Getting to Thunder Bay Before My Passport Expires

At this stage in life, it's harder to travel, especially for extended weekends. With that being said, I try to get to Thunder Bay at least once a year. I've made some awesome friends there, and I want to make sure to visit them in person. I realized my passport was about to expire (crazy, it's been ten years now). I wanted to take a quick trip up there in early November before that happened. Also, I wanted to before snow made it more difficult to travel.

In the meantime of my last trip, I changed banks. The local credit union I was using wasn't sufficient for my trips to Canada. BMO is Canadian-based, so I figured it would work perfectly. It worked even better than I thought when I learned I could get Canadian currency from a local branch.

I was able to do that the week before my trip to avoid fees.

November can be volatile for traveling north. We already got some snow here in Southern Wisconsin on Halloween. I factored this in and made plans with Victoria. I'd take both Friday and Monday off to accommodate for possible additional travel time.

She usually drops Austin off at daycare in the morning, and I pick him up in the afternoon. For that Friday, we'd do the opposite. I dropped Austin off at daycare and then went to Casey's. I got some breakfast and also snacks for later.

It was dark and dreary for the first part of the drive. It even lightly rained on and off.

By the time I got near Solon Springs, WI, it was bright out but also cold enough that there was snow left over on the ground.

I stopped at Kwik Trip in Superior to gas up.

I had to watch my step getting out of the car since there were some slick spots.

Now, it was time for a long drive up the North Shore. Unfortunately, it got to be longer at times, with a few slowpokes along the way.

I made it to Grand Portage, MN, and fueled up before hitting the border. I always do this since gas is over $1 more a gallon in Canada.

I made it to the border and then waited my turn to cross. The border guard was super friendly, and it only took a minute or so before I was officially in Ontario!

Since I didn't need to go to the ATM, my first stop was Metro. I got some snacks for the weekend.

I actually made a reservation this time at Superior Shores (Old Shoreline Motor Hotel). I'll eventually do a comparison blog entry. The renovations have made a night and day difference.

This time, I brought some beer up. I wanted my Canadian friends to try both cheap American beers and good American beers.

I filled the cooler with ice and then picked up my friend Matt.

He brought a few good Canadian beers, and we BSed at the hotel while waiting for Ryan.

Ryan came, and we had another drink or two. We then headed downtown.

We headed to Nortenos Cantina. This used to be Apollo.

They did an excellent job of renovating the place.

There was an awesome cover band playing.

We ended up staying there for a good chunk of the night. Ryan and I took a selfie.

The only other place we went was Lakehead Beer Company.

We hopped into an Uride (Thunder Bay's Uber) from there. I got dropped off at the hotel, and Ryan and Matt went home.

The following day, I picked Ryan up. We planned to go to Nipigon for lunch. We seem to be making that a tradition when I visit. It was cold enough that my windows were frosted over. I had to use my ice scraper for the first time this year.

Nipigon was nice and quiet when we got there.

We first stopped at the General Store. We talked to Terry and Ann for a while.

I then got some caramel that was made locally.

China Gardens is one of the only places to eat in town, but we like it and always want to return. That was our next stop.

Ryan wanted to check out the thrift shop, but it seems they are always closed whenever we visit.

Soon, we were at the marina.

It was chilly, and ice was forming near the shoreline.

The water was so clear you could see duck tracks.

Ryan wanted to get a picture of a bird on a signpost. The bird kept turning, so it was a tricky shot.

We started heading back to Thunder Bay and made a detour to Silver Islet. It was pretty quiet this time of year.

We could have had the beach to ourselves, but the water would have been bone-chilling.

On the way back, we noticed a fox would pop out occasionally. This was near the Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. We stopped, and the fox was very tame and allowed us to take pictures.

Thankfully, other cars were also mindful of the foxes.

I dropped Ryan off at home and got ready for church. The nice thing about traveling is it allows me to discover new things. I am Roman Catholic but attended a Ukrainian Catholic Church instead since one was in Thunder Bay.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church is in full Communion with the Roman Catholic Church. It is one of the Eastern Rites and specifically follows the Byzantine Rite. The Roman Catholic Church uses the Latin Rite. This means the order of the Mass and prayers said are different.

I felt out of place in many ways, but in a good way. They made the Sign of the Cross more often during Mass than a Roman Catholic Mass. The liturgy was different. Communion was given on a spoon. It's cool that different forms of worship are still in communion with each other.

After church, I picked up Ryan. We went to Beefcake's Burger Factory.

I got the “That Canadian” burger.

My food was good. One bad thing about here was it took over 45 minutes to get our food. It was so slow, and Ryan's poutine was cold. He was not the happiest.

We returned to the hotel and had a few beers before walking a few blocks to Waterhouse.

I make a tradition to get a Caesar there. This time was no different.

There was also a hockey game playing. It is Canada, after all!

After the Caesar, I would switch between Molson and Pilsner.

A few other people Ryan knew came and joined our group. Matt also did a little later on. There was karaoke. Dan, who was hanging with our group, was phenomenal. We told him he had to do Rush. He did and nailed it!

We all kind of hit a wall around midnight or so. We said our goodbyes, and then I walked back to the hotel.

The time change helped me get some additional sleep. I woke up and felt refreshed. I got breakfast at the hotel and then stared outside a bit.

I then went back to my room and packed everything up.

I then sat, looked out the window, and thought about the ten great years I've spent visiting Thunder Bay.

I checked out and went to my car. No frost this time!

I headed over to Prince Arthur's Landing and walked around a bit.

I always thought owning one of those condos would be cool if I won the lottery. I'd be spending a lot more time in Thunder Bay!

After that, I drove to the LCBO to buy some beer to bring back.

Unfortunately, I realized they weren't open yet.

I knew Metro now sold beer. The interesting thing is that ten years ago when I first started visiting, they didn't. I wanted to go to LCBO because they have a bigger selection, but Metro would be fine.

Some of their shelves were a little scarce.

Fortunately, they did have some local craft beers I like.

I also bought a bag's worth of groceries (mainly chips, candy, and pepperettes).

I wanted to grab an early lunch before hitting the border. I saw Tim Horton's across the street from Metro. It appeared they had nowhere to sit inside and were mainly drive-thru. I went to McDonald's instead. This was the first McDonald's I visited on my first trip to Thunder Bay.

I wish American McDonald's were more like Canadian McDonald's. You can clearly see they're trying to compete with Tim Horton's with their assortment of pastries.

You could also get a regular bagel with cream cheese. I got that and a McMuffin BLT (another thing I wish was in the USA).

It was time to head to the border. I drove south and then waited in line.

Unlike the friendly Canadian border guard, the US guard wasn't as friendly. I rolled down my back window right away since they always ask. I mentioned beer and groceries when he asked what I was bringing back. Those answers always seemed to be sufficient in the past.

He kept asking about the groceries, so I named a thing or two. Then he blurted, “Be as specific as possible so I don't have to ask additional questions.” He could clearly see I had a single bag of groceries in my back seat. I named another item or two, which seemed good enough for him.

I was soon back in Minnesota!

I stopped again at Grand Portage and filled up. It's kind of crazy. I drove over 300 miles since the last fill-up there!

I hit the road and caught the Packer game on a local FM channel.

I followed a few slowpokes and eventually made it back to Superior. I stopped for gas and food.

I knew I had a long drive back.

With the time change, it got dark pretty early.

I made it home right before Austin went to bed. It was nice being able to say goodnight. In the meantime, I'm going to have to look into getting my passport renewed. I guess waiting for it over winter won't be that bad. We'll be taking a trip to Texas for Thanksgiving, so I'll definitely be occupied with that.

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