Canada Trip #14 – Charleston Lake

We felt we could not stay on Lake Charleston for a week without actually exploring Lake Charleston beyond our own little sliver of shoreline.  We, therefore, entered the provincial park, plumped for the shoreline trail, and set off on a trek.  An information at the trailhead provided us with some information on what we might encounter on our trek.  Consequently, the younger boys had high expectations of seeing wildlife.  This was despite the fact that we were encountering significantly fewer critters in our borrowed woodland house than we encounter on a daily basis in our suburban home.  We saw some squirrels, a punk caterpillar, and a solitary deer, and that – apart from the fish – was the sum total of our wildlife encounters during our week at the lake house.  This was not what we anticipated.  My youngest son has a trail camera set up in our backyard so he can capture images of deer and foxes and the chupacabra (a mangy fox that malingers in our neighbourhood) and he brought his camera with him to the lake house.  It captured nothing.  Nothing.  A whole week living in the woods and it captured not one single image of a beast of any kind.  But I digress.

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The shoreline trail was an easy going loop.  It was a baking hot day so the shade of the trees provided welcome respite from the heat and also created lovely dappled light on the woodland floor.  Shoreline was a bit of a misnomer as the path barely took us near the coast of the lake.  There was one point where we popped out of the trees at the water’s edge but a couple of kayakers were trying to have what looked to be a romantic picnic right at that spot so we did the diplomatic thing and kept moving.  The only other body of water we passed was some kind of pond – probably a tributary of the actual lake.  It was so still, however, that it was practically stagnant and, of course, that meant biting insects galore were having some kind of convention there.  We were instantly being devoured.  The mosquitos were so big that when we swatted them, they left crime scene style spatters of blood on our arms and legs.  So gross.  Even my husband, who is normally immune from being bitten, was getting eaten alive by these vicious insects.  That was the day when I was bitten so many times that I had a particularly nasty reaction in the evening.

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Mercifully, to make the trek worthwhile, we did encounter one (non-biting) animal – a gorgeous little frog.  Or maybe a toad.  I have not identified what specific species of amphibian it was.  The kids were thrilled to have an actual animal encounter.

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Canada Trip #13 – Fun on the Lake

I won’t keep you in suspense about what our experience of staying in one place for an entire week was.  This post, therefore, is about the way in which we used our lakeside setting and relaxed in the house spanning that entire week.  Future posts will cover specific things that we did.

The house was sited on a steep hill and it was built part way down the slope.  We, therefore, had to take a flight of stairs from the driveway down to the house, the house itself was single storey, then there was a flight of stairs down to a patch of land, and there was a further flight of stairs that took us down to a small jetty right on Lake Charleston.  This meant the house was snuggled into a space that was very secluded and private and, therefore, very quiet and peaceful.  The elevation also provided us with lovely views and we got to see some lovely sunrises and sunsets during our time there.  Mr Pict, space nerd that he is, also enjoyed being able to go out onto the deck in the absolute pitch dark to study the constellations and show the boys the Milky Way free of light pollution.

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The big hit, of course, was having access to the water.  The boys loved jumping off of the lakeside deck and splashing into the water.  The water was really clear so we regretted not bringing goggles and a snorkel.  We were swimming among many fish and Mr Pict and two of the kids saw a swimming turtle at one point.  The kids also encountered a critter that was biting their toes.  They were initially concerned that this was a snapping turtle but I pointed out they would definitely know had they been bitten by one of those.  It turned out to be a really territorial fish who was biting at them any time they got near her particular rock – which was very close to the jetty stairs.  The boys nicknamed her Trish the Foot Fetish Fish.  I think they grew rather fond of her.

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The house also came with a canoe so we spent quite a lot of time going for brief excursions along the perimeter of the lake.  We could not risk crossing the lake or indeed venturing too far from the shore because there were speed boats bursting up and down the length of the lake pretty much constantly.  The kids have limited experience with paddling but got really pretty good at it towards the end of the trip.

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We also utilised the fire pit to make s’mores for dessert on a couple of evenings.  My kids are equally as drawn to fire as they are to water so I am pretty sure the thing they enjoy most about making s’mores is having the opportunity to poke things into flames.  We got into a totally sticky mess.  I also managed to get eaten alive by biting insects.  Insects find me insatiable.  My blood must taste like finest champagne to them.  Unfortunately, I have a terrible reaction to insect bites.  Most of the time, it just leads to discomfort but otherwise is not too problematic.  Sometimes, however, it results in me feeling very sick.  Unfortunately on one of the evenings at the lake house, I was covered in so many nasty bug bites that I developed an excruciating headache and a mild fever.  That was, however, the only downside to the location.

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We had one day of non-stop, torrential rain during our week there.  We, therefore, just hunkered down and used the time for relaxing on our own or playing games together.  Our evening habit was to play games and there was one in particular that we got a bit obsessed with.  We must have played scores of games of ‘One Night Ultimate Werewolf’.  I used my flumping around time to read a couple of books and draw while listening to podcasts.

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Overall, I think we all enjoyed our time at the lake house and benefited from the fact it forced us to slow down.  Given the stressful situation we had left behind, removing us from the chaos and forcing us to relax after a period of such intense activity, it was probably good therapy to experience a week of this style of vacation.  I cannot deny, however, that I did have the nagging feeling that we should be packing more experiences into each day in order for our vacation to offer better value for money.  I think what we probably need to do in future is find a happy balance between really pushing ourselves to the limit when it comes to travel and making time in which to relax.

Canada Trip #12 – Brockville

An early check out from the apartment in Montreal and a late check in for our next accommodation meant we had time to spare.  For various, mostly pragmatic reasons, we elected to spend that spare time in Brockville, Ontario.

One of the non-pragmatic reasons we selected Brockville was that it has a disused railway tunnel we could visit.  I confess to only being very vaguely interested in the prospect of visiting a piece of infrastructure heritage because industrial history isn’t my thing.  Just as with being a perpetual pessimist, the joy of having low expectations is that its wonderful when they are exceeded.  Such was the case with the Brockville Railway Tunnel.  I was expecting bare brick, chilly walls, and dripping water and really not a lot else.  It was a grossly hot and humid day, however, so the idea of taking a stroll through intense shade certainly appealed.  What we found, however, was a railway tunnel that volunteers have transformed into an installation that tells the story of the local railway heritage while also being a sort of sensory exhibition.  There was indeed bare brick, chilly walls, and dripping water, but there were also colour changing lights and music and sounds.  I liked the effect of the changing colours a lot.  Ever so often, the sounds of a whizzing train would be pumped in and the lights would go sharp white except for a red section that moved at high speed to replicate the movement of the train through the tunnel.  It was like a disco ghost train.  I mean, there is really only so much you can do to enliven a railway tunnel but I really think the team of volunteers of doing a sterling job of doing so.  It really did make for a pleasant stroll.

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We later spoke to one of the volunteers and he explained that the idea of gussying up the tunnel was for it to act as an enticement to bring people to the town and give it an economic boost.  That ploy certainly worked on us as we popped out the other end of the tunnel and found a pleasant, compact little town on the waterfront and decided to spend some time milling around there.  The boys skipped stones in the water while Mr Pict watched commercial ships charging through the water.  I also found that the town had once been the site of a hospital island where emigrants stricken with cholera had been housed during an 1832 epidemic.  I have a keen interest in the history of pandemics and some epidemics so I found this to be of interest.  A sign also informed me that a fellow Scot had expired there when, in his role as doctor, he had contracted cholera when attending to the sick.  We rounded up our time in Brockville by stopping in at a local pub for a tasty meal.

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Replete, we next headed to a local supermarket to stock up on groceries.  Our next destination was remote and we had been told that access to groceries would be limited.  We, therefore, decided to stock up on food for the week in Brockville since we knew they had a big supermarket and we had time to burn.  I am big on meal planning and buying only items that are on the shopping list.  However, we definitely added extra items to the shopping trolley because we discovered that Canadian supermarkets stock lots of items we used to buy in Britain but cannot get – or cannot affordably purchase – in America.  We went a bit crazy with breakfast cereal and chocolate and candy.  We actually bought enough that some of the cereal eventually came home with us.  The chocolate, of course, had a much shorter life expectancy.

We arrived at our final destination in the late afternoon.  Long time followers of this blog will know that our road trips usually involve us moving frequently from location to location, and never staying any one place for more than a few days.  For this vacation, however, we decided to treat – or challenge – ourselves to a change of pace.  We were going to be staying in the same location for an entire week.  Adding another layer to the change of pace was the fact that the house we were renting was situation on Lake Charleston and was fairly remote and quiet.  We were going to have lots of downtime in which to relax.

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Canandaigua Lake

We recently spent a few days in upstate New York visiting with extended family of Mr Pict’s while his parents were also in the country.  The couple with whom we were staying own a boat so – on our first full day there – we were treated to a trip out on Canandaigua Lake.  Canandaigua is one of New York’s eleven finger lakes.  I learned it was 16 miles long and 1 mile wide (hence the “finger”) and was about 130 feet deep on average – but sinking to 276 feet at its deepest point.  Humphrey Bogart used to vacation at Canandaigua so it’s an upscale kind of place.  We saw plenty of incredible properties lining the shore as we headed out on the boat, some of which had their own funicular systems for getting down the steep hillside to the water’s edge.

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Our kids had never been on a powerboat before so this was a first time experience for them.  They were unsure of the motion of the boat, especially when it slammed into and crested the wakes of other marine vehicles.  They were especially not enjoying the motion when Mr Pict was given a turn at driving the boat.  What they absolutely loved, however, was getting to tube.  A large inflatable was launched into the water and pulled behind the boat with the Pictlings (and sometimes their dad) clinging on.  There were zero complaints about the motion then.  They were grinning and laughing the whole time as they were flung around on the tube.  At first they were tentative and asked that the speed be kept to a minimum but soon they were using their hand signals to request higher speeds.  Our youngest, who had been the most reticent to clamber on to the tube, didn’t even bat an eyelid when he and his father were pitched off the tube and into the lake.

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After a few hours out on the lake, we pulled into one of the marinas and enjoyed an evening meal at one of the bars there.  We felt like we were really getting to experience a little sliver of life as part of the boating set.  I think our kids might be wanting a boat now.

Road Trip 2017 #24 – Around Mammoth Lakes

After Bodie, we headed back towards Mammoth Lakes to see the local sights.  Our first stop was Mono Lake.  Mono Lake is a saline soda lake that is apparently even saltier than the sea.  Water from the lake was diverted to Los Angeles which substantially lowered the water level, increased its salinity, and exposed the tufa.  There was some sort of controversial and maybe debunked finding of non-carbon based life discovered in the lake – but that is science and I know nothing about that.  We opted to pull over at a park and take a walk down to the lake.  We should have done our research because there was no access to the water from the park.  Instead there was a boardwalk that led us down to the shore line to see the tufa.  It was a pleasant but frustrating short stroll, frustrating because I had wanted to see more of the landscape than I was able to see from the boardwalk.

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Next up was Hot Creek Geological Site.  This is a creek that tumbles down from the Sierra Nevada as very cold water but at the spot we visited, near Mammoth Lakes, the creek meets a magma-heated geothermal spring and heats up, bubbles, and steams.  From the car park, we could look down over a short wall to the creek below.  The pools immediately drew our eyes not just because they were steaming but mainly because they were a vivid, bright turquoise.  Mr Pict and the Pictlings decided to stay at the top while I took a walk down to water level.  Theirs was actually probably the better vantage point for viewing the pools but from ground level I could observe the creek water bubbling and little fish darting around.  I could also smell the distinctive smell of sulphur.

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The kids were eager to go for a dip in some water so we took a drive through the lakes that give the town its name and finally reached Horseshoe Lake, one of the few lakes that permits paddling and swimming.  What we had not anticipated, as we drove up the mountains, was that there would still be snow on the ground at Horseshoe Lake.  The air temperatures had been so baking hot that it just seemed improbable that there could still be snow that had not melted but snow there was.  Our kids loved it.  It is not often that one gets to wear shorts and t-shirt in the snow after all.  The whole area had a weird, somewhat eerie quality to it because of the hundreds of dead trees.  Apparently an earthquake had led to carbon dioxide venting through the surface and killing off the trees.  Sounds like a safe place to let the kids play, right?  My kids decided they would act out the plot of ‘The Lorax’ given the setting.  I mean, what else would one do when surrounded by devastated truffula trees?  So there was a dramatic performance, snow to play in, but no swimming.  Despite the intention being to go for a swim or at least a paddle, as soon as they dipped a toe into the water they thought better of it.  It was freezing.  This should have been abundantly clear from the fact that dogs were playing in the water but the only humans out on the lake were in canoes.

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The whole Mammoth Lakes area is stunning and has a lot to see and do.  Mr Pict and I both agreed that we wished we had spent more time at Mammoth Lakes and sacrificed our time in Las Vegas – though we might have regretted not taking the kids to see Las Vegas.

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Road Trip #14 -Daniel Boone National Forest

After a day of thought provoking stimulus at the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, we needed an unstructured day where the kids could be wild and feral.  They had done a great job of containing their thoughts and opinions so it was time to let loose and be uninhibited.  Therefore, as we trekked east across Kentucky, we popped into the Daniel Boone National Forest.

The National Forest has been in existence since the 1930s (though it was only named after the famous frontiersman Daniel Boone in the 1960s) and covers a vast expanse.  Given we had a child with a broken arm and time was required in the day to get from Kentucky to West Virginia, we knew we could not accomplish anything too adventurous in the forest.  The kids fancied swimming in a lake so we settled on an area called Two Knobs (honestly) where the map indicated there was a swimming beach.

My aversion to sand is well recorded on this blog but this beach was covered in the worst possible kind of sand.  It was actually just dry and gritty dirt that happened to abut a body of water.  It also was not a very clean beach.  There was litter all over the place and thousands of cigarette butts.  Given the beach was manned by wardens and we had to pay for the pleasure of parking within the forest’s boundaries, I was disappointed that the beach was not being maintained to a better standard.  Despite it being picturesque and peaceful, grit and litter is rather yuck.

Nevertheless our boys loved the water. Sitting in a little bowl shaped dip, surrounded by hills and trees, the lake was a muddy colour but very warm.  While three of the boys swam and splashed, the 9 year old and we parents paddled.  Feeling ticklish, we realised that there were little fish nibbling at our toes. It was a weird feeling but quite pleasant.  When I was a child, I was swimming in a river when a shoal (if that is the word) of eels rushed past me.  They felt slippery and muscular and left me feeling a bit claustrophobic.  Not a pleasant feeling.  But the little nibbly fish were quite welcome.  I have never had that treatment where you shove your feet in tanks to get dead skin cleared off by fish but I could understand the appeal.  The 9 year old was delighted.  It somewhat made up for not being able to swim.  Maybe.

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We crossed the border into West Virginia that afternoon and immediately searched for a place to eat.  We found a lovely place in Hurricane called the Fireside Grille.  I am not sure if it is part of a chain or not but we had certainly never encountered another.  It had the feel of a gastro pub, was clean and tidy and had a nice atmosphere.   The service was excellent and, while the menu was simple, the food was all really well made and delicious.  I had an amazing beer and cheese soup with a chicken salad sandwich but it was so stuffed that I became too stuffed to finish it.  My husband and 10 year old had shrimp and Mr Pict declared that the blue cheese dressing he had with the salad was the best he had ever had.  Somewhat predictably the other three had burgers.  The youngest two had cheeseburgers with wonderfully fluffy, potatoey, crunchy coated fries (I know because I stole one) and my oldest customised a burger which was cooked perfectly medium-rare and to which he awarded four out of five points on his burger scale.  And with that pit stop I got to claim West Virginia, my sixth new state  – and last new state of this trip – and 31st state overall.

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Our hotel for the next two nights was the Country Inn and Suites in Beckley.  Given all of our accommodation hiccups we were a bit trepidatious about staying somewhere untried and untested for two consecutive nights but it turned out to be the best accommodation on this road trip.  The hotel was lovely, spacious and spotless, and our room was great.  It also had the boys’ favourite swimming pool of the road trip.  The indoor pool – and there was also a large whirpool tub type pool – was large and had a little underwater tunnel through which the outdoor pool could be accessed.  The orthopedic doctor in Chicago had said it was OK to swim in a pool so our 9 year old could actually swim on his back in the whirlpool tub since he did not have to use his broken arm and nobody else was using it.

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Road Trip #9 – Sand Dunes

During our sojourn in Grand Haven, we took a trip further up the coastline of Lake Michigan in order to visit Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area.  This is a beautiful area of woodland that merges on the shore with spectacular sand dunes.

After a quick comfort stop at the worst composting toilet ever, we set off for a trek on the Nurnberg Trail.  This path led us through thick woodland which provided some welcome shade from the pulsing sun.  We had read that there were hog nosed snakes to be encountered on the trail but alas all we saw were squirrels and chipmunks who we encounter daily at home.

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Gradually the path between our feet turned from mulch and grit to sand until we found we were walking on roasting hot sand and emerged from the green shade of the trees onto the large, golden sand dunes.  The children scampered off excitedly and were soon scaling the wind sculpted peaks of the dunes.

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The spot was wonderfully secluded and peaceful.  It was like having our own private stretch of shore.  The sand was reflecting and radiating an immense amount of heat so the boys were soon swimming in the lake which was a wonderfully crisp blue.  We were experiencing the colours of the Caribbean in Michigan.  As I dipped my legs into the water for a paddle, I am sure I heard them hiss and sizzle.  It really was incredibly hot out that day.  Nevertheless, we could have idled on that beach for several hours just enjoying the quiet and solitude.

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After all that heat, a return to the shaded woods was most welcome and enjoyable.  However, after all of that relaxation, the trek back through the woods felt like it took an age, far longer than it had taken to walk to the shore.  That’s the theory of relativity in a nutshell then.  I found myself realising that for the first time in at least a very long time and perhaps in my life I had actually taken pleasure in sitting on a sandy beach.  ‘Twas a miracle.

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