All the hits: week thirty-four (in which the van fails a medical exam and we cut our trip short)

While in Edmonton we took Dodgy (our van) in for some regularly scheduled maintenance (oil change, tire rotation – that sort of thing). The mechanic was not impressed with the state of the van … he may have used the term “death trap”. After taking Dodgy in for a second opinion we were convinced that, with a little bit of work, we could safely drive back home, but that it would be foolish to try to take the meandering, off-the-beaten track route that we had initially planned.

So, from Edmonton we charted a new course – one that followed the shortest route distance-wise to Kitchener, Ontario. Despite the accelerated return, we still managed to see some cool stuff along the way.

The Original Nosh (in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan): We needed to find somewhere for dinner and this vegan-friendly restaurant on the south-side of the river seemed to fit the bill. We had the Buffalo Cauliflower Tacos and No-So Po’ Boy wth cornmeal-crusted fried oyster mushrooms and cashew cheese. Damn, it was good food. Also, we had some local beer. A satisfying way to end a long day of driving.

Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin: An ongoing interview series on WNYC public radio and available by podcast, we discovered this on our drive back and basically binge-listened to it the entire way.

Prairies and lakes: Some people complain about the “long boring drive” across the prairies. Those people don’t know what they’re talking about. Maybe it’s because we were on Highway 16, but the gold fields, green groves, and cobalt blue lakes never ceased to impress us with a sense of timeless beauty. We also learned that the Quill lakes in Saskatchewan don’t drain into any rivers, instead they evaporate and are up to three times as salty as the ocean. Who new?!

Riding Mountain National Park (in Manitoba): We stopped here because it was on the way to Winnipeg, but it failed to impress. If we had more time and a vehicle we trusted on dirt roads we might have explored more, but, once again, we found ourselves frustrated that the Park didn’t seem to provide any recommendations for quick day-hikes, only information about the shopping district and the golf course.

Stella’s Café (in Winnipeg, Manitoba): Upon arriving in Winnipeg we were ready for some lunch/brunch. Any place with scrambled tofu is a worthy brunch place in Ben’s books, so we headed to Stella’s. There are actually several as it’s a local chain, but ours had a patio so that was another win.

We had a great time in Winnipeg, partly because we were able to crash with some awesome friends who had a house with a great yard, garden, and great ideas about fun things to do (thanks Liz and Robin! <3). Together, we made delicious pizza, kale chips, and pie. We were also introduced to the game of Munchkin. Lots of fun!

The Forks: Winnipeg is built around the intersection of the Assiniboine and Red rivers. This part of the city is known as The Forks and is a National Historic Site. After grabbing lunch in the market, we spent much of the afternoon just lounging in some muskoka chairs and enjoying the weather.

Thunder and lightening and mosquitoes: Never had either of us seen lightening storms like we did in Winnipeg. The storms were spectacular and seemed to go on for hours. We tried to catch the impressive display on video, but couldn’t do it justice. The mosquito attacks were also unlike any we had experienced before. They were everywhere, and even in the heat of the day they were out and biting.

Boon Burger (in Winnipeg): So there’s this amazing vegan burger joint in Winnipeg called Boon Burger. Our friend Barry took us there (meeting friends along the road has definitely been one of our favourite things) and we ate some absolutely epic and very tasty burgers. Too bad they don’t deliver out of province.

Across the Board Game Café (in Winnipeg): Ben had been to a board game café once before and Amalia had never had the experience, so we were both excited when the opportunity presented itself. Ben finally figured out how scoring in Carcassonne works, a game of Blokus was played (but not eaten even though the pieces look like Jolly Ranchers), and we finished off the night by discovering the great fun that is Las Vegas the game (definitely better than the real thing). Then home through the rain and thunder of another lightening storm.

Delicious Vegetarian (in Winnipeg): Really, the name says everything, but on our way out of town we stopped at this delicious vegan Chinese restaurant for lunch. The food was really good.

After Winnipeg, we crossed back into the US and made our way to Duluth, Minnesota where Amalia’s aunt, uncle, and cousins live. Staying with Amalia’s aunt and uncle, we were treated to a lovely room above the boathouse looking out over a small lake. It was pretty amazing. While there, we were treated to great homemade food, local (and imported from Canada) beer, boat tours of the lake, and great conversations.

Gooseberry Falls State Park (in Minnesota): It was Amalia’s cousin’s daughter’s 13th birthday, and she was eager to see some water falls. So we headed up the north shore of Lake Superior to Gooseberry Falls. It was pouring rain, but we had a lot of fun scrambling over the rocks and exploring the many tiers of the falls. Definitely a fun place.

Hawk Ridge and Enger Tower (in Duluth, Minnesota): The next day we drove out to Hawk Ridge, an escarpment that offers spectacular views of parts of Duluth and Lake Superior. Standing on the ridge, which gets its name from the thousands of hawks that migrate through the area every year, we could see for miles and miles and miles. Further south, Enger Tower is a stone tower built on the hill-side which offers more panoramic views of the city and port-lands. Beneath us we caught a glimpse of the giant sailboats in dock as part of the tall-ships festival – as well as the giant rubber ducky that seemed ready to push them down into the depths of Lake Superior.

Rice Paddy (in Marquette, Michigan): After another long day of driving we found ourselves in Marquette and really hungry. It was late, but looking online we saw we could grab some Thai takeout from Rice Paddy before it closed. The reviews were good and the food was super-cheap so we were really curious about what we were gonna get. The answer: a couple of huge portions of scrumptious pad thai. Yum! We spent the night chowing down while watching an incredibly loud and windy lightening storm swirl around us in the Walmart parking lot.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (in Michigan): Another national park that happened to be on our route back, it was nice to be able to stop and stretch our legs. The park was established to celebrate and protect the 200-foot tall sandstone cliffs along this stretch of Lake Superior’s south shore. There are a lot of really cool waterfalls and rock formations to see here, but we had to limit ourselves and keep moving on.

The Mackinac Bridge (in Michigan): It’s a really beautiful bridge with stunning views. We originally wanted to go the Mackinac Island, but we’ll have to save that for another trip.

Greens Organic Cafe and Market (in Sarnia, Ontario): Initially, we wanted to stop at the ThumbCoast Brewing Company, where we had our first beer of the trip. But, our desire to get the boarder crossing over with won out, and so we stopped for lunch in Sarnia instead. Green was delicious and fresh. The Kale soup was particularly good.

And so, with this post, the last leg of our trip was completed. We made it to Kitchener, Ontario in the mid-afternoon and began the process of unpacking the van and figuring out what we should do next.

This isn’t the last blog post though. We have a few more coming with some top-ten lists and other interesting facts about our trip.

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