Jon & Sherry's RV life…

Welcome to Jon, Sherry, & Dixie's Travel Blog

Home is where we park it! We're full-time RVers moving from job to job and season to season throughout the country, exploring the sights along the way. You can subscribe to the blog at the very bottom of the page and get an email whenever we update this...scroll down, it's there somewhere.

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October 1 – 15, 2020

Dang, we’ve already finished a quarter of our commitment at Snow Canyon State Park. It feels like we’re just getting started but we seem to have settled into a routine. We gotta slow down and find something we don’t like about this place otherwise the time will pass by so fast and we’ll be outta here way too soon.

Our arrival on the 30th of September coincided with Jordan’s, our trainer/supervisor/assistant park manager, weekend off so we had the 1st of October to get situated and acquaint ourselves a little with the park and St. George area. I wasted no time…up and out at the crack of dawn, I hit the trails. The campground is roughly in the middle of the main canyon along the only road in the park, which climbs about 1,000’ in four miles from the south gate on the St. George side up to the north entrance near highway 18. Just across this road from the campground a short connector trail meets up with a veritable maze of well-signed and named trails, all together totaling 38 miles in the park and just beyond its borders. In other words, Jon’s a happy camper/hiker…lace up my shoes, step out the door, look both ways, and pick a trail. That first morning I did the Hidden Pinyon, a part of Red Sands, Petrified Dunes, and a part of Whiptail. My goal is do them all before we leave, so far I’m well on the way to meeting the goal.

We reported to “work” at 8 a.m. on the 2nd. We’re scheduled for five days of four-hour shifts, either 8 – 12 or 12 – 4, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays off. After completing a few mandatory Utah State Park training videos on a computer, raiding the uniform closet, and getting a tour of the park, we were done for the day. The next two days we were under the tutelage of Maddy, a local volunteer, at the front desk in the small park office which also has a few visitor center-type displays including Jake the King Snake and an assortment of gift shop items. We got familiar with the computer-based reservation system, the routine for checking campers in and out, paid close attention to answers given for questions like “what trails should we hike” or “can we stay another night,” and generally learned a lot of stuff. Kind of overwhelming at first but like most new things, the more you do it the easier it gets. My rule of thumb…answer visitor questions with a confident tone and people will believe anything you tell them. Just kidding, I’m not afraid to say “I dunno, I’m new here” and ask someone else for the best answer.

The campground has 30 individual sites and two group sites spread out in two loops and a row of RV sites. We’re set up in the row of 14 tight RV sites pretty close to the office, a restroom, and a grassy picnic area. If the group sites aren’t reserved we can sell them as individuals, each with four sites. Twice we got out of the office to ride around in the Mule, a little 4wd utility cart, to clean sites and do a little yard work in the picnic area. It’s a relatively small campground, nothing like the 240 site campground we hosted in Michigan this summer, so it’s quiet and easy to manage. So far.

Aside from our office schedule, and since we were the only hosts on site until the 12th, we’re also asked to patrol the campground in the evenings. Unfortunately we don’t have a patrol car to patrol in; we walk the loops with Dixie when it cools off just after the sun sets behind the mountains and around 9:30 I do another walk to check for fires (no fires allowed, there’s a burn ban in effect) and camper noise. Most campers so far seem to be part of a more mature generation (aka older) so things are quiet by 9:30. We’ve only had to ask one guy to turn off his generator, tell one family they weren’t supposed to be climbing around on the adjacent rocks, and I had to chase a young couple out who were trying to camp out gratis in their car in the picnic area…“we thought it’d be OK, it’s a state park.” Uh, yeah, no, move along please.

I mentioned walking the loops after the sun sets…it’s been unusually warm here for this time of year they tell us. Temps reached into the low 90s several afternoons making it too uncomfortable for us part-time northerners to play outside in the afternoons. On our time off during days like that we just hung-out in air-conditioned happiness. But when the sun disappeared it was very pleasant out and the mornings until about noon were even nicer, a perfect time for hiking. We’re anxiously waiting for more Fall-like temps.

On our first weekend off, we became more familiar with trails in the park. Day one I did an early hike then we both did some later in the morning before it got too warm; day two we did a five mile loop combining several trails that took us by several of the different terrain features and highlights in the core of the park, all from our trailer door.

The next weekend we drove about an hour and a half northwest to a part of Zion National Park we’d never seen before, Kolob Terrace, outside the main over-crowded Zion Canyon. We did a four mile out and back hike on the Wildcat Canyon/Northgate Peaks Trail for a so-so view — waking up every morning in Snow Canyon has raised the bar a bit — but the scenery overall in the Zion up-country was worth the drive. On the 14th, Gerald & Nina and Denny & Darla drove up for a visit from Mesquite, Nevada. Gerald was a workamper I worked with at the Jellystone campground in New Hampshire in 2007 and ’08, before we hit the road full-time. He and other workampers then were my RVing mentors, I was constantly interviewing them and picking their brains about the full-time RV lifestyle and workamping. We hadn’t seen him since 2012 in California; we had a good time catching up with him and getting to know Nina and their friends Denny & Darla while on a short hike and a picnic lunch on our patio.

’Twas a good two weeks in a good new place. Sherry’s happy to be planted in one spot for a while, she was tired of being in travel mode for so long and was able to set up some autumn decorations and pumpkin lights, while I’m happy to be in a picturesque red rock canyon full of hiking trails, decent weather, and friendly mellow campers. I’m so inspired I came up with another Utah-some like descriptor…Ut-Awe! And this weakly related one, “I tot I taw a puddy-cat, did U-taw da puddy-tat? Hey, that reminds me of an old classic…How do you top a car?    Easy, you tep on da bwake.

OK, I’m done now.

September 27 – 30, 2020 Gettin’ to Utah, Part II…Utah-some!

Sept 27th – Trailer in tow, we got back on the road after a good break in a nice national park. I’m always reluctant to leave national parks, they just feel different, like we’re in some place special, even more so if we’re camping there. So we aimed for another national park, Capitol Reef in Utah. Went west on US 50 through Montrose and up to Grand Junction, I-70 to Utah state 24 south to Hanksville, and west again on 24 to the Capitol Reef campground. Jon & Sherry’s luck didn’t work for us there, they are on a reservation system and were completely full. We kept going and the few RV parks in nearby Torrey were full too. Ended up in a small farm town, Loa, 15 miles later, tired and ready for a beer. The only RV park in town was full but had a few dusty new sites that didn’t have the electric hooked up yet, just water. “Fine, can’t be too picky at this point. We’ll take it.”

Sept 28th – Back on the road…state 24 then 62 to US 89 south through Panguitch to state scenic byway 12 east about four miles to Red Canyon Campground in Dixie National Forest. Wow, what a setting for the last two nights of this journey… a small red rock canyon filled with big ol’ wonderful-smelling Ponderosa Pines, an introductory glimpse of even more stunning scenery to come just up the road at Bryce Canyon National Park. Here’s how nice it was…there was enough new stuff for us to see in the area we didn’t even go visit Bryce, a park we’ve been to a few times already, even though it was just 10 miles away. Got to the campground early enough to find an empty site we could fit in then, with Sherry feeling over her cold, went for a six mile hike on the Buckhorn and Golden Wall Trails in the hills above. I’ll let the photos speak for the Utah-someness of Red Canyon. And we had the trail pretty much all to ourselves, no crowds like in Bryce.

Sept 29th – Woke up to the coldest morning we’d had in a long time, it felt good. Left the trailer early to hike the short Hoodoo and Pink Ledges Trails just across the road from the campground, then drove back to US 89, south a little to state 14 west and climbed up to more than 10,000 ft in elevation on the Markagunt Plateau. Highway 143 took us to Cedar Breaks National Monument for another dose of red rock splendor. This time it was a massive three-mile wide amphitheater similar to what you see in Bryce, but again without the crowds; did a hike out to Spectra Point on the Ramparts Trail and stamped the passport book. Continued north on 143 through scenic sheep-filled meadows (sometimes they were on the road too) and mountains then dropped down into Panguitch in time for a late lunch. A helpful local at the Red Canyon visitor center yesterday mentioned the “chubby cheese” burger at Henry’s Drive-in…diets and cholesterol-watching be darned, we had to try ’em and we weren’t disappointed. Another nice day exploring some new red rock country.

Sept 30th – Woke up early to another cold one…heck, I wake up early all the time but being in a canyon in the mountain time zone, the sun doesn’t come up until 8 o’clock or so. When it was light enough I drove a short distance to a trailhead and hiked the Cassidy and Ledge Point Trails for one last photo. Well, maybe a hundred last photos, then went off-trail for different views back to the car. The campground was closing for the season at 11 a.m., and we had a commitment for October 1st, so it was time to hit the road again but we weren’t in any rush, it was the last day of the trip and we knew there was a spot waiting just for us. It was a relatively short, easy drive back up US 89, state 29 west over the mountains to I-15, and south to St. George in the southwest corner of Utah. From downtown it was about eight miles through $$$$$ subdivisions to Snow Canyon State Park, home for October and November. A few of the the campsites, including our host site, were designed and built last century before RVs were huge with multiple slide-outs; it took us 45 minutes to maneuver the trailer into the exact position between a pavilion and the utilities that allowed us to open panels, the door, the steps, and the slides. Tight fit. And it was a sunny 90 somethin’ degrees on black pavement while doing it. Not fun, but the scenery in the canyon…our back/front yard…is spectacular and it was worth it. We’re excited to be here and are looking forward to exploring the area in the weeks to come. Utah-some.

Life is Good.

September 16 – 26, 2020 Gettin’ to Utah, Part I

As I wrote last time, we were in the Minneapolis area for a VA appointment on the 16th, a regular ENT follow-up for my little Squamish drama (throat cancer treatments) a year and a half ago. After a photographic peek in my throat using the wonderful nose camera scope, I was given a thumbs up, a set of prints, a lollipop and sent on my way. While I endured the boogercam, Sherry was on the geocache trail in Apple Valley.

Sept 17th – Hitched up and hit the road for the first leg of the journey to St. George, Utah. Went south on US 52 to the northeast corner of Iowa then states 9 and 76 to Marquette and McGregor, a pair of old Mississippi River towns, and stopped at Pikes Peak State Park for the night. In the afternoon we backtracked a little to check out Effigy Mounds National Monument; walked up a nicely wooded trail to see a sample of the Pre-Columbian Native American mounds, some in the shape of a bear, and views of the big river valley on a two mile loop. Wandered up and down the main street of old McGregor and found a geocache or two on the way home.

Sept 18th – On the road again, for about an hour…south along the river to US 52 then state 136 to Dyersville, Iowa where we turned off into the corn fields to find the Field of Dreams movie site. Yeah, he built it and we came. It was the original site used in the movie — we watched the 1989 Kevin Costner flick a couple nights before to get in the right frame of nostalgic mind, and to get trivia answers for a geocache puzzle — and it still looks pretty much as it did then but with a few added buildings. Sherry faded into the cornfield but we didn’t tour the farmhouse, an actual farmhouse by the way, not just a fake movie prop. We did get a soda and a bag of crackerjacks to snack on while sitting in the bleachers and did a two-person wave while some guys were warming up for a game. A worthwhile road trip break slightly off the beaten path. Back on the beaten path, down US 151 and 218 near Cedar Rapids, then US 6 a short distance to Kent Park Campground west of Iowa City to grab one of the last available open campsites. It was a first-come first-served campground on the Friday of an apparently popular camping weekend…it seemed at least half the sites were saved, all with a camp chair held in place with a piece of firewood. Locals must have come a day or two earlier to ensure camping success. Anyway…after setting up, we went east a ways to check out Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, where the 31st president was born in 1874 and the home of his namesake presidential library. The visitor center was closed due to the virus thing but we could wander among a cluster of historic homes, including his little birthplace cottage, and see his and Mrs. Hoover’s gravesite.

Sept 19th – We chose this spot to stop for a few days for three reasons, the first was Hoover’s place. The second was the Amana Colonies a few miles to the west. In the 1850s and 60s, German communal religious immigrants established seven orderly villages all no farther apart than an hour’s drive by oxcart. They became known for their handcrafts and other manufactured stuff but eventually their communal life was set aside and from what I could see, using their heritage and preserved villages, particularly the main village of Amana, they embraced the idea of removing dollars from tourist wallets and purses. It happened to be the weekend of Apfelfest during our visit. We were looking forward to a quaint village, fall colors, all sorts of apple goodies to smell and taste…you know, the quintessential Autumn festival. Instead, we got the everyday Amana, the only difference was they slapped a label on the weekend and every weekend in Amana has a different theme. For this fest, the only evidence of apples was one table with a few bushels of apples for sale set up outside the visitor center, and using a handout supplied by them, we stopped in seven shops to get a free special apple product sample. The chocolate shop was plain ol’ carmel and the smokehouse wasn’t even aware they were part of the whole thing, they weren’t handing anything out because of the virus thing. But we got all the required signatures and could win a $100 gift certificate. Festival! So, we wandered up and down the streets, found a couple geocaches, ate some pastries, and didn’t ooh and ah at any historical quaintness. Oh yes, they did remove some of our dollars too. Leaving Amana, we drove a loop through five of the other six villages then made our way south via farm roads a bit to Kalona and found an Amish bakery recommended by a camper we chatted with back at Pikes Peak. He said they’d have the best kolaches, a Czech pastry we had to try. They’re like a smushed dinner roll with a heavy glob of fruit filling on it, different but too sweet for me. Eight miles later in Riverside we stopped at another famous American’s birthplace, or rather, place where he WILL be born. Captain James T. Kirk will be born in either 2233 or 2228 (there’s some confusion and controversy among Trekkies about this) there and there’s a statue, museum, and salon/house to prove it. Quirky and ridiculous…yes. However, it’s a brilliant tourism marketing idea; it got us to visit little Riverside and we’re not Trekkies, although I think some of the movies were good. That was a busy day.

Sept 20th – A day off to relax…days of driving ahead of us.

Sept 21st – Hitched up to get on the road. South mostly on state 149 and other backroads through all the dried up corn fields and little farm towns to Eldon for the trip-break of the day. In 1930 American artist Grant Wood painted the famous “American Gothic” using his dentist and sister as models in front of a small white house with a peculiar window (the models never actually posed together and he worked from a sketch of the house). The house, built in 1881 and now on the National Register of Historic Places, is still there and like Captain Kirk in Riverside, it draws thousands of people to quiet Eldon. We had to stop and have a little fun. From there we dropped south a little more to state 2 at the bottom of Iowa and turned west, stopping for the night at Waubonsie State Park up in the wooded hills above the Missouri River valley and the Nebraska border.

Sept 22nd – Up and on the road early again. Crossed into the bottom left corner of Nebraska, dropped down to US 136 then west to Beatrice and our next trip-break, Homestead National Monument. Surprisingly, the heritage center was open; we were able to watch the video, check out the exhibits commemorating the Homestead Act of 1862, and a quick look at a homesteader’s cabin and restored tall grass prairie. From there, travelled the bottom of the state on highway 4 and US 34 to McCook. Stopped for the night there in a small roadside park on the edge of town with free RV sites, including electric hookups. Not the quietest place to spend a night but it was the right price for a stopover.

Sept 23rd – Continued on US 34 west to state 25 south into the upper right corner of Kansas. About 40 miles west of Atwood on US 36, one of Sherry’s tires blew out. Good thing we use walkie talkies, I might have gone on a while before realizing she wasn’t behind me anymore. I was able to get off the highway a half mile ahead of where she pulled over and started walking back to change the tire. Halfway back a nice Kansan lady stopped to give me a ride and during the whole ordeal at least three other nice folks stopped to check on us. The bad tire had a chunk missing on the sidewall…time for new tires. Drove on another 50 miles south to Goodland, found a friendly tire place, enjoyed lunch while the car was on the rack, and we’re back on the road in a couple hours. That was our unplanned trip-break for the day. Took I-70 west into Colorado, US 24 to Colorado Springs, and state 115 down to US 50. Stopped at Haggards RV Park, halfway between Pueblo and Canon City. Another seemingly long day on the road through some un-spectacular scenery, until we hit the mountains at Colorado Springs, and some city traffic. Mountains! Hadn’t seen any of those since April. Woohoo!

Sept 24th – Kept on going…west on US 50 through scenic canyons along the Arkansas River and over mountain passes until state 347 a bit east of Montrose, then climbed up again to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park — the 46th national park we’ve been to out of 63 total —   to set up for a few nights stay in the south rim campground. Sites are first-come first-serve; we were a little worried we might not get one of the limited electric sites big enough to fit our rig but we lucked out, we got there not long after check-out time and snagged a perfect spot. We were happy campers. Really. Sherry was slightly down with a little cold so she chilled for the afternoon. I went on a short loop hike to the visitor center for a first glimpse of the canyon and some info.

Sept 25th & 26th – Took off early to do the seven mile scenic drive along the canyon south rim. Stopped first at the visitor center overlook then all nine other scenic canyon viewpoints, some involved short hikes to the rim. While not as grand as the big ditch in Arizona it is nonetheless a beautiful deep and narrow canyon. Sherry wasn’t up to the last mile and a half hike to Warner Point (highest point in the park) at the end of the drive, so I scootered back up there in the evening for a quick sunset hike. Early the next morning I hiked a four mile loop from camp including the Oak Flat Loop Trail below the rim, then we drove the steep East Portal Road down to the Gunnison River for a view of the canyon from the bottom up. Having been there and done that, we did about all you can do on the south rim. There’s a road and of course different views on the north rim but it involves many hours and a relatively primitive road to get there, there’s no bridge across. We were satisfied on the south side. Stay tuned for Part II…

September 1 – 15, 2020

The end of August found us in Two Harbors, Minnesota. Not surprisingly, the beginning of September found us still in Two Harbors, Minnesota. Why would we leave? There were still things on our bucket list to cross off and we had two days to do them. 

Day 1…started with a walk around town; geocached in a park, walked to the end of the jetty to watch a big laker freighter come in. In the afternoon drove another stretch of highway 61 — the scenic “All American Road” running 150 miles from Duluth to the Canada border near Grand Portage; it flirts with the Lake Superior shoreline, passes through seven state parks and several lake front towns — from Two Harbors to Split Rock Lighthouse with a stop at Betty’s Pies for tasty nourishment (we hit this place when we passed through 17 years ago) and a short hike to see the many cascades at Gooseberry Falls State Park. 

Day 2…hit highway 61 again, this time almost all the way to the border. The main mission was to visit Grand Portage National Monument, we beelined the 120 miles to get there so we’d have a better idea of how much we could goof around on the return leg. Geocaching can really eat up time if you’re not careful, you know. The monument was interesting if history is your thing, and history is my thing. It’s the site of a late 18th/early 19th century fur trading establishment with a few living history characters ready to spew forth all sorts of knowledge. On the return trip we stopped to marvel at a collection of stuff, lots and lots of stuff, someone had on display in front of their home along the highway. I don’t know what to call it, at first I thought it was maybe stuff they’d collected on the lakeshore over the years, but there was much more substance to the collection, and it even had an artsy edge to it in spots. It was a head-scratcher…and weird. At another stop in Silver Bay, I hopped and skipped a quarter mile on a breakwater made with huge boulders — the boulders were too much for Sherry — to a windswept rocky island to find a lonely geocache.

On the 3rd, with a completed Two Harbors bucket list, we hitched up for an easy 65 mile drive north on state highway 2 to South Kawishiwi Campground, a nice forest service camp on a lake about 10 miles short of Ely. Ahhh…we were back in canoe country. My bucket list for the summer, since we left the resort at Kabetogama, pretty much had just one thing on it…do a canoe camping trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The BWCA is more than one million acres in size, extends nearly 150 miles along the Canada border, contains 1,175 lakes varying in size from 10 acres to 10,000 acres, and has more than 1,200 miles of canoe routes, 12 hiking trails and more than 2,000 designated campsites. It contains the largest contiguous areas of uncut forest remaining in the eastern United States. In other words, it’s bigger than just a dot on the map…and I saw just a very small piece of it. Access to the BW is controlled by limited permits to enter through one of the many designated entry points; I acquired a permit to enter near our campground on the 6th. 

With a couple days to kill, we went into Ely the next day to spend some money on necessary and unnecessary supplies, enjoy a late celebratory birthday lunch for Sherry, and on the way home found a friendly couple we met in Two Harbors who had moved to a camp not far from ours. The day prior to my trip I scouted the last segment of my planned canoe route; drove to the the entry point parking area, portaged the canoe a half mile to the Kawishiwi River, then paddled about three miles through some rocky waters with four short portages back to our campsite. 

Finally, early on the 6th Sherry dropped me off at the South Kawishiwi entry point (#32) and the long anticipated journey began. I’ll spare you the paddle-by-paddle commentary and try to sum it up briefly, hopefully the photos will show the story somewhat. During the six days and five nights out there, I paddled roughly 36 miles and portaged about nine miles total (I double-portaged…carried a load of gear on one trip, went back “empty” on the same trail, then carried the last pack and the canoe over…so a half mile portage trail ended up being 1.5 miles total walking…the longest portage was .7 miles, I was worn out on that 2.1 mile trek). The route I did is called the “Kawishiwi Triangle” but it looks more like an arrow with the added stretch outside the BW to the campground. Except for some strong wind the first day, fortunately at my back most of the way, the weather was perfect during the day and a bit cool at night. Annoying mosquitoes and other bugs…nonexistent. I’d read online the BW had been busy this season and was worried about finding campsites, but I stopped early in the day and never had a problem. Stayed two nights at an island site for nights three & four and explored “upriver” on a gear-less day trip. Saw plenty of people out there but usually in the distance except for day five. Met an interesting kid at a site I wanted — Colin was slowly packing to leave while I sat nearby and ate lunch — he was on a “gap year” exploring the country solo between high school and college (bio-medical engineering at Yale!), was familiar with WWII history, and asked me questions about the RV and workamping lifestyle. I was impressed. At the same site in the evening, I met my neighbors at a nearby site; one of the guys was from Hill City, SD and knows some people I know. Dang small world when that happens in a wilderness area. My last human encounter occurred right after that chance meeting; a couple I’d seen the day before at my island site paddled by at sunset looking for a campsite…“we’ve been looking for over two hours” but they were all taken. I would have offered to share my spacious site but every time I saw these people it seemed they were chattering away nonstop, and I heard the guy muttering something like “I can’t believe the government is so irresponsible…” when they discovered my site was occupied and I told them a couple more canoes had passed by not long before ahead of them. Sharing my quiet space with chatty paddlers not willing to accept responsibility for their own actions would not have been an interesting evening. I think they ended up camping illegally nearby, alone in their misery. 

My trip ended as planned by paddling right up to the campsite where the trailer was parked at dinnertime, a day earlier than I’d hoped due to some incoming rain. While I was gone, Sherry enjoyed her Jon-less time in the usual ways…geocaching in the area, checking out a black bear sanctuary, reading, watching season one of “Glee” on dvd, and just chilling.

Hitched up and left the woods on the 13th. I felt a little sad leaving, I prefer the times spent in more rustic campgrounds (even though we had electricity) out in the boonies away from the big towns and cities. It’s more like actual “camping” rather than “living in a trailer park.” Perhaps it was because we were heading to a metro area and nearing what feels like the end of a very nice summer. Headed back down highway 2 through the woods to Two Harbors then down 61 again to Duluth. From there I-35 took us south to Minneapolis-St. Paul where we set up for a few days at Lebanon Hills Regional Park Campground in a suburb on the south side of the cities. 

An appointment with the ENT doctor at the VA on the 16th was the reason for this stop. Fortunately, buddies Curt & Coleen were in the area too. We spent the 14th with them doing what the four of us do when we’re together — geocaching and eating. One Adventure Lab cache took us to sites connected to Prince Rogers Nelson, the pop musician formerly known as Prince, whatever he went by, including his recording studio and an artsy makeshift memorial in a pedestrian tunnel. The rest of the time there was spent doing errands, more geocaching, and, well, nothing much else. 

Until very recently, our plans after Minneapolis were TBD. We were waiting to see if the Canada border would be open so Sherry could grab caches in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. If not, we were contemplating various other routes to eventually get us to Arizona for the winter but not too soon to avoid any lingering summer heat there. While in Two Harbors, we finally came up with an answer to “what are we going to do after Minneapolis?” The first morning there, I happen to check a website for camp hosting opportunities in Utah state parks. Later in the day we called a park, talked a while with the assistant park manager, and boom! we had secured a two month hosting gig at Snow Canyon State Park just outside St. George for the months of October and November. We happened to call at just the right time, they had cancellations and needed hosts. Jon & Sherry’s luck strikes again. So, that means after Minneapolis, we gotta head to Utah. 

But first, some fun in Iowa…

August 16 – 31, 2020

Aug 16th to the 18th – The Door County Barn Quilt & Geocache Quest continued. Using the official DCBQ&GQ map, a county road map I found on the floor in the visitor center restroom, we had divided the county into four quadrants and I dazzled, or bored, you with the details of roughly two thirds of the quest in the last blog. On the 16th we finished the last fifth of the map. The only visit with a friendly local that day was with Father Tony, a retired priest who came out to say hi and take us into the barn to see his show chickens. Now, I’m not sure if he meant he “showed” them at county fairs and the like…maybe he meant sho’ as in “These chickens sho’ taste good with some barbecue sauce!”

The next day we drove all the way up to the tip of the peninsula to catch a ferry over to Washington Island. Somehow a couple barn quilts migrated across, probably during the winter when the lake was frozen, and we snagged those to really finish the quest. Spent a few hours driving the quiet roads on the island in search of geocaches which happen to be at all the scenic spots, like the Stavkirke, a Scandinavian style “Church of Staves” built in the 1990s and some lavender fields. Our last day in Door County was spent relaxing and exploring…I relaxed at home, Sherry explored (code for geocaching) Sturgeon Bay and a bit more of the farm roads near the RV park. She was bringing her total number of found caches up to 6,999; she had something special planned for the milestone number 7,000 on the next segment of the roadtrip.

Aug 19th to the 25th – Left Door County on the 19th, headed south on highway 57 to Green Bay, I-41 a bit, 55/151 down the east shore of Lake Winnebago, and 41 again to Saint Lawrence where we parked the rig in a church parking lot and went in search of the geocache number 7,000. Sherry did her homework and picked this one especially, she wanted a memorable milestone. She done good, we won’t forget this anytime soon. It was located at “Toadally Natural Garden,” a private naturist retreat farm with a clothing optional area. The friendly owners happened to be out doing chores where we parked; they each had shirts on but it became obvious that’s all they had on…she reached up to close a garage door and he was hopping on his riding mower…get the naked picture? The clothing optional area began on the other side of the barn, we opted to walk down the grassy hillside clothes on, you never know when there might be a mosquito nearby. There was a small pond at the bottom tucked among the shade trees with a few simple campsites and plenty of grassy space to let it all hang out in the sunshine. It was a nice, secluded setting. There were just five other people down there, two couples and a single guy appropriately social distanced around the pond. We suddenly felt overdressed. Mrs. owner was there with a naked couple enjoying the warm sun, we chatted briefly without staring too much then excused ourselves to find the cache a few steps away. It was not in sight of the pond area thanks to the trees so we suddenly felt brave enough to let our own stuff hang out. Technically we didn’t find #7000 naked, but signed it naked. Close enough. With just shirts on, we walked back up the hill on a different, people-less path…I suppose “butt-naked” would be the appropriate term…and headed back to the rig. Woohoo! Seven thousand geocaches and no mosquito bites or sunburn.

From there, made our way west on county roads and US 151 Deforest, a town on the north side of Madison, Wisconsin’s capital city. Set up for a week at Token Creek County Park, intent on visiting with my cousin Shay and her boys. Dane, her youngest, was fascinated by our RV and our walkie talkies; we hung out a bit at the campground but mostly spent time at her neat old house. One day we drove to Watertown and introduced Shay to geocaching by doing an Adventure Lab cache, a series of caches at several interesting locations in the small town. 

The Blue Island, Illinois City Clerk and future Mayor came to visit us on the 23rd. We hadn’t done anything wrong, he just came to cook lunch for us. Randy was a photo lab shipmate of mine way back in the early 1980s on the USS Constellation, we hadn’t seen each other since then. He and his wife Marcia came up from their Chicago suburb for a visit and since the current baseball season is being played without spectators, and therefore tailgating doesn’t occur, we were a good excuse for Randy to practice his skills. If this is any clue, his van license plate reads “Tail G8 R” and we were happy to be an excuse. This guy is a pro…brats & burgers on the grill, peach cobbler in a dutch oven. We had a good time catching up on the decades while stuffing our guts.

Our last adventure in the area was a trek into downtown Madison and the University of Wisconsin area to geocache and see some of the sites. The sites that impressed me most were on the campus’ lakeside path. Even though classes hadn’t started yet, there was an abundance of young college students out for a jog or walk and not many were guys. Do females report a week early? Were the males just sleeping in? Anyway, it was just an observation. A pleasant observation. It was hot and humid the entire week, the worst we’d experienced all summer, but we still enjoyed the time spent with Shay & Sons and old friends.

Aug 26th to the 31st – Hitched up and journeyed north on busy interstates then highway 53 to Minong, Wisconsin and set up for the weekend about 10 miles from town in Totogatic County Park on Minong Flowage (for some reason they call lakes in this part of the woods “flowage”). Whatever they call it, we came to the spot so I could get out in the canoe and I paddled it early one morning. Another day I paddled a 16 mile stretch of the Namekagon River, part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, in a little more than five hours; with a good current it was an easy trip through unspoiled, quiet woods and just a few other humans. Then…the next day I drove about an hour from camp to do the Loyhead Lake Primitive Canoe Route, a 5.2 mile loop through six little lakes with five portages. I was the only one out there, I was awed by the scenery and total lack of man-made noise other than my paddle dipping in the water (that’s man-made, right?). Meanwhile, back at the ranch while I was out stretching my canoeing muscles, Sherry was enjoying time at home without my man-made noises or out running around the countryside in search of geocaches, letterboxes, and giant fish statues. Our time at that park was meant to be relaxing, less “out & about” and we feel we were successful.

On the 31st we hit the road north on highway 53 up to Duluth, Minnesota then highway 61 a little bit to Two Harbors, an easy 90 mile drive. Set up in the municipal campground on the edge of town with a nice view of Lake Superior out our back window. In the evening Sherry scooted around the small town hunting down caches and chatting up friendly strangers, I walked into town, crossed paths with Sherry, found a cache with her, then wandered back home through quiet residential streets lined with nice vintage houses. A fine end to a fine month.

 

August 1 – 15, 2020 TMI in MI & WI

Back in April I wrote about our sudden change in plans for the summer. Plan A was three months of volunteering at state parks in California and Washington, then the rest of the summer off in Washington to attend a couple big geocaching events, hike, visit friends and family, take an Alaskan cruise, and generally just goof-off. The virus thing changed all that and we went with Plan B, which was really Plan A for 2021, and the 2020 Plan A became Plan A for 2021. So far, Plan B, or is it now Plan A, has worked out to be quite similar to the 2020 or 2021 Plan A even though we didn’t plan it that way. We worked two months in Minnesota, the same months we were planning to be in California, worked one month in Michigan, the same month we were planning to be in Washington, and are now goofing off in Michigan just as we were going to do in Washington. What’s that saying about the best laid plans of mice and men…? If at first you don’t succeed, count your hatched chickens and don’t forget Murphy’s Law. Something like that.

Aug 1 to 3 – From our base in Germfask, a no-stoplight village on the Manistique River, we explored places south and north on the UP. Went south first to the area around the town of Manistique on the shore of Lake Michigan. Checked out the big spring at Palms Book State Park, where we struggled to remain socially distant in line for 45 minutes to get on a large raft/barge with an open center well, like a glass bottom boat, that slowly made its way out and back on the spring pool so we could see the big fish and “boiling” sand in the clear water. There was also a rather unique geocache to find there, it was on the the barge rather than at a fixed coordinate…only one other time can I remember a moving cache, it was on a waterfront trolley in Oregon. Found other caches in the area too…at a breakwater light, at Indian Lake State Park, and Seul Choix Point Lighthouse. Early the next morning I paddled 11 miles and three hours down the Manistique River from our campground to a spot at Mead Creek where Sherry picked me up. Didn’t see another human soul but did see a few otters, ducks, and a Bald Eagle. That afternoon we did the short scenic drives in the Seney National Wildlife Refuge just north of Germfask hoping to spot some larger four-legged animals but saw only birds. Tried again in the evening, no luck then but did bag a geocache. On the 3rd we went north to picturesque Grand Marais on Lake Superior, then west to check out the sites in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore — the Log Slide and Twelve Mile Beach, and a three mile roundtrip hike to the Au Sable Light Station.

Aug 4 to 11 – Before hitching up and hittin’ the road on the 4th, I did another paddle on the Manistique from Ten Curves back down to the campground, an uneventful but pleasant sojourn with occasional light rain showers. Then we headed west and north a bit for a few hours, 180ish miles, to Houghton/Hancock on the Keweenaw Peninsula (Key – wi – naw Puh – ninse – oola) poking out into Lake Superior and set up at the Hancock City Campground just outside of town on Portage Lake. Even though it was a full campground, we didn’t notice. Our shady site was tucked back into the woods on a long driveway and was separated from most of the other sites so we couldn’t see any neighbors, a welcome change from the last place. That was home base for another week of exploration and a little bit of relaxation. 

Day one we wandered around downtown Houghton in search of geocaches (Houghton and Hancock are on opposite sides of Portage Lake which is more like a wide canal for much of its length from the peninsula’s north shore to the south shore, one could argue it technically makes the Keweenaw an island rather than a peninsula…there is just one old lift bridge crossing the lake and connecting the two towns), checked out the Isle Royale National Park visitor center (the actual park is an island in Lake Superior accessed by boat or plane), and shared a pastie lunch on the waterfront. A pastie (pass-tee) is a traditional miner’s lunch common in this part of the country; a popover crust filled with meat, potatoes, onion, rutabaga, and gravy. We tried ’em 17 years ago the last time we passed through the UP and I wasn’t impressed enough to crave another since then, I could probably make it another 17 years. 

Went southwesterly to Ontonagon and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, aka “The Porkies,” dropped south a bit to Bond Falls and Agate Falls State Scenic Areas to see the waterfalls and find geocaches placed by the couple we met on the beach at Brimley, then made our way home via lonely backroads. 

During a stormy, warm, and humid couple of days we mostly vegged at home, although Sherry went out on a solo cache search among the many old copper mine ruins just outside of town. This region was a big copper producer dating back to the early 1800s, the Keweenaw National Historic Park encompasses most of the remnants of that era. When the mugginess was gone on the 9th we ventured north along the shore through Eagle River and Eagle Harbor to scenic little Copper Harbor, a touristy village catering to multitudes of mountain bikers and visitors like us on the tip of the peninsula; checked out the restored historic Army post at Fort Wilkins State Park and part of Brockway Mountain Drive. On the last day we poked around sleepy Calumet, another copper town not far from Hancock full of impressive old buildings but not a lot of people or open businesses downtown, thanks to the virus thing or maybe just bad economic times. Found a few caches and tried one more pastie…this one was a little better but still not enough to make us want to look up the recipe.

The 11th was moving day again. Left our hideout in the woods and backtracked south a ways, took US 141 to Crystal Falls then state 69 east to a quiet county park campground, O.B. Fuller, on the shore of Lake Michigan, just south of Escanaba, Michigan. Not long after we turned onto 14, coincidentally right about at the spot on my paper map (yeah, I still use them for quick reference on the road…hey, I’m an old school geographer) where there is a symbol indicating “primary moose range,” something big ran across the road in front of me. But it wasn’t a moose, I’m pretty sure it was a wolf…it was much bigger and darker than a coyote. Sherry radioed to say she saw it too. I googled it, there are more than 600 wolves on the UP. Pretty cool for our last day in Michigan.DSC_9932

Aug 12 to 15 – Continued south on state highway 35 along Lake Michigan, US 41 to Green Bay, Wisconsin, then state 57 north up Door Peninsula. In other words, we did a big fish hook to get around Green Bay, the body of water, to get to the point of land sticking up into Lake Michigan about 80 miles on the east side of Wisconsin. The peninsula is better known simply as Door County, a regional vacation destination similar to “Cape Cod” or “Napa Valley.” Set up at the Countryside Motel & RV Park, the cheapest place we could find in and area filled with high priced RV parks, a few miles south of the town of Sturgeon Bay for another week of exploration.

The 12th was a short driving day, we had plenty of time in the afternoon to do laundry in town and get started on the geo-trail. When we are in an area for just a few days Sherry does a bit of geo-homework so too much time isn’t wasted on average caches; she focuses on caches with a lot of “favorite” points from previous cachers and unique, or interesting-sounding caches, and especially those in scenic or historic places. One such cache was at the downtown Sturgeon Bay fire station. It was a fun gadget cache with several stages requiring a little bit of brain power and skill to open. Unfortunately, the last cachers to open it lacked some of the former. They put a lock in the wrong place and we were stuck, but with a quick phone call (the dedicated, hard-core local cache owner put his phone number in it) Labzone (Jim) came to our rescue. He was very helpful but wasn’t a complete “spoiler alert,” Sherry got the cache open, and we had an interesting geo-chat with him that ended with his thoughts on the coronavirus conspiracy and dawning new world order. As it turned out, he wasn’t the only nice local guy we met.

The next few days, three to be exact, were spent driving around in search of big quilts, geocaches, and whatever else there was to see. Door County, like most of Wisconsin from what I’ve seen, is all about agriculture…farms, dairies, hayfields, etc…but not a grand scale with plowed fields stretching to the horizon. There’s tidy farmhouse and barn compounds everywhere, dense woods interspersed among the farms, small nicely landscaped residential lots here and there, and sleepy little villages. Getting around is easy as long as you have a map and GPS, there’s a vast network of quiet farm roads and two major highways traversing the county. The other half of the county’s economic engine — tourism — is plainly evident in many of the villages in the north end like Egg Harbor, Sister Bay, and Ephraim. They’re filled with art galleries, craft studios, boutique shops, inns, restaurants, traffic, and vacationers. We do our part to minimize our carbon footprint in those villages but we are guilty of stopping at the big touristy farm market stores in the country filled with overpriced salsa, jams, bratwurst, mustards, and vacationers looking for free taste samples. Not sure if it’s good or bad…the virus thing has put an end to tasty samples at these places. Now we have to actually buy a lunch somewhere, but we’re healthier perhaps. Baked goods are our (mostly Sherry’s with my whacked tastebuds) weakness, we always seem to find something for a “treat.”

Sorry, I digressed…the touristy stuff was a sideshow. Our mission was to find all of the barn quilts in the county, the geocache located nearby, a few other fun caches along the way, and of course any lighthouse. Hopefully from the photos you can figure out what the barn quilts are. I was silently groaning at the prospect of doing this…40+ big wooden quilts scattered throughout the countryside, quilts, really?…(sorry Sherry) but it was a good way to see all of Door County, not just the busy brochure and guide magazine commercial sites. Plus, we met some more of those nice people during our quest. Jerry, an Irishman from Chicago mowing the lawn on his rental property, stopped to chat with us while Sherry was looking for the geocache near his barn and invited us to see the inside of the barn. At another one, a lady on her porch told Sherry it was OK to go down the driveway for a closer shot of their barn quilt. Her husband, Ken, was chillin’ in the yard and chatted with Sherry for a while (I was in the car, as usual…I’m just the driver). The geocache was hidden nearby in the bonus feature for this big wooden quilt…Ken’s Irish Wall. He had a dream one night then spent several years meticulously building a decorative wall using rocks picked from farm fields. He came out to the wall, at the edge of his manicured lawn and flower gardens, to tell us all about it and point out a few of his favorite rocks and shared a little about his life and medical issues with the VA. We also met another friendly local geocacher at one of his caches, which happened to be in his yard and masqueraded as an outhouse with a satellite dish. Brussells2 (Jim) saw us stop to look for it and came out to introduce himself, although he had already done so via geo-email the day before after sherry logged one of his other caches. We had a nice chat with him too while Sherry searched the outhouse. I don’t want to give it away, but it’s called “A hole in one.” Guess where it was cleverly hidden?

One more adventure and I’ll close this long post…while on the geo-trail near Baileys Harbor on the 15th we stopped to see the Cana Island Lighthouse. There’s nothing extra special about the light itself, it’s the way you get to it that’s unique; a tractor-pulled hay wagon hauls people about a quarter mile across a flooded causeway to the island. Since I’m just the driver and the tractor already had a driver, Sherry went Jon-less to see the lighthouse while I stayed behind to waste a lot of bytes trying to capture the perfect shot on the rocky beach.

Stay tuned for further Door County stuff…we just got started.

July 16 – 31, 2020

The good times and good weather continued during the last half of July. I can’t count how many times I thought, then voiced how lucky we were to be enjoying such nice summer weather while so many people we know were dealing with temperatures well above 100 degrees. There were even days with a cool enough morning to require a sweatshirt. We quickly learned that any breeze or wind from a northerly direction, off the lake, meant relatively cool and dry weather. Of course there were some warmer, more humid days but not too many, not enough to outweigh the cool factor. I’ll say(write) it again…that’s why we go north in the summer. If we caught ourselves saying something like “geez, it’s kinda cool, I need to put on my sweats” in a griping tone, we’d remind ourselves it’s July and isn’t that what we want…cool temps?

Along with the nice summer weather, our camp host duties continued down a pleasant path. Our daily trash-pickup walk around the campground, usually in the evenings so we could get a whiff of all the tasty dinners being prepared, became less of a chore and more of a social outing. We’d occasionally get stopped by folks that had campground questions, but most often they wanted to know about being a camp host and where we were from, which naturally led to a chat about traveling around in an RV, sharing road stories, suggestions on sites to see, and other helpful info. This was usually a two-way chat, many of the folks had years of RV experience like us and we were just as inquisitive about them as they were about us, we were always learning something. Sometimes we’d chat for 10 minutes with a camper by starting out with a “hey, that smells good, what time is dinner?” as we walked by. One evening Sherry was invited back to “tour” an interesting homemade trailer after she commented on how cute it was. Best of all, several times campers just wanted to thank us…for keeping the park nice and clean or for being a volunteer.

We also met people just by sitting at our site. Two ladies stopped by while we were doing campfire pies one evening and asked if we were “LifeIsGuud,” our geocaching name. They were geocachers staying in the park for a few days while on a geo-adventure and read Sherry’s logs for the caches she’d found in the area stating we were hosts at Brimley Park; had a nice geo-chat with them for a while by the fire. Several times, a nice local couple doing their evening walks in the campground stopped a few times to chat with us. While trash patrolling the beach once, we came across another geocaching couple who struck up a conversation once they realized we were the hosts; we added a few geocaching locations to our UP bucket list thanks to them. On our last day in Brimley, Sherry went to a farmer’s market and met a guy who overheard Sherry tell someone I make Native American style flutes. He was interested in maybe trading for one so that evening he came to our site with his trade goods like deer and elk skins, salmon, deer antlers, and little talismans. Cloud is a member of the local Ojibwe tribe and shared all kinds of interesting parts of his heritage, some campers even stopped by while on their stroll to listen and ask questions, and we made a good trade. Even on a road trip we had an unexpected encounter with a freindly someone. Down in the southeast corner of the UP, in scenic little De Tour Village, we spotted a huge ship model in a yard on a side street and drove by to check it out. The builder happened to be out in his driveway speaking to a curator about transporting the model to his museum, we stopped to ask a question and the friendly old modeler happily came up to the car to tell us all about it.  We didn’t meet just strangers…Sherry went into town one evening to meet Karen from our days living in New Hampshire in the area on vacation with her family. It was a serendipitous couple of weeks.

On the 21st, Sherry needed an escape from the peninsula life. She drove about an hour south and hopped on a passenger-only ferry to Mackinac Island (Mac-in-aw Eye-land), a small dot in the strait between upper and lower Michigan filled with history, beautiful scenery, tourists, geocaches, fudge shops, horse-driven carriages, and no cars whatsoever. I stayed at home “working.” I saw it when we visited the island 17 years ago and if we went together we’d have to rush around in order to get home for the dog. Sherry was able to scurry without worry…she rented a bike, geocached, shopped, and had a good Jon-less, Dixie-less time. She escaped from us again, twice! On the 27th she went in to The Soo (Sault Ste. Marie) to grab some geocaches, and the next day she drove up north to the Crisp Point Lighthouse on Lake Superior, a rather isolated site at the end of a long dirt road through the woods. My lone adventure, aside from two errand trips into The Soo, was an early morning paddle further up the Waishkey River from the point I turned around at a few weeks back.

The 31st was moving day. Our month at Brimley State Park was over, we’d had enough of the good weather, friendly campers, locals, Ranger Corey and the rest of the park staff. No more picking up cigarette butts and plastic straw wrappers. No more collecting little kiddie toys left on the beach and campsites to put in geocaches. No more playing traffic cop for the dump station. No more fresh Whitefish from the local fisherman. No more FREE camping. It was time for a long vacation.

Our last duty was working the busy dump station line as we were buttoning up the trailer, a lot of campers were checking out that Friday morning. When there was a long gap in departing campers we left our crap and dirty dishwater behind like everyone else, said goodbye to Corey,  and hit the road. Went west on highway 28 about an hour then south on 77 a few miles to Big Cedar Campground in tiny Germfask. The campground is a small mom & pop place, a far cry from the Brimley park…it’s cramped, crowded with loud campers, and dusty. Right after we got set up, a group set up their three tents directly behind us, barely socially distanced from our windows, and proceeded to make noise for two days. But that was the price to pay for the location. I chose the place because it is on the Manistique River and centrally located between points north and south we wanted to explore. After dinner Sherry dropped me and Gruntle at the Ten Curves launch site several miles from town and I paddled the twisting easy-flowing river through the woods for two hours back to the campground.

Vacation has begun. August is just about booked up…a few days in Germfask, a week in the upper central part of the UP, down to Wisconsin for the last half of the month, and back up to Minnesota in September. We hope there’s enough time to see and do everything on the list before vacation’s over in February.

July 1 – 15, 2020

The Yooper life is good. We’re already half way through this volunteer host gig, just about the easiest gig we ever had, and if the last two weeks are like the first two it’ll be tough going back to a clock-punching job someday. As bad as it sounds, we have the virus thing to thank for our workamping fortune. Without the virus thing, we might have to work.

The normal job description for the campground hosts here at Brimley State Park (and generally in all MI state parks I’m assuming) includes more interaction with the campers…scheduled kid activities, crafts, coffee and donuts, bike parades, etc…but because of the virus thing and social distancing we can’t do any of that stuff. Our “job” is to be a presence in the campground, to be there to help campers, walk around the campground, and answer questions. That’s it. We don’t have to remind campers of the rules, collect fees, check on who came and who left, clean sites, open or close gates or doors at certain times, sell firewood, and especially don’t have to clean bathrooms like at other campgrounds we’ve hosted in previous years. For 30 hours a week we’re required to be “here,” that’s all. And laid back Corey, the park supervisor, isn’t even concerned about us getting those hours. He understands that just by being in the campground at our site, available for the campers, counts. Exploring the area counts too; checking out the local sites, restaurants, and stores around us will enable us to answer camper questions so our time out there is on the clock as far as he’s concerned. In other words, we don’t need to find things to do or work on in order to fill out a time sheet. 

We’re not totally lazy though. We voluntarily walk the campground at least once a0704201941c_HDR day to pick up bits of trash on the roads or in vacant sites using pickers and a bucket. We also pick the day use area, boat launch, and the nice long stretch of beach. We’ve been surprised at how relatively clean the park is given how busy it’s been, especially the beach. Campers have been good about cleaning up after themselves for the most part. Occasionally we find a just-vacated site covered with litter and un-burnable trash in the fire pit, then we scratch our heads and wonder why/how people do that. They just don’t care. What must their house look like? After two weeks of trash detail I’ve come up with a short list of things that should be outlawed in the park, no, in every public area…cigarettes, water balloons, juice box straws (really the plastic sleeve they come in), and what I call pop-snaps, those little wads of paper that “pop” when kids throw ’em on the street. To me, the worst offenders are the smokers. They’re adults that feel it’s OK to throw their nasty butts on the ground. The beach is one big ash tray to them. Do they throw their candy bar wrappers on the ground too? Probably not, that’s littering.

We also monitor a storage shed on our site full of games, books, and camping stuff campers can check out, along with some maps and brochures. We open it some time in the morning and close it some time in the evening. During the Sunday morning check-out mass exodus, we’ve stood out on the road to guide traffic. There’s just one hole at the dump station, a waiting line forms on the narrow park roads quickly when many campers leave simultaneously; we help line them up and direct non-dumpers through and around the waiting rigs. Everybody has been patient so far and it’s been a good opportunity to briefly chat with folks while they’re waiting. 

Chatting with campers in the line or as we walk the campground is always pleasant and we’ve learned about another benefit of the virus thing. The Canada/US border is very close by, just a few minutes away in Sault Set. Marie, but since it is still closed to non-essential travel there are no Canadian campers in the park. It’s All-American! I know, it sounds bad, but we’re not anti-Canadians. We’ve heard from several campers and particularly the park rangers that normally the park is about 50-70% filled with campers from Ontario and they can be drunk, unruly, and leave a mess behind when they leave. They can’t drink in public at home, but here in the US it’s Ok so that’s what they do, drink, and that causes problems. So we’re thankful for the virus this month. Not only is it cleaner, it’s quieter. We’ve been impressed that even when the campground is full, and it’s been full every weekend, everyone seems to be having a good ’ol time but not overdoing it. They’re just enjoying time with family and friends while respecting other campers. The rangers have said there haven’t been any major problems. Keep it that way, please. And boy does it smell good when walking around at dinnertime; campers grilling and cooking all kinds of food, it’s like walking around a state fair with all sorts of unhealthy but delicious aromas wafting through the air.

So, for being available, we get a free campsite for a month in a Canadian-less clean and quiet state park. It’s not a full hookup site, none of the 237 sites are, it only has electricity so we’re partially dry camping. Every few days I empty the gray water tanks and once a week so far I empty the black water tank using the sewer tote, a 28 gallon wheeled plastic tank with sewer hose connections. I pull it over to the park’s dump station with the car where I also fill up a couple six gallon water cans that get sucked up into our freshwater tank by the trailer’s water pump…just the water, not the cans. 

Since it’s sort of part of our job, we did occasionally get out to explore. Of course that’s why we came to Brimley, to explore the eastern part of the Upper Peninsula (UP…hence the moniker “Yooper” and by the way, people living in Lower Michigan, below the bridge connecting the two, are called “trolls”). We drove to the nearby Point Iroquois Lighthouse, Mission Hill overlook and historic cemetery on the Bay Mills Ojibwe Reservation; went about 15 minutes east to Sault Ste Marie to check out Soo Locks, the busiest in the world with all the freighter traffic passing between Lakes Superior and Huron; Sherry did a long scooter ride on scenic Lakeshore Drive along part of the south shore of Whitefish Bay and another day geocached in Sault Ste Marie; did a short hike in the boggy beaverpond woods at a nearby nature conservancy; I put the canoe in the lake one calm morning, paddled a mile down to the mouth of the Waishkey River in Brimley, went up stream a few curving miles then back to the lake, now I can say I paddled on the largest freshwater lake in the world (surface area).

The longest getaway was a drive along the bay to the historic Whitefish Point Light, lunch in Paradise where the locals seem to enjoy saying “just another day in Paradise,” then checked out the nice upper and lower waterfalls in Tahquamenon (rhymes with phenomenon) Falls State Park, a busy park filled with not-so-concerned-about-social-distancing tourists.

The weather’s been great…some days were in the 80s and a little humid, sometimes in the 70s and perfect, a shower now and then, and cool nights. The big Silver Maple on our site keeps it shady and nice in the late afternoon and evenings, great for sitting out, reading a book, and watching the campers go by. This is why we go north in the summer…decent weather, lots of new things to see and do, and plenty of time to relax. What were we thinking when we took those  full time jobs in Minnesota? Oh…the boss lady in Minnesota called us regarding some mail that was delivered there after we left and told us the dramatic lead housekeeper Sherry worked with, quit too. We’d love to hear the rest of that story.

Oh well, not our circus anymore. Life is Good in the UP.DSC_9650

June 17 – 30, 2020

We’re still gruntled. But now we’re pleased and satisfied in a different place. Here’s the next chapter of our work story :

I’ve always said the first few weeks at any new seasonal job is like a honeymoon…everyone is pleasant and nice to each other, we’re all trying to learn our roles, how things work, discover personalities. Then comes the “wedded bliss” stage, everybody knows their job, does it satisfactorily, gets along, and we laugh and bitch together about the absurd complaints and annoying things our guests or customers do. We may even gripe a little about management quirks. A routine sets in and all is generally well. Sometime in mid-season stress from the daily grind creeps in and all those complaints and annoying things customers do aren’t laughed at anymore. And now we’re bitching about our coworkers. We say things like “…only two more months to go.” This is the “mid-life maybe we need counseling” stage of our matrimonial work life. At the end of the season, in the last few weeks, it’s all good again. Things have slowed down, the weather is nicer, and a big vacation road trip is beckoning. An added bonus would be that the coworkers you bitched about or just didn’t click with earlier left sometime in the counseling stage. We’re all cruising to the end of the season in a mild honeymoon-like high. I’m not sure what to call this marital stage…pre-retirement? What comes after wedded bliss in a marriage? Maybe this means we’re not there yet in our marriage, and by the way in case you’re wondering, Sherry and I haven’t ever considered getting counseling.

All that said, at Northern Lights we went from the honeymoon straight to a divorce. You’ll recall from my last post Sherry had reached her limit of housekeeping but agreed to one more big Saturday turnover. Hopefully after that the boss would have figured out a more suitable balance of tasks for Sherry and we’d stick around in wedded bliss. On Saturday, the 20th, things were going along normal for her. She was working with her usual partner, a nice 17-year-old local girl.  While cleaning a cabin, Sherry needed a broom but it was inside a bathroom where another housekeeper was working and the door was closed. Sherry knocked and asked if she was “going to the bathroom” or cleaning, could she get the broom? The housekeeper opened the door and gave her the broom. A little later, the lead housekeeper came to Sherry and said she’d had two complaints about her attitude; the housekeeper who was in the bathroom was crying and upset because Sherry had asked her if she was “taking a sh..?” and the nice 17-year-old told her Sherry was acting “like a total bitch.” What?! This pushed Sherry over the edge. She’d never speak that phrase to anyone and she had been quietly cleaning cabins all morning. The 17-year-old just shrugged her shoulders when Sherry asked her to explain. Sherry found the boss, relayed what transpired, and after filling me in on what happened, gave notice. The ridiculous exaggerated drama added to the unexpected amount of housekeeping was just too much. Things weren’t improving, it was going the other way. Time to move on.

That evening I noticed a change in Sherry…she seemed cheerful (isn’t she always?) and definitely more gruntled. She lit up a campfire and read a book by the fire; I worked a late dock shift and joined her afterwards. Discussing the day, the stuff leading to it, and future options, we came to some conclusions. It boiled down to one word: communication, actually two words…poor communication. First, the misleading amount of cleaning expected during the interviews and second, the lead housekeeper’s habit of mis-interpreting or twisting statements said to her, such as the housekeeper with the broom in the bathroom exchange. Sherry never said “take a sh..” There were several instances when stuff we said either to her or the boss lady and it was passed on to her, then she paraphrased back to us, was inaccurate or twisted in a negative way. It seemed to add unnecessary drama. For example, if in a conversation we said we stopped drinking regular milk years ago, we prefer almond milk, her word filtering process would lead to this statement…Jon and Sherry hate milk. Once early on she told us she understood we were there “to play, not to work.” Huh? She inaccurately interpreted this from an interview conversation we had with the boss lady; boss lady was apparently trying to relay scheduling info to her (the lead housekeeper and her hubby did the schedules) and our statement that we didn’t require 40 hours a week turned into “…play, not work.” We checked with boss lady and she was just as baffled as we were about it. No telling how many things we said were word-jumbled like that. Please understand, the lead housekeeper was a nice, pleasant person that Sherry congenially worked with at the front desk but the negative word play, whether it was intentional or just a poor habit, was disheartening and possibly added problems. So maybe I should add a sub-word to the poor communication it boiled down to: drama. (On Sherry’s last day she ran into the housekeeper who had the broom in the bathroom; the housekeeper apologized for what happened, she had back pain and was emotional about other things that day.)

For a couple weeks we gave it a lot of thought, we want to honor our commitments, but quitting was the right decision. I guess this season we’re those people whose early departure will help everyone else relax. To them, maybe we were the drama. I’ll say this, working with everyone else was fine…the same-aged boss man and I got along well and the young dock guys were always fun, they were respectful and open, it was interesting hanging out on the docks and getting to know them a little.

We didn’t leave right away. The following week Sherry worked a shortened modified schedule to cover the front desk while I worked my normally scheduled days to finish up a few projects I had been working on and help on the docks. Her last day was the 25th and mine was the 27th. Working with the boss lady was fine, not strained, there didn’t seem to be any hard feelings. She even took us out on a long-promised pontoon boat ride one evening across the lake to see some eagle nests and check out the national park’s Ellsworth Rock Gardens, an old cabin retreat where the bored residents created all kinds of rock sculptures amid flower gardens. Boss man was out of town most of the week but earlier he said he completely understood our leaving, it happened every summer and we shouldn’t feel bad.

In the meantime we were figuring out what to do with the rest of the summer. During our normal weekend off, the day after Sherry gave notice, I was prowling the internet looking for jobs or volunteer gigs in the upper midwest that might fit with our plan to see the region, not pay rent, and NOT HAVE TO DO ANY CLEANING. Jon & Sherry’s luck was with us…Michigan State Parks campground hosts do not have to clean bathrooms (in Wisconsin they do) and they had an online camp host availability matrix with several vacancies in July and August. We contacted those located in the Upper Peninsula, for some reason lower Michigan isn’t on our bucket list, and by Monday the 22nd we had secured a volunteer gig at Brimley State Park at the eastern end of the UP for July. 

We also did a little more sightseeing between job searches. On the 21st we hit a dirt road to Elephant Lake, ate lunch at a rustic lakeside resort there, another gravel forest service road through more nice woods to Vermilion Falls, and on to Crane Lake for a short hike to Vermilion Gorge. The next day Sherry went into International Falls for a girl day and a little geocaching while the boy day consisted of a canoe paddle up the Ash River to Ash River Falls then up Camp Ninety Creek; saw lots of wildlife in the water. While working my last shift on the 27th, Sherry went on another geotrip in the Cook area south of us where she found a cemetery full of unusual last names on headstones; they were Swedish and Finnish. The next day I had to get out for one canoe trip, this time back up that dirt road to Vermilion Falls and beyond to Johnson Lake. It was a half mile portage to reach the surprisingly big lake, an easy paddle downwind for a few miles, a nice shady break at a campsite in the pines, and a not so easy paddle back into the stiff breeze. Beats working. Although it wasn’t a sightseeing trip, on the 17th I drove down to Minneapolis and back, 570 miles roundtrip, for a routine follow-up ENT appointment at the VA hospital. With the virus thing, things were a little unusual there but the thorough camera up my nose and down the throat checkup was good.

June 29 – Finished hitching up and left Northern Lights Resort on Lake Kabetogama by 8:30. Once we got out to pavement (it’s a mile and a half on dirt to the paved county road) Sherry radioed a heavy sigh to me, the weight was lifted off as we left the drama behind. We were glad to be moving on but also felt a little remorse, a little of that feeling you get when you have to leave someplace you like being at, well, most of the time. The resort is at a beautiful location on a lake, our site was primo, and we generally liked it there. Too bad it didn’t work out as we hoped. Drove south on US 53 to Duluth, US 2 across the top of Wisconsin (had to stop long enough to grab a geocache and lunch) into Michigan and stopped for the night at Sunday Lake Campground in little Wakefield, MI. Of course we headed out for a brief excursion in the evening to find a cache or two nearby. Now Sherry can say she’s found a cache in every state except Hawaii, the map is filled in. Our mission for the summer is complete.

June 30 – Continued on state highway 28/US 41 all the way east across the UP, sometime along the scenic shore of a very big lake, to Brimley State Park on the south shore of Lake Superior’s Whitefish Bay not too far from Sault Ste. Marie. By 4:00 we were set up on the host site in the 237-site campground. That was an easy two day drive.

Three months ago I never imagined we’d be Yoopers. But here we are…a home on wheels keeps life interesting.

June 1 – 16, 2020

“It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon.” That was the opening for a favorite segment of  “A Prairie Home Companion,” a radio program we used to listen to faithfully on Saturday evenings; Substitute Kabetogama for Wobegon and it works for us in the first couple of weeks of June. Not much to write home about…work was work and we didn’t do much on our days off. Heck, about the only thing I kept reminding myself to include this time is something that happened in May, so I’ll start with that. 

When I posted the last blog entry I had this nagging feeling I had forgotten to include something and I eventually remembered what it was…a fish story. Unlike the usual fish stories, this one doesn’t get bigger with each telling, and it’s very short. In fact it was over in just a few bites… We’re in lake country working at a resort whose guests primarily come to fish for Walleye, Northern Pike, Perch, Sauger, and Bass. Apparently Walleye is THE fish, best eating on the planet if you listen to any fisher dude. We told all our coworkers and some locals we’ve met we’d never eaten Walleye before and were interested in trying some, “can we buy it in a store or restaurant around here?” Their response was usually a blank and confused-looking stare with a little half-smile and a half whispered “oh” like we just said we were abducted by aliens 23 years ago and used as medical guinea pigs. Never had Walleye?! Fortunately two of our coworkers, Pieter and Mikel (I know, interesting spellings for Peter and Michael, but I think it’s a nod to the Upper Midwest northern European cultural heritage) came a-knocking on our door one night with a plate of just-fried Walleye they caught that day for us to sample. The three pieces were coated in the popular Shore Lunch batter and man were they tasty, not “fishy” at all. Now we understand why Walleye is THE fish. Since then we’ve tried the Walleye fingers in a local restaurant (frozen, from a distributor in Duluth) and some leftovers from a big batch cooked up by guests. All good. A nice side note with this story…Pieter and Mikel are both young guys, a college sophomore and a graduating high school senior. They shared their catch with a couple of old farts. Fish story over.

On the work front it was work as usual. But as we’ve come to realize, that’s the problem, and there’s some growing discontent on our part. Life isn’t always Good. It boils down to a “failure to communicate.” During our phone interviews for this job we asked quite a bit about the amount of cleaning or housekeeping we’d be required to do, too much was a deal-breaker for us. Obviously it didn’t sound like much, we’re here now, but reality is a bit different for Sherry now. On our big Saturday turnovers, she has been part of a two-person cleaning team in at least two cabins as well as other housekeeping tasks during the week. She’s doing way more cleaning than we were lead to believe. On the flip side of her duties, working the front desk, an area she’s usually very good at, she’s also had some tough times. Saturday the 13th was an especially bad day and she reached her cumulative frustrated limit. She gathered her thoughts and possible solutions on paper and a few days later we met with the boss to discuss it all. Her expectations and our expectations were indeed different. There was no quick resolution then, the boss needed time to consider things, and she said “let’s see how it works out this next big Saturday.” So we wait and see. If things don’t change and we reach the deal-breaker point we may have to move on and enjoy the summer elsewhere. My Saturday tasks — the grills, fire pits, decks, firewood, and ice — are still far enough removed from housekeeping and have met my expectations. 

For play time, the occasional warm and muggy days or rainy weather limited our adventures somewhat and the lack of a variety of photos here are the result. By the way, half of them were taken by Sherry and I shot the other four while on one short sunset paddle on the 16th. No adventures, no photos.

 One day we geocached a bit (there aren’t that many in the whole area) to the east of   International Falls while driving out the Voyageur National Park Rainy Lake visitor center (closed) but numerous ticks stymied Sherry’s searches. Another day we drove south a bit to pick up a custom canoe cover I had ordered from a shop then explored some backroads in search a cache or two, this time Sherry covered herself with high octane bug juice which made a difference, no tick sightings. We’ve discovered most of the roads around here are all the same…long straight stretches through woods and bogs. There are no mountains, just a gentle rolling landscape with lots of lakes, marshes, and streams. 

Oh, and the shot of me in the canoe is to show I christened my new canoe with a name. It’s a goofy, sort-of word that means happy, to put in a good humor, pleased, satisfied…to cause happiness, pleasure, or amusement. It fits. 

Gruntled.