Bill and Kit’s 2012 Excellent Adventure-Journal #13

Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares

 Bill and Kit’s 2012 Excellent Adventure-Journal #13

Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers…..the mind can never break off from the journey. 

Pat Conroy

Wednesday, April 18, 2012:  It was a cold and rainy morning as we arose with the dawn after sleeping in the parking lot of the Chippewa Tribe Casino.  Sounds like the lead sentence of a bad novel, doesn’t it?  However, it’s all true.

We enjoyed a very restful night and still can’t believe our good fortune last night…..locating the only safe camping opportunity for many miles around just when we needed it and at no cost!  True “Road Magic” again!!

Back on US-2 at 0930 and heading east along the south shoreline of Lake Superior in Wisconsin.

Within the hour we crossed over into Eastern Time Zone, a sure sign that we are heading home, and entered the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan.  Folks in these parts are known as Yoopers and are an unusual and hardy bunch.  Most everyone we were to meet proved to be friendly and had a general zest for life.

Near Wakefield, Michigan we moved over to state highway M-28 and continued to follow the shoreline.  Stopping in Marquette for fuel and groceries I inquired about any open campgrounds and learned that just a few miles east of town is a place called Gitche Gumee…..the Indian name for Lake Superior.  Pulling off M-28 and down a narrow dirt road we came into view of the campground.

Gitche Gumee is owned by a very interesting and quirky gentleman named Jeff who interrupted his work on a large bulldozer to meet us at his lodge.

Jeff’s campground service vehicle is a 1953 Chevrolet Sedan Delivery he has had for many years.  It is powered by an old Corvette engine and is pressed into service for many campground tasks.

One of which was guiding us through the woods to our full hook-up site for the evening.

After a walk down to the lake and making a few phone calls we settled in for the night and enjoyed some reading before dropping off to sleep.

Thursday, April 19, 2012:  I was up early and out on scout and patrol about the Gitche Gumee Campground.  Jeff was down by the office so I stopped to visit and get his story.

Apparently, when Jeff first laid eyes on this land he had just graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in Electrical Engineering.  Finding a job in Jackson Hole he supplemented his income by being a ski instructor at the famous ski area.  However, wanting to live near his home town, Jeff and his new wife Nancy left Wyoming in 1974 and bought 52 heavily wooded acres in Michigan where they proceeded to clear a building lot.  At the time of purchase there was only an old jeep trail and little else.  He hand built a log home from trees on his property and looked for engineering work in the area.

Deciding that a campground on the shores of Lake Superior would be a great business opportunity, Jeff did all the work to grade the roads and put in campsites with water, electricity and sewer connections.  After the campground started to turn a profit, Jeff continued to design and build a log bath house, office and an octagonal lodge building with a central stone fireplace for community gatherings……all with his own timber and using his own hands!

We often meet the most interesting people with the most fascinating stories while on the road…..Jeff was just the latest.

At around 1120 we broke camp and headed out by continuing on M-28 heading east.  Within an hour if started to rain…..then the rain turned to snow flurries and then the flurries started to accumulate on the road.  Just when we thought we might have to retreat to the campground we just left, the sun peaked out.

Continuing east we ironically passed through Christmas, Michigan before stopping at a National Interagency Visitors Center in Munising.

The park ranger was very informative and helpful, loading us with maps and brochures on both The Hiawatha National Forest and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  We heard the all too familiar warning that the campgrounds were not technically open yet.  However the ranger said to feel free to find a spot anyway in one of the three drive-in campgrounds in the National Lakeshore.  She also said that the self-registration station was secured for the winter so there was no way to pay the $7.50 senior rate and that the camping would be free!  In addition, her son, a park ranger as well, would come by periodically to check up on us!  Gotta love the National Park Service!!

Moving over to County Road H-58, a park service road, we continued east entering the Hiawatha National Forest.  The weather broke and the skies began to clear.

Checking out the campgrounds within the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore we choose the lower Hurricane River facility and picked a nice secluded spot.

Secluded because the closest human being to us was probably 20 miles away.  As far as we could determine, we were the only campers in this 73,000 acre park.

So what is a Pictured Rock?  Well, they are colorful sandstone cliffs…..some rising over 200 feet above lake level.

Their coloration comes from minerals being leeched out of the stone due to the forces of erosion.  In addition the lake is crystal clear imparting a turquoise hue to the shallow water.  The best views of the formations are from the water.  However this early in the season there is no safe way to get on the lake and paddle around the formations.

There have been times that Kit notices a neat photo opportunity that I had missed.  While we were at the overlook for Miners Castle, she noticed a low rectangular window for kid level viewing.  Mentioning that it would make a nice frame for a photo, I agreed and this was the result.

Pretty neat, huh?  Notice the cave at the bottom of the cliff?  The hole penetrates clear through the cliff and as wind driven waves hit the far side, the pressurized water pours out the cave opening…..pretty amazing to watch.

Back at the campground, Kit wanted to have some quiet time, which is Kit speak for go away Bill and do something somewhere else.  So I decided to take a hike on the North Country Trail that parallels the lakeshore.  After about 2 miles I came to the Au Sable Lighthouse built in 1874 and it is still an active navigational aid today.

The light warns mariners of the treacherous Au Sable Point reef which extends a mile out from the lakefront, and in places is only six feet underwater.  The solar powered light is maintained by the US Coast Guard and the light tower and associated buildings are maintained by the National Park Service.  Incidentally, there is no way to drive to the lighthouse, only the footpath from a parking area in the campground provides access.  The day I visited, there was no one there, however during the summer season volunteers live and interpret at the facility for a week at a time…..great volunteer opportunity I’d say!

For my return hike, I decided to walk the Lake Superior Beachfront.

In many places, the packed sand was replaced by smooth stones and the walking became more difficult.

The smooth round and colorful stones offered a neat photo opportunity when paired with the surrounding reddish sand.

I particularly like this photo with the seagull foot prints about…..or would that be lakegulls? Can never get that straight.

This stretch of Lake Superior is known as “shipwreck coast” and true to its notoriety there are many hulks resting on or near the sandstone reefs.  Some hapless ships were holed by the reef and blown to shore by violent winds where they foundered on the beach.  This is the remains of the Steamer Sitka that ran aground in 1904.

The ravages of time and the salvage efforts of the locals leave only the bottom longitudinals and their associated iron fasteners remaining.  The three shipwreck sites within Pictured Rocks are now protected by the National Park Service.

It was getting late and I didn’t want the tide to come in and catch me on the beach so I picked up the pace and made it back to camp safe and dry.

As night fell we realized just how remote we were.  There was virtually no ambient light, and due to the cloud cover, there was no effect from the moon and stars… was pitch black!

Perfect for telling scary camp stories, but alas…..Kit was asleep already.

Friday, April 20, 2012:  Up and after a nice breakfast and walk about the park we were once again on the road.  It is 1000 and a cool 39 degrees under partly cloudy skies.

We traversed the remaining part of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by completing the park road.  As we exited the east side of the park, we found ourselves in the town of Grand Marais, Michigan and noticed this intriguing sign for a local business.

Turns out that Pasties are a form of meat pie introduced to the UP by Finnish miners in the 1800’s…..they are still popular today.

Dropped down to State highway M-28 once again to connect with M-123 which took us north toward Whitefish Point, Michigan.

Driving through several small towns we discovered the average resident was pretty patient and tolerant of travelers.  Then there was this turkey, who jaywalked across the highway right in front of our rig causing a panic stop!

Now you would think the local politicians, who are probably the jay walkers’ kin, would erect signs that indicated there were fast moving RV’s ahead driven by clueless tourists and to proceed with caution.  Most likely, it would do no good as I’m convinced these turkeys would just ignore the signs.

At the end of M-123 we reached Paradise, Michigan which is hard up against the shore of Lake Superior.

Turning left we followed a local road to Whitefish Point that marks the entrance into Whitefish Bay.  The Soo Locks of Sault Saint Marie lie just to the east and these waters are the final resting place of over 240 sunken ships, including the SS Edmund Fitzgerald of which the singer Gordon Lightfoot chronicled.

The shipwreck carnage is in spite of a very powerful Lighthouse, radio navigation beacon and fog horn built on the point.

Still, regardless of the risk, dozens of massive 1,000 foot freighters pass this way on a daily basis.

Belying the treacherous nature of the rocks and shoals that exist just off shore the beach is littered with those now familiar smooth and colorful stones.

Retracing our route down M-123 we eventually had to move over to I-75 in order to cross the straits on the Mackinaw Bridge.

As it was getting late we decided to make our way to Wilderness State Park where we found a nice campsite on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Following dinner we sat on the sand and watched the sun as it set in the western sky.

Saturday, April 21, 2012:  Up and on the road by 1030 under sunny skies and temperatures of 41 degrees.  We decided to stop in Mackinaw City to see if there was much open this early in the season.  Parking was no problem as the main street was virtually deserted.

Turns out that Mackinaw City is not a city at all, but rather technically a village due to the small population.  The original city fathers thought naming it a city might be proactive as they were sure their little village would grow…..nope, not yet.

Mackinaw City is a summer tourist town and is the gateway to Mackinac Island three miles offshore in Lake Huron.  The only other tourist dumb enough to visit this time of year was this Canadian fella.

Hey…..I think I saw this guy in old Orchard Beach last summer enjoying some Salty Vinegar Fries and Fried Dough.

As suspected, most of the shops were just now being set up for the summer tourist traffic.  I bet this place is booming come July!

I did find a kite shop and although it wasn’t officially opened the owner welcomed me in and we talked kite flying for an hour or so.  Kit found a few gift shops open and more importantly was able to acquire some Mackinaw Fudge which we enjoyed for lunch.

Leaving Mackinaw City we decided to travel on US-23 which parallels Lake Huron’s eastern  shoreline.  We wandered through the coastal towns of Cheboygan, Rogers City and Presque Isle before arriving in Alpena, Michigan late in the afternoon.

We decided to stop for the night at the Joint Military Training Base in Alpena.  A rather large base that provides training for all branches of the US Military and State Militias as well as local, state and federal law enforcement.  There is a campground on base located right on the Thunder River.

Why is such a placid stream called Thunder River you ask?  Well, before the damming of this wild and scenic waterway there were large rapids that made a lot of noise so the name fit.  However after a few hydroelectric dams were built the river has been tamed considerably.

As has been our experience, there was only one other camper in residence so we set up on a nice site and watched as the sun set in the western sky over the Thunder River.

Sunday, April 22, 2012:  Woke to frigid temperatures…..26 degrees to be exact.  However with the heater set to come on at 45 degrees we were OK.  I got up, raised the thermostat, jumped back in bed and waited to start my day.  Soon our cozy camper was comfortable enough to get up make coffee and check the news of the day on the laptop.  A few hours later Kit rolled out and we enjoyed a nice breakfast before breaking camp and heading out.  We were supposed to sign in and pay at Lodging Services on the way out, but being a Sunday they were closed so I left them a note.  Have no idea what the stay will cost but doubt it will be very much.

Continuing along the coast on US-23 we passed Squaw Bay, Harrisville, Au Sable, Alabaster, and Pinconning before arriving at Bay City where we stopped for lunch.  Over taco’s we decided to continue by traversing “the Thumb” of Michigan’s mitten…..yep, look it up on Google Maps.  So we spent the rest of the day following US-25 or every shoreline road we could find as we wound our way north than east than south about the thumb.

Most towns were called Port something or other, we drove through Bay Port, the self-proclaimed “Home of the Fish Sandwich Festival” before encountering Port Austin, one of the neatest little thumb towns.

 Port Austin featured many unique old homes and churches.

Since we had recently stopped, we decided to keep rolling.  However this is a spot we want to return to and explore more extensively.

As we continued to head south we crossed the 45th Parallel…..defining the exact halfway point between the North Pole and the Equator.  To demonstrate, if one started from this exact geographic point and walked due north they would likely drown in Lake Huron before making it to the Arctic Circle. So probably should just take their word for it.

Lots of municipal campgrounds along this stretch of Lake Huron coastline, many right on the water…..however, most were closed until May 1st.  Oh well, story of our 2012 Excellent Adventure life.  Next time through we will have to make it a few weeks later in the year.

Nearing Port Huron and the border into Canada we decided to stop for the evening at another great Michigan State Park.  Lakeport campground was right on the Lake Huron shoreline and there was hardly anyone there…..surprise!

We are beginning to get a complex!  Actually traveling in this neck of the woods at this time of the year has advantages and disadvantages.  On the one hand there are no crowds or bugs…..on the other hand it is cold and most touristy places are closed….and on the next hand we kinda like it this way, being three handed freaks that we are.

We did notice that in the state of Michigan, there are very few foreign cars.  Ford, Chrysler and GM vehicles are preferred……which makes sense.  Actually we have noticed that away from either coast and away from the larger cities, American manufactured automobiles are more abundant then those foreign jobs… comment, just a casual observation.

As we buttoned up for the night, we noticed that the wind was beginning to pick up and the temperatures were dropping.  I usually do not extend the campers stabilizing jacks especially if we remain connected to the truck and we are only planning on being there overnight.  However I thought it prudent to do so tonight…..good thing.

Monday, April 23, 2012:  Woke to cold and howling winds and the trailer was being buffeted about quite a bit.  Checking the weather on the internet, this condition is going to remain for the next 24 hours.  To complicate matters even more, New England is experiencing a genuine Nor’easter and travel in that direction might be an issue for the next few days.  Soooo, we decided to just hunker down here…..not a hard decision as it is a very nice State Park.

Walking the short path down to the lake I was able to see what effect 40 knot winds from the north have on a large lake such as Huron.

Those are wind driven wave’s folks and even with the gale force winds, the freighters were out making their way to or from Lake Erie.

Sensing that Kit needed some quiet time, I pulled my bike out and spent a few hours exploring the many multi-purpose trails that meander about this large state park.

Some of the trails popped out of the woods and onto the beach.

However the wind and sand conspired against me and I quickly found refuge back in the forest.  Riding along, I came to a remarkable sight.

Not sure what these pretty little white wildflowers are.

 However they framed the trail for a few hundred yards and smelled very nice.

Back at the trailer, Kit was peacefully checking for light leaks in her eyelids, so I quietly grabbed a couple of kites to try in the heavy winds.  The first kite I tried was way too big and pert near pulled me off my feet.  Bringing that one down rather abruptly I tried the smallest kite I own.  Even with that kite flying in such strong winds was a real challenge…..however a blast as well!  Think I need to order a much smaller high wind kite.  Don’t tell Kit……she think’s I’ve gone overboard already.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012:  Up early and on the road before breakfast.  The wind has subsided for now and we want to capitalize on the better weather.  It is cloudy and 43 degrees as we make our way to Lakeport, Michigan.  Spotting a nice looking diner with a number of cars in the parking lot we decided to treat ourselves to breakfast.  Pulling behind the restaurant we find a couple of vacant spots just big enough to park our little truck and trailer.  Turns out, the Daybreak Café is a local institution known for very good and very large portions at a reasonable price.  We order omelets which come with their popular pancakes.

The meal was incredible and should tide us over until dinner.

Taking a detour through the small downtown area we stop so Kit can peruse some Michigan gift shops before we head into Canada.  By 1030 we were heading across the border at Port Huron.

No sooner did we enter Canada than the wind and rain reappeared.  We had originally thought of dropping south to explore the northern shore of Lake Erie as we head east.  However with the crummy weather we decided to stick to the main roads and get across this portion of Canada quickly.  And, before we needed to gas up with very expensive Canadian fuel.

Traveling on Ontario Highway 401 we motored on through largely rural areas of the country.  Come midafternoon it began to snow which alarmed me as the temperature was only 10 degrees!  Now, I know that there is a difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit…..but do the snowflakes know that?  Apparently so as the flakes melted on contact with the road.

By 1600 we crossed back into the United States at the Lewiston, New York border station.

This is the fifth or sixth time that we have crossed a border into the US since 9-11 and by far this experience was the most pleasant.  The Border Patrol agent was courteous and respectful…..even kidding around with us a bit.  Other agents can take a lesson from that guy!

Crossing the Niagara River we noticed a flock of Geese that were flapping their wings like crazy but making very little progress as they tried to fly north.  Some of them appeared to be suspended in midair and a few others gave up, turned downwind and quickly disappeared.  That scene just goes to prove that traveling in this kinda weather is for the birds…..well at least some of the more hardy ones!

The weather was still pretty crummy and the driving was a challenge due to the wind and rain.  We decided to stick to the most direct way to get across New York and jumped on the NY Thruway just east of Buffalo.  After another hour we were beat and decided to stay the night at the NY Thruway Travel Plaza in Clifton Springs.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012:  Up and into the Travel Plaza for breakfast and on the road by 0900.  It is currently 480 miles from home and as the proverbial horse picks up speed as it spies the barn we decided to gallop along today and see if we can make it before nightfall.  Normally our preferred daily limit is less than 300 miles…..however since we don’t have to worry about locating a place to camp and since the weather is still kinda crummy, and since we have lived in the northeast for the past 32 years and have explored this area pretty extensively, we made tracks for home by staying on the NY thruway.

That is until we spotted this sign a few hours later.

So we take the next exit, locate a Best Buy and purchase two hands free phones.  Not sure why NY has this weird law but we had a great time talking to each other with these funny things attached to our ears…..made the miles go by a bit faster as well.

As we left the state of New York we paid our toll of $27.95 for the use of their thruway and crossed into Massachusetts, it was shortly before 1400.  It is still cloudy, windy and rainy but we are making pretty good time on the interstates.

This weekend our Square Dance club is attending the New England Convention in Hartford, Connecticut.  Looking at the map it appears we will be passing just north of the location and we discussed dropping in as a surprise.  However the convention is still two days away and it has been a long trip…..we are anxious to get home and see the kids.  Sorry folks…..maybe next year.

At 1752 we crossed the state border into New Hampshire and twenty minutes later we viewed this familiar and comforting sight.

Followed by the familiar sign that indicates we are getting very close to home.

After an uneventful trip through the Maine countryside on Interstate 95 we arrived home at 1940, or to put it in civilian time twenty minutes to twenty.

Thanks to everyone who elected to share this trip with us and for all the kind words posted as comments on the website.  We have enjoyed reading each and every one of them and they will remain a permanent part of our Travel Journal.

After a few weeks to get accustomed to being home and taking care of all the chores that come with being gone for a few months we will update our lessons learned file and post it to the website.  It’s funny that after 389 days on the road over the past four years traveling 51,512 miles we still learn, or sometimes relearn, new things.

In the meantime here are the raw statistics from this year’s Excellent Adventure:

Days on the Road–107

Total Miles–9,562

Total Gallon–963.2

Average MPG–9.9

Highest Gas–$4.13 in New York

Lowest Gas–$3.10 in New Mexico

Highest Full Hook-up Camping–$37.00 in Sun City, AZ

Lowest Full Hook-up Camping–$7.00 in Gila Bend, AZ

Freebie Camping–27, Thanks Folks!

Kit’s Corner:  As usual, I love spending about 4 months of the year traveling around the US, seeing so many different places and more importantly, visiting with family and friends.  However, it’s SO GOOD to be home!  Our little house feels like a mansion compared to our 176 square foot seasonal home on wheels.  Now, to get busy with unloading the trailer and preparing to put it into storage for a while.  And, more importantly, enjoy our beautiful Maine Summer Season with family and friends!