Two days turns into eight in Elkhart, IN

Sometime during our run south from Michigan the right upper corner of our windshield gasket separated from the frame of the motorhome leaving an air gap big enough to slide fingers through.  Fortunately, that side of the windshield had been replaced less than a year ago, and Duncan Systems, the RV glass company contracted by Progressive Insurance to arrange the job, agreed that this repair should be under warranty.  We had thought it a simple process, but the first tech to look at it in Ames, Iowa said it was a half day affair, and they couldn’t fit us in until Monday at the earliest.  Wanting to get back on the road, we arranged to have the work done by Master Tech RV in Elkhart, our next destination, first thing Tuesday morning.

Elkhart being longer than our preferred drive, we made a one day stop at Condit’s Ranch in Putnam, IL. Though it was a bit further off the interstate than ideal, the property was very attractive, the management made us feel very much at home, and as a Passport America participant it was very affordable: $20 for full hook ups, though the positioning of the sewage connection meant I simply used it as a dump station on our way out. 

Duncan Systems made arrangements for an assessment at Master Tech first thing Tuesday morning, so we arrived Monday afternoon and stayed in the parking lot overnight, but not before we swung into Factory RV Surplus to check on possible discounted captains chairs to replace our wretched originals.  They had a couple of options for us, and we selected some beautiful modern chairs in a dark brown/charcoal color that really look nice in our rig.  The installation was pretty easy, just four bolts per chair.  We are really happy to actually start some of the significant improvements to our interior we have discussed for some time.

The next morning Mastertech took a look and confirmed it would be at least a half day job, and to do it right they would need to remove both halves of the windshield and replace the gasket.  Fortunately, the gasket was in the next town over.  Unfortunately it still took two days to arrive, so suddenly we were at a minimum four day stay. 

Yes, we sulked a bit, but at least Mastertech moved us inside and we had a 30 amp connection for the remainder of our stay, free guest wifi, and a visitors lounge with robust cable and on demand shows.  We spent a lot of time there.  Aside from a bit of geocaching, watching TV is about all we did in Elkhart, the ongoing delays putting us in a bit of a funk.

Making ourselves at home at Master Tech RV

So Friday they completed the installation of the gasket and window, only to have the left side crack almost immediately after it was sealed in place.  Which, of course, meant a new window needed to be ordered.  I spent a good amount of time on the phone with Duncan Systems expressing my displeasure at how long it had taken to drop off a simple gasket from 12 miles away, and trying to increase their sense of urgency such that we could receive the windshield for delivery first thing Monday morning.  Which we did not, resulting in increasingly hostile discussions with them until it was finally delivered Tuesday mid-morning. 

The view out of non-existant windshield while inside Master Tech’s large facility.  

Mastertech got the new glass in before lunch, and after a few hours to let the seal cure, we were finally on our way south to Brown County, Indiana to meet up with Dad and Marcia again. 

PKM is sometimes a bit quicker on the draw than we are, and manages to go for a bit of a run before we can get the lead secured to her harness.  We would like to break her of this, but at least she never runs far before letting us catch her. 


Ames, Iowa, en route to Indiana

Alright so: here at Shell On Wheels we operate with limited advance planning.  That means few reservations more than a week in advance, leaving us the flexibility to adjust our itinerary on the go.  But after careful coordination with Dad and Stepmom Marcia, we had agreed to meet up in Brown County, Indiana, one of the most interesting destinations in that state, during mid September.  But, reasonable route planning meant that we should first visit daughter Andrea, currently enrolled in a nursing program in Ames, Iowa.  As it happened, Dad and Marcia, full time Rvers as well, were coming from the west, and it worked out quite well for all of us to gather in Ames before some of us met up in Indiana.

And so that is what The Great Shell On Wheels Casino Run of ’18 set in motion:  a pre-visit with family in Iowa before an eventual gathering in Indiana.  But where, oh where shall we stay?  Our two previous stops in Ames entailed a stay at Little Wall Lake County Park (a bit further away from Andrea than ideal) and a year later a stop at Ledges State Park (an ideal location, but closed for major repair and renovation work this season.) N

Fortunately Dad and Marcia got to Ames a couple of days before us, settled for a night in a “resort” park, and spent the next day scouting all of the local options; county, state, and private.  Their clear favorite was Hickory Grove County Park, just a few miles east of downtown Ames.  And so that is where we gathered; a two day overlap in our mutual schedules as part of our five day stay in Ames.

This was a great park; for our purposes clearly better than Little Wall because of the location, and surprisingly superior to Ledges, mainly because so many of the sites were situated directly on a nice forest lake.  Sure, it was electric hook up only, but with a fill and dump station, the $17 a night fee was a great deal.

Our excellent site backed right up on the lake.

Is Ames a destination city?  No, it is not.  But does it have some very appealing things for the intrepid RVer to enjoy? Yes, it does.  Daughter Andrea has never steered us wrong here, and this time we all enjoyed a fantastic meal at Provisions Lot.   The  Shrimp Bucatini was to die for, and the Fennel Meatball Pizza was awesome.  Even as leftovers, we loved their food.

While Andrea was working, the rest of us spent some time exploring the small but interesting nearby town of Nevada, and once we had seen both of the antique and thrift shops, we nabbed a couple of local geocaches.  Which, by the way, I feel obligated to again point out that we introduced Dad and Marcia to the hobby, and yet they are, after only two years, well ahead of us in finds!  They have only motivated us to get back into it all.

The observant reader will note that there is not a single picture of any of the so called family members we supposedly met up with this visit.  We failed to take a single one.  In lieu of that, enjoy this butterfly.

And so once they left for Indiana, Rosemarie and I spent an afternoon hitting a few more local caches, and I met Andrea, Nate, and one of their friends for lunch at the always tasty Pammel’s Grocery and Grill, specializing in Middle Eastern/Mediterranean casual meals.  We spent our last day getting Serenity ready for the road, starting with a tire change of a particularly worn balding on on the rear axle.  The next day it was time to head to Elkhart Indiana to get our windshield repaired (again!) and look for some discount interior furniture.

The Great Shell On Wheels Casino Run of ’18

Since our big run through the Pacific Northwest and then Wisconsin last year, we have fallen out of the habit of visiting casinos, either for free overnight parking (sometimes with hook ups!) or to exercise our “sign up for the players club and gamble only their free play money” method of fun and profit.  Some of the regions through which we have traveled have had a dearth of casinos, and sometimes we just didn’t make the Google effort.  But with our impending journey south through Wisconsin towards Iowa, we recalled the ludicrous deal we had taken advantage of at the Ho-Chunk casino in Nekoosa last year, and this inspired an aggressive bit of internet research and route planning.

The end result of which was a six casino run through Michigan and Wisconsin over two days, with an overnight stop at that same Ho-Chunk Casino in Nekoosa.  It was kind of ridiculous, but the idea was to make a game of the journey, enjoy a free night stay, and perhaps make a few bucks along the way.  Yes, our mileage was a bit higher than a straight run to Ames, Iowa, but not by a silly amount since I only included venues generally along our way.

And it was fun.  But it was tiring.  I had not accurately anticipated how long we would spend at each casino (nearly an hour once you account for parking, signing up for promotions, selecting a machine and then actual gambling.)  This meant that the first leg of the journey, encompassing five casinos, turned into a very long day.  The 6 1/2 hours of drive time combined with four hours of stops meant we finished the day driving in light rain and fog, after dark, on back roads with all kinds of potential for deer collisions.  Never again: next time we start earlier, hit fewer venues, or stop sooner.

Despite that first day stress, the casino run was a rousing success.  At each venue we received, on average, $30 worth of free play money.  Usually this was $5 or $10 each for signing up for their players club, another $5 or $10 for it being my birthday month, and miscellaneous promos for providing an email address or text enabled phone number.  The Ho-Chunk promo in Nekoosa was not as ludicrously great as last year, but it still provided us $40 in free play and $20 in surprisingly decent food.

Our final tally was $137 real dollars earned for the nearly $200 in free play provided.  This is in addition to the food, free soda, and overnight parking with power.  For the curious and uninitiated, here is how it works:

  • Most casinos in the US have a “players club” sign up option.  You provide a drivers license and they provide a member card that inserts into all of the electronic slot machines.
  • As an incentive for signing up, most casinos offer “free play” money to new members.  It’s usually $10.  They often give an additional $5 to $10 free play during your birthday month as well.
  • This free play money is an incentive to get you to sit down on the machines and gamble, with the casino hoping you will fritter it away (because you won’t keep track of how much you lose from the free play pot vs how much you gain from winnings) and then feed some of your real, actual cash into the machine.
  • A big part of the casino’s angle is to lure you into spending more based on “the points” you earn for shoving real cash into the machines.  It’s truly a suckers game: though you might earn a free trinket, food, or even a complimentary stay in their hotel, what it cost you to get there is so much more expensive.  If you do not actually enjoy the process of slot machine or table gambling, avoid this trap.  If you do enjoy the process, then you might as well reap the limited benefits of their players club.
  • Our “method,” if you want to call it that, is to only spend their free play money.  Some casinos don’t make this easy: you have to keep a running tally of how many slot machine “spins” you have used and for how much so that when the free play money is gone you can pull out you winnings.  Others make it a lot easier if you pay attention to the betting screen on the machine.
  • To make matters even more complicated, some casinos require that you feed the machine a buck or two of real cash to cover your first bet.  E.g., if you want to hit that slot machine for an 88 cent bet?  You do it with your own cash, which is then refilled by the “free play money.”
  • I know, it sounds confusing, but we have figured out the system, exercise discipline, make a small amount of money using their promo dollars without gambling any of our own, and do so enjoying the atmosphere, free RV parking, and a whole lot of free root beer.

44 Months Fulltiming: August 2018 Report

The Distance:  470 miles, the vast majority of it in the first week of the month as we finished our Canada to Grand Marais, Michigan journey.  Our running total for the year is now 6,016.

The Places:  We had our last two days in Canada at Panorama Camp in Ontario before reentering the U.S. for a three day stop in Sault Ste Marie.  Alarmed at the reports of a rapidly filling campground in Grand Marais due to the music festival, we accelerated our plans and arrived there for a full three week stay.  Then it was on to Marquette for our final U.P. stop. 

We spent 2 days in a private park and the remaining 29 in public (municipal) campgrounds.  We had partial services the entire month: power and water for 26 days and power only for 5.


The Budget:  Nearly 15% under budget!  The limited mileage (and thus reasonable gas expenditures at U.S vice Canadian prices,) slight reduction in campground fees with a weekly rate in Grand Marais, along with generally conservative living helped a lot, but the real budget savers were the 10 market events we participated in.  Four of them we consider highly successful, and all but one of the rest generally satisfying.  We finished so far under budget despite having to pay our annual motorhome insurance and a $251 medical bill that caught up with us from Key West. 

September may be a different story: our mileage will go up significantly as we work our way back south, and we expect to have some repair and upgrade costs on Serenity as well.  Alas, we foresee few, if any, market opportunities to help offset such things. 

The Drama and the Improvements:   Very little to report.  The stairs, which gave us a problem leaving our last Canada stop, have worked well the entire month.  The windshield remains popped out and the seal secured with duct tape until we are able to coordinate a repair in a larger city or town.  We have started to make some cosmetic improvements to the bathroom, but nothing spectacular.  Hopefully September will show some major improvements: we are routing our trip through Elkhart, Indiana, arguably the RV capital of world, and hope to get a few things improved upon there.

Our monthly reports so far this year:

January Monthly Report

February Monthly Report

March Monthly Report

April Monthly Report

May Monthly Report

June Monthly Report

July Monthly Report

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

Marquette, and our last week in the U.P.

After thee fantastic weeks, we finally departed Grand Marais and headed west to Marquette, stopping one last time in Munising to grab some of our favorite smoked fish dip.  We had reservations at the city owned Tourist Park Campground for four days in advance of the next Saturday downtown market, and would need only to find one or two more days to make things work out (unlike Grand Marais and Munusing’s Tourist Parks, Marquette’s is reservable until you get inside a five day window of your planned arrival.)

PKM saying goodbye to the glorious warm sand on the shore of The Lake in Grand Marais.

We had contemplated spending this time in Munising or even Copper Harbor, but Marquette had the market and positioned us exactly right for the first leg of our return south.  Besides, we had stayed in Munising nearly a week last year, but had yet to explore Marquette beyond the one day market runs. 

This is the third municipal park at which we have stayed at in the UP, and they have a lot of similarity: medium to very large spots, a good amount of trees, a lot of power or power and water only sites, and a partial hook up price around $30 a night.  With the coming Labor Day weekend we were lucky to get an additional two nights by checking back daily for a cancellation, though it entailed having to move to a different site.  If there is one drawback it is the trains: though I find it nostalgic and it doesn’t bother or even wake me, it drove Rosemarie a bit nuts to hear the train whistles deep into the night.

Our huge site in Marquette.

We had mixed weather, and tried to take advantage of the dry days and explore the area a bit.  We located the Dia de los Tacos food truck, hit a couple of thrift stores, and the local food co-op.  We spent a little bit of time in the downtown area, as much to secure Rosemarie’s UP hat as anything else, and then hunkered down for a day and night full of rain and thunder.

Our best find was Presque Isle park, a really nice bit of land with trails and a beach.  The rugged coastal scenery was great, and the deer pictured up post was right out in the open, allowing us to get rather close for a nice shot.  We were surprised to see a few guys actually surfing, reminding us yet again that a lake the size of Superior acts a lot like an ocean. 

PKM really enjoyed this park; though the squirrels were far too clever, the chipmunks exhibited almost no life preservation instincts.  Despite being on her lead she managed to catch one of the things while we were outside supposedly supervising her.  We weren’t’ the only ones to see the horror unfold, our young neighbors in the next spot got a front row seat at the event.

The animal in this picture as a completely unjustified belief in its immortality.

Kitty was nearly at the end of her lead, which meant the thing would have to approach within two feet for her to even have chance at it.  And that is exactly what it did.  She was on one side of a big oak tree, it walked right up to the other side, and she made one solid pounce, snagging it with ease.  I ran over as fast as possible and shook her a bit and tapped her head until she finally let it go.  I missed it but our now amused neighbors said it went straight up the tree and appeared no worse for the wear.  Come on chipmunks, compared to you our cat is a Balrog, and the best advice is “Run, you fools!” 

We attended our final UP market in downtown Marquette the day before our departure.  Though not a record breaking event like the first two weeks, it was a great sales day, starting off our September right.  We stocked up on heirloom tomatoes, three different mushroom varieties, sweet carrots, and peppers.  We would be meeting up with family soon, and this would add to a planned feast. 

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

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

PKM observing the Big Lake out of our front window.

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

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

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

Deb and Steve, obviously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Diner has personality. Prepare yourself accordingly.

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

Thanks for the Happy Camper sleeper, Deb!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful oyster mushrooms from one of the two shroom vendors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Grand first week in Grand Marais

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

Finally on the shore of Lake Superior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We don’t see the sunrise very often.  

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

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

So many shrooms to choose from!

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

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

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

Back in The States: The Soo

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

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

PKM not happy about the dog situation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

43 Months Fulltiming: July 2018 Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our monthly reports so far this year:

January Monthly Report

February Monthly Report

March Monthly Report

April Monthly Report

May Monthly Report

June Monthly Report

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