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Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Quick US Pop-In

From where we left off in the last post, we made our way to Ottawa, Canada's capital city. Ottawa hasn't always been the capital, but was chosen for being a mid point between Toronto and Quebec city, and also because it was farther from the American border than the previous capital and therefore harder to invade, as those pesky Americans kept attempting to do.

We stayed outside of Ottawa at Rideau River Provincial Park which was OK, and made our way into Ottawa last Wednesday. The city is smaller than we expected, especially for being the national capital, but has a lot of historical charm, all of which is currently having significant restoration work being done to it.

The first thing we did was sign up for a free tour of the main Parliament building. Prior to the tour, we had some time to walk around Parliament Hill and take in some of the other buildings.






The current Parliament building was erected in the late 1800s and burned to the ground, except for the library, and was rebuilt in the early 1900s. They really are grand and beautiful, and much more like the historical architecture of Europe rather than anything you'd expect to find in North America.


The first step in the tour was, of course, getting through the airport style security, complete with the removal of your belt. Because I've got a fantastic brother-by-law who works for a knife company, I had an awesome knife in my purse, but our tour guide had assured us they would take the knife at security and I could pick it up after the tour. I readied the knife and my pepper spray to just hand to security.

It turns out pepper spray is totally illegal in Canada! Who knew. It also turns out I had not removed the SECOND knife from my purse as I thought I had done a few days prior and the kind Canadian security guard, after scanning my purse, whispered to me asking if maybe there was a second knife in my purse. I was now the jerk American trying to bring two knives and illegal pepper spray into Parliament.

The pepper spray earned me a meeting with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (aka RCMP aka Mounties). They confiscated it (fine with me, turns out it expired in 2011 anyway) and told me I wouldn't be charged with anything because it's legal in my home country. Phew! They also said it happens all the time and they have a huge locker filled with confiscated pepper spray. The RCMP took down my address and when they realized I was from Chicago, the two knives and pepper spray suddenly made sense. On with the tour! (Seth, if you're reading this, I did overhear the RCMP guys say how cool it would be to have someone like you in their family and it made me smile!)

The Parliament building is absolutely beautiful and something straight out of a Harry Potter movie. We highly recommend it. The most remarkable feature was the library, but, unfortunately, we couldn't take any photographs in it because there were librarians conducting research (the photo below is leveraged from the internet). After the tour we did some more walking around and then headed back to camp.







Although it was not part of our original plan, we made a slight detour back into the US for some routine car maintenance and some service on our camper. We found The Great Outdoors in Fulton, New York, to fix the fridge in our camper (the gas starter had suddenly stopped working) and to check the brakes. They were great there! They got us in super quick, were so friendly, gave us a good rate, and best of all, our service guy, Dave, gave us two tickets to a wine festival at the Watkins Glen International Raceway. Ryan had been asking one of the guys about seeing Watkins Glen, so Dave gave us the two tickets he couldn't use. We are beyond words at his kind gesture and are so thankful!

From Fulton we headed southwest to Ithaca, where were had made an appointment for our car. We originally intended to stay in one of the state parks, but by the time we got here they were filled for the weekend. Fortunately we found a private campground nearby, Pine Creek, that got us in no problem. As a bonus, they have a bunch of old playground equipment from McDonalds.



We did a little exploring of the city and her many gorges and waterfalls, and the Cornell University campus, perched atop a hill and looking over Ithaca. We ended up at Stanley Park, right at the edge of Cayuga Lake, one of the regional Finger Lakes, carved out by glaciers. We had just missed sunset, but still caught some beautiful sky colors and the gorgeous full moon.



Saturday morning we got up early to take our car in for a checkup where she got a clean bill of health. Afterward we went to Buttermilk Falls State Park to hike one of Ithaca's many gorges and waterfalls. The day was sunny and warm, perfect for ascending waterfalls giving off their cool mists. We hiked up the gorge, around Lake Treman, and back down the rim trail.



After showering and relaxing a little, we headed into town for dinner at Moosewood Restaurant of cookbook fame. What delicious food and fantastic service! We ate at the bar in lieu of a 45 minute wait to be seated in the dining area and it was a lot of fun.

Sunday morning we had the pleasure of meeting our campground neighbor, Janna, who is traveling full time with her wife. They have recently returned from the Canadian Maritimes and are in the area, camping with some friends. One of the things I am learning from this trip is how kind and friendly people can be. It is easy to become jaded against people in the city, but we have met so many genuinely good-hearted and generous people along the way, it is so refreshing.

We brunched at the farmers market in Ithaca, one of my favorite markets. It is exactly how I remember it from when my mother and I visited my sister when she was staying here. It was a rainy morning, so there weren't too many people there. I had the most delicious Cambodian food! I want it again right now.


After the rain subsided a little, we drove to Watkins Glen for the wine festival where I think we lucked out again with the rains keeping the big crowds away. The first order of business was a lap around the track in a pace car. We didn't get to drive, but it was thrilling and Ryan loved the experience. After our ride, we sampled many of the regional wines, hard ciders, and some cheese. It was great!



On our way back from Watkins Glen, we decided to follow up on a suggestion from our campground neighbor, Janna, to visit Cornell's Ornithology Lab. In my workings for Sierra Club and Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, I had heard about how wonderful their Ornithology collections and lab are, so we decided to check it out. It is primarily an outdoor preserve, but they have a visitors center with a couple observation areas, art, videos, digitized animal recordings, and a great library. Because of the rain we only saw some geese. We did, however, run into Janna and her wife, Liz, along with their friends Fran and Donna. Small world! 


We thought Sunday would be our final day in Ithaca, but we were enjoying all the gorges and waterfalls so much that we decided to stay one more day. After debating about moving camp to one of the nearby state parks, and ultimately deciding against it, we headed north to Taughanook State Park on the southwestern edge of Cayuga Lake. We hiked the short gorge trail to the falls, took in some refreshing waterfall spray, and then hiked back to the rim trail and around the gorge, sneaking a peak at the upper falls, which were, in their own way, even neater than the main falls.



Tuesday was a driving day. We packed up camp and headed northeast toward the Adirondack Mountains. They're not the tallest mountains (which caused us to look up what differentiates a hill from a mountain, and they definitely qualify) and they're more rounded than what you would think of as an archetype of a mountain because they were created not by tectonic plate activity, but by a lifting of the entire region.

We landed at Sharp Bridge State Park, not really near much of anything. When we arrived at camp, the office was already closed so we just pulled into the site without guidance. We ended up in a bit of a precarious position with the camper because of a dead end camp road and trees positioned tightly near the road. We ended up moving to a new site, but not before having a bit of a scare about whether we could even get out of our first. We made it with about a half inch of clearance!




Besides ourselves, there was only one other camper in the entire park and they were gone by morning. The park is covered in huge pine trees littering the ground with red needles and making it smell so refreshing. There is also a bird that Ryan has dubbed the laser bird because its song sounds like a rapid fire "pew pew pew pew".

Knowing next to nothing about the Adirondacks or the area, we thought we'd head into the nearest city, Lake Placid, because it sounded familiar. Our original plan was to pop in to grab a book of local hikes, but it turns out it sounded familiar because the winter Olympics of 1980 were held here, which made for a fun day of exploring! We spent our Wednesday morning and afternoon checking out the bobsled run (which was also used in the 1932 Olympics), the ski jump (which we refused to pay the fee to get near, so we just photographed it from the road), the *outdoor* speed skating oval at the local high school, and we drove past all sorts of other arenas and ski areas.




Lake Placid is a great little mountain town and we did eventually make it to the book store for a book of local hikes. The Adirondacks are the largest park in the US, but are a strange mix of public and private land, so we opted for a hike that didn't have a trail head on private land (requiring a fee to get in). The other interesting thing about the Adirondacks is that there are 46 High Peaks in the park, which are those over 4,000 feet tall. It's a thing to get a little journal and hike them all.

We chose to hike Cascade Mountain (4,098 feet) because it was a shorter hike we could do with the remainder of our afternoon and it was supposed to have spectacular views. The hike was only 4.8 miles roundtrip, but it was 2,000 feet of elevation gain over a very rocky trail. It was a lot of work, but the views from the top made every step absolutely worth it. The sweet smell of the fir trees gave way to a rocky top and 360° views that took our breath away. We could see the bobsled run and the ski jumps, but we could also see the High Peaks region of the park, lakes, and the mountains going on seemingly forever. It was so beautiful. We sat for as long as we could take the cold wind and then descended.









We will likely spend another day or two here doing some life maintenance and another hike or two. From here we will head straight north and across the border once again to Montreal, picking up our trail to the Canadian Maritimes. We will be back to our communication blackout except for the occasional free WiFi, so email will probably be the best way to get ahold of us.

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