31 July 2010

Postcard from Iowa

30-31 July 2010
(Clear Lake, IA)

Flood control a little west of La Crosse
We left Hixton, WI with threatening cloud cover and it only got worse. Sometime after La Crosse the heavens opened up and the rig got a bath. Would have been fine if it weren't that the water hitting it was dirty: we were in the midst of some serious construction work.

Our stop this day was at Cedar Lake, IA for a one-niter. We stayed at Oakwood RV Park which had very easy pull thru sites. We're close to 60' when the trailer is connected, so if we didn't have to go after diesel I could have stayed connected for the nite. It was $28/nite with the cash discount, otherwise it was $30/nite. Not bad. For whatever reason, Celia was happy to be gone from here... ???

One problem. The access road looks like a war zone. The big rigs have really torn it up. When we tried to find the park, however, got a little screwed up because Mr. Garmin's directions were a little screwed up. We ended up arriving from the wrong direction which turned out to be the best direction... we missed all the pot holes. Well... until I drove out to fuel-up!

Tomorrow we're off to Nebraska.

30 July 2010

Postcard from Wisconsin

26-27 July 2010
(Chain o' Lakes, WI)

Great pizza!
Our stop at Chain o' Lakes KOA was a one-niter. It's all dirt/sand, but is so much nicer than our stay at Manistique we didn't whine. The surroundings are a beautiful rustic approach that works very well in this very woodsy area. Btw, this is the first KOA we've found that recycles!

The dogs had a great time walking new territory which included access to one of the lakes in the chain (28 lakes in the chain I think?). We hiked down to the launch ramp but our timing was terrible as we managed to become dinner for the mosquitoes. But it's a beautiful campground with great trees (conifers) and lots of signs reminding people to drive slowly to keep down the dust. By and large it seems to work as most followed the instructions.

We got into Eagle River (the nearby town) and had dinner at Butch's Pizza. Fantastic! If you stop in Eagle R you really need to think about this place for lunch or dinner. Great pizza!

We tanked up and were on our way to Alma Center/Hixton KOA the next morning.

27-30 July 2010

Hixton/Alma Center, WI KOA.
Hixton KOA was a one-nighter so we could rest a bit and shop for a few things. The KOA is right between the 2 towns... about 3 miles either direction. But if you want more than what you would expect at a 7-11, then you have to plan on 15-20 miles to Black River Falls.

This KOA is amazing. The grounds are immaculate. I had the feeling of staying in the front yard of a mansion. There were expansive lawns, trimmed shrubbery, everything well cared for. Loved it, and enjoyed touring the immediate area. Went to Bruce's Mound and left wondering: what the hell is a mound!? There were other "mounds" in the area, whatever they are. My guess is they are small hills, but... ??? If you know, please share.

This is an Amish area and we saw several of their farms. The coolest was one with wheat (or some grains) stacked in sheaves. And we happened to see the occasional horse draw wagon. I resisted the urge to get out the camera since the Admiral threatened to break it over my head if I didn't respect their privacy. Convincing argument!

We were up bright and early on the 29th, hitched up, disconnected water and sewer, and pulled out. Ummm, yeah. Well... we (I!) forgot to disconnect the power cable. This cord is over 1" in diameter and you would think I could remember something that big. But no... I pulled out without a clue.

We stopped at a rest stop near a set of locks around La Crosse, WI. After a break I was walking back to the rig and saw the yellow power plug still plugged into the rear connector. And there was no cable in sight. Oh crap! I figured it was a goner. And I feared we would have a sizable repair bill fixing their power pylon. But that wasn't case: the Admiral called the park and learned the pylon was fine. The only problem was the wires had been pulled out of the connector without breaking anything. So instead of heading to a Camping World we headed back to Hixton and stayed another night at the KOA so I could repair the cable (less than 5 minutes work).

So after a 3rd night at this wonderful park we really did manage our escape!

26 July 2010

Postcard from Michigan

Mare catchup... almost there!

25-26 July 2010

Maybe it was the fact we had to go home and didn't want to, but the Manistique KOA on the upper peninsula was probably the worst stop we've made so far. It's part of a motel and the restroom facilities for campers are inside. The Admiral says they were a disaster, so I avoided going near. Our 30-A campsite was so-so after adding a leveling board, but the breaker was defective and tripped several times even though we limited our electrical usage to less than 30-A. Plus our rig was probably a little bigger than expected in the site so getting out was a white knuckle affair. We made it after a couple tries... about 1/4" to spare getting past the pylon. Keep in mind I'm new at this, so maybe it was just me.

Couldn't wait to get going to Eagle River, WI in the morning!

25 July 2010

Postcard from Ontario

12-15 July 2010
(Thunder Bay, ON)

We made it to the border as early as I could manage (did I mention we're really, really slow to get going?!) and went thru the border crossing without a hitch. Remember the precaution of getting an International Health Certificate for the dogs? It made us feel prepared, but the border official was uninterested. He asked if we had proof of rabies vaccinations for both dogs (it's listed on the form), but he didn't even want to see it... just wanted to make sure we had it in case we were asked for it. That was probably $60 per dog that was wasted for the physical exam and form, but we followed the instructions on their site and that's what I understood they wanted. Go figure.

Remember our preparations the night before? where we threw out all the remaining produce and meat? That was the right thing to do. When we entered Canada the only thing they asked about was potatoes, but in talking to others apparently the items of greatest concern change with the wind. So getting rid of it was probably OK. And it left us stocked with fresh-everything when we finally headed north out of Thunder Bay.

We again stayed at a KOA and the one at Thunder Bay is a great choice. It was big enough that it made it great for walking the dogs (they get bored with the same old walk) and there was a lot of up/down so the exercise was good for us too. The best part was there was a dog run the was big. The loved it and ran their butts off each nite.

We were introduced to Canadian TV programming and, since we seldom watch regular US programming anymore, it was something of a treat. Among other niceties was a new show called Doyle's Republic and we got hooked. We were able to see 3 or 4 episodes, but now we want to see more and there's no way. Guess we're going to have to come back!

We were able to do the shopping needed to get us around the north shore of L Superior. In fact, we found a Safeway in Thunder Bay (only the 2nd Safeway we've seen since we left California in 2003).

We also went to WalMart and inquired about pre-paid phones. Our Alltel/Verizon phones were going to cost a bundle to get authorized for international use. The manager at the WalMart spent a lot of time with us telling us about the options, but suggested that we wait till we got further east as long distance rate were based upon the region where you buy the phone. If we waited for Sault Ste. Marie she thought we could save significant charges when using the phone to call ahead for reservations plus we weren't going to find cell coverage along the north shore. Made sense and we appreciated her candid explanation. In fact the kindness we received was repeated over and over our whole time in Canada.

Kakabeka Falls

Kakabeka Falls, just W of Thunder Bay, ON
We took one day and drove to Kakabeka Falls. We'd heard from friends Mike & Susan that it was a must-see if we were ever in the area and they were right. It was beautiful and the walkways were setup for viewing. Especially great for photographers.

Trying to get a drink (!) at Kakabeka Falls
We had the dogs with us, of course, which got a little exciting at times as I was trying to take a few pictures while someone would come up to ask about the dogs and to get in a few pats. Kelly is a little reserved but Annie loves the attention and will usually roll onto her back for a few belly rubs from her newest best friend. I'd be pointing my camera toward the falls and suddenly I'd have a view of the sky and on my way to a prat fall. But it was fun and Celia would usually be able to save the day.

We had a reality check in TB. I started noticing that, even considering any advantage in the exchange rate (less than 4% at the time), the prices for food & household items in Canada- stuff you'd buy at WalMart- were (and I'm sure still are) 10%-20% higher than in the US before you consider taxes. Restaurants were even worse... maybe 30%. We knew that fuel prices were going to be higher... been that way forever. Maybe they balance budgets thru cheaper rents or lower property prices. Dunno as we never had the chance to compare those prices.

15-17 July 2010
(Neys PP)

Along the hwy to Neys PP
When we'd finally convinced ourselves we were restocked, we left Thunder Bay for Neys Provincial Park following the west and then north shores of L Superior. Provincial parks are roughly equivalent to a state park in the US and our experience suggests that the provinces work harder at keeping them natural (no cutting wood, no picking up down-wood, etc.). They also keep the camp sites as natural as possible which can make it difficult to park in the site if you're a putz like me. Neys was our introduction to the PPs and what an introduction it was.

What a view of L Superior!
I'd found a web site that allows a visitor to make reservations on line. It took a lot of fiddling but I managed to find a pull-thru site with 30A hydro. I don't know about the other provincial parks in Ontario, but Neys didn't have sewer connections at any site. They do have dump stations so was going to be high-end dry camping: water and power, no sewer. Our site was facing the shore of L Superior and provided a view of the lake worthy enough to grace a poster. What a spectacular camp site.

The ranger that checked us in suggested pulling in opposite the normal direction so we could have the view thru our rear window. I eye-balled it, but it appeared that the 2 trees standing as sentinels at the entrance to the site were going to keep that from happening. Bummer. It was a great suggestion. It took some fussing but we eventually got situated and had a comfortable site.

The beach across from our camp site
Dogs are not allowed on the beach (another bummer!) which really limited what we could do. However, we were able to use the trails without restriction so we could hike.

Hiking required some caution. Ontario (and perhaps other provinces) is having a problem with invasive growth of Giant Hog Weed. The plant, originally from China, can be highly toxic and under the right circumstances has caused blindness. Our first walk near our campground found us dodging around a half dozen of these big nasties.

Our neighbor's rig
A neighbor at Neys told us that Thunder Bay didn't exist before 1970. In that year the adjoining cities of Port Arthur and Fort William merged their resources and became the city of Thunder Bay. Turns out he was a retired policeman from TB and a fountain of information for newbies like us.

We enjoyed our 2 nights in Neys - it was all I could manage to get and we wanted more! - but had to pull out of the best RV site ever made. We headed up the road about 50 miles to White Lake PP for another 2-nighter.

Wild flowers at Neys PP

I believe this was the landing area for brining in prisoners of war during WW-II

Sunset on the N shore of L Superior

17-19 July 2010
(White Lake PP)

Dense woods at our White L PP site
While Neys PP is on L Superior and situated with the shore as the focus, White Lake PP is very secluded with the camp sites obscured and no view of the lake it's named for unless you hike to the shore. White L is more rustic & woodsy than Neys with tall trees and low brush around each site. Our site had the same amenities as we found at Neys, but the hydro was further away. The power pylons seemed to be sprinkled without regard for where the camp sites are located. [ Sadly the many photos I took at White L PP seem to have vanished into the hungry bowels of my computer. This after-sunset shot is all I can offer. ]

Thanks to the seemingly random placement of the pylons, we struggled when it came time to connect since our power cord was only 25' and we needed about 60'. A neighbor helped us get situated and when he heard about our power dilemma, he immediately went digging for his 30-A extension. That proved to be too short, so we decided to just use a 15-A connection and string together however many cords we needed. A short while later he was back with yet another 30-A extension, this one from a friend of his that was camped up the road a bit. So with our 25' 50-A cable and 30-A/50-A adapter plus their two 30-A cables we were able to get connected. We were really taken aback by their kindness and willingness to help a couple old toots they'd never seen before and would likely not meet again. Wow! Thanks guys.

It turned out that most of the folks we saw at White L PP are locals who spend their weekends at the park. Their sites are chosen as part of a Spring lottery. While their rigs are all movable, they generally don't move further than the site they get assigned the next season. Since they had to be back at work come Monday, by Sunday evening things were really quiet. Families packed up the leftovers and the dirty laundry and headed home till the following weekend. There were perhaps 50 campsites in our immediate area with no more than 5 families in residence Sunday nite even though 45 of the 50 sites had a rig parked. (I recall a time when you could do this sort of thing at Yosemite in California... but that's ancient history!)

I asked one camper what the primary employment was in the area and he said most people work for the gold mine. He had a 2-hr drive to get home and left about 7 PM to catch some sleep before getting to work at 6 AM the next morning. He and his wife still took time to be gracious hosts as we chatted inside their (portable) screen room.

We could only get these 4 nights camping at 2 provincial parks. The parks are popular and booked pretty much to the max during the good-weather season. Plus many of the parks are small or have confined roads and can't accommodate our size rig. But we enjoyed what we could get, returned the borrowed power cables, and headed out for Sault Ste. Marie the next day.

19-25 July 2010
(Sault Ste. Marie)
Entrance at KOA Sault Ste. Marie
We made reservations at the KOA in Sault Ste. Marie before we left Thunder Bay as we knew we wouldn't have internet access while we were on the N Shore of L Superior. It was a good thing too as the park is very busy, it's beautiful, and it's popular. There were weekenders and a few long term renters, but about half were like us: just passing thru. The park has lots of very tall trees to provide shade with just the right amount of filtered light to keep the grass growing and make it note seem too dark.

The office building
The owners had just recently purchased the park and were working hard to make sure everything was done right. They already have an off-leash area, but they hoped to expand it soon to several times its current size. Yee haw! Annie & Kelly are going to love that.

Sault Ste. Marie is where we decided to get the pre-paid phones which we did. Back to WalMart since we had gotten such knowledgeable advice there when in Thunder Bay. Well, the advice wasn't as good, but thanks to the previous help we knew what was going on and bought the phones. I managed to get one set up right away. We needed to make reservations in Barrie & Parry Sound as we got ourselves on the way to visit with Doug & Pat of home-made-doughnut fame, as well Glen & Dale who were our neighbors in Clewiston, FL.

Then I called Verizon to get voice mail messages and what should I find but 3 messages from our alarm company... never a good sign. Protection One was having trouble accessing the alarm to do their test of the system and wanted us to know so we could schedule a tech for repair. We called the person who was checking our house occasionally and I happened to reach her while she was there. Perfect timing, but the news wasn't so good. Turns out there was a power problem. Some lights were working, but everything in the kitchen was dead including the appliances. Oh joy.

Then we called friends who are familiar with the house pretty well in order to get a 2nd opinion and an  objective look at what the problem might be. They ran thru pretty much every circuit and found the ones that were alive and of those that were dead they all had tripped GFIs which wouldn't reset. So with that choice bit of info we had a couincil meeting. The consensus was we needed to go home. Not a good news day.

We dragged our feet another couple days, taking a walking tour of the waterfront area of Sault Ste. Marie. The replica of BOUNTY was there and we dodged around more goose-poop than I've ever seen in my life. The dogs had no issue with it... they think goose-poop is an hors d'hourve!
Sault Ste. Marie waterfront
The HMS BOUNTY replica

The BOUNTY again

In the US what this tourist is looking at would be called a 'dolphin striker'. Dunno what the Royal Navy thought to call it!

Our Sault Ste. Marie KOA camp site... nice!
View past the DIY rig-washing site

The large-group open area
More of Sault Ste. Marie KOA

But eventually there was no choice but to pull the plug and get moving southwest. I called and cancelled all the just-made reservations and we moved back across the border. An
d what an experience that was

12 July 2010

Postcard from Minnesota

7-8 July 2010
(Moorhead, MN)

We headed north on I-29 to Fargo, ND (remember the movie? it wasn't even in Fargo!), then turned across the river to Moorhead, MN. It was a grey ride with only a little light rain. We were pretty happy about that as there had been some nasty T-storms across the region the night before. They missed Sioux Falls but clobbered the area we were driving thru. Neither of us had been very happy seeing the Tornado Watch pop up on the bottom of the TV screen with a list of affected counties. Apparently no tornados formed that night and we were out of the region before new T-storm activity could start that afternoon.

I'd made a reservation for the night at the KOA in Moorhead. It was a challenge getting there as there was major construction going on and we missed the correct turn the first time. After we got to the site I realized I wasn't in what I'd requested on line. In fact, when I got the confirmation it was for a lesser price than the site I'd selected. When I asked at the office I was told what they gave us was all that was available. The site was nothing but 2 muddy ruts and would have taken more than the 2 boards we carry to get the coach level; it had 30 Amp power instead of 50 Amp; and there was no sewer connection. When we looked around at the rest of the park we realized it had probably been underwater for awhile. So, since I hadn't unhitched, it was no big deal to pull out of the site and leave.

We stopped on the road in front while I called a golf/RV resort in Detroit Lakes, MN and found a space for the nite. The resort turned out to be a very upscale park directed at golfers, but they made sites available for transients to keep the occupancy max'ed out. Most of the sites are deeded (privately owned) and all were perfectly landscaped. We were in the newest section which was furthest from the clubhouse... it was perfect for us non-golfers. It was a showplace. Gorgeous.

8-11 July 2010
(Detroit Lakes, MN)

Diesel was a challenge at Detroit Lakes. I must have driven 15 miles, most of it in circles, before I spotted diesel at a Sinclair station. With that done the nite before, we were away early and headed for the general area of Duluth, MN to the town of Cloquet, MN.

Enjoying the view (but not the heat!)
Overlook at the Welcome Center
It was a pleasant drive to Cloquet thru rolling, wooded country side. We even found a great lunch stop beside a lake. The park was another older KOA which mostly serves weekender clientele. Our timing was unfortunate as our stay overlapped the weekend and we had to move for the last nite. But there was a WalMart and other shopping nearby and we found a place with very good pizza for our nite out.

Duluth street fair
Some folks were actually (aarrgh!) working
We drove into Duluth and found there was a street fair going on in the older downtown area. We wandered thru and the dogs drew a lot of attention. Most people find old retirees like us pretty much invisible, but dog lovers will ever ignore our dogs. We end up meeting a lot of new people who would normally pass us by with no more than a nod.

...and this is the old guy himself
Lief Ericson Park...

Amazing gardens at the park

Getting out of Duluth turned out to be a challenge. I-35 was all torn up and we had the devil's own time finding the detour. I stared holes in the map trying to get oriented (it was a highway map and lacked detail), but eventually I spotted enough landmarks that we managed to connect to MN-61 which follows the West shore of L. Superior.

11-12 July 2010
(Grand Marais, MN)

The Admiral spotted a pie shop on the way to Grand Marais, MN, but traffic was heavy and by the time I spotted parking adequate for us I was past the entrance with no way to turn around. So the Captain was in deep doo-doo. The road is a little tight with a few miles of construction and some potholes to avoid, so I was pretty busy staying out of trouble. All-in-all the road was fine all the way to Grand Marais, especially when I spotted another pie shop on the outskirts of Grand Marais. Hallelujah! I am saved!

Grand Marais City Park
Lots of space to walk
Grand Marais, MN is a gem. We stayed at the city park and enjoyed the stop immensely. It's right on the shore of L Superior and is a beautiful setting. The next time we come this way we'll know to get reservations well ahead and enjoy the area for awhile. The town goes out of the way to attract tourists- both US & Canadian- and there was a lot to see with just a little strolling. I understand they put on a great fireworks display for the 4th.

Grand Marais Harbor entrance
We did a little prep'ing before heading to the border in the morning. We off loaded everything that was fresh food per the instructions on Canada's web site associated with imports.

We got an early start (for us!), walked the dogs, dumped more garbage, then drove the 30 or so miles to the Canadian border, much of the drive along the lake shore.

07 July 2010

Postcard from South Dakota

Nice easy site in Kennebec KOA
27-29 June 2010
(Kennebec, SD)

The drive from N. Platte to the KOA in Kennebec, SD was pretty amazing. We used US-83 which is all 2-lane road which took us through beautiful rolling hills, the Rosebud Sioux Reservation and finally to I-90 and on to Kennebec. It's a very narrow road but it's lightly traveled and the scenery is spectacular. Farm equipment can be a problem as happened as we left N Platte. It had been raining a lot (we saw flooding on a lot of the farm land) so everything was green.

On-site lunch & dinner if burgers & 'dogs are OK
Office & food barn

Lots of grain elevators around here!

The owners at the KOA were originally from Maine (how appropriate they should buy a KOA park in Kennebec, SD!) and work hard to keep folks happy. The town is very small so we were happy that they offer on-site hamburgers or hot dogs at lunch & dinner. We took the grand tour thru town and were back at the park in about 20 minutes. There is a small bar & steakhouse in town, so it's not without what a traveler needs.

29 June-7 July 2010
(Sioux Falls, SD)

The falls Sioux Falls is named for
 Sioux Falls, especially in the immediate area of the falls, is gorgeous. However our first few nights were spent well East of town at Jelly Stone RV Park. As you can imagine from the name, it's a (very!) family oriented park. So they were booked for the 4th of July holiday as much as a year ahead. We had to get out on 2 July so we headed back toward town to the KOA. Both parks are adjacent to I-90 but the KOA is noisier if you aren't in the area with trees. We weren't. On the plus side, this KOA has a decent size play area for pets, so we enjoyed it more than Jelly Stone.

We were in Sioux Falls with a mission: our truck & RV were already registered in South Dakota, but we had to get our driver's licenses and arrange for insurance. So we got to it immediately. We stopped at Alternative Resources to make sure there wasn't some secret password we needed to know, then we walked the 60-70 yards to the small and very busy office. Getting our DLs was quick as by some miracle we got to the office at a lull. By the time we left there was probably a 1.5-2 hour wait. They asked if we were RVers ("yes"), if we had a receipt from the RV park ("yes"), and did the receipt have both names on it ("yes"). You need these three "yeses" or you're not going to be a happy camper. Since RV parks in the area know the requirements, it shouldn't be a big deal to get registration folks at the park to enter all the names for those getting DLs.

We buzzed thru the process except for registering to vote. They wouldn't let us do that because we had a mail forwarding address. Other than voter registration, we walked out with shiney new licenses declaring us residents of South Dakota. We thought we were going to have a problem, so we asked Alternative Resources about registering to vote. They said they could take care of it for us and Presto! It was done. And we know it was done properly since we received our absentee ballots and voted.

We talked to the insurance broker adjacent to Alternative Resources and mentioned on their site. It's named Dougherty Associates and Jim Dougherty happen to also own the building where both offices are located. He did the usual survey of prices and we ended up saving a substantial amount compared to Progressive who previously had our RV plus our 2 vehicles covered. We were happy with the coverage they provided us and also managed to get an umbrella policy which no one else was able to offer.

After I dropped the trailer on the bed-saver and mashed the cable back in March, we started having progressively more trouble getting the landing gear to operate long enough to get any meaningful lift before it would cut out; lowering wasn't a problem. I tried to use the manual crank a couple times but you would have to be really, really desperate to use that approach. So while we were in Sioux Falls we contacted the local Montana dealer (Schaap's RV Traveland) and asked for help. The service manager worked us in and 2 hours later the landing gear were working properly plus I didn't have to ask them to do the recall inspection related to the sealant used for roof penetrations (everything was OK). Very impressed! The electrical problem turned out to be a faulty thermal breaker in the landing gear/stabilizers circuit. All is well again.

The walk along the river front at the falls.
We took one afternoon to go to the falls so I could play with the camera awhile. Not an easy thing to do since we had the dogs in tow. But we spent some time around these spectacular falls and very much appreciated their beauty. We saw more than one NWS flood warning yet there was no evidence where the flooding could be occurring (??). The downtown and South part of town all looked to be without damage, so there's more to it than we could understand in our brief visit.

The crowds at the falls were pretty impressive. Even had a wedding party that came there for their photo session. The photographer saw may camera and positioned himself between me and the bride. Must have thought I was a friend of the family trying to cut into his work. And I was in the standard RV uniform: old jeans, faded T-shirt and deck shoes. Oops!
The holiday brought everyone out to play, take photos

Train loaded with holiday tourists... went this as far, then backed up

By the time 7 July rolled around we were ready to be on the road again. We were headed for Canada by way of Minnesota and L Superior. We were going to head North on I-29 to Fargo, ND, then turn East to Moorhead, MN for the night.