On Wednesday, August 25th, we arrived at Fort Welikit Family Campground in Custer, SD in the mid-afternoon for a weeklong stay. Our pull-through site was long enough but required a lot of care to fit in between trees on all sides. The trees precluded the use of our satellite dish but, fortunately, the campground provided 70 cable channels.
After dinner, we went for a walk around the campground. It was quickly apparent that we were going to need to get adjusted to the high altitude.
On Thursday, we drove to Custer State Park. We first stopped at the Visitor Center. We examined many of the displays and watched a video about the park, narrated by Kevin Costner. Then, we drove the Wilderness Loop through the park. Our first animal encounter was with a bison that was sauntering up the middle of the road. Rather than risk trying to pass it, we followed behind it until it finally decided to leave the road. Farther down the road, we encountered a large herd of bison crossing the road and we watched from a safe distance. There were quite a large number of calves with their mothers. We got lunch at a food truck and, somewhat rudely, both ordered bison burgers.
After lunch, we continued on the Wilderness Loop and encountered a pack of burros. They had been fairly far away until some of the spectators pulled out bags of carrots and apples. It didn’t take long before the crowd was surrounded by burros looking for a handout. Jan got to feed one of them, then made friends with one of the babies.
When the food ran out, the burros departed and we continued our drive. At the end of the loop, we drove up a one-mile gravel road to the Mt. Coolidge Scenic Overlook. The drive was somewhat scary, since we were next to a cliff with few guardrails, but, fortunately, there was very little opposing traffic. Once we reached the summit, we climbed the observation tower but we were chased back down by a huge swarm of gnats.
On Thursday, we returned to Custer State Park and drove the 14-mile stretch of SD-87 known as the Needles Highway due to its tall granite peaks, resembling needles. The highway was constructed in 1922, when it was considered by many to be impossible to complete. The highway was extremely winding but contained numerous pull-offs that allowed us to enjoy the scenery.
The most famous part of the drive is the Needle Eye Tunnel. This one-way tunnel is only 8’0” wide by 9’9” high. We were lucky to get through the tunnel with no delay but watched quite a traffic jam develop once we reached the other side. A large crowd grew to watch a dually squeeze through the tunnel.
Our final stop was at Sylvan Lake. We ate lunch, then hiked the one-mile trail around the lake.
After a relaxing day on Saturday, we were back on the road on Sunday. We began by driving the Iron Mountain scenic highway. Like the Wilderness Loop and Needles Highway we had done previously, this highway was designed on foot and horseback by Peter Norbeck, former South Dakota governor and US senator. All three of these highways were designed to be driven no faster than 25 mph. The 17-mile Iron Mountain Road was constructed in 1933 and includes magnificent views of the Black Hills, single-lane tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore and three pigtail bridges. A pigtail bridge is a road bridge that loops over its own road, allowing the road to climb rapidly.
After completing the Iron Mountain Road, we visited the Mount Rushmore National Monument. We hiked the one-mile Presidential Trail that took us near the base of the monument. Unlike our previous visit to Mount Rushmore many years ago when we froze, the weather on Sunday was sunny and a comfortable 77 degrees.
On Monday, August 30th, we met Eric and Julie Paulikonis for lunch at Bumpin’ Buffalo Bar and Grill in Hill City, SD. Eric and Julie had been the tail gunners for our caravan to Alaska in the summer of 2018. It was great to see them again and catch up on what we’d been doing since that trip. After lunch, we went to the Prairie Berry Winery in Hill City for a wine tasting.
We both had dentist appointments in Rapid City, SD on Tuesday morning. On the drive to Rapid City, Jan was able to capture some pictures of the Crazy Horse Memorial. This monument has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion. Our morning appointments were finished by 11:30 but, since Jan needed to return at 1:30 for a minor repair to some previous dental work, we had two hours to kill. We drove to downtown Rapid City and explored the Main Street Square. Rapid City has sculptures of all of the US Presidents on the downtown street corners. After checking out several of the Presidents, we stopped for lunch at the Firehouse Brewing Company. The restaurant is in a former station of the Rapid City Fire Department.
On Wednesday, September 1st, we drove 168 miles to Douglas, WY, where we spent two nights at the Douglas KOA. Other than a couple of long construction zones, the drive went smoothly. There was little to do in Douglas so we spent a couple of leisurely days there.
Our issues with the RAM’s DEF pump and the fifth wheel’s hydraulic system had knocked out about three weeks from our original travel itinerary for the summer. When we finally got the green light to get back on the road on August 17th, we needed to decide where to reconnect with the plan. Phil considered various options and decided we should plan to rejoin the plan in Custer, SD on August 25th. Although we had to cancel the first three days of our 10-day reservation in Custer, Phil developed a doable itinerary that would take us more than 1,600 miles over eight days.
We left RVs for Less in Knoxville, TN the morning of Tuesday, August 17th. We drove 235 miles to Clarksville, TN where we spent the night at Clarksville RV Park. The first 100 miles were driven through the rainy remnants of Hurricane Fred but the second half of the drive was dry and much easier. With our early departure and the hour gained with the time zone change, we arrived at the campground around 1:30 pm. After getting set up, we did some exploring in Clarksville. Both Jason and Jarrod had graduated from Austin Peay University in Clarksville more than a decade ago so we were curious to see how things had changed. We drove through the campus and past the apartment buildings where they had lived for a few years.
On Wednesday, we got another early start and drove 277 miles to Shelbyville, IL where we spent two nights at Robin Hoods Woods. Again, the drive was uneventful but, given the back-to-back travel days and the longer-than-usual drive, it was rather exhausting.
We spent part of Thursday exploring the town of Shelbyville. We drove to Lake Shelbyville and viewed the dam. We also drove through downtown Shelbyville and took pictures of the courthouse and sculptures of the Lincoln – Thornton debate on August 9, 1856. Abraham Lincoln and Judge Anthony Thornton had met on the steps of the old courthouse to debate the expansion of slavery into new Federal territories.
On Friday, we drove 277 miles to West Liberty, IA where we stayed two nights at Little Bear Campground. We spent much of Saturday, August 21st, visiting the Herbert Hoover Historic Site in nearby West Branch, IA.
Herbert Hoover was born in 1874 in a two-room cottage in West Branch. His Quaker family had helped settle the town. His father, a blacksmith and, later, a farm implement dealer, died when Herbert was six. His mother, a Quaker minister, died four years later. Herbert was split up from his two siblings and moved to Oregon to live with his uncle. He later earned a degree in geology in the first class of Stanford University. He then went to work in the California gold mines and, later, joined a British mining firm and became a mining engineer in Australia. In 1899, he married Lou Henry, who he had met at Stanford. They immediately moved to China where Hoover continued his career. He earned a reputation as a “doctor of sick mines” and circled the globe several times with his wife and two sons. By age 40, he was a millionaire.
Hoover gave up his mining career and, instead, focused on humanitarian efforts to feed starving Europeans during and after World War I. He then served as Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge. Hoover easily won the presidency in 1928. Unfortunately, the Great Depression began after he had been in office for eight months and, by 1932, unemployment had reached 23%. Although he introduced a number of reforms that paved the way for later New Deal measures, his popularity evaporated and he lost the 1932 election to FDR. Polls of historians and political scientists have generally ranked Hoover in the bottom third of presidents. However, Hoover’s reputation recovered in his later years due to his humanitarian efforts.
After touring the Hoover Presidential Museum and Library, we watched a video at the Visitor’s Center and visited Hoover’s 14-by-20 foot birthplace cottage, the Friends Meetinghouse, a blacksmith shop similar to his father’s, the one-room schoolhouse and the gravesite of Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover.
We then drove to downtown West Liberty, IA and did some grocery shopping.
On Sunday, we drove 289 miles to Onawa, IA where we spent two nights at On-Ur-Wa RV Park. Although the drive was largely uneventful, it was rather disconcerting to drive all that distance and still be in the same state.
On Monday, we drove into downtown Onawa and saw what is claimed to be the widest main street in the U.S.
We then visited the Lewis and Clark State Park. We explored a replica of a keelboat that was used by the Lewis and Clark expedition.
On Tuesday, August 24th, we drove 235 miles to White Lake, SD where we overnighted at Circle K Motel and Campground. The campground was nothing special but it was close to I-90 and had large, big-rig-friendly sites.
On Wednesday, we completed our 1,600-mile in eight day trek to get caught up with our summer travel itinerary. We had intended to drive 285 miles to our campground in Custer, SD. However, when we reached the Badlands, we took a 20-mile detour along the scenic drive through Badlands National Park. Phil got in for free because he had his Senior Access Pass. By sheer coincidence, Jan was also able to get in for free, saving the $30 regular admission price, because it was National Park Founders Day. We drove the full loop and stopped a couple of times to enjoy the viewpoints. The road was very winding but, fortunately, traffic was light so Phil had no trouble keeping our fifth-wheel on the road. Jan took quite a number of pictures as she drove along, as well as when we stopped for lunch at one of the viewpoints.
On Friday, July 3oth, we left Montello, WI and began our journey to Knoxville, TN for our August 3rd service appointment at RVs for Less. Our first day took us 255 miles to Secor, IL (near Champaign) where we spent the night at Hickory Hill Campground. Since we were only overnighting, we decided to keep hitched but ended up making multiple adjustments to get level. It started drizzling as we prepared to leave on Saturday morning and we drove through rain for much of the 298-mile trip to North Bend, OH. With the time zone change, it was after 4:30 pm by the time we arrived at Indian Springs Campground, where we had planned to spend two nights.
However, after getting set up, Phil checked his emails and found that he had one from Karen Burson, owner of RVs for Less. She informed Phil that they were going to reschedule our service appointment until August 24th, three weeks later. Karen had just learned that her daughter, Amber, had scheduled us for the week that General Manager Ken Rife was going to be on vacation. Phil had called Ken in early July about our hydraulic leak and leg issues. Ken had told Phil that he would be on vacation the week of August 3rd but that his staff would be able to take care of us. Ken had instructed Phil to send Amber a list of our service needs and she would get us scheduled. Phil sent the list to Amber, with a copy to Ken, on July 9th and Amber replied that she had scheduled us for August 3rd.
Phil responded to Karen that the delay was unacceptable, since we had cancelled several reservations and backtracked from Wisconsin to make the August 3rd appointment. Although Karen stuck to her decision that we shouldn’t come when Ken was gone, she did agree to get us worked in on August 10th. Although we were still very unhappy, a one-week delay is better than three weeks.
The next challenge was to find reservations for the extra week, especially with early August being a peak vacation time. We were able to book two more nights at Indian Springs Campground, to give us time to explore our options and we also had no problem pushing off our August 2nd reservation in Heiskell, TN for a week. We were able to book Wednesday and Thursday nights at Grand Ole RV Resort. However, when we tried to find reservations for the weekend, we couldn’t find any vacancies anywhere in central Tennessee. Finally, we found a site at the KOA Nashville North despite their website previously showing no sites available. Although the rate of nearly $90 per night for Friday and Saturday nights is higher than we have ever paid (and the KOA Nashville North definitely doesn’t warrant such a rate), we were just happy to have some place to park.
On Tuesday, August 3rd, we visited the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, KY. This replica of Noah’s ark is the largest timber-frame structure in the world, standing 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet wide. Although they acknowledge the need to take a lot of artistic license with the design and furnishings, due to limited details in the Bible, it is nonetheless an impressive creation. The three decks of the ark are filled with exhibits that are designed to answer questions and skepticism about Noah’s ark and the biblical flood.
After we’d explored the ground floor and the first deck, we were both starving so we headed to Emzara’s for a huge buffet lunch. We then needed to walk off our lunch by visiting the animals in the Ararat Ridge Zoo. We especially enjoyed watching a two-toed sloth that was more active than its reputation.
We next returned to the ark and completed the second and third decks. On the way out of the park, we attended a portion of a gospel music concert.
On Wednesday, we drove 267 miles to Goodlettsville, TN. The first 90 miles were slow due to delays caused by road construction. After getting set up at Grand Ole RV Resort for two nights, Jason arrived with a carload of Amazon purchases we had had shipped to his house. We watched a female musician perform for a while, then headed to O’Charley’s for dinner. Jason joined us again for dinner on Thursday and Phil grilled us some steelhead trout.
On Friday, we had to make our 4-mile move to the Nashville North KOA. Since the posted check-in time wasn’t until 2 pm, we stayed at Grand Ole’ RV Resort until their checkout time at 11 am. Nothing was said when we arrived at the KOA at 11:07 am.
We really didn’t do much during our three days at the KOA. Jason was able to join us every evening. Unfortunately, Phil developed a fever of 101.1 degrees shortly after dinner on Saturday. Phil’s fever broke overnight and his temperature was closer to normal for most of Sunday.
We had learned that the scarcity of available campsites in the Nashville area was partially due to the Music City Grand Prix being held that weekend. 140,000 race fans were expected to attend the three-day event. Rather than pay over $80 a ticket and sit outside in 90+ degree temps, we opted to watch the race on TV from our air-conditioned living room. It was interesting to watch Indy cars race through the streets of downtown Nashville.
Unfortunately, Phil’s fever returned late Sunday afternoon, hitting 101.9 degrees. This was to become a pattern over the coming days.
On Monday morning, Phil’s temperature was somewhat lower and he felt well enough to make our 205-mile drive to Heiskell, TN. We made it safely to our site at Raccoon Valley Campground and were able to relax for a while before Phil’s temperature shot up to 102.6.
Once again, Phil’s temperature had dropped to a non-fever level by Monday morning so we were able to make the 20-mile drive to our dealer, RVs for Less, in Knoxville. We were pleased to get immediate attention to our list of repair items, unlike most of our future visits.
We managed to get some lunch at O’Charley’s, make a Sam’s Club run, and return home before Phil’s temperature starting climbing again. This time, it peaked at 104.0 degrees. After four days of increasingly high evening temps, we decided to get some medical attention.
Phil scheduled the first available appointment for a COVID test, at 10:15 am on Wednesday morning, at a Knoxville Urgent Care. Although we had an oil change scheduled at 1 pm at the Knoxville Mazda dealer, we figured there should be plenty of time for both. We were almost wrong! Phil had requested a COVID test just to be safe, despite having been vaccinated and the fever being the only real COVID symptom. This test was advertised as having 15-minute results but, apparently, that depends on when they start the clock. While he was waiting, Phil tried postponing the oil change but was told that the next opening was over a week away. Finally, at 11:45, the PA entered the exam room with the expected negative COVID test result. After asking a number of questions, she prescribed a broad-spectrum antibiotic and Phil exited at 12:15 pm. Under their COVID protocol, non-patients were not allowed in the waiting room. Given the temperature being in the 90s, Jan had needed to find shelter for most of the over-2-hour wait at a nearby Starbucks. We managed to pick up Phil’s prescription at the nearby Walgreens and make the 30-minute drive to the Mazda dealer, arriving right at 1 pm.
Continuing the trend, the oil change took longer than predicted. During our wait, Jan discovered that Knoxville has a large used book store not far from the dealer, so that became our next stop. The store, McKay’s Knoxville, was amazing and we both found a lot of books to buy.
Phil took his first of 10 daily antibiotic pills. However, the warnings of potential side effects were rather sobering. The most common appears to be tendon swelling or snapping, especially for those over 60. The warning also advised users to consider whether the risk of this injury was potentially worse than the illness you were trying to treat. Very comforting!
The fever did return, as usual, that afternoon but was not quite as high as the previous day. We were hopeful that we were finally turning the corner.
On Thursday, August 12th, we were told that we would need to be out of our rig for about four hours so the dealer could repair our issues with our hydraulic lines and our front legs. The plan was that this would complete the list of needed repairs and we could expect to be back on the road by Friday morning.
Since we hadn’t anticipated our stop at McKay’s Knoxville on Wednesday, we had had no books to exchange. We remedied this with a return visit on Thursday when we used exchange credits on a few additional books. We now both have more than enough books to last us through the year.
With stops at a couple of additional retailers and lunch at Panera, we had managed to kill the four hours. As we returned to the RV dealership, our rig was being moved back into position. Although we found a few minor issues than needed to be addressed that afternoon, it clearly looked like we were really going to be out of there on Friday morning, in record time.
Phil’s fever returned again Thursday evening but, again, was slightly better than before. Phil spent much of Thursday evening working our travel plans, with a goal of reconnecting with our original itinerary in South Dakota.
Since we had anticipated a much longer stay, Jan had booked a hair appointment for Friday morning. While Jan headed to her appointment, Phil booked us a campground for Friday night, refueled the truck at Sam’s Club, and did some grocery shopping at Walmart. We were both working around a schedule of hitting the road around noon.
The first sign of trouble came when Phil received several text messages from Ken Rife, the GM at RVs for Less. He learned that, when Ken had contacted our vehicle service contract company for reimbursement, they had balked at the size of the bill and decided they need to inspect the work themselves. However, they wouldn’t be able to do so until Monday; Tuesday at the latest. Although an additional three-day delay took another bite out of summer travel plans, the benefit of the delay was that it would buy Phil more time to recover.
Phil’s temperature reached 101.0 on Friday night but broke overnight. He woke up soaking wet but his temperature was down to 96.0. It never went back above 98.2 the rest of the weekend. Phil continued to take the remaining antibiotics but we were optimistic that the mystery illness had passed.
On Monday, August 16th, the CoachNet rep came to RVs for Less to inspect the work that had been done. Per Ken Rife, the rep had no knowledge of RVs and simply took a lot of pictures. He was unable to provide an authorization for the bill until he had a chance to review it with his supervisor. Rather than hold us up any longer, Karen told us Monday afternoon that we were free to leave. We made plans to get on the road early Tuesday morning. The remnants of Hurricane Fred were forecasted to hit the Knoxville area all day Tuesday so we stayed hooked up Monday night. We were rather unlevel all night, which made it difficult to walk around in our rig. We hit the road early on Tuesday morning in a light drizzle.
On Monday, July 26th, we left Door County, WI and drove 177 miles to Montello, WI where we spent four nights at the home of our friends, Todd and Beth Ehlenfeldt. The trip went smoothly and the truck continued to exhibit no DEF system issues. When we arrived, Todd did a masterful job of getting our fifth wheel backed into their driveway, without hitting any of the trees that bordered the entrance.
We spent the rest of the day socializing on the hillside overlooking Buffalo Lake. The temperature was in the mid-80s but the breeze off the lake made it delightful. Todd and Beth fixed us dinner and we enjoyed dining outdoors. There were heavy rains and strong winds overnight, resulting in many downed branches. We were too tired to notice and slept through most of the storm.
On Tuesday, we all went to the Wisconsin Dells. After walking along the downtown storefronts and the Riverwalk, we cooled off with refreshments at the Riverwalk Pub. We then caught a shuttle that took us to the Original Wisconsin Duck tour. We rode in a WWII amphibious vehicle known as a duck. The driver splashed us into the Wisconsin River and Lake Delton, climbed over sandbars, and covered over four miles of scenic wilderness trails.
On Wednesday, we explored downtown Montello with Todd and Beth. We walked along the Fox River, explored a store crammed full of lawn art, and visited the Montello waterfalls. Next, we drove to Beaver Dam to meet Beth’s twin sister, Linda, and her brother-in-law, Bob. Linda is a retired beautician and she cut everyone’s hair while we visited. We next stopped at the Ooga Brewing Company for drinks. Phil had a Weirdo in the Window and Jan chose a Drive By Frootin’. We ended the day with a buffet dinner of Chinese food at Ming’s Garden. Strong winds were forecast for Wednesday night so we moved our vehicles to a neighbor’s driveway but, fortunately, the storm mostly missed Montello.
We spent Thursday relaxing. The weed cutters had been busy most of the week so Todd and Jan were able to fish from the dock. Jan prepared an early dinner and, again, we were able to dine outdoors. After dinner, we played several games of cornhole. The women ended up winning, two games to one.
We got going early on Friday morning and were ready to roll by 10 a.m. We said our goodbyes, but with the knowledge that we’ll be together again in Gulf Shores, AL in November.