Day 21: Madison, WI. 5,399.5 km.
There's no way to deny it: we're definitely on our way home now. In an approximate mirror image of our day 3 (!) itinerary, we drove from Strathroy into the US, went through Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois, and ended the day in a nice suite in Madison, Wisconsin.
We've mastered the art of taking our time to get places, though. We left Strathroy around 8:30, and finished the “7.5 hour” drive about twelve hours later.
We got started a little later than planned, partly because we were visiting with Kelly and Lars, and partly because I had to shovel out the snowbank that the plow left behind our car. First order of business was a proper Ontario breakfast from Tim Horton's, and then, onto the highway! The heavy snow from yesterday had stopped, but soon after we started driving, it started again. So it was slow going to the border…around 70-80 km/h most of the time. On the 70 km drive to the border, we saw five cars in the ditch — four of which were recent enough that people were still with them. The roads were definitely a bit slippery, but we stuck (mostly) to the slow lane and didn't hurry.
Getting across the border into the US was no problem (though the border guard looked into our very full back seat and asked “So…are you guys moving?), and we immediately headed for the first stop of the day: another trip to Hobby Lobby. Ali was inspired by Erica's six-hour (I think?) marathon and wanted another kick at the can :-). It was a good idea, though, because after we finished wandering around (and bought a few small things) and got back to our car, the snow had stopped! Yay!
After that, the roads started to dry up, and before too long they were fairly dry. The temperature dropped, too, from about -2 °C in Strathroy to around -8 °C, so the remaining flurries that we hit during the day didn't make nearly as much of a slushy mess of the roads.
Our third stop was for gas, lunch, and a visit to another craft/hobby store, Jo Ann's Fabrics. We stopped in Kalamazoo, because that was when we needed gas, and we were hungry, and it seemed big enough to have a Jo Ann's, and Darryl liked the name. Unfortunately the city turned out to be a bit dingy, and our lunch was at the sketchiest McDonald's I've ever been to (we didn't even really want McDonald's for lunch, but we needed wifi to look up the store and we knew McDonald's always has it). Jo Ann's, in the end, was also a bit underwhelming…not nearly the selection (or attractiveness) of Hobby Lobby, and not particularly good prices either.
Oh well, it wasn't far out of our way, and we got back on the interstate. And then Ali realized that the various stops and delays and the time change meant that instead of getting to Chicago in early afternoon (as we had hoped), we'd be hitting it bang in the middle of rush hour! Whoops! But there was nothing to do but plunge on and hope that the toll roads we had decided to take would be less busy than the route we had taken on the trip east.
That…sort of worked out. The toll roads were still very busy, but there were way fewer entrances and exits, so traffic flowed quite well most of the time. We didn't have an “I-Pass” for automatic toll payment, so we had to pull out a few times to pay with cash (total cost, $10.90, in six stops). And then, after we passed Chicago, we found out that some of the exits from the tollroute don't accept cash! Since exits from the tollroute are few and far between, we would have been in a bit of trouble if we needed one of those exits, but happily, we just drove along the highway, passed through a final, normal, cash-accepting tollbooth, entered Wisconsin and it turned into a normal highway, no tolls required.
By then it was getting late, and we were hungry, but we were also looking forward to just getting to our hotel and not driving any farther, so we decided to suck it up and go nonstop to Madison. After we found our hotel, we ordered supper at a nearby Pizza Hut, checked into our hotel, and then I picked up our food and we ate at the coffee table in our suite (which even has a balcony!).
And now, we're beat. Good night, everyone…tomorrow's a much shorter drive!
Day 21: Strathroy, ON. 4518.4 km.
We spent most of today slowly working on getting the car packed: laundry, emptying and repacking things so we had the space we needed, and so that we don't have to unpack everything as we drive back.
We got a couple other small things done too; I installed another light for Erica (with Kailynn's help), we planned the drive back home, that sort of thing. After the boys were home from school and we said our goodbyes, we went to the mall (needed to get a refund on a bill that we were overcharged on), had supper (Moxie's; delicious!), got gas (we were totally empty, whoops!), and left for Strathroy.
This was a change from our original plan; we had talked about spending another night in Guelph and leaving from there in the morning, but when we were in Strathroy a couple weeks ago, we decided to spend the night in Strathroy instead, since that's two hours closer to the border, and makes the drive shorter.
Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side. It snowed most of the way, fairly heavily at times. I was in the middle lane on the 401, going 80 km/h, and hardly anyone was passing me…and at one point I was behind a semi that was doing 40. The blowing snow on the road made it hard for me to see where my lane was, which resulted in me accidentally exiting into Kitchener! No big deal…we turned around in a parking lot and got back on track.
After Kitchener, the weather started to get better, though we did see one accident (one vehicle that had somehow gone head-on into the guardrail). We had heard that Conrad was stuck on the shoulder with two flat tires, and sure enough, we saw him…in the opposite lane. Nothing we could do to help, though, so we silently wished him luck and carried on (if he had been on our side of the road, we would have brought him coffee!). About 25 km from London, the snow stopped and the roads were clear…and then we turned onto the 402 towards Strathroy and the snow started all over again!
But, the main thing is, here we are, safe and sound. In the end, we never slipped or slid, and the only thing I was really nervous about was merging onto the 401 in low visibility and moderately heavy traffic. It was a longer drive than expected: we left the Guelph mall at about 6:30 and finally made it to Strathroy just after 9:00 — 2.5 hours for a drive that's normally closer to 1.5.
Our first stop was Owen's house, where we got a tour and visited with Owen and Arlene for an hour. Then we went to Trevor and Kelly's, where we chatted with Trevor (Kelly and Lars were in bed) for probably longer than we should have, given that we're planning to leave at 7:30 or 8:00 tomorrow…weather permitting.
Day 21: Guelph, ON. 4,338.9 km.
Our day (the 15th; late post again!) started bright and early, with Ali telling my “Happy birthday!” at 3:00 AM, when Kailynn woke us up by crawling in bed with us (something we were told to expect while Erica was gone). Ali got up at around 7:00 to send the older boys off to school, and when they were gone, she went back to bed and I got up and watched Davin and Kailynn (and fed them breakfast).
Then it was mostly just another day around the house. I cleaned out the car in preparation for the drive home, and measured it to see how (and if) our cabinet would fit in it (turns out, it should fit no problem, with room to spare).
After the boys came home, we watched Despicable Me 2 (because it was my birthday), and Ali and Kailynn ran out to Walmart for a bit of shopping. We had spaghetti for supper, I went downstairs and played Mario Kart with the boys for a bit, and then when Erica got home, I got to open presents!
I got spoiled with tea for our new Keurig, a widget for brewing loose tea by the cup, and a gorgeous Doctor Who graphic novel collection (from Ali, who knows what I like!). Then it was bedtime for the boys, and, before long, for us.
Day 20: Guelph, ON. 4,332.5 km.
Today was probably the quietest day of our trip so far. All four boys had school today, so it was just me, Ali, and Kailynn for most of the day…and Kailynn went and lied down with Ali for a bit after the boys left on the bus. So we slept in (sort of), did some laundry, went shopping (I bought a board game at a thrift store), and generally hung around. Oh, and I hung a chandelier, because it needed hanging, so why not?
Kailynn made sure we weren't bored, though, with her nonstop nattering about everything around her and a frequent sing-songy call of “Un-ca DAR-ryl!” And then the boys got home from school and any chance of silence vanished.
And now the boys are all in bed (Johnny left for bed as I was typing this), it actually IS quiet in the house, and I'm sure we'll be heading to bed too before too long. I booked our hotels for the return trip to Winnipeg today…this long (and enjoyable) trip is slowly wending its way to a close.
Day 18: Guelph, ON. 4,306.6 km.
Well, here we are, in Guelph again for a few days. It's nice to be able to sit somewhere and “relax” (as much as possible in a house with five kids!) before starting the (casually-paced) trip back to Winnipeg.
Today (Sunday, that is…these late posts are becoming a habit!) was simple. We got up fairly late (I actually forgot it was Sunday!), went to church, and then afterwards, Trevor, Kelly, Lars, Owen, and Arlene came from Strathroy for an (early) birthday party for me!
We had had a bit of a discussion about what cake I wanted; first we were going to buy one, then Erica was going to make one, then I got asked what I wanted, and then Kailynn suggested “Sean's cake” — a trifle — which is what we ended up having. (“Sean's cake”, because that's what Sean had for his birthday…and that only happened because Kailynn destroyed the cake that Erica had made for him!) It was delicious, and huge; we only ate about half of it…and Lars had four helpings!
By the time everything was wrapped up and we went to bed, I was too tired to load up my photos and put a blog post together, so that's why this is late.
But it was a nice evening — thanks to Ali, Erica, Owen, and Trevor for planning it, preparing dinner and dessert, and/or making the trip to Guelph!
Day 17: Guelph, ON. 4,267.6 km.
We went to bed last night with a forecast of freezing rain, so we didn't know what the day would hold. We awoke at around 9:30, and while we ate breakfast, we learned from Uncle Andy (who had been out on his morning walk already) that there was definitely rain, but what little ice there was had already melted. Thankful for this, we packed the car (a bit sloppily, I must confess, because the rain was cold and I didn't think to bring a rain jacket on a January vacation!), stopped to get gas (still low from yesterday's misadventures, but happily there was a gas station nearby, and cheap too!), and headed for the highway before noon.
The drive today was the only inclement weather that we've hit so far. All day it rained, and for most of the day it was foggy, with both the fog and rain varying significantly in severity as we drove. The rain was sometimes a fine mist and was briefly a significant downpour, but generally it was a light drizzle. The fog never got terrifyingly thick, but at times I could only count about 8-10 seconds from the time an object appeared through the mists until the time I drove past it, so I wouldn't have wanted it much heavier! Ali and I were surprised by how many people were driving in this weather with no lights on; it seemed dangerous, but common.
With a high temperature of 10 °C (this is January, right??) we had no worries about freezing rain, and the wet roads didn't pose a problem for us, but we passed a couple of accidents. Fairly early in the day, we saw a car on its side with a completely smashed windshield, apparently having rolled across almost the entire median (a minute later, we saw a police car presumably on its way to the scene). And somewhere around Toronto, one or two eastbound lanes were blocked by a multi-vehicle accident, backing up traffic for a long way afterwards.
We had good traffic, though, and no problems with slippery roads — not even any scares. We left the fog behind in Toronto, and the rain stopped sometime after we arrived in Guelph, which was nice for unloading the car.
And here we are! In a weird way it feels like coming home, after adventures in Hamilton, Montreal, and Ottawa, and in other ways it feels like we never left. But we are definitely on the return leg of our journey now…though we're in no hurry, and we plan to remain here for the next few days!
Oh, and a piece of trivia that we picked up from Aunt Carla and Uncle Andy that we've agreed deserves to be blogged: their Ottawa church congregation, which has been around for 53 years, has never had a funeral! Apparently nobody has passed away while they were a member of that church. I think they should advertise that; that should attract members!
Day 16: South Mountain, ON. 3.782.3 km.
(Another late blog post…no wifi in South Mountain!)
Today (that is to say, Friday), we went to Ottawa, with no particular goal in mind. Uncle Andy had recommended a scenic route to us, rather than the main highway, so late in the morning we set out, hit a pole on the way out of the driveway and scratched the car, went out along the main highway, and…missed our turn, because I misread a sign.
We knew we had missed it, though, so we turned around at the next exit, and…missed it again, because our GPS was showing us farther back on the road than we actually were. So we turned around again, made it to the scenic route, accidentally turned off the scenic route because the GPS thought that was the wrong was to get to Ottawa, found our way back on to the scenic route, and followed it to Ottawa.
And then we agreed that it wasn't worth the trouble, because it wasn't very scenic! I guess it's possible that after all that we were on the wrong road, but we're pretty sure we had it right, and most of it was just a drive through a residential area, with not much to see. And then we had to find our way to Parliament Hill, which took a bit of effort because we weren't on the main road, and then I missed the turn to the parking lot that Uncle Andy recommended.
By this point I was pretty much done with navigating Ottawa, and we just pulled into the next parking lot we saw, paid eighteen bucks for parking, and started walking around. Which is when we learned that it was colder in Ottawa than it was in South Mountain, so we were both underdressed for the weather.
We didn't want to do the tour of Parliament, since we've both done it before and only had the one afternoon. We went to the tourist centre to find out what else there was to do, but it was closed. So we went to do some shopping on Sparks Street, but found out that in the winter, there isn't much interesting there either. We were hungry, so we found a little (mediocre, it turns out) restaurant called Yesterday's for a mid-afternoon snack, and went to the local mall (Rideau Centre) for some shopping, since we had nothing else to do.
Then, we got lost trying to find our car back, and our attempts to locate the parking lot led through Byward Market, a fantastic little area full of unique shops and restaurants, which is where we should have spent our day, but of course we had no time to look at them now, because we were already late and were trying to get back for supper. So we made our way to a KFC, lost another 20 minutes there because they were super busy, found our way back out to the highway, and finally made it back to Aunt Carla and Uncle Andy's at 7:30. We almost ran out of gas on the way, and arrived so late that they had already eaten without us. (Not that I blame them!)
But, happy ending: after we ate, we had a very nice visit with our hosts, and chatted until almost midnight, when the day caught up with us and we needed to go to sleep!