57 Months Fulltiming: September 2019 Report

Our last post took us from Chicago to Virginia, with the bulk of that time actually taking place in October.  So before we get to deep into that month, let’s catch up on the monthly reports.

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Rosemarie in front of the Buckingham Fountain in Chicago

The Distance:  We followed our low mileage August with a fairly big month in September as we began our meandering journey back to Central Florida.  This translated to 1,219 miles as we shot south to Chicago, then east all the way to Virginia Beach.  Our 2019 total is up to 7,050 miles.  October should also be a pretty big month as we continue that journey south, though November will see a slow down. 2-september-2019-route-map

The Places:  We spent 17 more days in the UP, all but three in the Marquette Tourist Park, before beginning our run south.  During this trip we thoroughly enjoyed a two day stop in Green Bay followed by four days in the Burlington area to visit Chris, Amy, Elijah, and Jude.  From there we continued south and met up with daughter Andrea in Chicago before beginning our 900 mile sprint east towards Virginia Beach.

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Andrea and Jack in Chicago

During this time we enjoyed 23 days in public campgrounds (2 in a state park and 21 between Marquette, Munising, and Cook County IL municipal parks.)  The remaining  five days included two driveway camping at Chris and Amy’s and five days in private “parks” (two at a casino and three consecutive days at Cracker Barrels.)  Along the way we had 4 days with full hook ups, 21 with partial (electric and water,) and dry camped for 5.

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Rosemarie and June-June at our campfire night in Virginia

The Budget:  After having had an excellent August in which we finished nearly 30% under budget, September was the opposite.  Our significantly ramped up gas bills as we headed south, a repair bill, and sum unusually pricey campground fees along the way are a big part of that, but we also had to make a major down payment on a future international vacation.  C’est la vie.

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Golden beats and other goodies from a farmers market

The Drama and the Improvements:   We suffered damage to our shore power cable connection back in November of 2018, but I added to that in a significant way during our Green Bay stay.  Thus we entailed a couple of hundred dollars in repairs to get our electrical connections back in shape. We continue to nurse our hydraulic systems (slide outs and levelers) along until we get back to Florida. dscf4226

OK, so yes I said it before, but now I mean it: next up Wilmington, NC.

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Shrooms!  Yes, even that roundish one as big as your head

 

 

Sprinting East to the Virginia Coast

So far our run from the UP to Florida has been an almost straight flight south as we passed through Wisconsin and Illinois.  Now, however, we would begin the mile stacking zig-zag as we turned towards various family members locations.  First up, a 900 mile track mostly east to Virginia Beach.  And of course, since we don’t like doing more than four hours a day driving the big rig, we broke that up into four individual legs of less than 250 miles each.  Having spent a lot of money in Chicago, we elected to parking lot camp for free in three consecutive Cracker Barrels!

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One of our Cracker Barrels.  A block or two off the main road, no strip malls, limited traffic, a residential neighborhood behind us.

Ever since getting back into the US and staying at a Cracker Barrel in Ohio, we have become solid fans of their Southern Fried Chicken combo as well as their RV parking arrangements.  These are usually quieter, a bit more isolated, and probably safer than some of the alternatives such as Walmart and Home Depot.  Oh, and did I mention that they offer a Southern Fried Chicken combo?  For $10 you get four pieces plus two sides plus biscuits or cornbread, which is a ridiculous amount of food, and we now know to split one meal; it will be plenty.  2-cracker-barrel-fried-chicken-dinner

So a big thanks to CB, particularly their Maumee OH, Cranberry PA, and Frederick MD locations.  For our stay in Virginia Beach to see Linda, Jayson, June-June, Kaytarra, and Nasir we selected Cape Henry RV Park on Fort Story.  This is the fourth military campground we have tried in the Tidewater area, and is our new top choice. 3-run-to-va-map

The little known Stewart Campground was efficient and convenient for our first trip through the region in 2016, but it is a bit bare bones and further away from the people we are visiting.  Sea Mist, which we basically used as an overpriced RV parking lot in 2018, is popular, fully serviced, but I think it is overrated since the beach access is limited.  We thought we had found the perfect option at Little Creek JEB Campground when we came through the area this last May: a short drive to family, full hook up sites for $27 a night, and a nice setting in the woods.  4-lighthouse

But in preparation for this trip I stumbled across Cape Henry, which I don’t believe was listed on All Stays until recently, possibly because it is run by the same office that manages Little Creek’s campground.  Even the central reservation site for all navy campgrounds was unfamiliar with the name “Cape Henry” and referred to it as the Navy Getaways Campground on Fort Story.  Regardless, it is our new got to spot for Tidewater. Located even more convenient for us than Little Creek, it is power and water only for $25 a night, but the sites are larger and more secluded than Little Creek’s offerings.  5-rose-dolphin

We were able to spend part of three days with Linda as she transitioned to a privately run group home in Virginia Beach.  We enjoyed a fantastic evening with June-June, Kaytarra, and Nasir at our campground, celebrating with campfire, smores, and story after story until well after midnight. 6-fire-1

There is just something special about a cool evening with friends and family around a campfire.  Nasir is fascinated with our camera; I guess the idea of a single use electronic device is unique to someone who has only ever used smart phones and tablets for taking pictures.  This is my way of saying Rose and I are not to blame (or rather, we cant take credit) for any of these campfire pictures.

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Cutting off part of his own face in this selfie was not an accident, it was surely an artistic choice.

We had enough spare time such that Rose was able to do some crafting in anticipation of our next big festival vending opportunity in Florida later this month, and I was able to do some geocaching.  We also visited yet another Moose, where we enjoyed a warm welcome from the locals at Lodge 1198, Virginia Beach.

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PKM helping Rose with some crafting.

After our three consecutive nights at Cracker Barrels in route here we reigned in the restaurant activity quite a bit, settling for one evening of Chinese take out, though we did stumble across Wasserhund, a local craft brewery, for a solid and interesting couple of beers.  9-beer

Next up: continuing south to Wilmington, NC. 10-fire-3

 

 

 

 

 

On to Chicago!

Our original loose route back to Florida included a big westward swing to visit daughter Andrea in Ames, Iowa.  Turned out the dates were nearly unworkable with her shift schedule and a work related nursing conference in Chicago she would be attending.  Solution: just meet her in Chicago!  This shortened our route considerably, and allowed us to visit a great city.  I managed to screw up the dates a bit, and we accidentally arrived two days before her visit, but it mostly worked out.  1-bean-3

After our usual All Stays, Passport America, and RV Park Reviews research, we selected Camp Bullfrog Lake, a county park about as close as you can get to Chicago without resorting to a truck marshalling yard.  We considered going back to the Great Lakes Naval Station, which would have been significantly cheaper, but also considerably further away from downtown.  Staying this close to the city costs you: $45 for weekdays and $60 for weekends!  Ah well, they do at least provide you one free bundle of firewood.

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The view from our campsite.

It is a nice campground deep in the woods on a terraced lot overlooking a small lake.  The sites are mostly electric only (though we lucked out getting the only site with a sewage connection.)  Since we arrived on my birthday, we celebrated with a good cut of steak and some of our Green Bay Farmer’s Market purchases: heirloom tomatoes and hedgehog mushrooms.  3-birthday-dinner

We spent the second day driving around the outskirts of Chicago without actually entering the city.  We finished things off with a visit to the Berwyn Moose, which was technically closed, but the administrator, Paul, was on premises, and he gave us a great welcome, including a tour of the lodge.  When he offered, we though, uh, ok, how much of a tour can you get from one moose center?  Turns out, quite a long one.  The Berwyn Lodge is HUGE, easily the biggest Moose we have ever visited.  Imagine two full size basketball gyms side by side, and two more in the basement.  4-berwyn-moose

The next day, not wanting to experiment with downtown Chicago driving and parking that would extend into the evening, we took an Lyft into Chicago.  Even this was challenging: turns out Lyft’s mapping app does not have the correct location for Camp Bullfrog, and the driver stopped nearly two miles away.  We walked about a mile and managed to talk him back the other half, and finally made it downtown a bit later.

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For those not familiar, this is Chicago’s famous park art installation: The Bean.

We did touristy things for a while, including two of the major parks, and, of course, The Bean, before meeting up with Andrea in front of the extraordinary Buckingham Fountain.  From there it was off to dinner, letting the mostly vegetarian daughter select the restaurant.  We ended up in at The Berghof, a German place with plenty of non-meat options, and everything was superb.  6-us-fountain

We took a lyft back to the campground, confirming that the map error was not a one time glitch, but the driver followed our directions to get back to the actual park rather than some random spot on a dark road.  The next day we resolved to switch to Uber for our downtown outing, and had no problems at all. 7-berghof

Andrea’s pre-conference research had dug up a monthly event at the famous Shedd Aquarium in which they turn the venue into an evening cocktail social and nightclub.  It was great, and we highly recommend it.  Be forewarned: they are serious about no outside food and drinks (checking everyone’s back thoroughly) which became a problem for us since we had brought a bunch of gift for Andrea from various farmers markets.  One of the managers was kind enough to bend the rules and let us store them in one of the pay lockers for the duration of our stay.  8-us-and-andrea

We had a great time: for $25 a person you get the run of the whole aquarium and the option to purchase food and drinks, though both are “nightclub” pricey, as in $10 for a glass of wine.  That’s it for Chicago.  Next we return to The South. 9-fountain

 

Heading South: Two stops in Wisconsin

With a specific obligation in Florida pending and many people to see along the way, we finally left the U.P. and began our meandering, criss-cross of the eastern states southward journey.  First up, a long run down to Green Bay, Wisconsin to visit our friend, Nick, who we met last year during out short stay in Sault Ste Marie.  We pulled into the Oneida Casino, which from our 2017 stay we knew operated a small RV park on property, providing electricity for $15 a night.

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Our RV site at Oneida Casino

We registered and paid for two nights, and maneuvered into our spot, only to find that I was a couple of feet short of being able to connect the shore power cable to the pedestal.  No problem, just pull forward a bit.  Unfortunately, somewhere between thinking that and climbing back into the driver’s seat, I decided to completely reposition, and while pondering how to do that managed to forget that I still had the shore power connected to the rig.  As I maneuvered back I ran over it, pinning it down, then pulled forward, stretched it out, and completely ripped it loose from the RV connection point.  Not a good start to our stay.

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That white part nxt to the red shore power end piece is supposed to be connected to the RV.  

It was too late in the day to locate a repair place, so we might as well just get on with our Green Bay plans.  First up, the Wednesday evening farmers market, We had learned of this event from Matt, our mushroom guy in Marquette, who declared it the best evening market in the Midwest.  It did not disappoint.  Occupying several blocked off streets in the downtown area, it had a couple of hundred merchants and a LOT of attendees.  We purchased flowers (there were dozens of flower vendors, many from the same family we suspect,) cheese (of course,) golden beets, kale, fresh bread, a brisket sandwich, craft beer, and, finally finding Shiitake Creek’s booth, an assortment of fungus.  This is a great market, and we highly recommend it if you are in Green Bay on a Wednesday.

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The bulk of our goodies from the Green Bay market.

Having previously made arrangements with Nick, we headed to the local Moose to meet up.  We had a great time!  This lodge is one of the more welcoming ones we have visited, everyone was gracious and eager to hear about our travels and tell us about their city.  They had a lively table shuffleboard tournament going on, and generally seem to be a very active Moose.  They also provided us the name and location of the go to RV repair shop in town so we could get our problem fixed. 4-gbfm-tomatoes

We also learned about booyah.  No, not the expression of triumph, but rather the very regional (almost specific to just Green Bay) chicken and beef stew, often made in very large batches.  We love us some regional fares, and are willing to try just about any.  Our time in the UP turned us on to pasties, for instance.  Once we expressed intrigue and interest, one of the Moose members, Lee, went out to the freezer and gave us couple of quarts from his last batch.  Booyah!

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Booyah indeed.

We had a relatively quite Thursday; just a bit of gambling at the casino, a shorter stop in to the Moose, and a few phone calls to Van Boxtel RV to make arrangements to repair our shore power connection the next morning before we continued south.  We ended up paying for two nights of electricity without being able to use it.  Ah well, we arrived at the repair center just before they opened, putting us nearly first in line.  They had us up and running after a couple of hours, which meant that we were really starting our drive day about when we normally would: late morning.

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Our huge site at Big Foot Beach State Park.

We continued south towards Burlington to visit Chris and Amy and the boys.  Along the way we made a short detour to the outskirts of Milwaukee to finally return our broken bike rack to LL Bean.  Having previously received an email confirmation from their corporate office regarding the return and refund, we had no trouble (other than parking); they took the rack and no questions asked refunded the cost to our credit card.

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Us with Elijah.

We split our time for this visit between Big Foot Beach State Park on the shores of Lake Geneva and Chris and Amy’s driveway; two days in each location.  This allowed us to have a camping like adventure complete with pizza, a campfire, and smores with the kids on the first night, and save money and spend more time with them on the last two.

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Chris and Koda

Big Foot Beach campground is nice: most of the sites are spacious with plenty of trees blocking you from your neighbors, just like we prefer.  It is, however, pricey.  On top of the $33 a night for (non WI residents) camping cost, they also hit you with a daily vehicle entry fee of $11, pushing the total cost up to $44 a night.  They do offer an annual vehicle pass, so if you plan on staying at Wisconsin state parks for more than three nights, that is the way to go.

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Trying to teach Elija a judo move

The park was fine, but our driveway camping was great.  They have a very long driveway that was easily capable of accommodating our 35′ rig plus a car, and Chris hooked us up to a standard 20 amp outdoor circuit to keep our batteries charged.  The weather was cool enough that we had no problem living without AC for our two nights there.  Thanks for the great visit, guys, hope to see you all soon.

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Wish this had come out better focus: Rose, Amy and Jude.