A Big Family Vacation

§ The Route

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This trip was big enough that we need to start with an overview! We covered a lot of ground going there and coming back.

We started in Rochester, NY, the easternmost point on the map to the right. We then headed through Buffalo and crossed Grand Island for the first time ever en route to Niagara Falls. The boys were very excited when we passed Fantasy Island, an amusement park on Grand Island. They wanted to return, and little did we know that a few years later I would meet Joan and we would return often to Grand Island. We had many adventures as we passed to the north of both Lake Huron and Lake Superior eventually meeting Grandma and Grandpa in Duluth before heading to St. Paul.

Grandma decided to join us for the return trip. We passed through Madison, WI, but then we took the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, passed through Sault Sainte Marie so we were again north of Lake Huron, and then we spent a night on Manitoulin Island. In the morning we took the MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry to Tobermory. We then took the trip down the Bruce Peninsula, spent some time in Nigara Falls and returned to Rochester somewhat exhausted. Grandma stayed for a while before flying back to Minnesota.

Manitoulin Island made a big enough impression on us that we would return in 2006 for our next vacation. Now I break down the trip and recount some of our adventures.

§ Rochester to Perry Sound

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The first leg of the journey we drove west to Buffalo. We crossed onto Grand Island over the big blue iron toll bridge and past Fantasy Island. We crossed the second branch of the Niagara River on the second big blue iron bridge. The bridges and the amusement park made an impression.

Just after crossing into Canada we stopped for a photo at the flag pole. The sun was a bit of an issue. We then found a pleasant park where I could grill hamburgers on a camp stove. We lived out of coolers the entire trip. We stayed at a hotel at Perry Sound where I could replenish the ice in the coolers. It was logistically challenging to get everything and all three boys into the hotel room without too much commotion, but soon we would have it down to a science.

§ Perry Sound to Wawa

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The next day was supposed to be our longest day of travel, but it turns out even longer than expected. After a leisurely morning at the hotel we start the first leg of the journey over the top of Lake Huron to Sault Sainte Marie as shown on the map. We headed north skirting the edge of Sudbury; we will make some new friends from that town next year when we vacation on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron.

From Sudbury we head west until we reach Lake Superior. We passed by Espanola and Massey and Spanish before we made a stop for lunch. The boys used special erasable markers to draw on the windows, but Damien tried them on the headliner – from which they don’t erase. Oh well ….

We stopped for lunch at, I think, Blind River. It was a great location to get out the grill and the coolers and have a leisurely lunch. The boys had some energy to spare, so Damien insisted on taking Jacob for a walk. Good thing we had our first DVD player for the van – with two screens.

I had a cooler on the driver’s seat so I could get things for the boys without too much distraction. I also had access to all of the DVDs and CDs. Disney was big in those days. I also had an impressive collection of maps. Jacob mastered the art of reading maps in short order. He must have had two hundred questions, but then he was an excellent navigator.

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It was early evening as we passed Sault Saint Marie, and I thought we stil had a couple of hours to go. I was beginning to think this day had too much driving. Then we discovered Batchawana Bay just after turning north along the eastern coast of Lake Superior – the perfect spot for dinner.

The beach was very nice, and the boys asked to go in the water. I told them it would be too cold. Near Duluth I had found the water to be frigid even during the heat of August. The boys ventured their toes, then their ankles and even their calves. The water was deliciously pleasant.

The sand was soft, the water was warm in this isolated bay, and the boys began to play and explore. I had to keep them all in one place, and that was a challenge. Jacob was more into walking, Max was more into digging, and Damien was still resting the waters.

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Soon the shorts were getting wet. Then the shirt bottoms were getting wet. Before you knew it, the shirts were off, and the boys were in the water! I found a safe place to put the camera, and I even joined them for a while. We were very quickly rejuvenated from our travels.

It’s difficult to convey the beauty of Batchawana Bay and the overall magic of our time on that beach. I stated that night that I hoped we would return, but there has never been a good opportunity. One path leading to another and so many other places to visit.

We needed to get moving to get to our hotel in Wawa, but it was difficult to break away. It probably took an hour to work our way down the beach and back to our van. We had to find dry clothes and change in the van. We were back on the road.

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As soon as we pulled onto the road something was awry. The shoulder was a parking lot of tractor-trailer rigs as far as the eye could see. We saw a trooper, and she told us that a tanker had flipped and spilled on the road ahead. The estimated time for clean-up was seven hours. There was no point in returning to Sault Sainte Marie because all of the hotels had already filled their rooms. (She failed to mention that the seven-hour clean-up had been underway for hours.)

We consulted our maps, and it showed an alternate route. On the map it looked like a rectangle taking us on a northbound route several miles to the east. Our adventure started on an east-bound highway. The speed limit was posted as a typical highway speed, and that was the last sign we saw for a long time.

The asphalt gave way to gravel. Suddenly I was hearing a moderate banging sound with an occasional very loud bang with vibrations I could feel with my feet. Upon inspection the upper bolt of a rear shock had broken; the shock was bouncing on the road and occasionally banging against the undercarriage.

The road got rougher and rougher. The gravel was course. Upon cresting a hill I would discover a steep downgrade with sharp curves. The speed limit posted many miles back was way to high for these conditions, and there were none of the expected signs. I probably averaged less than 30 mph. It was a relief when the lower bolt on that shock gave way and we got some peace. I have no idea where that shock absorber landed. The boys drifted off to sleep. We never saw another vehicle.

Finally we reached a paved highway that took us north! It was barely two lanes wide with no shoulders. There was a single yellow line, half the width of normal highway markings, that ran uninterrupted for mile after mile. It began to rain very hard, and the road was difficult to see in the glare of the headlamps of the on-coming tractor trailers. Here there was a lot of traffic. I just hoped that we all agreed on the location of that difficult-to-see center line.

It was a great relief to finally reach our westbound highway. It was a proper four-lane divided highway. Before I knew it we were cruising through Wawa just minutes away from our hotel when there was a violent shaking from the back of the van at any speed over 3 mph. I was relieved to find it was just a flat tire, but I have never seen a tire shredded to ribbons as this one was.

I had to unpack so much to get at the jack and the lug wrench. I couldn’t turn the lugs, so I called AAA. The driver of the tow truck had no better luck, but fortunately his garage was just a few blocks away. It seemed like a long way driving 5 mph with violent shaking of the van.

We got to our hotel at about 3 AM. Traffic had been restored for quite a while. Fortunately Grandpa Ed had been phoning the hotel every hour or less, and he insisted that they hold the room. It was guaranteed with a credit card. Thank goodness Grandpa did that, because many people were looking for a room that night.

If we had stayed at Batchawana Bay until the road cleared we would have gotten there sooner. But what an adventure!

§ Wawa to Thunder Bay

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Our hotel in Wawa was a traditional motel where the rooms have outside entrances. I was so exhausted! The boys were great, and they settled in quickly. In the morning the played very quietly, and they let me get some much-needed rest. I got perhaps six hours of sleep, and I felt completely spent even after breakfast and a shower. We stopped at a visitor center and asked for suggestions.

We ended up at Neys Provincial Park. Apparently the peninsula had been used as a penal colony at one point, but we saw nothing but beauty. Here is an image of Jacob serenely observing the lake from his perch on a rock. Below I will provide a gallery of images from the park. The boys explored, played and just relaxed.

The water here was not the warm water of Batchawana Bay. No, this was much closer to the frigid water of Lake Superior that I remembered. The boys did not dive in as they had the night before, but they had plenty of enjoyment. Perhaps it was still a bit warmer than near Duluth.

We started slowly. I think everybody was still a bit exhausted from our incredible adventure. It started with climbing on the large, smooth rocks. It was all stones beneath the water as well. Initially we just stayed where the water was very shallow. Damien followed his brothers to an island of stone.

Then we began to work our way down the beach and exploring along the way. I think the boys were thrilled to have a green light to play on the rocks! We were all very careful. You can see how everybody started to wake up and enjoy themselves. Progressive images are more animated.

Each boy enjoyed the shore in his own way. Jacob seemed reflective and desired to explore. Damien was more playful and energetic. Max like to play king of the mountain pausing to pose for a photo. It is clear that water was the place to be.

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I guess that the boys adjusted to the water pretty well. Everybody got wet at least up to the waste. Damien would plunge in an arm including the shoulder to snatch a rock from the lake bottom. Jacob and Max found some driftwood to help in their explorations.

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Damien has a great game. Find a big rock on the lake bottom. Throw it to make the biggest possible splash, but turn your head before the splash gets you in the face. Then look for an even bigger rock. We don’t find skippers until we reach the opposite shore.

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As we headed towards Thunder Bay I introduced the boys to Weird Al Yankovich. We had about a half-dozen CDs with us. The hours flew by with the boys laughing a lot. Weird Al would be popular for the next few years.

We had a pleasant surprise at dinner. While mostly we had picnics in parks, this time we stopped at a road-side diner that was popular for both travellers and truckers. The boys were a bit rambunctious, and I was a bit fatigued. I remember telling the boys, “Dad’s a bit tired after our adventure last night. You need to give me a little break.” A few minutes later I asked for the check, and the waitress, indicating the man sitting in the booth behind me, told me that he had paid our bill. After thanking him I told the boys, “Wow! He must really like you guys!” He indicated that he liked the whole crew.

The man who paid our bill fit the description of so many of the Canadian men we saw on our trip. He wore blue jeans and sneakers with a button-down-the-front colored shirt. He had stubble on his face and a cap on his head. I would have liked to have learned if he was a father, but he left then.

§ Thunder Bay to Duluth

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The drive from Thunder Bay to Duluth was a straight shot, and this was familiar territory. I couldn’t count the number of times I have driven this shoreline, but it had probably been fifteen years.

We stopped at the mouth of the Baptism River near Crystal Bay. The boys had their first good introduction to skipping stones. This was special for me as I remember fondly skipping stones into Lake Superior as a boy. Among the stones were some very tiny crayfish. Some other boys were catching them, but we were too concerned with getting pinched. I injured my shoulder by skipping too many stones, and it wouldn’t fully recover for a couple of years.

We stopped at a small restaurant for lunch. The coolers and other provisions were pretty depleted by this time. I am pretty certain that this was the town of Grand Marais. Later you will see pictures of Tim Watters when we get to St. Paul. Apparently he was in this town around the same time on a weekend when there was a parade. Tim has a resemblance to Jesse “The Body” Ventura, governor of Minnesota at the time. Apparently people would walk up to Tim expressing their gratitude that he, the Governor, stopped by for their parade.

§ Duluth to St.Paul

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At long last we met up with Grandma Judy and Grandpa Ed. We had dinner at Grandma’s, a very popular restaurant. We were treated to a stay at the Spirit Mountain Villas. This picture is from their website. The boys were pretty tired and happy for some rest.

I have been to Duluth so many times. I am glad that I took these pictures. I had been here as boy, I had been here with Danny, and now I was back as a father.

About seven years later Damien and I will return here with Joan and some Minnesota family.

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Before leaving Duluth we paid a visit to Leif Erickson Park. This is another place with layers of memories. My only disappointment was the absence of the Viking ship that I remember so well. After Grandpa’s passing I framed the picture to the left for Jacob.

We drove straight from Duluth to White Bear Lake, a suburb on the northeast corner of the Twin Cities. We had dinner at Washington Square which was a favorite haunt of Grandma Judy and Grandpa Ed. They would combine a visit to this restaurant with a walk by the lake. Just a few years later they will move from the urban house of my childhood to a townhouse in White Bear Lake. But that gets ahead of this story.

The boys had been road warriors long enough. It had been five days since leaving Rochester. Tomorrow they would wake up at Aunt Lynn and Uncle John Walek’s house. The next week will be filled with family and friends. We managed to fit so much into this wonderful trip, but being home among family in a wholesome environment was what made it best. It had been three years since we had made it home, and most of that time had been troubled by a divorce.

§ Minnesota

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There are two Walek cousins. Tony is the older and taller one, and Michael is the younger one. The boys were very happy to be with their cousins.

The Waleks have a large yard with pretty gardens and plenty of nice grass. At the time they also had a very nice swing set and play structure with a large sandbox. We managed to get this nice picture of the five cousins in the back yard by the birch tree after about five tries.

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We took a trip to Como Zoo. Cousin Haley was there, but otherwise fewer cousins than in years past. The boys loved the zip line in the climbing area, and Max even got Grandpa to go on a thrill ride. Wow! Glad that Grandma brought her camera too.

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We had a reunion with the Jacubowskis, so the boys got to meet the family of my childhood best friend, Danny. (They have certainly heard about him.) It was at a hotel, so all of the kids got to play in the swimming pool. It was a hot day. My sweaty shirt was clinging to me.

On the left you can see me with Brenda, Pam, Jo and Rhonda. (Danny’s younger sister, older sister, mother and youngest sister. Brenda and Rhonda are twins.)

To the write I appear with Tim “Governor Jesse the Body Ventura” Watters, Pam’s husband.

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We went to a birthday party for Cousin Haley. It started at that kid heaven/adult hell known as Chuckie Cheese’s. The party the moved to the back yard at Aunt Lisa’s house in Burnsville. It’s difficult to believe that they could all fit in a wading pool.

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We spent a day in the water at Uncle Ed’s. Starting at “12:00” and proceeding clockwise we have Ace, Cousin Blake, Cousin Brett, Jacob, Uncle Ed, Grandma Judy and Jacob (again). It was a slightly cool day, but it was awesome spending time with the older cousins.

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We saw so much family. Below Aunt Ruth entertains Damien to raucous laughter. Jacob and Maxwell share the love with Cousins Adam and Laura. We see Uncle John and Aunt Lisa.

We also see many of the cousins including Tony back-left and Michael front-right. Haley is in the very front. Only the Kinns did not make it that year due to some other engagement. We will see them in future albums.

§ St. Paul to Madison

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Madison, WI was a little off from the most direct route back to Sault Sainte Marie, but we just could not exclude it from the itinerary.

While not originally planned, Grandma Judy returned to Rochester with us! The first major rest stop on the way to Madison had beautiful flowers and butterflies, but we really enjoyed spotting a walking stick on the sign in the garden.

We had to stop at some favorite places. Top on the list was Michael’s Frozen Custard, a favorite since my days in Graduate School in Madison. Later we stop at the always entrancing Ella’s Deli which we visited in many different years.

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We met up with my friend from graduate school, Collin Olson. There is an inside joke to Jacob rubbing Collin’s largely bald pate. When Jacob was a baby and we were dining at the Mall of America, Jacob looked at Collin, then dropped his fork to the floor. When Collin bent to get it, Jacob filled in his bald spot with spaghetti. Collin thought it was hilarious.

Now Collin has a family of his own including a dog. His wife, Gretchen, got home just as we had to leave.

§ Madison to Manitoulin Island

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After Madison we stopped by a veteran’s park that was conveniently on our route. The boys really enjoyed climbing on a big tank.

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We had an awesome time picking wild blueberries on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but I guess that is just a memory. We didn’t get any photos. We did take a few in Sault Sainte Marie. Notice the boys eating cereal out of plastic cups; Grandma Judy seems to remember this especially well.

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We then drove on to Manitoulin Island. It was difficult to get lodging because it was Canadian Labor Day. We entered the island toward the eastern end, but then we had to drive half way back to the western end to lodge at Gore Bay. It was a little bit late by the time we arrived, but the weather cleared and was beautiful. We walked across a boardwalk en route to dinner, and the boys spotted a beaver making its way through the tall grasses, but it evaded every attempt to photograph it. There was a beautiful rainbow.

We had to get up early and drive the length of the island back to South BayMouth to enter the gaping jaws of MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry. The weather was cold and rainy, so we had to stay inside.

The ferry took us across to Tobermory. We drove sown the Bruce Peninsula to the QEW and headed back towards Niagara Falls.

§ Through Niagara Falls to Rochester

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We encountered terrible traffic near Hamilton, Ontario. After 17 days on the road we were all exhausted and ready to be home. First we made a quick stop in Niagara Falls for one last cookout on the camp stove.

The memories are priceless!