Third and final week in Grand Marais: we get wind, we get fog, we get rain, and we get visitors.

One of the great things about full time RVing is how many friends and family members we see that we might not otherwise visit as often if we still lived in a sticks and bricks house.  Since leaving Key West in late March we have visited family in eight different cities and hooked up with two sets of Key West friends in Sanibel (Rusty and Cherito, and Stan and Marilyn.)

PKM observing the Big Lake out of our front window.

So come Monday we locked in one more week at Woodland Park and began scoping out sites for another pair of Key Westers, Steve and Deb.  Or Bev.  Sometimes I call her Bev.  Even though they would be arriving on a Tuesday and plenty of spots would be available, the front row tends to fill up quite quickly after a departure.  The one on our left side became available the morning of their planned arrival, so I secured it for one day on Steve and Deb/Bev’s behalf while they made the seven hour drive up from Lancing.

Someone built this driftwood structure and flagpole since we were here last year.  

It’s a nice site with a big tree providing shade for part of the day, and though it’s is not particularly wide, Steve had no problem getting his big fifth wheel in, but had a devil of a time getting it positioned such that it could be properly leveled.  After a couple of attempts at getting it far enough to the left side and over the unfortunate hump, they settled for a somewhat angled line up in the center of the site.

Deb and Steve, obviously.

We packed in as much as possible for the next three days, serving as tour guides for Grand Marais and joining them as tourists for day trips in other areas, hampered by some heavy winds and light rain they brought with them from the lower peninsula.  We started with a solid meal at Bayview Tavern followed by an evening inside sharing drinks and stories.

The next day Steve drove us on a trip to hit three places that had been on our “to see” list this year, starting with Tahquamenon Falls State Park.  Steve has the state park “passport” available to Michigan registered vehicles on his license plate, so entry into both the Upper and Lower Falls was free.  Its a nice set of falls, and probably decent swimming, though the water is brownish from high tanin amounts.  The park has a microbrewery on the grounds, which made for a nice drink before we had our hors’ d overs type mid day snack.

We continued east to Paradise, a nearby town on the shore of Lake Superior we wanted to get a feel for so that we do not blindly go to Grand Marais each year without at least considering other options.  It’s a nice little town a little smaller than GM, but struck us as a bit less well kept up.  We took the short drive up to Whitefish Point which juts out far enough into Lake Superior such that Canada is visible on the horizon, and is close to the point where teh Edmund Fitzgerald sank in 1975.

We headed back to our campsite, with stops in several campgrounds to check on possible future options in this neck of the woods.  Once home Steve cooked up an excellent and very tender set of baby back ribs for all of us.  I got a campfire going with the wood I have been salvaging from departed campers all week, something a fellow camper referred to as mine sweeping.

Steve’s two step cooking and grilling process yields not merely tasty but falling-off-the-bone tender ribs.

We started their last full day with lunch at the West Bay Diner and Delicatessen.  We forewarned Steve and Deb that the place was a bit different and to adjust their expectations, particularly with regards to speed of service and options accordingly.  In short, the stories about the place, backed up by our own experience last year, suggest that you can wait a long time for your food even if it doesn’t seem that crowded, and it might not be exactly what you ordered if the cook feels like something different.

The Diner has personality. Prepare yourself accordingly.

Good thing we prepared them and ourselves: they have eliminated the breakfast options I loved so much last year, and each meal was cooked separately such that by the time Rose and Steve got their meals Deb was nearly done with hers.  Regardless of that, the food was fantastic, and the experience unique.

Thanks for the Happy Camper sleeper, Deb!

Deb and Rosemarie spent the rest of the afternoon on the shore of the big lake hunting rocks.  While no agates were found, they came home loaded with other attractive stones from the plethora available.  Steve and I went geocaching, scoring finds in 7 of the 8 we hunted. 

The rocks shoved up onto the shore by the ice pack each year are pretty amazing.

They joined as at the Mercantile for the Thursday evening market and music event, where we made modest sales but enjoyed the experience.  We were all so full from lunch that we abandoned our plans to partake of Fired U.P. Food Truck’s excellent burgers.  Instead we did an ad hoc meal back at the campsite with wild foraged mushroom quesadillas and left over ribs before starting one more evening around the campfire.

They departed the next morning and we settled back into our typical Grand Marais routine.  I did the Friday pop market solo, allowing Rose to prep for the big event in Marquette the next morning.  It was drizzling and I considered skipping it, but three other vendors showed up despite the weather and one of them convinced me to set up the tent and give it a go.  Sales were quite slow, but I got to spend some time with the locals and said our goodbyes for the season.

Deb on the stairs down to the shore from our campground.

Saturday we headed to Marquette, trying to keep our expectations in check since the weather was iffy.  We did much of the drive in a light drizzle, but things cleared up by market start.  We did not do nearly as well as the previous week’s record breaking event, but by our standards of success it was still a great event.  We made our biggest set of purchases yet from our fellow vendors and thoroughly enjoyed the gourmet burger “The Brand” and fries from The Burger Bus food truck.

Beautiful oyster mushrooms from one of the two shroom vendors.

We did our usual round of stops for resupply before making the two hour run back to GM, punctuated by a stop at the Kewadin Casino in Christmas.  Though we have pulled in there a couple of times, I never noticed the RV sites until this stop: they have ten sites with 50 amp electric, free and first come first serve.  Definitely something we will keep in mind if we need a stopping point between Marquette and Grand Marais.

Bumblebee getting the last of the pollen from Rose’s just purchased sunflower.

Our last full day in Grand Marais I stopped by the green space park where Diane, one of the local market bakers sets up alone on Sunday, and purchased a few more of her fantastic cinnamon buns and then hit the West Bay Diner for some specialty items.  Then it was one last walk to the beautiful Lake Superior shore.

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Settling into a bit of a routine during our second week in Grand Marais

I realize that last post was a bit heavy on the market front and perhaps lacking in all other areas of possible interest, so I will not overly dwell on our sales in this post, but it has to take up some of the space.   I’ll save it for the bottom half.

Our first site on the back row.  Perfectly acceptable, but it lacks the view we wanted.

We started week two with a move to the lake front row at Woodland Park.  This campground has a four tier price structure, ranging from $22 a night for primitive dry camping or tent sites, up through $27 for power and water sites in the middle and back row, $31 for most of the front row serviced sites, and $34 a night for the 11 premium lake front sites on the east end of the front row.  All options include a discount if you pay for a week at a time, essentially giving you the seventh day free.  Last year the premium lake front sites had a distinct advantage with unobstructed views of Lake Superior while the standard front row sites’ views were mostly blocked by the tree line.  They, or mother nature, apparently did some clearing; some of the $31 sites are just as good as the premium ones.

Now that’s better.  Lake Superior from in front of our rig at our second site.

Sundays and Mondays during peak season see a lot of campers departing, particularly at the end of the music fest.  So we scouted the front row late Sunday looking for posted tickets with an 8/13 departure date, and throughout Monday morning kept an eye on things as people either renewed their spots or left.  We hit the dump station and then managed to secure, if not our top choice, a great spot in the front row with a near unobstructed view of the lake.

We also loosened up the purse strings and enjoyed several meals at the Tavern and Fired U.P. Food Truck.  The Grand Marais Tavern has reliably great wings and excellent pizza (3 out of 4 times it was excellent, anyway.)  The food truck has fantastic burgers: the double is a tower of deliciousness, but watch out for the ghost pepper cheese and bacon burger.  I have a pretty decent heat tolerance but it had me near tears.  We have yet to visit the Lake Superior Brewing Company or West Bay Diner this year, but it will surely happen before we leave. 

In the middle of the week we made a serious day trip all the way back to Sault Ste Marie, and I’m talking the Canada side.  During our trip across five of the eastern provinces, we had acquired some incredibly affordable merchandise that Rosemarie was improving upon with her Cricut, and once in the states were surprised that we could not find a source, even Amazon or other online sites, that could come close to the price we had paid.  Since we knew they would sell at a nice profit, I made some calls, found some sources in The Soo, and we cleaned them out.  We also made a stop at Bulk Barn, a place Rose would truly love to have access to in the US, and a burger at A&W.  We stopped by a local farmers market and the Moose Lodge on the US side for a quick drink before heading back to Grand Marais.

We have been fortunate at each of our border crossings with short lines and no drama.

I also finally got a look inside The Pickle Barrel Museum and learned the story behind it.  In 1914 comic strip artist William Donahey began publishing strips about miniature people, the Teenie Weenies, in the Chicago Tribune.  The strip became fairly popular with wide syndication, and eventually Reid Murdock & Company and Monarch Canned Foods commissioned Donahey to do commercial work featuring the Teenie Weenies.  Reid-Murdock funded the construction of a two story artist’s cabin for William and his writer wife in the shape of a giant pickle barrel (the normal sized version of which was a Teeny home in the comic.)  The structure was moved from Sable Lake to Grand Marais in 1936, and after decades of gradual degradation, was heavily renovated by the local historical society between 2003 and 2005.

We finished the week with our three markets, though we had to close up our informal “in front of site” sales when management spotted it and said no one was permitted to do that in the campground.  No argument, if that’s the rule then so be it.  The Thursday Mercantile Coop event was a more subdued affair this week, but since it was only two hours long with live music and more beer and cider tasting, we didn’t mind the limited sales at all. 

The Friday downtown Grand Marais pop up event was, surprisingly, better than last week during the music fest.  Though the advertisement for it states the hours are “4:30 until ?” the other local sellers told us to set up before 4 and close whenever things seemed dead.  Rose was a bit under the weather and elected to stay home and produce more product, so I flew solo, sold well in the first hour and closed down by 5:30.  At the recommendation of one of our campsite neighbors I purchased a cinnamon bun (with maple bacon!) from one of the bakers, and it is one of the best I have ever had.  I’m buying two next week.

Up at dawn for the trip to Marquette and another phenomenal market for us.

The Marquette market was, shockingly, even better than last week, allowing us to break our very recent record for best sales day despite what appeared to be a less fortuitous assigned table spot.  We made even more purchases from fellow vendors: three different types of mushrooms, some interesting juice from the same vendor that provided the beet-ginger concoction last week, a gourmet thing from the Dia de los Tacos food truck, and fresh thick cut bacon from a butcher.  We did our usual Walmart, Super One, and gas station stops before making the two hour drive back to Grand Marais. 

Aside from profits, one of the things we like about the Downtown Marquette Market is how well run it is.  The manager, Myra, has a rotating crop of musicians, food trucks, and special programs to make each week unique.

Just over half way through our stay, this had become one of our best and most successful stops all year.  We love the U.P., we love this town, the weather has been great, and the markets incredible.

 

A Grand first week in Grand Marais

Wow, did our loosely developed plans for the U.P. get upended by reality, bad information, and some unexpected rule changes.  First, our arrival date for Grand Marais was originally based on the presumption that we would get there after their annual music fest, which turns the quiet little town into a much bigger and louder one, while also filling up the “first come, first serve” campground completely.  Turns out we had screwed up that bit of planning, probably as a result of a google search that gave us results for Grand Marais, Minnesota’s Music Fest, which is in late July rather than early August.  We realized this error late in our Canada trip, and this was partially responsible for our accelerated jump to the U.P. in order to secure a spot at the campground.

Finally on the shore of Lake Superior

When we called the Woodland Park during the weekend, a full six days before the festival was to start, they told us they were completely full but only part of that was music event related; a lot of campers were there just for weekend fun during the peak season.  They advised us to arrive as soon as possible if we wanted a spot.  So early Monday morning we were on the road from Sault Ste Marie, arriving in Grand Marais in the late morning, where the campground office pointed out on the map four possible hook up sites that might be open.  We drove past the first rather small spot, and settled on the second opening without even checking the other two: there were just too many other people looking and we didn’t want to risk loosing it.

We had a great deal of confusion getting settled in because what we thought was the site was not, in fact, a site, but rather the end corner of the row, and our neighbors had pulled into the wrong site number, further confusing the picture.  The campground work crew got us straightened out, and we backed in and made connections, relieved to have snagged one of the last available openings.  By the time we were backed in and headed to the office to pay, that first spot we passed up had already been taken, and within an hour the only things left were dry camping spots.   Even those would be completely full by Thursday.

But we were here!  And though the music fest would make things crowded and loud for our first week, it also meant a lot more people and possible sales at the various markets we had planned.  Things would be different in that department this year:

  • First, our plan to bounce back and forth between Woodland Park and the Munising Tourist Park Campground an hour or so away went out the window when the manager of the Munising Tuesday afternoon market finally responded to our multiple attempts to contact her and turned us down as drop in vendors.  The only explanation was something about us “not meeting  their mission statement needs.”  Oh well, we had other options and that would actually simplify our schedule.
  • Second, the tiny Thursday late afternoon pop market in Grand Marais’ green space park had moved, by mutual agreement of the various baked goods sellers, to Friday.  The manager of the Mercantile coop up the road had stepped up to host a Thursday evening market and live music combination, with some wine/beer tasting and kids events tossed in to the mix.  We were gladly accepted at this event.
  • Third, we would also do the little Friday afternoon market in Grand Marais’ park for as long as it was fun and profitable.
  • Fourth, we would make the two hour drive (each way) to close out the week at the big market in Marquette for as many Saturday’s as they had an opening for us as drop in vendors.
  • Lastly, we would sporadically do a partial set up in front of our site for as long as we were permitted.  Like in a couple of other parks in Canada, we chose the “better to ask forgiveness than permission” route for this.

How did it all turn out? Fanfreakingtastic.  With the understanding that if the park objected we would close up shop, but without actually asking getting clearance, we set up in front of our site for a few hours during two days early in the week.  As the park neared max capacity, the foot traffic increased, even at our somewhat isolated end of the grounds.  We ended up selling enough to make it very much worth the trouble.

Then we did that new Thursday event at the Mercantile, where we killed it and had a great time doing so what with the music, tastings, and locals, many of whom recognized us from previous years, and treated us like honorary members of the community.  Hard to say if the next couple of Thursdays will be as good; the music fest is over, the town is far less busy (though it still has a lot of weekenders coming in) and rather than an all afternoon event it will revert back to a two hour evening shindig. 

Len, one of the locals, brings an interesting selection of drums and similar work to the Mercantile. Rose is under the big hanging drum absorbing what the kids play.

The little Friday market seemed the same as last year despite the different day: a small but steady stream of lookers and occasional buyers for the first hour, dwindling to nothing in the second.  We sold enough to make this short little event worthwhile, and enjoyed getting to know the other vendors a little better as well.

Saturday we got up at the crack of dawn and headed to Marquette.  In previous years we usually went the night before and treated ourselves to a hotel room on Carlson Club points, but with all those used up, and not a single Marriott or Starwood property in the city, we had to change things around.  We considered taking Serenity and staying at the Ojibwa Casino outside of town, but since we had already paid the full weekly rate at Woodland Park, we just sucked it up and accepted the long day. 

We don’t see the sunrise very often.  

It worked out even better than we anticipated: it was a beautiful day with plenty of walk through traffic from beginning to end, and we set a new personal one day record for our sales.  There was little down time, we had our full set of eight racks on display in addition to an entire section devoted to the Cricut creations, and Rose did on the spot custom work for a select set of jewelry types.  Buoyed by a week full of sales success, we treated ourselves to an assortment of items from other vendors: two different types of wild foraged mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes, garlic cloves, a cinnamon bun, and some sort of ginger and beet juice concoction. 

We made quick stops at Walmart for a few supplies and to change a wad of cash into a money order for electronic deposit, Super One foods for liquor (grateful for the new parking lot asphalt, the pot holes last year were killer,) the Dollar Tree (disappointing after Canada’s Dollarama,) and Goodwill.  We also dropped by the Ojibwa Casino where we learned that the overnight RV option there seems to have gone away during the ongoing hotel construction project, but at least they gave us some free play money and root beer to energize us for the rest of the ride home.

So many shrooms to choose from!

As we passed through Munising we sought out the excellent smoked white fish dip we enjoyed so much last year, but alas he was closed, and we had to settle for a nearby competitor’s that I found OK if not great, but Rose found quite wanting.  We skipped going into the Munising Moose Lodge this trip, perhaps next week, though we did pull in just long enough to see what was going on with the various canopies and booths in their parking lot: turns out they were hosting an annual Big Foot Hunters conference.  Go figure. 

As for the the non market related things during our first week: we reacquainted ourselves with the town, her restaurants, stores, and the people we recognized from last year.  We tolerated the rowdy and quite loud set of campers near us during the music fest itself, knowing things would quite down afterwards.  We walked the shore and swam in Lake Superior, and generally relished being back in Grand Marais.

Once home we collapsed and barely left the campground for the next 36 hours.

Back in The States: The Soo

Having accelerated the drive schedule over the course of our last few legs, we made the final push to the border in early August, arriving in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, and then crossing the bridge border into Sault Ste Marie, Michigan.  Both are pronounced “Soo Saint Marie, thus the nickname The Soo, which is apparently a pretty common crossword question.  Customs was uneventful, the only surprise was the cash only toll both just beyond it.   I am not sure what the procedure is for those that arrive short of the toll ($12 US, $15 Canadian for our rig,) but fortunately we did not have to find out as we scraped together enough.  This crossing is one of the more intimidating bridges for an RVer as it is a somewhat narrow single lane across multiple spans and sections, but we managed it without difficulty.

We thought about staying on the Canadian side, but the timing was bad: A Canadian holiday over a long weekend meant a lot of full RV parks on that side of the border.  On the advice of friends Deb and Steve we secured a three day stay at Aune-Osborne Campground, a municipally owned modern facility right on the St Mary’s River, allowing campers to watch the various ships entering or leaving the nearby locks.

PKM not happy about the dog situation.

Aside from the water front location, the park is rather basic: electric and water only, with reasonable sized spaces on grass, and few trees for $30 a night.  If there is a downside, it is the lack of noise enforcement, particularly from dogs.  During our first day we were surrounded, with three dogs to the right, two to the left, and a couple more in front of us.  Kitty was not happy; she doesn’t mind dogs, but prefers that once introduced they go a bit further away and stay quite.  Fortunately some of them cleared out so we were able to enjoy the last two days a bit more. 

While watching the ships is nice enough, for us the best thing about Aune-Osborne is its location directly across the street from a Moose!  And a good one at that!  Lodges tend to have different personalities, and we have been in a couple where we felt like outsiders with few if anyone seeming friendly or approachable.  Never outright rudeness, but some places you just don’t feel all that welcome.  Not so with Lodge #717.  The Sault Ste Marie chapter are a happy crew that made us feel at home right away.

Added our home lodge’s plate to the wall in Sault Ste Marie

They have the interesting convenience of sharing a building with a liquor store, or Party Store as the call it in Michigan, so if they are out of something you want, they just go next door and get it.  Though we only had time for two visits over our three day stay, they were memorable and fun, and we will most certainly go again should we find ourselves in the Soo again. 

The Moose had a big golf scramble scheduled for the our second day there, but we were committed to trying out a local flea market and had to miss.  The market was extremely slow, and the amount we made was not really worth the time there.  Should have gone to the golf event.

Not solo cups, but hard melamine reusable cups Rose found in Canada and started customizing with her Cricut machine.

At the Moose we met another out of towner, Nick, a young man stopping in for one night on his way for a quick Canadian adventure in his van.   He was also staying in Aune -Osborne Campground, so we shared a few drinks and a couple of hours swapping stories at his site while he plied us with some concoction involving bitters.  We gave him the rest of our Canadian money, and he handed us the excess liquor that might get confiscated during his border crossing the next day.   All in all a great night.

Nick and his tie dye blanket purchased from “a hippy” at slab city on the Salton Sea.

The next morning it was on to our favorite place in the UP: Grand Marais. 

43 Months Fulltiming: July 2018 Report

The Distance:  Oh my, did we put some miles on the odometer this month while we executed Phase 2 of our 2018 travel plans: 1,862 as we left Bar Harbor, entered Canada, went further east than I thought possible to the end of Nova Scotia, then worked our way back west through PEI, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario.  A big change from our very limited June travel distance where we set up a month long camp in Maine.  The 2018 total is up to 5,546 miles.  August will be more like June as we settle in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for a month.

The Places:  We spent our last week in Bar Harbor before visiting our first ever Canadian campground, New River Beach Provincial Park in New Brunswick.  From there it was on to Nova Scotia, starting with the fantastic town of Tatamagouche and ending with the extraordinary sea glass hunting beaches in Inverness.  We took the ferry to Prince Edward Island for a five day stay at Cabot Lodge Provincial Park, then began our long run westward with stops in Mactaquac, Quebec City, and the shore of Lake Nipissing, punctuated by a couple of Walmart parking lot stays. 

We spent 19 days in private parks, 10 in public campgrounds (provincial parks, the equivalent of a US state park) and 2 in parking lots.  We enjoyed 3-Way service (full hook ups) for 11 days, 2 Way (power and water) for 13, electric only for 5, and dry camped for 2.

The Budget:  24 days into the month we were scraping along just under budget with Canada having proved surprisingly affordable.  But our 1,300 mile run west from PEI necessitated a huge expenditure on gas, which is about $3.80 USD a gallon in Canada.  This left us 15% over budget for the month.  Once we left Bar Harbor we enjoyed very reasonable campground fees and didn’t splurge much on restaurants and the like, but  with very limited sales opportunities this month we just could not overcome more than $900 in gas expenditures.

We are optimistic that August will be far better.  We will have limited travel distance, and thus low gas costs for the month, along with reasonable campground fees in the UP’s affordable municipal campgrounds.  And best of all for our finances, we expect to participate in 10 or more markets as vendors. 

The Drama and the Improvements:   Somewhere along the Canadian adventure, possibly on the way to PEI, the right half of our windshield popped out of the gasket in the upper right corner.  This happened last year, but since the windshield was cracked anyway our insurance covered the full replacement.  Now, less than a year after installation, the new shield has popped out again, with a visible gap you can almost put your fingers through.  This results in horrific wind noise at speed.  I’m not sure what to do about it at this point, but for the rest of our Canadian journey I solved the problem with a liberal amount of duct tape, so we look unusually classy. 

We also had drama with our automatic stairs, which having not worked for most of the last year suddenly deciding to extend upon our arrival at Panorama Camp, but not retract upon departure.  Thanks to a helpful young man in that Ontario campground, who found an apparently dirty connector, the stairs are now working perfectly.  Hurray for free improvements! 

Our monthly reports so far this year:

January Monthly Report

February Monthly Report

March Monthly Report

April Monthly Report

May Monthly Report

June Monthly Report

And here are our 20172016, and 2015 annual summaries which include monthly report links.

Through Ontario for our last stops in Canada

While in Quebec City we finalized our intended arrival date in Grand Marais, Michigan, based to a large extant on our anticipated participation in various markets in the region.  This gave us seven full days between Quebec and Grand Marais, arriving on the eighth.  Our route from PEI to Quebec had entailed relatively short, three hour driving runs each travel day.  If we maintained that rate it would take four legs to reach our destination, which meant short stays in pretty much all of them.  So we elected to push a little harder, extend our driving time to five hours for a couple of days, and thus have only three legs to reach Grand Marais, which would translate to a couple of three day stops plus a one nighter.

PKM is not pleased with the extended travel hours.

One of the things I have not really discussed, and part of why we were willing to extend our travel days, is how easy we found the driving in Canada.  Through five provinces we enjoyed good roads (with a few notable exceptions,) but what really made it easy was the low traffic density.  Even passing near major cities like Montreal and Ottawa was a far cry from the challenge of driving near or through major US cities.  And except for a bit of confusion due to unfamiliar traffic signs, driving Loki around in downtown Quebec City was a breeze. 

Our latest Walmart site.  This one was particularly nice, we were able to put out two of the slides without impeding any other parking spots.

Despite this I was happy to take a few extra miles and minutes to go south around Montreal rather than through it as our initial Google Maps route suggested.  It was easy as pie, and shortly afterwards we entered Ontario.  Continuing our monthly budget damage control efforts, we stayed in another Walmart lot a bit short of Ottawa for the night, where Rosemarie discovered her second favorite Canadian store, Bulk Barn.

Imagine the dry goods bulk bins at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, but times ten.  An entire large store with row after row of everything imaginable in bulk.  Dog treats?  An entire section.  Something chocolate covered?  They have you covered with a full row.  Quinoa?  Which type and with which seasonings?  We limited our purchases since we would be crossing the border soon and I wasn’t sure of the rules for bulk items not in commercial packaging, but I don’t think Rosemarie will ever forgive me for not making one final run to Bulk Barn before we left Canada.

The next morning we made another five hour run to the north shore of Lake Nipissing and Panorama Camp.  Reviews for several of the parks in this region reported tight to very tight spaces, whereas Panorama Camp had water front, spacious sites on grass, as long as you could deal with 2-Way service, which we prefer for the cheaper price.  This is a true mom and pop campground, owned and run by Chris and Bonnie.  We were fortunate in our timing: we had a three day stay during the work week, which meant nearly an entire row to ourselves.  With a Canadian three day weekend looming they were absolutely full starting the day of our departure. 

If you are looking for a peaceful respite on the shore of a large lake and don’t care about having a town of any size nearby, this is the place for you.  About the only catch is that all but three of the shore front 2-Way sites are 15 amp vice 30, so be sure and ask the electrical load if you reserve here.  A couple miles down the road is Lavigne, which has exactly one small combined grocery/liquor/deli store, and they don’t take credit cards.  25 minutes away is Sturgeon Falls, which is big enough to boast a couple of fast food joints and a Dollarama. 

We did what the place called for: relaxed and continued planning for our impending one month stay in the Upper Peninsula.  And everything went great until the day of our departure.  Oh, did I mention that our automatic stairs, non-functional for most of the last year, suddenly started working again upon our arrival at Panorama Camp?  Well they did, extending and retracting through multiple cycles as we checked in, maneuvered to our spot, and set up. 

Slides in, levels up, services disconnected, stairs stubbornly still extended.

Upon departure, however, they would not retract a single inch, and no manner of jiggering with the switches and ground wires, or trying to “assist” the electric motor with some kicking would solve it.  After my efforts failed, I sought help from the locals, and sure enough one of them had a brother with experience in trailer mechanics.  He found a connection point I didn’t know about, pulled it loose, reconnected it and bam, the stairs retracted.  Apparently this entire year the only thing wrong with them was a dirty connector behind the motor controller.

Next stop: The United States of America.

Beginning the westward run: though New Brunswick, into Quebec

Following our five day stay on Prince Edward Island we headed west, crossing the 8 mile long Confederation Bridge into New Brunswick.  During our route planning for this leg of the journey we noted that it was a shorter distance to cut through Maine, then back into Canada in Quebec, but a shorter time to take stay in Canada and go over the top of Maine.  Considering the added ordeal of two border crossings for the former option, we opted for the latter.

 

I mentioned at the bottom of our last post that PEI marked the end of the affordable portion of our Canadian travels.  This references the somewhat more expensive costs we experienced near Quebec City, but primarily reflects the big chunk of change we dropped on gas for the 1,360 mile trek to the US border in Sault Ste Marie.  Along the way the importance or researching gas prices reemerged as an key part of the planning process.  Though price per liter seemed relatively consistent in Nova Scotia and PEI, we saw a huge variation between the conveniently located places near Quebec City versus what we could find in certain parts of Ontario.  In short: Gas Buddy allowed us to save 60 cents per gallon on one of our fill ups, and that with no added mileage! 

Rosemarie’s new favorite store, but it’s only in Canada, sadly.

Now, before I get to our first stop, I have a question for you Canadians, particularly those from New Brunswick.  You see, shortly after crossing into that province we spotted a buck naked man on the side of the Trans-Canada Highway.  Yes, there was a car pulled over to the side, so I am assuming an urgent call of nature.  But he was standing maybe 20 feet from the shoulder, in full view, facing the road, not merely with pants pulled down but with no pants or shirt at all, carrying on a conversation with someone in the car.  OK, one either crazy or proud person, got it.

And then it happened again.  A women this time, in the act of relieving herself, but having made no effort at privacy.  Pants down, so far from her car that it offered no cover, and having intentionally avoided going behind nearby bushes.  An older woman was holding a shirt up ostensibly to provide some privacy, but she was at least five feet away and thus doing nothing of value.  The woman wasn’t even squatted down, but was, rather, in a very slight crouch, naked rear pointed towards the road, and if it is not clear, this means pointed up hill with all that gravity and fluid dynamics implies in such a situation.  So the question: is this some Canadian thing?  Public roadside nudity while urinating?  Or did we just get “lucky?”

Anyhoo, our first stop after PEI was Mactaquac Provincial Park.  A nice place on the St John River with large, grassy sites.  It is a popular venue on weekends; we were limited to a two day, Wednesday-Thursday stay, so plan accordingly.  We did little but relax and plan while we were there due to sporadic rain on day two, but it was a nice place in the “state park style” we prefer, and at $24.50 USD a night all in, was well priced.  We even sold a couple of necklaces to some curious kids, one of which even haggled us down, which meant we had to honor the same rate to his friend. 

Big grassy site at Mactaquac Provincial Park.

Recognizing that the monthly budget would soon be blown, we attempted a bit of financial damage control with an overnight stop at a Walmart roughly half way to our next actual destination.  All Stay has a “Walmart Feature” which makes it easy to find not only Walmart Supercenters but other big box chains, such as K-Mart and Cabela’s, that also allow overnight stays on the outskirts of their parking lots.  This particular Walmart Supercenter in Edmunston, New Brunswick was memorable for how many RVers joined us.  At last count there were 18 overnight rigs, and I heard a couple more pull in after dark.  I have never seen so many making use of the free Walmart camping. 

Terrible picture, but it shows less than half the rigs that ended up staying the night.

The next morning it was into Quebec and a two day stay on the outskirts of historic Quebec City.  Our traditional cross-referencing of Passport America, All Stays, and RV Park Reviews, with judicious use of Trip Advisor as well, revealed a couple of interesting things: A great many PA participating parks have much of the peak summer tourist season blacked out for their 50% discount rate, and that most of the parks near Quebec City are significantly more expensive than what we had experienced in Canada to date.

We found the reasonably well reviewed Camping La Relache to meet our needs.  Located across the St Lawrence River and a quick 20 minute drive to the historic district, we secured a 2-way (power and water only) pull through site for about $46 USD a night, all in.   Dont be distracted by how it looks from the road (a bit seedy to be honest) once you pass through the RV long term storage area in the front it becomes much nicer, and arranging things in such a matter really cut down on the road noise.  It was a quite little park with modest facilities that suited our needs.

Our site at Camping La Relache.  

The draw for this region is Quebec City, particularly the Old Town section.  Dating back to the 1600’s, it is a remarkable place with beautiful restored buildings, outdoor cafes, boutique shops, art galleries, and wonderful pedestrian-only alleys.  Plentiful food options, an occasional street musician, and a generally pleasant environment make for a great place to spend at a day or a week. 

It also has one of the nicest farmers markets we have ever seen.  A large C-shaped indoor facility had dozens of fresh produce vendors, plenty of ready to eat delicous looking food options, and an assortment of art and craft booths as well.  We enjoyed what we were told is one of the few foods distinct to Quebec (as opposed to being French derived): Fried Parmesan Cheese, or in this particular case, Fondue parmesan aux trois fromages.  Good lord were they good. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon down town.  Parking was pretty easy and not absurdly priced (about $2 US per hour) and it is a great place for pedestrian tourists.  Which, I must admit, there were a lot of, probably the only down side to the place.  I suspect taht if you are longing for a French vacation but need to keep it a bit more affordable, Quebec City would be a good option. 

Ongoing Canadian Lesson Learned:

  • Research gas prices: don’t be fooled by consistency in one region, we found a huge disparity between the conveniently positioned stations near Quebec City and a few equally accessible stations in New Brunswick and Ontario: 60 cents per gallon savings.
  • Naked people line portions of the Trans-Canadian Highway in New Brunswick.
  • We found it helpful to convert our rig’s Miles Per Gallon to Kilometers Per Liter for planning purposes.

PEI

Given our planned three week stay in Canada and how far across the country we would have to drive to get to Michigan, we decided to forgo Newfoundland and Labrador and hit the much closer Prince Edward Island for our third province.  Our decision to do Nova Scotia first worked out quite well, allowing us to take the ferry to PEI and the Confederation Bridge off it once we turned back west.  Both involve a toll, but only for leaving the island, not going to it, and the bridge toll is significantly less than the ferry for our sized rig.

The only downside?  You can make reservations for a round trip; but one way users have to take a chance on how many ferry runs they might have to wait through.  We chose to spend the night at Harbour Lights Campground in the nearest town to the landing so that we could be ready for the second ferry run without having to get up at the crack of dawn.  It worked out perfectly.  Harbour Lights Check in process is a model of how parks should welcome visitors: they listened to what we wanted, showed us some site options, worked with us to make it as affordable as possible (agreeing to charge us a 2 way site price, $22 US all in, so long as we didn’t hook up the sewer at our assigned 3 way site) and informed us about the area and particulars of the camp.  A far cry from the “money please, your site is over there” process we saw at Inverness.  Anyway, the ferry: We arrived shortly before the the second run, were put in line with a few other RV’s, and were let on once the big rig trucks and most of the cars were boarded.  It was a fun one hour journey across the bay in near perfect weather.

Out Serenity’s front window, loaded on the ferry.

I was unable to get reservations for more than a couple of days at the national park campgrounds unless we were willing to dry camp, but the nearby provincial park, Cabot Beach, had five days available at a powered spot, and the reviews suggested we would enjoy it a lot more than the private resorts.  At $28 US all in a night, it did not disappoint.

Cabot Beach, one of the best we saw.  This is a weekday, so less people n this beautiful stretch of sand, but still surprised at how few were here considering the island is such a summer tourist destination.

We generally find that US state parks have decent to huge sized sites compared to many private campgrounds, even those trying for “resort” status.  They also tend to have a lot more greenery around them.  Cabot Beach had reasonably spacious sites with some bushy trees, and our specific location at the end of a row meant we did not have a neighbor on our right side, allowing us to spread out even more.

One of our neighbors a few sites down had her crafting table set up in front of her site every day selling jewelry, mostly wire wrapped beach glass with some semiprecious gem stones added.  We have often thought about dong the same, but never really tried, always concerned that park management might object.  She assured us no one here minded, and we did sell a few items while there, adjusting our price signs to account for the Canadian exchange rate.

Rose made a lot of jewelry while here from the hoard of beach glass we found at Inverness Beach in Nova Scotia.

We took day trips to a couple of local beaches, but honestly the one at our park, which we barely visited, was probably nicer than most of those we went out of our way to see.  Our various outings covered most of the west end of the island, enough to demonstrate that PEI is mostly rolling farm land surrounded by beaches, with very small towns and villages scattered about.  We were surprised at how many country driveways had something for sale out front, such as potatoes, eggs, or local crafts.

Mustard field, we were told.  

Kensington, the closest mid-sized town to our campground, provided supplies and some nice distraction at the various stores inside the artist market and a solid serving of fish and chips from the just opened Go Fish!  Only two weeks old at the time of our visit, they didn’t even show up on google.  It’s a little walk in shack that only serves fish and chips, and does so at a reasonable price.

On the advice of one of our fellow campers we attempted some beach glass hunting below the old fort (Skmaqn–Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst, no really.)   We found perhaps two small pieces, but enjoyed the walk along the shore.  Being so close to Charlottetown we drove there intending to have a late lunch, but nothing really caught our eye and we headed back home and try the Oyster Barn right outside of the park.

It was fantastic.  Both the Quahog Po-Boy and Haddock Taco were delicious, and they have a modest selection of local craft beers available to match.  Located directly on an active fishing harbor, you can eat while watching the boats come in and offload their catch.  We only wish we had the time and money to try their raw oysters; they looked great and came with an assortment of sauces beyond the usual lemon, horseradish, and cocktail option.

And so ends the affordable part of our Canada journey.  After five days in PEI we loaded up and headed for the 8 mile long Confederation Bridge, beginning the long drive through New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario on the way to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

And our ongoing Canada Lessons Learned:

  • We found next to no sea glass in our exploration of the west half of PEI.  Maybe the east is better, but our general feeling is that if you have been to Inverness, don’t worry about this place.
  • I am down to this theory on current pricing in Canada based on the current very strong exchange rate (1 Canadian dollar = .77 USD): gas is expensive, booze of any sort is expensive, most goods and services are maybe a bit more expensive but not much, and campgrounds are cheaper.
  • The whole ferry vs Confederation Bridge thing I discussed up post:  Both have tolls, but only to leave PEI, you can only make reservations for a two way run on the ferry, and the bridge is cheaper than the ferry.  So enter by ferry and leave by bridge if you can make that work for your itinerary!