Divergence: Rosemarie in Norfolk, Jack sprinting south with the rig: Through IL, IN, KY, TN, and into GA.

Having dropped off Rosemarie at Chicago O’Hare for her flight to Norfolk, I continued south through Indiana into Kentucky.  My route planning suggested two stopping points, both at military bases.  One was just south of Indianapolis, the other just across the Indiana-Kentucky border.  After fighting my way through traffic in Chicago, I made good speed through Indiana, and decided to push on.  Unfortunately my late start, road work, and heavy traffic areas resulted in me pulling into the Army Recreation Area at Camp Carlson after sunset, and I had to set up after dark.

I don’t have much to say about this park since I was there for only 13 hours, most of that in the dark.  I debated between a no frills, power only back in site versus a full hook up pull through, but after working with the camp host, I had to settle on neither of those: a full hook up back in.  I needed to dump anyway, so the couple of extra dollars was worth not having to deal with the dump and water fill station.

While Rosemarie was in Norfolk, I worked my way through the rest of the Chicago style pizza we bought in Great Lakes, IL.  Assisted, of course, by our new actually working microwave.

Meanwhile Rose found a true New York style joint in Norfolk with the traditional NYC oversized individual thin crust slices.  Which would you prefer?

It had been a hard day, but I reaped the benefit with my far shorter drive to Arnold AFB in Tullahoma, TN the next.  This was the second in a string of four AFB Family Camps we hit during our 2016 sprint from Iowa to Florida, and was one of our favorites.  A truly peaceful wooded campground six miles deep into the AFB owned forested land, this lakeside spot is one of the best values we experienced last year.  I had planned an aggressive push to Atlanta in order pick up Rosemarie after he brief visit to Norfolk, but arranged it such that I could get at least two days here, even if it meant one night stays everywhere else along the route.  At $15 a night, this is one of the best RV campground deals we have experienced, and if in the area I would gladly return.

A pause in Tennessee allowed me to do something better than left overs: A small piece of sirloin steak covered in farmers market roasted garlic, shallots, and wild mushrooms with heirloom tomatoes in olive oil on the side.  Unidentified liquid in the upper right.

Rosemarie had three solid days in Norfolk to visit Titi Linda and the family (Jayson, Titi Mari, cousins Nathaniel, June June, and Christopher, and their wives and eight children.)  As a result of Linda’s ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) she has been handing out items she can no longer use.  This resulted in a three women fashion show with Linda insisting that the ladies “Say yes to the dress” as Rose and daughter-in-laws Amy and Kaytarra went through the closet.

Throwback picture with several of the sisters, nieces and nephews, including Clari, Mari, Junior, Yvette, and Rosemarie 

Rose, Meri, Linda & Jayson enjoyed a day trip to the new waterfront, finishing off the day with an as close as authentic New York style slice as you can get from Benny’s, and a nice sunset across the bay.

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And with some last minute drama, we make our escape before the real cold hits

So our plans to head south had been delayed due to Serenity’s additional critical repairs.  I got hold of American Airlines to cancel or change Rosemarie’s flight, and they offered me the choice of either paying $150 to get the points back or getting a voucher to fly the same route sometime within the next year.  The latter was the obvious choice for us since we still planned to execute our “Rose goes to Norfolk while Jack moves the rig south” plan.  After that we headed to our fancy Ojibwa Casino spot and settled in for three days, continuing to take advantage of the casino’s exclusive promo for RVers (free drink, $5 slot free play, and $10 blackjack matching coupons for each of us every day!)

And of course, we can’t have just one thing go wrong at a time, right?  While making a grocery run following heavy rains, Loki decided not to start in the parking lot.  Thinking it was the battery I got a jump from a kind stranger, and once back at the casino pulled out my battery charger to make sure things were topped off, the nearly two year old battery was a very cheap Walmart special and might have failed.  A simple problem if so, but no, the charger told me the battery was just fine.

Having visited Hilltop RV several times this month, kitty feels right at home in their customer waiting area.

Based on the specific symptoms (full charged battery, lights and wipers all work, heavy clicking when the key is turned but not even the slightest bit of engine turn over attempt) and the timing (occurring as it did right after driving in wet roads) the internet informed me that the likely culprit was the starter.  Fortunately the local Napa could get a refurbished one by early Tuesday morning, allowing us to pick it up on the way to Hilltop RV for repairs.

Once at Hilltop Elizabeth got the mechanic started on our propane furnace valve and refrigerator installation, and even hooked us up with one of the other techs that agreed to install the new starter after hours that same day.  I had taken a look to see if I could do it myself, but the position of the bolts would necessitate more knowledge and tools than I could provide.  Besides, he offered to do it for $50, which was a great deal, particularly since it took him a bit over an hour to do it since the bolts fought back so hard.  Once it was installed… it still didn’t start.  After a bit more exploration he cleaned off a section of the cable connection points that I had not spotted, and she fired right up.

Now, I think the starter was in fact bad, but it is possible I wasted $116 for a new one and it was only the connection point corrosion that was the real problem.  Who knows?  Bottom line, we were all fixed and ready for the road by 6PM that day.  It was too late for us to make our next planned stopping point, so we parked at the far end of the nearby Shopko, and went undisturbed through the night.  The next morning I called American and rescheduled Rosemarie’s flights, and then we were off, pointed south into Wisconsin.

The view from out stealth camping site at Shopko

After crossing the border, we made one unexpected stop, lured off the interstate by a big cheese shop billboard.  No way we were going through Wisconsin without stocking up, and we left with a hoard of block cheese, mozzarella, and curds from Kugel’s Cheese Mart before finishing the day’s driving leg.

I had found yet another casino resort that had an actual RV park with electrical hookups for $15 a night, or free drycamping in the parking lot.  Normally I would balk at paying that much just for electricity at a casino, but their small wooded RV park was far nicer than the busy parking lot, and made for a much better environment.  We did our usual; signing up for their players club and text alerts, giving us each $15 in free slot money, but the casino gods might be tiring of our game because we only managed to turn that into $14 in real cash between us.  Ah well, it provided a fun half our diversion along with free coffee.

Onieda Casino’s small RV campground.

After our one night stay we pushed on to the outskirts of Chicago, staying at the Great Lakes Navy Training Center.   The park was surprisingly full given the lateness in the season, the rainy weather and our weekday arrival, but they had an electric only site for $19 a day.  In better weather this would be a nice little RV park, situated directly on the shore of Lake Michigan, though I could do without the complicated route once inside the base along narrow roads with tight turns and a lot of one ways.

We didn’t have time to explore The Windy City, but we at least took advantage of the stop to pick up a great Chicago style pizza from a local joint.  Which actually took two tries since the first place we stopped, based on a local’s recommendation, did not even have true Chicago style, just a glorified deep dish.  No thanks, we want the authentic version!

Our stay in the U.P. had gotten us out of the habit of checking for toll fees when doing our route planning, and we had been surprised by a couple of cash only ones as we drove through Illinois, which can be particularly troublesome for out of town RVers if you hit one of the coin only, unattended gates and have to pay nearly $5 in change.  We were fortunate to have what we needed that day, but for the rest of our trip we found toll free routes on major roads that only added a few minutes and a couple of miles to the trip.

We broke camp from Great Lakes by mid morning, and I parked Serenity at a Walmart 10 minutes from Chicago O’Hare, and we took Loki the rest of the way to drop Rosemarie off for her flight to Norfolk.  I got hooked pushed hard towards Atlanta.  That trip next post!

Our Last Week in the UP?

Everything was falling into place for our final week in the UP.  While we waited the last few days for our new refrigerator to arrive, we shifted west from Grand Marais to Munising’s municipal RV park.  After four days there on the lookout, we spotted the perfect lake front site open up, so we pulled up stakes and shifted to the shoreline, adding $3 to our daily cost, but well worth it.  Daily walks along the beach resulted in a surprising amount of beach glass and other interesting stones, including quite a lot of green and purple “slag glass” from a former iron plant nearby (silica being one of the main impurities smelted off during processing.)

On Tuesday evening we participated in Munising’s farmers and artisans market, a first for us, but one we hope to do again during a future trip to the region.  We could tell that had we been there during the height of the season, especially when the tour boats were in full swing, things would have been fantastic.  But even with this late in the season event, we still sold enough to make us happy.

Best of all we got word from Hilltop RV that our refrigerator had finally arrived, and they juggled their technicians’ schedule to get us in for installation on Saturday, Oct 7.  Which, by the way, involved something I never considered: they had to take into account their tech’s pet allergies when assigning them work on RV’s, that, like ours, have a full time resident cat!  Who knew?

Regardless, all good news for us, and having finally secured an installation date we were able to develop a complicated “combination driving route to Florida slash flight plan for Rosemarie” to visit Titi Linda and the various cousins and other relatives in Norfolk, VA: She would fly out of American Airline’s major hub in Chicago, which was directly along our route back to FL, and I would continue south, picking her up in Atlanta, also along our route.  Perfect!

We finished off our last days in Munising and the UP with gusto.  Though Cap’n Ron continued to be out of his smoked white fish dip, we reluctantly made do with a nearby competitor.  During an outing to visit thrift ships and the like, we made a side trip to visit some of the many beautiful waterfalls in the region.

We also took a whole day to drive down to the southern region of the UP in order to pick up a new headlight for Loki.  Nearly a year ago I rearranged our rear, ladder-mounted bicycle rack to minimize protrusion of the wheels or handle bars, eventually one of my bungee cords broke, allowing the handle bars to drop down such that a sharp right turn resulted in a bike handle jamming into the Tracker’s passenger headlight, breaking all three bracket mounts and cracking the turn indicator as well.

I found Jake’s Boneyard in Gladstone that had a tracker, and after negotiation they sold me a new headlight and turn signal assembly for $50.  It only took me an hour to figure out how to remove the old one, made so much easier once I disassembled the front grill.  Things were really coming together for our last week in the UP!

Unless, of course, things went south.  Oct 7th, Saturday morning, we broke camp early and headed to Hilltop RV.  Having waited five weeks to get our new refrigerator, we were excited to not only be on our way, but also to cease living out of a cheap, decades old cooler.  The only thing that could prevent our fabulous departure plan from Michigan was if the techs discovered another major problem during the fridge, microwave, or awning repair process.  Which, of course, they did.

And let me be very clear, Hilltop RV has been nothing short of amazing for us, flexing their schedules, rushing what needed rushing, and generally working with us in every conceivable way.  Especially our service manager, Elizabeth.  But sometimes things happen, and this was one of those times: as they were removing our old refrigerator they found a significant propane leak from our furnace valve.

This is a significant hazard, and needed to be addressed, post haste.  Elizabeth managed two things in the wake of this discovery: she got EasyCare to include it on the warranty under the existing work order (meaning we would not have to pay an additional deductible,) and got the valve part ordered for delivery Tuesday morning.

So, yeah, this would be a major pain in the ass, involve us rejiggering those previously mentioned flight plans, and having to return to our luxury casino “hotel” for a few days, but it’s kinda hard to complain about getting a significant safety issue discovered and repaired for no additional cost, right?  Right!  We would sort out the ticket changes with American Airlines later, and a few more days in the UP wouldn’t hurt us, especially since we had confidence that Hilltop RV would, in the end, get us on the road.

33 Months Fulltiming: September 2017 Report

Look at us, so on top of the blog that the monthly report comes out within a week!

The Distance:  239 miles, as predicted in our August Report, a big slow down after our sprint east.  The entire month consisted of crossing from one end of the UP and back, with our schedule defined by Serenity’s ongoing repairs.  Our annual total is up to 8,031.   October will be a big mileage month as we work our way all the way to Central Florida.

The Places:   We spent the entire month on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We had only planned to be her for maybe 25 days, but the wait for our new refrigerator has pushed us up to five weeks.  Fortunately the weather has been mild, sometimes downright blazing.  We started the month in Ishpiming at the RV park behind Hilltop RV Superstore before moving to the Ojibwa Casino (another lucky casino for us) near Marquette.  After a sprint back to Ishpiming for repair related reasons, we continued west to our favorite U.P. spot, Woodland Park in Grand MaraisAfter nearly three weeks there we decided to try another U.P. town, and moved back east to Munising’s City Tourist RV Park.

We stayed eight nights at private campgrounds (including three at the casino) with the remaining 22 at public sites (all at municipal campgrounds.)  No drycamping at all this month; we had at least electrical power for all 30 days (27 with power and water, 3 with 20 amp electric only at the casino.)

The Budget:  We killed it this month!  The lucrative RVers promotion at Ojibwa Casino contributed, but our great success at the Grand Marais and (especially) Marquette markets really did the trick.  We ended up under budget by 33%, which puts us within striking distance of being on budget for the year.  This really validates our last minute plan to head to the U.P.; sure it contributed to us being way over budget last month, but the fridge was already bad by then, that tire was gonna blow one way or another this year, and the extra gas to get here will, by the time we get back to Florida, only account for perhaps an additional $350.

The first half of October will be tough since we have to pay the rest of our EasyCare Warranty deductible and freight costs for the new refrigerator, but when we get back to Florida late in the month we have a series of markets lined up to buff up the funding picture.

The Drama and the Improvements:  We have been living out of a cooler for five weeks now as we wait for our new refrigerator, but the end is in sight; it should be installed by this weekend.  This involved some unfortunate delays since our extended warranty company insisted on sending an inspector to confirm the required repairs, but most of the delay was just waiting for a new fridge from the factory.  I finally got around to addressing the heavily oxidized and bug embedded paint on Serenity’s front end, going at it with rubbing compound, polish, and wax.  Huge improvement.  Lastly, we have heard from two different readers that our ongoing picture problem following the Photobucket fiasco seems to have solved itself.  No idea what happened, but that’s good news.  I am working to get the pics and associated links from 2016 and 2015 posts uploaded and repaired this month.

2017 monthly reports to date:

And here are our 2016 and 2015 annual summaries which include monthly report links.

A new spot in the UP: Munising

A shorter than usual post just to close out the month of September.

Having spent nearly three weeks in Grand Marais, we decided to check out another part of the UP for what we hoped would be our final week in the region.  Not that we don’t love the place, but we are pushing our luck with seasonal weather and would like to get south before the first freeze.  Having driven through Munising several times, it looked like a nice town, right on the lake shore, bigger than Grand Marais, smaller than Marquette, and having several nice features to make it perfect for our needs.

Another great U.P. location on the shore of Lake Superior

Like Grand Marais, it has an affordable “first come, first serve,” municipal RV campground right on Lake Superior.  Munising City Tourist Park has a rate structure that runs from $25 a night all the way up to $39 for the premium, full hook spots closest to the beach.  We selected a $31 site with 50 amp and water one row back from the lake.  Though we arrived in rainy and windy weather, since then we have had beautiful days.

Our spacious site at Munising City Tourist Park.  The electrical and water connections can be a bit confusing and tough to reach, but a great park.  First Come First Serve after September.

Munising also has a Moose Lodge, which we had stopped into for a drink last week on our way back from Marquette.  Now just a few miles from it, we were able to participate in the Friday evening fish fry.  We chose to split the mixed basket, which included white fish, perch, and walleye, of which the latter was the clear winner by our votes.

One of the other great things about this place is that puts us only 45 minutes from the Marquette market that has been so successful for us.  This removed the need for a hotel stay in town, and a good thing too because we were running a bit low on points for that program.  So on Saturday morning we woke up early and headed back to Marquette for another market; our participation there has really pushed our budget back on track this month.

In lieu of yet another picture of the Marquette market, here is a cat. Which we almost never post.

We had another fantastic day with excellent, if chilly, weather.  This time I got to the mushroom guy while he still had shiitake and wine caps in addition to the oysters.  As we have enjoyed ever increasing success at this event, we have become more willing to spend some of the profit with our fellow vendors.  This time we treated ourselves to some warm bread pretzels, a ham and swiss pinwheel, an entire quart of the shrooms, and did so despite having sold almost nothing the first hour or so.  Because, as mentioned last post, our sales come with the lunch crowd, and sure enough we enjoyed a bonanza, again breaking our sales record for a single event.  As advertised, we donated 10% of our sales to help some people in Puerto Rico deal with their recovery.

I’m thinking about tossing this on top of the RV and bringing it back to Florida.  It would look great as the centerpiece in a big aquarium.

So we closed out September on a great note, our six market having allowed us to live a bit richer than our normal routine and still finish the month well under budget.  Since then we have finally gotten definitive word on our replacement refrigerator, and foresee the first full week of October as our last week in U.P.  All of that after our September Fulltiming Report.

Sunset from the shore.

Fourth week in the UP, and our last days in Grand Marais

For our last full week in Grand Marais we made some slight adjustments to the schedule that we came up with the previous week.  We left for Marquette earlier on Friday with Loki loaded up for the market, stopped by the Ojibwa Casino to enter a drawing, and then hit the two major thrift stores in town.  We tried to do our “big city errands” on Friday so that once we completed the Saturday market we could snag groceries and head back to Grand Marais a bit earlier.  We checked into the same hotel on points, and were once again upgraded to a junior suite based on still having a tiny bit of elite status with this chain left over from my business travel days.  Milk it while we can!

The colors, they are a-changing.

Whereas last week the trip had a frenetic, mildly disorganized quality, this week we had things wired for efficiency and relaxation.  Another Friday night meal at Hong Kong Buffet, and then the pool, hot tub, bath (in a real tub!) and TV.   Most of those are things we don’t get to enjoy often with our RV lifestyle, so we reveled in it.

Fast changing weather as we enter Fall.  This day, heavy fog.

The next morning it was off to the Downtown Marquette Market, our fourth time participating this year.  While we have had some rainy days during our UP stay, we lucked out again with beautiful weather for the event, which brought out the crowds.  We have learned that the pattern for this market involves a limited number of serious fruit and veggie shoppers in the morning who have no time for anything else, and then a lunch time rush filled with more casual shoppers willing to linger and look over everyone’s wares.  So we don’t panic when we sell almost nothing the first hour or two; it’s that late morning and early afternoon group that works for us.  Sure enough, we ended up breaking our old sales record, which we set at this place just two weeks earlier.  Fantastic.

The wild shroom forager was sold out by the time I got to him, but the traditional shroom farmer still had a pint of oysters. Delicious with ribs, rice, and market shallots

We packed up as temperatures pushed towards 90 degrees and headed to Walmart for resupply.  On the way home we stopped in Munising, about half way between Marquette and Grand Marais.   We had two reasons for the delay: fish dip and a Moose Lodge.  In 2015 we were routinely buying white fish dip from a local fisherman in Grand Marais.   He is not selling this year, and no one seems to know why.  During one of our trips to or from Marquette we spotted a sign for white fish dip as we passed through Munising, and hoping it would be as good we resolved to stop.  So we pulled into Cap’n Ron’s and scored some fantastic dip, which we will be getting more of, and learned that it was his brother from whom we had been buying in GM!  Small peninsula.

We had passed by the Munising Moose Lodge the previous week on our run to Marquette, but before it was open for the day.  This trip our timing was better, so we pulled in if for no other reason than to finally visit another Moose.  Hard to believe that this is only the second one we have been to all year.  The west half of the country has a lot fewer of them than in the east.  This Lodge seems to have a pretty active membership; though the bar was nearly empty the social room had at least a dozen men playing Texas Hold’em.  One of the members bought our first drink, something we have found is pretty common for out of towners making their first visit to a new lodge.  We made plans to come back for the Friday evening fish fry if we could work it into our schedule.

Once back in Grand Marais we enjoyed a few more days of decent weather mixed with others full of wind and rain.  It’s fascinating to see the shore of Lake Superior in such varied conditions: with but the slightest ripples one day, and crashing white tops pounding the shore the next.  During this week Rosemarie finally found her first Lake Superior agate, one of the things the region is known for.  Every morning, even in foul weather, you can see locals and tourists alike marching along the shore, heads down, often with their custom rock scooping stick in hand, scouring the rocky beach for agates and other interesting rocks.

Rosemarie’s Lake Superior agate!

The women that owns the agate museum across the street from the county RV park will identify one rock for free per visit, and tells people that bring in what she calls “second cousins to agates” i.e., not an agate, that when you find one you’ll know it; they are that distinct.  That turned out to be the case for Rosemarie, we were nearly certain once she found it, and the museum owner confirmed it later that week.

Confirmed at the Gitchee Gumee Museum and Agate Shop

We celebrated my birthday with a late morning trip to the only restaurant we had not yet tried: The West Bay Diner.  It is an old 1950’s style diner building, apparently from New Jersey, full restored and connected to a more traditional and larger structure.  The place has a bit of a reputation that might remind some of a classic Seinfeld episode.  Our understanding is that the head cook works at his own pace, sometimes doesn’t feel like making one of your choices so you get something else, and if that doesn’t work for you you’re welcome to eat elsewhere.

The classic diner interior.  All the customers were in the main building due to the heat of the day.

The important thing is to know all this going in so you are in the right state of mind.  Fortunately, we were forwarned by locals and reviews, and were further advised by our waitress that it might be up to an hour wait for our food (despite whatever idiosyncrasies the place has, it is busy on the weekends.)  No problem, we waited, enjoyed the never ending pot of fresh coffee, and once it arrived the food was a hefty serving of awesome.  If you can handle the wait we rate this as the best restaurant of the three in town, though we will have to give the Grand Marais Tavern another try next visit to confirm.

Eggs Benedict, a bit firmer than normal.

Rosemarie also stumbled across a yoga studio across the street from the RV park.  We had passed the building dozens of times without knowing what it was.  Offering very affordable one hour sessions at various times throughout the week, she was disappointed to discover it so late in our stay, but made the best of it with a morning stretch class ($5!) and later in the week an evening traditional yoga class for $10.  Next visit we will be more prepared to enjoy all Grand Marais has to offer.

PKM’s monthly bath followed by flea drops. She loves this.

We closed out our last day in Grand Marais with our third week of participation at the  local market.  The limited number of shoppers really drove home how the tourist season is coming to an end; we ended up with less than a third of what we made the previous two Thursday’s.   But while there we finally got to meet Carol and Mike, fellow travel RVers who Rosemarie has followed on Instagram for years, and who first recommended we visit the UP and Grand Marais back in 2015.

The market as reflection.

We also got in on the discussion among the other vendors about moving the day and time for next year.   Several of the vendors feel that Thursday is too early in the week; the weekend tourists and ATV enthusiasts have not fully arrived.  They seem to have settled on doing it Friday evening as the main day with Saturday morning as sort of secondary event for those that did not sell out the previous evening.  (The vast majority of the vendors are selling perishable food, especially baked goods.)  We are not sure that will work for us when we return considering our Saturday Marquette event, but we shall see.

We shall see what this sign says next year.

Next post: we try a different part of the U.P. on for size.

On the leash, at the beach.  Whose a good cat?

 

Week three in the UP: A new routine for fun and profit.

Having spent the better portion of a week in our favorite UP location, Grand Marais, we sorted out a plan for our time here that would allow us to participate in the local Thursday afternoon informal event as well as the big Saturday downtown market back in Marquette.  The challenge is that we need to be at the latter no later than 8:15 AM, and it is a two hour drive each way from Grand Marais.  We aren’t morning people, dawn doesn’t break until after 7 or so, and we just didn’t want to have such a long day.  Our solution was to secure a Marquette hotel for Friday night using our still hefty stash of reward points.

Packed up and on the road to Marquette. Good thing our tow vehicle is so spacious.

So Friday afternoon saw us loaded up and headed to Country Inn & Suites where we could enjoy the heated pool and hot tub, luxuriate in an actual bathtub, treat ourselves to an affordable restaurant (Hong Kong Buffet in this case,) and not have to worry about getting up before dawn to make the market.  This plan was doubly efficient because we expended points from a program that has been a bit challenging to effectively use in the past.

Yes, this sort of thing is not for everyone, but I have a strong affinity for Chinese Buffets, and Rosemarie was surprisingly in the mood for it as well.

We also stumbled across yet another casino on the way to Marquette, so free soda and about $5 in profit from their new member sign up promotion made the day that much better.  I have lost count of how many casino’s we have visited, but it has to be more than a dozen by now, almost all of which provided us a bit of extra funds due to our disciplined gambling with only house money.  I figure we have almost paid for that stolen generator by now.

The Kewadin Casino in Christmas, MI.  This little town goes all in on the Santa thing.

As pop-in vendors rather than full season participants, our particular spot at the market is subject to availability, but market manager Myra has been very proactive in getting us assigned and aware of our general location before we arrive.  We set up in our spot, enjoying excellent weather and a reasonably steady stream of customers.  The day was not as completely fantastic as the previous week’s record breaking sale, but we were more than happy with the final result.

Our loot from this latest Marquette market: shallots, two types of garlic, an heirloom tomato and some cabbage.

As I mentioned last post, Downtown Marquette Market coordinates with the local food co-op to conduct healthy food demonstrations, and this week it was delicious and rather unique spring rolls, with 90% of the ingredients purchased from the farmers at the market that very morning, along with a few things from the co-op itself.  The rice sheet wrapped rolls were so popular that getting a sample could be contentious, with two rather rude people stepping in front of those that had waited longer and trying to take twice the allotment.  Thankfully the vast majority of the people here were better behaved.

After the market we took advantage of being in “the big city” to visit the local big grocery chain, a Wal-Mart, and the Goodwill thrift store before making the drive back to Grand Marais, with a quick stop at the Ojibwa Casino to enter the weekly NFL drawing and grab a complementary soda.

Lake Superior beach life: drinks, dip, and cheese curds along with an actual dip in the lake. Brisk!

And end the day with a great sunset.

Once back in Grand Marais we settled in for another week, including another Thursday market (which continues to provide surprisingly consistent sales results and interesting additions to our cupboard) and a dinner out with our friends Nancy and Bruce, whom we had met in Whidbey Island and had made the trek here before they turned south for Ohio.

Serves basic pub fare along with fried white fish.

During longer stays like this we try to be productive, Rosemarie steadily producing an abundant supply of jewelry while we both take care of other necessary tasks.  During a nice spell of weather I took on the front of the bus, the paint having become heavily oxidized and bug embedded.  Through the miracle of rubbing compound, followed by polishing compound and then sealed with wax, I was able to get things back to nice, if not brilliant conditions.  

We plan on running our Friday hotel/Saturday Marquette Market venture again the following week, but with some modifications to make it that much more enjoyable and efficient.  Despite our hope that the manufacturer would get it here quicker, our refrigerator delivery is still estimated for early October, so we are making plans to continue the routine in some form until then.

This, of course, means we are pushing our luck with regard to the weather.  So far we have enjoyed a pretty good run: lots of warm sunny days, some overcast but otherwise perfectly fine ones, a few socked-in foggy days, and a couple with drizzle to heavy wind and rain.  Furthermore, all five of our market days have been quite good, no rain and but one challenging event with heavy wind gusts.

Not every day was sunny, we had a few heavily fogged one as well.

But that doesn’t stop our sales or purchases: pickled veggies, hot mustard, and crescent rolls

What we have not had is an early cold spell, which we are hoping to avoid as we are not cold weather people and would worry about not properly winterizing Serenity and thus sustaining possible water line damage.  Last year we had already left the UP by this time, so considering we will be here until around October 8, we are taking a risk.   We’ll keep an eye on it and modify as needed, but right now we are just hoping for tolerable weather the rest of our stay.

The foggy days and drizzle really had the fungus popping out: these two pics are from driftwood right on the beach

Second Week in the UP: More markets and we reach Grand Marais

With the knowledge that it would be a couple of weeks before our refrigerator was ready for installation, it was time to head for our intended September destination: Grand Marais, a 95 miles drive west of Marquette.  Grand Marais is the little town on the shore of Lake Superior that sucked us in so much last year that we kept extending our stay, ending up there for 19 days.  But before we made the Saturday afternoon ride, we left the RV at the Ojibwa Casino and drove Loki back into town for another Downtown Marquette Farmers market.

Another robust Downtown Marquette market

This week we had perfect weather, which led to a big turnout.  A steady stream of buyers that were willing to explore and linger in the temperate, sunny, and festive outdoor atmosphere began even before the official 9 am start time.  We ended with our best result ever, with the very low $10 table fee pushing our net profit over our previous top result at the Beachcomber Bazaar on Whidbey Island by a bit.

This market has a different food oriented demo each week, usually in concert with the local food co-op.  This time it was a tomato tasting, all varieties from the local farmers present.

We packed up, restocked our food supply (options for doing this in Grand Marais are very limited and pricey,) reconnected Loki to the tow rig at the casino, and headed to our home for the next few weeks: Woodland County Park.  Having watched the place empty out after Labor Day weekend last year, we were surprised at how full this first come, first serve park was upon our late afternoon arrival.  The excellent weekend weather had the part time RVers out in droves and the seasonal visitors extending their stays. The lake view spots on the front row were all full, but we found an excellent large back in spot with plenty of tree cover in the rear.

PKM exploring our first site at Woodland County Park

Woodland Park’s RV campsites are 50 amp electric and water, with a nearby dump station and well maintained bath house and laundry facilities.  Lake front spots are $30 a night, all others are $27.  We planned to keep an eye out for open front row option once the weekend crowd thinned out, but given what a nice spot we lucked into in the nearly full park, we were willing to wait for a really good one.

Beach cat making sure owner is following along…

We spent the week reacquainting ourselves with Grand Marais, which, frankly, does not take long given the small size of the place (after all, there are no stop lights and a grand total of three restaurants and one food truck.)  This included participation in the very informal Thursday evening market.  We worried that over the course of a year this pop up event might run afoul of state or county regulations and either fade away our start requiring paperwork and table fees.  But no, it’s just like last year: all are welcome, set up wherever there is an open space on near the sidewalk, and no vendor charges.

Fired U.P. food truck makes enormous burgers and other concoctions.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s small in both number of vendors and potential buyers, but at only two hours long the time investment makes our consistent, if modest profit there worth it, particularly since we are the only jeweler and the locals are so welcoming.  The only notable change from last year is that the actual start and end times have shifted forward nearly an hour, no matter what the legacy advertising says.  Next week we will know to set up a lot earlier.

Over our first four days we passed on several lake front spots that opened up; either they were narrow, had poor views, or were too close to the bathhouse and associated foot traffic.  On the fifth morning, however, I drove the tracker around the front row with our reservation tag in hand and discovered an excellent recently emptied option: wide, long, level, with an excellent view of Lake Superior out the front window, and plenty of grass and trees along the back.  I parked Loki there and hung the tag to claim it, and we made a quick job of packing up and moving before I notified the office of  our site shift and paid the additional $3 a day.

Our front row site we moved to on day 5.

Late in the week I called Hilltop RV for an update on the shipping time frame, and received the unfortunate news that the supplier did not have the fridge in stock, and was waiting on a shipment from the factory.  Their best guess was that we would not receive the unit until the first week of October.  We had not planned on staying in the UP that long, but it doesn’t look like we have much of a choice.  We resigned ourselves to it, thankful that we have a nice and reasonably affordable place to stay, and hopeful that the weather will not turn too cold.  With this new timeline established, we worked out a plan for how we would maximize our market participation through the rest of September.  More on that next post.

Last thing: the Woodland has “free WiFi” though in typical RV park fashion, it is rarely usable.  Our relatively new unlimited WiFi plan with Verizon, however, allowed us to keep track of those facing destructive weather in the south, and we were relieved that Hurricane Irma, for all of its devastation, did not cause significant damage for friends and family throughout Florida.  Since then we have watched Jose wander around the Atlantic and are now seeing Maria reek havoc across the Caribbean.  Stay safe, fam.

… and also keeping an eye on that dangerous water.

First full week in the UP: Repair shop Kabuki Dance, another successful market, and one more great casino.

We packed up early and left Squaw Lake campground making the 45 minute drive to Hilltop RV in Ishpeming for our troubleshooting appointment at Hilltop RV.  We went through our list with Elizabeth, the maintenance adviser, and she helped narrow it down to the things that our easy care policy might cover based on her experience with various third party warranty programs.  They got to work diagnosing our problems and had answers within 90 minutes:  Refrigerator has multiple component failures and (as we suspected) would need replacing, microwave is not serviceable and also needs replacing, and a couple of minor things wrong with our awning would need parts and adjustment.  There were other items they diagnosed, but these are the only three that EasyCare would consider covering once Elizabeth gave them a call.

Arriving at Hilltop RV

Great, right? That’s still worth the trouble, so lets get them parts ordered!  Not so fast, said the EasyCare agent, first they needed to send an inspector to certify the diagnosis and requirements.  Since it was Friday before Labor Day weekend, we could not expect him out until Tuesday.  They were inflexible on this, so we locked in a spot at the somewhat overpriced ($36 a night after 10% military discount) but incredibly convenient RV campground right behind the repair shop, Country Village RV Park, and tried to take care of business while we waited.

We asked for a spot with a tree… they complied.  A tree.

This included setting up our tent and table at the Saturday Downtown Marquette Farmers Market, an event we did twice last year during our month in the UP.  We had mixed results then: one fantastic weekend and one terrible one, but only because of an at times torrential rainstorm that lasted the majority of the event.  Once we had decided to return to the UP this year, we contacted the market manager, Myra, who remembered us and approved our application as drop in vendors.

Overcast and blustery, but a successful event.

As we set up our stuff we were pretty concerned; the weather looked a bit ugly, but it didn’t do more than lightly drizzle sporadically through the morning.  We did have to fight the wind all day, and ended up bungy cording down several of our stands.  Despite the wind and water, we had a solid day of sales.  Since we had to remain in Marquette anyway, we were happy for such a successful local market.  Once we got to Grand Marais, we would have a nearly two hour drive to get to this event each weekend.

We spent the long holiday weekend in our partial hook up spot at Country Village, part of the time second guessing our decision to come this far north since we had to actually turn on our furnace part of each night to combat the 50 degree lows.  By Tuesday early afternoon we were antsy to move on, and having heard nothing from Hilltop RV, we started adding some pressure.  We called the repair shop and then EasyCare demanding some answers about when to expect the inspector.  It took a bit, but eventually EasyCare got the man to call Hilltop and “clarify” the plan: He was never going to show up on Tuesday, they blamed the repair shop for misunderstanding that he was simply going to call on Tuesday to schedule his visit, which would not be until Thursday or Friday.  I complained to an agent and his supervisor to no avail: we would lose a full week before we could order parts.

PKM quite concerned about Hurricane Irma during one of our visits to Hilltop RVs waiting area

Grumpily we packed up and departed Country Village, moving 30 minutes down the road to the Ojibwa Casino.  Our good luck there helped salve our irritated souls since they were running a nice set of promos for RVers.  We got the usual sign up and email opt in free play money, but for staying overnight in our rig we each got an additional $5 free play money, a free well drink, and $10 in blackjack “match” money, and we got all this every day we stayed.  By the end of the week we had turned that free stuff into $199, largely because we got very lucky at the blackjack table, winning 11 out of 12 hands.

Bare bones but free with electricity at Ojibwa Casino

As for Ojibwa’s RV accommodations: They no longer have an actual RV lot in the nearby wooded acre: that’s been bulldozed in preparation for their new hotel.  What they have done in the interim is wire three of the light poles in their parking lot with a standard 20 amp, 110V outlet, effectively allowing up to six RVs to stay overnight with enough power to run the basics, though not an AC.  Unfortunately, they did not mark those spots as RV only, and since two of the poles are up relatively close to the casino entrance, they almost always have cars next to them, and the distant option is very unlevel.

Another view

We were fortunate: upon our arrival the pole not blocked by cars didn’t have an RV around it, so we were able to hook up our shore power with our 20 amp adapter, level out as best we could, and once we were done in the casino we settled in for a relatively quite night.  The place is isolated, lacking any through traffic from non-casino people, and the lot was well lit and secure.

PKM didn’t much care for our stay at the casino: nothing to hunt.

The morning of our second day we got a call from Hilltop RV informing us that the inspector was on the way and should arrive in less than an hour.  We broke camp immediately and headed back into town, arriving just before EasyCare’s contracted man.  What followed was the most perfunctory and unnecessary “inspection” I have ever seen.  He took pictures of the outside of the motorhome, our tag, the VIN sticker, and the mileage.  As for the actual damaged parts, he had no interest in looking at the components of the fridge, verifying the microwave didn’t work, or inspecting the awning damage.  The entire event was just, as the post title indicates, Kabuki Theater, supposedly keeping us all honest with the threat of an inspection that turned out to be pretty pointless.

After two visits PKM feels pretty much at home hanging out at Hilltop RV

The good news is that an hour or so after the, ahem, inspection, EasyCare confirmed that they would cover the full replacement cost of the fridge and microwave, the parts for the awning, and all labor.  We would only be responsible for our $250 deductible and any shipping/freight charges.  Those would probably be a couple of hundred, but the amount the warranty covered is considerable, so we were happy.  It would be a couple of weeks before all the parts would arrive, so we headed back to the casino for two more nights, where we prepped for another market and a follow on move to Grand Marais.

PKM meeting a very skittish “Sissy” at Country Village RV Park.

32 Months Fulltiming: August 2017 Report

Having done our usual flurry of posts as we realized how behind we were, this end of month report nearly catches us up.  In the coming days we will have posts about our first week in the UP, an update on our refrigerator and other mechanical issues, another great market event, and yet another solid casino camping (and gambling!) experience.

We bought Serenity, a 2007 model motorhome, less than 2 years ago with less than 13,000 miles.  I think we are using him a bit more than the previous owner!

The Distance:  2,930 miles, the biggest month we have had during our entire time RVing! We crossed the length of Washington and Montana into North Dakota, before turning down into South Dakota and Nebraska.  Then back to South Dakota before turning east again as we started our revised route plan for the remainder of the year.  We crossed the length of South Dakota by continuing east to Iowa, then finished the month with a northeast run through Wisconsin into Michigan.  Whew, that’s most of the way across the top of the country and puts our annual mileage up to 7,792.  September will see a big slow down since we plan on being in the UP at least three weeks if the weather stays reasonable, and then pick things up with a big sprint back to Florida.

The Places:   We spent the bulk of August visiting a string of five national parks stretching from Washington to South Dakota: North Cascades, Glacier, Teddy Roosevelt, Wind Cave, and Badlands.  Along the way we had a handful of one and two night layovers at various casinos, military bases, and private campgrounds, and also got to visit Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore.  We enjoyed a nice Nebraska State Park right in the eclipse totality, and a family visit in Iowa at Ledges State Park.  After yet another successful casino stay we finally arrived in Michigan the last day of the month.

We stayed 16 nights at private campgrounds (which includes four nights at three casinos,) 5 at military bases or recreation areas, and 10 at public spots (four on national grasslands, six in state parks or forests.)  We had connections of some sort for 26 days (10 full hook ups, 7 power and water, 9 electric only) and dry camped for 5.

During August we filled in the last three states in our “lower 48” sticker map: Montana and both Dakotas.

The Budget:  Yeah, we blew the budget pretty badly this month: over by 34%.  We did this despite collecting more than $200 in free money and gas from various casinos.  Basically, we spent nearly three times as much on gas this month compared to our average as a result of our nearly 3,000 mile run across the country.  (That plus another $267 for the new tire.)

But, we sorta new going in to August it would be a tough month financially with no markets to help offset it, and once we decided on our revised plan to head to the Michigan UP, we new it would get even worse.  The upside is we will be in the UP for about three weeks with up to six vending days.  This was part of our plan: make the sacrifice in August so that we could reap the benefits of selling at markets and limited gas expenses in September.

The Drama and the Improvements:  We had another flat tire, but it turned out to be the last of the original old ones, so we are now completely riding on less than two year old rubber.  More significantly, our refrigerator went out the last week of the month while in Iowa.  We have since learned that it will require complete replacement, but more on that in a later post.   Lastly, we rebuilt and reorganized our several of our jewelry displays in anticipation of coming farmers and artisan markets in the UP.

2017 monthly reports to date:

And here are our 2016 and 2015 annual summaries which include monthly report links.