Backroads Across America: Stuff It, Chicago!

FullSizeRenderIMG_0469Finally, we are warm and dry, after a wild, wet, windy ride through the Chicago area. Illinois became the second state (the other was Mississippi) that we drove through without spending the night. We started the day in northwestern Indiana, in the eastern time zone. We soon gained an hour; Indiana’s northwest corner is in the central zone.

Our drive around Chicago took its toll, in more ways than one. Six times we had to pull off the road to pay a $3.60 toll. As an armchair quarterback, I hereby proclaim, “Take these quarters and stuff them!” to Chicago. It will be a lifetime before I return to this place. Our son Chris warned us too.

I know, I know, it is such a great city. Well, you can have it!

By early evening, we arrived in Dubuque, Iowa, a much more welcoming progressive bastion on the Mississippi River, a stone’s throw from Wisconsin and Illinois.

After a hair-raising, 300-mile drive, I had Canadian Club in a bar. Sue enjoyed a glass of wine. Tasty Greek salads followed.

Then we took a short walk to our hotel room. Yep, we decided not to battle the 40s, rain and wind, to set up the trailer. I have to admit, the full-water-pressure shower was great. The king bed is not bad either.

Tomorrow? We will return to the backroads and our beloved wee trailer!

 

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Backroads Across America: RV Capital of the World

 

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Our wrong-turn destination has yielded another welcome surprise: Elkhart, Indiana is the recreational vehicle capital of the world. More than 80 percent of global RV production is based in this area, we have read.

Plus, it is home to the RV/Motor Home Hall of Fame Museum. That’s where we headed today, after a morning visit to a huge RV show next door.

Many of the features in modern RVs have been around for many decades, we could see. They were heavier and lacked the wide-screen TVs, but had the warmth and charm of yesteryear.

Above are a few of the treasures we found during our most enjoyable afternoon tour. The 1931 Model AA Tennessee Traveler has yellow pine floors and oak and yellow poplar cabinetry.  See the 1946 Teardrop? It was pulled by a 1930 Model A. Can you find the motor home built atop a Cadillac?

I am standing in the first Fleetwood trailer, a 1950 Sporter. The interior shot with tourquoise seats is a 1937 Hayes motor home, which featured a steel body and roof. Can you say heavy?

The weather may have threatened all day here today. But, we were warmed by the thought that yesterday’s craftmanship and charm are being preserved, right here in Indiana!

 

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Backroads Across America: A Taste of Our Country

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Until Thursday, northwest Indiana was not on our itinerary. A fortuitous detour delivered us here and today was one of the most rewarding days of our journey, now in its seventh week.

“This feels like America,” we concluded several times. Rolling hills with farm after farm, neatly kept. White farm houses, porches screaming for an afternoon nap. A simple, but hard-working life.

We criss-crossed the Heritage Trail in Amish country. Indiana is home to more than 50,000 Amish, putting it close behind Pennsylvania and Ohio in Amish population. Horse-drawn buggies speedily clipped-clopped everywhere. Several pulled into a farm where many bicycles and no cars were parked. Many in traditional Amish dress milled about. Children ran and played. “A wedding?” Sue wondered.

We had a delicious lunch at an Amish restaurant, then watched a woman hold one of her many grandchildren while working at her loom, weaving rugs. All made out of fabric from recreational vehicles, she told us.

We walked around neighborhoods in Goshen that were lined with huge trees and century-plus-old homes. A dome topped the town’s original courthouse. An Amish buggy traveled down the main street. We perused an old bag factory now filled with shops and a cafe.

A wonderful day in the neighborhood!

 

 

 

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Backroads Across America: Going With the Flow

All of a sudden the ill winds are flowing all around us.  The threat of extreme weather has blocked much of our westward path…and northward and southward paths too!  We intended to take the better part of a week driving around the coast of Michigan and continuing into Wisconsin, taking in the sights along the banks of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.  


Predictions of snow to the north, flooding to the south and rainy, windy thunderstorms to the west had us rethinking our route.  Shifting our minds (and our truck) westward towards Chicago, we discovered a great little local lunch hangout in Ligonier, Indiana.  All was not lost!  Four and a half out of five stars on my Google map app.  The fish really was as good as advertised!

 But then, Google maps let me down, directing us to a “closed for the season” RV park over an hour from where we were supposed to be!  How could that happen?  Surely it couldn’t have been operator error?


But this trip is all about “going with the flow,” so after a few tense miles, we ended up at the Last Resort RV Park.  Really, that is the name (I wouldn’t make it up) and it was sort of our last resort today.


A staff member checked us in and told us we could take whichever site looked good…but warned us away from #72 where the male and female geese were nesting with their little ones. Apparently, he can be a tad bit aggressive.  No problem…we’ll go with the flow!

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Backroads Across America:  A Good Day for a Walk in the Park


Just a few miles outside of Charleston, West Virginia lies Kanawha State Forest Park encompassing over 9,000 acres of recreational land and facilities.

Development of the park began in 1938 when the Civilian Conservation Corps established Camp Kanawha and began cleaning up and improving the area.  Work continued until 1942 when World War II began and the camp was closed.

Hiking trails, picnic sites and shelters, numerous playgrounds and 45 campsites are available for all who want to leave the city behind.



The area is also known as a wildflower haven, with 574 species sprinkled throughout the landscape. We saw quite a few in bloom today as we wandered along the nature trail.  As it turned out, today was a great day for a walk in the park.

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Backroads Across America: On the Banks of the Kanawha

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Another day of clouds and drizzle sent us to downtown Charleston to explore West Virginia’s capital city.  After a leisurely cup of coffee in a downtown coffee/bookstore, we wandered along a walkway that follows the Kanawha (Ka-naw) River, which flows through the city.

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Charleston’s present state capitol took eight years to complete, with work beginning in 1924.  The 23-karat gold leaf dome soars 293 feet, making it the tallest of any state capitol dome in the United States.  The capitol is open to the public and the staff couldn’t have been more welcoming.  After a quick security check, we were handed a lengthy history of the capitol and urged to “make ourselves at home.”

The governor’s mansion is also located on the Capitol Complex grounds, perched on a grassy rise with a view of the river below.  Not quite as welcoming, it sat behind locked gates, so we had to be content to peer through the fence.

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Backroads Across America: Big Plusses to Going Small

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Notes from the backroads, week six

We have continued pull one of the smallest trailers, often less than half the size of other RVs. Even after all this time, we feel we have everything we need and we have not even come close to strangling each other.

There are advantages to going small:

–We can fit in virtually any campsite. We don’t require pull-throughs. Plus, back-in sites give me a chance to entertain other campers when I try to avoid backing into Sue as she signals directions.
–We don’t need a full-size pickup truck.
–We are more mobile in urban areas and parking is easier.
–We have less floor to clean.
–Drivers of huge pickups love asking me “So, how does that Tacoma tow a trailer?” I am tempted to answer, “You know, size can be deceiving.” (I would love to hear other suggestions.)
–Our RV storage cost is lower and our pickup and trailer cost less than the monsters.
–We are forced to bring less stuff.
–We have no room to bring along other people or dogs.

Speaking of dogs, it seems like everyone brings dog(s) in their RV. Often multiple dogs. We have seen up to four. Most are well-behaved. (Dogs, that is).

Pet peeves. Barking dogs, cigarette smoke from neighbors, people who share their music and TV with the campground (many RVs have outdoor televisions.). Park staff who use all the washing machines. Luckily, these have been rare happenings on this trip.

Roughing it?

RVers have come to expect the amenities of a fancy resort. We have stayed at many parks with swimming pools. One had a bowling alley. Two had cafes and offered food delivery to your RV. Many pick up your trash. RV and truck washing can be arranged.

RVers also expect laundry rooms and will quickly complain if the wi-fi signal is weak. Putt-putt golf. Fishing ponds and boat rentals. Convenience stores. Propane service. Walking trails. Cable TV, even HD. Table and chairs, with a grill. Dog-walking parks. Playgrounds. Bike rentals. Horseshoes.

Our place in Tucson had a pub. So far, no parks offered happy hour. One did prohibit alcohol. Good luck with that!

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Backroads Across America: BBQ, Board Games and Breakfast

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s been a whirlwind of a weekend since arriving in Charleston, West Virginia.  Chris and Gail enjoyed a mini vacation when they spent Saturday night in a cabin at our campground.  We enjoyed having them “right down the street,” if only for one night.  After a barbecued steak dinner at the cabin, followed by two highly competitive rounds of our dice game Yamslam, Reg and I headed back to our trailer to rest up for the Sunday breakfast we were hosting.

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Chris has been working at Gritt’s Midway Greenhouse for the last year, and today he gave us a tour of the company’s retail store and 20+ greenhouses.  We weren’t quite prepared for the scale and quality of this family operation.

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A kaleidoscope of colors and textures greeted us as we wandered through most of the six acres of production greenhouses.  We saw flowers, vegetable plants, house plants and potted blooming plants, all grown and nurtured to supply Gritt’s retail and wholesale operation.

 

 

 

As amazing as all of that was, the greenhouse where the tomatoes grow surprised us most of all.

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We were fascinated with the 1.5 acre hydroponic tomato operation.  These are vine ripened tomatoes and the plants produce continually except for the months of December and January.

We were tempted to sneak a couple for our dinner!

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Backroads Across America: Scenic Drive Yields Surprises

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After an hour or so of monotonous interstate driving from southwestern Virginia, we veered northeast toward Highway 60, which follows the Kanawha River in West Virginia. It climbed and twisted along the narrow, rocky river gorge. We had to wait for a wide spot (yep, next to a Family Dollar Store) at a reservoir to take a photo.

Our destination was Charleston, where we are visiting our son Chris and his girlfriend Gail.

It was a beautiful drive, a challenge with the trailer, but as backroads often do, it revealed a surprise: Coal. Our scenic drive book didn’t mention it, but the last section leading to Charleston featured several large coal and chemical plants. It was busy and the surrounding communities looked like thriving company towns.

The valley has been an industrial region since the mid-1800s and the Kanawha River feeds the Ohio River. Daniel Boone and Booker T. Washington spent time in the area.

We paused for a bit of southern culture at a cafe next to a coal plant, where the luncheon buffet featured mashed potatoes that may have had more butter than potato. Delicious! The servers must have liked us, because they called us “Darlin’.”

The state capitol dome dominated the Charleston skyline, but we had to keep going about 30 miles westward to our KOA campground in Milton, where we are staying for five nights. There are other RVs here, although they did not show in Sue’s photos.

 

 

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Backroads Across America: Squeezing in Our Campground

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We’re spending the night in southern Virginia where spring is just beginning to show its colors.  Our campsite was surrounded by trees, but there was barely a leaf to be seen.  It looked quite winter-like.

A good night for what Reg calls “Comfort Food.”

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Although he rolled his eyes when I dropped this in our grocery cart the other day, we thoroughly enjoyed our Deluxe Kraft Macaroni & Cheese dinner, incredibly easy to make with the enclosed packet of squeeze cheese!

And what better way to dine on this gourmet delight than from good old fashioned TV trays!  Bon Appétit!

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