our team lost 11-4 during our trip, so I guess it balances out. Having your own stuff is quite nice. We actually look and feel like real curlers now! Before we had our own equipment, we borrowed the standard-fare club equipment, like most newcomers. There's certainly nothing wrong with the club brooms and sliders, but it's nice to have your own, top-of-the-line stuff.

Using real curling shoes makes releasing the stones much easier, because you slide much faster and farther than with the strap-on half-sliders we had been using. This bodes well for me, since I seem to be more accurate when I don't have to throw it, although I didn't really have draw weight down pat last week.

But perhaps, the best thing about having our own equipment is that now we can go to out-of-town bonspiels (tournaments) and bring our own, official-looking equipment with us. Eventually, we'll get around to that. This winter will provide plenty of opportunity for that sort of thing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Honeymoon Day #6: Thunder Bay to Winnipeg

We had a couple of options here. One was to take the slightly longer route (11) by way of Fort Frances (the Canadian side of International Falls), or take the more direct route (17) straight to Kenora. I don't know what we would have seen or encountered had we taken route 11, but on route 17, we encountered lots of this:

In a country where many of the major through roads are two-lane highways, they really like using a "lollipop man" (a.k.a. flagman) to close one of the two lanes. There was a stretch where we encountered six or seven lollipop men in a two-hour span, and had to stop for all of them, often for several minutes. This made the drive rather long and frustrating. We saw plenty of lollipop men throughout both Northern Ontario and Manitoba, but never as many as we did that day. We don't see this so much in the United States, but I bet we would if we didn't have so many four-lane highways.

There wasn't a whole lot of interesting stuff between Thunder Bay and the much-anticipated Ontario/Manitoba border. There was a large commemorative plaque (Americans call them "historical markers") at the Eastern/Central time zone boundary along 90°W, but we didn't stop. Why didn't we stop? That would have made a good picture.

Once we entered Manitoba, we did a few things:

1) Stopped at the Manitoba welcome center, which unlike the Ontario welcome center heading in the opposite direction, was still open! Good for you, Manitoba. While we were there, we loaded up on pamphlets and such.

2) Drove to the nearby Whiteshell Provincial Park (see separate post).

3) Headed back to the four-lane, 100 km/h (wahoo!) Trans-Canada Highway and made our way to Winnipeg; see separate post about my first impressions of Manitoba.

The Manitoba Provincial Park System

With state (or provincial) parks, you never know what you're going to get. In some states/provinces, parks are well-marked, and everything is very easy to find. In others, however, a "state park" or "provincial park" might just mean a plot of land that's been set aside from commercial development, without any significant signage or recreational opportunities for out-of-area tourists like us. While Ontario's park system falls under the first category, Manitoba's provincial park system falls under the second category.

On the way from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg, we stopped at Whiteshell Provincial Park, looking for interesting stuff. We didn't find anything. Just about the only thing we found was a goose sanctuary, and by the time we got that far (about an hour after first entering the park), we'd had enough. We had no clue what to do or where to go. Now, granted, we could have done a little more research beforehand. But is a visitor or information center (centre) so much to ask? How about some signage telling us where to go for what? This was pretty much the case at every other provincial park we tried in Manitoba, so we didn't do a whole lot in that department during our trip.

Manitoba: Canada's Iowa

The above picture is actually from Nebraska, but it might as well be Manitoba. The southern part of the province looks pretty much the same as most of the Great Plains. I called it Canada's version of Iowa. And that's fine; Canada needs to grow their corn somewhere.

But much like Nebraska, the interesting stuff in Manitoba is all in the northern part of the province. Why did we go to Manitoba, anyway? And why did we spend twice as much time in Manitoba as in Northern Ontario?

I'll tackle the first question first. Why did we go to Manitoba? For one, we like Canada, and Manitoba is in Canada. But it also worked out nicely in terms of logistics. We wanted the majority of our honeymoon to involve Canada, preferably a part of Canada we've never been to before. I've done the Toronto and Montréal thing before, and since we were already going to be in Toledo for the wedding, Northern Ontario seemed like a logical first step. And then after we were done there, Manitoba was the next logical step as the next province over. We decided to save the Alberta and British Columbia for another day, since we have long term aspirations to drive to Alaska, and that drive will incorporate heavy doses of Western Canada.

Now, the second question: why spend six days in Manitoba compared to three in Northern Ontario? Well, as you may have figured out by now, we like to drive. And Manitoba has a few more roads than Northern Ontario. If you enter Canada at Sault Ste. Marie, there's basically one road through Northern Ontario. A few spur roads head north to various small towns, but you'd have to take the same road both ways, and we generally try to avoid those situations. But once you get to Manitoba, things open up a bit. There are to distinct ways to get north to Thompson (the farthest north you can get in Manitoba on paved roads), and since we like long, desolate drives, we decided this was the thing to do. Once we worked around that, and worked the occasional non-driving day into the trip, six days in Manitoba was the result. We basically explored every region of the province during our trip (excluding north of Thompson), and saw all kinds of stuff - some good, some bad.

So, yeah. Manitoba may sound like a completely and entirely lame place to visit - and for most people, it probably is - but not for us!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Honeymoon Day #5: Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

This was the first day of the trip where we didn't have to pack up everything and head to the next destination, so we decided to take it easy and just go to one place. We chose Sleeping Giant Provincial Park (1):

The large plateau in the background is the "sleeping giant"; the rock formation in the foreground is the "sea lion". The sea lion is actually on the cover of the AAA TourBook for Ontario (2008 edition), so it's always gratifying when you can find the "trademark" picture in real life.

And just to show you that we actually did come here:

The sea lion wasn't far from the parking lot, but we took a much longer hike through the park.

If we had kept going, we could have actually gone all the way up to the top of the Sleeping Giant. But going that far would have taken us almost all the way to sunset, not to mention exhausted us, thus basically "killing" the day and not leaving any time for relaxation, which is an important part of any vacation, honeymoon or not. (You can say we "wimped out" if you want to.) This was about as close as we got to the "sleeping giant":

It actually isn't that far up there, but it was already a 20 km (12 mi) round-trip hike just to get that far.

On the way back to Thunder Bay, we stopped at the Terry Fox Memorial and Scenic Lookout (2), covered in a separate post.
Amber's flickr site has more pictures from the park.

I actually don't have much to say about Thunder Bay, the city. I guess that's a good thing. About the only noteworthy thing I have on Thunder Bay is that the coldest temperature of the trip was there: 28°F (-2°C). That was colder than anything we experienced anywhere in Manitoba. Given that this was the first week of October, and that a morning low of 28°F is only slightly below average for this time of year (the average October low in Thunder Bay is 31°F), I can only imagine what this place is like in the winter. If you think Duluth, Minnesota is cold, well, Thunder Bay is north of Duluth. Take that!

The Terry Fox Memorial and Scenic Lookout

Approaching Thunder Bay, we saw lots of signs alluding to someone named Terry Fox. We had never heard of him, so we stopped at the Terry Fox Memorial and Scenic Lookout to find out more. Please tell us more! I thought it was an inspiring story, so I'll share it.

Terry Fox is considered one of the greatest Canadian heroes of the 20th century. At age 18, his right leg was amputated as a result of cancer, but he survived. Three years later, using a prosthetic leg, he embarked on the "Marathon of Hope", a cross-country run to raise money for cancer research. He started at the Atlantic Ocean in Newfoundland with the goal of making it to the Pacific Ocean in British Columbia by running about 26 miles per day. But before he reached Thunder Bay, he had to stop, because cancer had spread to his lungs. Ten months later, at the age of 22, he died.

The Terry Fox Memorial and Scenic Lookout is located at the approximate location where Fox had to end his run prematurely. Here's the view, with the "sleeping giant" in the background:

Only problem was, when we were there (5:30p), they had already closed the public bathrooms! Bah! Terry Fox wouldn't have stood for that. (Or, he wouldn't have cared. You decide.)

The Housing Search Resumes

Now that we're back home, and married, it's time to start the housing search back up again. Wahoo!

We've all but decided on the Parkwood neighborhood at this point. It's close to work, is in a nice neighborhood, and has reasonably priced houses. And, we know some people who are living their already. Now is the time to start looking at specific houses, and the best way to do that is to drive around the neighborhood. Let's roll!

Before embarking on our journey, we printed out a map, along with locations of all of the "for sale" houses we found online. But we also wanted to look around the entire neighborhood for "by owner" houses, since they're not listed online. Actually, we didn't have much luck with the "by owner" market. Just about all of the houses we're considering at this point have a seller's agent.

What can we find out by driving around that we can't find out online? Lots of things. First off, it's good to actually look at the house, and get a feel for where it's located. What kind of street is the house on? Is it "cramped" between other houses, or is there plenty of space in between? What about the backyard? How about porches and pull-in garages? Is there enough space in the trees for satellite reception? (The last question was foremost on my mind, I have to admit. Then again, Time Warner in North Carolina picked up the Big Ten Network two months after my switch to DirecTV, so going back to cable wouldn't be so bad.)

The search allowed us to narrow our search from the 20 houses that were for sale down to about seven. And since they all have agents, we might as well get an agent, too. (If the seller has an agent, it doesn't cost anything for the buyer to get an agent. And since this is our first house buying experience, having someone walk us through it probably isn't a bad idea.) So, getting an agent is the next step. I won't reveal which specific houses we're looking at, because I don't want to compromise the negotiations, you know.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Honeymoon Day #4: Lake Superior P.P. to Thunder Bay

This drive was my favorite (favourite) drive of the trip:

There was a lot of interesting stuff along this drive. We could have probably spent an entire week in Ontario's "North of Superior" region. But, instead, we had three days, one of which was spent almost entirely on the road.

We stopped at three notable places along the way.

#1) White River, the "home of Winnie-the-Pooh":

"But Chris! The cartoon wasn't based in some obscure town in Northern Ontario. What the hell are you talking about?" Well, here's how it goes. The character Winnie-the-Pooh was created by A. A. Milne, who named the character after his son's teddy bear, which was named after a real-life bear at the London Zoo, which was named after the city of Winnipeg by the bear's original owner, who first purchased the bear in White River, Ontario, en route to London. So, there you go.

#2) Aguasabon Falls:

There are a lot of waterfalls in Ontario, and also in Manitoba. If you like waterfalls, Canada is a good place to go. There were at least a half-dozen other opportunities to see waterfalls along this route. Waterfalls are nice, but we don't need to see all of them.

#3) Ouimet Canyon; see separate post.

In between, we had plenty of views of the Lake Superior shore, and the fall foliage:

Along the way, we skipped several provincial parks, and an entire national park. Why didn't we spend more time here, again? (There's a perfectly good reason why, which I'll discuss when I talk about Manitoba.)

Since the drive is so nice, it doesn't bother me that the speed limit was only 90 km/h (55 mph), and that just about everyone was driving faster than me. But that seems to be generally true in Canada. According to my statistics on passing on two-lane highways (see by the numbers), I get passed much more frequently in Canada than in the United States. And that's okay with me; getting passed is much easier than passing.

(Note: the passing statistics don't count passes made in a temporary extra passing lane, of which the TCH had several. A pass only counts in my statistics if the pass was made on the other side of the yellow line.)