We knew the middle states would be long. Today was about 12 hours of driving.
Did you know that some gas stations have tiny TVs set into their pump screens, so you’re forced to listen to broadcast while you pump gas. “Thanks for making us America’s No. 1 Network at the Pump!” is something a cheery gas pump LCD newscaster actually said to me. At the rate that corporations keep colonizing every spare moment in our days, I’m surprised they haven’t come up with printed ads on the back of toilet paper (yet).
One thing you notice on these long driving days is the varying gas prices in the states. In Wisconsin we paid $2.599/gallon; in Minnesota we paid $2.549/gallon; in North Dakota we paid $2.949/gallon. Small things, but when you’re driving steady for hours on end through agricultural flatland, things like this seem to take on an added significance.
Today had the added esteem of being the day we arrived in FARGO!
Fargo being one of Rob’s favourite movies, we were excited to see the town. We spotted our first Bison!
It turns out it was Pride Week in Fargo, and they had pride flags lining every major street, and sweet words of encouragement written in chalk all over the sidewalk. We had lunch at a swanky place called Ho Do (mostly pulled in by the chalk Batman advert) and at the bottom of your bill you could choose to donate to the local pride organization the same way you’d add a tip at the end.
[white_box]If you want to read about a sad but real story from the town of Fargo that involves the movie “Fargo” and a Japanese businesswoman (Takako Konishi), then read the linked Wikipedia entries and watch the documentary “This Is A True Story”, and the movie “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter“. [/white_box]
Once we left Fargo, we drove pretty much straight west until we hit the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Literally. One straight line heading west into the Badlands. Bison territory.
Driving through the sunset we passed dozens of sunflower fields in North Dakota, stopping at one to take photos.
Across the sky were strewn pink, purple, blue and gold clouds, like giant pieces of cotton candy, sugar stuff pulled across the sky, like some giant had just pulled off a section of the sweet stuff.
It was dark when we reached Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We couldn’t see anything but stars when we arrived in the park and had to set up in the dark to avoid mosquitoes and moths flying into the van. We were so tired we just flopped onto the mattress in the back instead of setting up the tent.
In a way, it was kind of nice driving into the park in the dark, because it meant we would have a beautiful surprise when we woke up.
Day 11 Costs:
McDonald’s Lunch and coffee for 2 (wifi!): $15.03 USD
Gas in Hinckley, MN: $42.19 USD
Subway Sandwich: $4.82 USD
Supper for two at Ho Do in Fargo: $23.65
Tea at Starbucks: $2.75 USD
Gas in Jamestown, North Dakota: $48.82 USD
Camping at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, 1 Night: $14.00USD
Here is a sample of some of the roadsigns between Indiana Dunes National Park and Milwaukee, Wisconsin:
[white_box]”You can loose weight. Call NOW for your free bariatric surgery consultation”, “When you die you will meet God, Call 1-888-TRUTH”, “ADULT SUPERSTORE NEXT EXIT!”, Personal Injury Lawyer, Personal Injury Lawyer, Personal Injury Lawyer, “$10 Tuesdays at Polecats”, “Just Because I’m Not Born, Doesn’t Mean I’m Not a Person”, MARS CHEESE CASTLE, Pornography Destroys Love, “Got GOD?”[/white_box]
I couldn’t make this stuff up; I’m from Nova Scotia and am more used to seeing things like, “Lobster Dinner at Exit 5”. If the people here are as crazy as the roadside ads then they are hiding it very well, because Rob and I had an awesome day in Milwaukee which included meeting lots of nice and not (observably) crazy people.
Numero uno. We got in around 11am and wanted to grab some food before heading over to the art museum to watch the wings flap (you’ll see what I mean in a second) at 12pm.
Last time I was here I tried Thainamite, which was great (they have deep fried sushi). This time, I opted for the Salmon, Bacon and Spinach sandwich from the St. Paul Fish Company. It was the thing everyone talked about eating the last time I was in town. It took them about 10 minutes to make (I think because the lunch rush hadn’t really started yet, and it was a Monday), but it was worth the wait.
Look at this.
That spinach is sautéed. They don’t fuck around.
Rob’s clam chowder was also really good (I am the girlfriend that eats all your food). I also had a cappuccino from Anodyne‘s booth in the market. Highly recommend; not only am I a tea snob, but I like good coffee to. These guys are up to par.
Milwaukee Art Museum
The last time I was in town I never got to see the famous ‘wings’ on the building flap, although I did take lots of pictures, where you can see the wings are open. The ‘wings’ are an architectural feature, giant sunscreens that can open and close. They open when the museum opens, flap at noon, and closewhen the museum closes. We planned to be there to see the noon flap.
We entered the museum and made our way up to the second level via the exterior stairs and bridge that lead over to Juneau Park for the best view of the museum.
When we got up to the park, it was about 11:50am, but we noticed the wings were already down. ”Hmm. Did we miss it?”
The skies to the north were dark.
“Maybe this is just the first part of the flap, they close them… then open them?”
From far away, we started to hear the sound, like dried beans being poured down a sieve.
When the wall of rain and thunder hit us, we realized why they had closed the flaps early. The rain hit so hard and sudden, that when I moved a second later there was a dry shadow of my body on the concrete where we were standing.
We ran to a nearby shelter with another guy caught in the rain. After a few minutes of waiting, we decided to make a run for the museum.
Honestly, we could have just walked; we were supersaturated with water when we made it inside that it wouldn’t have been possible to be any wetter.
Here’s where Milwaukee’s niceness shines through! One of the museum staff came up to us and said he saw us running in, and that he’d be right back with some towels we could use to dry ourselves off with. He suggested we could warm up with a tea at the indoor café. Great idea!
Soaked at the Café Calatrava.
We dried off, got us some internet, and then decided to buy tickets to the Modern Rebels special exhibit at the museum. It was being advertised the last time I was in town but hadn’t opened yet.
Modern Rebels showcases artists who broke the mold. Van Gogh to Pollock is the show’s subtitle; it begins with the pre-WWI French school and follows the subsequent movement of the art capital from France to New York as the war broke out.
Intriguingly, we noticed with the sample of works presented in this exhibition, that the canvasses became substantially larger once the artists move to NYC. American upsizing?
It was chilling to see Jackson Pollock’s ‘Convergence’ up close (as seen in the photo above), but the painting that struck me the most was actually Femme retroussant sa chemise (Woman Lifting Her Chemise) by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
[white_box]A fixture in the bustling Paris nightlife scene, Toulouse-Lautrec painted what he and his friends experienced. And for a time, he lived in brothels. The artist befriended the women who worked there, such as the prostitute here, pictured dutifully lifting her garment, and often portrayed them as human beings rather than as sexual objects: “I have tried to do what is true and not ideal.”[/white_box]
I’m intrigued by this idea of T-L being kind of like an early fine-art journalist, using his brush to capture reality. Like a photojournalist today would get to know their subjects before shooting them, T-L did the same of his subjects.
People might argue, ‘But it can’t be reality, because it’s a painting. Photography is truthful because it captures reality exactly as it is in front of you.‘ This is one of the arguments that held people’s imagination when photography was first invented.
The thing is: camera angles can change a story and there are a million ways to fool a viewer. To this day ethical debate rages on about this in the journalism community. And of course it all centers around our idea of ‘what is reality?’ and ‘What is truth?’. Even without Photoshop, there is a huge spectrum of what you can do with a camera. All you have to do to confirm that is look at some of Salvador Dali’s photography work.
After seeing this, I think modern photojournalists could benefit from reviewing more fine art journalism of the past. I know I plan to.
Art brain satisfied and thunderstorms cleared, we headed back on the road and enjoyed the appropriately painterly clouds as we headed away from Milwaukee and on to our next camp site.
Day Lake Campground in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest
A word of advice: bring cash!
A lot of National Parks require self-registration. This means showing up without a reservation and leaving cash in envelopes in cute little locked boxes and then driving onto your site, without talking to any actual people. The same sometime goes for firewood.
There was almost no one at this park. We saw one neighbour, and heard a bike at one point, but that was it. All that could be heard besides that were loon calls and the creak and shriek of the water pump when one of us went to fill our canteens.
As a city person it can be a bit eerie, even hair-raising to be out in the middle of nowhere. I encourage you to try it.
My office, feat. laptop and wood axe.
Here we have a great lowbrow-highbrow combination. Campfire beans with matcha Kit Kats for dessert. Mmmm.
Despite feeling like there was no one around, there was a charming gas station/general store and bar about a ten minute drive out of the park. We stopped to use the ATM at the bar, and admired the “No concealed firearms” sign.
Day 10 Costs:
US Highway Tolls around Chicago: $3.30 USD
Milwaukee Public Market Parking: .25c USD (already money in the meter; sweet!)
Cappuccino from Anondyne: $3 USD
Salmon, Bacon, Spinach Sandwich from St. Paul’s: $13.75 USD
Cookie, Chips and Juice at MAM: $5.57 USD
Coffee and Tea at MAM: $4.00 USD
2 Adult MAM “Modern Rebels” Exhibit Tickets: $28.00 USD
MAM Parking: $7.00 USD
Gas outside of Oshkosh: $43.19 USD
Two Drinks, Two Snacks, Gas Station: $6.45 USD
Groceries at Family Dollar, Park Falls, WI: $13.45 USD
They are the No. 1 and No. 2 busiest Canada-USA border crossings (in that order).
We opted for the tunnel because it was the quicker route for us by a couple minutes.
The subterranean border crossing made me feel like a maple syrup smuggler. The tunnel was humid in the middle and a full of exhaust fumes. I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad if you were driving straight through, but traffic was held up about a quarter of the way through, and made the rest of the trip a warm, slow crawl.
In addition to changing countries, we also completed the Ontario portion of our cross-country time-lapse, with arguably the best soundtrack thanks to our talented and folksy Toronto friends. Listen for my beer bottle solo!
We continued our drive towards Chicago. Coming across the border and heading west, the highways around Detroit were unkempt and lined with fallen-down and desolate-looking homes. National Geographic recently did a great series called Taking Back Detroit, with an essay, portraits, and videos about how citizens are bringing their fallen city back from the ashes. I recommend reading it.
Of course, my brief glimpse from the highway didn’t tell that story, but I guess that’s the difference between a ten minute glimpse from a car window, and a well-researched journalism series.
Camping on Lake Michigan
We had originally planned to visit Chicago for the afternoon, but after spending so much money and city time in Toronto, we were craving the woods, cheap camping and fresh air, so we decided to forgo Chicago this time around (I’ll be back someday!) and instead aimed our van towards the Indiana Dunes National Park.
Indiana Dunes is right on the lakeshore (a fact I can attest to not only because I saw the lake, but also because there were plague-level amounts of mosquitos). Our campsite was nice, with indoor toilets, showers, and a washing station a short walk away. It was quite humid; we were having pre-thunderstorm weather, and our tent bed talk that night consisted mostly of us saying to each other, “Try not to move. Or breathe. Or do anything that produces heat.”
Next time: We buy a tent fan.
This time: Revelation! Baby wipes are the best camping accessory. So useful for a so many things (hand cleaner, makeup remover, glasses wipe, baby wipe showers, etc.), and so cheap ($1.50 for a whole box)! Thanks to our friend Liz Robichaud for the heads-up.
Day 9 Costs:
Tunnel Cost: $4.75 USD
Starbucks’ Tea: $2.65 USD
Gas in Battle Creek: $40.00 USD
Groceries: $23.12 USD
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore – Dunewood Campground: $18.00 USD
We couldn’t leave Toronto without having one more delicious meal. In honour of Sam’s 30th birthday, we set down the block to dine at Emma’s Country Kitchen.
Now this breakfast, was a fantastic breakfast.
Liz is Quebecois and a food pro – she knew exactly what to order. We started off with house-made peanut butter chocolate pretzel doughnuts, maple bacon doughnuts, and oven-warm beignettes bursting with hot caramel and dusted in icing sugar. This might actually still my beating heart.
On top of that, I had huge slices of french toast with sour cherry compote and whipped cream cheese, made with bread baked in-house and a side of peameal bacon cured right there.
Somehow, on the way home we started talking about more food – taiyaki. Now, I haven’t had a good taiyaki since we were in South Korea last year.
It was resolved we’d get some before Rob and I set off for Niagara. Back at the apartment, we waited for a keg from Duggans Brewery full of Sorachi Lager to arrive for the birthday shenanigans, and then headed over to the market in Koreatown near Christie Pits where Kevin’s Taiyaki can be found inside the Central Market.
This market had everything you need to quell your asian food fix. Mostly Japanese and Korean, I also spotted a few Chinese and Vietnamese items.
Snacks acquired, and the van cleaned out and prepared for the next leg, we jumped in and headed towards…
Now, there’s a whole lot about Niagara Falls that’s really interesting but that doesn’t fit into my short, one-day-tourist experience here. I recommend is that you check out the documentary The Falls, by Kevin McMahon. I heard this guy speak at The Walrus Talks Water in Halifax, and his work shows a side of the falls overlooked in the tourist kitsch narrative most of us see.
First of all, the falls are a massive curtain of water that cascade so heavily that they kick up a mist so heavy that at times you’re not sure whether its raining or not, and Niagara Falls is the name for the collection of three waterfalls that pour into the Niagara Gorge, which lies on the border between Canada and The United States. Their names are the Bridal Veil Falls, American Falls, and the iconic Horseshoe Falls which forms a semi-circle on the Canadian side.
Niagara Falls has operated without tax dollars since 1885. It’s able to function on tourist revenue alone and feels like Disney World, or a similar large-scale theme park.
In its vicinity are numerous other theme parks and attractions which fall into the same category of family fun parks, and there’s the popular Maid of the Mist tours that take you on a boat into the base of the falls for a closer view (as seen in the top image).
We had a good time taking in the impressive scene, but I felt like I would have enjoyed it more if I had to hike for an hour or so into the forest to get to it, and there wasn’t a huge tourism machine churning behind my back, but hey, c’est là vie.
One really nice aspect of the expensive $20-for-the-day parking is that the parking lot fringes on a large picnic field. There were a lot of families with barbecues and huge meal setups, sitting on picnic blankets and persian carpets, enjoying family time. There was one group of people with all these great smelling curry dishes we walked by, and I very much wished I was a part of their family.
Our night after Niagara took a turn for the weird.
We ended up taking too long to get to the campsite we planned to use, and missed the check-in time. We were going to sleep in a Walmart parking lot instead, but the bright parking lot lights came through our opaque curtains and made it akin to trying to sleep with a flashlight in your face.
We decided to drive on and pick a rest spot (a.k.a. little patch of gravel) off the highway to set up camp for the night – there would be no overhead lights, it’s legal, and it would be easier to sleep.
So we found a place, set up, and drifted off.
About an hour or so later, we woke up to headlights coming in through our rear window.
We thought it might just be a police officer coming to check on us, or someone else parking for the night, but they stayed there for ten minutes. Doing nothing, just keeping the lights on. Then drove away.
It was kind of weird, but I went back to my pillow to try and get back to sleep. Five minutes later, two cars pulled up along the corn field on the opposite side of the highway and turned off all their lights, but left their engines running. We heard people getting out, some muffled voices, and then the crunch of gravel as they started to walk towards us.
Suspicious, Rob jumped into the driver’s seat and drove us out of there. He saw the group of people was four middle-aged guys.
It’s impossible to say what exactly the intentions of those guys were, or if they were connected to the first car that pulled up behind us, or if we just happen to be parked next to their midnight smoking hideaway, but it seemed a better idea to get out of there than to stay.
We drove a bit, found a shitty motel room, and spent the night there. To give you a hint of the flavour of motel it was: we were checking in around 1am, and there was a guy there just checking out. The Stag Shop and The Naughty Shop were located just across the street.
Oh, and we may have ran over a skunk carcass on the way?
It was a weird night. At least in the morning we didn’t have to check out until 11am so we had lots of time to charge our electronics and answer some email on their super-slow wifi.
Living large, Ontario.
Time to head for the border.
Day 8 Costs:
Green P Parking on Bloor: .75c
Snacks at Korean Market (Matcha Kit Kat, Coconut Pocky, Ito en Green Tea x2): $15.10
Taiyaki at Korean Market (Kevin’s Taiyaki): $28.10 (for friends as gifts, as a few for us too!)
Tuna Wrap and Latte at Starbucks in St. Catherine’s, ON: $10.96
One of the two major public markets in Toronto (the other being Kensington Market) is known for its peameal bacon.
Peameal bacon is wet-cured back bacon coated in cornmeal and cooked to crispy perfection. We each get one of Carousel’s famous breakfast sandwiches – Breakfast on a Bun. It’s really good. Rob makes out with his for about 30 seconds before coming up for air. I’m mildly jealous, but I understand. We all have our celebrity exceptions.
We had been warned by our friends last night that the lineups can get so long they snake around the building, so we attempted to buy our tickets online the night before to bypass it, but failed because we had been trying after midnight and you need to make online ticket purchases the day before.
Instead went early around 9am and there was barely anyone there; we beat the stroller derby crowd.
The aquarium was objectively very cool. I’m not a huge fan of watching the hollow-eyed sharks, but loved seeing the different ecosystems at play.
The best part was the wall of jellyfish that undulated about in a ten-foot tall aquarium with LEDs that shifted the colour of the creatures as they swam.
We stared at it in awe. A real world screensaver. The only thing that could have made it better would have been some dulcet Pink Floyd, a velvet chaise longue, and endless buckets of popcorn.
Also, “Fleshy Sea Pens”…
The Harbourfront Building + Art Gallery
While waiting for the Steamwhistle Brewery to open (What? No beer at 10:30am?), we headed to the harbourfront for ice cream and art.
The Harbourfront Centre also contains working artists studios, with windows running along the studios so you can watch them work. There are contemporary works on display throughout the halls; some are by the in-house artists, and some are special exhibits.
The miniature I photographed above is displayed there as part of a series by Jesse Bromm.
We popped in to sample some brews and take a look around. The 11:30 tour had already filled up, so we resolved to come through here again on the way back.
That being said, we still enjoyed some free beers and swag.
The CN Tower Fail
Having a bit of time left, we thought it would be fun to check out the nearby 553m-high CN Tower to get an overview of the city.
We went through security and waited in the line, which wasn’t too long at the time. I saw a sign that said SKYPOD $12, and I thought, “Eh, that’s kind of expensive, but okay,” I had paid to go to the top of towers before, so I could understand…
Until we got to the front of the line and learned that $12 fee was in addition to a $35 mandatory minimum ticket price. Before tax. This $50 option is the most popular. When is it worth $50 for one person to ride to the top of a building?
For comparison, Tokyo Sky Tree in Japan is 634m high, the tallest freestanding structure in the world. It opened in 2012. Much more modern in design, and higher in stature, ticket prices are only 2,060¥ (~$20).
Tokyo Tower is only 950¥ (~$9), great for a first date; Roppongi Hills is 1,800¥ (~$18), the Bunkyo Civic Centre is FREE, and the Tokyo World Trade Centre and Sunshine 60 are about 610¥ (~$6) each.
Elsewhere in the world of towers, The Eiffel Tower is 15€ (~$20), and Canton Tower (the second highest freestanding structure in the world) starts at 50¥(~$10). Even the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world at 829.8m high, only costs 125 AED (~$45 CAD) to go to the top.
The CN Tower’s ticket prices start at $35 for an adult (and that doesn’t even get you to the highest observation deck) and go up to $90 depending on which bells and whistles you purchase. You can also buy an Edgewalk, which lets you walk for 30 minutes on the outside of the tower, strapped into a safety harness, for $195.
I’m interested to find out where in Toronto you can get a good view without paying a ridiculous fee. Someone suggested the TD Building. Torontonians? What say you? Where are the best views in this city for free and/or cheap?
I have been tipped off that another way to go up without paying is to make a reservation at the 360˚ Restaurant. That being said, the cheapest lunch on the menu is the 2-course fixed price for $55. Still, for a view plus a meal, it seems to be the best bang for your buck.
The Scarborough Bluffs!
You know what’s better than the CN Tower? Hanging out at the beach with your friends.
The Bluffs are a geological escarpment (i.e., big, long cliff) that run along Lake Ontario. Along here are beautiful beaches and marinas only a 35 minute drive from downtown Toronto with good traffic.
We gathered a contingency to hang out on the beach and enjoy the noble summer pursuit of drinking beers, cooking hot dogs, playing in the ocean lake, and reading in the sun.
There are two parts to the bluffs:
1) Scarborough Bluffs Park: A wide picnic area that offers views such as the one above, and a steep trail down to the beach.
2) Bluffer’s Park Beach: The main beach with a parking lot entrance.
We stopped first in the Bluffs Park, a little bit by accident since we didn’t know where we were going. We caught some sweet views there and then decided to go via the parking lot route instead of trekking down as we had a lot of food gear with us, and didn’t want to have to climb back up the cliffs once we were full of food and drunk from beer and sun (wise choice, team).
I couldn’t believe we’d gone from metropolis to secluded beach in only a half an hour.
After making our way back from the Bluffs, we caught the St. Clair streetcar to the metro station and then made our way to the Davison Station to reach The Wallace Gastropub near the Yonge and Eglinton area in one of the fancier parts of town. The Wallace is a cozy, European-style spot that offers a food selection of upmarket pub fare, locally procured ingredients with organic status and sustainability in mind.
We met up with more university friends and sat in their intimate back porch where I enjoyed glass after glass of Pommies Cider, and a warm atmosphere. Cheers to that.
Day 7 Costs:
Underground Parking near St Lawrence Market: $6.00
We had high hopes of getting on the road early. Last night I believe there was even some talk of ‘leaving at 6am’, but after we left IKEA we bought a case of Steamwhistle and ended up over at a friend’s house drinking until midnight.
We then had to come home and finish doing our laundry (while fighting to stay awake), and ended up getting on the road closer to 9am.
I had my first glimpses of Toronto around 1:30pm. The friends we were staying with have what I had fantasized about as the epitome of an artsy Toronto abode – a rent-controlled hard loft located on St. Clair West, with a wide open studio space/living room, prints everywhere, an old vinyl dinner booth against the bay window, racks of camera gear in the corner, and vintage wallpaper peeling off the walls. It was an awesome place to stay. Thanks Liz and Sam! You guys could make a killing on AirBnB.
We felt like having a chill day, so after getting caught up with emails and making friends with the chief feline where we were staying, we decided to go take a walk around the city to check out some of the neighbourhoods.
I really wanted to check out The Annex and the area around the University of Toronto Campus.
Located downtown, The Annex is full of these bay-and-gable homes with old, overflowing gardens and red brick facades.
The Annex’s boundaries are a perfect square made by tracing a line from the corner of Bathurst and Dupont, going east and down Avenue Rd. to Bloor Street, and then heading west until you hit Bathurst, and back up to Dupont.
With its proximity to University of Toronto, the area is a student quarter, but also houses university faculty and is known for its academia-vibe. Rumour has it that my big crush Margaret Atwood also lives around here.
A few blocks over, the University of Toronto campus was lively, despite it being the middle of summer. We hung out and joked about what it would be like to have lived here. In my imaginary life, I lived in the Annex and attended Victoria College for my undergrad, biking home from the vine-covered music building after late-night flute practice. Tummies grumbling after so much walking, we walked over to Fernando’s Hideaway and got Mexican food and tried deep-fried ice cream for the first time.
We reunited with friends we hadn’t seen in the years since graduating from Bishop’s at Christie Pits Park near Koreatown, shared some hugs and after debating, got Vietnamese takeout and walked to Dufferin Park where we spent the rest of the night drinking and catching up.
We also recorded a sweet little ditty that you’ll hear on our Ontario video once we finish recording our timelapse in this province. Stay tuned for some folk magic.
Also, right now we’re camping in Montana where the wifis are few and far between, and painfully slow when they do exist. In a couple days I’ll be staying with family in Calgary, and am looking forward to powerful wifi and showers.
Day 6 Costs:
Tim Horton’s Breakfast: $5.25
Happy Meal: $4.50
Gas in Oshawa: $74.60
TO Green P Parking: $7.58
TO Green P Parking until Sunday noon (using app): $30.70