Bill and Kit’s 2012 Excellent Adventure-Journal #12

Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares

 Bill and Kit’s 2012 Excellent Adventure-Journal #12

A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles

Tim Cahill

Wednesday, April 4, 2012:  Today is a major milestone…..I have finally reached Medicare age and can officially start boring everyone I meet with all my aches, pains and ailments…..YEA!!!!

Being the birthday boy I was able to choose to do anything I wanted.  Being a bit too old to successfully accomplish what I really wanted I settled on my next choices:

Spending the day with my good friend and Navy buddy, Larry…..

And his dog, Lena…..

At the cabin on the Little Sioux River…..

Where we fired a few of Larry’s handguns…..

And I could asses my expert marksmanship by viewing the many rounds that found their mark on this previously un-penetrated whiskey sign.

Followed by driving a tractor about a real honest-to-goodness farm…..

Before joining up with Kit and Janice for an incredible meal followed by a festive Birthday Cake…..

What a great day…..turning 65 years old wasn’t too bad after all!

Kit has been working hard to knit an Afghan for Janice the past month or so and was able to present it to her during our stay.

The little pooch by her side is a miniature Dachshund named Levi……don’t they both look comfortable, and warm?

Last year Larry had a herd of sheep and it was lambing season during our visit.  So the frustrated farm boy in me was thrilled to get in and “help”.  However, this year he didn’t bother as the sheep market was shrinking.   Which makes sense as sheep are made of wool, and they stay outdoors most of the time, and it rains in Iowa.  Jeez……even I could have predicted that!

Not having any sheep chores to step into, so to speak, I was able to get better acquainted with his donkey and mules.

One mule in particular took a liking to me…..his name is Custer.

I think we really connected on some kinda Jackass level.  Kit thinks Custer and I share a family resemblance.

Larry’s farm has been in his family for many generations.  Years ago, when farming was the main family enterprise, they had a farmhand that lived in an apartment above the garage.

The apartment is still there, however no one has lived in it for many years.  Larry has plans this summer to tear it down and build a larger garage.

Also scattered about the farm fields were vehicles of yesteryear that had been put to pasture as they were replaced by more modern implements.  Since the price of scrape iron has risen, Larry has decided to cut up and truck to the scrap dealer much of this old iron.  Spotting an opportunity to pick up an authentic farm wagon of my own, I asked Larry about buying one from him for the scrap price it would otherwise bring.  Larry thought that a wagon that would fit my personality was this old horse drawn Manure Spreader.

Not sure how to haul a fully intact manure spreader to Maine, and not sure how it would be received by my neighbors, I decided to ask for just the wheels.

So this summer, when Larry salvages the wagon, he has promised to keep the wheels for me which I will pick up next year.

Thursday, April 5, 2012:  Up and on the road at 0950 under sunny skies and a temperature of 53 degrees.  Jumped on IA-3 then over to US-71 traveling north through Spencer, Iowa and past many fields being prepared for the upcoming growing season.

The US Corn Belt has enjoyed a boom with the development of ethanol which is added to petroleum fuels.  A large portion of the corn crop is harvested and sent to huge grain bins.

The crop is then stored until needed at one of the many ethanol plants that dot the landscape.

Around these parts ethanol, also known as E-85 for its 85% Grain Alcohol and 15% Gasoline blend, sells for a full dollar a gallon less than regular gasoline.  Unfortunately one needs a Flex-Fuel engine to burn ethanol and our truck does not have that capability.  However studies have shown that the lower “energy level” of E-85 which results in an approximate 25% decrease in fuel mileage offsets any potential economic gain.  The main benefit remains the lessening of dependence on imported oil.  Most gas pumps in this area dispense E-85 and often from a common nozzle requiring the motorist to be careful as they select the grade on the pump.  More modern service stations have a separate island for E-85, much as is done with diesel fuel.

At 1330 we motor across the Minnesota state line and make our way to Shetek Lake State Park near the town of Currie for the evening.  The park has just opened for the season and there are no other campers.  The park ranger was kind enough to put us in the Camp Host site so we could have full hook up’s which would otherwise not be available.

After a walk about the grounds and a nice meal, we settle in for the night.

Thursday, April 5, 2012:  We make a decision to stay an additional evening at this nice campground on the shore of Lake Shetek.  This early in the season there are only four employees in the park and we have met them all.  They have gone above and beyond to make us feel welcome and comfortable.  In fact they even opened the historic Koch Cabin for our enjoyment.

As the story goes, the Koch family were German immigrants that had staked a claim in 1859 for this land where they farmed and built their family home.  All was well until an altercation with the Dakota Indian tribe ended their lives.  Their remains rest at a grave marker nearby and the cabin has been restored with period furnishings.

Within the state park there is an island in Lake Shetek that is connected by a causeway built by the CCC in the 1930’s.

Loon Island has a hiking trail that circles the shoreline that Kit and I enjoyed walking.

This was a real treat as Kit seldom accompanies me on my outdoor excursions.

After a very pleasant walk we returned to the campsite and enjoyed a quiet afternoon, dinner and a glass of wine as the sun set over Lake Shetek closing another great day.

Saturday, April 7, 2012:  Up, got dressed, ate breakfast and hit the road at 0900.  Today is a special day as we will finally get to Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota which is just south of the twin cities and the home of my father and his friend Henrietta.

Since there are no Interstates that go from here to there, we decide to stay on the back roads…..yea, I know, big surprise.  So we choose CR-38 which meanders through the western Minnesota countryside.

We soon moved over to CR-11 heading north before taking US-14 near the town of Tracy, MN and heading east.  Being farming country, the roads are laid out in a north-south-east-west grid… is virtually impossible to head due northeast toward the twin cities, unless one engages in some agricultural driving.

While enjoying the countryside along the state highway we came to the small town of Walnut Grove, Minnesota and notice it is the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Since we couldn’t agree on what books this famous American author penned we stopped at the visitor’s center.

They weren’t technically open for the season yet but the ladies cleaning and dusting took a break and visited with us for a few minutes.  We were surprised that Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in Pepin, Wisconsin…..the birthplace of Kit’s mother, Charlotte.  However, Laura spent her formative years in the small prairie town of Walnut Grove, Minnesota.  Oh, and the books are “The Little House (insert location here)” series.

Back on the road we traveled through the towns of Lamberton (Population 824) and Cobdon (Population 36), before pulling into the metropolis of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota (Population 3,599).

Since it was noon we pulled over for lunch which we enjoyed in the trailer while watching the world of Sleepy Eye move past our dinette window.

After a restful stop, we jumped on US-15 heading north and trundled through the towns of Klossner, Winthrop, Gaylord and the village of Henderson which is located on the Minnesota River.

From here we continued north on US-169 through Belle Plaine, Shakopee and on into Savage, Minnesota where we planned to stay for the night.  Locating the Town and Country RV Park by mid-afternoon, we quickly disconnected the trailer and settled in for a few days stay.

Within the hour we drove over to Inver Grove Heights to visit my father in his nice room at an assisted living facility.

Where Henrietta, a close family friend was visiting as well.

After a nice visit, we went over to Henrietta’s house to drop off the package we had picked up for her in Colorado.  We spent some time getting reacquainted with Gracie and Baby, then enjoyed a nice home cooked meal.  Here is a photo of the little rascal, Gracie.

Back at the campground, we turned in early to prepare for a very busy couple of days.

Sunday, April 8, 2012 through Sunday, April 15, 2012-The Twin Cities area of Minnesota:  The eight days we spent in this area were busy and extremely enjoyable.  In addition to taking care of some family business for my father we enjoyed visiting with the many folks that live in the area.

My father lives in a very nice assisted living facility a short distance from Henrietta and has adapted quite well.  I made it a point to spend a few hours with him most every day.  Being as he was a WWII Navy veteran, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his stories of serving in the South Pacific during that critical time in our nation’s history.  In addition, he was able to relate stories from his childhood growing up during the depression.  He is in the process of updating a chronology of his life and I am anxiously waiting to receive this family heirloom.

Dad retired from 3M Corporation where he worked on cutting edge technology after a military career of working on the earliest computers.  As such, he is very comfortable with technology so I was pleased that I was able to set him up with a new laptop.

During the time that dad and i visited and reminisced, Kit and Henrietta spent time together shopping and going out to lunch.

On April 9th it was Kit’s birthday, and as such it was her turn to do whatever she wanted.  So a full day of shopping was in store (pun intended) for us.  First it was to The Container Store which is a big box (pun intended) store that sells small boxes.  Following that we made a pilgrimage to the Land’s End Inlet store, then out to dinner where she enjoyed a birthday Strawberry Daiquiri.

I wanted to light the straw on fire and sing happy birthday but she thought that might ruin the mood.

After dinner, and much to my pleasant surprise, Kit wanted to stop by REI to pick up a new sunhat.

Looks pretty good for sixtysomething years old, eh?

One treat that Henrietta set me up with while we were visiting the big city was to have dinner with a bunny.  This is something that has been on my “Private Bucket List” ever since I was a young teen reading the articles in Hugh Heffner’s literary periodical.   However an even bigger surprise was in store for me when we arrived.

Not quite what I suspected but still a treat anyway as Kit and I were able to share Easter Dinner with my father for the first time in many a year.

Even though this area of Minnesota is a very large metropolitan area the surrounding Twin Cities communities still have a small town feel and Inver Grove Heights is no exception.  There are many parks that attract wildlife such as these Mallards.

And with the advent of an early spring, the flowering trees were bursting with color.

We ate out most every day, often with Henrietta and even on one occasion with my dad.  One of the nice local places we enjoyed was the Cahill Diner which is within walking distance of Henrietta’s home and owned by one of her friends.  The food was good and plentiful, as evident by the Cajun Omelet I enjoyed.

Kit has some relatives in the area as well.  On one occasion we met up with Kit’s aunt for a nice meal at The Olive Garden.

Aunt Vi, a self-described “tough old swede” is 93 and lives independently at a nice senior housing complex west of the city.  Fortunately her oldest son David lives nearby and was able to join us as well.

We had an enjoyable meal and a great time catching up on family news.

On our last evening in the area, we enjoyed the sunset over the western mountains as we counted our blessings and reminisced about our great stay in this part of the country.

Last fall when we made an urgent car trip out here, my dad was critically ill.  It is with great joy and relief that he has mostly recovered and at 88 years old appears to be doing very well.  It is tough being so far from him and my mother in Arizona but those are the cards we were dealt and everyone is making the best of it.  Fortunately we have some incredible relatives and friends in both areas to be our ears and eyes and to help watch over mom and dad…..we love you and appreciate you all very much!

Monday, April 16, 2012:  Woke up and had a nice breakfast as we discussed the next phase of our trip.  Last year we headed north and hugged the northern shore of Lake Superior and through Canada as we meandered our way home.  On this trip we would like to explore the southern shore of that same lake by heading easterly.  However, Kit’s cousin Billy lives a short distance to the north and they were available to spend some time with us so at 1100 we hit the road on US-13 toward Blaine, Minnesota.  It is cloudy and cold with temperatures in the mid 30’s.

After an unplanned but very rewarding detour through an older part of Minneapolis and Hiawatha Falls Park we made it to Billy’s dooryard where we snugged into his driveway for the night.

Billy and Char have been gracious to us in the past and this time was no exception.  Being fellow RV’rs they know the value of a flat spot to park and an available electrical source, both of which they provided.

Another frequent visitor to their home is a red fox that, like us, comes a begging on occasion.

Foxy’s consistent arrival makes a lot more sense when I noticed Billy tossing some chicken over the fence.  The critter grabbed it and high tailed itself back into the weeds.

After a pleasant visit we all decided to go out to dinner at one of their favorite restaurants, Keys Café and Bakery where we had a great meal and literally shut the place down as the cleaning crew was doing their thing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012:  Up to an incredible sunrise……well, at least some of us are.

After Kit woke from her slumber, we made our way into the house for a nice breakfast complete with freshly baked cinnamon rolls and more great conversation.

At around noon we said our goodbyes and hit the road, crossing over into Wisconsin traveling northeast toward the shore of Lake Superior.  We spent the afternoon paralleling the shoreline as much as possible.

Getting late and tired, we started looking for our next camping opportunity.  There are plenty of state and municipal campgrounds in this area, as well as many commercial campgrounds.  However most do not open until May 1st so finding an appropriate spot could be a challenge over the next few days.

Well, road magic was once again with us as we entered the Chippewa Indian Reservation and came upon the Bad River Casino.  Pulling in, we noticed a number of back in parking spots anchored by electrical boxes and water spigots.  Parking in one of these spots I went inside to inquire what it would cost…..turns out the camping is free!

And, even though they have not turned the water on to the sites yet, a very nice American Indian gentleman came out and turned on the electricity for us… that’s service!

Stay tuned……our travels are beginning to come to an end for this year and you don’t want to miss what’s next!

Kit’s Corner:  Our travels through Iowa and Minnesota have allowed us to spend time with our old friends, Larry & Janice as well as much needed time with our relatives.  With friends and family scattered all over the US, we are incredibly fortunate to be able to spend some of our retirement years reconnecting with people we hadn’t seen in many years.  We are thankful they have all opened their hearts and homes (driveways) to us and welcomed us into their lives for a short time.  We love each and every one of the people we have visited with during our last four trips around the country.