Tuesday, 24 May 2011

New York or Bust - Day 1

Well, Upstate New York actually, still 350 miles from the Big Apple. Our long weekend celebrating Queen Victoria's birthday was going to be spent by the shores of Cayuga Lake, part of the finger lakes system between Rochester and Syracuse.

Logistically, this was going to be hardest trip yet; six hours (minimum) driving, an international border and not being able to leave until after 3.30pm on the Friday. And just for good measure we had less than 24 hours before the start of the end of the world. Still, it was about time we did something difficult.

For once the weather was being nice as we finished the loading and hitching and we really were off at around 3.30ish. Highway 401 towards Toronto was busy but not overly so and apart from a nasty rainstorm around Woodstock, all went well up to our first stop for supper on Highway 403 at Brantford. As we slowed down to turn into the service centre, we heard the safety chains betwixt trailer and hitch tinkling as they grounded on the road. I think we're running a little low at the back of the Sienna anyway so wasn't surprised to hear that, but I didn't have a lot of scope for twisting the chains to raise them a little. Ever the practical one, I salvaged a bungee cord from my tool kit and rigged it so that the chains were held off the tarmac. Aren't I a smartie?

The Lewiston-Queenstown Bridge between Canada & The USA. Often cited as the worst Can/US crossing point!

Then we were bowling along the Queen Elizabeth Expressway (QEW) towards the US. The traffic towards Niagara was horrid but as we branched away towards the bridge and the border with the US, it really thinned out. Were were in the line for about 10 minutes before getting our passports checked and the inevitable summons to the office so I could fill in my visa waiver I94 form.  It was quite noticeable that we were the only white people in the waiting room, apart from the armed border people. Obviously we didn't know what types of passports everyone else had but why all the brown skins I wonder? Anyway, we cleared the formalities after about 30 minutes or so and were on the road again, heading first into Buffalo, then along the New York Thruway towards Rochester and Syracuse. The darkness fell quite quickly, leaving us two hours of night time driving; not a great problem but it meant we were missing the scenery.

Aware that we needed to buy some food for breakfast (you can't take much across the border and risk the electric chair if you do) so we pulled over at a service centre. Being on a turnpike, coming off into a Walmart wasn't really an option so we were stuck with the services provided. It must have been after 9pm because everything except the burger bar was closed! Not even the gas station had any food. So it was back on the road and onto the next service centre, only about 35 miles away. I needed to fill up anyway so as Mrs Toad hopped out (geddit?) to get some brekkie fixings I went to to the gas pump; except that it was knackered and I needed to go to another pump. That's not too much of a problem normally but with a 28' long trailer on the back, it takes a bit of manoeuvring. After I'd frightened all the other customers with my exaggerated U-turn, I was at least able to get some gas.

In the dark and following the Sat Nav I didn't have too much idea of where we were but as we came off the Turnpike and headed south I realised we'd been routed down the side of Lake Cayuga rather than across the countryside. It was nice and quiet but not easy to appreciate the lake views in the dark!

The man in the satellite took us right to the Taughannock Falls State Park but as we struggled up a very steep gradient, try as we might we couldn't see a sign for the campsite. Of course, it was now almost midnight and very nearly time for the world to come to an end, so there weren't any people about to ask. I did the second U-turn of the night as we realised we'd gone too far into the park, because we'd come out the other end. Coming back down the gradient, Mrs T saw a light on in the NY Parks HQ building so we stopped in a cloud of smoke – the trailer brakes weren't too happy with the down hill run! What's a bit of smoke between friends? The trailer stopped, didn't it?

By a stroke of fortune, we'd stumbled on the Parks Police desk, which was manned, and they gave us directions to the campsite; right at the bottom of the hill. So, locked in first gear, we crept down and into the site, which was filled with jolly campers all having a jolly time.

As we found our pitch, a police patrol vehicle followed us in and sat there watching whilst two very tired novice campers tried to get the trailer backed into a very small space in pitch dark whilst trying to be very quiet. We managed in the end but when I came to unhitch, I realised that in one particularly harsh back up manoeuvre I'd managed to get the power line coupling caught between the A-frame of the trailer and the hitch on the Sienna and crushed it. Everything was still working but I couldn't separate the two parts, which was a slight issue given that the electrical system wouldn't work until they were separated. So, 20 minutes with a big screwdriver and a pair of pliers and we were sorted, even if half of the metal plug thingy had fallen off! It was getting on for 2am by the time we'd fully unhitched and set up; not exactly silently, either. We made a note to apologise to the neighbours in the morning.

So, after a very long day, three stops for gas and a nightmare parking job, we were ready for bed. Strangely though, it wasn't raining. High hopes for the morning, anyway, if the world hadn't ended of course.