56 Months Fulltiming: August 2019 Report

What a month!  Nearly all of it in one of our favorite regions, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 1-50k-miles

The Distance:  We transitioned from July,  one of our biggest mileage months in a long time to, other than our stationary time in Key West and Sanibel, one of our smallest.  Only 291 miles as we traveled from Michigan’s Lower Peninsula north to the Upper Peninsula and then west across the region.  This brings our 2019 total up to 5,831 miles. 2-august-2019-route-map

The Places:  After leaving Otsego Lake County Park we crossed the Mackinac Bridge into the UP and stopped for two nights in Seney Township Park to facilitate participation in the first of our 2019 UP markets.  From there it was on to Grand Marais, one of our favorite towns in the country.  Then we headed west along the Lake Superior shore, with stops in Christmas and Munising before closing our the month with nine days in Marquette. 3-rose-beach

Unusually, the entire month, all 31 days, we stayed in municipal (county or city) parks.  Five campgrounds in a row: Otsego Lake, Seney Township, Woodland Park, Munising Tourist, and Marquette Tourist.  This really enforces our belief that county and city campgrounds are the hidden gems of RV parks.  During that time we had four days of full hook up, 25 days with power and water, and two with just electricity. 4-pr

The Budget:  As expected, we completely turned things around this month compared to our way over budget July.  Despite a couple of hundred in medical bills catching up with us and over $900 expended on our annual motorhome insurance, we still ended up 27% under budget!  Sure, the moderate campground fees (averaging $27 night for the month) and our almost complete lack of motorhome gas expenditures due to our limited travel distance helped a lot, but the biggest factor by far was our market successes.  Between Marquette, Munising, and Grand Marais, we participated in nine events, with six being highly successful and none of them failures.  This month was one of our top two months ever in market sales. 5-fire

The Drama and the Improvements:   Nothing significant to report.  Yes, I nearly submerged the entire RV into Lake Superior, but it was only a “merely” incident. We continue to nurse our hydraulic systems (slide outs and levelers) along until we get back to Florida. 6-sunset

Splitting time between Munising and Marquette to close out August

We left Grand Marais and headed west to Munising, a significantly bigger town also on the shore of Lake Superior.  We had multiple reasons to make this move: less of a hassle getting to our excellent downtown Marquette markets, the option to participate in the Munising Tuesday market, the ability to see more of the UP, and Grand Marais, though lovely, is quite small and we wanted to see and do more.

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We did a cruise tour of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, so be forewarned: Half the pictures in this post are of rocks like these.

We pulled into the Munising Tourist Park, a city owned campground right on the shore, and as it was Monday I expected plenty of openings at this first come, first serve park.  Unfortunately, I had mis-remembered: the Munising Tourist Park is not first come, first serve, and they tend to be near full capacity throughout the summer.  They had no openings at all; the best they could do was give us two day later in the week.  2-pr

Ah well, we continued a couple of miles down the road intending to check out a rather new private RV park, but then spotted the Kewadin Casino in Christmas (yes, that’s the name of the town, and they really work it for the tourists) and remembered that they have ten RV sites with power.  Checking in with the players club we were told to pick a spot, it was free, and we could stay up to four days.  Free is good; we like free.  It wasn’t the prettiest place we have stayed, but the price was right, we had 50 amp electricity, we enjoy casinos, and got to explore another small UP town.

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Jack at the Kewadin Casino in Christmas, MI

On our second day we made the ten minute drive back to Munising, and after coordinating with the market manager set up for the Tuesday evening affair.  It was fantastic.  They had an excellent live band, a good sized and energetic crowd, and food, all of which translates into a money making experience for vendors.  We were quite excited to realize that between Marquette and Munising we had two excellent markets to enjoy for the remainder of our UP stay.

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PKM wanted to check them out but was cautious: ducks are kinda big.

After two days we moved from the casino to the Munising Tourist Park, where we lucked into a water front site.  We had one ever so small hiccup while setting up: I had failed to put the motorhome in “park” when I got out to check my position, and thus nearly rolled the rig into Lake Superior until Rosemarie hopped into the driver seat and hit the brakes.  Details.

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Our site at the Munising Tourist Park

Anyway, our site was stunning.  The shore was quite literally 30 feet from our bedroom, we had a beautiful view for sunset, and went to sleep each night with the sound of waves gently crashing ashore.  We resolved that all stays at this park must be waterfront as every other spot would disappoint.

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Our beach at the Munising campground.

While in Munising we made the less than an hour drive to Marquette to try out the new Wednesday evening market.  It is much more… intimate than the rocking Saturday event.  Instead of 65 vendors there were about a dozen, and we observed far less foot traffic.  On the plus side, there was live music and an excellent food truck, Dia de los Tacos.

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Sunset from our site in Munising.

We made decent, if not great money, so despite the higher than expected vendor fee ($30 as opposed to the Saturday $20 price) we considered it well worth it for the two hour event.  Besides, the great thing about both of the Marquette markets is that we don’t have to bring our own tent or tent weights (the city provides them) so the ride in our little Geo Tracker is much more comfortable.  8-pr

We picked a good weather day for something we had been meaning to do ever since our first visit to the UP: a sunset cruise along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  We highly recommend it and can’t believe we waited this long.  The views are stunning, and the billion year old geology fascinating.  9-pr-us

After four days in the Munising area we shifted further west to the big college town of Marquette, home to Northern Michigan University.  We stayed at yet another municipal park, the Marquette Tourist Campground.  Though not as consistently full as Munising’s, the summer weekends can present a challenge for those of us seeking last minute reservations.  We used our typical “check the web site every day for cancellations” method and secured back to back reservations for an 11 day stay, which would get us into September.  10-pr

The Marquette campground offers full hook up, electrical only, and dry camping sites, all of which are quite large, in a lightly wooded riverside location.  While it simply can’t match the stunning waterfront views we experienced in Grand Marais and Munising, it is reasonably affordable ($30 for electrical only, $35 for full hook up) and is positioned in what is becoming one of our favorite cities.

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One of our spacious spots in Marquette.

Most “college towns” are pretty interesting, possessing an energetic and youthful “vibe.”  What really jumped out at us in Marquette: it’s not just the college kids, a pretty high percentage of the adults were just.. interesting.  Free spirited.  The place reminds me a little bit of Asheville, NC and Portland, OR.  We took the time to do some exploring and to take in the atmosphere of the town.  Two of the highlights:  Black Rocks Brewery and The Rice Paddy restaurant.

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I believe this is called Temple Rock.  The dark line from the rock that looks sort of like a footbridge to the main shore is actually a network of roots from the tree on top of the rock.  Years ago the land bridge gave way, but the roots remained, still providing water to the tree.

If you have read our Maine and Nova Scotia posts, you know we enjoy our craft beer, particularly sampling it on location.  The great thing about our life style is constantly finding new “local” spots and thus establishing new “favorites.”  Nothing against Ore Dock Brewing, but Black Rocks is definitely our UP top brewery, and their 51K IPA is our new fave beer.  The atmosphere of the bar and outdoor area are just excellent.  Everyone is friendly, they have frequent live music, and regular food trucks.

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Jack enjoying Black Rocks Brewery perhaps a little too much.

The Rice Paddy is a Marquette institution, and the proprietor, Aoy Lacapelle, is a bit of an icon in the town.  There is some limited seating; but it’s mainly a take out place for authentic Thai cuisine with some other Asian options as well.  It is a must visit place, though call ahead and be prepared for long wait times during peak hours.  A final word of warning, they default to spicy, and they are not playing around with it.  Unless you have a high tolerance for the spice, ask for it mild.  14-pr

Towards the end of August we attended a local geocaching get together hosted by some local cachers.  A couple dozen of us met up on Presque Isle, a very nice park with a good number of caches, for some food, conversation, and prizes.  Ever since attending the MidWest GeoBash we have been much more engaged about finding geocaching related events, and were glad to have this one pop up during our stay.  Thanks “2 UP Geologists” for hosting this affair! 15-pr

Finally, a bit more on our markets.  And yes, I realize the last couple of posts have been rather heavy on “market talk,” but frankly, these seven weeks in the UP and a ten week stretch in Key West are our top earning windows.  Once we leave Michigan, we don’t expect another market for two months or so, and they won’t be as rock solid as what we experience up here.

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Can’t go to a fantastic market and not buy something!

So with that said: during the last nine days of August we did three more markets.  The two Saturday events in downtown Marquette were outstanding, almost record setting for us.  We really benefited from the timing: peak summer season, good weather, and lots of NMU parents dropping their kids off for school and orientation.  The Munising Tuesday event got rained out: some vendors still set up, but the band and food cancelled, and with high winds and lightening anticipated we took a pass.  Lastly, the two hour Marquette Wednesday market was extremely slow, but not every vending opportunity is going to be a winner.  17-sunset-after-cruise

Next up: August Report and then our final couple of weeks in the UP.

15 days in Grand Marais

In the summer of 2016 we crossed into Michigan’s UP on the recommendation of an instagram person we have never met, and settled into the county owned campground in Grand Marais.  Veteran’s in our second full time year on the road, we had slowed our pace of travel from a bit less than three day stays to around four, but the beauty, wonder, and people of the UP, Grand Marais, and Woodland Park caused us to pause our incessant wandering for a full 26 days.  This place was, in short, the trifecta: we loved the region, the town, and the campground.

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One of several makeshift structures beach goers constructed from wood washed up on the shore near the campground.

In addition to our nearly three weeks in Grand Marais, we stayed three days in Big Bay before crossing the Wisconsin border for an eight day stop in Ashland-Washburn.  I think it bears mentioning that culturally, the UP is closer to Wisconsin than Lower Michigan, so while we only stayed 29 days in the actual UP, we stayed 37 in the Lake Superior region.

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See that splash? I’m under there.  This lake is cold, even in summer, I can assure you.

The next year we approached from the west and made the UP our last stop before turning south.  Delays in getting repair parts for extended warranty work pushed our stay out to 40 days as we split time between Grand Marais, Munising, and a few parking lot nights at a casino and shopping plaza as well.

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The colorful rocks along Lake Superior

In 2018 we reentered the US in the UP, at Sault Ste Marie, after our trip through Eastern Canada.  While we spent most of our 30 days in Grand Marais again, we enjoyed three days in “The Soo” and five in the Marquette Tourist Park campground as well.

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Kitty believes that four paragraphs is far to much history; just get to the point.

All of that history should make it clear how much we enjoy this region in general and Grand Marais in particular.  When we arrived this year we left it open ended as to how long we would stay, but since a water front site was immediately available, we locked in a full week to get the minor weekly discount.

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Our site in Woodland Park Campground.

Like last year, we arrived in advance of Grand Marais’ annual music festival when the town really fills up.  Though we were not official vendors at the festival itself, we had high hopes that we would benefit financially at the weekly markets downtown and at the local mercantile co-op like we had last year.  Unfortunately the co-op event is on extended hold pending some insurance issues, and the downtown market provided very modest success.

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Rose on another one of the makeshift beach structures.

Ah well, that just meant we had less work to do while in Grand Marais and could just enjoy the town and the local area.  After three consecutive years of coming here we have eaten at every restaurant and drank at every bar, so this year we could focus on those we enjoyed most.  We had our flight of beer and some wings at Lake Superior Brewing, but spent a lot more time and money at the Grand Marais Tavern across the street.  We also had one of the best breakfast sandwich we have ever tasted at the Fired U.P. food truck.  You owe it to yourself to start your day with one should you visit. 6.5-beer-flight

We also ventured out a lot further than we did during previous years, letting our Geocaching hobby define a lot of our routes.  One trip we stumbled across a dozen people picking what we thought were wild blue berries, so I dropped Rose off to gather up a pint while I went off to find the cache.  These would turn out to be huckleberries, not blue berries, but they were still delicious. 7-huckleberries

Another day trip we headed west towards where the Hurricane River flows into Lake Superior to do three “Earth Caches” focusing on the geology of the region.  We enjoyed the beauty of the setting and a two mile round trip light hike to the lighthouse and back. 7-river-to-lake

We also headed east along the coast and endured a good amount of dusty and bumpy roads and absolutely zero phone service so I could not even download the caches in the area.  That was a lesson learned: download them before you leave reception area.  We visited lighthouses, national park service visitors centers, waterfalls, and a pretty stunning area of very steep sand dunes running straight into Lake Superior that had historically been used as a logging shoot.    8-lighthouse

In four years of ownership I have not put Loki into four wheel drive mode since the day we bought him, but having found all the near road accessible caches in the area, I went exploring down the many many dirt roads, and two track paths used by the off roaders, side by sides, and ATVs during the summer and the snow mobiles during the winter.  What a blast!  I was really impressed with how well Loki (totally stock, street tires, not lifted) handled off road.

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Got into some poison ivy while out in the woods.  This got a lot worse before it got better.  Learned my lesson, I cache in long pants and boots when in the woods now, and keep a better eye out for the bad stuff.

And then there was our market schedule.  Though we did not have the mercantile event and only did one local downtown day, we continued our routine of driving to Marquette and back for two more Saturdays for the big farmers and artisans market there.  Just like our first week this year, we had great success.  Of all the places we have sold, no market provides the consistent return that Marquette does, at least during this peak season and with reasonable weather.

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Just another oddity found while caching.

Simply put, we had a lovely time in Grand Marias.  The weather was mostly wonderful, and when it wasn’t we had a cozy home in a beautiful park listening to the rain tap on our roof.  All of that firewood we “mine swept” in Seney came in quite handy during the vaguely chilly evenings (by Florida standards.) 12-mine-swept-firewood

While we love Grand Marais and Woodland Park, the town is tiny, and eventually our wanderlust overcame our enjoyment of staying there, particularly with the decreased market opportunities and the long drive to and from Marquette every Saturday.  So we elected to limit our stay to 15 days this year, and move on to exploring Munising and Marquette from their respective municipal parks. 11-our-shadows