Crossing Lake Michigan on the S.S. Badger

Day 24

LOCATION:  Ludington, Michigan – on western side of state on Lake Michigan
CAMPGROUND:  The ferry parking lot!
WEATHER:  Terrific.  Temps all over the board
DISTANCE DRIVEN:  3 hours to ferry

We got a mid-morning start from our campground at Chain O Lakes.  We had a 3-hour drive to Manitowoc, Wisconsin to catch the ferry.  Didn’t want to miss the boat!

The route took us on busy Interstate 94 between Chicago and Milwaukee.  Yikes!  Lots of semis! 
Needless to say, we made it ok.

When we left the campground, it was 90 already (at 9:00 AM).  As we neared Lake Michigan, we watched the outdoor thermometer drop and drop to 60. 

The 4-hour ferry ride was great.  Although it is expensive to haul an RV on the ferry, we saved 2 tanks of gas and overnight stays,  AND we didn’t have to drive through Chicago!!!!

It is interesting to watch the workers load the vehicles.  A large group of Model A’s came on to go to a rally in Michigan. The Manatowoc High School Marching Band greeted us as we approached the ferry terminal.

You leave your keys in your vehicle and high school age employees park the vehicles for you.  We saw Joy going the wrong way, andd I thought she was being stolen!  No – they were just backing her in. 

We waved goodbye to Wisconsin’s mascot badger….

and the beautiful lighthouse…

The ferry has a movie theater, restaurant, bar, and gathering room where they played bingo and other games.  We read and rested.  The ride was quite smooth.

A pilot met us with a spout of water…

Now in Eastern Time Zone, we arrived around 7:00 PM.  The ferry staff told us that we could park in their overnight parking.  Nice!  Free! 

Here is our “camping” spot for tonight…

We strolled 2 blocks to Ludington’s downtown area and guess where we stopped?!  Their brewery, of course!  It was so nice that we sat on their patio and ate a very leisurely dinner.  No reason to rush back to the trailer. 

DINNER:  Shrimp po’ boy.  It was cooked very well with Cajun spices. 

After dinner….we were walking the few blocks back to the trailer and thought we would check out what seemed to be an outdoor bar.  It turned out to be an event center and the town leaders were having a special event to celebrate the SS Badger’s first sailing of the season.  We hadn’t realized that.  They invited us to join them and gave us some of the local brewery’s beer.  What nice people!

BOOK:  “A Rule Against Murder” by Louise Penny.  I thought I had read all of her books, but found this one.  It is part of the series about Chief Inspector Armande Gamache who solves all kinds of mysteries in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.  5 stars out of 5

A Day on the Lake!

Day 23

CAMPGROUND:  Chain O Lakes Illinois State Park
LOCATION:  Spring Grove, Illinois
WEATHER:  Record-breaking hot.  High 95

We met with our former neighbors in Retama Village – Theresa and Bill.  Theresa used to be a professional fishing guide.  We met at a marina to get an early start on the lake(s). 

We are indeed on a chain of lakes, and moved from lake to lake, looking for the best fishing spots.  After a slow start, George got a sheepshead fish, then Bill caught one.  Nothing for Theresa or me.

  It is interesting to look at the beautiful mansions surrounding the lakes.  There are also quite a few bars and restaurants around the lake perimeters, and they really hop in the summer time.  There is even a floating barge that converts to Party Central. 

We passed by one of Al Capone’s old houses, now derelict.

Theresa got a mesasge on her phone alerting people about a heat danger.   Unheard of  temperature “feel” for this time of year above 100 degrees.   With no breeze, we were burning up on the boat.

At noon, we called it quits, and stopped at a Mexican restaurant for a cooling margarita and lunch.  We tied up at the restaurant’s dock and enjoyed their A/C.

On our way back, we stopped at Theresa’s  house.  They live in a 55+ community that is similar to Retama Village – golf course, pickleball courts, swimming pool, clubhouse.  Very nice.

Back to the campground for a luxurious shower (well, about as luxurious as one can get in a campground shower!)  George cleaned the fish, then Theresa and Bill joined us for a drink.  They brought us some frozen walleye fillets that we will enjoy another night.

DINNER:  Grilled sheepshead.  George did them just right….he left the skin/scales on on one side, then tented the filets with aluminum foil to cook throughout.  Side was cabbage salad. 

More good times with friends

Day 22

CAMPGROUND:  Chain O Lakes Illinois State Park
LOCATION:  Spring Grove, IL – right on Wisconsin border
WEATHER:  Summer-like!  High 90 and sunny

The highlight of today was meeting a couple that live on our street in Retama Village.  They live about 45 minutes from here, in Wisconsin, not far from Milwaukee.  We met in beautiful Lake Geneva, WI.  It is a tourist town, especially popular among Chicago residents.  It is a huge lake surrounded by beautiful old mansions. 

Betsy is a good friend and a fellow line-dancer and pickleball player while we are in Retama Village.  We had lunch at a wine bistro.  We lucked out and got a table on the deck facing the lake. 

George and I shared a tasty rice bowl with smoked salmon….

From there, Betsy and I  walked a bit around town, glancing at the cute boutiques and gift shops.  It is a bit ritzy here.  We  joined George and Galen at a brewery (of course!)  The brewery building  is a former church and has beautiful stained glass windows.

Back at the campground, George was eager to try out a fishing lure and use his new Illinois state fishing license.  I hiked back from the boat launch for some exercise.

DINNER:  George got a huge fire going in the stand-up grill and grilled porkchops.  For sides, I sauteed some cabbage with mushrooms and made some mashed potatoes.  A hearty, all-American dinner! 

Friends, firewood…..and ticks

Day 21

LOCATION:  Spring Grove, Illinois just north of Chicago’s NW suburbs
CAMPGROUND:  Chain O Lakes State Park.  Nice and woodsy.  No waterview sites.  Gravel, flat site with stand-up grill (for George), picnic table, and electricity.  Decent bathrooms.  $27/night.  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  A beauty!  Sunny.  High 79. Very windy
DISTANCE DRIVEN:  3 hours

We had a pretty quiet night at the Harvest Host winery in Dubuque.  We were near the port on the Mississippi, so heard trains all night – kind of comforting.

Our drive today was due east, and there was a very strong cross-wind from the south, making driving quite stressful.  We were on secondary roads, and passed a lot of huge farm equipment.  More stress.  We drove mostly in Wisconsin, so saw a lot of cows….:-) 

We will be here for 3 days.  The main reason we are here is that two sets of friends from Retama Village live nearby in the summers.   Theresa and Bill, our former neighbors in Texas,  recommended this campground.  They came by for drinks and snacks in the late afternoon.  They told us that there had been snow on the ground 2 weeks ago here.  We had had our mail and prescriptions sent to them, so it was like Christmas opening our packages. 

George went morel hunting and brought back a tick instead!    We went scavenging for firewood, and picked up a lot!

George made a great campfire, and we enjoying chatting around it.  (I forgot to take photos!!!)  😦

DINNER:  For appetizers, I served  “take & bake” asiago French bread with tapanade, shrimp cocktail, and summer sausage.  They brought a snack platter.  Therea is a great fisherwoman (?) and brought a snack assortment in a tackle box.  Cute! 

After snacking a lot with them, we weren’t too hungry.  I sauted some onion, jalapeno, and artichoke hearts, added some wine, and a bit of cream cheese.  At the end, I cooked very quickly a few shrimp.  I served it over pasta. 

Maid-rites! …..A Taste of Iowa

Day 20

CAMPGROUND:  Stone Cliff Winery, a Harvest Host site.  Large, paved parking lot so easy to park.  Quiet, even though it is in the city.  Winery has good wine and pizza.  5 stars out of 5.
LOCATION:  Dubuque, Iowa – on the Mississippi River
WEATHER:  Thunderstorms, then cloudy.  High 64
DISTANCE DRIVEN:  4 hours

We enjoyed our traditional Sunday morning breakfast with George’s bacon, eggs, and grits.  He jazzed it up today with our remaining morel.  Yum! 

Our plans to do some hiking this morning were dashed by fairly severe thunderstorms.  There were some real “boomers”.  It was interesting to see the almost-full campground vacate.  Since most of the campers are young, they have to leave early to get ready to go to work tomorrow.  Retirement is so much better!  There was a long line-up at the dump station. 

We left about noon in order to have lunch at an Iowa institution – Maid-Rite Cafe.  This is a small chain, only in Iowa,  featuring beef-burgers.  It is like regular hamburger but not in a patty.  They have a unique taste that I haven’t experienced in about 25 years.  Just one bite brought back fond memories!

We drove through the suburbs of Des Moines.  What urban sprawl!  What were cornfields just 2-3 years ago are now huge housing developments that go on and on.  Most are cookie cutter-type houses.  As we drove farther east and north, the landscape was all cornfields.  Some farmers were out prepping their land for planting.  When we pass through again in 3 months, the corn will be shoulder-high.

This is the second time we have been at this Harvest Host winery.  We knew that the parking and amenities would be good, so stopped again this trip.  There was a live band playing in the tasting room when we arrived.  It was a bit too loud, so we hung out in Joy until they quit. 

DINNER:  I tasted their cab and George had a local beer while our to-go pizza was being cooked.  Then, we took it back to Joy to eat in our cozy trailer. 

Checking out my roots!

Day 19

CAMPGROUND:  Cherry Glen Campground at Saylorville Lake Army Corps of Engineers.  Nice gravel sites with fire pit and picnic table.  Good bathrooms.  Some sites face lake.  Electricity.  $10/night.  4 stars out of 5
LOCATION:  Saylorville, Iowa – just outside Des Moines
WEATHER:  Beautiful!  Sunny.  High 74
DISTANCE DRIVEN:  60 miles

We had a surprisingly quiet night at the distillery, even though it is right off Interstate 35. 

For exercise this morning, we walked over to the nearby casino.  It is quite elaborate with an RV park, hotel, and restaurants.  We always joke that on TV, the ads for casinos show young, glamorous people dressed in evening gowns laughing while hitting the jackpots.  In reality, the customers, like today, are sickly looking 75+ year-olds, in walkers or wheelchairs, with  a cigarette hanging out of their mouths, and looking dismal. 

In any case, the casino is on a pretty lake and people were out fishing and the Canada geese were squawking.

We saw these cute little babies.

We only had about an hour’s drive today, so took several detours.  First we went to Truro, the town where I grew up.

Sadly, there is not much left to the town, but there are a lot of new houses with people who seek cheaper housing costs, commuting in to Des Moines for shopping and working. They don’t have anything to do with the town, other than supporting the local high school sports teams. 

From there, we drove through Winterset, home of “The Bridges of Madison County”.  Winterset seems to be hanging in there.  They have built a new John Wayne Museum as he was born here.  Winterset is the larger town, county seat, where I went often as a kid – movie theater, pharmacy with soda fountain, swimming lessons, piano lessons, doctor, dentist, etc. 

We drove past a lot of beautiful farms and housing developments.  Everyone was out mowing their grass/dandelions. 

We arrived at our park mid-afternoon, and the place is packed.  No surprise – the first beautiful weekend of the year.  Kids everywhere.  Only 1-2 vacant sites.  We took a walk around the campground. 

Then, it was Kentucky Derby time!  We sipped on mint juleps while we watched the spectators on TV in their lovely hats, and then the 2-minute race with a very surprising finish.

DINNER:  Salmon burgers.  George was disappointed that there was not a stand-up grill, but used the firepit instead.  I had made the burgers by combining salmon, egg, bread crumbs, and dill.  Side was a lettuce/avocado/tomato salad, and some Trader Joe’s spiced chickpeas. 

Meeting up with an old friend

Day 18

LOCATION:  Osceola, Iowa – in south central part of state
CAMPGROUND:  Revelton Distillery, a Harvest Host site.  Great level parking in their circular lot.  Beautiful setting and building.  Right off Interstate 35, but quiet.  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Cool and cloudy to start.  Scattered showers, then sunny and nice in afternoon.  High 65
DISTANCE DRIVEN:  4 hours

Since the weather was not great at Perry Lake, we left mid-morning.  We said good-bye to the hundreds of tree frogs that we have been listening to.  On our way out of the park, we passed by the same section of road where we had found the morels yesterday.  Sure enough, I spotted one more.  Yay!

We drove through northern Kansas, then northern Missouri, and entered in to Iowa, my home state.  The distillery is quite new and is quite striking…

After a tasting of some of their spirits, my friend Kay from high school joined us.  She does not live far away.  We chatted in the distillery’s beautifiul lounge, and then went out to the deck to enjoy the nice sunset. 

It was SO good seeing her again.  We generally only see each other every 5 years at high school reunions.  My hometown is only about 20 miles from here. 

DINNER:  After the distillery, we brought Kay back to the Airstream to see it and to have some appetizers.  They were a Trader Joe’s assortment – olive tapanade on a baguette and some artichoke hearts.  We ate so much that we skipped dinner. 

Morels!

Day 17

LOCATION:  Perry, Kansas – outside of Topeka
CAMPGROUND:  Rock Creek Campground at Perry Reservoir ACOE
WEATHER:  Overcast and cool.  High 61.  Rain in PM

We had a quiet morning, reading and doing stuff on the internet.  The weather was a bit warmer today and much less windy, so I took a 2-mile hike around the campground. 

Then, in the afternoon, before it started raining again, we took a 5-mile hike around some of the other sections of the reservoir area.  We saw some pretty flowers….wisteria?  lilacs?

When we were in a more wooded area, I said “This seems like morel season – cool and rainy”.  Then – eureka!!!!!  a morel mushroom appeared at my feet!!!!!! 

We excitedly collected a total of 5, and George picked some wild onions. 

George built a campfire with wet wood left from the previous campers.  He is a genius with fire-making.  We had my “world-famous” margaritas to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

DINNER:  Appetizer was morels sauted in butter.    Yum, yum!  They bring back childhood memories of my father picking loads of them, then frying them up to accompany a steak. 
Continuing with the 5 de Mayo theme, I made a casserole with tortillas, hamburgers marinated in fajita sauce, red onions, and cheese.  I topped it with tortilla chip crumbs.  It turned out muy delicioso. 

BOOK:  “Home” by Harlan Coben.  He is an author who has been around awhile, writing mystery/thriller books.  This one was quite good.  I will see what other books of his I have not read.  4 stars out of 5

Unseasonably cool and rainy here…

Day 16

LOCATION:  Perry Lake Reservoir, near Topeka, Kansas
CAMPGROUND:  Perry Lake Army Corps of Engineers Campground.  Like most ACOE campgrounds, it is right on the water.  Our loop is on a peninsula so we have water in front of us and also behind us.  Nice level, gravel sites with water and electricity.  Old but clean bathrooms.  Firepit and picnic table.  With Senior Pass, $9/night.  4 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Miserable.  Cold and windy with rain all day.  High 53
DISTANCE DRIVEN:  1/2 hour

We had a peaceful overnight last night at Z&M Twisted Wines.  This morning, a school bus arrived bringing a group of FFA (Future Farmers of America) high school students who were there to help with new vine planting.  George went out to check it out.  He said it was a bit chaotic.

We only had a 1/2 hour to this campground, but we made a detour into Topeka to fill one of our propane tanks and to buy a few groceries. 

It was cloudy all morning, but just after we did our shopping, the skies opened to a dowpour.  We made it to the campground, and between showers, were able to set up. 

The afternoon was spent reading and watching a movie on a DVD.  I did take a short walk when the wind died down a bit.  Not very pleasant.  Everyone is complaining about the weather.  Someone said that it has been the coldest and wettest spring in the Midwest in a century.

DINNER:  To some frozen leftover Indian rice, I added chicken and more curry.  Mango chutney on the side.  Side was avocado and tomato slices drizzled with balsamic vinegar. 

We have good TV reception here so enjoyed 3 nature shows on PBS after dinner. 

The Kansas Prairies

Day 15

LOCATION:  Lawrence, Kansas in NE part of state
CAMPGROUND:  Z&M Twisted Vines and Winery, through Harvest Hosts.  Easy parking on gravel driveway.  Nice tasting room.  Super sweet owner/wine pourer.  Porta-potties (yay!)  3 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Mostly cloudy, some sun.  High 57
DISTANCE DRIVEN:  3 hours

The rain did not return to Marion Reservoir where we stayed last night.  The wind also died down.  After a slow, relaxed morning, we took a nice hike around the campground.  The sun even popped out for a few minutes. This has been a very pretty campground – Army Corps of Engineers parks rarely disappoint.

An easy drive here through the National Tall Grass Prairie Reserve and Flint Hills National Wildlife Area.

We got settled in at the winery about 4:00 and chatted with the really nice owner.  She is from Italy, so I picked her brain about best places to visit.  Our daughter Alexis and I want to spend a few weeks there next fall.  The owner convinced me that Sicily is the place to go.   The wines were just so-so, but we  bought a bottle to support the winery. 

Another Harvest Host couple arrived and we talked with them a bit.  They had had a terrible day yesterday battling the wind and rain, driving in New Mexico and Oklahoma.  They are both travelling RNs and just finished up 6 months working in Phoenix.  They were thrilled to have been able to work at Mayo, my former employer.  They had only glowing things to say about nursing there.

DINNER:  We bought an Italian deli sandwich from the winery. 

BOOK:  “The Mercedes Coffin” by Faye Kellerman.  This is part of a series about a policeman and his very conservative Jewish wife.  3 stars out of 5