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On our southbound journey from Tuktoyaktuk, we pulled into Dawson right around 7am.  We were sick of eating microwaved food in our van, so we elected to get some grub from Dawson’s Triple J Hotel.  Not bad food.  I could have used some spicier salsa on my breakfast burrito, but it’s Canada. Their specialty is syrup, not salsa.

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This town is not really set up for tourists yet. There are only a few tour guides and places to stay, and there are no restaurants.  However, there is one entrepreneurial family selling muskox burgers, muffins, and granola bars out of a tent.  IIRC, it’s called “Tyson’s Burgers” and he’s grilling up around lunch time.  A woman in the tent sells the best granola and muffins with local berries she’s collected on the landscape.

We ended up buying something like 20 granola bars from her and plenty of burgers and muffins.  She was confounded on someone could request so much food.  I think their culture has a different consumption standard than what we are used to.

Muskox burgers were tasty. They definitely tasted oilier and different, but still good with cheese and toppings.  I put a bunch of veggies on my burger and after visiting the general store, I probably ended up eating $10 worth of lettuce.  Prices for vegetables up there is EXPENSIVE.

We took the rest of the food from Tyson’s Burgers with us for the trip back to Inuvik and Dawson City.  We fought over those granola bars.

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Vegreville Egg
July 62018

Just by sheer chance, we pulled into this town Vegreville on some Polish or Ukrainian heritage festival.  There were lots of people celebrating in town and at this park that has a rotating decorated egg.

We got some poutine and ice cream to eat from some of the local stands in the park.  Overall, pretty eventful for such a small town.

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Still running behind schedule. Thankfully, the border patrol didn’t detain us for too long, and we were able to get a recommendation from the tourism center that George’s Burgers was a good local place to eat.

We pulled into Morris Manitoba around lunchtime.

George’s Burgers was ok.  Not much of a selection.  But it’s a small town, so beggars can’t be choosers.

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Glenn couldn’t resist.

We were driving across Minnesota when we stumbled upon this rootbeer stand.  Glenn nearly creamed his jeans.  He insisted we pull over and get some food.  I skeptically asked, “Seriously, are we doing this,” because we had literally just eaten a huge $5 Chinese buffet (also Glenn’s idea) only an hour before that.

He was giddy.  “Let’s get some food,” he bellowed.

Overall, the food was pretty decent and the root beer was spot on.  However, from then on, I told Glenn that we need to compromise sometimes.  He exclaimed, “FUCK that. I’m eating.”  As we pulled out of the driveway, he squeezed out the van door and ran to order a second hamburger “for the road,” as he called it.  It was sickening, seeing his gelatinous belly and sweaty fingers polish off that burger by the time we hit the St Croix.  For the duration of the drive to central Wisconsin, he begged me to pull over at various A&W’s and other restaurants to satisfy his gluttonous desires.

Glenn, if you are reading this, please visit.

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There is a lot to see in Minot, North Dakota.

We cruised into town right around dinner time.  Things were shutting down (this is North Dakota, so places don’t really stay open passed 6pm), so rushed to downtown and the visitor’s center for suggestions.

Minot has a really expansive Scandinavian museum.  The inside and gift shop were closing, so we got a chance to chat with the staff before they headed home for the night.

Naturally, Glenn never misses an opportunity to have his genitals groped by a trollish looking geriatric.

They shut the place down, so we meandered the Scandinavian Heritage Museum grounds.

They have a legit old wood temple from the old country.  Pretty astonishing.

Before the staff left, we asked them for something to eat that is different than anywhere else in the world.  They said to go to Ebeneezer’s and eat some sort of Frog Burger.  Intrigued, we tracked down the bar and grill, and ordered a few things.  Turns out the frog burger wasn’t made out of actual frogs.  Bummer.

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The only thing open at this time of the day was Tara’s Pizza, and it wasn’t anything special.  But since we didn’t have any restaurants for the next 300 miles, we figured beggars can’t be choosers.

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Flin Flon Manitoba
July 32017

Flin Flon is one of the northernmost towns in Manitoba.

As you drive in, there is a museum about the history of Flin Flon.

Overall, it was a nice place to stretch our legs. All these Canadian towns have museums where they collect all the stuff from their 54-year history and call it historical.

Apparently Flin Flon’s biggest tourist attraction is a staircase. It’s called the “Hundred Stairs” or something. When you get there, you are completely underwhelmed, and you give it the ol’ “Hundred Yard Stare,” hence the name “Hundred Stairs.”

We spent the rest of the day getting lunch at some underwhelming sandwich restaurant and looking for a pair of pants.  Everything was expensive.

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Churchill Manitoba
July 52016

Churchill was the main destination for the 2016 WVO Roadrip.  It was truly an exotic and special place.

As we approached the town, the train started to bustle with conversation and activity.  Several of the occupants had been on the train for over three days, travelling the entire distance from Winnipeg.  Everyone was pretty excited to get off this train.  Even Glenn and I (who cheated by getting on in Thompson) who had a measly 18-hour journey was ready to depart.

Glenn and I attempted a rather risky gamble on this trip.  You see, the trains from Winnipeg to Churchill travels every 3 days.  One is going northbound while the other is going southbound.  That means you have to stay in Churchill for a minimum of 3 days to proceed back south.  There is one workaround: take the same train back south that you took north.  The train rests in Churchill for several hours before heading back south.  This is a huge gamble because if the train had arrived late into Churchill, the southbound departure time DOES NOT change.  So, if it was 8 hours late (not unlikely in the summer after a rain), that means the train will basically depart right after it arrived.  We had already purchased our return tickets, so we were really wishing for an early or on-time arrival in Churchill.  Thankfully, our arrival was nearly on time, maybe an hour late at most.

Since we didn’t know when we would have arrived in Churchill, we literally didn’t plan anything.  We knew what was available to see in Churchill (Polar bear tours, beluga whale tours, Hudson Bay boating, Prince of Wales Fort Historical Site, etc) but we never booked anything because we worried that we would miss our reservation with a delayed train or mechanical failure on the van.

So we plopped off the train and asked the train station clerk for suggestions on rapid service for tours.  She introduced us to the good people at Lazy Bear Lodge who got us hooked up right away.

I think time is handled a little more relaxed in this town.  Since the train dictates the schedule of the town, no one is really hampered with strict reservations and whatnot.  It’s pretty easy going.

So the man from Lazy Bear Lodge took us over to his place to set up our site-seeing.  He was very accommodating.  He literally took us from the station to his lodge without us having any reservation or anything.  On the drive, he asked us where we are staying, and we just said we are leaving on the train that evening.  He was surprised, and encouraged us to stay for several days, because it’s hard to see everything in Churchill in such a short time.  But he didn’t argue much (Canadian niceness) and got us on the next tour in the Hudson asap.

He told us the boat ride will be frigid so we needed to get our winter gear on fast.  The boat left in less than hour.  He also sold us some nice breakfast buffet from their lodge, so we could get some breaky before the day.  If we did need a place to stay, we would have definitely stayed there.  It was a nice place.

Out on the boat, he drove us passed icebergs and beluga whales.  It was wild!

The boat ride took us out to the neighboring peninsula where the Prince of Wales Fort Historical Site resided.  This was a blast from the past.  This fort dated back to the 1710’s!  Amazing this little frozen area had such old artifacts.

Our guide and the National Park ranger had high powered rifles with them.  They constantly talked about the danger of polar bears.  They said that if a polar bear came on the horizon, they would have to kill it for the safety of the tourists.  It was serious.

After the boat ride, our guide let us venture out into the town, with the understanding that if a bear sees you, you MUST find a nearby car or house to escape into.  By Churchill law, no cars or houses can be locked, so humans can find refuge.  I was starting to think they residents here are overly protective or playing me.  Then something proved me how serious this place is.

We of course wanted to visit the Hudson Bay and possibly go swimming.  It was way too cold, probably in the 30’s that day and the water still had ice in it.  As we walked along the shore, we saw a monument.  I thought it was some kind of thing talking about the Hudson Bay.  Nope.  It was a literal monument to all the people who died in that bay, from boating accidents, polar bear attacks, and other things.  I guess the locals were right about the risks in this area.  We tossed some rocks in the water and decided to stay indoors for the remainder of the stay.  No sense in risking our lives if a polar bear spotted us from the horizon.

Churchill has a nice community center, as most of these northern towns have.  There isn’t much to do in these places for the 22-hour darkness of the winter months, so interiority is important.  Also, they have a great Eskimo / Itsanitaq Museum with dozens of artifacts and mounted animals from the north.

After all of that, we needed to get on the train back to the south.  Even though they said we wouldn’t be able to do everything in Churchill in 8 hours, we did do a lot.  We didn’t do one of the famed Polar Bear Tours, but I think we risked our lives enough for one day.

It was another 18-hour ride back to Thompson, so we elected to sleep the remainder of the train ride.  It was a good day.

 

(Update 2017:  While we were in Flin Flon on the 2017 WVO roadtrip to Fort McMurray AB, we learned from some of the locals that the train to Churchill was shut down due to railway damage.  The government and corporation that handles the railway are fighting to see who will fix it.  I hope they fix it soon, but if not, things will look bleak for the tourist industry in Churchill as well as for the farmers that rely on the grain transports up to the Hudson Bay for shipping across Canada and worldwide.  )

 

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Kokoms restaurant makes some delicious food with a native delicacy called Bannock.

Back in 2010 or 2012 (I can’t remember, getting old), we ate our first bite of Bannock.  We were driving through Smithers British Columbia, and there was a food stand on the side of the THC.  Never missing an opportunity to eat food, we pulled over.  It’s basically a sweet bread, and you pour on honey or corn syrup to give it a little oomph.  The closest analog in the American southwest would be sopapillas or in the midwest would be a light and airy biscuit.

When we entered Dryden Ontario, we stopped at their delightful Tourism Center.  We always ask, what’s something we can eat here, that is like no where else in the world.  They immediately said we should eat a Kokom’s Bannock Shack, where they make burgers and fries with Bannock buns.  What a delightful fusion: greasy delicious hamburger smooshed between a couple sweetened bread buns.

Overall, the place was pretty damn good.  They even had a vegetarian menu (you have to ask for it), and their veggie-bannock-burger was even better than their actual bannock meat hamburger.

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Cleveland Ohio
July 202015

Honestly, I don’t know why Cleveland gets a bad wrap.  It’s a delight!

First we asked some locals for a good place to eat, so they suggested the infamous Melt Bar and Grill.  They had something like 12 types of grilled cheese.

Then we drove to the university area to visit the History Museum.  Glenn saw that dinosaur suppository and got a little excited for insertion.

Then we circumambulated the Frank Gehry building on the campus.

And checked out the famous Ronald McDonald House.

And cruised through downtown.

Cleveland was actually an amazing town.

 

 

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Avon New York
July 202015

After visiting PEI, we elected to drive through the night to get to Avon, NY.  A man named James had contacted us and wanted to meet up.  He is a fellow greaser and offered to help us get back to Wisconsin.

So off to Avon it is.  On the way there, we saw a bunch of ancient Painted Lady houses.

Next we got a burger at Tom Wahl’s.  This is a local institution.

Then we met up with James.  He was a great guy.  Thanks for giving us a tour of your grease vehicles and topping us off with a full tank of VO.  🙂

It was getting late so we decided to stay at the historical Avon Inn.  It is totally haunted.

It had this cool 19th century interior with all sorts of creaking and other spooky sounds.  Glenn totally got scared throughout the night, and said some ghost raped him.

 

 

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Charlottetown PEI
July 192015

This place is like a time warp.  There must have been buildings here from the 19th and possibly the 18th centuries.

Charlottetown is kind of like the Philadelphia of the U.S.  It was where Canada declared it’s quasi-independence.  We went on this tour of the Founder’s Hall, where they described how they established their confederacy.  Basically, the eastern colony governors met up to have a shindig in 1860-something, and the western territory reps crashed the party.  They all got drunk and decided to draft up some kind of union.  They didn’t have the balls to declare independence like their big brother America, so they basically stayed the proverbial basement of Great Britain until their 30’s.

Anyways, enough joking about Canada’s history.  Instead, let’s focus on the delicious poutine served up by the hot woman at the Chip Shop in Charlottestown.

 

 

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Hardy har har.  Someone on the ferry to St Barbe said that all the locals love to eat this crap called “Cod Tongue.”  So we found a restaurant in St Anthony that served this so-called “delicacy.”  Upon trying this, we immediately wondered if we were being punked and looked for the hidden cameras.  It’s basically like a gelatinous and tendony tongue that is battered, fried, and served to human beings to make them gag or induce vomiting.  It’s a suitable substitute for ipecac, if necessary.

 

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Ever since our first trip to Quebec in 2009, we have always sought out poutine.  It’s the best Canadian food ever.  Back in those days, I worked with a group of Quebecois that recommended I try the stuff out.  Ever since, we’ve been addicted.

Thankfully, the rest of Canada has caught on to this delicious food, and the more I travel around the continent, the more I find this treat on menus across the country.

I distinctly remember this particular meal, because of the circumstances.  We had been driving since our visit to Wemindji, and couldn’t find any decent food in the remote parts of northern Quebec.  As we pulled into St Felicien, it was approaching 10pm, which means most restaurants were already closed.

On the main drag, we could this small poutine stand with a tiny interior dining space.  They were cleaning up, so they probably didn’t want to see us pulling up.  I got to use some of my piss-poor French, and I asked for two entrees of poutine.  She said something, that I took as ” Want to eat inside or take it to go?”  I knew the words for “eat inside” and “to go” so I said we would eat inside.  She looked a little perturbed, but since she didn’t know English and I didn’t know French that well, she let us in.

After a short wait, this arrived.  YUM!

Only after we finished our meal and headed out on the road, did I re-review what the woman had said.  Then it dawned on my she was saying we “couldn’t eat inside because it’s close at 9pm, and it would have to be ‘to-go.'”  Ha!  I just picked up on the words I knew and tried to piece it together from my experiences in Paris.  We ate pretty fast, so I hope we weren’t too much of a burden.

We continued on passed Saguenay to the St Lawrence Seaway.

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Wemindji Quebec
July 122015

One of the first major destinations for our 2015 WVO Roadtrip was Wemindji Quebec. Wemindji is a wonderful town. Canadians are nice, but Wemindji residents are even nicer.

Our goals for the Wemindji visit were two-fold. One part was seeing this northern First Nation town. We had researched a lot of this, and found some interesting history here.

The second part, we wanted to use Wemindji’s location on the James Bay to “cheat” a trip to Nunavut. For the longest time, we were trying to figure out how to get to the Canadian territory of Nunavut.  It’s the only place in Canada that cannot be driven to, except by ice road.  We are not prepared to drive this veggie van through an ice road, so our only option is to fly up to Nunavut.

Except, I found a loop hole.  After reviewing several maps, I found an interesting fact: Any island in the Arctic Ocean that is disconnected to the mainland at low tide is considered part of Nunavut.  That rule also applies to any island in the Hudson Bay, as well as the James Bay.  So even a tiny island off the coast of Wemindji is considered part of Nunavut.

Knowing this, we wanted to go out on a boat into the James Bay and find an island, and officially visit Nunavut.  We had contacted a woman representing the burgeoning tourism “industry” in this town, and she said she would set us up.  But just in case she flaked out, we also brought a small raft and outboard motor to get us out in the bay.

As we drove into town, the local police pulled us over.  They were really cool about it, and said that we didn’t violate any law, they just wanted to talk to the people in the van with California plates.  They must have spread the word about our arrival, because once we got to the shoreline, people were coming out of the woodwork.  Eventually our tourism agent appeared with a man willing to give us a tour of the James Bay.  Awesome!

After our tour, we ate at the Wemindji cafeteria.  Most of these northern towns are subsidized by the Canadian government, and have some great food.  The assistant mayor heard of our arrival and sat with us.  He gave us a book about the history of Wemindji and some other souvenirs.  The town was really special.

They wanted us to stay for the night and join in a tribal celebration. They were going to harvest some exotic meats for us, but unfortunately we had a lot of miles to go tonight.

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Relais Checkpoint
July 122015

In the middle of nowhere, there is a small camp with a few trailers, buildings, and cafeteria called the Relais Routier.  It’s an outpost between Matagami and Radisson on the James Bay Road that has some very basic services, so if you have a problem, this is your only hope for help.  It is only open certain times of the day, so if you need fuel or mechanical help after hours, you are screwed.  So plan your trip on the JBR carefully.

We pulled into the area in the morning to check it out.  We didn’t need to stop, because we packed all our fuel and food with us, but since we drove 381 kilometers without seeing much, we figured it why not.  It has a similar vibe as Eagle Plaines on the Dempster Hwy or Coldfoot on the Dalton Hwy, where it’s basically just bare-bones services.

The cafeteria was open 24 hours.  There was a Quebecois chef taking orders in French, and I mumbled my best attempt at ordering a vegetarian omelet.  Overall, the food was pretty good, but the ingredients were kind of old.  Not bad, just not fresh.  Considering where we were, this was acceptable.

The cafeteria has a seating area with televisions connected to satellite stations.  You can catch up on the news and weather while heading north.  Also, there are land line pay phones that work.  I tried one.

After a hot breakfast, we filled up and headed up to Wemidji.

 

On the return trip back south, we stopped in Relais again. This time, we were driving in the rain, and the storm was getting exceptionally bad.  We wanted to get to the station, so we could see the TV’s and ascertain the severity of the storm. However, we quickly learned that this area is so remote, that most doppler radar stations are nowhere near this area.  It wasn’t even showing any rain or radar signatures.

Photo of our drive on the James Bay Road in one of the worst rain storms we ever encountered. It was almost as if the road became a waterway.

I decided to call my dad and see if he could use weather radar on the internet.  He couldn’t find any radar stations in our area.  It was about to hail, so we tried to park the van in a safe-ish area, but we were still rather exposed.  The few rooms the station had were all booked up, so we just elected to sleep in the van for the night until the storm subsided.

When we woke up, this doge was sitting outside the driver’s door of our van. He was a good boy.

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All these towns in northern Ontario are basically tiny little First Nation hamlets, that have all sorts of different names for food.  We were going to cruise on passed Longlac, but there was a sign selling something called “Wedgies.” Intrigued, we pulled off to check it out.  In the Woodcrest Confectionary, they were selling the mystery wedgies.  We asked for a large set of whatevertheyare, and it turned out they were just potato wedges.

Now that we got our daily supply of sodium and carbs, we were free to continue on….

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On the 2006 WVO Roadtrip,

8:15pm GN Monday.  1600 Trip Meter Reading.

The replacement of the small/primary filter.  We stopped off to grab some food from a Village Inn and snapped photos of the “hot rod” while it’s still sitting high.  

We expected it to fall soon thereafter, but it maintained its stressed appearance for the remainder of the journey.

 

On the 2014 WVO Roadtrip, we hammered down to make Denver before dinner.  But we still needed to make one more quick stop before Valerie took her nap.

So we pulled off I-70 at Glenwood Springs.  At the time, we didn’t know about the wonderful donut shop named “Coloradough,” so we decided to pull off by the rest area which allows you access to the Colorado River.  We skipped rocks on the shoreline for an hour and released some energy.

Eventually, we had to go.  But Valerie didn’t want to leave.  I couldn’t blame her.  She was 3 and didn’t want to get back in the van for a few hours.  She threw a fit, but after sitting with her for a few minutes, she decided to move on.

 

On the 2018 WVO Roadtrip, we had to stop off at the infamous Coloradough.  It’s a doughnut shop that is amazing.  We got there after hours, but the owner was working in the back.  After he realized we were taking selfies in front of his beloved shop, he struck up a conversation with us.  After a few minutes, he generously gave us a few day-old doughnuts for our trip.  Thanks so much!

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After visiting one of Manitoba’s many oddity museums scattered along the THC, we stopped of at our favorite hamburger joint in The Peg.

But first, some pictures of the museum.  If you don’t know, Canada is a baby country.  Anything older than 50 years is considered “historical” so most towns collect all their trash and put it in a “museum.”  It’s  a great place to get off the road for an hour, stretch your legs, and see cars from the 1970’s and two-headed cows.

I can’t recall which museum this was.  We’ve been to probably every one of these oddball museums in the Great Plains, so they all kind of blur together.  This museum even had a few cars that were older than 1970.  Crazy.

Anyway, nothing wets the appetite like mutated bovine meat, so we stopped at Nuburger.  Or maybe it’s called Unburger.  Who knows.  My picture shows “UNBURGER” but google says it’s “Nuburger.”  I guess seeing is not believing.  Instead, believe your internet corporate overlords.

A while back, we went to Winnipeg on a different trip.  As always, we must stop in at the local tourism center and hassle the clerks.  They are glorious.  We ask, “Where is the most unique place to eat here in this city?”  And like a genie in a lamp, they grant our wish.

We went to Nuburger as per their suggestion because they have some oddball burgers.  Falafal burgers, bison burgers, all sorts of burgers.  And the toppings are tops.  Not some slimy poor-quality fast food here, but rather much nicer high-end stuff.

We returned to the Nuburger in 2016 and 2017 as well.  Basically, if we are cruising through The Peg, we are getting an Unburger STAT.

We filled up the grease tank in their parking lot after the meal, and headed to the States.  That’s the end of our journey in Canada for 2013, but that’s not the end of the entire roadtrip.

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As we drove east on the Yellowhead, we were approaching the town of Smithers and the area around the Skeena River Crossing.

On the side of the road was a small stand selling something called Bannock.  If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically a sweet bread, and you pour on honey or corn syrup to give it a little oomph. The closest analog in the American southwest would be sopapillas or in the midwest would be a light and airy biscuit.

Ever since this visit in 2013, we have been looking for more bannock.  In Dryden Ontario, there was a cool shop that sold Bannock Burgers.  Really amazing.

Nearby we stopped at a rest area to stretch our legs.  The sites of the Canadian Rockies along the Yellowhead are amazing.  Here was the horizon near Houston British Columbia.  Every minute was a postcard moment.

 

 

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After visiting Prudhoe Bay, we drove down to Fairbanks to visit a friend of ours from central Wisconsin, Kristin.  We knew each other since high school and early college, and eventually she moved up to Alaska.

We stayed in touch, and connected on the trip.  She and her friends were going canoeing, so we tagged along.  Glenn and I hadn’t canoed in a few decades, so we were really rusty.  Scratch that, really terrible.

It got so bad that they decided to split us up so that we don’t end up in the drink.  Probably the best plan.  We hadn’t slept since our time in Prudhoe Bay so we were kind of spent, but pushed on.  It was a really rewarding time, canoeing in the Alaskan wilderness.

At the end of the day, they treated us to a pile of hunted meats. They were amazing hosts.

Eventually, we had to hit the road.  The sun still wasn’t setting, so we just decided to keep driving south and see how far we can get.

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It’s about a 200-mile drive from the Atigun Pass to Prudhoe Bay.  It’s all gradual downhill and eventually you get to about sea level.  The Dalton highway does not go all the way to the Arctic Ocean (unlike the Canadian Tuktoyaktuk Dempster Hwy) but stops short in the tiny hamlet of Deadhorse.  Prudhoe Bay and Deadhorse are companion settlements, with Deadhorse being the primary civilian complex, and Prudhoe pertaining to the private oil company development.  We drove up as far as we could, and got stopped in Deadhorse.

One thing we noticed on drive up near Deadhorse, was that our brakes stopped working.  Just great.  All those bumps and washboards must have blown out the vacuum pump on the van.  We still had some non-power-assisted brakes but it was rather dicey.  We limped it to the settlement at about 20 mph.

As we pulled into town, there was a small sign and mail box.  They said to take a free map of town.  Inside the box was a few dozen 8 1/2 x 11 pieces of photocopied paper, with a hand drawn map of the town.  As crude as it was, this was crucial, because the town doesn’t have any signage, road signs, street signs, anything….  And since most the buildings are literal trailers brought up from Fairbanks, every building looks the same.  So the map is important.

Since we didn’t have brakes, our first stop was the Prudhoe Bay Hotel.  We honestly didn’t know what to expect.  Perhaps they had no vacancy?  Perhaps they only catered to the oil company workers?

The first thing we did was go to their lobby, find their wifi, and overnighted a new vacuum pump.  Then we went asked if they had any vacancy, since we’d need to spend the night waiting for our pump.  They had vacancy, and thankfully, they were able to score us a room with two beds.  This place is kind of like a barracks so lots of the oil company workers stay here.  It was kind of expensive (about $205 per person), but once we realized what came with that price, it was well worth it.

Since Prudhoe Bay is basically a company town, there isn’t much for services.  There are no restaurants.  So this hotel includes an impressive buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and also they have a small after-hours hot meal program as well.  They had a real chef that cooked some amazing food.  That was worth half the cost of the room alone.

Also, the Prudhoe Bay Hotel has a gym, rec room, and entertainment room.  While we were there, two other retirement couples got stranded in the town due to vehicle mechanical issues as well.  But the majority of the clients were guys coming and going to the oil fields.

The next day, that vacuum pump didn’t show up.  In fact, when we booked the room, the staff laughed at us when we told them we had “overnighted” something up to Prudhoe Bay.  We should have known.

Then we decided to see if the local “NAPA” or mechanics could help us out.  On the paper map, there was supposedly a NAPA on the outside of town.  We drove to the place, but didn’t see any NAPA sign.  We entered, and it was a NAPA, and it had one of everything. It was impressively stocked.  They even had a vacuum pump for the 1980’s IDI Truck.  However, not so much for the IDI Van.

The guy at NAPA said that it’s too bad we have a gasoline vehicle, because all the shops in town focus on diesels.  We replied that we did have a van, and he got us in touch with the Ford mechanic in town.

We drove over and met up with the main Ford guy.  He was from Menominee Wisconsin! Small world.  He said they used to work on these IDI’s all the time, but ever since the proliferation of the powerstroke, they don’t see much of them anymore.  But his shop was open 24-hours (company rules to support the neverending oil company projects) and he took it upon himself and a few colleagues to see if they could rig up a vac pump for me.  They tried to fit a powerstroke pump in the spot for the van, but the frame rail got in the way.  I got to give them credit, they tried for an hour to get it to work, but it just wasn’t possible.  Even as I tried to pay, they declined. Nice guys.

He then suggested we “Goldstreak” the part up from Fairbanks.  We asked what that was.  Turns out that in these remote parts of the great North, there is a service where if there is availability on the plane, Alaska Airlines will fly up auto parts from Fairbanks or Anchorage.  The NAPA person in the south literally drives the part to the airport, puts it on the plane, and then it comes up with the passengers.  Crazy huh?  It’s not a sure bet.  Depending on the size, weight, and trouble with the part, it doesn’t always get shipped up north.  In fact, Priority goes to Postal Mail, then passengers, and then if and only if there is space left on the plane, then auto parts are good to go.

After hearing all this preamble, we were concerned how much was this going to cost.  The cost of the flight up here must be crazy expensive.  The mechanic said it cost an extra fifty bucks.  HOLY COW!  Just that?!  I jokingly told him to send three.

Now all we had to do was wait.  We booked another night in the hotel and decided this was the time to see the Arctic Ocean for the first time.  Since the road doesn’t go all the ocean, civilians must book a trip with the oil companies to get a tour.  So we took care of that and went to the ocean (to be documented in another article).

Afterwards, we stopped off at the Prudhoe Bay post office and general store.  Very very small, but has a little of everything.

We bought some snacks for the road trip back down to Fairbanks.

Then we went out adventuring.  The sun never set so it was hard to tell what was night and day time.  After two full days of dinking around, we finally got the part.  We made friends with lots of the people at the Prudhoe Bay hotel, hanging out in their cafeteria and recreation rooms.

In the rain, we replaced the vacuum pump and tested out the van.  Thankfully, the brakes now worked.  We looked at the open road, and decided to come back in to the Prudhoe Bay hotel for one last buffet dinner.  Our new friends were confused at first to see us again, but once we told them we wanted one last meal with them, it as a good time.

It’s all uphill from here.

 

 

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Just like Whitehorse, we really like the town of Yellowknife.  It’s up in the middle of nowhere, has a lot of good places to visit, good food, good lifestyle, and plenty of culture.  You would think a place this remote would be kind of backwards, but instead, just like Whitehorse, Yellowknife has a lot of forward thinking.

We pulled into town just before rush hour.

Eventually we stopped in to the local visitor’s center, and we asked about the best unique restaurant in town.  They all agreed that Bollucks Bistro was the coolest joint in town.

So we went there.  Pulled up a couple spot at the counter.  The staff is hilarious and won’t serve you unless you are cool.  Since Glenn and I were in no rush, we just hung out for a while till we could get our order in.  New customers kept trying to get a seat, and after a while, they would get pissy because the staff was ignoring them.  It was wild.  After about an hour of us chilling out, Glenn noticed the phone ringing off the hook.  Since he’s a chef, he knows the business, and he hollered to the cook if he could man the phone.  Elated, the woman let him.  So now Glenn was taking phone calls for a while.

Eventually, they got up to us, and took our orders.  We ate THE BEST fish fry I have ever eaten.  Skewered and marinated on a long stick, the fish was cooked in a couple pounds of butter on a frying pan.  Then sprinkled with herbs and drizzled with sweet sauce, the fish is laid on a bed of salad and fries.  Amazing.

After dinner, we cruised around the city.  Yellowknife is situated on a peninsula on the Slave Lake, and there are all sorts of cool lake houses and houseboats scattered on the shoreline.

After filling up on an alleyway hill, we decided to hit the road before it got too dark.  Not that it would get very dark anyway… when you are up at this latitude, the evenings in the summer only lasts a couple of hours.

We headed back to the Deh Cho Bridge and saw some bison on the left side of the road.  Lastly, we took the advice of the Northwest Territories Visitors Center and began the drive of the infamous MacKenzie Highway.

 

 

 

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In the central part of Nevada is a mystery military base near Groom Lake, that is rumored to be the infamous Area 51.  Lots of conspiracy types like to visit this place in the hopes to get anally probed or whatever, and we are no different.  In order to get nearby the base that supposedly holds various alien remains and spacecraft, you have to drive State Road 375.  In the last few decades, 375 has been nicknamed the “Extraterrestrial Highway.”

The closest settlement to Area 51 is the tiny town of Rachel NV.  There ain’t much here.  But there are some diehards that can survive the brutal Mojave deserts.

There’s an entrepreneurial family that takes advantage of this proximity to the military base and the speculation of all the alien theories.  It’s the restaurant called the “Little A’Le Inn.”  They have decent food and lots of souvenirs.  I tried to film and photograph in their shop, and they promptly shut it down.  Apparently they have some strict permissions and fees with respect to filming rights in their property.

We talked to a guy at the bar about all the alien stuff.  He had a lot of theories.  9-11, aliens, aircraft, abduction, and all sorts of stuff was on his mind.  After a few hours and few burgers, we left on the ET Hwy passed more odd alien sculptures and monuments.  This place has some real character.

 

 

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We cruised down Route 5 from Kamloops passed Walloper Lake to Penticton.

As we pulled into town, we noticed something odd about the wheels.  Turns out the tire that we had replaced in Socorro New Mexico on this trip, failed.  Since Penticton is tiny, there wasn’t much for auto shops.  So we had to resort to our worst favorite place in all of Canada:  the dreaded Canadian Tire.  This was the first time we ever went to the Canadian Tire for an actual tire.  Usually we go there to buy useless crap that is worse than anything found at Harbor Freight.  One of Glenn’s infamous quotes is “the only good thing about going to Canadian Tire is to ask someone where there is a REAL auto parts store.”

While we waited for the tire replacement, there was a poutine stand in the parking lot.  They also sold sausages.  This is what I’m talking about.

We headed south to the border.  This would conclude our time in Canada for the 2012 WVO Roadtrip.

 

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One of our regular restaurants in Canada is Hoito.  It’s in Thunder Bay in an area that is supposedly full of Finns.  I couldn’t tell you if that’s true, but Hoito makes the Finnish style pancake.  It’s basically like a thicker crepe.

In 2009:  This was the first time we got to eat here.  We crossed the border near Grand Portage, and the Ontario tourist clerk told us that the most unique place to eat is Hoito.  Intrigued, we decided to indulge our Scandinavian heredity.

If you want to eat without waiting an hour in line, get here right as they open.  Even then, it’s still not a sure bet that you’ll get a table right away.  The early bird gets the flapjack.

 

In 2012, we got up early in Wisconsin, and headed up to Thunder Bay as soon as possible.  Our goal was to hit the border right when they open, and then get up to TB for breakfast.  There are nice bluffs on the drive to TB, and the terrain really changes once you get out of Minnesota.

We were surprised to find a line to get into the place.  It’s just pancakes after all.

As we waited, we meandered the nearby neighborhood.  More proof of the Finnish influence.

We came back here all sorts of times in 2015, 2010, and 2012, and more.

 

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While researching the Appalachian Trail, everyone said we had to go to this restaurant on the trail. Even though we weren’t walking the trail, this particular grill was situated where car could reach it.  Apparently, hippies hike this 1000-mile long trail, and when they get their smelly asses to Fontana, they eat here to reminisce about what life is like with civilization.  I suspect a nicely cooked burger is favorable to another package of ramen noodles.

We drove to the Fontana Dam which is pretty impressive.  There is a campground at the base of the dam, and it’s flooded with tourists in the hot humid summer.  After a quick stop, we move over to the Fontana Grill.

Overall, it’s a good Bar and Grill.  The burgers were cooked really well, and Glenn even ate a veggie burger.  I don’t know why, because this is supposedly one of the highest rated burger joints in the country, but I don’t question his brilliance.  He sits atop a fine line between madness and genius.

It was getting late, and we needed to head out to South Carolina.

 

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We got to Knoxville late the previous night and found a hotel with an advertised rate of $40/night.  Of course once we get to the place, they hike up the rate.  We were exhausted and just didn’t care anymore, so we just got the place anyway.  I’m getting kind of sick of these cheapo hotels.  Glenn said that if we got to a hotel that doesn’t let us in the lobby, we aren’t renting from them any more.

The next morning, we had some time to kill, so we stopped at the Museum of Appalachia.  Kind of fitting because we are driving the Appalachian Trail (AT).

It’s a surprisingly good museum, on par with the Western Expansion Museums of Saskatchewan.  Maybe even better.   They have a massive grounds with dozens of old timey buildings scattered all over the place.

They even had a band playing hillbilly music.  We asked them to play the Reading Rainbow Theme, but none of them heard of it.  We suspect it was due to their illiteracy.

One of the buildings had these particularly non-Appalachian signs for some kind of religious deal.  Don’t know if this is some kind of Westboro Baptist type of thing, just kind of odd.

After meandering around with all the peacocks and sheep, we ate at their diner.  That’s probably the best part of this museum.  They had some old woman just cooking up some amazing food.  Pulled pork, homemade baked beans, casseroles, and much more.  I could have hung out at the diner for hours, but we had to keep moving on to Oak Ridge.

 

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Before all of these WVO Roadtrips, we always research all the supposed best places to eat along our path.  One of the places usually ranked in the top ten of burgers in the country is Miller’s Bar.  It’s near Detroit in the town of Dearborn, and looks kind of like a timewarp from 1971.

The staff was really nice, and we got to meet the owner.  We mentioned we were excited to try one of these nationally ranked burgers, and the owner really played up how good they were.  Setting the bar high I guess.

Eventually the burgers arrived.  Nothing really special, just a few burgers with typical toppings.  It wasn’t seasoned particularly well.  It was just like a burger you would make at home.

At the end of the meal, they had a really relaxed way to pay, which was different than most bars.  But in the end, I wasn’t that impressed.  For them and the critics to praise this place only bolstered our expectations, which fell very flat when we encountered the average food.  What the food doesn’t win over, the staff makes up for.  They were really amazing and friendly.

 

 

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We pulled into Spokane after things started shutting down.  This town is kind of sleepy and doesn’t stay up late.  We found a bar + restaurant called Charlie P’s that was still open on their main drag.  The food was ok, nothing super special. We wrapped up our drive by filling up here and then finding a budget hotel in Pasco WA.  TERRIBLE Idea….

 

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Leawood, MO. 9:59am Tues.
Nothing like a BBQ breakfast to start off the day. We got word that the best barbeque in KC was Gates. Since we needed to get off to an early start, we made the devastating decision to eat about 4 lbs (348 kgs) of ham, ribs, and brisket at 10 am. Really good food, but if you want to go there, it was hard for the GPS to find the place. Also, the accents were super thick. I only understood about a quarter of the words spoken to me. Missoura.

 

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270989. Northeast of Montreal on the 40. 3:40pm, Sunday.

Checked the pressure and tread on the front tires. Things are still dicey, but we’ll keep a look on them. If anything wears funny, we may need to get a new set in Halifax or Maine.

St Lawrence Seaway, around 9pm, Sunday.

271324 (est). Riviere-du-Loop, QC. 11:00pm, Sunday.

Added two cubes. A few hours prior, we ate at a Quebec City restaurant that served Poutine. They added chicken to mix too.

 

 

 

 

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Wawa Ontario
July 32009

270230. Wawa, ON. 7:00pm Friday

Added two cubes. We ate at a local Chinese-Canadian restaurant that served us what could loosely be described as “chicken fried rice.”

 

 

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Anchorage Alaska
July 42008

Anchorage, Alaska. 181790. 4:45pm Saturday.
Added 1.25 cubes. We strolled into Anchorage mid-afternoon, but strangely it appeared that everyone was driving north. Traffic was backed up for miles.

When we arrived into downtown, it was pretty empty. We found only a few restaurants open the fourth, and one nice restaurant (the Orso) served up some great King Crab and Salmon. There really isn’t much of a beach there, but we still went to check it out.

It happened to be the Fourth of July.  We assumed there would be a big city-wide Independence Day celebration, and several tourists (like ourselves) were wandering the oceanfront area looking for any indication of a fireworks display.  Then it dawned on us, there probably isn’t a fireworks show this far north.  It would be 1am before it could even be remotely dark enough to enjoy fireworks, and even then, it would be kind of defeating the purpose.

We stayed the night in Anchorage and left early for the Portage Glacier, 47 miles south. It appears to have been melted some, because images of this just a few years ago show it much farther down the mountain. We got close to some of the icebergs, but the glacier was out of reach.

 

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A friend of mine from Los Angeles recommended we visit St Augustine for the Castillo and Fountain of Youth.  She grew up in the area, and her recommendations were spot on.  The Castillo is really impressive.

Just like our visit to Fort Pulaski, this fort had a lot to offer.

We didn’t have a lot of time, so we quickly took in as much as we could.  The view into the river and ocean was superb.

I caught Glenn climbing around the munition cellars smoking a doobie.

On to Cape Canaveral.

The second 2006 roadtrip was not conducted on alternative fuels.

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As the sun was setting on the last night of our 2007 WVO Roadtrip, we started feeling a little hungry.

All along Highway 2, we saw signs for these mysterious “Pasties.”  We decided  to pull off and find out what all the fuss was.

We entered one of the few shops that was still open around 9pm, and asked the clerk what a “pasty” was.  We pronounced it “pay-stee.”  Without flinching, we reached behind the counter and handed us a few boob tassels.

Hardy har har.

That yooper got a chuckle out of goofing on us, and then told us it’s pronounced “pa-stee.”  And a pasty is basically a meat pie in a calzone crust.  We got two pasties and headed back on the road.

It was a terrible drive back to central Wisconsin.  There were deer and moose everywhere, so we had to drive 35-40mph for the entire time in the U.P. and Wisconsin.  We made it back just in time to crash out in a tent that my family had set up for us on our journey back from the roadtrip.

 

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Toronto Ontario
July 52007

213582 952.0 1cube added. Toronto Ontario CA

After driving across southern Ontario, we came up on the Toronto skyline.

We only had a day to blow here in Canada, because we lost a day in Milwaukee fixing the oil feed line.  To continue our pattern of climbing the top of tall buildings (Sears Tower in Chicago, Empire State Building in NYC, and so on), we elected to top the CN Tower.

As we pulled up, we asked a CN Tower worker at the base some questions:

  • “We’re goin’ to the CN tower.”
    “You got a delivery?”
    “uh, no.”
    “Then why do you got all that shit in there for.”

He had seen all our cubes of veggie oil and was confused on why our little car was so full of crap.

Eventually we found parking and headed to the top of the tallest structure in Canada.

They even have a glass floor.  Now why the hell would anyone design something as terrifying as that.  Glenn didn’t seem to mind.

I liked the open air observatory.  This place really is high up.

Glenn spent the majority of his time staring into the abyss.

We got a bite to eat at the restaurant and hung out for a while.  Afterwards, we walked around downtown Toronto for a few hours.  It’s a lot like the US, but a lot different too.  It’s the little differences.  Do you know what they call a quarter pounder with cheese in Canada?

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New York City
July 42007

It was the Fourth of July, and we had a full day to spend dinking around The Big Apple.  As we drove up from Philadelphia and Delaware, we could see the skyline on the horizon.

Our first stop was the WTC construction site.

This was 2007, so things were still VERY early on in the development and foundation phases.

Then we sauntered down to Battery Park to see the WTC sculpture and other sights.

Naturally, we had to get to the coastline and see the Statue of Liberty in the distance.  It’s pretty far away from Manhattan, so it’s tiny in these film pictures.  What a way to spend our Independence Day.

Of course we had to hit the skyview of the Empire State Building.  As we were waiting in line to take the express elevator to the top, the line attendant was talking to the tourists.  He asked, “So where you guys from?”
We replied, “Wisconsin.”
He responded, “Nice. What country?”
Immediately thereafter, his coworker and other tourists started laughing.  He didn’t know Wisconsin was in the United States.  LOL.

As it got dark, we strolled around on Times Square.

And walked around the southern end of Central Park.

Also, the Apple Store had just opened and it was all the rage.  We never gave a crap about Apple, but thought it would be cool to enter a huge glass cube.

And lastly, we ate dinner at the Seinfeld diner, which looks nothing like the diner in the TV show.

We had a big decision to make.  Find a hotel and go to Canada, or drive through the night and visit Plymouth Rock.  We made the crappy decision to not sleep and drive to what we thought might be a cool sight to see.

I’m glad we left town when we did.  As it was getting dark, people started shooting fireworks off the tops of buildings.  It was like a war zone.  New Yorkers…..

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Chicago Illinois
July 22007

We crossed the Wisconsin-Illinois border in the morning.

Our goal for the day was to sightsee in Chicago with my college friend, Brett.  We met up at the Sears Tower.

I know it’s called the Willis Tower now, but I hate that name so I’m sticking with the real name.

Brett was from north of Chicago, so I’m sure he thought this sky-view tour was kind of lame, but we insisted anyway.  Brett is a burly and surly kind of man.  He once heaved a frisbee into the stratosphere.

Brett overlooking the Chicago skyline.

After our glorious sky-tour, we stopped off at Pizzanos.  This place makes the best Chicago Style Pizza.  Y’all gotta get some Chicago Style.

When we left, we graciously shook hands and went about our way.  Brett now lives in Germany, likely doing naughty things on the internet.

Thanks for a fun day, Brett.

 

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The facts we learned on the Ponce tour were really intriguing.  Like for example, Poncey was the tallest on his ship and for a typical European in the 16th century.  He was 4’11”.  The rest of his crew averaged out at 4’8″.  They got to the New World and encountered the natives of what would become St Augustine, and they were over 6 feet tall.  He then assumed this region had some kind of Fountain of Youth to keep these so-called “savages” in good health.

The found a spring nearby that was contaminated with a natural sulfur supply.  Poncey took a drink and proclaimed this to be the best tasting water on the planet.  Turned out his water supply on his ships had been contaminated and moldy from months on the ocean, and this St Augustine water was just relatively better tasting.

Glenn and I gave it a taste.  It was …. um… unpleasant.  It stunk like someone farted in your drink.

Glenn remarked, “One of Poncey’s buddies must have left a little surprise in the kegs of water when they left the port in Europe.”

 

The second 2006 roadtrip was not conducted on alternative fuels.

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Sometimes, there was a Waffle Houses on both sides of the road.  They are like a rash.

Getting bored of driving, we pulled off to see the Atlantic Ocean up close.

 

 

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Bay St Louis Mississippi
November 42006

We left New Orleans in the evening, hoping to find a hotel off the interstate near Kiln Mississippi.  What we didn’t know was, even though it was 11 months after Hurricane Katrina, the majority of the coastline cities were still completely demolished.

In the drive to Kiln MS, we got to a hotel that 75% of the structure had completely washed away.  The “lobby” was one of the rooms, taken over by the hotel manager.  We unknowingly woke him up, but he was rather gracious with us.  He said there was a makeshift hotel set up down the road near Bay St Louis, and they might have rooms.  Contractor from all over the country were setting up shop in these remaining hotels, so they can aide in the reconstruction effort, so vacancy was sparse.

We got to the “hotel” to learn it was a converted barn.  Someone literally just partitioned a barn with crude studs and wood paneling, and started selling rooms.  We got a room that had exposed electrical and straw on the floor.  We slept on the blankets in our clothes because we were convinced we would get bed bugs or even worse from the mattresses.

The next morning we took a drive in the daytime, to survey the city.  Every building was either completely or near-completely destroyed.  Like this:

We found one restaurant open: The Waffle House.  It was disgusting, and that’s really saying something because most Waffle Houses are disgusting at their best.  But this one still had mud and mold damage all over the dining area.  There was a layer of film all the way up to the 4 ft from the floor level, covering drywall, booths, windows, and everything under 48 inches tall.  They didn’t even clean it all off prior to reopening.

 

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New Orleans Louisiana
November 32006

After visiting NASA in Houston, we headed east to New Orleans.  We crossed Louisiana in the daytime, and saw a lot of harbors.  I even found a favorite Cajun radio station (KBON) that I stream online at work.

As we got into New Orleans, we started seeing the damage from Hurricane Katrina from the year before.  Houses and streets were still in shambles.  Spraypainted messages littered the landscape.

There were some properties that were completely destroyed.  They were nothing but a heap of building rubble.

Now that our spirits were completely deflated, Glenn insisted we go get some beads and head over to Bourbon Street.  He saw Larry Flint’s shop and got an instant erection.

I convinced him to leave the Larry Flint shop and go find some Cajun food on the bayou.  We wandered around looking for a restaurant that was open really late.  Thankfully, the French Quarter doesn’t sleep, and we got a nice place. I had lots of jambalaya and Glenn likely at something that thrashed up his belly-box.

Even though the French Quarter was open for business, the place had lots of existing hurricane damage.  There were streets where we found a layer of mud coating the footings and facade of the buildings as far as 3 or 4 feet up the building.  I can only imagine the mold problems on the interior.

We walked over to the Superdome site as our night came to an end. 

We had to hit the road in order to find lodging between Louisiana and Mississippi.  We had an early morning the next day.

The second 2006 roadtrip was not conducted on alternative fuels.

 

 

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Omaha Nebraska
April 222006

2:46pm GN.  740 Trip Meter Reading.  Omaha, NE.

There was a specific museum I wanted to see in Omaha, but due to conflicts we had to forego that plan and we decided to cruise up to downtown.  We parked and hoped to stumble upon something interesting and this generally how Glenn and I operate. Granted, we planned this journey for weeks, but there’s something to be said about just seeing what happens.  Besides we had some time to spare if we were going to make it all the way to Parachute, Colorado by midnight, where we usually crashed on our previous road trips.

We walked a full loop around the downtown area of Omaha, where once again due to it being a Saturday, there was practically no one around.  Eventually we found a Famous Dave’s (a BBQ chain originating from Hayward WI) and got some food. I wa starving. Glenn, tired and already uncouth, reluctantly ordered some chopped port and complained about where the car was.  We had sauntered about for a while and he had disoriented himself.

I assured him that if we cut through a neighboring park, we’d come out by the car.  My theory was right, but we found people. There was a fountain and some kind of small river and, while we searched for a pedestrian bridge, we were accosted by network television.  Worse yet, Reality TV! Turns out that two women were trying out for “The Amazing Race” TV Show and wanted our support. Naturally we lied and claimed we’d seen the show.

Glenn and I casually escaped their cameras and loaded up two and half more cubies of VO into the tank.

Then we were back on the interstate heading west:

 

 

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