Thursday, August 14, 2014

Michigan to New York, and the RV Day from Hell

We left Petoskey on Sunday and drove to Frankenmuth--having read about this town done up in a German motif and with Bronner's, the world's largest Christmas store located there.  How could we pass up such a place??  Both Trisha and I spent time in Germany as college students and we've visited  since then as well.  The lesson learned in this escapade?  Sometimes the hype supersedes the reality.  The guidebook had just built it up too much, I suppose, but we were pretty disappointed.  The town itself didn't have as much authentic looking architecture as some other towns boasting of a German theme; just fell a little flat for us.  And, while Bonner's is indeed a huge Christmas store, a lot of the things they had for sale just didn't seem to be what we had thought.  They had a "Christmas Around the World" section, with decorations claiming to have been made in all these different countries, but most of them were quite similar--just variations on the Christmas tree ball, with paintings on them that reflected a country's traditions.  Maybe it was just that it was so big and overwhelming, but we were hoping to see some of the delicate wood carved ornaments from Germany like we'd seen over there and in other Christmas stores; the same for Scandanavia.  When we were in Sarasota in the winter, right next door to our favorite vegan restaurant there's a Scandanavian-themed store that had many more authentic and unusual Christmas decorations there than we saw at Bronner's.  Guess we were just expecting a bit more than what we saw, in terms of originality.

We left Frankenmuth later Monday morning, taking the route we had followed last year, entering Canada at Port Huron, heading across that part of the country to re-enter the US at Niagara Falls.  Well, here's where the adventure started, and I mean a real challenge!  A while back we had stopped in at a AAA office and Trisha had spent some time working with the consultant there to work out a route, specifically for this part of the trip, and of course, specifically telling the person that we were traveling in an RV and gave the height of our vehicle.  Well, they really blew it, big time.  Last year we stayed on the Canadian highway all the way, without going through any cities proper.  Apparently because there was some construction along the way near Hamilton, Ontario the AAA computer tried to make a route to avoid the construction.  The problem was that the route took us off the highway, and smack dab through the middle of downtown Hamilton--technically it was Highway 8, but it snaked through downtown, with lots of turns on pretty narrow streets.  And on several of them, there was a bus only lane to our right, then our lane, then one or two other lanes on the other side, and most of these lanes were quite narrow.  Their buses seemed to be wider than what we've seen before, and they drive very aggressively.  So that was nerve wracking enough, just to try to figure out where the turns were and how we were going to keep from getting hit--but suddenly we looked up the road and they had us routed under an overpass that was clearly too low for the RV to make it.  So we had to find a way to turn around, get back to the highway and find some place we could stop and ask for directions.  After a couple fits and starts, which included driving up and down the same stretch of highway, we eventually made it to the border crossing at Niagara, but by this time the day was already growing long.

It was a pretty drive going over the Rainbow Bridge, with views of the Falls and all the crowds on the viewing platforms and seeing the Maid of the Mist boats down below making their way toward the Falls.  Reminded us of our first experience with an RV, when our son Jeremy was born 31 years ago and we rented an RV for a trip when he was just a few weeks old.  We visited Niagara and I held him in a front papoose carrier under my raincoat when we were on the boat--he now loves to tell the story about "how I visited Niagara Falls as a kid, but my father wouldn't let me see the view!!  Anyway, as we were going through border control, the officer was going on about me being Santa and wishing his  9 year old was there, telling us how his son was on the fence about believing, while he and his wife were trying to keep the belief alive.  So I gave him a picture so he could tell his son he saw Santa that day!

After we got through the border control, we made the mistake of using Siri on our phone to get directions to the campground, rather than just calling the campground for directions.  Well, by this time it was dusk, and Siri routed us onto an expressway--but just as we were on the entrance ramp, we suddenly see a sign saying that the overpass just ahead had a clearance of 12 ft. 7 inches, and our RV is 12 ft. 10 inches tall.  Unfortunately, the only sign giving this information was after we got onto the entrance ramp, and just smack up against the overpass.  This has always been my greatest fear of Rving, suddenly being confronted with a clearance too low for the RV.  Well, the only choice was to stop and try to figure out how we were going to get turned around, since we were already in effect on a one-way road, leading up to the expressway.  Fortunately there were two lanes at this point, so traffic could get around us.  So we called 911, explained our predicament and, while waiting for the police to arrive, I put on my iridescent yellow biking jacket, had the flashers on, and went out to flag oncoming traffic around us.  Most of the cars saw us, slowed down and merged into the other lane, but one car was coming so fast and wasn't moving over, so I had no choice but to run farther off the pavement and hope they wouldn't hit the tow car and the RV.  As the car got closer, I could see that both the driver and the passenger were apparently texting on their phones, but fortunately they swerved just in time to miss us.

Finally two officers arrived, and we asked them if they could just block the lanes of traffic to allow us to unhook the tow car, back it and the RV up to where we could turn around and find another route to the campground, as by this time Trisha had called them and the proprietor had given us a way to get there without any low clearances.  Both of the officers were very nice, but they said they felt like the sign was mismarked and held traffic until we could get right up to the bridge, and, sure enough, there was more than enough clearance for us.  Well, we thought we were out of the woods, but the officers had told us they would escort us through the next bridge overpass, but they said it was higher than this one.  So we followed them, but, to our surprise and theirs, the next bridge was lower, and indeed impassable for us.  So they did have to block off traffic, let me unhook the tow car, pull it onto the shoulder, back the RV up to a place we could get off that road, then pull it off the road, then one of the officers drove me back to the tow car, I drove it back onto the road and he escorted me back to the RV and I had to hook up once again.  Thank goodness for these nice police officers, who knows what would have happened without them!  By this time it was 9:30 and really dark, and, needless to say, our nerves were pretty frazzled!  We finally got to the campground shortly before 10:00 PM, having originally figured we would arrive by 4:00 or so that afternoon.  We were just glad to have gotten through this ordeal with no one getting hurt and no damage to either vehicle.  Since Trisha had told the campground proprietor what was going on, he was able to inject some much needed humor into the situation:  as he was giving me directions to our site, he said "you just have to go to the second row, turn left, go down 4 sites and turn into yours--and there is no bridge!"  Helped to laugh at that point!!

Leaving Petoskey, Trisha took this picture of these huge lavender blossoms, in front of Kilwins, a chocolate company that offers chocolate tours--we didn't find time to do a tour, but look forward to doing that the next visit here!

 Love these barns, both new and old, as we were driving through the New York countryside

 The campground where we stayed in Frankenmuth
 Coming into Frankenmuth

 Bronner's Christmas Wonderland

 Boy our kids would have loved to stay here when they were little--look at this humongous waterside!

 Heading across the bridge to Canada at Port Huron

 Border crossing into Canada
 Windmill farm--we were puzzled at why the windmills were totally still, since the wind was blowing pretty hard

 Coming across Rainbow Bridge at Niagara

 Lots of pedestrians crossing the bridge
 Maid of the Mist--hey Jeremy, remember this??
 This is the viewing platform on the US side

 Sorry, but no pictures of our ordeal with the police officers and the bridge fiasco; Trisha said later that she wished she had taken pictures of me standing out there, flagging traffic around the stopped RV, the flashing lights of the police cars, but at the time we were too frazzled to think about taking pictures.  

1 comment: