"Life is like a camera. You focus on what's important, capture the good times, develop from the negatives, and if things don't work out, take another shot." - Unknown
The next morning, we took our time getting ready. We had to wait until Woodchuck opened so that we could pick up some more cider for me since we would be spending a few days at Aunt Jean and Uncle Bill’s. It took most of our day to travel to the Hoffer House, and when we got there we were happy to be able to see Emma go for her Practice Skate. Since they live up-state (New York) it’s nice to be able spend time with them. As luck would have it Craig and Jamie were also visiting the Hoffer's, so while Emma practiced we were all able to catch up and spend some time together. We had a great dinner at a restaurant nearby, and headed back to the house for the night. The next day was spent at the Saratoga Race Course. I had never been to a racetrack before, so I was amazed at how big it was, and how many ways there were to bet! After a crash course, and mostly failure, the big winner of the day was Emma. We were positive she was the only one coming home with any real profit for the day. It was a great day of crazy outfits, talented horses, and a lot of math, and while it was unbelievably fun I was surprised at how exhausted we were by the end of it, definitely a once in a life time experience!
The next morning the boys went shooting with Bill, and the girls mostly laid about the house, being lazy and relaxed. When the boys came home from shooting, we went right back out to go rummaging a huge yard sale, a reclaimed wood workshop, and a neat produce shop. After working up an appetite shopping, we headed to a nearby ice cream shop where we ate an ice cream lunch. Ice cream eaten, we drove back to the Hoffer House and relaxed in the afternoon sunshine, spending quality time with family. Uncle Bill made smoked chicken, and after dinner we went on a boat ride across the lake to go swimming. We spent a good amount of time playing in the water, the sun sank low below the horizon, and we rode back to the house. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing on the couch, and watching Olympic swimming.
In the morning, everyone was packing up to go their separate ways. So as a group, we brought Emma to art camp in the morning to see some of her unbelievably well done paintings, and then we had to say our good byes to Emma. Aunt Jean walked with us around town for a while, Craig and Jamie showed us their favorite metal work art in one of the town shops, and then we stopped for breakfast. After eating, we hugged each other goodbye, and split off into our traveling groups. It was such a wonderful thing to be able to spend real quality time with Hoffer's, since we don't get to see them that often.
Joe and I had decided our next stop would be Niagara Falls, Joe had been when he was younger, but I had never made it there myself. It was a decent drive from Saratoga to Niagara, so we stopped for lunch on the way at Dinosaur BBQ and enjoyed a dive bar atmosphere and fabulous BBQ. After filling up our personal fuel tanks, we hopped in the car and lumbered off to our destination for the day. When we arrived, we searched for a good campground nearby and ended up at Grand Island KOA. It was a hot day, and the site that had been picked for us offered absolutely no refuse from the heat of the sun. After deciding that we as a couple could not tolerate the unyielding heat, we went inside to see if we could switch spaces. As luck would have it, there was one space that we could upgrade to that offered not only shade, but running water. We jumped at the chance, splurged a few dollars over budget and moved on up in the campground… just in time for someone else to come in and attempt to claim the space as his own. Timing is everything. Victorious, we went back to the car and moved our hot selves into the shade. Around the time we finished setting up camp for the evening, it was dusk, and time for dinner. Since we were on a spending spree with lunch and the extra amenities, we settled on making our own food, watching the sunset, and enjoying watching the hustle and bustle of the campground. Dinner eaten, we burned off our calories the old fashion way, by taking a walk through the campground on a truly beautiful night. We started our after dinner tour through the campground wandering in between all of the rows of RV’s and trailers; talking about what it would be like to own such a massive vehicle for ourselves - never having to go home because it was always with you. As night fell, we meandered back to the tent site, and settled in for the evening, excited for the next day’s trip to the incredible waterfalls that acted as the border for the United States and Canada.
Well rested and excited, we hurriedly packed up camp and jumped in the car to make our way toward the massive natural phenomenon. Having no true idea where we were going, we kinda just followed the hordes of people heading in a particular direction (you learn to do this in touristy areas, for better or worse, who knows). We eventually found our way to the ticket booth for Maid of the Mist. Like good cattle we made our way through the rope lines and down through the elevators, and to more fenced lines. It was at this point that the staff insisted that we fill all the spaces nearby, much to the chagrin of the woman in front of us who did not hear the staff member say to fill up the space. She essentially set a body block and thrust herself in front of Joe as if he were the devil himself come to take her children: “NO CUTTING! WE HAVE BEEN HERE JUST AS LONG AS YOU!!” My husband, never one to back down when he knows he’s right, simply stated that she should learn to listen when people in charge are speaking. After a nice long tense death stare, the offended party stomped off shuffling her oblivious children on to the boat. Good start to the day.
We donned our obligatory protective sheathing from the inevitable mist, and began to take absolutely all of thousands of pictures we could manage. As shown below:
After fully immersing ourselves in the spray of Niagara, we decided to make the climb up the steps towards the top of the falls. A decision that ultimately ended in Joe panicking about his sopping wet shoes and socks, and insisting that we leave to change our shoes and eat something. Thankfully, there was a Rainforest Café nearby which was also a part of a hotel; making them uniquely qualified to assist us with lunch. As we enjoyed our dining experience our lovely waitress Valerie told us about a unique travel line they call the Discovery Bus. After eating, we went on the free bus line to tour the nearby area attractions, including Whirlpool State Park where we walked along the rim of Niagara Gorge, and climbed the steps down to Devil’s Hole… shortly thereafter we realized we were terribly ill prepared for hiking (we were wearing flip flops now and had absolutely no water with us). Spent after climbing all the way back up the gorge steps, we went back to the bus line and off to the next interesting stop – a discovery center where you can take an elevator down to the gorge floor and see the falls in the distance. After taking the whole day to traipse around the falls, we were exhausted and ready to relax for the evening, so we took the bus back to the car park, and turned our tails towards the Sands Motel where we would be staying for the evening.
Since it was a motel night, we did our due diligence and looked for a pizza place with gluten free options and delivery. And we thought we found one, so, we ordered, set about our showers, laundry, and well…. Adult beverages. (Hey! I’m getting delivery! Or at least that’s what I thought.) Turns out an hour or so later when the food is supposed to be at the door, that we receive a phone call. Even though we cleared with the restaurant beforehand that they deliver to this location, we are now told that no driver will be coming. Apparently, the manager decided that despite the food being made and us having already paid for the food, there would be no delivery, the manger didn’t even bother to apologize, and just said we should come pick up the order. In much gentler words, I essentially told him where he could put the aforementioned pizza, and then hung up. After venting hangrily about our situation, we eventually submitted to the will of the universe. We opted to wander the streets since it was a beautiful evening, hoping both to tamper our tempers, and to find something nearby that would suffice our need for food. As luck would have it, about a mile away was a 7-Eleven (The amazing simple joys of being in the Northeast!)
Truthfully by the end of our walk we admitted we were ultimately grateful the pizza didn’t come. It turned out to be a lovely sunset, on a gorgeous summer night, and a bit of extra exercise that we otherwise wouldn’t have had. As night fell, we made it back to our room and set about eating dinner, finishing laundry and planning our moves for the next day.
Our next adventure involved driving from Niagara to Corning. Being art enthusiasts, we were excited to visit the Corning Museum of Glass and tour the exhibits. On the way we stopped for incredible coffee at the Sugar Bowl, and when we landed in Corning, we were fortunate enough to find a pizza place called Aniello’s that took great care and consideration in the making of their gluten free pies. Even in the middle of a lunch rush, the manager made sure to handle the creation of my pizza, and watch it through the entire process (I know because I’m a super creep, and I watched him). It was FABULOUS, and exactly what we needed before meandering through a massive collection of painstakingly crafted glass.
Corning Museum of Glass was unbelievable. We spent hours wandering the halls of the collections housed within those walls, evening being fortunate enough to witness a demonstration in glass blowing. We watched from the stadium seats as the craftsmen displayed one of the oldest trades in modern culture. It was an engaging presentation, and was a great way to end our tour.
After soaking in all the impressive figures and fixtures, we hopped back into Hefe and made our way to our accommodations for the evening. Ferenbaugh Campground, a one of a kind, tiered road campground that had a considerable number of seemingly permanent residents anchored into the hills. After driving the circuit to select the perfect site, we planted ourselves in a shady nook and set up camp for the last time. As blunt as I can be, I really couldn’t believe that we had come to this part in the journey. It was the second to last night we would have on the road, and as we inched closer to clustered civilization, there were less campgrounds to choose from; so our true last night had already been promised to a hotel, further down state. This night however, we had given ourselves one last hurrah in the form of camping. We made ourselves a rice, corn, and enchilada soup dinner, watched the sun sink below the trees while listening to nature and each other, and begged the universe to slow time down. Alas, nightfall persisted; marching on with no reverence for our wishes. We stayed up late talking about where we had been in the last three months, how many odd things we had seen, and how many bucket list items we managed to cross off our lists. We waited until late dark had fallen completely, and popped out of the tent for an attempt at a pure night picture of our resilient little home.
Morning came, and with it restless and heavy hearts. We knew that this would be the last day living the in the reality we had cultivated over the last three months. In 24 hours the reality of “real life”, that both of us had managed to forget completely in the seductive wake of the living the vagabond dream, would come crashing down on us. We decided to linger a little bit longer, and stop in Owego at Las Chicas Taqueria for a Mexican brunch. Absolutely Incredible. We lingered in the town a little while, walking through its small side streets, window shopping. After walking off the added taco weight we drove off to Middletown where we had previously decided to spend a night in a hotel. There was an incredible storm that was coming in, and we were not interested in battening down the hatches. We decided to have an early dinner at the greatest fast food place I have ever had the pleasure of eating at; a small place called Mix n’ Mac that takes pasta and quickly makes you an individual serving of mac n’ cheese with any possible combination of cheeses and fixings you could ever hope to mix. And, most gloriously; an entirely separate line for gluten free. In minutes, you have a perfectly made mac n’ cheese and all the joy that a full belly brings. Unapologetically bloated from ingesting all we could finish, we drove off to our Poughkeepsie hotel to make sure we were indoors before the skies let loose their fury.
As we drove down the roads leading to the hotel, we began to realize we were in unexpectedly familiar territory. Unwittingly, we had booked a room in the same hotel we stayed in the night that we were engaged. The hotel had been sold in the time we had last visited, and they had renamed it, in hopes of rejuvenating business. When Waze announced that we had arrived we drove right past it, we only knew it by its other name, and incredulously couldn’t believe it was the same hotel. We turned around at the behest of the GPS, and pulled into the parking lot laughing. We checked in, and with curious onlookers we unloaded our bins, and bags like crazy drifters, and began settling in. The skies grew darker, and soon it was darker than midnight. We showered, and organized ourselves for an easy unpack for the next day, with the full gravity of journey coming to an end. Several hours later, and admittedly childishly hungry, we opted for a vending machine raid. After leaving our room we noticed that there was a peculiar smell, but truthfully, after the number of places we have stayed in, strange smells are simply customary. Dismissively, we went looking for the lobby and found the machines, and began the categorical search for the best options for under $5.
While perusing the products, a voice peeps out from behind us exclaiming “I’m Sorry!” Admittedly startled from the pop up stranger, we turned around to find the manager of the hotel, standing behind us and looking incredibly concerned. Confused by the abrupt apology, we asked why an apology was necessary, thinking maybe the vending machine was broken. Consequently, we were very mistaken. The manager then informed us that the man staying in the room across the hall from us had brought in a portable stove, and had been frying chicken in the room… setting off his fire alarm…. Which we did not hear. We did however, then piece together that the peculiar smell did remind us of fried chicken, albeit a touch overdone. Comforted by the fact that the problem was handled, and we didn’t have to deal with the fire department or evacuation during a thunderstorm, we celebrated by enjoying some Reese’s and M&M’s, and hoping the man with the deep fryer was done risking everyone’s lives.
The morning was a somber one. The clouds were overcast and coincidentally matched our moods. The day had finally come for our trip around the Lower 48 to come to an end. We dawdled as much as we could, and stopped for coffee at a great little place called Bad Ass Coffee and had a great cup of coffee, while donating to a great cause. Which did make us feel better, but was not delaying the inevitable. We realized that one of the only ways we would feel better about ending our escapade was to visit a place that was very special to us. We considered COSM the true origination point of this dream journey, since this is where we were engaged. I’d like to pretend that it was this beautiful and incredible experience, but truthfully, in the true hilarity of life, it was a blistering and humid day.
We arrived before they opened, wandered the grounds and were bit by all of the bugs that were on the grounds, made it to the engagement site (definitely made out a bit) and then went back to the car. By this time, they had opened so we stopped in the store for about 6 minutes, and then climbed in the car to continue our way home. We laughed about the roguish nature of our visit since we didn’t pay to walk the grounds, (We represent the true resistance, I know) and drove down increasingly familiar New York roads. We reminisced about different trips we had taken through these roads, and through others. Eventually, and all of a sudden, we found ourselves at the door of family members, stopping by to drop off cans of food for a fundraiser that was happening that day. In true Pfeifer fashion, the house was a revolving door of family members, coming and going in various stages of responsibility for the event. We stayed for lunch, and then afterwards made our way to the Celeste house for a welcome home hug. After spending not enough time catching up, we had to hit the road again back to the McKee house for a quick unpack of the car, before running out to the Engine 3 Food Drive Fundraiser.
Who could ask for a better homecoming, than to come home, see, and hug, all the people that you missed the most in one day, and to have it end with a good cause? We drove home from the event and pulled into the driveway as the official last day’s drive. Exhausted, happy, sad, and still; we looked at each other before getting out of the car. We leaned over the seats, put our heads together for a brief moment, and then gave each other a kiss. Knowing full well that after 3 months and 2 days on the road, we had accomplished something that very few people had dared to dream, let alone attempt. In a Honda Element, a tent, and with tremendous planning, working in a maximum of 150 sqft of living space, we traveled for over 16,000 miles. We witnessed corners of the world that people dream of seeing but never do. We river rafted, ziplined, go-carted, hiked, traversed caverns, and stood at the base of monuments – both natural and manmade, and marveled in their majesty. We stood in Death Valley and were privy to an unbelievably rare rain. We threw a GoPro in a cavern and a man retrieved it with his foot. We had left months ago, never having camped together in our entire relationship, never having been this brave with our definition of what life could be. In that moment, before we left Hefe and returned to reality, we had a moment where we knew that those memories would last a lifetime and inspire us to reach for the unthinkable, the undoable and we knew in that moment we could do anything we could imagine together.
We left Hefe in the driveway, went inside, and began the first steps of another adventure; Beecoming Conscious.