Sunday, August 29, 2010

Driving across South Dakota

Today was a battle with the wind as I crossed South Dakota.  I left Summit, in the northeast part of the state, and headed due west on US 12 for 145 miles.  This drive was mostly flat with a scattering of lakes for the first 30 miles or so.  I saw a lot of ducks, geese, and cranes when around the lakes.  I saw turkeys twice within the first 15 minutes of my drive and later saw a couple of pheasants.  I almost hit a few birds that tried flying against the wind in front of me before they realized that flying against the wind was not happening today.

I then headed south on US 83.  The scene was pretty much the same except road kill changed from just skunks and raccoons to also some fox and deer.  After the turn south it was about 85 miles into Pierre.  I like to visit state capitals so I had my eye open for an opportunity to stop and visit this one.  I got lucky and as I saw the dome a few blocks over on my right I was able to pull over on a side street.  I walked over and was lucky again as it was open to the public on a Sunday.  It was 100 years old the end of June so it was all cleaned up and restored to celebrate.  It was a very cool building. 

I then walked about 6-7 blocks over to check out the Missouri River.  I was surprised how huge it is in SD.  I took a couple of pictures, well I thought I did, that turned out to be mini movies because I somehow moved the setting on my camera.

It was then on south from Pierre to I-90 where I went west about 70 miles to my stopping point at a KOA just east of Belvidere.  No in route pictures for today as the battle with the wind required both hands on the wheel and there weren’t any places to pull off.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Day trip to Grand Forks

I put on 389 miles today going round trip to Grand Forks, ND.  Why?  To see Ralph Engelstad Arena - "The Ralph", home of the University of North Dakota hockey team.  I've heard so much about it during my Frozen Four trips that I just had to go.  It was as amazing as the hype.  UND certainly got a wonderful gift from Ralph.  The grandeur surpasses any arena I've ever been in.  It isn't the largest arena compared to the pros (it is the largest for college hockey) but it is the most plush starting with all marble everything.  It's no wonder UND can attract talent to it's team.  Here are a few pictures and a link to their site to read some statistics:

I drove around Grand Forks and UND some to check it out.  I liked what I saw.  I'll throw in a picture of the drive across eastern Dakotas.  Pretty much level farmland.

Southeast North Dakota
Two things got my curiosity up while driving.  First seeing a sign for the Continental Divide.  As I thought about it, there has to be a north-south one as much as east-west.  Sure enough, I found this website that discusses continental divides just in case you are in a learning frame of mind:

Wind turbine piece
The second thing was seeing many parts to the giant wind turbines going by on trucks. The length of those "arms" of the spinny things (is that technical enough?).  I found a number of sites on wind farms in the Dakotas and it seems to be a very big thing which I think is very cool.

Friday, August 20, 2010

August 2010 - so far

Crossing the Mackinac Bridge
Mackinac Bridge from lookout on US 2
From Gaylord, it was a weekend of driving (8/7-8) to get to a new area other than MI and WI where I’ve been for almost 2 months. I headed north back across “The Bridge” and then took US 2, all day, all the way to Ashland, WI on Lake Superior. It again was a familiar drive from many years ago. We used to go up to Ironwood from Green Bay to go skiing. The old ski areas are still there and looked to be kept up based on the entrance signs (no I didn’t pull in). I slept overnight in the Ashland city beach parking lot with a storm raging much of the night. I just can’t seem to shake the rain and storms. It seems that wherever I’ve been the last month the rain and storms appear. It’s like it is making up for the last 12 years of AZ living or something. I woke up Sunday morning to dense fog so my hopes of nice sunrise pictures of the bay and Apostle Islands were not going to happen so I just hit the road to my next destination. This drive ran the experience gamut.  It was nice in WI but became very scary where construction had the lane down to barely a foot on each side of me as I left Duluth going south.  Then when I headed west in MN I was thinking “land-o-lakes”, not, it is “land-o-swamp”.  It was miles and miles of swamp across northern MN.

Sherwood Forest guard
Parked at Sherwood Forest
I arrived at Sherwood Forest CG (8/8) just north of Garrison, MN early afternoon on Sunday. This was a huge place that was 99.9 percent purchased camping lots. People buy a small lot and put something on it as their place up north. I think it is maybe 2 hours at the most due north of the twin cities so it is a convenient destination for weekends. I spent the week working and listening to rain pound on the roof. Did I mention that it rains every where I go? I parked on the highest spot I could in the designated space. By the time I left a puddle of water was several inches deep to within a foot of my door. Ugh.

Sherwood Forest CG lots
I finally had a nice sunny day on Saturday (8/14) so I drove back up to Aitkin. I had driven through on my way to the CG and noticed the welcome sign reading “Riverboat city on the Mississippi”. I thought this would be interesting to check out since I figure I have to be within 100 miles of the river’s origin. Seeing the river here versus St Louis was really cool. Riverboats? There were none to be found but I wasn’t surprised by that.
Mississippi at Aitkin, MN
Sunday (8/15) was travel day again. The planned destination was Big Stone City, SD. I left the CG and headed south on 169 and then west on 23 through St. Cloud where the Mississippi was quite large already! Once I started across highway 23 it wasn’t so swampy anymore. Starting maybe around New London it was all pretty flat, open, farmland all the way west. I arrived at my CG, paid and headed to my campsite. Well, did I mention there had been a lot of rain). This campground really should not have sent a 40 foot motor home down their narrow road. It’s a pretty new CG and they aren’t very experienced. When I tried to squeeze into my site I had to swing wide for my long wheel base and guess what. The soil under the grass was so saturated it was like quicksand. Down I went. So, 2 hours and a tow truck later (at least it was an easy pull out) I’m pulling back up on dry land and cranking up the computer to look for a new destination. I got really, really lucky. A campground only 35-40 miles away came up in my search. I called and yes there was a spot that can handle me (lots of questions asked). So, off I go and arrived to a very nice, brand new (but well run by a knowledgeable guy) CG in Summit, SD. What a relief after a stressful last few hours.

Summit is a tiny town but the CG is great, the owner is a super guy, a local farmer brings by free, fresh produce. Cell/air card reception is the best of the trip – all is good. Oh, and so far I’ve had a lot of sunshine and only one day/night of fog, rain and storms. Pretty much constant wind, but at least I can recharge in some sun.
County-Line CG Summit, SD
At County-Line campground, Summit, SD

July 2010 Summary

The next leg took us to Manistique, MI (7/2). We had a very nice drive across northern WI and into the UP of MI on a beautiful day. This brought back memories of the old days fishing, camping and motorcycle riding all around there. Our stay in Manistique was a nice 6 days over the July 4 weekend. We walked the boardwalk, visited Big Spring (Kitch-iti-kipi), visited Fayette and went to the beach. Then the rain came just in time for us to leave.

On 7/6 we drove across one of my favorite roads, US 2, on the south edge of the UP to St. Ignace. It had been many years (maybe 15+) and it was surprising to see how the shore line of Lake Michigan has changed so much. The water level had been way down for years and it looks like vegetation took hold on the old beaches. Now that the water levels came back up, there are no beaches where there used to be miles and miles of beach. There is still the one stretch where people stop all the time but that is about it. Oh well.

Lake MI between Petoskey and Charlevoix
We crossed the Mackinac Bridge (Ann went in the back and didn’t watch) to the LP and on to our next CG near Gaylord. We stayed there for a week and visited the Elk herd, took some walks, and did a day trip to Petoskey and Charlevoix that was very beautiful. It was cherry season so we got some fresh cherries, oh so good.

Did I mention that I work during the week and we do this stuff evenings and weekends? It will be nice to retire and be able to spend all day every day doing fun stuff.
Papa Elk

Where to next? It was south (7/11) to the White Cloud/Newaygo area to the Woodlands on the Lake CG for 2 weeks. This was the cheapest place within driving distance of Rockford (my parents) and Grand Rapids (old friends). Based from here we visited family and friends. Ann flew back to Phoenix in the middle of this period (7/17) to go back to work (ugh). So, starting the second week here I’m on my own for a couple of months or so. This is also when the rain set in. Every day! We are at mid-July and it is supposed to be dry and hot. Well, it is wet and hot. I had to sneak walks in the woods and around the CG between rain downpours. I had forgotten about deer flies.  OMG, they were horrible!

I pulled out of this CG (7/25) and parked at my brother’s place for a week while I made a trip to Virginia for work. When I got back I headed north (7/31) back to the same campground near Gaylord. On the way up I spent the afternoon at a friend’s cottage on Lake Mitchell in Cadillac. It was a great time (in spite of more rain) visiting with a bunch of college friends that gathered there for the day. I didn’t really do anything special during the week in Gaylord other than a drive (8/7) down to Houghton Lake and back (go to Camping World for RV stuff) and see the area.

The Journey Begins - June 2010

Once the vacation ended (6/28) Ann and I headed to a campground (I shall abbreviate campground as CG from now on for brevity) just north of Madison, WI where we stayed a couple of days so we could visit friends. The main attraction was the Harmony Bar in Poynette (6/29) owned by Frozen Four friend Mark and frequented by newer Frozen Four friend Monty.

We next headed straight north (6/30) to Rhinelander and the West Bay Camping Resort with a stop in Steven’s Point to have dinner with Nola. Our stay in Rhinelander was a great 3 days. The CG and weather were both very nice. A nice canoe trip around the lake was very enjoyable.
West Bay Camping Resort

The Vacation

Illinois Beach State Park
We hung out around Evanston and Chicago for a couple of days. The really big news on 6/17 was Jake proposing to Angela while in Chicago. He even invited Alex, me, Ann and his parents (who flew in from Seattle just for this) to a celebration dinner after proposing (we obviously knew about it ahead of time).  It was a surprise to Angela when we were all sitting around the dinner table waiting for them.

Parked at Illinois Beach State Park

After we gathered our emotions we headed to Rockford, MI (6/18) where a family gathering was scheduled. We had to drive the motor home because, of course, everyone wanted to see our new house. Visualize a rookie 40 ft motor home driver going through Chicago and around the Loop, but I made it.
In Chicago just hours before the proposal

Dinner after proposal
We hung out in Rockford for a few days. The original plan would have now taken us north across “the bridge”, across the UP, down through Green Bay and back. That just wasn’t going to work for 5 people in the motor home so we headed back to IL Beach State Park (6/21) where we stayed and did day trips from there. We drove up to Green Bay and visited friends whom we hadn’t seen in eons, went to Krolls, and did a tour of Lambeau Field. The next day we drove back down to Milwaukee to do a Miller Brewery tour and attend the Mariners/Brewers game at Miller Park. We drove back “home” after the game.
At family gathering
On Lambeau field
Wait the excitement isn't over, the next day we attended a wedding of a high school friend of Angela’s in Chicago (Sears Tower). Sadly, the next day was the end of the fun when Angela and Jake flew home (6/27).

Where to first?

The somewhat ironic thing was that we had already had a 2 week vacation planned in Michigan and Wisconsin with the kids which fell one week after the house closing. Angela and Jake were to meet us at Alex’s place in Evanston, IL and we would make a loop from there visiting family, friends and the sites (most important – Lambeau field). Plan B kicked in now – we would drive rather than fly. So, off we went.

Because this vacation had a particular window when everyone was available, we didn’t get to take our time getting to Evanston. We had to bust butt to be on time for our vacation. Not the way this lifestyle is meant to be, but, things happen.

Since this all happened 2 months ago (June) and I'm just getting this blog going, I’m not going to give details like I will in the ongoing blog. The short story is, we left Phoenix (6/9) and drove south to Tucson to drop off some stuff with Martha and pick up Alex’s marimba from Scott. Over the next 6 days we headed east on I-10 into NM. North on I-25 to Bernardo where we took US 60/US 54 east to Santa Rosa; I-40 to Oklahoma City; I-44 to St. Louis; I-55 to Chicago; 294/94 north to Illinois Beach State Park near Waukegan IL (6/15) which was the closest campground to Alex in Evanston.

Here are a couple of pictures along the way.  We didn't take many because we were kind of stressed being new to driving a 40 foot motor home (pulling a car), fighting a gusty 25 mile and hour side wind for 3 days, trying to "make time", learning to navigate truck stops and fuel with truckers, figuring out where we will stay the next night, and we were familiar with the drive so it's not like it was new.  Taking pictures just wasn't on our mind yet.  By the way, throughout the blog you can click on pictures to get bigger images and then use the browser "back" button to go back to the blog (don't "close" the picture or you will close the blog).
Along I-40 in Oklahoma
Also in Oklahoma on I-40

The Start

Although the dream had existed for a long time the real thing still actually started suddenly in May.  We had been trying to sell the house, off and on, for a couple of years with no luck in this market.  The new house that we were supposed to move into was leased so no big rush.  We were once again just seeing what would happen by having it listed.  People would ask (including Ann) “what are we going to do if it sells” and I would say “move into an RV!”  Laughs would always be the reply.  Well, it sold and we bought an RV.  Surprise!  Chaos ensued for the next 5 weeks trying to buy an RV, downsize from 3,000 sq ft to a motor home and a storage unit, and of course our renters gave notice on the other house (sigh). I’m not even going to try to relive those 5 weeks here.  The carrot on the stick that kept us going was “hitting the road”.