Wednesday, August 29, 2018

U.S. Highway 2, Part 4 - Wisconsin & Michigan

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It won't surprise you to learn that we tried to extend our stay at Lakehouse Boat Basin in Duluth. We always try to leave lots of wiggle room in our travel schedule so that we can stay longer in places we really enjoy along the way. But, no joy! It is a popular place, particularly on weekends.

We resigned ourselves to moving on, and in doing so we hopped back on U.S. Highway 2 and entered Wisconsin, our 49th state. Of course we can't take Scoopy to Hawaii, and whether or not we ever make it there is up for debate. But for now, we are thrilled to have filled our map with stickers representing our fulltime travels.

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Feels good to have no blank spaces (except for Hawaii).

I'd love to tell you that we did Wisconsin justice, but we didn't. We intended to stay at the Ashland Elks Lodge for a few days, but they no longer have RV parking. So we rolled into town, parked in the Walmart parking lot and headed downtown to eat, buy some booze and find some Wisconsin sausages. To our great delight, the restaurant was right across the street from the liquor store which also sold sausages from the local butcher. What luck, right? We stocked up on everything and, spoiler alert, the sausages were fantastic!

After all that and a quick shop, we rolled out the other side of town and headed for the Bad River Casino about ten miles east in the big middle of nowhere. Twenty bucks for water and electricity, a forgettable overnight stay and we cruised out of Wisconsin the following morning. 

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Bad River Casino.

Our redeeming grace, of sorts, is that we'll return to Wisconsin in a couple of weeks, but for now, we had our sites on the brand spankin' new Pictured Rocks RV Park in Christmas, Michigan near Pictured Rocks National Seashore. It's the one place we weren't able to visit during our summer stay in Michigan last year and we were looking forward to it. We booked a weeklong stay at the campground. The great thing about staying in new places, especially if some of the infrastructure is still under construction, is that the prices haven't yet caught up to others in the area. The owners, looking to build a clientele, were keeping prices reasonable.

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Pictured Rocks RV Park as seen from Scoopy’s roof. Still working on the landscaping.

I've said before that we're not always interested in doing all the touristy things, but sometimes a Must-Do really is a Must-Do. The sunset cruise along the Pictured Rocks National Seashore falls into that category. Even with more clouds than sunset, it was just gorgeous. Take a look...

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Spectacular views along Lake Michigan during the Pictured Rocks boat tour.

I mentioned in my last post that I had my first walleye fish while in Minnesota and I really, really liked it. I wanted to fill my freezer with these yummy fishies, but here's the thing. The department of Health in Minnesota publishes not one, but TWO brochures warning consumers about the dangers of fish from Minnesota waters. Seems all that coal combustion, mining and incineration of mercury products has taken its toll on Minnesota lakes and rivers. I'm sure it's this way in other states too, but I've never come across warning brochures in a state park before in our travels. So knowing all this, it kind of put me off buying fish for my freezer. But hey, Michigan doesn't have any brochures, so it's gotta be okay, right?

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Two brochures warning of contaminants in fish from Minnesota rivers and lakes.

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Smoked fish at Vanlandschoot & Sons Fish Market in Munising. We stocked up on Michigan fish.

Our departure from the campground was bittersweet. We were ready to go, but this trip would be our last stretch on U.S. Highway 2. What a glorious trip it’s been! It so exceeded our expectations, I just can't tell you enough times how much we enjoyed this route. We would do it again in a heartbeat! Except the very last two miles.

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The last leg of our U.S. Highway 2 adventures was, ironically, chockablock with traffic.

What's with all this traffic? Sunday on Lake Michigan is popular, especially when the weather is great and the sun is shining. It took us a couple of hours, but we finally made our way onto the Mackinac Bridge. And with that, we completed our tour of U.S. Highway 2, a route we would take again and again. We loved it!

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Heavy traffic on the Mackinac Bridge.

Once we crossed the bridge, we were now in familiar territory as we had made this same trip from the bridge south a couple of times last summer. Our goal for the day was Petoskey, to free casino parking that had our name all over it. Ours and a bunch of others’ too, apparently. When we arrived, the RV parking was completely full, so we eased along the curb and parked up for the night.

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We rarely arrive ANYWHERE and find all spaces occupied. We snuck in the side and stayed the night.

By the next morning, we were on our way to Suttons Bay, the same area we stayed for a month last year. Other than the ranch and boondocking in the SoCal desert, Suttons Bay was our first lengthy stay since we started fulltiming in 2014, certainly our first month-long stay at a commercial campground. We loved the area so much, we couldn't wait to return. We had a great monthly rate last summer at Wild Cherry Resort, but the nightly rate was not such a great deal for us. Instead, we stayed at the Leelanau Sands Casino. We had a great view, 50 amps and it was $10 a night. What's not to love? To make it even better, Jim and Diana Belisle were parked up next to us!

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We parked nose-in next to Jim &  Diana so we could enjoy the lovely view of Lake Michigan.

UP NEXT:  Our Fourth Anniversary on the Road, spent with wonderful friends!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

U.S. Highway 2, Part 3 - Minnesota

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Saying goodbye to North Dakota, we headed into our 48th state, Minnesota. I have only been to Minnesota one other time, in my early 30s on a business trip. I flew into Minneapolis from Dallas, then promptly boarded a private jet and flew to a place called Minnesuing Acres in Wisconsin, about 30 miles south of Duluth. I was there as a representative of the city of Dallas and along with a couple of dozen others folks from around the country, our mission was to hunker down and plan the visit of the King and Queen of Sweden to the United States the following year.

I don't remember many specifics of the meeting (the royal visit went great, btw) and I sure didn't stay long in Minnesota, but I vividly recall the scenery as we flew across the state. The surrounding countryside was green, mixed with vibrant reds, oranges, golds and yellows. In Dallas, we barely had a fall season and hardly any trees, much less forests. It was absolutely gorgeous and that memory has stayed with me all these years. I was looking forward to returning, even though it was summer and there would be no fall colors. I just knew it would be beautiful.

Alas, our visit to Minnesota started off with a whimper. Months ago we made reservations for five days at Itasca State Park, headwaters to the mighty Mississippi starting July 4th. But we needed to find a place for July 3, and so turned to one of our favorite resources, freecampsites.net. We found what seemed to be a lovely small city campground in Menahga right on Wolf Lake, and although the listing indicated it wasn't free, sites like these are typically a few bucks. Once we arrived, the sign instructed us to choose a site, then pay at the liquor store in town. As Steven went to pay, I got us set up. When he returned he informed me our site was FORTY DOLLARS! The campsite itself was fine but I was so put off by the price! 

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Our $40 peek-a-boo view of Wolf Lake.

On the fourth of July, we rolled into Itasca State Park. It's kind of out in the middle of nowhere, which means we saw zero fireworks. Not even a single sparkler. That suits me just fine, frankly, as I am not really a fan. I mean, I'll watch them if they are way out in front of me, but I won't buy any and won't get too close if someone is setting them off, nor will I travel to go see them. My best friend from my childhood lost an eye to fireworks, and having lived on a beautiful lake for nearly a dozen years, I've seen first hand the effect on wildlife. So in that respect, Itasca was a great place to be. The park was full of families celebrating the holiday, so it was very busy. We visited the crowded headwaters and took a boat tour of Lake Itasca. We saw trumpeter swans and lots of loons. There was a ton of wild rice growing in the lake, and when we finally bought some a few days later, we made sure it was labeled "lake rice" so that we got the real deal and not the cultivated variety. I hope it's good, I'm saving it to make a wild rice and toasted pecan dish for Thanksgiving.

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Our campsite in Itasca State Park.

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Lots of people bathing and crossing the slippery stones at the headwaters. We didn’t participate!

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The boat cruise on Itasca Lake was one of the highlights of our stay.

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A pair of trumpeter swans on Lake Itasca.

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Natural Lake Wild Rice…the real deal!

We thoroughly enjoyed the Visitors Center. In addition to great wildlife displays and information, the displays effectively showcase the impact of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program of President Roosevelt's New Deal that provided development and conservation jobs for young men in local, state and federally owned land in rural areas. The program was a huge success, employing three million unskilled workers during the Great Depression. The young men learned a skill and the government lands were greatly enhanced, many for public use that we still enjoy today.

Overall we had a very lowkey stay in Itasca State Park, just the way we like it. When we left we made our way back to Highway 2 and followed it all the way to Duluth before turning north. From there, we traveled along the shores of Lake Superior and didn't stop until we were just 40 miles south of the Canadian border in Grand Marais. It was here we really began to fall for Minnesota, because there's just nothing quite like being near one of those fabulous Great Lakes.

Our campsite at the Grand Marais RV Park was steps away from Lake Superior. As it happens, the rocky beach was covered with the most perfectly smooth, palm-sized rocks of all shapes. Steven was on a bit of a mission to recreate the little red undies painted rock whose journey I inadvertently and prematurely ended. "Let me fix this problem for you", he said. And he did! Well, almost. I know it's not the original, but I am 99 percent happy to have this little guy! And no, I will never hide him, I'm keeping him forever! He did, however, paint two of them and I will eventually hide one, just to keep the path of the little red undies moving along. :)

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This little rock makes me happy!

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All tucked in at Grand Marais.

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Good views, good food, good wine. Could it get much better?? Linda’s first walleye!

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Lots of fog drama while we were there to keep Steven happy!

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Our new rock fetish has us keeping our eyes peeled for things to paint.

We had a mixture of sun and rain during our stay in Grand Marais, so we spent a lot of time in "Joy & Company", an awesome art shop. As a result, we now have a healthy collection of acrylic paints and enough Lake Superior rocks to make Lucy proud. Steven has painted several, my favorite being the one of Scoopy. Seriously, how cute is that?

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Scoopy gets immortalized and the new family members of our growing rock collection (including red underpants).

When we weren't collecting or painting rocks, we explored the nearby sights. We were headed to lunch one day and passed by a terrible accident that had happened not long before we arrived there. At first it was difficult to make heads or tails of what had happened, but soon it became clear that a motorhome was involved. After lunch, we stopped by the scene, as had many others. It was secured, but the authorities were waiting for a wrecker. When you see the photos below, it will surprise you that the occupants, a local couple in their 70s, walked away from this carnage.

That ravine is about 40 feet deep. The tow car that was behind the motorhome went missing, I never did read if they found it. As best we can tell, something (most likely a large animal) caused the driver to swerve from his lane into the oncoming traffic lane. He overshot and broke through the barrier leading to the deep ravine. His passenger side wheels managed to scrape along the two-foot wide concrete ledge on the bridge, until the motorhome slammed into the earthen embankment on the other side. The windshield shattered, the generator, cabinetry and loose items flew forward. The bays opened and contents spilled. Then the rig started to slide backward into the ravine. Who knows what stopped it from falling in completely, but somehow it got wedged and the occupants were rescued. It was the most horrific accident I've ever seen and for those of us who drive these monster vehicles, quite a sobering sight.

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So glad the occupants got out safely. Be careful, everybody!

As we left Grand Marais heading back south toward Duluth we passed by the scene again and the RV was gone. As the wrecker pulled it out, it had caught on fire. We could see the burned grasses, but otherwise it all just looked kind of normal.

We spent three days at Burlington Bay RV Park in Two Harbors, about 30 miles north of Duluth, with full hook ups. We had a great view of Lake Superior, but this stop was mostly utilitarian. We had to catch up on chores as we didn't have any future FHU reservations, and therefore had no idea when we might have all the things again. It was a nice campground, but we were looking forward to our next stop in Duluth.

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Relaxing and catching up on chores in Burlington Bay RV Park.

Lakehead Boat Basin is one of those places that gets mixed reviews, folks either love it or hate it. On the surface, you might be tempted to wonder what all the fuss is about. It's nothing more than a big parking lot, and one that can be difficult to get situated in. It's a busy marina, so not the quietest place. Some construction is not unusual. But I won't keep you in suspense here, we are firmly in the "Love It!" camp. In fact, Lakehead Boat Basin has made it on to our Top Ten list of places we've stayed while fulltiming.

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Toadie keeps watch near our “campsite” at the Lakehead Boat Basin Marina.

What did we love about it? Well, first, we had a beautiful view of the marina. That header photo at the top? Not staged. We literally sat in that spot for hours, just feet from Scoopy, sipping wine and watching the sailboats and big freighters go by. The weather was perfect, though I did wrap up in my favorite blankie as the afternoon wore on. We sat out so long, Steven got terribly sunburned on his legs. Somewhere between the second and third bottle of wine, it occurred to us to take a photo. We had lots of good conversation that day and did a ton of future planning. It was just one of those wonderful, memorable days.

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Right by the bridge there are two lighthouses and it’s a great place to see the ships come in.

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One of the many ships to arrive during our stay. The scale is hard to convey in a photo. They are huge!

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The view out our window at the marina.

Second, we were walking distance to the vibrant downtown area full of great restaurants, a brewery, distillery, farmers markets, art shops and the granddady destination of them all, Duluth Trading Company. More on that later. And third, for part of our visit here we had fabulous company! Bill and Jodee arrived and parked right next to us for a couple of days and we crammed in a few happy hours and a lot of sightseeing during that short time. You just can't beat meeting up with good friends on the road!

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Lunch on a beautiful sunny day in Duluth!

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Downtown Duluth is so much fun to walk. Lots of art and architecture.

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The amazing view of Duluth as seen from Enger Tower.

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Food and fun with two of our favorite peeps: Jodee and Bill.

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We visited (revisited for Steven) Split Rock Lighthouse with Jodee and Bill.

The four of us made a stop at Duluth Trading Company where Jodee scored a new pair of Keenes, and Bill picked up a pair of Buck Naked undies. I think he’s now a convert. This was our second trip into the store and after Jodee and Bill departed, we made one more. This time, we had made some purchase decisions.

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We are all big fans of Duluth Trading so a visit to the store was a must!

Steven got three pairs of Buck Naked and a lightweight shirt that has been treated with permethrin. I got one each of Buck Naked and Armachillo undies. I also got a pair of super lightweight hiking pants and two pairs of Smartwool socks. I know what you're thinking, so let me just put this out there. Buck Naked wins over Armachillo, hands down.

But seriously, what's with all this stuff? Well, to answer that, we have to take a sneak peek into our future plans. In April 2019 (eight months from now!) Steven and I are going to France and Spain to hike the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) a 550-mile journey from Saint Jean Pied du Port in France to Finisterre, (literally "the end of the earth") on the west coast of Spain. There's a lot more to the story, of course, and we'll get to that soon, but in the meantime, expect more visits to Duluth Trading Company!

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We can’t wait for this upcoming epic adventure next year!

NEXT UP: Wisconsin and Michigan, the end of Highway 2