Category Archives: bus tour

29 Oct

An Erie Feeling

Earlier this week, I was on a shopping trip bound for Erie and Grove City, PA. Unlike the others, however, my purpose was not to shop, but to explore Erie and digitally capture many of its sights.

Before boarding in St. Catharines, our tour director issued me a name tag and told me to sit “anywhere you want.” Since I didn’t get an itinerary beforehand, I asked for one and was told rather snottily, “You’ll get one.” The lack of assigned seating is most uncommon, and this was the first bus tour I was on where the itinerary was guarded like a state secret.

Following the last pickup point at Thorold Stone Road in Niagara Falls, our tour director introduced herself and our driver. Since my experiences with them and the tour company are not all positive, I shall not name them publicly.

Our tour director noted that our driver was female, which was a first for me on a bus trip. Much like her male counterparts I’ve had on other bus trips since coming to Ontario, however, she was a good, safe driver who was attentive and alert at all times. It continues to amaze me as to how much better the drivers are here in Ontario than in the SPRM, where I’ve often wanted to kiss the ground after stepping off the bus.

Between Niagara Falls and Fort Erie, our tour director mentioned that there were 42 passengers on board, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of them were seniors. Being a shopping trip, I was expecting a busload of teenage princesses. Only two of the passengers were male, and our tour director, unaware as yet as to my purpose for coming along, referred to us as “pack mules.”


The first official stop, and the only stop besides the one at U.S. customs, came at the Peace Bridge Duty Free store. Before going in, someone from the store came on board to explain our exemptions, then held a drawing for two $10 gift cards. I made no effort to answer the ridiculously easy questions to qualify, since I figured there would be nothing there I would want. After walking around the store, my instincts proved to be correct. The only thing of interest for me there was the free bathroom.

There was no lineup on the bridge itself, but we had the misfortune of being behind a Greyhound as well as another bus filled with international passengers.

During the hour-long wait, our tour director finally decided pass out copies of the itinerary. As she passed my seat, I made a point to tell her that I would be going my own way tomorrow and not to hold up the bus on my account. While speaking, I could immediately see the bubble caption forming over her head with a big question mark inside of it. With her brain on serious overload, she asked, “Uh, so you’re not checking in at the hotel?”


Slowly, and carefully, I had to repeat myself, but the concept of someone doing what they wanted to do on a trip was something she could not seem to understand. I think she finally got her head around it a couple of days later, but for all I know, her head might still be spinning.

Reading the vague and skimpy itinerary, I wasn’t the only one who noticed we were scheduled to go shopping immediately after our arrival in Erie instead of first checking in at the hotel. One woman seated in front of me, understandably weary after spending the entire day on the bus, stopped the tour director on her way back up front and asked if it would be possible to go to the hotel first.

Evidently still trying to process what I had told her, the befuddled tour director just couldn’t understand the simple request, and the poor passenger eventually gave up the fight after trying time and again to make herself clear.

While this was going on, memories of the SPRM came raging back as a truck from Bison Transport pulled up next to us. Loyal readers may recall my last crossing at the Peace Bridge when a truck from Reimer Express passed me by.

In good time, we were allowed to pull up into the bus lane next to the customs office, where our driver went outside to light up. This would be a recurring pattern throughout the trip. During every break, long or short, she would never miss an opportunity to smoke, often right next to the door. On one occasion, she lit up inside the bus before stepping outside, and on another, she blew some smoke inside. I’ve encountered many smokers before, but few with this strong of an addiction. She needs help. Seriously.

When the CBP officials finished with the bus in front of us, we all had to go inside and present our passports, and they had us in and out in a flash. The only question I was asked was, “Are you Curtis?” before being ushered off to the side with the other passengers. As is normally the case on these bus trips, they knew we were coming and had already pre-screened us, so there was no need for further interrogation.

After clearing customs and once out of the Buffalo area, our tour director then put on a movie to irritate us all the way to the Quaker State.

In Erie, before dropping us off at Target, our tour director regaled us with the first of two stories on how hard it is for her to find shoes to fit her 9½-size feet. This is not information we needed to know. She also made a specific point to make sure we leave our passports on the bus. My immediate reaction to that announcement was, “Are you nuts?” That will be the frosty Friday I’ll leave my passport unattended.

While the others made their way through Target, I went up and down Peach Street for my first Pennsylvania highway sign pictures, soon to appear on a website near you.

In a recurring theme over the next couple of days, I would discover that this area is anything but pedestrian-friendly.

Where there were sidewalks out in the suburbs, they would be like this one, beginning and ending in the middle of grassy patches. Either build one to cover the whole route or don’t bother at all. It’s like building a bridge that only goes halfway across a river.

On the way, I spotted a haggard old bum slumped on the sidewalk near the eastbound I-90 on-ramp looking to thumb a ride. Along with his long, straggly beard and his dishevelled appearance, he had the look of someone who had just crawled out of a dumpster. My jaw nearly hit the pavement when I saw a woman in 30s or 40s actually stopping to pick this guy up. She should consider herself very fortunate if all she got from this encounter was a car full of fleas.

Before returning to the bus, I spotted a billboard showing the name and mug shot of a wanted man. I could only imagine how bleeding-heart socialists would decry stigmatizing those involved with the criminal justice system. After all, crime is just a theory. Or not.



Moving on, we finally checked into the hotel around 5:00. Despite being pet-friendly, the room was clean, and there was little smell throughout the hotel. For anyone considering a visit to Erie, I can recommend it.


The following morning, I caught the M3 bus to downtown Erie, and purchased a day pass from the driver for $2.70. Even though it isn’t that far to the downtown bus terminal, it is a long ride because it goes into each of the malls along the way instead of directly down Peach Street. The bus, however, was clean, with no graffiti, vomit, used gum or condom wrappers anywhere to be seen, unlike the case in the degenerate capital of the SPRM.

At Millcreek Mall, one guy who was trying to skip out on the fare was giving the driver a song and dance about there being a problem with his transfer. The driver gave him a hard time, but the guy eventually ended up with a free ride.

After getting to the downtown bus terminal, I went inside to take advantage of the free washroom. I was pleased to see that the washroom and the entire terminal were spotlessly clean and free of bums. As I’ve said before, this is a concept I could get used to.


On the way to nearby Dobbins Landing, I passed by the Erie County Library and the 9/11 memorial.

In front of the library, I spotted this painted frog.

I spotted many others around town during the day, including this one on 26th Street. I would later learn that they were part of the 2004 Lake Erie Art Project.

Sadly, the tower at Dobbins Landing is only open on weekends at this time of year, but I was able to get some other shots around the area.

The marker at the end of the pier.

Overlooking Presque Isle State Park, which I understand is great place for a cyclist to visit.

The Sheraton hotel and adjacent Bayfront Convention Center.

The walkway between the hotel and convention center. I tried getting there through the Sheraton, but you need a key card to get up to the eighth floor.



Elsewhere around the harbor.

I headed back towards downtown, and after passing by Gannon University, I was again asked for directions, as is most often the case on every trip I take over the border. Unfortunately for the lost tourist, I was unable to help.

Immediately after turning on to 12th Street/PA 5, I saw this big rig from Ward Trucking. Spotting a truck from them on PA 5 was no accident. Longtime readers will understand.


Before continuing west, I made a detour to the post office and train station.

I did a double-take when I saw this mural painted on the side of a nearby road.

I know that one loyal reader will laugh at the mural along with this offering at a convenience store I spotted later in the day.

That same loyal reader will also enjoy seeing this shot of the Erie Central Fire Station back at 12th Street.

I didn’t cover the most scenic areas of the city, but I was amazed as to amount of industry they have there.

I then headed south along Raspberry Street, where I came across this park, which reminded me of a place in northeast Minneapolis. I stopped for a few minutes at the bench near the gazebo to rest and write some notes before moving on.

My next target was 26th Street and pictures of US 20.

On the way, I saw this sign outside someone’s house. It’s not exactly a welcome mat.

I would also spot this unfriendly greeting painted on a house farther down the street. Have a rotten day yourself.

This is the kind of thing I would have come up with.

Another of their buses.


It must be election time around there as well. I much prefer the American system to the Canadian one, but having to vote on the coroner and constable is going overboard.

I stopped at this Vietnam veterans memorial near State Street for another rest. I could really have used a lunch break at this point, but I can never seem to find a Subway when I need one. When I’m not in need, however, there’s seemingly one on every street corner.

Continuing on, I walked past Beirut Auto Sales towards the junction of PA 8 and PA 97. Sadly, I was not exactly welcomed with open arms in this neighborhood, and I have no doubt the locals hanging out on the street are still scratching their heads wondering about the dude who was walking around taking pictures of highway signs. Needless to say, I got my pictures and got out of Dodge, watching my back all the while.

I couldn’t resist this shot. Is it a blind crossing for pedestrians or a crossing for blind pedestrians?

Farther north on State Street, I finally found a Subway, but not before walking through a dark railway underpass very reminiscent of the Higgins and Main underpass readers from the SPRM can relate to. I was careful not to make myself an easy target for the would-be hoodlum hiding behind a post and his likely accomplice on the other side eyeing me up.

I spent about a half hour at that Subway recouping some lost energy while listening to a couple of infants screaming and bawling. Once they left, someone came around to clean up, wiping down the tables and the seats with the same rag. It’s not the first time I’ve seen it, and I know it won’t be the last. That’s why I only eat out when I have to.


After the break, I covered more of the downtown area, passing by the Erie Insurance Arena, home of the OHL’s Erie Otters, whom I’ve seen in St. Catharines three times already.

One of Erie Insurance’s buildings. Their complex covers an entire block and the grounds are meticulously well-kept.

The Erie Art Museum. Like the St. Catharines Library, they’re closed on Monday.

Later in the afternoon, I ended up back at the waterfront and the bus terminal, where I caught the bus back to the hotel. It was anything but an enjoyable ride, as it was jam-packed with foul-mouthed teenagers whose favorite words were “like” and another four-letter word beginning with “F.” Making matters worse was that a big, fat guy so large they should have charged him two fares got on and sat right next to me.

The following morning, hotel staff picked up our bags and took them to the bus, then we got on for more shopping around the Millcreek Mall before heading home. Upon boarding, all of us were thrown for a loop when our tour director, without any prior announcement, stuck seat rotation tags throughout the coach. The move was most unwelcome for those who had already stuffed many bags in their overhead compartments.

I had initially assumed the reason for the seat shuffle was to allow those getting off first to sit up front, making it easier at each dropoff point. It would have been a logical thing to do, but our tour director instead must have just drawn names out of a hat. There was a couple from London in front of me and beside me was a woman from Collingwood.

The new crowd around me did make for some different chatter, however. Seated behind me were someone who was fawning over the many dogs she owns before announcing, “Oh, my butt has grown bigger,” as if it was a badge of honor. Later, she would lean across the aisle and ask, “Do you have a beer to borrow?”

While the others went to shop, I took the opportunity to get some more pictures, treading very carefully in the busy, pedestrian-unfriendly area around the mall.


I couldn’t resist this shot for a former colleague. I’m sure he will take note that his name is spelled in upper case.

There was one particularly interesting episode when I went behind the mall to get a shot of I-79. As I was taking pictures, a security van quickly pulled up, evidently to make sure I wasn’t up to no good. I would later spot that security officer strutting around the mall with his 10-gallon hat like he was a state trooper. Some people do let their job titles go to their head.

Following a lengthy stay at the mall, we made an hour-long stop at Wegmans grocery store, then left for home. En route, we were treated to another annoying movie, interspersed with instructions on how to fill out our declaration cards for the CBSA. At Canadian customs, we had to go inside the office and present our passports and declaration cards, but we were in and out in 12 minutes.

As we made our way down the QEW, I couldn’t help but reflect back on the many bus trips I made to Minneapolis, when I dreaded the prospect of returning to the SPRM. This time around, it was completely different. I was genuinely happy to be returning home, and it was an awfully nice feeling. All the hassle and effort we expended in relocating to St. Catharines continues to pay off.

At the dropoff point, both the driver and tour director seemed a little miffed when I left without giving a tip. For the driver, forcing someone with sinus problems to walk through a cloud of smoke at each stop doesn’t warrant any financial reward. With the tour director, had there been a collection going around, I would have been seriously tempted to take money out. She was annoying, less than organized, and very self-absorbed. I would have enjoyed the trip more had she stayed home.

As for Erie itself, there are nicer parts to the city, including the zoo and Presque Isle State Park, but I didn’t have a chance to see them on this trip. I hope to if I make a return visit.

17 Jul

Bidding Adieu to Gimli

On Wednesday, I was part of a bus tour along with 33 other passengers and passengerettes for what was, in all probability, my last visit to Gimli. Many of you who know me understand the strong emotional tie I have to the little cottage community nestled along the shore of Lake Winnipeg. I was looking forward to going, but I was not looking forward to the return trip.


I arrived early at our pickup point at the Holiday Inn, formerly the Red River Hotel, formerly the Holiday Inn and waited for the bus. While waiting, I was talking with a couple from Mississauga who decided to go on this day trip to Gimli in the midst of their first-ever visit to this part of the world. I was telling them about Gimli and some of the sights they might like to check out and they sounded like lifelong Winnipeggers as they grilled me on how much it cost to get into each of the attractions. I could just hear the flock of birds circling overhead squawking, “cheap, cheap, cheap.”


After the bus came, a couple of health care professionals pulled up nearby.

Following the second pickup, we were on our way north and Al, our driver, took PTH 8 north, the faster of the two major routes. As I learned, Al was short for “All Business.” Most drivers on these trips are very personable and outgoing. Not so with Al. He was, however an outstanding driver. Unlike so many others I’ve had, he kept his eyes on the road and was alert at all times. I would only hope to get him again.


Interlake – Inland Oceans, Infinite Possibilities. This sign appears on all major highways heading into the Interlake region.


The “exits” to Gimli. Seeing this and similar signs elsewhere in the SPRM always make me laugh. I-94 has exits. Pokey two-lane Manitoba highways have turnoffs.


An hour after our departure, we were in Gimli. After a bathroom break at the Lakeview, I set out on my four-hour journey.


Waterfront Center.


A visit to Gimli is not complete without a visit to the Viking Statue, which is due for a refit.


The Icelandic Air Force was patrolling the shoreline.



My first destination was Moonlight Bay, located in South Beach. Given that I was there on a weekday, I had hoped to find it unoccupied, as I often have on past trips, but alas, there was a collection of rowdy teenagers there whooping it up. The fact that dogs are expressly prohibited on the beach didn’t prevent them from bringing theirs. Even though I was far away from Winnipeg, it was yet another reminder that I was still in the SPRM, where the rule of law and common decency are so often flagrantly disregarded.

Moving on, I went west towards PTH 9/Seventh Avenue.


Savage’s Sugar Shack.


South Colonization Road. Not to be confused with North Colonization Road. Or Colonization Road.


The familiar lighthouse near Shelley D’s at the intersection of PTH 9 and South Colonization Road that greets visitors on their way in.


The flags were already up in preparation for the upcoming Islendingadagurinn, the annual Icelandic Festival that I attended last year for the first time.



Welcome to Gimli.


Sounds like a good idea.


Gimli Park Road, which is at the opposite end of town from Gimli Park.



Near the corner of Sixth Avenue and Roddy-S Drive was a Manulife agent offering some terrific rates on a savings account and a GIC. I don’t think any financial institution can beat 245% on a five-year GIC. I’m surprised this agent wasn’t beating off prospective investors with a stick.


“Surley” common sense should include consulting a dictionary.


The old bus stop. The Grey Goose sign is still there, despite the fact that bus service to Gimli has long since been discontinued.


Moving north, I stopped at Gimli High School for a while. As many of you who know me are well aware, this is one of the schools that the late Carli Ward once attended and one of the places she visited during the last months of her life when she was a resident of Grace Hospice.


Before leaving later in the day, I also made sure to go past the office of MLA Peter Bjornson, who was one of Carli’s teachers.


Continuing on, I made my way to Gimli Junction.


I spotted this blue straw in nearby Gimli Park, which is similar to the ones given by P.E.T.R.O.-Canada for their slurpees. Message sent. Message received. You may understand. You may not.



In two weeks time, this tranquil park will become a midway for Islendingadagurinn.



A river of sludge along North Fifth Avenue, not far from the intersection of Fifth Avenue. No, this is not the Love Canal.

Returning south, I decided to take a stroll along the beach. This stroll would prove to be, well, interesting.


For starters, I spotted this guy busily tapping away on his iPad. Why bother coming to the beach if you’re just going to spend the time with your electronic toys?


Care for some “Kool-aide”? How about a “Revele”? Or perhaps some “lemanade”? Top it all off with an ice cream “sandwhich”? Remedial spelling is in order for someone.

As I headed for the boardwalk, I couldn’t help but think of the often grotesque images at as I spotted two examples of beachgoers who should seriously reconsider their decision to put so much of themselves on display.


Cleavage. From the back. Oy.


Is he about to give birth? Twins, maybe?


Mercifully, I made it back to the main dock before taking a tour of the harbor area.


An artistette paints a mural.


Boats in the harbor.


Direct from Artesia.

Since I had a little time to spare, I took a walk down Centre Street for one last time.


Seeds of your future garage sale.


Golko’s Hardware.


Check out these antique “cateloges.”

With my time in Gimli coming to a rapid conclusion, it was time to re-board the bus. The four hours I had spent on the ground seemed like five minutes. Before leaving, our driver asked for a show of hands if anyone wanted to stop and buy some smoked fish. Three of the 34 passengers raised their hands. He then asked how many people wanted to stop at the Half Moon in Lockport for ice cream. Five people raised their hands.

“Majority rules,” he said. Two vocal people then complained, so he gave in to this NDP-style majority and decided that we’re stopping anyways. Fortunately, we escaped a frivolous stop at the fish place because they had no fresh fish left, but he would take us to the Half Moon against the express wishes of the overwhelming majority of the passengers.


Before leaving Gimli, we were treated to a skateboarding display from some teenager on Centre Street. Of all the streets in town to hone his skills on, this is easily the busiest and the one where he is most likely to get hit. Like so many law- and logic-defying joggers in Winnipeg, however, if he was in a less-travelled location, he wouldn’t be noticed. That’s why he’s out there.


At the Half Moon, I disembarked just to use the washroom and take this picture. The day’s adventure came to an end with our return to Winnipeg shortly thereafter. Gimli is a place I will miss, but I have plenty of fond memories from my many visits over the years to fall back on.

09 Jul

Farewell Tour of the Twin Cities

This past weekend, I was one of 30 passengers on a bus tour to the Twin Cities. The official purpose of the tour was to see the Yankees battle the Twins at Target Field, but I took my bike and instead used the time to tour the area once again on two wheels. Despite the sweltering heat, I would put on nearly 85 miles over the two days I was there.

During the four-day adventure, many others on the bus kept asking me if I made it to the games at all. Though there was a time when I was such a passionate baseball fan that I would regularly take a day off work to observe Opening Day, I attended neither game. I haven’t actually watched a baseball game since 2007.

I got on bright and early on Friday morning as the bus made various stops to pick up passengers. At one stop, our tour director had to call a couple of passengers who were late. It turned out they were sitting in the nearby McDonald’s and didn’t see the bus pull up.


I can certainly understand that a bus of this size would be hard to spot.

At the Salisbury House on Pembina Highway, my heart nearly skipped a beat as I saw Dave, our driver, come on board to relive the driver who came from Brandon. He was the driver we had two years earlier who, as loyal readers may recall, put us in mortal peril with his many man-made distractions on the road. This time around, however, he was much more attentive and there were no major incidents.

Speeds were down to 80 km/h for a while as road work was going on north of Morris. PTH 75 is one of the worst highways in the province and badly needs the work, yet the government propaganda sign before the start of the construction reads, “Steady Growth, Good Jobs,” as if this is just a job-creation scheme instead of vital road maintenance.

We picked up the last six passengers in Morris. We first pulled up next to Motown Motors before moving on to Burke’s Restaurant.


Does this mean they take ½ hour off each day or that it will take them 23½ hours to get to you?


Hopefully the six of them enjoyed the “karaokee” while waiting.

With everyone aboard, our tour director gave us his usual spiel, skipping his time-honored line “if I can leave my wife behind, I can leave you behind.” It was likely not a coincidence that his wife was sitting across the aisle from him. Nonetheless, I’m quite familiar with the spiel, having gone with him six times previously. I’m surprised he doesn’t end it with the line, “this has been a recording.”

Once we reached the border, I took note of the new traffic light in front of the duty free store on the Canadian side. I swear there are more traffic lights per capita in the SPRM than anywhere else in the Western world. In a way, I suppose it’s fitting to put another one in as one last reminder of the province travellers about to leave.

Since we were travelling on Independence Day, I was expecting the third degree at U.S. Customs. When crossing the border in 2008, one day after September 11, all of us faced a higher level of scrutiny than normal. Luckily, it turned out to be the exact opposite. For the first time, I wasn’t asked any questions and it seemed like they couldn’t get rid of us fast enough.

Within minutes of crossing the border, our tour director put on his first movie of the trip. This one featured a bunch of older men chasing after young women in bars and strip clubs. I wish I had a better talent for tuning these movies out.


It is a sight I’ve seen countless times, but I still grab a shot of the Crystal Sugar plant north of Drayton.


At the Drayton exit, I made sure to once again catch a glimpse of the sign that used to have the word “CHICKEN” on it. I also thought of former colleague Steve Conner, who lost his wife and three-year-old daughter near this location in a tragic accident this past winter.

As we passed Sucker Town, my eyes drifted far to the east, well beyond the horizon. Those who know me will understand why. Though we had been on the road for over four hours, it felt like it only took us 15 minutes to get to Fargo and West Acres, our lunch stop.


An unwelcome reminder that we’re still too close to the SPRM.


As I’ve said before, anything Snoopy-related is always going to grab my attention. At least one reader was surprised none of these beagles came home with me.


I picked up lunch at Subway and checked my e-mail before getting back on the bus. Following a detour to Happy Harry’s, where everyone but me loaded up on liquor, we headed east and crossed the frontier into the great state of Minnesota, where we spent the bulk of the time on the trip.

On our way, a couple on a motorcycle waved to us as they passed by. Unlike what normally happens in the SPRM, they used all their fingers. It was also a nice sign to see a school bus that actually has the words “SCHOOL BUS” plastered on the front instead of “ECOLIERS.”

I spotted a clever billboard that showed a man sitting on a toilet in obvious agony with the caption, “There’s got to be a better way. Get a colonoscopy.” The first misspelled sign I saw south of the border was a billboard for McDonald’s in Sauk Centre that said RV parking is “availiable.”

Our next stop was Albertville, the black hole of civilization.


Albertville is the home of Albertville Premium Outlets, a massive collection of stores where people get slightly less gouged for brand-name merchandise they likely don’t need and walk away thinking they’re getting a bargain.


Sadly, our tour director gave us two and a half hours at this miserable place. For some, it’s not nearly enough. For me, it’s two and a half hours too long. Before setting us loose, he went inside to pick up some VIP coupon booklets, but not one of them contained a “get out of jail free” card.

It was absolutely sickening to walk around seeing these teenage princesses in groups of three or four with armfuls of bags from the trendiest stores. As a good friend of mine put it, it is a cultural sickness. Perhaps it was only fitting that one of the vanity license plates I spotted was “PRESIUS.”

While stopping to jot down some notes, a couple came up to the drink machine next to the bench where I was seated. They seemed puzzled by how it works and asked me for help.


It wasn’t that complicated, but even with my help, they couldn’t seem to figure it out and moved on.

Trying to kill some time as best I could, I walked around to wear off the bus legs.


In front of Coach New York, there was actually a line waiting to get in. I don’t know what they sell, but I suspect they’d have to pay me to go in there.


A typical Manitoban. This would make for a perfect submission to if only the site owner had decided to keep it up.


I guess taking your dog for a leak qualifies as “Emergency Stopping.”

Having run out of places to walk to, I returned to the bus an hour early and waited for the rest of the passengers to return. Aside from me, there wasn’t one who didn’t have an armful of bags. After everyone was back on board, the weight of the bus might have been double what it was when we pulled in.

Several of my fellow passengers were showing off their purchases while waiting for the bus to leave. One woman took out a purple leotard with black polka dots that she bought for her daughter. Any self-respecting woman would have been embarrassed to wear it to bed and she likely paid more for it than I spent on the entire trip.

Every time I visit the Twin Cities, I always pay attention to the Pine Point Wood Products sign in Rogers. It has been there ever since my first visit and serves as my unofficial marker that we’re indeed here.


I was incredibly disappointed to see that they replaced their iconic yellow sign with something more generic. Sacrilege.

This time, I’m not seated at the front of the bus and I can’t see many of the signs on the highway, but I’ve been coming here so often over the years that I can tell what suburb we’re in by looking at the street signs.


We got in to our hotel at 7:45 and I saw their much-ballyhooed renovations for the first time. It has easily been the best hotel I’ve stayed at and I wondered why they needed to renovate. I appreciate the modernization, but the color scheme they chose is certainly not a step forward in my opinion.

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The following morning, after the complimentary breakfast, it was time to hit the road. Soon after getting to the trail, I made a brief stop to fill out a survey they were taking. I made sure to compliment them on how well they had done and mentioned a few of the horror stories during my many adventures in the degenerate capital of the SPRM.


I made a point of stopping at Lake Calhoun, a scenic area in the western edge of Minneapolis. There is a nice trail that circles the lake as well as nearby Lake Harriet to the south, but since I had bigger fish to fry on this day, I continued east on the Midtown Greenway towards West River Parkway and Saint Paul.


This was one of a few bike repair stations I found along the trail system. In addition to the pump, there are cables where you can raise your bike up and perform any necessary maintenance. The fact that it hasn’t been vandalized, wrecked, used as a toilet or set on fire is another strong indicator that you’re not in the SPRM.


A repair shop and café along the Midtown Greenway.


More scenes along the Midtown Greenway.


Where the Midtown Greenway meets West River Parkway.


While stopping here for some pictures, someone came up to me and asked for directions, which I was happy to be able to do.


I crossed the mighty Mississippi at Lake Street into Saint Paul, the Capital City, as the sign says.


So many people on the trails in the Twin Cities kindly yell “on your left” when passing. Little did I know that it’s a state law.

I proceeded south to Summit Avenue, where I turned east towards downtown Saint Paul in the dedicated bike lane.


I planned to stop for some pictures at Snelling Avenue and get some shots of the MN 51 markers on both the south and north sides of Summit.


After finishing with the pictures, the gentleman at right approached me and asked me why I was taking the shots of the highway signs. After I mentioned my Web site, he told me his father used to work for Mn/DOT and that he is one of a handful of contributors to the informative Minnesota highway pages on Wikipedia. We exchanged some stories that only fellow roadgeeks could appreciate and he invited me to a meet-up they were having in Como Park the next day. I would have loved to have gone, but I only had the two days there, so I had to decline. Nonetheless, this chance encounter was one of the highlights of the trip. This is something that would only happen in friendly Minnesota.


I continued on and got this shot near downtown.


The Cathedral of Saint Paul.


The Xcel Energy Center. The WHA once had two teams in Saint Paul, but today, it is home to a team that plays in another major league.


The former Saint Paul Auditorium, the original home of the first edition of the Minnesota Fighting Saints.

Continuing east through downtown, I stopped at a Subway.


Need a bail bond to go with that sub?


Snoopy in Lafayette Park.


Mickey’s Diner.


The Mexican consulate.

I turned around at the corner of 7th and Arcade and retraced my steps in making it back. The heat was taking its toll, but I made sure to stop for some badly needed fluids.


A service station at the corner of Grand and Cleveland in Saint Paul.


It’s Hennepin Avenue, not “Hennapin.”

All told, I covered 47.4 miles before putting on a few more after a rest at the hotel to go to a nearby grocery store to pick up some food for the next two days.

Next morning, I was crushed when I looked out the window and saw the rain coming down in buckets. Fortunately, it cleared up quickly and I was on the road again by 8:15, this time headed for downtown Minneapolis via the Kenilworth and Cedar Lake trails.


I exited the trail and made a side trip to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.


After a little break, I crossed the foot bridge over I-94 to Loring Park


While in Loring Park, a white squirrel came up to me and posed for a picture.


Message sent. Message received. You may understand. You may not.


Moving on, I made to Nicollet Mall and north to Cancer Survivors Park.


For me, the park is always a must-see on every visit and many of you who know me understand why.


View from the 3rd Avenue Bridge.


The light rail. Real rapid transit.


This is where the once-mighty Metrodome once stood, soon to be replaced by a palatial new stadium for the Vikings. The Metrodome may have not been one of the most legendary sports facilities in the country, but I think many of our tour participants were wishing the Twins were still playing under its air-conditioned, climate-controlled Teflon roof as they roasted in the mid-summer heat.


Oddly, I found more beggars in downtown Saint Paul and Minneapolis than in any past visit, including this one, who was holding up a sign saying she was homeless and needed money. She should consider cutting back on her food bill.

I was hoping to go through the skyway and stop for lunch in the food court at Gaviidae Common, but, curiously, many of the stores weren’t open until noon. I realize it was a Sunday, but it was a Twins game day and Americans are, if nothing else, enterprising entrepreneurs. Where there are prospective customers, corporate America will be there to open their doors. Instead, I found an attitude that I would more expect to find in the SPRM.

When I finally did get through to Gaviidae Common, I was shocked to see that the food court that I had been visiting for years was gone. I had to move on and managed to find one of the few Subways open in the area.


I had been to this Subway once before and their policy of needing to show photo ID to use the washroom was still in force, but I was one of the lucky ones who they evidently trusted with the key without needing to show ID. I felt so blessed.


After a few shots around the Stone Arch Bridge, I got back on the trail and headed back towards the hotel.


Heading underneath Target Field.

On the way back, a couple of teenagers passed me who were talking about sales and profit margins. In spite of Obama’s best efforts, entrepreneurship is still alive and well in the U.S. If I was in Canada, such talk would likely center around government handouts.


I couldn’t resist this shot on 11th Street in Hopkins. Many of my former colleagues will understand the significance as it relates to our former employer.

After getting back to the hotel, I went for a little walk around the area.


The significance is obvious in more than one way.


Manitobans don’t have a monopoly on double-parking.


On the north side of MN 62, I spotted this Caribou Coffee location alongside Einstein Bros. Bagels.


On the other side of the street was another Caribou Coffee location. Canadians aren’t this bad with their addiction to Tim Hortons.

Since this was what is virtually certain to be my final visit to the Twin Cities, it was tough to leave the following morning. I had been going there since the days when I-394 was still Wayzata Boulevard and when the state’s pro sports teams were all playing out of Bloomington. I still remember both the Met Center and Metropolitan Stadium, long before anyone ever thought of the Mall of America. I’ve seen the Twins play at the Met in 1978, 1980 and 1981. Back then, I-494 hadn’t been finished and ended at MN 5, just past the airport. I’ve got a lot of history there, most of it good, and it’s sad to see it come to an end.

In any event, with the Monday morning rush hour traffic going in the opposite direction, we headed northwest and down the familiar path on I-94. Despite having taken that route so often, there seemingly is always something new for me to see. For example, there was a billboard offering laser therapy for arthritis. For pets. Groan.

I thought of a former colleague when we crossed into WRIGHT COUNTY. Most such signs in Minnesota are in mixed case, but this one was in ALL CAPS. I know at least one reader will appreciate the sighting and perhaps more than one. Even though I spent so long there on the way in, I didn’t notice that they finally made an exit from the westbound direction for Albertville until we passed it on the return trip. Oddly, one of the most popular exits in the state was not previously accessible in both directions.

Once again, I noticed an army of white trucks from St. Cloud-based Spee-Dee Delivery Service on I-94. I can’t imagine anyone in the state having more vehicles than Spee-Dee. A truck passed us in the opposite direction with the words “MEAN PEOPLE SUCK” emblazoned on the grill. Luckily for him, he was headed away from the SPRM. Near Fargo, there was a billboard promoting the Fargo Air Museum. It’s so good that they have places like this dedicated to preserving the legacy and heritage of their air.

Once we crossed the Red River and back into North Dakota, I looked out my window and south down University Drive. Feeling especially nostalgic on this trip, I couldn’t help but think of the Bowler, a place my parents and I used to frequent on our trips to Fargo. As its name would suggest, it was primarily a bowling alley, but it also had a popular smorgasbord that we often took advantage of. On one occasion, we sat down and drank some water before getting up to fill our plates. While we were away from the table, one family sat down at our table and unknowingly drank from the same glasses. We didn’t say anything and just moved to another table.

Just before arriving at West Acres, our tour director passed out the Je Declare forms for us to fill out for the border. While everyone else was madly totalling up their bills, I had nothing to declare and filled in a big, fat zero under the total value of goods purchased.

Aside from trying to tune out the movie, my last trip along I-29 proved uneventful. I laughed when I saw the billboard near Drayton that said “Be Kind.” It seems pointless to say such a thing to people headed back into North America’s toilet.

Our last U.S. stop came in Pembina, famous for the Duty Free shop.


As you’d expect, I was the only one who wasn’t in line to buy booze or smokes. I’m proud of that. Oddly, while outside taking pictures, a GO bus whizzed by. For those of you not familiar with GO, it is a major transit system in the Center of the Universe and surrounding area. As for why it was there, Pembina is not just home to the Duty Free store, but to a Motor Coach plant.

At the border, we were served by a guardette who came on board to collect our Je Declare forms. She didn’t search through any of our possessions and was only making sure that all the boxes were ticked on the Je Declare forms. Only a handful of people even had to show their passport. Bureaucracy at its finest. Once again, I feel so much better knowing the security of our borders is in such capable hands.

As always, returning to the SPRM is depressing. Nonetheless, it was another tremendous experience. I want to publicly thank Tony Rinella and his wife Yolanda for all the great memories over the years as well as to all the great people in the Twin Cities who make coming there so pleasurable. I would also like to thank everyone at the Hilton Garden Inn in Eden Prairie for their hospitality.

19 Aug

An Epic Adventure in Sioux Narrows

On Friday, along with 34 other passengers, I set out for my last major bus tour of the season. It would also prove to be the most adventurous tour of the season.

Our destination was Sioux Narrows with stops in Falcon Lake, Rushing River Provincial Park and Rat Portage along the way.

As I approached the waiting bus, I groaned upon spotting our tour guide for the day. I had been with her on tours on two prior occasions and both times, her inexperience and/or ill-preparedness had hampered the tour. Unfortunately, this time would be no exception. For reasons that will become evident as you read on, I will not name her publicly.

I was not surprised in the least to hear that she had never done a tour to Sioux Narrows before. Equally unsurprisingly, I would discover quickly that she had made little effort to find out about our various destinations. Instead, she would rely upon her passengers to do her job for her. Sitting in the front seat, I would do more to point the way than she would. 

Upon our departure from Winnipeg, I was encouraged to hear when she had asked our driver to point out when we were near the GWWD railway crossing and the Aqueduct so that she could read a spiel about it. That slightly encouraging feeling faded once she and the driver became engrossed in an hour-long conversation as we headed east. It was I who interrupted and pointed out the approaching Aqueduct, enabling her to deliver her material at the right time.

In any event, I thoroughly enjoyed the drive and I was almost disappointed when we reached the Whiteshell and arrived at Falcon Lake. Even though I already have the drive filmed on video, this scenery never gets old.

Eschewing the large lot nearby, our driver parked in front of the Falcon Lake Meat and Grocery store and squarely in front of a “No Parking” sign.

Later in the day, he would park in front of another “No Parking” sign at Rushing River.

Noticing that he had done this for the second time today, I jokingly mentioned the new site WPGParkingFail.comto him. He responded by going into an angry tirade about how that site’s operator was “poking his nose into places it shouldn’t be” and “who cares if someone is taking up two parking spots.” He then proudly proclaimed that “he doesn’t pay much attention to that stuff.”

Needless to say, I was quite taken aback at his brazen contempt of parking regulations. I was doubly appalled that he would be so open about it with a customer.

I would also later reflect upon the interesting stories that he had told during his conversation with the tour guide about his year in China teaching English. What impressed him greatly was how much respect his Chinese students showed him as a teacher.

Perhaps it might serve him well to show the same level of respect for those regulations that he flaunted with such apparent pride.

As with the tour guide, I will not name him publicly either.

I didn’t have much to see in Falcon Lake, but I did take a stroll around.

The bakery.

A nearby trail.

Is it “Cottonwood” or “Cotton Wood”?

Shops in the area. 

After our half-hour break, we headed east towards the SPRM/Ontario border. As we passed the weigh station, I looked to my left and spotted our driver writing while driving.

Sadly, this would become a repeat occurrence on our return.

On numerous occasions, he would pull out a small piece of notepaper and jot something down while driving. Each time, his note taking would only last a few seconds, but that’s all it takes to lose control. The risk factor with distracted driving is only multiplied on the two-lane highways through Northwestern Ontario.

Crossing the frontier into Ontario. I made sure to take this shot before Greasy Greg decides to take a page out of Nikita Khrushchev’s playbook and build a wall.

Upon nearing Rat Portage, we took the bypass to the north.

The scenery is even more breathtaking than it is west of Rat Portage. I was in awe of these rock formations and I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to build this highway. Travellers often complain because the highway hasn’t been twinned, but the fact that there is a road at all is remarkable.

East of Rat Portage, we turned south on King’s Highway 71 and headed for Sioux Narrows.

A short time later, we arrived in Sioux Narrows. Or, as the sign says, “SIOUX NARROWS.” I know that at least one reader will appreciate that.

Just on the other side of the Sioux Narrows Bridge was our lunch stop at Big John’s Mine Shaft Tavern. No, I’m not making that up.

I am still wondering what would ever possess a tour company that caters mainly to elderly ladies to book a lunch at Big John’s Mine Shaft Tavern.

Once again, however, it was left to me to point the place out as we went by. Our tour guide was not paying attention and, furthermore, had not bothered to investigate as to where this place was. We might have driven halfway to Nestor Falls by the time she had realized that we missed it.

Inside, I took my place with three others and surveyed my surroundings. It’s about what I would have expected for a hunting lodge in the middle of bush country.

The view behind my seat.

Our meal.

There are those who will eat anything that is put in front of them. I am not one of those people. For the record, that is cream of broccoli and cauliflower soup.

I used the time to get some shots around the Sioux Narrows Bridge.

More shots of Big John’s:

Walking down to the lake:

A little deferred maintenance here.

After the others had devoured their meal, we boarded the bus for a one-block ride south. Naturally, our tour guide had no idea where the gift shop that was on her itinerary was. Once again, it was left to me to point it out.

Later in the day, it would gall me to see a couple of passengers giving her a tip. If they had been sitting near the front, they might have given that tip to me, since I had done more to earn it than she did.

Instead of gathering more items for a future garage sale, I used the opportunity to walk around the town.

The Lazy Loon restaurant. It couldn’t have been any worse than what we had.

Gill’s Trading Post.

You had to know that this was coming. The only King’s Highway marker in town was not going to go unphotographed.

More shops.

The Sioux Narrows Motel. I don’t think that the Hilton chain has too much to worry about as far as competition.

The Northern Lights of Sioux Narrows, where the bus was parked.

In short order, we were headed back north towards our next destination, Rushing River.

Passing by Old Woman Lake.

As we passed Andy Lake, I remembered a former colleague, Lloyd Klassen, who had passed away last year.

During our many conversations at his desk, he had mentioned Andy Lake on occasion. Like me, he was also an avid photographer and I am sure that he had plenty of shots around the area.

I know that he would have been astounded to learn that this was my 746th shot of the trip this far. He might have shot back with a quip like, “How many more shots of highways can you get?”

Approaching Tower Lake.

We soon arrived at Rushing River Provincial Park for what would become the day’s biggest story.

Prior to our arrival, our tour guide announced that we were limited to only 20 minutes due to limitations imposed by the Province of Ontario.


The Province of Ontario will let you stay as long as you want as long as you pay for the privilege, something that the tour company was apparently unwilling to do. She explained that she did have to go in and pay, but that they could get a refund if they left within 20 minutes.

At that moment, I heard a flock of birds flying overhead. They were all singing, “cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap.”

Ah, but it gets better.

It should come as no shock to any reader at this point to learn that the tour guide had absolutely no idea where within the park we should go. When going inside to pay, they gave her a map, but she instead rolled it up and used it to swat flies. Maps are for sissies.

We came to a fork in the road. I told them to go left. They went right.

Ten minutes later, the driver was earning himself a gold medal in the Bus Driver Olympics trying to extricate us from a narrow one-way trail surrounded by small campsites. One camper had to move her pickup truck to allow us to turn around and, despite my criticisms of his distracted driving, our driver did yeoman work in getting us out of this mess. One false move and we would have been crashing down a hill.

It was only after we had come to the end of this winding trail did it dawn on the tour guide to unroll her map and look at it.

After returning to the main area of the park, having burned up so much time with this senseless maneuvering caused by an ill-prepared and indolent tour guide, she announced that we had only ten minutes in the park.

We had come all the way from the degenerate capital of the SPRM for ten minutes in the park.

Yes, I feel cheated.

I managed to get a couple of pictures and not much else.

Soon, we were back on the road headed for Rat Portage.

We parked near the harbor and I took the opportunity to go and get some shots of Husky the Muskie.

Engraving your name on Husky’s tail is apparently a rite of passage in Rat Portage.

A view of the harborfront from Husky’s perch.

Winkler Harborfront Park? I thought that we were in Ontario, not in the SPRM. For those of you who are not aware, Winkler is a city in the southern part of the SPRM.

Before getting back on the bus, I went to the washroom. Druggies welcome, obviously.

After our half-hour stop, we were rolling west back into the SPRM.

My heart sank after re-crossing the frontier.

After another brief stop in Falcon Lake, we were back on the road. En route to Winnipeg, our driver told us one of his favorite jokes. I’ve heard it before, but it was more appropriate than even he may have realized, given his penchant for note taking while driving on this day.

To summarize, a bus driver and a preacher meet St. Peter after going to Heaven. St. Peter gives the bus driver a palatial mansion on a mountain top, then gives the preacher a small house at the bottom of a hill with smelly sheep nearby. Puzzled at the apparent injustice, the preacher humbly asked St. Peter why the bus driver had received such a nicer home. St. Peter answered that the preacher, though a faithful servant, had put people to sleep during his services. The bus driver, meanwhile, had made people pray.

Normally, our arrival in Winnipeg would wind up the adventure peacefully. Not so in this case. Our tour guide had announced that there was an additional drop-off point at Donwood West, near Polo Park, the same place where they had made a pickup that morning.

This news triggered a backlash from the peanut gallery. Cranky old ladies started yelling, “That’s a crock” and other assorted verbal barbs.

The fact that they were making an additional stop to let people off was not the problem, rather it was that the office had not let passengers know about it in advance. There were people from Charleswood who had travelled across town to avoid having to wait downtown due to safety concerns and would have loved to have been able to be picked up near Polo Park instead.

In this case, the tour guide was completely blameless as this was undoubtedly a matter for the office. Nonetheless, instead of being apologetic and promising to raise the issue with her boss, she shot back with an angry, “That’s just the way it is.”

There was a right way and a wrong way to handle this situation. She chose the latter.

In many respects, it was a fitting way to end the day. The high standard of customer service that I have come to expect from this tour company was not met on this day. Not by a long shot.

Though I was cheated out of some valuable time at Rushing River, I did enjoy the experience. I always like seeing Northwestern Ontario and I got plenty of pictures to show for the day. I wanted an adventure and I got one.