Last weekend, Sarah and I made the decision to pack up the car and the dog for a trip to visit Sarah’s grandmother in Pennsylvania.

This trip had been scheduled for later in the week, but due to her grandmother’s failing health, we decided to accelerate our departure date to Monday morning. That meant dropping Ira off with my sister, Amy, for the week, arranging to stop our mail and newspapers, and other various and sundry things. Sarah's Grandmother's House

Monday morning, we drove east with a very full car for the 700+ mile trip to southeastern Pennsylvania. The first day, we made it to Ohio where we spent the night at Sarah’s brother’s house. That went well except that Dalla and the Zee, the house’s resident blue heeler, do not agree on which of them is the dominant dog. It always ends up with a big fight and dogs being hauled off to opposite ends of the house and this visit wasn’t much different. Unlike our last visit there, Dalla established the upper-hand this time. Of course, since she spent most of the visit on the leash, her victory was largely symbolic.

Tuesday morning, we put our gear back in the car, and headed east, but in two cars. Sarah was driving her mother’s car to Pennsylvania so that her parents would have another vehicle for their use if they needed it.

After an uneventful five hour trip, we arrived at her grandmother’s house.

At this point, I should mention that Ohio and Pennsylvania really throw an inhospitable spring. Both states were cold, rainy, and gray. While we were driving from Ohio to eastern Pennsylvania, we drove through mountains still covered in snow with temperatures in the thirties. Wisconsin is no garden of Eden, but we generally have better weather.

As you can see, Sarah’s grandmother lives in a modest brick house that isn’t any bigger than ours, and since all the bedrooms were occupied, we needed to sleep somewhere outside of the house. We’ve tried sleeping in hotels with Dalla before, and it is hard to label such an experience “sleeping” without stretching the traditional definition of that word beyond all recognition. Dalla spends all night barking at slamming car doors, conversation in the hallway, and people coming and going from surrounding rooms. Since we weren’t eager to repeat such an experience, and we had all the gear, we decided to give camping a go.

Our Campsite

Caledonia State Park was open and accepting campers, so we targeted the campground for at least a night or two of camping. If it turned out to be too cold and uncomfortable, we would try to find a hotel, but our goal was to spend as many nights as possible in our tent.

As it turned out, we had a very pleasant camping experience. The nights were definitely cold with temperatures in the lower forties and upper thirties (we got snow the first night, that melted when it hit the ground), but if you’re tucked into a down sleeping bag with a stocking cap on your head, you don’t even notice the cold. In fact, I woke up one night because I was actually too warm and was sweating in my bag. Dalla sleeps quite well in a tent for some reason, so we didn’t have to worry about her making a big fuss every night. In fact, the only downside to having her in the tent was that she kept trying to steal my sleeping bag. Apparently, a down bag is better for sleep than her expansive, comfortable dog bed that took up a disproportionate share of the tent.

In addition to being cheap ($16/night), the campground was quiet and nearly deserted. All of your disruptive, loud-music-playing, late-night-car-door-slamming, bathroom-destroying yahoos are still at home and most other campers have a very narrow season (read: summer) in which camping seems like a good idea. There was one woman besides Sarah in the camp, and maybe seven or eight guys besides myself. That meant no problems getting in the shower or letting Dalla wander freely around the campsite.

We really enjoyed our stint at the campground though certain members of our families definitely thought we were insane for camping in mid-April and they tried several times to tell us just how insane we were (though to their credit, they never used the word insane or any of its synonyms). Yeah, there isn’t much vegetation to offer shade and there certainly any campground programs put on by rangers, but there also aren’t any bugs and you’re not likely to be camping next to the entire cast of Animal House.

Thursday afternoon, we started our journey back to Madison. We drove to Cleveland and spent the night at Sarah’s parents’ house to avoid further dog drama between Dalla and Zee. The next morning, we set out for the eight-plus hour drive back to Madison. We finally arrived in town about 19:00 on Friday evening.

Some thoughts that don’t fit the above narrative.

  • Ohio and Indiana: Welcome to the twentieth century. Care to join the rest of us in the twenty-first? Electronic tolling is the future in those states. Too bad that Illinois, Massachusetts, California, Pennsylvania, New York, and other states with toll roads beat you to it. Tickets are archaic and outdated but that hasn’t stopped either state from handing them out by the millions. Once you go electronic, you never go back. If you’ve gotta pay a toll, being able to roll right through the toll plaza without stopping (or even slowing down in some cases), is slick. It doesn’t matter if the weather is cold and rainy, because you don’t have to stop, roll down your window, and carefully hand over some bills and change; money is simply deducted from an account that you maintain. I was initially skeptical of electronic tolling, but this trip really cemented its utility and convenience in my mind.
  • When ordering decaf coffee, you cannot exercise too much vigilance to make sure that you actually get decaf.
  • Pennsylvania: Why are seemingly all the service plazas on your toll road closed simultaneously? What genius came up with that bright idea? Quite frankly, they don’t provide much in the way of service when they’re closed.
  • Illinois: As if I needed one more reason to avoid living there, the traffic around Chicago is it. The state’s open road tolling deserves commendation and their service plazas are open (take note, Pennsylvania), clean, and modern. None of that offsets the miles of stopped traffic that we saw while driving through the area. It was merely good luck on our part that all of that stopped traffic was trying to go the other way and that we weren’t caught up in it.