2016 Trip 7: a beach bum vacation

Sandbanks PP - Aug 2016

Friday
Headed down to Sandbanks this morning to start one week of vacation. One of our favourite locations, Sandbanks is apparently the largest freshwater sandbar and dunes in the world!  The hot weather has continued in Ottawa, so we figure Lake Ontario should be nice and warm for swimming.




It is forecasted to be another sunny week, so at least we will be at one of the best white sand beaches in Ontario.  Good drive down to The County, and we knew it was the start of a long weekend as there were lots of trailers on the road. When we arrived in Picton, it was literally stop and go traffic. As we passed through an intersection in the middle of town, who did we see but Mark & Angela, on their bikes. A quick wave to them out the window...what are the odds of that, always bizarre when those coincidences happen. We arrived at the park around 1:00pm, filled up with water and then made our way to our site.

We are on a new site this year, one row back from where we usually try to camp. We were lucky to even get a site, as the reservation process was incredibly busy. Every year it gets worse, and it is no wonder when the Ontario Parks reservation system is overwhelmed by the demand from not just one, but two provinces. We drove by the site at 1:15, as there is always the chance that the previous campers have left before the 2:00 deadline. No such luck this time. The camp looked barely broken down, blue tarps were still strung over a tent trailer, and there was gear strewn about everywhere. There was also no one to be seen. Finally from behind the trailer we could see an older woman shuffling about. As there seemed to be no urgency on her part to make any progress, we sat in the road until we were sure that she knew the next occupants had arrived. We then drove off and headed to the wooded area of the park, looking for a shaded site that was empty, to back the Alto into and wait until 2:00.

At about ten past two, we headed back to our site. To our dismay, she was still there, with only a little progress made to vacate the site. The blue tarps were down and rolled into a massive haphazard ball on the ground, the tent trailer was down, but not yet hitched up. Most bizarre, the woman was nowhere to be seen. I walked up to her car, and it was actually running, just sitting there idling unattended. More bizarre. The site next to us was vacant, so once again we backed in and waited, but now we can see the site, if still not the occupant. Time ticked away, with no movement of a human. Now close to 3:00pm, I walked over to our site again, and while I was standing on the road, wondering what to hell was going on, a minivan pulled up and stopped. There was a middle aged woman behind the wheel, and I asked her if she belonged to the site. Turns out the older woman is her mother, and that she had been called to come and help with the packing up. Not sure when the mother called, but from the daughter's rather indifferent attitude, it seems she may have taken her sweet time getting here. They finally vacated a little after 3:30. This definitely rates as annoying behaviour from your fellow camper.

The site is perched up on a bit of a hill, with a massive elm tree dead centre at the end of the laneway. Although listed as a trailer site, there is no way that a beige box would be able to get on the site, as there is a large low limb that must back avoided to get positioned. Bit of a challenge backing in, and even with staying away from the limb as much as possible, we only cleared it by a foot. Once set up though, it was very nice. Being up on the hill gave us a little breeze, a welcome addition given the hot humid weather. We are also thankful for the shade the big tree provides, gladly giving up a little solar time for a cooler camper.


a big old elm...and we were thankful for it

Once we finally got set up we were well ready for a swim. The beach and water did not disappoint. The water was lukewarm and we walked right in, which for me, is a bit of a feat in itself. We floated for the longest time, enjoying the refreshing water and all the sights and sounds on the beach.




We headed over to Mark & Angela's site for a BBQ. They are fellow Alto owners that have been here this past week. At the rally we were chatting about summer camping, and we realized we would have a bit of overlap at Sandbanks, so we made plans to get together for a visit. We loaded up our food and headed over on our bikes. They are in the Woodlands campground at the other side of the park, perhaps a 10 minute ride on the foldies. We had a great visit and BBQ, met their son Brent, who was camping with them for a few days, and just simply had a lovely evening. We were glad we brought our trusty headlamps, as the ride back was very dark. Real dark. The overcast sky and a quarter moon offered no help to the situation, just the little beam from our headlamps guiding our way. Lots of bugs too, which added to the challenge.

Saturday
Looks to be another nice day, as the forecast is calling for this weather to continue most of the week. Up and about slowly this morning, coffee, a bit of a read of the paper, low key stuff.  We do have a busy weekend planned visiting friends, and we realized we should take a quick run into Picton to pick up a few items. When we drove past the main gate, the lineup to get in was already massive. With this weather, the Park has been very busy, and apparently many days they have had to turn away people as the crowds were just too large. Today may be the same. A couple of stops in Picton, and sure enough, on the way back, we ended up in a long line of cars patiently waiting to get in. As we are already registered, they have a bypass lane available so we can avoid the lineups, but you have to reach the fork in the road first. We later heard that on one day this past week, the line of cars stretched all the way back to West Lake, a good four kilometre distance!

Spent some time on the beach in the afternoon, and it was packed with people. We are on what is called the campers beach, which is at the far end of Outlet beach. There is a river separating the two beaches, not a big separation though, as it is an easy stroll in the water between the two sides.  The main beach was a colourful sea of umbrellas, a much needed accessory under a hot full sun. The water was quite calm, so we easily floated for the longest time.

Headed into Bloomfield to meet our long time friends Helen & Paul, as we were going to dinner at 'Lake on the Mountain' restaurant.  We also met Joey & Geoff there, along with Jack & Deborah. We look forward to our yearly restaurant dinner outing when we come to The County, getting together at this restaurant to have a nice visit and catch up is a highlight. The restaurant is consistently good, and has a great atmosphere. We had a nice meal with lots of laughs and conversations.

Sunday
Another nice slow morning, coffee on the Coleman and some scones made up breakfast. We headed into Bloomfield to meet Helen & Paul, yet another tradition where we walk the shops and check out what's new in town. Afterwards we sat in the backyard of their B&B in Bloomfield, called the 'Nap n'Nosh'.  This B&B was a favourite of ours to stay at until we started traveling with our camper, and we highly recommend it to others visiting The County.  The owners, Jane & Sonny, have created a wonderful B&B in a century home, and the breakfasts are amazing!

We then headed to a new shop just outside of Bloomfield on Hwy 12, called The Local Store. It features many of the County's local artisans and their products, from paintings to foodie items. It is all housed in a great renovation of a massive barn. It was interesting to wander around and see the assorted wares, and also look at the work done to re-purpose this old barn. They did a great job fixing it up and keeping the framework of the barn all exposed. No doubt it was a big job.

Sonny & Jane invited Helen & Paul and us to come and have a BBQ with them. Sonny cooked up sausages, lamb and chicken, while Jane made three different salads and a nice fruit pavlova for dessert. It was a perfect summer evening menu. We had a great visit and finally headed home later in the evening.

Monday
Slept in a bit later this morning, but not too much. A residual effect of waking up at 5:30 every work day. Hopefully by the end of the week we can get at least an extra hour or two...but I somehow doubt that. Relaxing morning consisting of coffee, breakfast and lounging around. I really like making coffee outside on the Coleman. Gives you a moment to survey the surroundings, collect your thoughts and get your bearings for the day. I am out pretty early making coffee, and you can hear the rest of the campsite slowly coming alive for the day.

Dale headed down to the beach for a quick swim, while I just puttered around the camp. Helen & Paul are coming out for some beach time and a BBQ, so we got a few things together for that.

They arrived around 2:00pm, and said they had a hard time getting into the campgrounds. They did have a pass, and scooted around the huge lineup, only to find the road to the beach area closed off. They explained to the ranger manning the barricade that they were here to visit friends, and he finally let them proceed through. We had a quick beer, then headed to the beach. We walked from the campers beach over to the main beach along the waters edge. There were thousands of people enjoying the sun and the sand. Both the beach and the water were jammed packed with people. After the longest while we turned around and headed back. A nice swim and float cooled us off from the walk, then we headed back to our site.




lots of good beach sculptures

G&T's all around, while I prepared the dinner. Simple meal this evening, pizza flat brushed with garlic olive oil, balsamic sauteed onions, thin sliced strip loins, and covered with sliced brie. On to the Q for a little melting action, then served with a mixed green salad with mangos and lime citrus dressing. Turned out great, and quite tasty.

some nice flowers that H & P brought us


Sat around the picnic table till quite late, as it was a perfect evening and there was just enough of a breeze to keep the mosquitos away.

Tuesday
Up early once again, put the coffee on, sorted out the day.  Because of the hot temperatures, the fridge has been going almost constantly, and this has taken a big bite out of what was left in the propane tank. It was about half full at the start of the vacation, based on the reading from that useless little gauge, and now it is low enough to start thinking about perhaps getting it filled. We are due for a run into Picton for groceries, so a stop to fill the tank was a wise move.

Today is serious chilling, so we hung out at the beach in the afternoon, a little reading, a little floating. We have been scooting up to the park store to grab the paper in the mornings, and it is nice to just sit, relax and catch up on the news. The water is quite warm, and seems to be getting even warmer. The hot dry temperatures remain well locked into the area. Great for time on the beach, but when you see fire bans and farmers fields that are visibly starved for water, having nice weather for a vacation just does not seem as important.

Back at the site we played follow the Alto shade, as the sun and the shade moves, so do we. Every little degree lower on days like these really help. Barley too is playing the game, although perhaps he is not as aware of it as we are. we have a new routine for Barley, driven by the need to get him out of the Alto. We put him on his leash, attach it indoors, and leave the door open. His leash is long enough to allow him to roam anywhere inside, but only gives him about a six foot radius outside. He has his own chair, and he quickly settled into his own routine. A little nibble of food from his bowl, a little nap in his chair, then he repeats. Pretty funny, but at least he is cooler.


lovin the outdoors and the shade


Being under the big tree means we only get about four hours of decent solar time during any day. Even then, it is dappled sunlight on the panels, then throw in a few clouds, and the solar amps will always be trying to catch up. We found we have been slowly building a deficit of amp hours. For this reason, to maximize this charging time, we try not to run anything in the Alto during the morning. In full sun, the trimetric tells me we can get about 4.2 amps of charging power, but it seems the window will be too short every day to eliminate the amp deficit completely. As of now, we are hovering around 80% charge.

Fresh local corn for dinner tonight, as we both felt we wanted a lighter meal after a weekend of visiting and eating. We got the corn at the Fosterholm stand just outside the Park's gate. They have one of the larger farms in The County, and the stand has a great selection of produce. They also have baked goods, and a bunch of cookies and some pan rolls came home with us as well. The corn was excellent, all lathered up with butter and sprinkled with salt.



Wednesday
Up early as usual, and we decided to walk the beach before it got too hot out. Even before coffee was made...which was quite surprising! Pretty much had the beach to ourselves, perhaps less than a handful of other energetic souls out doing the same thing. The Parks boys were out of course, raking the entire beach with a big John Deere tractor, dragging a tanged gizmo behind it. A few pickup trucks scooting around between the garbage bins like giant flies. No chance doing any of this once the hordes descend, and there were literally thousands of people inhabiting this beach a few hours later.

makes the beach look great for the day




Great walking in sand, as it gives the legs a little extra workout, much different than smooth pavement. Once the sun starts to rise over the tree line, it gets warm real fast. By this point we were done, and a quick dip in the water had us fresh for the day.

Serious chill today...our biggest energy outlay was opening the fridge and rummaging for something to either drink or nibble on. Barley is now very comfortable with his new camping routine...the open door policy. He is quite good about it so far, with no episodes of the sheer panic he has displayed to us in the past. The three of us have done literally nothing all day...because reading the paper and dozing off definitely constitutes nothingness.

Dinner this evening was leftover strip loin, grilled baby potatoes tossed in garlic olive oil, and a side salad of cherry tomatoes, yellow peppers and mango bits, tossed in that lime citrus dressing. Quick and easy.

Q staples...salt, pepper, serious garlic olive oil, cold beer

the grilled baby potatoes were crazy good with the garlic oil


Thursday
Up early again, as the sleep in morning remains an elusive quest. Wandered outside and made coffee, absorbing the welcome coolness of the morning.  This all changed by about 9:00am, as the sun rises above and starts its usual routine of baking everything its rays fall upon. Those that deny climate change are just simply mindless twits. I've never remembered the sun being so burning, as I now have a good idea what ants experience when a little boy and a magnifying glass appear above their hill.

Headed into Picton early in the morning to do a little exploring of the shops. We did Bloomfield earlier on the weekend, and there are a number of cool spots in Picton to check out. Top of my list are two very nice little kitchen shops, which I seem to be drawn to like a moth to a light. One never knows what cool little item will be found.


Picton Main St.


It was stinking hot in town. The pavement and steady traffic made it almost unbearable. The increase in temp over being by the lake was very noticeable. We wandered a bit then made a hasty retreat back to the campsite. An afternoon swim cooled us off nicely, as did the frosty beverage from the fridge.

Drove the long way back to the park, through Cherry Valley. Stopped for a few pics of this old school gas station.


creative word play on the sign

clearly NO job too large to tackle

and you just know this was the price per gallon


Camping dinner tonight. Grilled cheese sandwiches on the Coleman, using sour dough bread and very old cheddar cheese. That's it...although one of us likes a little ketchup on the side for dipping, but Dale thinks that is seriously weird. They were wonderful! Headed to the beach to watch the sunset, and although it was not spectacular, the rolling waves always make for a nice view regardless.


Dale is simply glowing on the beach... :)


a neat sunset effect on the big elm


Friday
Walked the beach almost as soon as we got up this morning, as waiting any longer makes this little bit of exercise not nearly as pleasant because of the blazing sun. The other benefit of starting early is the beach is virtually deserted, only a few other walkers, and of course the Park's maintenance crews, raking and getting the beach ready for the inevitable onslaught of beach goers. Once back to our starting point, we take a quick dip to get cooled off and refreshed.

we are not the first ones on the beach this morning


Another hot one today, but there is more of a breeze across the top of our little hill, which will help. Some serous relaxing planned, and we did an afternoon swim, mostly to enjoy some fun time in the breakers. The wind was really up and the waves were just rolling in. Once again, the temperature of the water was fabulous, and the water is also very clear. It has been perfect conditions all week. We spent the rest of the afternoon reading the paper and the books we have each brought along. We find ourselves moving around the site, chasing the shadow of the Alto as the sun moves from east to west. No way you can stay in the direct sun too long...just not a good idea.

The Trimetric shows us now hovering around 75% charge. Still pretty good considering our limited charging window. We are only running the fan once the panels are completely in shade, which sounds a little counter intuaitive, but it does mean we maximize the amps into the battery. Despite this, it seems we lose a few amp hours every day, as the amp replacement every day is only around 10 amps. If we had a longer window, I would guess we would hover more around the 85% mark.

We met Joey & Geoff at Portabello's restaurant in Picton. We have been going there for years and it is a great spot. The food is creative and tasty, and the people there are very nice. It has had the same ownership since it opened, and is one of the few in the area that has such a strong following of regulars that it remains open all year. We had a nice meal and it was great to get in another visit before we headed back to Ottawa.

Saturday
Up early once again, as it has become very clear that it takes more than a week to break any sort of workday morning pattern. No worries though, as we are putting that early start to the day to good use with our morning beach walks. Forecast is calling for another stinker of a hot day, this weather is not breaking at all. apparently it is the longest period of time for no rain in The County since 1941. A lot of crops are suffering as on our drives along the country roads we have seen fields that are parched, and the crops are definitely stunted in growth.

Walking the beach has been wonderful though, and it is beach vacation weather. It's a nice little workout for the legs, wading through the water to cool off is nice, and the post walk swim sets you up for the day. Not much was on the slate today, although I did take a little bike ride to the store to grab the Saturday Globe & Mail, a favourite of Dale's. She started right into it when I got back, but I was still glued to my Steven King paperback, which by this time in the week, the storyline was well into the inevitable mayhem.  I've been reading his stuff for a very long time, but he is still able to provoke that sort of jaw dropping literary moment in me.

We took a run into Picton, but stopped in to see Jane & Sonny beforehand. They want to give us some veggies from their garden to take home with us, so we had a quick visit, then did a bit of harvesting in their garden. They have a lovely backyard, with gazebos, a pond, a big greenhouse and a bunch of apple trees. Little wonder the breakfasts at their B7B are so good, with such a wonderful garden to gather produce and herbs from. from there we swung around to a gas station in Picton to top up the tank before heading home tomorrow.

One last feed of the tasty local corn was all we needed for dinner. We then started to pack away a few things to lighten the load tomorrow morning. We put the kayaks back on the car...they never even made it to the lake this trip.  We found it was just too damn hot to be out on the water in the afternoons, and we did not want to take the mornings away from our walks. We have done a lot of kayaking here over the years, and I think we finally came to the conclusion that we will not bring them here in the future, there is just no need. Save the kayaking for when we have sites right on the water. Our foldy bikes did get a lot of use though, as Sandbanks is a huge sprawling park, and bikes are a great way to scoot around, especially if it is to get a paper for Dale!

Sunday
Our last beach walk this morning, and when we crested the top of the dunes and headed for the water, we found a big surprise. We were looking at a very different beach. Overnight, the water had dropped a good 15 feet! Yesterday's row of sandcastles, generally constructed within a couple of feet of the water, were now a long way from the waters edge.  Sandbars, previously hidden by the water, now formed numerous little bays and islands along the shoreline. Where to hell did the water go? It was simply mind boggling that there could be such a change. I was down here at last nights sunset, and all looked as it did all week. What happened? We walked along and could not believe what had happened. We asked one of the Parks maintenance guys, and he said "they" must have done something to adjust the Great Lakes levels, but had heard nothing officially. We find it hard to imagine what could have caused such a drastic change.


you can see the line were the water was yesterday

all these bays in the shoreline were not here yesterday


In for one last little dip, then back to the site to put on the coffee and break camp. A number of site around us are doing the same, Sunday is a big turnover day. Got the last of the gear packed away and we were hitched up and pulling out around 11:00.  The dumping station was surprisingly quiet, nice to be unnrushed as we went about our job. As we were pulling away, a 1743 pulled in. It was a rental unit from "Discount" in Quebec. We wondered if they are prospective buyers trying out the Alto, or just simply a family on vacation using a cool camper.

Uneventful drive home. We did pass a few big black clouds along the way, but nary a drop of rain was coming from them this weather has got to give sometime! We had a nice relaxing vacation week, visiting with friends, walking and swimming, and just plain relaxing. As we split our vacation up this year, we look forward to doing this all over again at the end of Aug...this time in the Adirondacks. We can't wait.

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