Our last few weeks in the UP

In September we added 17 more days to our Upper Peninsula stay.  We would have stayed another week or two but for a hard commitment back in Florida and enough family and friend visits along the way pushing our schedule.  It was a good two and a half weeks.  We continued our Marquette Tourist Park stay for a couple of days, then shifted back to Munising for three, with the idea being that bouncing back and forth between the two towns would provide an efficient way of working the markets in both places while allowing us some waterfront time in the excellent Munising Campground.

1-marquette-site

Our last site in Marquette

Not everything works out perfectly, or course.  The first Munising market of the month was a bit of a bust: the event seems dependent on excellent weather, live music, and the availability of hot food, none of which were available in this market’s final weeks of the season.  The Marquette Wednesday evening market was likewise quite slow, and certainly not worth the one hour drive there and back from Munising.  I ended up cancelling the next week’s stay in Munising (and the market there,) resolving to complete our UP time solely in Marquette.

2-munising-sunset

PKM loves the beach at Munising Tourist Park

With Rosemarie flying back to Virginia for another visit with Linda (in her fifth year with ALS) I handled our second to last Marquette Saturday markets alone while she was gone.  It was a successful event, despite my limited ability to keep up with the restocking of the sales racks the way Rose would if she were present.

3-a-gaggle-of-lindas-grandkids

A Gagl of Linda’s Grandkids

When Rose returned a few days later, we closed out our Marquette market season with one final Saturday event.  It was great, and left us eager to return to the UP for more. Marquette’s Saturday market during the summer, with decent weather, is an incredibly consistent money maker.

16-rose-market

Late season flowers at the Mrquette market

For those of you weary of reading about all this vendor and market nonsense: you are in luck: we don’t have another event until late October.  That means more than a month of posts with no painfully specific and repetitive discussions of where we sold, why we chose that location, how well we did, and future plans to return.  Of course, we enjoy farmers markets so much that when we don’t sell at one we often attend, so you might hear about a few purely from a buyers perspective.

5-market-mushrooms

A dozen different farmed and foraged mushroom varietals at our favorite mushroom vendor. 

I lied, here is one more paragraph on the market vendor subject: while Rosemarie spent nearly a week in VA, I entertained myself with two main activities; market preps and geocaching.  Rose is so much better at keeping our inventory up, the display racks full, and our back up options ready, and she did a phenomenal job of setting me up for success.  But nothing makes you learn like jumping in and doing it, so the big market I did while she was gone really helped me learn and understand her preparatory and storage system.  At the end of the week I felt much more knowledgeable about our product. 6-to-norfolk

Anyway, I did a lot of geocaching, but I will leave the specifics for a separate post I have in mind: “Geocaching the UP.”  Expect that within a couple of weeks.  For now, suffice it to say that between Grand Marais, Munising, and Marquette, I did more than a hundred caches in the region and some of them were just outstandingly fun adventures. 7-pkm-black-and-white

With our days in Marquette coming to a close, once Rosemarie returned from Virginia we sought to enjoy the best of what we had experienced this summer, especially the food and bar scene.  We returned to the Rice Paddy, had drinks and bought a case of 51K IPA (our new favorite beer) at Black Rocks Brewery, tried something new at Dia de los Tacos, split a gourmet burger from The Burger Bus, and experimented with pizza slices from a couple of new places.  All but the last were excellent.  I just don’t know what to say about Marquette pizza, other than that we have not found one place we liked, while every other food category has produced great results.

8-black-rocks-and-rice-patty

Black Rocks beer and Rice Paddy rangoons: fantastic! 

And so we head south now, with a nearly 3,000 mile zig-zag across a dozen states in order to visit friends and family on the way to Central Florida, with plans to arrive there no later than mid October.  After a month in CFL we will bounce back and forth across the SW and SE coasts for a couple of months before ending the year in Key West. 9-sunset

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.

1-pr

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.

3-christmas-casino

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.

4-cat-ducks

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.

5-site

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.

6-beach-rose-cat

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.

7-munising-sunset

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.

11-site

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.

12-pr

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.

13-jack-at-black-rocks

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.

16-rose-market

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.

1-beach-flag

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.

2-jack-under-the-lake

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.

3-lake-rocks

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.

4-kitty-window

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.

5-our-site

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.

6-rose-beach-swing

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.

9-poison-ivy

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.

10-jeep-grill

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

 

Back to the Upper Peninsula and the start of our summer market cycle

This will be our fourth year in a row coming to the UP, and our third participating in the big Marquette Downtown Farmers and Artisans Market.  Since August is peak market season, in previous years we usually had to wait until late in the week to receive confirmation a vendor space was available.  We avoided that this year with a rare bit of long term planning, having submitted our vendor application at the same time as all the full season vendors back in early May.  Market manager Myra was confident we would be able to fit into the seven Saturdays we requested, the first being August 3.

1-marquette-application

Astute readers will note that this application includes a Wednesday evening market as well as the Saturday market.  This is called foreshadowing.

We had a few days to spare before then, so we left Deb and Steve’s house in Lansing and made one final Lower Michigan stop at Otsego Lake County Park, which positioned us but a short drive from the Mackinac Bridge which connects Lower and Upper Michigan.  The first thing to note here is that Otsego Lake County Park should not to be confused with Otsego Lake State Park (the other side of the lake and more expensive) or Otsego Lake Township Park (no campground.) 2-otsego-lake-parks

Staying in this park enhanced our conviction that county parks are the hidden gems of parks.  We prefer publicly owned facilities because they are much more likely to be “in nature” rather than looking like a suburb or cleared field with concrete pads as so many private “resorts” do.  On the public side, national park campgrounds tend to be run by concessionaires that jack the prices and shrink the spots so you are cheek-by-jowl with your neighbors (I’m looking hard at you, Fishing Bridge Campground in Yellowstone National Park.)  State parks are generally fantastic but they are well known to all the locals and easily researched by tourists, so the good ones can be difficult to reserve during peak times.

3-otsego-bike-rose

She likes to KICK! and STRETCH!  Comment if you get the reference.

County parks, now that’s where it’s at: usually very similar to state parks in that they have big sites full of nature, and usually more readily available and cheaper than the state park options.  In this case, we paid an even $30 per night for our power and water site.  The state park across the way looks like it has the same cost, but adds a reservation fee ($8) and requires a Michigan State Park passport for both the motorhome and the tow vehicle, a double hit about which I have previously complained.

4-otsego-site

Fantastic wooded site at Otsego Lake.

We enjoyed two quite days in our forested site near the lake, though Rosemarie was in full market preparation mode, particularly with her Cricut machine.  We left late morning of the third day and made the 2 1/2 hour run up to Seney Township Campground, crossing the Mackinac Bridge which divides Lake Michigan to the west from Lake Huron to the east about half way into the drive. 5-mackinac-bridge-approach

We could have pushed on another half hour to Grand Marais, but we decided on a two day stop in Seney because it would shorten our early Saturday morning car drive to Marquette for the market from two hours to ninety minutes, and the return trip as well, of course.  Additionally, the tiny park (15 electric only sites plus a tent area) has a nice river running right beside the campground, is first come first serve (which we prefer) and costs only $15 a night!

6-mackinac-bridge

I know some RVers really don’t like big narrow bridges with winds, but I would rather do one of these than drive the rig at night any day of the week. Easy peasy. 

It worked out perfectly.  We were able to sleep past dawn (which is when the cat starts trying to wake us up for breakfast anyway) and made the traffic free 90 minute drive early enough such that we were able to meet up with Myra and get set up with time to spare.  She assigned us what turned out to be a fantastic spot next to the one of the very popular baked bread vendors, so we had a constant flow of people.  On good weather days this market has consistently high turn out with shoppers eager to buy from before the official start time until the final minutes or beyond.  It is easily our best weekly market, beating out every other one we have done across multiple states and provinces, and sometimes even tops our special event totals.

7-to-market

On the way to our first Marquette market this year.  We didn’t have to get up before dawn and drive in the dark, but it’s the UP, and fog is very common.

It’s not just a great market for vending: we also look forward to shopping their every single visit.  I am a regular for the mushroom guys (that’s right, there’s two of them) not just because I love fresh farmed shiitake, oyster and lions main fungus, but also for wild foraged finds: chicken of the wood, lobster, and chantelle that, like the famous morel mushroom, can’t be farmed.  Rose hits the kombucha booth every visit; they bring three flavors to choose from that change up week by week.

8-like-two-peas-in-a-pod

Like two peas in a pod.

The various bread vendors provide breakfast or lunch (usually a delicious cheese and jalapeno pinwheel for me, and hot large pretzel with mustard for Rose.)  And finally, Rose will, on occasion, make a modest selection from one of the several fresh cut flower vendors to decorate our home.  Oh right: there are so many produce vendors selling the very freshest fruit and veggie options: heirloom tomatoes and giant garlic, micro greens, bok choi and leafy lettuce, wild blue berries fresh picked and carefully cleaned of stems.  Not enough for you?  How about: every week there is live music and usually a gourmet food truck.

9-geocache-jack

I am on a geocaching streak trying to do as many days in a row with a cache as possible.  On our trip north through lower Michigan, this rest area earth cache honoring Michigan road workers supplied my cache of the day.

Giddy from our success, we made the drive back to Seney with a stop in Munising, intending to visit the local Moose Lodge.  We arrived some 15 minutes before it was to open, so we sat in the parking lot while I used the time to reactivate my membership which had expired a couple of weeks back.  We snagged a delicious and filling taco from the food truck across the street, and then I happened to take a closer look at the Moose’s main parking lot sign: yes, they  would open at 3 pm, but only on Tuesday through Friday.  It was closed Saturday through Monday; in the score of lodges we have visited, never have we seen one that closes on the weekend.  A bit flummoxed, we headed across the street to the Barge Inn for a drink before continuing on to Seney.

10-pkm-on-loki

We did not take a lot of pics during our Otsego and Seney stays, and thus I ran out of options for my preferred “one picture per paragraph” blog post structure.  So enjoy this gratuitous picture of PKM on top of her car, taken weeks after we left Otsego and Seney. 

We made preps to leave the next morning, bound for Grand Marais’ Woodland County Park, but Seney had one more surprise for us: the mine sweeping score to end all mine sweeping scores.  “Mine sweeping” is the term we were introduced to earlier this year that describes the campground activity of checking empty sites for left over firewood.  A lot of campers buy or otherwise acquire more than they need, and don’t feel like hauling it back to their abode at the end of their stay.  Perhaps they live in an apartment, or don’t have a fireplace or fire pit.  Who knows?  It is common enough that I have not purchased wood in a long time, because I am willing to mine sweep. 11-seney-township-park-sign

Anyway, the tent group beside us that had already departed left behind a big stack of wood.  Most of it pine, but with some hardwood mixed in, with a nice size spectrum from big kindling to full sized split logs, and nearly all of it very dry.  This was ideal since I had burned or abandoned all of ours in preparation for crossing the US Canada border.  I scooped up every bit I could fit in our limited storage area, and put the rest in Loki’s passenger seat and floor board.  Once I restacked it, it looked to be about a tenth of a cord, roughly 4′ by 2′ by 1 1/2′ of stacked wood, easily $40 worth if you compare to buying $5 bundles of it near campgrounds.  Score!

12-mine-swept-firewood

A good portion of the Seney mine swept firewood. 

55 Months Fulltiming: July 2019 Report

Alright, yes, we closed the blog delinquency to only 2 1/2 weeks a bit back, but have since then fallen behind.  We’re on it, and only have three posts to make after this one and we will be completely caught up.

The Distance:  Our biggest month in quite some time: 1,980 miles.  We expected big mileage in July as we worked our way around Nova Scotia and then west though New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario, but our late decision to sprint down to the Midwest Geo Bash in Ohio really wracked up the distance.  Total for the year: 5,540. route-map-jul-2019

Places:  Our love for Nova Scotia is clearly revealed by how much of our Canadian stay we spent there: 24 out of 34 days, to be precise.  We started the month in Tatamagouche, one of our favorite NS towns, headed up to Inverness on Cape Breton for sea glass hunting and much more, then returned to Tata for a couple of days before heading west.  We visited the quaint and touristy seaside town of Shediac, then, after an overnight stop at a Walmart, spent a few days in Quebec City.  From there things got interesting as we raced through the rest of Quebec and Ontario to reenter the US in Detroit.  After three overnight stays in Walmarts and a Cracker Barrel we attended Midwest Geobash in Waseon, Ohio.  Finally, we visited Key West friends Deb and Steve in Lansing. dscf3769

We stayed in private parks for 17 days, public campgrounds for 7 (3 provincial, 4 county,) parking lot camped for 4, and in the homes of friends for 3.  We had full hook up services for 6 days, electric and water only for 18, dry camped for 4, and were in a house for 3. gc-1

Budget:  We completely blew the budget, ending up nearly 37% over.  Three modest markets for the month and a few free nights in parking lots just could not overcome $1,061 in gas (most of it purchased in Canada,) a couple of hundred in medical bills that caught up with us, and higher than average RV park fees.  Of course, it didn’t help that we denied ourselves little, hitting the brewery tour and restaurants whenever we wanted.  Unfortunately, the scope of our busted budget means that we are a bit over for the annual budget now.  August should be a complete turn around: we will be in one region (the U.P) the entire month and have big plans for a lot of markets.  dscf3788

The Drama and the Improvements:   Nothing to report, though we are nursing a few things along: our house batteries don’t hold a charge nearly as long as a year ago, the automatic stairs occasionally need a reset (unplug and replug one of the connectors) and the hydraulic system remains a bit troubled: the rear slide sometimes slowly works its way out, and the leveling system still frequently refuses to acknowledge that it is full retracted.  As long as we are paying attention, these are all minor annoyances, so we will wait until we are back in Florida to have Bill at Mr Mobile RV work on them. ct-6

 

 

 

 

North into Michigan to visit friends in Lansing

Last post I wrote up our significant deviation from our 2019 route plans as we ventured south into Ohio for a major geacaching event.  Another advantage to this change is that it allowed us to visit Key West friends Deb and Steve in Lansing, MI, which was directly on our revised route to Grand Marais in the Upper Peninsula. 1-pub-grub-1

In April and May, as we worked our way out of Florida and up the East Coast, nearly every stop involved meeting up with friends and family: Gloria and Jerry in Venice; Xavier and Joy in Coral Springs; Talek in Cuba; Alex, Carlyle and Haley in Inverness; Dad, Marcia, Jackson, Andrea, Aunt Judy, Uncle Bill and Brian in Central Florida, Robb, Colleen and the twins in Ocala; Donna and Fred in Savannah, Mom and Tim in Wilmington, and Jayson, Linda, Chris, Amy, Junior, Katera, and the vast array of grandkids in Chesapeake.  Whew, that’s a lot.  But since May 21st, for 10 1/2 weeks, it has been just us as we traveled through New England and Canada. 2-us-and-the-kids

Now that we were back in The States, Deb and Steve would break that nearly 11 week drought by hosting us for three days.  Steve arranged for us to leave our rig at the local 40 & 8 chateau, a veterans organization loosely affiliated with the American Legion, while we stayed at their home.

What a great time!  In addition to a short evening at the 40 & 8, they showed us their town with daily outings.  This covered the full range of places from the lovely environment at the Waterfront Bar and Grill to their favorite “dive” bar, the B&I, for low cost drinks and plenty of wait staff attitude.  We had a great late afternoon at a “Grub Crawl” hosted by the local chamber.  For a fixed fee ($10 a person for those of us that ordered online) half a dozen local eateries and food trucks provided good sized sample portions of their most popular offerings.  4-pub-grub-2

We hung out with their grand kids, Kali and Jameson, for a bit of hide and seek and general rambunctiousness.  Rose enjoyed the added benefit of a top tier make over: you just can’t beat the make up artistry of a 5 year old.  5-maekover-in-progress

Steve and I loaded up the bikes in his truck and hit a couple of sites to geocache.  The extraordinary growth in vegetation since some of them were placed made it a challenging afternoon, but we still scored seven finds.  6-makeover-results

It wasn’t all dining out on the town; Steve pulled out the last of his Key West crab claws and Deb incorporated them into an al fredo pasta: de-freaking-licious.  Not to be beat on the culinary end of things, Steve went all in on his special Bloody Mary, complete with pickled asparagus, three types of stuffed olives, and a local meat stick (think gourmet Slim Jim.) A drink that is more like a meal! 7-crab-claw

Stuffed and happy, we departed after our three day stay bound for the Upper Peninsula.  8-bloody-mary

Sprinting back to the US for the Midwest Geo Bash

This post is heavy on Geocaching, a hobby we are pretty involved with.  Feel free to read a bit more about it here and here.

1-sprint-ontario-sign

Out of Quebec, into Ontario

For the last 3 1/2 months we have stuck pretty closely to our post-Key West 2019 route plan, but in late July we made a major deviation.  While perusing my front page on the Geocaching website, I noted an advert for an upcoming event.  Though Rose and I have cached for nearly five years, we have never been to an official event, and this one looked to be huge; officially classified as a “mega event.”  Think large, multi-day, hobbiest convention.

2-sprint-jack-cat-1

What is Jack doing under that big spruce tree during a one night stop on the way southwest?  Probably looking for a geocache, right?

We delved into both the official event cache page and the dedicated website, and the more we read the more enthused we became.  So on a whim, because our planning is loose enough to allow it, we changed up the itinerary rather significantly: rather than leisurely continue west through Canada and reenter the US in Sault Ste Marie as we did last year, we would sprint southwest, reentering near Detroit, and continue into Northern Ohio to attend MWGB 2019.

3-sprint-jack-cat-2

Wrong.  PKM pulled out of her harness and found the spot decidedly comfortable, and declined to exit upon request.

There was a glitch, of course: because we discovered the event so late, we had missed the registration window (no problem, anyone can still come) but that also meant we missed the RV site reservation window as well.  MWGB’s website showed one remaining site, meaning we would either have to be first in line on day 1, find someone who had to cancel and buy there site, or live with dry camping in the overflow and tent area.

4-sprint-walmart

One of our Walmart stops.  Two other RVs were parked around the front of the mall, which had a lot of street noise and questionable foot traffic.  I found the mall guard office and asked if I could park in the back. No problem!  Much quieter.

We route planned to support option 1, but placed posts on the event discussion forum page aiming for option 2.  Fortunately for us we heard back two days before the event from someone whose RV broke down and they would be staying in a hotel instead.  We purchased her site for the standard $55 total for the three night stay, with power and water.

5-sprint-brewery

Our run south wasn’t all traffic and lot parking: we found a brewery near one of our stops with a parking lot big enough for Serenity.

But we had to get there first.  A sprint for us usually means maybe five or so hours drive time in a day, so we broke up the 812 mile trip into three major legs, covering about 40% of the distance on the first day since we were fresh from a three day stay near Quebec city.  We stopped at a Walmart in Kingston for the night, and then pushed on with leg two the next day.  Completing our longest leg on day one was the right decision: we hit major traffic as we passed through Southern Ontario, particularly in the Toronto region, which turned our planned three hour drive into five.

6-sprint-traffic

The traffic at times became downright Miamian, only with actual use of turn signals and without the honking or road rage.

After another one nighter at the London, Ontario Walmart we crossed the Ambassador Bridge into the US.  It was largely uneventful, though our border/customs officer was one of the ruder ones I have encountered.  During the later half of my work career I traveled internationally quite a lot, and that experience highlighted how generally unfriendly our customs and immigration people are compared to foreign counterparts, and I say this as a US citizen travelling on official government business through legal ports of entry.

7-sprint-ambassador-bridge

A bit of a tight drive over the bridge.

But we were through it, and less than an hour south of Detroit we made one final overnight stay, this time at a Cracker Barrel.  Incidentally, the new fried chicken meal at Cracker Barrel is insanely large.  Four full sized pieces of fried chicken, two sides, and two biscuits or corn muffins for about $10.  Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, and we both ordered this; we should have shared one, it would have been plenty.  We had left overs for days. 8-sprint-cracker-barrel-2

Cracker Barrel put us just half an hour down the road from Fulton County Fairgrounds, the site of MWGB, and we pulled in late morning to set up in our RV site for the 3 1/2 day event.  We were very fortunate with our assigned site: the fairgrounds electrical posts are in groups, with each post serving up to six sites.  This  means you could possibly require over 100′ of electrical cable and water hose to reach the connections if you were at the end of the line.

9-mwgb-our-site-1

Our site on the fairgrounds.

Luckily we were but one site over from the post, so our 30′ cable had no issues reaching, it just required cooperation from the neighboring site to cross under the front of their rig.  Our neighbor on the door, or “living side” had reserved two sites so he wouldn’t feel crowded, and was really not using much of the second one, so we had an ample “front yard.”

10-mwgb-cat-mole-mound

Kitty was pleased we had selected a site with the “things I might kill” option.  A large mole variant was actively using this mound; we could see it move occasionally.

Our MWGB experience was just fantastic.  The official mega event had several sub events, and we tried to participate in all of them so as to get a feel for how we might narrow things down at future gigs.  We started things off with the ice cream social meet and greet on the first evening (with numerous raffle give aways.)  We did the “Poker Run” on day two, consisting of a three hour car event that took us to seven different small businesses in the county, at each one you took a coded sticker that would translate into a poker card once you finished the run.

11-mwgb-poker-run-bbq

BBQ joint along the poker run route.

The highest 103 “hands” received special gifts.  With two pair we had little chance given that over 700 people participated, but it was a truly fun time, despite a couple of us struggling to find the dang mini-putt golf course in the middle of farmland.  At least we had no trouble getting to the brewery on the route!

12-mwgb-poker-run-brewery

Brewery on the route as well.

We did the “treasure hunt” event, using metal detectors to find travel bugs in the horse arena, with certain ones coded for additional prizes.  If you have not yet noticed, this was a recurring theme for every single phase of MWGB: raffles and giveaways.  After the official photo on day three?  More raffles and giveaways.

13-mwgb-ros-treasure-hunt

Rose finding that trackable.

They also had an inventive bingo card provided on day one that required you to fill it in by finding other participants that met certain categories, such as “traveled more than 500 miles to be here” or “won the site decoration contest in a previous year” (which had prizes, natch.)  Turning in a full bingo card entered you into more raffles.

14-mwgb-poker-run-bingo-cards

Poker run card on top of the bingo sheet.

We even considered asking to participate as a vendor.  A handful were set up in the main building selling every conceivable geocache related item.  We nixed the idea because vending there was a nearly full day affair for at least two days, and would have seriously detracted from our ability to actually participate in the full event list and generally have a fun long weekend.  15-mwgb-poker-run-us

On the third day I completed a personal goal of finding and logging ten different types of geocaches in one day:

  1. Traditional (physical container in a single spot)
  2. Multi (physical container that requires going to at least two locations)
  3. Unknown Mystery (physical container that requires solving a puzzle)
  4. Virtual (no container, just go to a spot and provide photo proof, usually)
  5. Earth (no container, just go to a spot and provide answers to questions based what you see, usually geological or historical in nature)
  6. Wherigo (an augmented reality cache, sort of like Pokeman Go, that requires a third party app to solve a puzzle.)
  7. Letterbox hybrid (physical container, and a joint project with letterboxing)
  8. Event (one of the sub events we attended)
  9. Mega Event (MWGB)
  10. Lab (usually a time limited cache associated with an event, and having experimental and unusual characteristics.)
duck-pool

Some attendees go through a lot of trouble to make there sites fun and comfortable.

We had never done a “Lab Cache” before MWGB, but the bash provided 40 such caches divided into four different groups of ten cache “adventures.”  One of them was associated with each stop at the Poker Run, another required finding clues at all of the official banners throughout the campground, and two more adventures took you to oddball caches often with some sort of puzzle element.

16-mwgb-jack-cacher-jeff

Fellow attendee Jeff, who has been coming for years.

Example: in keeping with a knights theme, one lab cache was a sword in the stone puzzle, that required three people; two to activate switches well removed from the sword and stone, and one to actually pull the sword.  Another ostensibly required two people, one on each side of a fence with a PVC assembly projecting through it.  One person covered a vent hole, the other blew through the other hole to rocket a small container out the top via air pressure.  I MacGyvered it solo by ziplocking a plastic baggy around the vent hole.  In the end we did 38 of the 40 lab caches, having simply run out of daylight for the last two.

17-mwgb-travel-bug

I have frequently referred to “trackables” which are coded objects that can be logged, with their geographic journey mapped according to cache sites they have been dropped in and retrieved from.  The two types are GeoCoins and Travel Bugs.  This is an example of the latter.

We had such a great time at this mega event that we firmly plan to incorporate future events, especially big ones, into our route and itinerary down the road.  On the small scale side, we are already confirmed for a get together and pot luck meal with local cachers in Marquette later this week.  On the larger side, we are seriously looking at doing North America’s biggest event, GeoWoodstock, in British Columbia next August.  Who wants to join us?

18-mwgb-signal-the-frog

Signal the Frog, the official Geocaching mascot.

 

West to Quebec City

In accordance with our plan, it was time to head west: we had obligations in Michigan as early as August 3, and we didn’t want to have to rush our journey.  We struck out from Shediac and broke up our journey with Walmart overnighter in Edmonston, New Brunswick.  I think this is the same one we stayed in last year during our trip to Quebec.  We didn’t have quite as many RV neighbors this time, but a handful of other units joined us before nightfall.  1-walmart

And also like last year we again stayed at Camping la Relache (something like “Relaxation Camping” or “Camping to Relax”) due to its easy proximity to the city, late notice availability during a weekend at a popular destination.  At just under $46 USD a day it has been our most expensive Canadian RV park, easily topping Inverness Beach Village’s $38 a night.  We had 50 amp full hook ups with helpful and informative owners, but we might try something different if we find ourselves back in Quebec during a future year. 2-field-flowers

On the advice of the park owners the next day we drove along the river to the ferry terminal, helped along by a local couple that watched us turn into the wrong place and then followed us to make sure we got it right.  For $8 in parking and then $11 ferry fee we could be dropped off across the river right in the historic district without having to worry about city driving or parking. 3-rose-ferry

Our top priority was to find the farmers market we had so thoroughly enjoyed last time around.  Alas, the market was no longer in the former downtown location; we would later learn it had moved to a bigger venue a few clicks north.  We satisfied ourselves with a walk around the historic area, a light meal at an Thai/Vietnamese restaurant (somewhat disappointing) and a drink at a bar (also rather uninspiring.) 4-city

Finally, feeling like we had loosened our purse strings far more than last year and been rewarded with nothing special, we stumbled into the Borgia Pub for a drink and lively conversation with the wait staff and fellow tourists.  So we closed out our afternoon in the city on a positive note and caught the next ferry back across the river.

5-borgia

Rose was excited to find one of her favorite beers available here since not many places carry Grolsch.  If you look closely at the label, however, this version had a noticeable problem.

For our final day we made the drive to the farmers market’s new location in a brand new facility that felt a lot like a mall.  We didn’t find the spectacular salami vendor from last year, but I had my eagerly anticipated fried cheese squares, we purchased some fresh leafy greens, and a bottle of mead that goes down remarkably close to a beer.

6-statue

Yeah, I don’t know either.

I don’t have much to say about this Quebec City visit.  We probably should have done more research, but it just felt a bit disappointing, to be honest.  I will say that any fears you have about the language barrier are largely unfounded.  We never had a problem, and we never got any attitude for speaking English.  Just open with a bonjour (morning or day) or bonsoir (evening or night) and then go from there.  I am told that 20 years ago things were more challenging, but nowadays everyone seems to just make an effort.  7-umbrellas

Next up: we make a major change to the 2019 plan with a race back to the states for a special event. 8-ivy-fountain

 

Back to Tata, then on to Shediac, New Brunswick.

After leaving Inverness, we had roughly three weeks to get to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for one of our somewhat rare actually planned date and location requirements.  Plenty of time, plenty of options, and based on the recommendation of some well traveled Canucks, we decided to aim for Shediac, New Brunswick along the way.  This is  yet another picturesque and somewhat touristy coastal town promising great seafood and plenty of pictures.

1-tata-jack-cat

PKM is remarkably trusting and tolerant.  She didn’t overly object to being placed on a rock surrounded by water…

But first we had to work our way out of Nova Scotia, and since we love the damn place we used our “we don’t like to drive more than four hours a day in the RV” excuse to make yet another stop in Tatamagouche.  Just two days this time, but long enough to visit the farmers market (as buyers only) and enjoy a fun weekend in our favorite Canadian party RV resort.  And yes, because the regulars are starting to remember us, we sold a bit of jewelry over the weekend as well.

2-tata-cat

… though it did exhaust her.

At this point we had sampled the wares from 14 Nova Scotia breweries, distilleries, vineyards, and cideries participating in The Good Cheer Trail.  The requirement for a free t-shirt was 15.  So naturally we incorporated Triders Craft Beer into our route towards New Brunswick being that it was only about five minutes out of the way.  Imagine our disappointment when we arrived only to find them closed: I had not paid sufficient attention to their business hours when planning the trip.  Ah well.

3-tata-brew

Rose’s new favorite, from Tatamagouche Brewing.

We continued along our short drive into New Brunswick and Parlee Beach Provincial Park.  It’s weird to me, as a Floridian, to think of Canadian’s going to beaches.  From my parochial perspective I have trouble seeing it.  Do they take their ice skates?  Snow mobiles?  Are they immune to the cold?  The reality is that the gulf stream effects make the waters in numerous parts of eastern coastal Canada quite tolerable, and certainly warmer than a lot of California’s beaches.  Parts of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island advertise their beaches as “the warmest north of the Carolinas.”  So there’s that.  4-drive-nb

Anyway, Parlee Beach is a nice park, and Shediac is a nice town, but we, at this point, had our fill of touristy coastal places like this.  So we spent the majority of our outings more inland, hitting a couple of breweries in Dieppe, starting with CAVOK Brewing Company, located next to the local airport.  It was founded by a couple of retired air traffic controllers, thus the name (pilot speak indicating visibility is at least 10 KM and there are no clouds below 5000 feet, i.e., Ceiling And Visibility OK.) 5-brew-cavot

We really enjoyed this place.  In addition to a great beer flight, the bartender gave us a history lesson on the Acadian people (French settlers) and their Great Expulsion from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island in the mid 18th century.  The short version is that during the Seven Year War (England vs France, round 28 or so) which spilled over into the New World as the French and Indian War, the English Governors and generals forcibly expelled about 80% of the Acadians south into the British colonies that would eventually become the US.  They did so without regard to those that were trying to remain neutral vs those that were likely assisting French forces.

6-shediac-pizza

HUGE slices from Jack’s Pizza in Shediac.

The French pronunciation of Acadian is roughly “Acajun.”  See where I am going with this?  Yeah, the Cajuns in Louisiana came to live there due to the Great Expulsion.  I did not know this.  See the benefits of visiting breweries?  This is why you have distinctly North American connections between Quebec and New Orleans, particularly in the culinary department, e.g., boudin and poutine. 7-shediac-harbor

We also hit Flying Boats Brewing, a great place with some fantastic beer and an informative staff.  During our flight they started up an interesting tour of the facility with lessons and Q&A on their process.  This is the first place since Tatamagouche that we have refilled our growler.  8-brew-flying-boats

Oh, you wish to know why it is called Flying Boats?  You want another history lesson?  Of course: southeast New Brunswick is geographically about as close to England as you can get while still in industrialized North America.  In the 1930’s, during the era when commercial air travel was rapidly expanding, one of the financial/engineering considerations revolved around the idea that if you have a protected bay you don’t need to build an expensive airport runway structure.  Thus, during this period, Shediac became a major air travel hub between the US and England.  The well heeled could fly from New York to New Brunswick, then on to Newfoundland, then the long leg to Ireland followed by a short hop to Southampton.  There you have it. 9-shediac-buoys

While in Dieppe we also swung into Celtic Knot Brewing before returning to Shediac.  They don’t have a tasting room, so we satisfied ourselves with the purchase of a 500 ml IPA (I think.)

10-new-mug

A gift from my son: custom designed insulated coffee mug.

We had one last day in Shediac, and no desire to play tourist or dine on pricey lobster and seafood.  What to do?  I’ll tell you what to do: get that 15th Good Cheer Trail stamp by driving the 45 minutes back into Nova Scotia and the now open Trider’s Craft Beer.  Which we did, and had an excellent flight at our final Nova Scotia brewery until we get back into the region in 2021, at the earliest.

11-brew-triders-1

Got our 15 at Trider’s!

Next post: Quebec.