And We Go Around Lake Superior

Made it out of St Paul, whew! But where are we going. We have in mind recapitulating a trip we made in 1975 or so when the boys were young and we visited in Edina, MN to attend Erica Rudin’s Bat Mitzvah. So it was clear that out next stop had to be on or near the North Shore of Lake Superior. Carol, in the mean time, had been studying maps and found several interesting side trips that coincided with her desire to go kayaking in the Boundary Water Canoe Wilderness Area (BWCWA).

The first stop was Two Harbors, MN, just north of Duluth. Here we stayed in a lovely public campground on the edge of town and right on the lake. We started out by touring the town and its piers and lighthouse area. We were stunned to find a very small locomotive collection, two engines, one very old and quite small and the other, well I’ll insert the pictures and they tell the story of this 2-8-8-4 monster built in 1943 (for those who don’t have fond memories of steam the numbers mean the locomotive has 2 wheels on the front guide truck and a total of 16 drive wheels in two groups of 8 followed by 4 more wheels on the trailing truck).
loco with sign
loco with carol

We kept hearing noise from the area where the piers were located, but could not see what was going on. As we continued the tour we got around the other side of the harbor and were able to see a lake freighter between the piers taking on ore in a gravity feed down the chutes from the ore pockets on the pier as they were designed many years ago. OreCarrier Although the industry has declined significantly from its hey day in the ’30s it still continues to mine and load ore for the making of steel in other ports on the Great Lakes. The next day we drove up to Gooseberry State park where we planned to see the falls and then bike to Split Rock Lighthouse about 6 miles further up the coast. We stayed a bit longer than planned at Gooseberry and then found that the bike trail out of the park was under construction and we would have to drive a couple of miles up the road to begin our ride. Ultimately our ride became a total of about 6 or 7 miles none of which were level. The downhills were terrifying and the uphills grueling, we enjoyed the ride and the visit to the lighthouse was fascinating. Of course there was much more to see than we were here last in 1975, a large visitor center has been built and much of the equipment has been restore or reconstructed. When the Coast Guard closed the lighthouse in the 60’s they has stripped it of any useful equipment and essentially abandoned it to the state. This had been the most visited lighthouse in the service until that time so its reconstruction was a matter of time and money. I am sure it is once again one of the most visited lighthouse locations (along with several others we have visited :))

Showers and dinner back at Gee 2 prepared us for our next adventure further up the coast. We headed up to Grand Marais a mere 50 miles from the Canadian Border. There is the beginning of the Gunfllint Trail and we had set our sights on driving the trail and camping along it. We noted that all the campgrounds along the trail are operated by the National Forest Service. We have always found those parks among the prettiest. Given that we wanted to see Grand Marais as well we chose the first campground on the way, Devil Track Lake is its name and I can highly recommend any site in that campground, but #10 is truly exquisite. DevilTrackCG Carol backed Gee 2 into the site so our curb side faced the lake and the rest of the coach was nestled in the trees such that once we closed the front drapes we were totally private. The sites on either side of us were occupied and not much else in the campground. We were unaware of our neighbors and they of us unless we chose to step out on the road to greet them on the way to and from the boat launch. We inflated our Sea Eagle kayak and launched it on the lake for a mornings play right from our site. Our plan had been to go further into the BWCWA, but the shortest routes were measured in days and even the shortest hike we could find was 52 kilometers. We spent much of the rest of the day sitting in the sun, on our oh so private and beautiful campsite, reading. You should know that all of this luxury cost $7.50 a night (that is a 50% discount for surviving to 65). Thank you fellow taxpayers. Of course there was no running water, sanitary sewer or electricity available, but what do you want for $7.50 a night. We were well prepared for an extended stay as we had just been dry camping (with electric) for 7 nights at the convention. Our generator supplied all the electricity we needed. We did drive into Grand Marais twice, the second time because there was a semblance of cell service there so we could be in touch with family. This was our last time on the network until we reached Sault Ste Marie, two days later.

We left our site in the woods as the campground was starting to fill with the weekend approaching. At the border the Canadian inspector was most concerned about the car in tow which I assured him was ours and we did indeed intend to bring it back to the States with us. He did not ask for papers.

Before we reached the border we entered the Grand Portage Reservation and stopped at Grand Portage National Monument. This was the location of the Rendezvous where the Voyageurs from Montreal met the trappers who had spent the winter collecting furs to trade with the East. It was managed by the Northwest Trading Company until the border between the US and Canada was established at which point the trading post was moved to Fort William on the other side of the border. This is a wonderful stop and the costumed interpreters were excellent. After a couple of hours we continued on to Thunder Bay ON where we eventually found our targeted campground and set up for a night. We thought we might stay two nights, but after a drive through of the town we decided that there was little of interest to hold us. In the morning we broke camp and drove to Fort William and parked in a very empty lot as the place was not yet open. This is done on a much grander scale than Grand Portage. It has been operating since the 70’s and has a lot of people playing the roles of life at the fort in1815. It is better not to admit being from “America” as the Scots are not particularly well disposed to the people who defeated them in the War of 1812. We managed not to get arrested, but were challenged a couple of times in the name of fun. Among the highlights of our visit was a chance to join the crew of a Voyageur canoe and paddle it on the river that the Fort sits on. It is no small task to paddle a broad beamed 24 foot birch bark canoe with a couple of kids waving paddles at random. And two other adult visitors and a crew of two from the Fort.

By noon or so we worked our way back to the entrance and after lunch on Gee 2 we set off for Sault Ste Marie where I am sitting now in Glenview Cottages and Campground. We are just down the road from Blueberry Hill where we remember staying with the kids on that long ago trip. We will be going on a Lock Tour soon. It is a two hour boat ride that includes going up the American Locks and down the Canadian Locks and a tour of the area as time permits after the locks.

Lost (and Found)

After seven days at the Minnesota State Fairground outside St Paul, we decided to spend a couple of days seeing the area so we took our shortest one day drive yet – 6 miles – to Lowry Grove RV Park. It has a good laundry, full hookups and apparent proximity to everything we want to see . It is otherwise over priced and the sites are small and difficult to access amidst the broken down seasonals and mobile homes.

Friday after setting up and doing laundry we set out to see the State Capitol in St Paul and the Cathedral just down the street. Both are very impressive and worth the stop, bring quarters to the Capitol as there is no place to get them and the meters take 6 for an hour, allow at least an hour for the tour. The parking at the Cathedral was free and depending on your interests it could take 30 minutes or as much more as your inclinations suggest.

Upon leaving the Cathedral at about 4:30 PM we decided that a good plan for the day was to drive to Mall of America in Bloomington, just south of Minneapolis, and take the light rail into the Nicolette Mall in Minneapolis and have dinner at a sidewalk cafe. The drive there was uneventful and Germaine got us there with no problems. We parked in the West lot only to discover that the train ran from the East lot. This enabled us to walk through the entire mall on the second level and get a good overview of a gigantic mall with a huge indoor amusement park in the middle. Amazing! We caught the train for $2 each for 6 hour tickets and wondered as it began to fill to bursting. Only after the third stop did we notice the many Twins shirts and realize that the stop two before ours was the Metrodome where the Twins play, yup it was a game night.

We finally got to Nicolette Mall and took a nice stroll before selecting Zelo’s as the place for dinner. It was a wonderful meal and when we finally got to look inside it turns out to be a very fancy restaurant as well as having fine food. Carol and I had noted during dinner that women going in to the restaurant were very well dressed in fancy outfits and high heels, unlike many others on the street. Following dinner we resumed our stroll and were drawn in by the sound of music, well some might call it music. It was Rock. Minneapolis celebrates summer with the Aquatennial (that is not a misspelling) and it includes loud music, beer and too much smoking of all sorts. The crowd was young and in a party mood. The characteristic that drew us closer to the stage, at the risk of our hearing was a Hammond B3 organ playing at the front of the group. Too much noise and echo to really enjoy it. We bailed out and headed for the train.

Oops, the game wasn’t over but the Twins had a 6 run lead and the fans were headed home. Another train filled to overflowing. By 10:15 or 10:30 we were in the car ready to get to Gee 2 and some sleep. It was not to be for some time. You must have read that a bridge over the Mississippi has fallen down, try to tell that to a Garmen Nuvi 350 GPS, it refused to understand and would not reroute us. Worse I35W Northbound was closed further south and we could not even reach the bridge that was open. We found ourselves on surface streets with no idea where we were. A gas station operator sent us back south to the Mall of America to start over by going east to I 35E to go north. The GPS did not like this and kept trying to turn us around, I kept hoping we would get to where the I35E route would be the more direct route. We reached that point finally only to find the road closed for weekend construction. Back to surface roads, at least by now we were on the east of the river as is the campground. No one we spoke to had any idea how to get anyplace without the Interstates and we could not trust the GPS as it also assumed the interstates were open. Finally, I put in the Fairgrounds as my destination, figuring that I had gotten to the campground from there once and I could do it again. ALMOST!! we ran into two more closed exits blocking our access to the campground. Another 3 miles out of the way and we finally pulled into Lowry Grove after 90 minutes of not having a clue of how to get there. I kissed the hood on Gee 2 and Carol cheered my finally getting us there.

Today has been clean up and relax so far. There is Raptor Center not far from here and other things to see that will not require the use of interstates. We do wonder what the Republicans are going going to do here in late summer when they overlap the State Fair and the road repair will not be finished. The locals are trying to see how far away they can get!

No plan for tomorrow, yet, but I think we will head for the north shore and ultimately, Duluth and over the top of the Great Lakes.

Breakaway to a Motor Home Convention

On July 7 we left Rochester for a summer adventure. The plan is to spend a week in St Paul, MN at the Fairgrounds with a few thousand other RVers making new friends and getting some things repaired and learning new and old things about the life style and the equipment we depend on. Then we will move north for some more experiences that are dependent on our own resources. Then we think we will drive over the top of the Great Lakes and return through Niagara Falls eventually, with a stop in Toronto and Hamilton to see family. Time will tell. After a ten day stop in Rochester we will head on down to Charlottesville for a reprise of Camp Goldberg. Yechiel and company are flying in to Dulles and meeting us all at Dan’s place where we will spend the week. They are responsible for planning the events.

But I get ahead of myself.

Our normal driving day is 6 hours or about 250 to 300 miles. On Monday we rolled out at 8:45 AM with no real objective other than to get past Toledo, OH. Somehow as we rolled through Toledo at 4:30 or so, it seemed too early to stop. There was plenty of daylight left and neither of us was road weary yet. So on we rolled. Eventually as we were approaching Elkhart, IN we decided enough is enough and I logged on to and determined there was a Wal Mart that permitted overnight parking just off the Interstate. While we were there I figured out that we were less than 6 miles form the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum. Click here for the site. How could we not stop there? After some minimal shopping and a good night’s sleep, we drove to the Museum for a visit. Admission was $6 each and we saw many historical RV’s starting with 1916 trailers and progressing through some stunning machines from the 30’s. There are also RVs from the 40’s through 70’s represented and of course several brand new models in an area labeled “Go RVing.” We tore ourselves away and rolled on down the road headed for Madison, WI to see Mimi (my cousin) some of Madison and to go kayaking on Lake Mendota. As we traveled we were in contact with several people including Janet and Bob Corin, fellow members of CHAI, our Jewish Chapter of FMCA. Since we were headed in together we agreed to meet in Madison and travel together to the Convention. We surprised ourselves, and Mimi, by arriving in Madison in mid afternoon. We had called ahead and told her to expect us and she invited us to dinner at her house for that evening. We reciprocated for the following night. Wow, Madison, WI about 800 miles in two days. It may not seem like a lot to many, but we seldom do two long days back to back and while the second day was about 300 miles, that included driving right through Chicago on I 90.

As we were driving to Mimi’s the Corins called to let us know that they too were running a day ahead and they were set up next to G 2 in the campground. We promised to drop in when we got back and continued on to dinner. We had a wonderful evening with Mimi and the vegetarian meal was wonderful.

We parted exhausted and looking forward to kayaking and dinner on the coach the next night. We spent some time with Janet and Bob when we got back and then we turned in. By now the cold I had left home with was starting to clear and Carol was coming down with it. Wednesday dawned clear and we took the Corins into Madison with us to tour the Capital see what else there was to see in that area. After the tour we met Mimi for lunch and then we went on to Olbrich Gardens, which had been highly recommended and then back to meet Mimi at the coach. She and I went kayaking for about an hour while Carol got the basics of dinner together. On our return it was getting dark and we buttoned up and settled in to dinner and conversation. Eventually it became time for even that to end and we said goodbye and started to square away for two more road days. Thursday to reach Fairchild, WI and a lovely campground called Briarcliff. At a roadside cheese store the staff suggested we listen to weather radio as the weather was getting dicey.

As we drove on the sky turned stormy and the winds began to blow. There were several rain squalls and plenty of thunder and lightening. We reached the park and settled in and prepared for an early departure on Friday to reach the fairgrounds before noon. The weather news was not comforting and there were no storm shelters near the campground. Not a really happy idea, either way. As we turned in we were slashed by a vicious storm and there was a second sometime in the middle of the night. The third started at 5 AM, at least that was when it reached a pitch to wake me, and battered us with high winds, blinding rain, nonstop lightening and hail for a couple of hours. At one point everything seemed to slow down and there was the sound of constant rolling thunder that went on and on. We have since been told that that is the sound of a tornado. Thank you, the next time I hear that I want the sound in digital from a very good speaker, but not live in person. By the time we began our breakfast the sky was clear and the fields were glistening with water in the sunlight. The Corins were ready to roll but had to listen to the endless screeching of an alarm triggered by a hydraulic problem with their leveling jacks, the jacks were properly stowed for travel but the sensor didn’t believe it. They rerouted to a dealership to get it fixed before entering the fairgrounds. Although we agreed to ask the parking crew to hold a space for them next to us, we both knew that it was unlikely they would do such a thing, the rules specifically says they may not. In the event, the way we are stacked there is no way for an interior coach to move in or out without moving several others to make room.

And here we are at the FMCA Convention in St Paul. Carol and I have already put in half our volunteer hours and by 1 PM Sunday we will have completed our task which is stand at the road side on a major route into the fairground with a big sign to welcome the arriving coaches. It seems like a small thing, but the arriving coaches sound their horns when they see us and the occupants smile and wave. It’s nice to make people smile and feel happy so the mechanical job that could be done with a sign board is much better done by a “late middle aged” couple who are part of the club.