At Home with the Ehlenfeldts – July 26 – 30, 2021

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.

Door County, WI (July 21-26, 2021)

We arrived at Baileys Grove Campground in Baileys Harbor, WI late in the afternoon on Wednesday, July 21st, for a five-night stay.  We were greeted by our friends, Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt, who had arrived on Monday and were parked practically across the street from us.  We had also planned to arrive on Monday but, due to truck problems, had had to cancel the first two nights.

After we got set up, we socialized with the Ehlenfeldts and they were kind enough to serve us dinner.  We then sat around their campfire until exhaustion from the prior three days’ activities had us heading off to bed.

On Thursday, the Ehlenfeldts showed us around several towns in Door County.  Our first stop was in Sister Bay.  After walking along the beach and marina, we visited Stabbur at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and enjoyed some refreshments at an outside table.  We were able to see the sod roofs on the authentic Swedish log buildings but, unfortunately, the goats that eat the grass on the roofs in the summertime were absent.  We then visited a number of shops along Sister Bay’s main street.

Our next stop was Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market in Fish Creek.  This establishment had all sorts of cherry products.  They even had a setup for competitive cherry pit spitting.  The ladies did wine tastings and we bought a bottle of cherry wine.  We also stopped at Wood Orchard Market in Egg Harbor and made some more purchases.

We had dinner reservations at Pelletier’s Restaurant & Fish Boil in Fish Creek.  We got back to Fish Creek early so we killed time by visiting several shops.  The actual fish boil occurred precisely at 5 p.m. but we grabbed a table at 4:30 to watch the preparation.  The owner, a third-generation operator of the fish boil, did an excellent job of explaining the process.  He began by cooking baby red potatoes and onions, then added Lake Michigan whitefish steaks, and finally added corn on the cob.  He regulated the temperature by stacking, and removing, pieces of wood along the edge of the pot.  As the fish cooks, a film of oil begins at accumulate on the surface of the water.  The culmination of the process came when the owner threw a can of kerosene on the fire, resulting in a huge flame and the boiling off of the film of fish oil.  The kettle of food was removed from the flame immediately and was delivered to our table within a minute.  The food was delicious, although picking out the bones from the whitefish required a lot of care.  As though we hadn’t had enough to eat, the meal ended with a slice of Door County cherry pie.

After dinner, we returned to the campground and sat by the Ehlenfeldt’s campfire until we were driven indoors by mosquitos.

On Friday, we said goodbye to Todd and Beth.  We will be joining them at their home in a few days.  We then drove to Sturgeon Bay to explore the area.  We took the truck in order to further test the effectiveness of the repairs to the DEF system.  Fortunately, all continued to work as it should.  We visited two lighthouses; the Sturgeon Bay Canal Station Lighthouse and the North Pierhead Lighthouse.  Reaching the North Pierhead Light required walking down a long breakwater.

We then drove back into Sturgeon Bay and walked across the Michigan Street Bridge.  This bridge provided a beautiful view up Sturgeon Bay to the north.  After crossing the bridge, we strolled along the waterfront before returning across the river on the Oregon Street Bridge.  This bridge provided views of the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal, built in the late 1800s. 

We then strolled along the shops in downtown Sturgeon Bay and sought shelter from the heat at the Starboard Brewing Company.  We tried a couple of their microbrews and shared a plate of local cheeses.  Throughout downtown, we saw numerous cherry sculptures that had been decorate uniquely.

On Saturday, we drove to Egg Harbor and Fish Creek and visited some shops and purchased some cheese.  We then returned to Baileys Harbor and strolled along the main drag.  We stopped at Chive Food Truck for a couple of drinks and an order of fried cheese curds.  We sat in Adirondack chairs overlooking the street and the bay and enjoyed watching the world go by.  The temperature was in the low 80s but sitting under large shade trees with a breeze coming off the bay made it feel great. 

On Sunday, July 25th, we decided to explore the northern end of Door County.  However, as we were leaving Baileys Harbor, we discovered that there was a farmers’ market on the town square.  We parked and checked out all the stalls, including one with live alpacas. 

We then headed north and passed through Sister Bay, Ellison Bay and Gilts Rock.  We continued on towards Northport but soon found ourselves in a line of cars waiting for the ferry to Washington Island.  We turned around and returned to Gilts Rock, where we visited some gift shops, and then on to the Ellison Bay County Park and its scenic overlook.

As we returned through Sister Bay, we stopped at Al Johnson’s Stabbur again for some liquid refreshments.  Once again, the goats were missing from the rooftops.

After stopping for groceries at Piggly Wiggly, we decided to check out the Cana Island Lighthouse.  This 85-foot-tall lighthouse was built in 1869 and automated in 1944.  The island is accessible by a tram ride across a shallow causeway.  Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day to make the trip to the island, especially with a car full of groceries on an 85-degree day.  We had to settle for a view of the lighthouse from across the bay.  Our final stop was a brief one at the sand beach on Lake Michigan near Baileys Harbor.

All’s Well That Ends Well (July 19-21, 2021)

On Monday, July 19, we began what we believed would be a 228-mile drive from Manistique, MI to Baileys Harbor, WI (in Door County).  Phil had booked a service appointment at Chrysler World in Abrams, WI to get the DEF counter reset.  It was 144 miles to Abrams so, by the time we arrived, the RAM was showing only nine more miles until we would be limited to 5 mph.  Since the reset we had had done in Escanaba, MI had only taken about 20 minutes, we were hoping that we would be in and out quickly.  We had planned to drop the fifth wheel at a Phillips 66 station near the dealer.  Phil had used Google Earth to verify that there was a large lot where we would be able to park.  However, when we arrived, we discovered the service station was out of business.  Regardless, we pulled in and unhitched the trailer in the vacant lot.  Jan sat in her car by the rig while Phil took the truck to the dealer.  It was good that she stayed because a man from a business on the property came to ask her what was up with the trailer.  It was clear that he didn’t want us there long-term.

The expected 20-minute service appointment turned into a 4-hour emotional rollercoaster and ended on a really bad note.  Over the course of the afternoon, Phil learned that the reset that had been done in Escanaba was possible because of an available software update.  However, the update couldn’t be done again and the mechanics in Abrams couldn’t find any way to reset the counter.  At one point, they had gotten the DEF pump to work again and it looked like they might be able to get us back on the road.  Unfortunately, the pump stopped working as soon as they took it out for a test drive.  Brad, the service manager, spent much of the afternoon trying to find another DEF pump, either from another dealer or a used part supplier, but with no success.  With no short-term solution to our problem, Brad called numerous people to see if they could tow our fifth-wheel to our reserved campsite in Baileys Harbor, but the earliest available tow would have been a couple of days later.  After exploring options of where to park the fifth-wheel, the dealer got permission from the Wisconsin DOT for us to park it in the Park and Ride lot next to the dealership.  By this point, the RAM was down to one mile until we would be limited to 5 mph.  That was just enough for us to get the rig moved and the truck returned to the dealer.

When we got in the fifth wheel, it was too hot to consider spending the night.  With no electrical hook-up, we would not have been able to run the air conditioners.  With our batteries nearly six-years old, Phil was hesitant to extend our bedroom slide since we might not have enough juice left to get it closed again.  We had been running the refrigerator on the inverter but knew that we would exhaust that power supply soon.  Since we had our refrigerator and freezer fairly full, we had to decide what food to try to salvage.  We filled all our coolers with what would fit and bought a 20-pound bag of ice from the Shell station. 

Phil contacted one of the owners of the campground in Baileys Harbor and cancelled our weeklong reservation.  Under the circumstances, she was kind and waived the one-night cancellation fee.

Phil starting checking for a place for us to spend the night.  Abrams, WI is a very small town and had no lodging nearby.  Green Bay was 12-miles away but all the hotels cost $120+.  Phil finally settled on a $65 motel that was 33-miles north of Abrams.  We quickly learned that you don’t get much for $65.  Check-in was a unique experience.  We each had to provide our drivers licenses and fill out a lengthy registration form, with eight sections which each needed to be initialed.  We then learned that we would have to wait 15 minutes to get in our room because the comforter was in the dryer.  We didn’t even want to think about why the comforter had to be washed.  When we finally got in the room, it wasn’t terrible but the bed was very hard.  We tried the TV but we were only able to get one channel. 

After our stressful day, we fell asleep quickly.  However, Phil was awakened at midnight with hip hop music blaring outside our door.  The music continued for about ten minutes, then stopped, only to return about ten minutes later.  Sometime later in the night, a train roared past the motel with its horn blasting.  With all the stress of our truck issues, Phil found it difficult to get back to sleep after these episodes.  Although Jan was able to sleep through the noise, the hard bed kept her awake much of the night.  People started leaving the motel before 6 a.m., which made for an early awakening. 

Phil spent most of the night pondering our options.  He had talked to a diesel mechanic on Monday about having the emission system deleted and, although illegal, was starting to seriously consider it.  However, it would have required us to get the truck towed 91-miles to Florence, WI and we would have still had to get the trailer towed to some campground, assuming we could get reservations.  We had previously located a new DEF pump at a Dodge dealer in Sauk City, WI and had scheduled an installation for July 27th.  However, it was 168-miles from Abrams to Sauk City and we didn’t want to have the truck towed that far.  The best option appeared to be for us to drive to Sauk City and buy the part and return it to Abrams to have it installed.  However, we had sensed some reluctance by dealers to selling the part, without doing the installation, so we weren’t sure the Sauk City dealer would agree to this option. 

Fortunately, when Phil called the Sauk City service manager on Tuesday morning and gave him our sob story, he agreed to sell us the part.  We quickly checked out of the hotel and began a long day of driving, despite being exhausted.  We ended up covering 370 miles and, other than pulling through a McDonalds for breakfast, didn’t stop for meals.  We managed to buy the pump in Sauk City and hand it over to the Abrams service manager before he left for the day at 4:30 p.m.  He assured Phil that he would get the pump installed on Wednesday, although it might be late in the afternoon.  We were feeling optimistic so we called the campground in Baileys Harbor and reclaimed the remaining five days of our reservation.  The owner had to do some rearranging but managed to get us our original site for the whole stay.

After our Monday night motel experience, we decided we needed better lodging for Tuesday night.  While we were driving, Jan was able to find us a good rate at a Country Inn & Suites in Green Bay.  Compared to the motel, the room at the Country Inn was wonderful.  We walked to a nearby pizzeria and had a delicious Chicago-style pizza.  We slept much better on Tuesday night, although Jan did roll off the queen-sized bed during the night.

We killed time on Wednesday morning and stayed in the room until the noon checkout time.  Since we were in Green Bay, we decided we should visit Lambeau Field, rather than just hang out at the Chrysler dealership.  Although we didn’t get to tour Lambeau Field, we did spend over an hour at Titletown, a unique community development next to the stadium.  In addition to restaurants and a hotel, Titletown features a large public park with outdoor games, fitness activities and a winter skating rink and tubing hill.  The Play 60-theme area has a regulation football field, electronically-timed 40-yard dash, climbing structures, slides and more.  Throughout the plaza, there are horseshoes, bean bag toss, shuffleboard, bocce, ping pong and foosball.  They also have books, magazines, board games, and art supplies ready for use, all free of charge.  We climbed the tubing hill and played some shuffleboard.

We returned to the car dealership around 2:30 and were relieved to learn that the repair work was going well.  At 4 p.m., the repairs were completed and we were able to get on the road again.  After retrieving our fifth-wheel from the Park and Ride lot, we began the 87-mile drive to Baileys Harbor.  We did have to stop once along the way due to our front legs dropping but, other than that, the trip went smoothly.  We are both very hopeful that our truck problems have been resolved and that we will not have to face such a stressful situation again.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (June 15 – July 19, 2021)

On Tuesday, June 15th, we drove 63 miles north to Sault Ste. Marie, MI.  The beginning of the drive took us over the 5-mile Mackinac Bridge.  The height of the bridge and the metal grating on the road bed is reportedly terrifying for some drivers.  Until COVID hit, the bridge authority used to make employees available to drive your vehicle across the bridge if you were too scared to drive it yourself.  Despite a number of lane changes due to bridge repairs, neither of us found driving across the bridge to be very scary.

Sault (pronounced “soo”) Ste. Marie, the oldest city in the Midwest, was founded in 1668.  It lies on the banks of the St. Mary’s River, which connects Lake Superior and Lake Huron.  The city of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario is right across the river and is connected by the International Bridge (now closed to us due to COVID).

We stayed at Aune-Osborn Campground for three nights.  All the sites are back-ins but, using Google Earth and the campground map, Phil had selected a site that was very easy to back into.  Our site only had a 30-amp electrical hookup but the weather was mild enough that we could get by with only one air conditioner.  We were only one row away from the St. Mary’s River and, since the site behind us was not occupied for the first two days, we had a clear view of the river, and Canada, from our living room windows.

After getting set up, we sat outside and watched soldiers of the Michigan National Guard erect several sections of a pontoon bridge on the river.  Our neighbor told us they do this exercise every year, to prepare for the possibility of the International Bridge being destroyed in a wartime attack.

Our site also provided us with a great view of the large vessels transporting cargo between the two Great Lakes and, in some cases, on to the Atlantic.  The Soo Locks, through which these large ships travel, is a short distance up the river from us.  Jan enjoyed shooting pictures of the many cargo ships as they sailed by us. 

On Wednesday, we visited the Soo Locks, which are managed by the US Army Corp of Engineers.  There are four locks: the MacArthur, Poe, Davis and Sabin (closed).  The Poe Lock, the largest of the four, was rebuilt in 1968 to accommodate 1,000-foot vessels.  Plans are underway to replace the Davis and Sabin locks with another lock that can handle 1,000-foot vessels. 

More than 11,000 vessels pass through these locks every year, transporting iron ore, coal, limestone and grain. Upon our arrival, we went up on the observation platform.  We watched a large cargo ship pass through the Poe Lock and two tour boats pass through the MacArthur Lock.

We then spent time in the Visitors Center where we examined numerous informational displays and watched several videos dealing with the history and operation of the locks.  We learned that, before the canals and locks were built, rapids dropping 21 feet in less than a mile, stopped all boat traffic at this point.  Locks have been used for thousands of years and use gravity to raise or lower boats between two elevations.  Although there have been major improvements in machinery, the Soo Locks still use gravity, not pumps, to move millions of gallons of water to help boats bypass the rapids.  We also learned that the 75-mile-long St. Mary’s River is technically not a river, but a strait, a series of lakes and connecting waterways.  It takes freighters about nine hours to pass through the St. Mary’s River, navigating a series of tight turns.

We then had an early dinner at Muloney’s Irish Pub, before returning to the observation platform to watch another large cargo ship pass through the Poe Lock on its way to Lake Superior.

After returning to the campground, we went for a walk along the river and discovered a local park and a ferry that transports cars to Sugar Island, a 14-mile-long island known for bird-watching.

On Thursday, we drove to Brimley, MI and hiked the Mission Hill trail.  This 4-mile hike was lollipop-shaped.  The first half-mile had a very steep descent and, since we returned on the same path, a steep ascent on the return.  The rest of the hike was a loop that paralleled a lovely lake.  The outbound trail was near the banks of the lake, while the return was on a ridge high above the lake.  The trailhead was at an observation point that provided a beautiful view of the lakes, with Lake Superior in the distance.

On Friday, June 18th, we left Sault Ste. Marie and drove 77 miles west to Newberry, MI, where we spent five nights at Kritter’s Northcountry Campground. 

We spent Saturday exploring Tahquamenon Falls State Park.  The Tahquamenon Falls consist of two sets of waterfalls on the Tahquamenon River.  As much as 50,000 gallons of water per second flow over these falls, making them the third most voluminous waterfalls east of the Mississippi.  Adding to Tahquamenon’s majesty is its distinctive colors: bronze water from the tannic acid of decaying cedars and hemlocks along its banks, and bright white foam from the water’s high salt content.

Our first stop was at the Lower Falls, a series of five waterfalls flowing around an island.  We hiked a 2.9-mile trail that wound through the state park before bringing us to the edge of the falls.  At the gift shop, we bought some FROG jam, consisting of fig, raspberry, orange and ginger.

We then drove four miles upstream to the Upper Falls.  The Upper Falls are more than 200 feet across and have a drop of approximately 48 feet.  We hiked a 1.9-mile path that took us first to the brim of the falls and then to the gorge.  Accessing the platform by the falls’ brim required going down 94 steps; the viewing platform at the gorge required going down 116 steps.  In both cases, the return up the steps was much more challenging than the descent.

We finished our day with a late-afternoon meal at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub.  It seemed unusual to find a microbrewery in a state park but the food and beer were both good.

We spent Sunday in Paradise.  Paradise, Michigan, that is.  We visited the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point.  Whitefish Point has been called “the graveyard of Lake Superior.”  Since navigation began on Lake Superior, there have been approximately 550 wrecks.  More vessels were lost in the Whitefish Point area than any other part of Lake Superior.  This compact museum traces the history of Great Lakes commerce and the disasters that sometimes accompanied it.  Several shipwrecks were chronicled, each with a scale model, photos or drawings, artifacts from the wreck, and a description of how and why the ship went down.  Most compelling is the Edmund Fitzgerald display, with a life preserver, the ship’s bell and a videotape showing pictures of the 29 crewmen who perished in the 1975 wreck, as well as film footage of the ship prior to the wreck.

We next visited the Whitefish Point Light, the oldest active light on Lake Superior, constructed in 1861.  We toured the Keepers Quarters Dwelling attached to the light.  The dwelling has been fully restored to reflect the life of the lightkeeper and his family at the turn of the century, circa 1890-1920.  Although the dwelling looked very attractive, life for the keeper and his family was quite difficult.  The pay was very low and they had almost no contact with civilization away from the light.  Since 1971, the light, fog signal, and radio beacon have been automated and controlled from Sault. Ste. Marie.

We also visited the U.S. Coast Guard Lifeboat Station.  Established in 1923, this was the first station of what was then known as the U.S. Life-Saving Service.  We saw a restored surfboat, as well as a hoist that was used to rescue crew from ships that ran aground.  Between 1871 and 1889, Service-wide, surfboats were launched 6,730 times, rescuing 6,735 victims of shipwreck.

Our remaining two days in Newberry were rainy and quite a bit cooler.  The daytime highs never got above 61 degrees and the nighttime lows were in the upper 30s.  We spent most of these days reading and were able to take advantage of the campground’s book exchange to get three new books.

On Wednesday, June 23rd, as Phil was sweeping branches off the top of our slides in preparation for our travel, he discovered that one of the cables on our bedroom slide had snapped.  Fortunately, we were able to get the slide closed, using the remaining cables and with Phil and the campground owner pushing the slide in from the outside.  The slide remained in place as we drove 77 miles to Christmas, MI, where we spent the next week at Pictured Rocks RV Park.  Unfortunately, there were no mobile RV techs in either the Newberry or Christmas areas.  Phil called the service department at a large RV dealership near Marquette, MI (our next stop) but learned that they were already booked out until late July.  Fortunately, Jan was able to find a mobile RV tech in Baraga, MI and we set up an appointment for the repair to be done on July 8th, while we’re in Iron Mountain, MI.

Thursday’s forecast called for rain most of the day so we decided to use the day to get oriented to the area.  The weather turned out to be much nicer than expected. Our first stop was at Munising Falls.  There was a half-mile boardwalk to the falls.  The pathway split and each way took us up steep stairways that led to either side of the falls.

We next stopped at the Wagner Falls Lookout.  This time, the path to the falls was only .2-mile. 

We then stopped at Muldoons Pasties so Phil could dine on the Michigan Upper Peninsula’s signature dish, the pasty (rhymes with “nasty”).  Muldoons was just one of several pasty shops we saw as we drove through Munising. The pasty originated in Cornwall, England.  In the 1840s, many miners left the UK to work in the copper mines in the UP of Michigan.  The pasty, which is a pastry shell that contains beef, potatoes, carrots and rutabegas, was the ideal meal for a miner.  Since the miner’s hands were dirty, they would hold the pasty in one hand by the crimped crusty edge, eat the middle, and then toss the edges aside.  Phil thought the pasty tasted OK but Jan decided to pass on trying it.  At one pound, the pasty left Phil feeling overly full for the rest of the afternoon.  Jan made a new friend with Sasquatch.

After Muldoons, we drove to the Grand Island Scenic Overlook.  Grand Island, roughly the size of Manhattan, lies on the other side of Munising Bay.  While there are some private landowners, most of the island is part of the Hiawatha National Forest and is largely wooded. Automobiles are not allowed, except by special permit and by island landowners.  A ferry connects the island with the mainland.

On Friday, we explored the Miners Creek section of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  Our first stop was at the upper and lower overlooks at Miners Castle.  The sandstone cliffs are known as Miners Castle due to the nine-story high rock formation with turret-like shapes formed by wind and wave erosion.  Unfortunately, thick fog limited our visibility. 

Next, we attempted to hike the Miners Castle to Miners Beach trail.  Although the trail was unmarked, the first mile was fairly simple to follow.  However, after we crossed a bridge, the trails began to split and head off in multiple directions.  We tried multiple paths, each leading to a dead-end, but, with no cell service to enable the use of the Alltrails map, we finally gave up and found our way back to the starting point. 

After getting back to our car, we decided to drive to Miners Beach.  Since the temperature was only 60 degrees, we were surprised to see a lot of people relaxing on the beach and some children in the water.  We also saw a large number of kayakers returning from their tour on the bay. 

Our final stop was at nearby Miners Falls.  We hiked down a .6-mile path to reach these falls, which have a 40-foot drop.

On Sunday, we headed to Autrain Falls and hiked a .8-mile trail that first took us to the lower falls and then, back up the river, to the upper falls.  On our way back to Christmas, we stopped at a scenic area that overlooked Lake Superior.

What would Christmas be without Santa’s workshop?  Unfortunately, we discovered that Santa’s Workshop is now permanently closed, so we were unable to visit Santa.  However, we were still able to see what is supposedly the world’s largest Santa and the largest concrete Frosty the Snowman.  Next, we visited the Kewadin Casino.  We were each given $13 credit on our player’s cards and, after playing the slot machines for an hour, left with more money than we had risked.

On Monday, we did a 2.5-hour Pictured Rocks cruise.  We arrived an hour early and were first in line, so we were able to get very good seats. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a 40-mile stretch of Lake Superior shoreline, was authorized as the first national lakeshore in 1966.  Sandstone cliffs tower 50 – 200 feet above the water.  Streaks on the cliffs occur when groundwater oozes out of cracks in the rock.  The dripping water contains minerals that leave behind a colorful stain as the water trickles down the cliff face (iron – red; manganese – black/white; limonite – yellow/brown; copper – pink/green).  Near the turnaround point of the cruise, the ship captain pulls the boat into Chapel Cove so we were within a few feet of the rocks.  On our return, we passed the decommissioned East Channel Lighthouse on Grand Island. 

Boat backing out of Chapel Cove

On Wednesday, June 30th, we moved 38 miles to Rippling River RV Resort in Marquette, MI.  Checkout time at Pictured Rocks RV Park was 11 am and the official check-in time at Rippling Rivers RV Resort wasn’t until 3 pm so we needed to kill some time.  We stopped at the Michigan Welcome Center and took a short hike along Lake Superior.  Despite this, we still arrived at Rippling Rivers around 1 pm.  We needed the extra time, since we were in a back-in site.  We quickly remembered why we almost always book pull-through sites, as we had a lot of difficulty getting into our site.  Although the site was plenty wide, the road was narrow and was lined with decorative boulders and small trees that served as challenges.  Jan tried to give guidance over our cell phones but we kept losing connections.  We finally got into our site but not before providing quite a lot of entertainment for the other campers.  Marquette, with a population of 20,000, is the largest town in the Upper Peninsula and is home to the only Wal-Mart in the U.P. so, after getting set up, we headed there and stocked up on staples.

On Thursday, we visited Marquette’s historic downtown district and explored some of the shops.  We then headed to Presque Isle Park, a peninsula about four miles north of downtown.  The park provides a microcosm of the area’s beauty: rocky bluffs, tall pines, and lovely Lake Superior vistas.  We hiked the 2.5-mile loop trail around the circumference of the park.  We stopped at Blackrocks, an ancient rock formation on the upper end of the peninsula, and watched a father and daughter leap from the 10 to 15-foot cliffs into the crystal water below.  After completing the loop trail, we walked out on the breakwater toward the Presque Isle Lighthouse.  The final approach to the lighthouse would have involved climbing over a long stretch of boulders but we opted to call it a day instead.  From the breakwater, we were able to view the Marquette Ore Dock.  This huge structure, which extends .25-mile out into Lake Superior, is designed to load 600-foot-long ships with taconite pellets deposited by overhead railroad cars.  Unfortunately, no ships were being loaded at the time.

On Friday, we drove 59 miles west of Marquette and hiked the 4.5-mile out-and-back Canyon Gorge Trail.  The first 2/3 of this trail took beside the roaring rapids of the Sturgeon River as it passed through a gorge carved out of black rocks.  As we had seen at Tahquamenon Falls, the tannic acid derived from decaying cedars caused the water to be a deep bronze.  There were numerous waterfalls along the way, although the highest only had a 30’ drop.

Sunday was July 4th and was an unusually hot day for the U.P., with a high of 91.  We planned to take it easy, due to the heat.  We drove to view the Warner Falls, which our guide book described as “among the most scenic of the Marquette region’s waterfalls.”  Unfortunately, the falls were not easily accessible so we did not get a very good view.  Next, we headed north of Marquette to Sugarloaf Mountain.  We hiked an easy 1.4-mile loop trail.  Although the trail was easy, there were a large number of stairs that needed to be scaled to reach the overlook and this was quite strenuous in the heat.  We had planned to attend some of Marquette’s July Fourth festivities that evening but the heat changed our minds.

Monday was about 10 degrees cooler so we decided to hike the 2.4-mile out-and-back Dead River Falls trail.  It was a beautiful trail that took us along the Dead River to numerous waterfalls and rapids.  The hike turned out to be considerably more strenuous than we had anticipated, with lots of ascents and descents as well as numerous rock scrambles.  When we reached the furthest point, we removed our boots and socks and cooled our feet in the river.      

When we had arrived at Rippling Rivers on June 30th, the truck had flashed the message that our DEF system issue had returned and, in 120 miles, we would be limited to 5 mph.  After disconnecting, Phil drove the truck a couple of times and the message never returned.  However, on July 7th, we drove 79 miles to Iron Mountain, MI, where we stayed at Summer Breeze Campground for three days, and the message returned almost immediately.  By the time we got parked at Summer Breeze, we only had about 40 miles left before we would be in limp mode.  We found a Dodge dealer in Iron Mountain and we were fortunate to be able to get in that afternoon.  That was the good news; the bad news was that we need a new DEF pump and that part had a three-month back order.  The service manager told Phil he could reset the counter on the truck so we could go about 500-600 miles before it would shut us down.  He did say it could possibly be less if we were towing.  We would need to find Dodge dealers along the way to reset the counter each time we ran low on miles.  The following day, Jan made several phone calls and was able to find the DEF pump we need at a Dodge dealer in Sauk City, WI (near Madison).  We scheduled the repair job for July 27th.  With 500 miles before we would face the DEF issue again, we figured we could continue with our travel plans, although we would need one counter reset along the way, in Sturgeon Bay, WI. 

In addition to the truck problem, we discovered that the motor on our electric power cord reel had apparently burnt out.  More significantly, we also discovered, upon arriving at Summer Breeze, that we had an issue with our hydraulic lines on our fifth wheel.  After getting set up, our front legs sank somewhat.  Jan re-leveled the rig and, fortunately, the legs remained extended this time.  However, we discovered hydraulic fluid was leaking and pooling up on one of the landing pads.  After evaluating possible options, we decided to return to our dealer in Knoxville, TN for repairs.  Phil scheduled a service appointment for August 3rd, after getting the truck repaired on July 27th.  Unfortunately, this will require us to cancel a month of reservations that had been booked months ago.

On Thursday, July 8th, we had two service techs from Superior Mobile RV Repairs come to our campsite to repair the broken cable on our bedroom slide-out.  The repair job went surprisingly quickly.

On Friday, we drove to Norway, MI and hiked the 3.5-mile out-and-back Piers Gorge Trail.  The Menominee River runs from near Iron Mountain to Green Bay, WI, forming nearly half of the Michigan-Wisconsin border.  It narrows through Piers Gorge, a run of whitewater rapids and waterfalls.  In the mid-1800s, loggers relied on the Menominee to float logs to the river’s mouth.  This stretch of rivers created major logjams so they built a series of wooden piers to slow the current and channel the flow – hence the name.  This was a beautiful hike, as it kept us close to the river most of the way.  We saw a number of whitewater raft tours on the river but, unfortunately, did not get to see any of them pass through the wildest rapids.

On Saturday, we drove 115 miles to Manistique, MI where we had reserved nine nights at Manistique Lakeshore Campground.  Manistique is on the northern edge of Lake Michigan.  We had a long pull-through site and were positioned so our living room window gave us a view of Lake Michigan.

The drive to Manistique was far from uneventful.  The dreaded DEF system issue returned almost immediately and, by the time we reached our campground, we were down to 92 miles before we would be limited to 5 mph.  So much for being able to go 500-600 miles before having this issue again!  In addition, Jan noticed part way through the trip that our front legs had dropped.  We stopped and retracted the legs again.  Fortunately, they remained retracted for the remainder of our drive.

On Sunday, we attempted to forget our troubles and got out to explore the area.  First, we spent some time in downtown Manistique and did some shopping at the Mustard Seed, a local gift shop.  We then visited the East Breakwater Lighthouse.  The light, standing 35’ tall, was built in 1916 and automated in 1969.  After scrambling over a lot of boulders, we managed to reach the concrete breakwater and walked out to the lighthouse.

We next drove about 22 miles to the Seul Choix Point Lighthouse.  Pronounced “sis-shwa” – French for “only choice” – it sits at the end of a finger of land that offers boaters the only choice for hiding from storms along this stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline.  The lighthouse, built 1892-1895, is still operational but is no longer manned.  The Historical Society from the neighboring town of Gulliver has done an excellent job of filling the two-story keeper’s residence, boat house and fog horn building with tons of memorabilia.  We watched a video documentary that told the history of the lighthouse and included interviews with people who had worked or lived at the lighthouse.  Toward the end, we climbed the 97 steps to the top of the lighthouse and were able to see far out into Lake Michigan.

We dined at Clyde’s Drive-In.  Although car hop service was available, we opted to go inside and eat at the counter.  This restaurant was a throwback to the 1950s and was clearly popular, based on the number of cars in the parking lot.  We each had burgers and shakes, and split an order of sweet potato fries.

On Monday, we walked the 3.2-mile down-and-back Manistique Boardwalk.  This paved path, with occasional sections of wooden boardwalk, wound its way along the Lake Michigan shoreline and took us past the Manistique Light.  We watched the dredging operation in the harbor and discovered a large frog.

On Tuesday, we drove to the Big Springs known as Kitch-iti-kipi.  This spring is on the western side of Indian Lake and is 45 feet deep and 200 feet across.  Beneath the Big Spring, the rock formation is cracked, allowing the pressurized water to squirt into the pool through a dancing layer of sand.  The water bubbles up from the earth at a rate of 10,000 to 16,000 gallons per minute and flows continuously throughout the year at a constant 45 degrees.  The state park provides a glass-bottom raft that is propelled by passengers along a cable tethered to either shore.  The crystal-clear water allowed us to watch the gushing springs, skeletons of downed trees and many large trout.

On Wednesday, Phil took the truck 54 miles back to Escanaba, MI to get the Performance Control Module (PCM) reset.  This appeared to have been successful in getting us up to another 200 miles before we will need to get it reset again.  Assuming this process continues to work, we will need to have the PCM reset three more times to get us to Sauk City, WI, where we will have the DEF pump replaced. It’s annoying and expensive but, if it works, we will be greatly relieved.

On Friday, we drove to the Seney National Wildlife Refuge.  First, we hiked 4 miles on a couple of trails along the Upper Goose Pen Pool that are primarily used by cross-country skiers.  The scenery was beautiful but we were bothered by huge flies.  We finally had to resort to wearing our mosquito nets on our heads and dousing ourselves in bug spray.  Next, we did the seven-mile wilderness wildlife drive in our car.  We saw lots of swans and turtles.

On Saturday, July 17, we spent the afternoon sitting in our chairs on the campground beach, overlooking Lake Michigan.  We broke out our beach umbrella for the first time.  The water was fairly warm.  We watched quite a few of our fellow campers swimming but we only waded in a short distance.

Lower Michigan (May 27 – June 15, 2021)

On Thursday, May 27th, we got an early start and drove 190 miles from Elkhart, IN to Ludington, MI where we spent five nights at Poncho’s Pond RV Park.  We set up in a light drizzle but managed to get finished before the heavier rain began.  The campground was very attractive and our site was on the edge of a large pond.  However, our pad was quite narrow and not long enough to accommodate all our vehicles.  Since the campground rules prohibited parking on the grass, we needed to remove the bikes and bike rack so our car wouldn’t be sticking out into the road.

The weather for the entire Memorial Day weekend was quite cool.  The highs for our first three days never got above 60 degrees and Memorial Day itself was only slightly warmer. On Saturday, we drove to Ludington State Park on the edge of Lake Michigan.  We hiked 4.5-miles out-and-back on the Lighthouse Trail.  The trail first took us to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse, which was built in 1867 after 12 ships had wrecked in the area in 1855.  On our return, we climbed the dunes at the site of a shipwreck and the former site of a station of the U.S. Life-Saving Service.  Unfortunately, there were no remains to be seen.

That evening we drove to the edge of Lake Michigan and watched the sunset.

On Sunday, we returned to Ludington State Park and hiked the 2.5-mile Lost Lake and Island Loop Trail.  This loop trail took us around the circumference of Lost Lake, with us hiking along Hamlin Lake on the return.

Monday was Memorial Day.  We returned to Ludington State Park for the third day and hiked the 2.3-mile Skyline Trail.  The middle of this loop hike involved climbing over 200 stairs to the top of a sand dune that provided a view of Lake Michigan.  The trail ended at the Hamlin Dam which feeds the Sable River.

We then drove back into Ludington and hiked along the Ludington North breakwater to a lighthouse, a distance of one-half mile in each direction.  We were glad the waves were not as strong as we had observed in previous days and we managed to walk the breakwater without getting wet,

On Tuesday, June 1st, we moved northerly to Traverse City, MI.  With only an 82-mile drive from Ludington and check-in not allowed until 2 pm, we had a leisurely morning and departed at 12:30.  Although our starting and ending points were both on US-31, the GPS took us on a rather circuitous route.  We arrived at Holiday Park Campground at 2:30 for our weeklong stay and found that our area of the campground was largely devoid of other campers.  We expect that to change on the weekend.

On Wednesday, we drove to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Lake Michigan and the giant dunes were formed 14,000 years ago when the glaciers receded.  Over time, forests have developed in much of the area.  After a brief stop at the Visitors Center, we drove the 7-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and got out to explore at several of the stops.  One of the stops provided a 450-foot steep climb down a dune to Lake Michigan.  There was a warning sign stating that a rescue from the slope would cost $3,000 so we just watched from an overlook as some of the younger, and more adventurous, climbers took the challenge.

Our next stop was at the Dune Climb.  We struggled in deep sand to get up the massive dunes and managed to get a view of Lake Michigan in the distance.  We decided not to attempt the entire Dune Climb Trail, which would have entailed walking four miles in the deep sand. 

After a stop in Glen Arbor for some ice cream treats, we hiked the 2.9-mile Good Harbor Bay Trail.  This loop trail took us through thick forests and a swamp.

On Thursday, we drove to Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling, MI.  This state park is one of the largest in Lower Michigan.  It is named for its 49 acres of old-growth pine forest, some of the last remaining in the state.  After exploring the displays at the Visitor Center, we walked along a path through the old-growth forest.  We stopped at the Chapel in the Pines, built in 1953.

We then toured the Logging Museum, with its depiction of the state’s 19th-century logging era, when Michigan led the nation in sawed lumber production.

We then did a scenic drive on dirt roads that wound through the forest.  After the drive, we hiked the 3.3-mile Ausable River Foot Trail.

On Friday, we started our day at the Blue Vase Book Exchange in Interlochen, MI.  This bookstore operates with a unique business model, selling used books, DVDs, games, and vinyl records.  In addition to selling books online, they allow customers to bring in their gently loved books and exchange them for different ones.  Generally, they give one half the store value in credit that can be used to buy books from their very large inventory.  We took in ten books we had finished and left with ten new-to-us books.

Next, we drove to downtown Traverse City and spent time exploring the East Front Street shopping district.  We stopped for lunch at a collection of food trucks.  After checking our a few stores, we wandered down to the marina on West Grand Traverse Bay.  Before leaving downtown, we stopped at the Grand Traverse Pie Company and bought a peach pie.  Our final stop of the day was at Walgreens, where Phil got his second dose of the Shingrix vaccine.

On Saturday, we visited The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, on the grounds of the former Traverse City State Hospital (previously known as the Northern Michigan Asylum).  After visiting several of the shops, we took a two-hour guided tour of the hospital.  Our tour guide, Vanessa, had grown up at the facility as the son (then named Ben) of the hospital’s Superintendent and as a part-time employee in the Maintenance department.  She shared a lot of amusing and sad stories about life at the hospital and her interactions with the patients and staff.  We learned a lot about the history of the hospital and its approach to dealing with mental health issues.  Our tour included visits into the former chapel (now a reception hall), one of the unrenovated buildings and a walk through the brick steam tunnel built in 1883.

Construction of the Northern Michigan Asylum began in 1882. In spite of a time of hand tools and mule power, the immense task of constructing the huge hospital took less than three years to complete. By November of 1885, it received its first patients. The main structure (Building 50) was almost one quarter mile long, with over 300,000 square feet, and employed central heat and electric lights. With a rudimentary understanding of germ theory, a state-of-the-art ventilation system was designed that would use large fans to force air through underground tunnels, into the basement and up flues in the building. Almost immediately after completion of the original building, there was demand for additional patient rooms. Standalone cottages were constructed to serve the increasing patient population. 

The Northern Michigan Asylum was built more than six decades before the use of the first psychiatric drugs. Founding Superintendent Dr. Munson believed in the Quakers’ moral treatment movement. Central to this belief was Dr. Munson’s philosophy that “Beauty is Therapy.” If patients were surrounded by a beautiful environment, from the architecture to the campus grounds, their emotional and mental state would be uplifted. Dr. Munson made an effort to ensure that patients felt at home, rather than trapped in an unfamiliar place. Each patient room had a window and view to the outside. This let in an abundance of natural light and allowed every patient the opportunity to enjoy a view of the campus.  Use of physical restraints was forbidden, except for the most extreme patient situations. Meals at the hospital were served in dining rooms on fine china, atop white linen tablecloths. Fresh flowers and plants decorated dining tables and resting areas. Artwork and inspirational sayings adorned the walls of the wide hallways.

By 1966, the hospital population hit its peak with 3,600 patients and 800 employees.  However, as the patient population dropped in the 1970s-1990s, some of the buildings were shuttered or demolished.  The state and community debated the preservation or demolition of the facility.  In 2002, the Minervini Group LLC acquired a 36-acre parcel and renovation began.  Today, The Village at Grand Traverse Commons contains offices, residential lofts, a senior living facility, and numerous shopping and dining establishments.  Numerous events are held on the grounds throughout the year.  Renovation of the outbuildings is still a work in progress.

Following our tour, we had a late lunch at the Red Spire Brunch House in the lower level of the former hospital.

On Sunday, we headed to the farmers’ market in Interlochen.  Although there were a lot of vendors, it must have been too early in the year for vegetables and we left empty-handed.  However, we did stop at the Blue Vase Book Exchange again and left with another ten books.  We should now have enough reading material to last us quite a while.

On Tuesday, June 8th, we drove 120 miles to Mackinaw City, MI where we will spend a week at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.  We had expected to take I-75 most of the way but the GPS had a different idea.  We drove almost the entire trip on US-31, which took us along Lake Michigan and by a number of beautiful lakes.  It was a longer trip, timewise, but definitely more picturesque.  Our campsite was a large pull-through with plenty of privacy.  Although not on the water, we could see Lake Huron a short distance from our site.  A beach with a clear view of the Mackinac Bridge was only a short walk away from us. 

Unfortunately, halfway through the trip, Phil’s truck started giving him a message of “DEF System Service – See Dealer.”  DEF is the acronym for Diesel Exhaust Fluid and can create a serious problem for a diesel truck.  If unresolved, the truck will be limited to driving at 5 mph.  In fact, as Phil continued to drive, the truck messages began to display more ominous messages, beginning with “5 mph in 150 miles” and counting down from there.  Upon arriving at our campsite, Phil found that the closest RAM dealer was in Cheboygan, 14 miles away.  We drove the truck to the dealer and hope the issue can be resolved within a few days.  We were fortunate that the issue arose when we were still close to a large town.

After leaving Cheboygan, we explored downtown Mackinaw City.  We selected Noona Lisa’s Italian Ristorante for dinner.

On Wednesday, we drove to Wilderness State Park and hiked the North Country Trail Sturgeon Bay South Loop.  When we arrived in the parking lot at the trail’s geo-coordinates, we only found one trailhead and began down that trail.  After a mile, Phil checked our progress against the Alltrails app and discovered we had headed north when we were supposed to go south.  We backtracked and discovered the correct trailhead was across the road from the parking area.  The first half of the hike wasn’t really a trail at all.  Instead, it was a pleasant stroll alone the shore of Sturgeon Bay.  The return portion of the loop involved many fairly steep ascents and descents.  It was rated as moderate difficulty and reminded us of the moderate trails we had hiked in Maine. We ended the hike with a total of 7.6 miles.

On Thursday, we took the Star Link Ferry to Mackinac Island.  Our ferry was one of the few that included a route under the Mackinac Bridge.  The trip to Mackinac Island took about 40 minutes. 

Mackinac Island was first settled by Europeans in 1670.  The island was owned by the French, British and Americans over the next 150 years.  In the 1820s, the island was the center of a large fur trade.  By the late 1830s, commercial fishing was the primary industry.  Following the Civil War, the island became a popular tourist destination. Mackinac National Park was created in 1875 as America’s second national park, just three years after Yellowstone.  In 1895, the Federal government transferred the national park to the state of Michigan.  Three years later, the first automobile appeared on Mackinac Island, frightening horses and threatening the island’s carriage trade economy.  After receiving a petition from the tour operators, the village council quickly banned “horseless carriages.”  To this day, no motor vehicles are allowed on the island.  Tourists and residents alike must rely entirely on horse-drawn carriages and bicycles to get around on the island. 

Upon arrival, we strolled down Main Street and purchased some fudge at Murdick Fudge.  We continued our stroll along the bay, before stopping at the Grand Hotel.  This beautiful hotel was built in 1887 and still demands huge room rates.  In fact, we were charged $10 a piece simply to tour the hotel and grounds. 

After leaving the hotel, we strolled along Market Street.  Lilac bushes were everywhere and were in full bloom.  Their aroma helped to offset the ever-present scent of horse droppings.  We then returned to Main Street for lunch and, after checking the menus at numerous restaurants, we dined at Horn’s Gaslight Bar.  Following lunch, we visited a lot of shops on Main Street.  By mid-afternoon, the weather had gotten quite cool, with strong winds and a temperature of 62 degrees.  Phil gave into the chill and purchased a sweatshirt.  We also picked up another chunk of fudge at Murdick’s.  After some additional sightseeing and a brief stop in the Sainte Anne Church, we boarded the 5 pm ferry for our return to Mackinaw City.  There was still a lot we hadn’t see on the island but we decided to make a return trip later in our stay.

Friday was a rainy and dreary day so we stayed indoors most of the day.  At 5 pm, Phil finally heard from the service manager at the Dodge dealer that the truck was ready to be picked up.  Since the service department was closing and we were only 15 miles away, Phil asked the service manager to just put the key in the truck’s console and leave the truck unlocked.  However, when we arrived in Cheboygan, the truck was locked.  After dinner, Phil located the spare key and we returned to the dealership to retrieve the truck.

On Saturday, we explored downtown Mackinaw City.  As we arrived, we discovered a large event happening in the local park.  We later learned that the 1st annual Mackinaw City Motorcycle Rally was being held this weekend.  There were well over 1,000 motorcycles in town and bikers were everywhere we went.  Our first stop was at Michilimackanac (Mackinaw’s original name) State Park.  This was Michigan’s second state park and is home to two historic sites, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and Colonial Michilimackinac.  The park provides a great view of Mackinac Bridge, where the motorcycle rally had scheduled a parade over and back.  Unfortunately, due to a fatal motorcycle accident, traffic across the bridge was backed up for hours.  Due to the gridlock of bridge traffic, we were unable to get across town to see the McGulpin Point Lighthouse.

Our next stop was the Mackinac Bridge Museum, which is on the second floor of Mama Mia’s Pizzeria.  In addition to lots of artifacts from the bridge construction in 1954-1957, we watched videotaped interviews with ironworkers who had worked on the project.  The Mackinac Bridge is part of Interstate-75 and connects the Upper and Lower peninsulas of Michigan.  The bridge is five miles long and the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere.  The bridge, known as “Big Mac” or “Mighty Mac,” is designed to withstand crushing ice and winds up to 150 mph.

After visiting a few downtown shops, we stopped at Dixie Saloon for a not-so-healthy mid-afternoon snack of fried cheese curds.

Monday, June 14th, was Phil’s birthday and our last full day in Mackinaw City.  We had decided to return to Mackinac Island and to ride bicycles this time.  Since bike rentals on the island cost $12 per hour and only $12 round-trip to take a bike on the ferry, we decided to take our own bikes.  We rode the three-mile trail to the ferry and arrived just in time to catch the 9:15 departure.  When we arrived on the island, we headed eastward on M-185 (the only state highway where cars are banned).  Our first stop was at Arch Rock, which is 146 feet above the water and spans fifty feet at its widest point.  Geologists explain that the arch was formed over thousands of years by wind and water eroding the soft rock below.  We climbed the 207 steps up the Spring Trail to the arch.  We met a cute 3-year-old girl who was also celebrating a June 14 birthday.

We had intended to ride the 8.2-mile circumference of the island.  However, the road was closed a short distance past the Arch Rock, due to road construction.  We decided to backtrack, then take the bike path through the middle of the island, and return down the west side of the island.  Unfortunately, the route through the middle of the island was rather steep.  We walked our bikes up the hill to the Governor’s mansion, where the Michigan governors often vacation.  Shortly after we started riding again, Phil downshifted and the plastic piece connecting the gear derailer on his bike snapped.  The bike was only 2.5 years old but, after years of being exposed to the elements, it was badly rusted and not worth getting repaired.  The broken part made it impossible to pedal the bike but, since the brakes still worked, Phil was able to coast back down the hill, where we discarded the bike.

After doing some shopping on Main and Market streets, we toured Fort Mackinac.  From 1779-1781, during the American Revolution, the British dismantled Fort Michilimackinanc on the mainland and moved the garrison and the fur trade community to Mackinac Island.  The fort and island became U.S. territory as a result of the American victory in the Revolution.  However, in the first battle of the War of 1812, the British surprised the American soldiers, who quickly surrendered without a fight.  With Fort Mackinac under British control, they were able to control the entire Great Lakes region.  Two years later, American soldiers tried to recapture Fort Mackinac but were badly defeated in the only battle ever fought on the island.  The Americans finally regained the island when the war ended.

After checking out the menus from numerous restaurants, we decided to dine at the Pink Pony.  There was a wait to get a seat on the patio so we used the time to head to Murdick’s for some more fudge.  The sales clerk told Jan we could freeze the fudge for up to six months, but having the fudge last that long is highly unlikely.

After dinner, we visited the American Fur Company Store and Dr. Beaumont Museum.  In the 1820s, the fur trade had prospered on Mackinac Island.  John Astor established the northern departmental headquarters of the American Fur Company on the island.  Astor became America’s first millionaire and the richest man in the country.  In one very odd historical event inside the store, French Canadian voyageur Alexis St. Martin was accidently shot in the stomach.  Surgeon Dr. William Beaumont managed to keep St. Martin alive, but the hole in his stomach never completely healed.  Through this hole, Dr. Beaumont conducted 250 experiments, observed the workings of the human stomach and discovered much about the digestive process.  Eight years later, he published a groundbreaking book on his discovery of the digestive process.

After taking the ferry back to the mainland, Phil rode Jan’s bike, and Jan rode the campground shuttle, back to the campground.  We celebrated Phil’s birthday one more time with a slice of homemade blueberry pie.

On the Road to Michigan (May 10 – 27, 2021)

On Monday, May 10th, we left Kerrville, TX and began our trip northward.  We drove 211 miles and spent the night at the I-35 RV Park in Elm Mott, TX (near Waco).  The weather forecast was calling for thunderstorms and very heavy rainfall to begin Tuesday morning so we got an early start.  Fortunately, the storm held off until we completed our 265-mile drive to the Shady Pines RV Park in Texarkana, TN.  We managed to get set up and settled safely indoors when the heavy rains came.

After a stormy Tuesday evening, Wednesday was a lovely day.  We decided to stop at Bringle Lake Park to get some exercise.  Although we hadn’t prepared to hike the full 7-mile loop wilderness trail around the lake, we did walk 2.2 miles in one direction and then returned the way we had come.  The rain had left the trail swampy in places but we were able to skirt the worst of it and didn’t get too muddy.  Part of the trail had been designated Gnomington Forest.  In this section, there were numerous little doors at the bottom of trees.  We looked into some of these doors but did not spot any gnomes.

On Thursday, we drove 235 miles to Delta Ridge RV Park in Forrest City, AR.  On Friday, we drove 273 miles to Nashville, TN where we spent eight days at Seven Points COE Campground.  We had learned a few days earlier that the I-40 bridge we had planned to take across the Mississippi River at Memphis was closed.  A bridge inspector had discovered a large crack in the bridge and this section of I-40 was likely to be closed for months.  Our next-best option was to take the smaller I-55 bridge, despite the anticipated bumper-to-bumper traffic for miles leading to the bridge.  The owner of the Delta Ridge campground suggested an alternative route that took us through West Memphis, AR and allowed us to join I-55 much closer to the bridge, thus missing much of the tie-up.  We still had a bit of a delay but managed to arrive at Seven Points by 3:30 pm. 

On Saturday, May 15th, we picked up Jason and went to watch the Nashville Sounds play the Memphis Redbirds.  The Nashville Sounds are now the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.  We were surprised to learn that Christian Yelich was starting in left field for the Sounds.  Yelich is a two-time National League batting champion, the 2018 NL MVP and the 2019 NL MVP runner-up.  He is currently on a rehab assignment with the Sounds, before he returns to the Brewers.  We had great seats, on the club level close to home plate.  The beginning of the game was rather slow, with the pitchers for both teams struggling with control issues, and remained scoreless (and the Sounds hitless) through seven innings.  After that, the game got quite exciting and there were some spectacular defensive plays.  Memphis scored two runs in the top of the eighth but the Sounds got three in the bottom of the inning. Memphis tied the game in the ninth after the Nashville pitcher hit three batters.  The Sounds finally won the game with a two-out hit in the bottom of the tenth.  The game had lasted for 4.5 hours and many of the spectators around us had already left, but we stuck it out and were rewarded with a great ending.

On Sunday, Jan had lunch with her friends, Sheila and Michelle, and Sheila’s daughter, Ashley.

On Monday, we went to Franklin to the Mazda dealer for an oil change and to Discount Tire to get one of the tires inspected.  The tire had developed a slow leak over the previous few days.  The service tech found a nail in the tire and was able to patch it.  On Tuesday evening, we got together with Lizzi and her roommate, Amanda, for dinner at Las Palma.

On Friday, Jason took the day off from work and we had quite an adventure.  Our first stop was in East Nashville at Three Daughters Bakery.  We each had a 100-layer donut, which was flaky like a croissant but quite filling.  We then headed to the Regal Opry Mills where we watched the movie “Dream Horse.”  The film was based on a true story of a small-town bartender in Wales who convinces her neighbors to chip in to help breed a race horse, Dream.  The investment pays off as Dream becomes very successful and becomes a beacon of hope for the struggling community.  Our next stop was at Game Terminal, a warehouse in South Nashville with one of the largest selections of arcade games and pinball machines in the USA.  The arcade games were all free and the pinball machines cost $1 a game.  In addition, there was a large outdoor area with games such as cornhole, shuffleboard, ping pong and giant Connect Four.  Our final stop of the day was dinner at Gino’s East, one of our favorite pizza chains from our days in the Chicago area.  The weather was ideal for dining outside so we sat on the patio and enjoyed a deep-dish sausage patty pizza.

On Saturday, May 22nd, it was time to travel again.  We drove 260 miles to Nineveh, IN where we spent the night at the Johnson County Park Campground.  The office was closed when we arrived but the host met us and led us to our site.  The assigned site was a back-in but, when Phil asked for a pull-through, the host led us to a new site that looked like we were parking on a road.  Despite having taken us in the wrong direction so our hookups were on the wrong side, the site was adequate for one night and level enough so that we didn’t have to unhitch.

On Sunday, we drove 200 miles to Elkhart, IN where we spent four nights at Elkhart Campground. On Monday, we were hosted for dinner by Phil’s sister, Barb Anderson, and her husband, Dan.  We were joined by Phil’s niece, Emily Hall, her husband, Cody, and their one-year-old son, Wyatt.

On Tuesday morning, we drove to the DRV factory in Howe, IN to pick up some parts for our RV.  Although we were eventually able to get all five parts, it took considerably longer than expected.  The computer went down at the moment Phil arrived at the warehouse.  This, combined with the fact that their operation really wasn’t set up to have customers pick up parts in person, led to a lengthy wait.  When Phil finally received the parts, he discovered that one of the parts was not what he had requested and this led to a further delay.

When we finally got our parts, we headed to the flea market in Shipshewana.  With nearly 700 booths, this flea market claims to be the biggest in the Midwest.  It was a warm day but strong winds made it more tolerable, even if the winds did create havoc for many of the vendors.  We made a lot of purchases, largely of things we didn’t know we needed until we saw them.  After completing the circuit of booths, we headed across the parking lot to Yoder’s Meat and Cheese.  We loaded our cart with lots of fresh meat, cheese curds and other groceries. 

On Wednesday, we had dinner with Barb and Dan Anderson at Davinci’s Italian Family Restaurant.  The food was very good and the portions were so large that each couple was able to share an entrée.

Kerrville, TX Again (April 10 – May 10, 2021)

On Saturday, April 10th, we left Johnson City and drove 67 miles to Buckhorn Lake Resort in Kerrville, TX.  This is at least our eighth stay at Buckhorn Lake Resort.  The purpose of our return was to take care of our annual doctor appointments and await warmer weather before beginning our travels north. Although it’s a very nice campground and Kerrville’s a nice town, we’ve pretty much exhausted the available attractions.

Shortly after getting set up, we drove to Walgreens and Jan got her COVID vaccination.  Jan was glad to be able to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine so she didn’t have to worry about scheduling a second injection. 

Phil attempted to play pickleball most mornings but, with some poor weather and the departure of many of the winter regulars, there were a lot of mornings when he was unable to play.  Jan walked every morning, often opting for the Louise Hays Park in town rather than having to make multiple laps around the campground.  Phil joined her on days with no pickleball.  We often spotted deer in the park who were relatively unfazed by the passerbys.

Monday, April 12th, was our 18th wedding anniversary.  We celebrated with dinner at Rails, Kerrville’s top-rated restaurant.

On Wednesday, we went to Bandera and had dinner at the 11st Street Cowboy Bar.  We took our own steak and Phil grilled it over one of the large pits.  We purchased sides of baked potato and salad.  We sat by the dance floor and spent the evening watching experienced country dancers demonstrate their skills.  We had hoped to have an opportunity to use our newly-learned line dancing moves but we were disappointed.  The only line dancing opportunity came when the band went on break and, even then, few people got up to line dance.  Phil did line dance to Copperhead Road but the few dancers all appeared to be on a different beat.  Later that evening, Phil attempted to Google local line dancing venues but saw comments such as “Texans don’t line dance” and “like disco, the line dancing craze died in the 1990’s.”

On Saturday, we went to the Fredericksburg Trade Days.  This is a massive flea market that is held for three days on the third weekend of each month.  We strolled around for a couple of hours and made a couple of purchases.  If there in truth in the saying “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” we saw lots of potential treasures for someone else.

On Wednesday, April 28th, Jan flew from San Antonio to Nashville to attend the wedding of Evan Gaskin, son of Sheila and David Gaskin, on May 1st.  After dropping Jan off at the San Antonio airport, Phil returned to our RV and sat through an evening of wild weather.  The forecast included a tornado watch and the threat of large hail.  Fortunately, the worst of the severe weather passed to both the east and west of Kerrville.  The town of Hondo, 50 miles due south of Kerrville, was hit with 80-110 mph winds and softball-sized hail that did a great deal of damage.  This was one of three hailstorms over Texas and Oklahoma that inflicted at least $1 billion damage combined.  Although spared any damage, we did experience very heavy rain that continued for most of the next 24 hours.

On Saturday, May 8th, we drove to Fredericksburg. We wanted to stock up on some of our favorite sauces from Rustlin’ Bob’s before we leave the area on Monday. Rustlin’ Bob’s is one of those stores where you can stroll up and down the aisles and sample the various products on crackers and pretzels.  We had last visited Rustlin’ Bob’s in June 2020 and, due to COVID, the store had been locked down and shopping had consisted of calling in our order and picking it up at the register.  This time, we were happy to see that life at Rustlin’ Bob’s had returned to normal and we were able to graze to our hearts’ content.

After leaving Rustlin’ Bob’s, we strolled down Main Street and visited a few more stores.  We then decided to drive to Luckenbach and listen to some live music.  We arrived in time to listen to a set of country and gospel songs by Weldon Henson and his band.  Weldon’s six-year-old daughter, Brea, joined in the performance and soloed and sang backup on a number of songs.

On the Road to Kerrville (April 1-10, 2021)

After waving goodbye to Phil’s fellow pickleball players, we departed our three-month home at Sunkissed Village and began our 10-day journey to Kerrville, TX.  Our first day consisted of a 294-mile drive, almost entirely on interstate highways.  After having been stationary for three months, the drive was rather tiring but uneventful.  We spent two nights at Outback Springs RV Resort in Bonifay, FL.  The weather turned significantly cooler, with daytime highs in the low-60’s and nighttime lows in the upper-30s.

On Friday, April 2nd, we drove 75 miles to Destin and spent a couple of hours exploring the Destin Harbor Boardwalk.  We strolled past lots of yachts and charter fishing boats.  We watched as the fishing boat crews cleaned their catches and threw the scraps to the awaiting pelicans.  When we grew hungry, we decided to stop for lunch at Brotula’s Seafood House. 

After lunch, we left Destin and drove about an hour along the Gulf to Panama City.  We parked at one of the beach access points and then strolled about 2 miles up and down the shore.  Although it was windy and cool, the bright sun made for a beautiful day.

On Saturday, we drove 286 miles to Mandeville, LA where we spent three nights at Fontainebleau State Park.  We had stayed at this state park several years earlier.  For that stay, we had gotten one of the very few full-hookup sites but it had been very challenging to get into and out of the C-shaped pull-through.  We had discovered some other pull-through sites that, at that time, appeared much easier to access but lacked a sewer hookup.  For this year’s stay. Phil selected one of these sites without a sewer hookup.  Although pulling into this year’s pull-through site was easier than the previous stay, getting to our site was no fun at all.  It was Easter weekend and the campground was mobbed.  In addition to having the campground full, there appeared to be many visitors.  Vehicles were parked everywhere and kids seemed oblivious to the traffic.  This made it very difficult to get up and down the roads.  To make matters worse, the park ranger had failed to tell Phil which road to take to have the hookups on the right side.  When we finally got within eyeshot of our site, Phil realized that he was going to have to get turned around.  This necessitated driving through the crowded streets again and making a couple of sharp turns.  One of the turns had us nearly going into a ditch and required having a kind Boy Scout leader move his van (twice!) so Phil could swing our rig wide enough to miss the ditch.  Jan was in the Mazda behind him and was able to watch the close calls and keep Phil informed over the cell phone.  We were happy to finally get set up in our site and, despite it being somewhat of a muddy mess, it was good enough for a few days. Unfortunately, we subsequently discovered that a board we rubbed up against while getting around the ditch damaged some of the fiberglass on our rig and it will need to be repaired.

On Easter Sunday, we drove across the 24-mile-long Mandeville Causeway into New Orleans.  Phil had booked parking in a garage near the French Quarter.  After parking our car on the 4th level, we didn’t see any elevator so we walked down a stairway that was dirty and somewhat scary.  When we reached ground level, Phil realized he had forgotten his mask so he had to return to the car.  The stairway we had come down did not open from the outside so Phil had to find another way.  His first attempt was another staircase but it went up about four levels before coming to a dead end.  After returning down those stairs, he decided to walk up one of the ramps.  Unfortunately, this ramp went all the way to the 7th floor, with no access to the lower floors.  Phil finally found the elevator and was able to get back to our car and then rejoin Jan on the ground level.

Fortunately, the parking garage was only a short distance from Evangeline, the restaurant where Jan had gotten us reservations for brunch.  Jan had learned that Easter brunch is a New Orleans tradition and had had to contact many restaurants before finding an opening at Evangeline.  We requested a seat in the courtyard and, with an umbrella over our table, the setting was ideal.  The food was delicious and the servers made sure that our Bottomless Mimosas remained bottomless.

After brunch, we went for a long walk through the French Quarter.  It was early afternoon on Easter and the French Quarter was appropriately sedate.  After we both achieved our 10,000 steps for the day, we splurged by ordering beignets at Café Du Monde.  These French doughnuts are coated with tons of powdered sugar, making for a messy but tasty treat.

In the fall of 2020, we had been experiencing a problem with our DirecTV signal freezing up.  We had called DirecTV several times for technical support but they had been unable to resolve the issue.  We really needed a service call but, because our account address is our Livingston, TX mailing address, DirecTV will only send a technician to us if we are in Livingston.  Since we had cable service at Sunkissed Village, we had suspended our DirecTV service for three months.  When we restored our DirecTV service at the end of March, we had technical issues and had to reset the connection to two of our TVs.  Somehow, this cleared up the problems we had been having.  Since we really had no other reason to return to Livingston, we cancelled our Livingston campground reservation (and service call) and altered our travel plans.

On Tuesday, April 6th, we drove 268 miles to Beaumont, TX where we spent the night at Hidden Lake RV Park.  This campground was quite a distance from town but was beautifully maintained.

On Wednesday, we drove 290 miles to Johnson City, TX where we spent three nights at Miller Creek RV Resort.  The drive took us along I-10 through the middle of Houston but, fortunately, we timed it so that we hit the city around 10:30 a.m. so it wasn’t too bad.  All but the last 60 miles were on I-10 and they went pretty smoothly, despite being boring.  However, the last part of the trip took us through a number of small towns and was more challenging.  Finding the campground was also a bit of a challenge and we were exhausted by the time we arrived.  The campground was about six miles south of Johnson City but was very comfortable and tidy.  We decided to go out for dinner but found that almost all of the local restaurants were closed in the evening.  We finally settled on El Agave Mexican Restaurant.  The food was only so-so but we were very hungry and just glad to have something to eat.

On Thursday, Phil took the Mazda and the truck to a local tire dealer to get our Texas vehicle inspections.  Texas law had allowed us to renew our registrations without inspections since we were out-of-state at the time but we were required to get the inspections done within three days of re-entering the state. We then drove into Johnson City and visited the boyhood home of Lyndon B. Johnson.  Unfortunately, due to COVID, the Visitors Center was closed and there were no tours of the home.  We were limited to walking around the grounds and peaking in through the windows.  LBJ’s parents had bought the home in 1913.  It was from the East porch of this house that Lyndon launched his first congressional campaign in 1937.

We then walked down a path to the Johnson Settlement where LBJ’s paternal grandparents had lived in a dogtrot cabin from 1867 – 1872.  We also viewed buildings that had been owned by other Johnson kin in the late 1800s, then spent some time communicating with a pair of Texas longhorns.

On Friday, we drove to Stonewall, TX and visited the LBJ Ranch unit of the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site.  We began by visiting the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm.  This is an authentic working farm, where park interpreters dress in period costumes, demonstrating the lifestyles of a typical German Hill Country farm between 1915 and 1918.

We then drove across the Pedernales River and did a self-guided tour of the LBJ ranch.  Our first stop was at Junction School, a one-room school where four-year-old Lyndon began his formal education.  President Johnson returned to this schoolhouse in 1965 to sign the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which redefined the Federal government’s role in America’s schools.

Next, we visited the nearby Johnson Family Cemetery where LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson were laid to rest, alongside generations of Johnsons.  Then, we walked around the site where LBJ was born in 1908.  The house was reconstructed in 1964 to closely resemble the original house and was used by the President as a guest house.  We also visited the farmhouse of Sam, Sr. and Eliza Johnson, LBJ’s grandparents.  We had seen their earlier home in the Johnson Settlement on Thursday.

The rest of the drive took us through huge pastures that were part of the LBJ Ranch.  Although it seemed like a large property, we learned that this was only one of nine of LBJ’s ranches and was not the largest. The drive ended at the ranch house which, during the Johnson Presidency, had been known as the Texas White House.  The Johnsons had purchased the house in 1951 and it was home for President and Lady Bird Johnson until their deaths in 1973 and 2007.  Unfortunately, due to COVID, tours of the house had been discontinued.

There is an airstrip nearby and we got to see a Lockheed Jetstar assigned to the White House fleet.  Since the airstrip could not support the weight of Air Force One, President Johnson used this smaller plane to travel to and from the ranch.  LBJ referred to it as “Air Force One-Half.”

That evening, we drove to Austin and had dinner at Hopdaddy Burger Bar with Caleb and Brittany Dickerson, Katie Schlegel and Michael Totty.  This was not your ordinary burger place.  We used our cell phones to order and pay for our meals, without ever leaving the table.  We each had a gourmet burger and we shared huge orders of Parmesan Truffle Fries and Hot Honey & Sage Sweet Potato Fries.  After dinner, we returned to the Dickersons’ abode and played a game of Mexican Train, before making the drive back to Johnson City.

Winter in Florida – Month 3 (March 1 – 31, 2021)

On Thursday, March 4th, we went to The Whispering Oaks Blues Fest at Whispering Oaks Winery in Oxford, FL.  Over the next three hours, we enjoyed three outstanding musical groups as they performed the blues.  First was Steve Arvey; then Memphis Lightning; and finally, Alex Lopez and The Xpress.  We sat at a table with a couple who were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary and who had lived in The Villages for 10 years.  We enjoyed flights of Whispering Oaks wines and dined on BBQ flatbread.

At the end of the evening, all three headliners appeared on stage together for an incredible jam session. We managed to capture most of it on video.

On Saturday evening, we had a mini-reunion with several friends from our Winter 2020 stay at Tropical Trails in Brownsville, TX.  Leslie Verhaeghe was in town visiting her stepmother, Diane.  We met Leslie and Diane, as well as Kenny and Becky Swisher, in Lake Panasoffkee for dinner at Catfish Johnny’s.  The food was very good and reasonably priced.  It was nice to get together once again with friends from a previous stop along our RV journeys. 

On Sunday, we went to Silver Springs State Park.  We began our day with a 90-minute cruise on a glass bottom boat along the Silver River.  The glass bottom boats showcase the crystal-clear springs and underwater life that inhabits Silver Springs.  Above the surface, we also viewed turtles, alligators, a manatee and a wide variety of birds.  The boat’s captain provided us with lots of information about the wildlife and the history of the river.

One of the stories we heard related to wild monkeys that live in the park.  In 1938, a tour boat operator attempted to create a tourist attraction by releasing six rhesus macaques, a monkey native to south and southeast Asia, on a small island.  Unbeknownst to the tour boat operator, rhesus macaques are strong swimmers and they escaped into the woods.  Replacement moneys were bought in but they also escaped the island.  The population has grown over the years and there are now hundreds of these monkeys in the park.  We did not see any monkeys on our boat cruise.  However, after lunch from a food truck and some exploration of the main part of the park, we headed over to another section and hiked the River Loop Trail.  As we walked along the river, we noticed some boaters on the river pointing to monkeys.  As we watched, we were able to see several of these monkeys frolicking on the opposite bank of the river.

On Wednesday, March 10th, we met Barb and Bobby Sanders for lunch at OakWood Express Smokehouse & Grill in Wildwood, FL.  We first met Barb and Bobby on our trip to Alaska in the summer of 2018.  It was great to catch up with these friends after all that time.

On Tuesday, March 16th, Phil was finally able to get his permanent crown installed.  He had gotten a temporary on February 11th but getting the permanent crown from the lab was delayed a couple of weeks by the freezing weather in Texas.

On Thursday, we addressed a minor leak that had been seeping from the base of our toilet.  Although the procedure Phil had watched on YouTube looked fairly easy, it didn’t turn out that way.  The first of the two nuts holding down the toilet came off easily.  However, the nut on the side between the toilet and the wall was rusted and very difficult to see, much less remove.  After we finally got the toilet out and had cleaned up the nastiness, replacing the seal and reinstalling the toilet was fairly easy. 

That evening, we drove to the Spanish Springs Town Square in The Villages to enjoy the St. Patrick’s Day festivities.  We wandered around the square and watched several of the entertainers and checked out some of the booths.  We then managed to find seating in the center of the square and watched the musicians performing Irish songs.

On Saturday, March 20th, Phil participated in another pickleball tournament.  Unlike the earlier tournament, he was paired with strong partners and won all six games.  However, another camper (Mark) also won all six games.  As a result, Phil and Mark had to play a tiebreaker game.  Two of the other top finishers drew numbers to see who would play as their partners.  Phil ended up with Nick as his partner, while Mark was paired with John.  After jumping out to an early 7-0 lead, Phil and Nick then fell behind 10-11.  Fortunately, pickleball requires you to win by two and Phil and Nick fought back to win 13-11.  Phil won a $20 Publix gift card.

On Sunday, we drove to Hernando, FL and toured the villages of Citrus Hills.  Our visit began with a tour of Citrus County, taking us throughout Inverness and Crystal River.  We then visited the recreational facilities in Citrus Hills, before having lunch at the Grill.  These facilities were beautiful, with a resort-like feel to them.  This development seemed a lot less chaotic than what we’d observed in The Villages, FL.  After lunch, we visited several model homes and viewed some available lots.  Although we were very impressed with Citrus Hills, we are not yet ready to settle down and aren’t convinced yet that Florida is where we want to live long-term.

On Monday evening, we had dinner with Jeri and Jim Mahan at Eaton’s Beach Sandbar and Grill.  Jan ordered Shrimp & Grits and Phil had Shrimp Creole.  On Tuesday, we drove to a Catholic church in The Villages for Phil to get his second dose of the Moderna COVID vaccine.  Many people have experienced serious side effects from their second dose but, fortunately, Phil’s only side effect was some tenderness at the injection site.

Although we had already tentatively made reservations to return to Sunkissed Village RV Resort in the winter of 2022, we continued to explore other options.  Jan discovered a brand-new RV resort in Webster, FL that is scheduled to be completed in Fall 2021.  After Phil’s vaccination, we visited Oak Alley RV Resort.  Phase One of the resort has 311 sites and there are plans for another 259 sites.  With the exception of 13 pull-through sites, all of the sites are on grass.  There are 12 very nice pickleball courts and a pickleball pro on staff.  The clubhouse is very large and the pool area (not yet completed) looks like it will be quite nice.  One of the biggest draws to this campground is that they are offering 50% on all reservations booked by mid-October 2021.  This brought the cost of a 4-month stay down to $1,750, plus sales tax.  Also surprising is that this rate includes electricity.  We selected site #131, near the clubhouse, and went into the office to book our stay for December 2021 through March 2022.  Although Webster, FL is out in the boonies, we couldn’t pass up this incredible deal.  Later that afternoon, our friends Dave and Jo Peterson also booked reservations at Oak Alley.

On Friday, March 26th, we drove to Ormand Beach on the Atlantic coast.  The drive took 1.5 hours each way but this was the only time we got to see the ocean during our three-month stay in Florida.  After having lunch at Panera, we parked at the Andy Romano Beachfront Park and walked 3 miles up and down the beach.  It was a beautiful day, with a temperature of about 80 degrees.  The water was too cold to even consider swimming but it felt really good to wade along the water’s edge.  The beach was littered with a ton of jelly fish.  The big ones were easy to spot but the smaller ones required a lot of attention to avoid stepping on them.  After our walk, we went to the Beach Bucket Bar & Grill and, after a half-hour wait, got a table overlooking the beach.  We enjoyed a couple of Blue Moons and an order of onion rings before beginning our drive home.  That evening, we gathered at the pool with our friends for three hours of entertainment hosted by deejay K.C. Webb.

Winter in Florida – Month 2 (February 1 – 28, 2021)

As we entered month two of our stay in Summerfield, FL, we had settled into a regular routine that included walking, tai chi and yoga for Jan and pickleball for Phil.  We both continued to attend weekly beginner line dancing classes.  Although we still struggled to remember what steps go with each dance, they were becoming more familiar to us.

We continued to explore various RV parks in the area for possible stays next winter for us and/or our friends.  On February 5th, our travels brought us back to Inverness and we stopped for a late lunch at Stumpknockers.  We ate indoors and enjoyed the décor on the walls.  That evening, we attended a fireside social at the campground but it was rained out within the first 15 minutes.  The following night, we went to the community center and listened to the Beachbillies Band.  Jan practiced her line dancing skills with some of the other campers.

Jason arrived in Orlando on Saturday, February 13th for a weeklong visit.  Although it was rainy many of the days, it was definitely better than in Nashville, where they had extremely cold and snowy weather.  On Sunday, we drove to The Villages and attended a crafts fair at the Spanish Springs Town Square.  After visiting the many booths, we relaxed in the square and listened to live music.  We then drove through numerous neighborhoods to show Jason what The Villages was all about.

On Tuesday, we drove to the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.  COVID had forced the closure of the visitor center, boats, reptile house and the underwater observatory, as well as cancellation of the educational programs.  Despite this, there was plenty for us to see.  We spent several hours on the Wildlife Walk.  We saw several manatees and massive schools of fish gathered around the bridge and in the spring.  In addition, we strolled the boardwalk and were able to see numerous species of mammals and birds in their natural habitats.  Most of these animals had been rescued and are no longer able to survive in the wild.  This included a hippo, gray wolf, foxes, a black bear, alligators, as well as eagles, owls, flamingos and many other types of birds.

On Thursday, February 18th, we drove two hours to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Merritt Island.  We began by visiting the Space Shuttle Atlantis, which had covered 126 million miles of space travel.  After looking at numerous exhibits related to the space shuttle program, we did the Shuttle Launch Experience.  This attraction is a flight simulator on par with what astronauts experienced in training.  After riders are belted into their seats, the platform rises and seat rumblers and shakers rattle riders through the turbulent main engine start, the firing of the solid rocket boosters and then their separation over the next six minutes.  Air bags in each seat sink and rise to capture the sensation of the 17,500-mph liftoff of a NASA shuttle.

Our next stop was at the IMAX theater where we watched the 3D movie, Journey to Space, and learned about designing space vessels for travel to Mars.  We then went to Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted, where we learned more about future missions to Mars.

We next went through Heroes & Legends, which focused on the astronauts of the early space programs.  We then walked through the Rocket Garden, containing rockets from NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. 

We had selected Thursday for our visit since that was the day the Perseverance rover was scheduled to land on Mars.  Perseverance had been launched in July 2020 for its six-month journey to Mars and 2-year mission on the planet.  Our final stop of the day was at the Atlantis North Lawn where we sat on the grass and watched the NASA TV live-stream on a large projection screen.  We were able to observe the Mission Control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA and listen to the live commentary as the rover approached and successfully landed on Mars.  Watching the excitement of the JPL personnel during those critical last few minutes was quite captivating.  Seeing the first pictures from the landing site was memorable.

For dinner, we stopped at the Island Waterfront Bar and Grill on Merritt Island.  We sat on the patio which provided us with views of the river.  We each had a different type of fish but were all very satisfied with our meals.

On Saturday, it was time for Jason to return home so we drove back to Orlando.  We stopped for a dinner of made-to-order burgers at Mooyah.

On Tuesday, February 23rd, Phil was able to get his first dose of the COVID vaccine at a community college in Sumter County.  He had registered in January but, since Florida had subsequently announced that only Florida residents would be eligible for the vaccinations, he was surprised to get an appointment.  Phil took his US passport as identification to the drive-through vaccination site but no questions about residency were asked.  He has an appointment for the second dose on March 23rd.

On Friday, we were sitting outside when a blast of wind blew through our site, interrupting an otherwise still afternoon.  Both of our screens were ripped out of the ground by the wind and blown skyward.  The screens had been anchored into the ground by bungee cords and tent pegs.  As the screens strained against the winds, the bungee cords stretched until they pulled the tent pegs out of the ground and rocketed the tent pegs into the air.  Most of the tent pegs were discovered on the opposite side of our rig and a couple of bungee cords had to be retrieved from our rooftop.  Our neighbor’s awnings and frames were badly damaged so we considered ourselves fortunate.  The whole event only lasted a few seconds and appeared to be isolated to our area.  We mentioned the wind gust to others in the campground and nobody else seemed to have experienced the excitement.

Later that afternoon, we attended the Strawberry Festival at Brownwood Paddock Square in The Villages.  The Festival began at 4 pm and, when we arrived at about 4:20 pm, we had to cruise around the huge parking lots quite a while until we found a parking spot.  We first ate dinner at City Fire American Oven, then wandered around and visited some of the many booths.  We made a couple of purchases, including some Plant City strawberries.  We then watched the Paul Bunyon lumberjack show.  Finally, we retrieved our chairs from our car and found a spot to watch the live entertainment in the square.  Since there was a 45-minute wait to get a seat in the square, we set up our chairs outside and kept moving closer as people left.  We got back to the campground around 8 pm and were able to listen for an hour  to the band, Darkhorse, who were performing poolside.

On Saturday, February 27th, Phil participated in a Pickleball round-robin tournament.  Each of the 20 participants played six games with a different partner.  After a very poor start with a newbie partner in the first game, Phil did OK the rest of the day.