Pat and Dave’s Eastern Escapade – PART 4: Back in the US of A

This is the final installment of our Eastern Escapade, having concluded Part 3 with our final stop in Canada on September 23, a delightful visit with my sister and brother-in-law. So, as suggested by the title, we crossed the border while that classic Beatles tune played in my head: “Back in the US, back in the US, back in the US of A!!!!” (I know that’s not really how the song went, but the USSR doesn’t exist anymore, and I certainly would not be singing about it if we were going there, especially as Vladimir Putin continues to revert to the old authoritarian ways. At least his best US buddy is gone for now …) But enough of that. Let’s get on with the Escapade, shall we?

Sep 24 (Friday): We left my sister’s place under cloudy skies and encountered a few sprinkles as we drove toward the border crossing at Sarnia, Ontario. As I approached the border, I came to a closed gate-arm and a booth occupied by a man in a uniform. I rolled down the window and extended my hand, holding my Minnesota Enhanced Drivers License to prove I was a US citizen worthy of re-admittance. I was met by a blank stare, before he said, “I don’t need that, just the toll, please.” Silly me, we were still in Canada, yet to traverse the massive Blue Water Bridge across the St. Clair River. I sheepishly dug out my credit card and tapped the card reader, trying to act as if I’d known all along that this was a toll booth and not the border, then trundled off again after the gate arm rose. Once on the bridge, I recognized the scene, since we had crossed this same bridge and entered the US once before, back in June of 2018. (That was when we made our first extended trip with the RV, a journey around Lake Superior with a side trip to my sister’s place.) As I recall, in 2018 there were five or more lanes in use, with backups of dozens of cars and trucks in each lane, and the process took something like 30 or 45 minutes. This time, I drove right up to the border agent manning the only open lane, handed him my license (yes, this time that was the proper procedure), answered two questions, and was on my way in less than a minute. Pat later told me she didn’t even need her license when she pulled up directly behind me; the agent just looked at the computer, asked one question, and waved her through. At least there has been one small benefit from the Covid travel restrictions.

After clearing the border, we stopped at a Tesla Supercharger in Port Huron, MI, a 10-minute drive from the border crossing, where we ate lunch in the RV as it charged up for 20 minutes. We then drove to Holly, MI, to the Holly Recreation Area, a lovely state park where we had stayed back in 2018 as well. We took a brief stroll around the campground before dinner, then listed to the raindrops as we were inundated yet again overnight. At least the rain tapered off to a light drizzle by morning.

Our site at the Holly Recreation Srea

Sep 25 (Saturday): On Saturday morning, we left the campground in the continuing drizzle and headed north to the Tiki RV Park in St. Ignace, MI. We had booked a two-night stay at this park due to its proximity to the Mackinac Island ferry terminals – we planned to ride over with our bikes on Sunday morning and spend the day exploring the island. When we arrived at the RV Park, however, it didn’t exactly fit with our preconceived notions. The office was closed early, but we did find paperwork in a waterproof box confirming our reservation, including the first night’s deposit and a request that we return in the morning to pay for the second night. We then followed the instructions to drive along a rutted, very bumpy dirt road to our campsite, passing dozens of occupied sites along the way, many of which had one or more 4-wheel ATVs parked alongside the RVs. Once we were settled in, surrounded by an almost continuous roar of ATV engines coming and going past our site, I eagerly took the bikes off the rack and plugged them in, to assure we would have a full charge for our day at Mackinac. Then I sat down to study the ferry schedules and discovered to my chagrin that Mackinac Island bans electric bikes! So much for our great plan. Oh well, we thought, we can still go over there and rent bikes on Sunday. So, I set about re-stowing the bikes on the RV rack. No sooner had I finished tying the rain cover over the bikes when the skies opened and rain began to fall in torrents … yet again. As I grumped away in the RV, I noticed that the loud buzzing of ATVs had diminished somewhat but was now joined by the sounds of loud partying a couple of sites to our east. So poisoned have we become by the divisive atmosphere in our country since 2016 that my only thought was: “Here we sit, surrounded by rowdy yahoos spoiling any enjoyment we might have hoped for. They’re all probably Trump supporters.” I’m not proud of such prejudicial musing, but that’s the way I felt.

Sep 26 (Sunday): By morning, we’d had enough. It was still overcast and drizzly, ATVs were still roaring around, and the promised Wi-Fi did not work at all. Having agreed it would be best for our mental health to just leave, we reserved a spot at a nearby state park that held greater promise. I went to the office to tell them our plans had changed, and they graciously agreed to waive the fee for another night. As we drove off, I realized I hadn’t taken a single picture in St. Ignace, not even of our RV site. I suppose that says it all. But we were soon out of the city and having a pleasant drive along a lovely, forested highway on the north side of Lake Michigan, and within an hour or so we had arrived at the Indian Lake State Park near Manistique, MI. We had a very nice site next to the lake for which the park is named, and the sky had even cleared up by the time we were settled in. We took a nice 2-mile walk along a trail that circled the campground, first along the lakeshore and then through the woods and next to a small creek.

Our site at Indian Lake State Park
View from our campsite
Hiking Trail at Indian Lake State Park
This mushroom reminded me of a game that I used to play …

As evening approached, I realized we would probably get to see a nice sunset, so went out to sit by the lake with my trusty camera. (It’s actually just my Samsung Galaxy smartphone, but that’s the modern world, right?) I was rewarded by this beautiful display put on by Mother Nature:

Sunset at Indian Lake

The pleasant day and restful night erased the frustrations of our stay in St. Ignace, to the point that I can’t really remember much about that lousy day. Wait, now which day was I talking about?

Sep 27- (Monday): On Monday morning, we headed off for our next stop, the Pioneer Trail Campground in Gladstone, MI, where we had a lovely site overlooking the Escanaba River.

Our Site at Pioneer Trail Campground

Once we were set up, it was time for another personal visit, this time with a longtime friend of Pat’s named Holly, who lives in the adjacent city of Escanaba, MI. (Does she spend her time “in da Moonlight,” you may ask? I’m going to have to watch that movie, assuming I can stomach some Jeff Daniels slapstick, to see if I recognize any of the locations.) Holly is a very talented artist and seamstress (to use an old-fashioned phrase), and about 5 years ago, Pat had promised to give her a sewing machine she no longer uses. So, we had been lugging that machine in the back of the Tesla, including a fairly large cabinet that rattled around with every bump and turn, for some 4,500 miles since departing from Grand Marais on August 24. As a result, the first thing I did when we pulled into Holly’s driveway was to wrestle that cabinet out of the car, and the three of us had to set up the machine in her basement before any serious visiting was allowed. Once that was done, we had a great time catching up on the years since we last met, and Holly fixed us a delicious dinner (including absolutely the best meatloaf I have ever had in my life). We also got to meet her dog and cat, who were probably glad to see us leave after several hours. As we drove off at dusk, it was eerily quiet in the Tesla, which brought smiles to our faces.

Three amigos in Escanaba (not in da Moonlight yet)

Sep 28- (Tuesday): The next morning, we drove to the Union Bay Campground in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, another place we had stayed during our Lake Superior circumnavigation back in 2018. Our site was right next to Lake Superior, only a short walk away on a stony path through the trees.

Our site at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Path to Lake Superior from our campsite
View of Lake Superior while relaxing

We were thrilled to have our third consecutive rain-free day, which we spent primarily relaxing by the shore. We retired early so we could get up and watch the sunrise in the morning, which was glorious.

Sunrise in the “back yard” at our Porcupine Mountain Wilderness campsite

Let’s see now, Manistique: sunset … Lake Superior: sunrise … I can hear Tevye singing in my head just to think of it: “Sunset, sunrise,” or something like that …

Sep 29-30 (Wednesday-Thursday): Our original plan for the next few days was to camp near Bayfield, WI, and take the ferry to Madeleine Island for some biking. However, we had not been able to find a single campground in the vicinity with vacancy during this time period. So, we decided to head back toward home a bit earlier than intended. Plan B ended up as a two-night stay at St. Croix State Park near Hinckley, MN. We learned that St. Croix (33,985 acres) is the largest state park in Minnesota, and it certainly felt big as we drove for about 5 miles from the entrance sign to the park office. We found the campground to be only about 30% occupied, and we had a large, partly shaded site. We took a short hike along a trail near the campground, then spent much of Wednesday afternoon sorting through everything in the RV and storing as much of it as possible in the Tesla. On Thursday morning, we went on a 5-mile ride along an excellent bike path that wound through a diverse landscape of forest and prairie land, passing by structures built by CCC workers in the 1930s.

Our site at St. Croix State Park
Bike Trail at St. Croix State Park
Chimney of the CCC Recreation Hall

After some more sorting and packing, I drove around the park on tree-lined, gravel roads to visit sites of interest, including the St. Croix boat landing, the Kettle River, and a very impressive, 100-ft tall fire tower built in 1937. I was surprised to see that the tower was open to the public, so I had to climb the 134 steps and enjoy a spectacular view from above the trees. Perhaps the most amazing thing of all was that we had two more days without rain, for the longest run of dry weather since we started the Escapade.

Typical forest road at St. Croix State Park
Kettle River Overlook at St. Croix State Park
St. Croix River channel near the boat landing
Fire tower built by CCC in 1937, with 134 steps to the top
View from the fire tower

Oct 1- (Friday): On Friday, we put the bike rack on the Tesla and stowed the bikes, jammed a few more items in the car, and headed off to Lake Region RVs in Ramsey, MN, the place where we bought the RV back in April of 2018. It was overcast as we packed up to go, and, fittingly, it started to rain cats and dogs during the drive. Mercifully, the rain stopped before we arrived, allowing us to deliver our beloved machine without getting soaked. But why were we delivering it to the dealer, anyway? I’ll explain all that in a future post.

So, we have successfully concluded Pat and Dave’s Eastern Escapade. Here’s a map of the journey, which amounted to a total of 4,880 miles during the five weeks and two days since departing the condo on August 25.

I hope you have enjoyed my little chronicle, and maybe you’ll enjoy reading about our future travels as well. Good day for now!

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