11 - 31 July (Guest Blogger - Eleanor Poole - Part 1) Illionois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylva

Hello to all who are following Cathy and Tony’s journey, I’m Eleanor, their niece and I’ve come to tag along with them for the summer. I’ll be taking over the blog for the next 6 weeks, as we travel to Cath and Tony’s last few states, all in the north east, before they can say they’ve done the full 50. I hope you enjoy!

Day 1 – Wednesday 11th July - Arrival in Chicago

Arrived into Chicago after an eight-hour flight (delayed by three and a half hours). After about six and a half hours into the flight, a dozen or so men sat at my end of the plane cheered, at this point I realised the 2018 world cup semi-final, England v Croatia, was on live TV on the plane. I watched the first half, 1 – 0 to England at half time. Landed at 13:30 and went through a very long passport control queue, before meeting Cathy and Tony at arrivals, it was good to be reunited after two and a half years! Drove one-hour northwest (whilst streaming the match on Cathy’s phone, England lost 2 – 1 at extra time – miffed) of Chicago to a town called Union where the RV was parked in a KOA.

The campsite was quiet and very green with cute wooden chair swings at every pitch. I went inside the RV where I was greeted by the two dogs, Sandy and our Mexican adoptee Kira. She is very calm and sweet, with a limp and goggly eyes, looks sad most of the time, except when her long tail wags and gives her happiness away. She likes women, presumably due to the Mexican lady, Mary, who fed her and kept an eye on her whilst in Baja, Mexico. The RV is very big, both sides slide out as well as the bedroom, so it’s more like a house than a van. It’s like the RV from Meet the Fockers. Once I’d settled in, Cathy and I went to the little office to check me into the camp, then took the dogs for a walk around the campsite. Regret No.1 of this trip: not applying bug spray at dusk. A ten-minute walk resulted in me being eaten alive by mosquitos, arms and back

covered in bites.

By this time it was around 8:30pm, we drove into Union town, which is really just a crossroads, in Tony’s 20-year-old white Toyota Celica (very tight for space). We went to Clasen’s Tavern, it was very dark inside with old newspaper cuttings and pictures on the walls of the tavern in previous years. The owner, Jim, was American and his wife, Alison, was from Jersey; I never met Jim but Alison was very nice. All three of us had jalapeño burgers and ‘fries’, I attempted to order a cider but soon remembered the drinking age was 21, still baffles me, as you can drive and own a gun, but can’t have a bev with your dinner. The first night in the RV was good, I have the sofa bed which is very comfortable – with Kira as my roomy!

Day 2 – Thursday 12th July – Chicago

Cath and I caught the train into Chicago at around 10am from a town called Crystal Lake, took an hour and a half, the trains were strange (double decker, but inefficient use of space). On the train, we passed through the suburbs of Chicago, some towns reminded me of Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives, almost too perfect. Most houses had the American flag outside.

As we arrived, we went for lunch at the Corner Bakery Café amongst the tall buildings, where most people were on their lunch break. From there, we made our way through town and onto ‘the Big Bus’ tour, which was two hours long and took us around all the main attractions of Chicago.

From the tour, we learnt that Chicago architecture was heavily influenced by European cities – in particular, Paris. Every eight months the people of Chicago and its visitors will see a new building added to its skyline, which is pretty impressive. Chicago is home to the third biggest skyline in the world, behind Hong Kong and New York city. Although I was only there for a day, my favourite part of Chicago was the northern side of the river. Most of the restaurants and bars were here, as well as some of the older buildings, like the old Wrigley Building and the original water tower. It also included the ‘Magnificent Mile’, which is actually only ¾ of a mile, but is home to big brands and designer stores.

Route 66 starts in Chicago and ends in Santa Monica CA

One of many pieces of public art - Flamingo in Federal Plaza

After enjoying the sights of Chicago, the three of us returned to what we could now call our local, Clasen’s Tavern, for dinner.

After a long day, we hit the sack at 9pm in preparation for a day on the road the following morning, however, the idea of an early night didn’t last long. At 10pm Kira decided to be sick, which meant me waking Cathy up to deal with it (no chance I was going to). After an hour of monitoring Kira, we tried our second attempt at an early(ish) night. This lasted half an hour(ish). I woke up to Kira’s now extremely swollen face in my face, meaning it was time to wake Cathy up again, and led to a trip to doggy A & E at 1am. In conclusion, Kira had an allergic reaction to a bite/ sting of some sort which was responsible for her looking like she’d been beaten up; a couple of injections and $200 later, she was fine.

Day 3 – Friday 13th July – Travelling to Pentwater

After no sleep, we were up at 8:30am, packed up the RV and hit the road, driving south, past Chicago, and then back up the East side of Lake Michigan to Pentwater, Michigan, via a short spell in Indiana. The journey took 6 hours and 296 miles, with lots of traffic and the roads were very bumpy, despite paying $35 for tolls – daylight robbery.

We arrived at Hill and Hollow campsite at quarter past six in the evening, which is very big, green and full of woodland, I get the feeling it’s the USA equivalent of British Centre Parcs (never been to Centre Parcs). It’s busier than the previous campsite, with lots of families on bikes and sat round their individual campfires, there’s also lots of things to do, such as crazy golf, swimming, basketball etc. - it’s what I think of when I imagine camping in America. Cath and I took the dogs for a walk through the forested campsite (no mozzy bites this time) before another early night.

Day 4 – Saturday 14th July – Pentwater

A lie in was needed today, we got up at 10:30 and didn’t actually do anything until early afternoon. At 2pm we drove down the road to the local village of Pentwater, which sits on the East shore of Lake Michigan, about half way down. The beach is surreal, it’s like something off The Truman Show (great film); It looks like the seaside, and sounds like the seaside, just without rolling waves or a tide, but all you can see is water as you look out into the distance.

The town of Pentwater is very well kept, with lots of holiday homes and lakeside bars and restaurants; they also have an irritatingly large number of American flags up. Not sure whether this is because it’s recently been the 4th of July, or if they’re there flying year-round – probably the latter. Nevertheless, the little town had a good atmosphere, the locals were besotted by the dogs (mainly Kira as her scars, limp and goggly eyes get her the sympathy votes).

Chicken BBQ dinner with roast veg.

Day 5 – Sunday 15th July – Travelling to Elk Rapids

Up early to pack up and go, left Hill and Hollow campground at 10am, ready for the journey north, along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, to Cathy and Tony’s friends place – Paradise Pines, Elk Rapids, Michigan. The trip took around 5 hours, with a stop in the middle at a roadside park for lunch.

We were greeted at Paradise Pines in the afternoon by Lisa, Carl and their dog Gemma, who Cath and Tony met in Baja, Mexico last year. They are currently restoring Paradise Pines, which used to be ‘Paradise Motel’ est 1938, into what will be luxury cabins for holiday makers on Lake Michigan.

Paradise Pines is a five-minute walk from a sandy lakeside beach, in a woodland setting; the land is also home to many rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks (very loud chipmunks). After setting up camp just to the side of Carl and Lisa’s cabins, we all went down to the beach for a swim in the lake. The water was warm and very shallow, and the beach was scattered with a blanket of zebra shells, which are an evasive species, supposedly from Asia.

For dinner, we drove into Elk Rapids town, which has a golden sandy beach and a small marina – very popular in the summer, with people from places such as Chicago sailing up to enjoy the town. Carl took us for a whistle stop tour of the town, before going to the local brewery called Short’s Brewing Company where we had a beer and some nachos from the food van.

The high street (or main street to be in keeping with the local parlance) is called River Street, and is home to all the shops, restaurants and bars in Elk Rapids, not big, but certainly cute. Despite it being a Sunday, River Street was jam packed, so Carl took us to a place on the edge of town called the Oasis Tavern which was very dark and quiet, but I enjoyed my burger. Another thing I’ve noticed since I arrived is that they don’t give you cutlery if you order a burger – annoying. We had one last drink on Lisa and Carl’s deck, and then the mozzy’s began to attack, so we went to bed.

Tony and Carl play pool whilst waiting for the food to arrive.

Monday was a slow start settling into the new camp, sorting through post etc. Tony put his new map of Canada and America up on the side of the RV, whilst Cath and I picked blackberries and mulberries from the bushes on the grounds of Lisa and Carl’s plot – ready for dinner tonight.

The afternoon was spent exploring the town of Elk Rapids, we walked down River Street and peered into all the small independent shops and restaurants, and then got an ice cream from ‘Ice Cream Peddlers’ – the nicest caramel ice cream I’ve ever had.

Cathy and I then went into the district library whilst tony kept the dogs entertained. The Library is located inside an old house on a hill behind the marina, built by the Noble family in 1866 – a founding father of Elk Rapids. We wandered around, more interested in understanding the original floor plan rather than any of the books they had. It felt like a home to me, with the old fireplaces and a long (now indoor) porch for sitting and admiring the view. Whilst in the library, Cath and I were approached by an older woman who, to cut a long story short, was scouting us to be in her bible basher club; she didn’t like it when I said I had no interest in being baptised.

After a lucky escape, we re-joined Tony and the dogs and made our way back to Paradise Pines. Carl and Lisa made slow cooked pork that evening and a few of their friends joined us, it was a fun night swapping stories and laughing about our cultural differences.

Elk Rapids Beach.

Day 7 – Tuesday 17th July – Sand dunes in Empire

Today we travelled south to the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes on Lake Michigan, where we took the dogs to the beach and did a scenic drive around the dunes. The beach was so unspoiled and quiet; it was nice to watch the dogs play and just sit and breathe in the fresh air for an hour. Kira is getting more and more confident in the water now, she was splashing around and fetched the stick a few times, even if it was with caution.

I didn’t think much of the scenic drive as it was very touristy, I think the sand dunes would’ve been more impressive if no one was about.

On the way back to Paradise Pines we stopped at the Filling Station in Traverse City for a bite to eat. This place was a microbrewery that served pizza, situated at the old Traverse City railway depot; it was a really nice place to sit and watch the world go by, the dogs were also allowed to join us (hard to find around here I’ve noticed).

Back at Paradise Pines we watched the sunset on the beach and had a bit of a photoshoot with the dogs.

Day 8 – Wednesday 18th July – Housekeeping

The initial plan today was to head north of Elk Rapids to explore the various lakes inland of lake Michigan, however that went out the window once we started to clean the RV. Tony began power washing at around 10am, followed by Cathy and I polishing. The next time we looked at the clock it was gone 3pm, but we now had the cleanest and shiniest RV in America – a day well spent.

Carl called by on his John Deere tractor.

Pre dinner drinks on Carl and Lisa's deck.

For dinner, Carl and Lisa took us to a Cajun restaurant called Pearls on the edge of town which was very nice. The restaurant wasn’t how I expected it to look (Pearls was talked about a lot prior to us going), it was big with dim lighting and had lots of stuff like empty perfume bottles all over the walls and on the shelves. The food, service and company were very good.

Caught a nice sunset over the lake on our way back from the restaurant.

Day 9 – Thursday 19th July – Cathy’s birthday!

We all woke up to Carl at the door, who had brought birthday pastries for Cath which were very nice with a cup of tea.

Cathy’s birthday: Stage one was spent looking for the birthday card that mum had given to her in February; after tipping up the entire RV, we (I) finally found it. She then opened Tony’s card and the present from us Poole’s, a Radley bag, that she loved.

Cath’s birthday: Stage Two involved going into Elk Rapids so Tony could buy her a present, Cath came away with the ‘Elk Rapids’ hoodie that we’d all commented on the other day walking past the shop which was very nice. When we got back to the RV, we spoke to mum and dad on the phone for a while, it was nice to hear their voices and catch up with them.

Cath’s birthday: Stage Three entailed kayaking down the Boardman River! Lisa and Carl dropped us at the starting point and went to collect Richard, who we’d met at the dinner party on Monday night, and his dog Lou. We all got into our Kayaks, Tony, Cathy, Carl and me all had our own; Lisa, Richard and Lou shared.

The water was shallow, cold and running a little fast, none of us were overenthusiastic about falling in. However, about a minute and a half after Cathy got into her kayak the current caught her kayak sideways on and she fell out. A birthday dunk if you like. I was the only one to witness this moment, and what made it more hilarious was that after her head popped up from underwater, she realised the Kayak was half way down the river and she went into panic mode. At this point I’m howling with laughter, trying to explain to the others, who were around the corner, what had happened; whilst Cath is running/swimming/falling down the river after her Kayak... I could see there was no way this was going to end well if I didn’t help, so, still in stitches, I paddled after Cathy’s kayak and brought everything to a halt. Richard and Lisa then joined to help Cath back in her boat. From then on, it was all going smoothly, until miscommunication led Cathy to abruptly stop next to a log, causing me to think we’re all stopping, then her boat pushed against mine causing it, and myself, to flip over – I spoke too soon when saying ‘it was all going smoothly’. While I’m swimming after my kayak, Tony’s boat also flips over – Cathy denies having anything to do with either capsizes.

After a rough start, we all started to get the hang of it and the scenery was so peaceful. We stopped at a bend in the river and had drinks and snacks, the surroundings were mostly wilderness – very few properties as there are regulations and restrictions in place to keep the river how it currently is. The second leg of the journey was very little work and very relaxing, although Tony still managed to fall out and get stuck under a log

We stopped a second time next to a horse-riding school for pictures and we all jumped in the river – cold!

The final leg took about half an hour and it led us to Richards house, which he built himself, starting in 1990. His house is made from wood, and he built most of the furnishings himself too, such as drawers, cabinets, beds etc. My favourite part of his house was a stained-glass light shade in the centre of the downstairs, it’s a woodland scene with movable parts that he also made himself. After the grand tour, we said goodbye to Richard and went home for a quick shower and change.

Cath’s birthday: Stage Four was a meal at Siren Hall, a popular restaurant in Elk Rapids, it was a great way to end the day.

Day 10 – Friday 20th July – Travel day

Packed up, said goodbye to Carl, Lisa and Gemma and left Paradise Pines at 11am.

We headed south, past Detroit and over the Michigan/Ohio boarder. From there we headed east along the southern shore of Lake Erie and into Pennsylvania for a luxurious night in Walmart car park in the town of Erie. We arrived at quarter to 10 in the evening. We had a couple of rest stops on the way but our total time on the road was 11 hours - well done Tony!

Day 11 – Saturday 21st July – Travelling to Niagara

We left Erie late morning and headed Northeast to a KOA just north of Niagara Falls in a town called Lewiston, the journey only took a couple of hours. There was no room in the inn until Sunday, so we parked up out the front of the campsite on the main road for the night. As we arrived in Lewiston at a reasonable time, we decided to go to Niagara Falls to watch the sunset and illuminations. We were not disappointed when we arrived, the falls are surrounded by America’s oldest state park (established in 1885), meaning it was free to roam around and view the falls. The state park stretches over 400 acres, 140 acres of that underwater, and includes Goat Island as well as Three Sisters Island. There are actually three waterfalls, the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horseshoe Falls – the latter being the biggest, but all three are pretty spectacular. Across the river from the falls is Canada, everybody says it’s a much better experience from that side as you get a frontal view of the falls, but I thought the American side view was amazing. We wondered around the various viewpoints, where we could see the 3,160 tons of water that flows over the falls every second, this water is capable of producing over 4 million kilowatts of electricity. Four of the five great lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie) drain into the Niagara River before emptying out into Lake Ontario.