October in Michigan

We spent the first few weeks of October visiting home. We attended birthday parties, a wedding, a funeral, and met a newborn baby. We did the most Michigan thing we could do in the fall, which is visit a cider mill. We also stopped at Shatila, a Middle Eastern bakery in Dearborn, for treats. Add in a migraine for me and a kidney stone for Brian, and it was an eventful few weeks.

We stayed at Brighton Rec Area again, and they make a big deal of Halloween! There were events every weekend in October. The first Saturday we were not at the campground during trick or treating, but we were the second Saturday. Unfortunately it rained all day! I passed out candy to a lot of soggy trick or treaters. 

We stayed in Michigan a little longer than we expected to, and struggled to plan where to go next. Fall is tough because we like to see colorful leaves, but the timing is hard to predict and it isn’t easy to find updates on fall colors in other places. 

Brian wanted to visit the west side of Michigan to fish, while the salmon are in the rivers. It wasn’t my first choice, because it wasn’t on the way to some of the other places we were talking about visiting. I like to plan a whole route of stops at a time. But since I do most of the planning, it’s only fair to let Brian pick something now and then. 

We stayed at Riverside Park in Scottville, Michigan. The campground is on the Pere Marquette river, and Brian fished there a few times.

On the only nice day we had there, we went to Ludington and walked out on the breakwater to the lighthouse. It was windy, and Lake Michigan was pretty rough. When we got to the lighthouse, we went right to the edge and a big wave came and soaked our feet and ankles!

Then it rained for three days straight! Brian fished some in the rain, even driving an hour to Tippy Dam. He said at the dam he saw a lot of fish, but they didn’t seem to be hungry. So after a couple days of rain, we headed south and eventually drove out of the rain.

Day 390 | Mile 42,304

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One year on the road!

We’ve been living in our Airstream home and traveling for a year! It’s hard to believe, because it went by really fast. We probably traveled as much in a year as we would have in ten years if we hadn’t done this. It’s been a great opportunity to see the country. We’ve visited places that I never knew existed before we started this trip. 

It’s amazing how much biologically diversity is in the U.S. This year we were in forest, tropics, bayou, desert, red rock canyon, mountains, and prairie, and we only saw a small amount of what is out there. We’ve also been able to visit friends and family across the country, and had them visit us at the trailer, too.

To celebrate, here are some statistics!

  • Total Miles Traveled: 40,100
  • Miles Towing: 19,389
  • Places Visited: 41
  • States Visited: 20
  • National Parks Visited: 19
  • National Monuments Visited: 9
  • State Parks Visited: 14
  • Campfires: 45
  • Airstreams Spotted: 234
  • Nights of Paid Camping: 265 (73%)
  • Average Cost per Paid Night: $31
  • Nights of Boondocking: 52 (14%)
  • Nights Moochdocking: 31 (8%)
  • Nights at Walmart: 17 (5%)
  • Nights in Michigan: 116 (32%)
  • Truck Repairs: 9 (Timing Chain, New Engine, Turbo Charger Repairs x 3, Brake Pad Failure, Flat Tire/New Tires, Loose Starter Wires, Throttle Body)
  • Airstream Repairs: 4 (Flooring, Propane Detector, Furnace, Water Heater)
  • Airstream Improvements: 5 (Soap Dispenser, Solar Panel, Power Jack, New Batteries, Shelves)

When we started, I didn’t really know what to expect. At first I was nervous to tell people our plan, what would they think?! After we told everyone, I realized that was a pretty silly concern. Most people were excited for us.

After that I was still nervous to bring it up to strangers, and I didn’t want to talk about how long we were going to travel for. Because, what if we didn’t continue that long? Would that be failing? What if we didn’t like it?

The first surprise I had was how easy it was to adjust to living in a trailer. The process of downsizing and moving was a pain, but once we were in the trailer, it felt pretty normal. I think it’s because the trailer became home really quickly, and when we are inside, it’s actually pretty easy to forget what’s outside. Unless it’s really windy or rainy, which is loud in a trailer! 

Living in less than 200 square feet of space hasn’t been too hard either. Brian and I have survived the year without killing each other, though we’ve occasionally wanted too. Fighting in a small space is harder because there’s no where to get away from each other! 

The trailer can get cluttered easily, and feel claustrophobic when it is, but it also is fast to clean up. Still, sometimes (not often!) it looks like this.

In the first few months I struggled with whether of not we were doing it “right”. I wondered if we were going home too much, and I wasn’t sure if we were traveling too fast or too slow. Especially when the truck broke down and we were stuck in Michigan for two months. 

We ended up being in Michigan for about a third of the year. That’s more than I planned, but there were things going on with friends and family that we didn’t want to miss. Everyone in Michigan that thought they were getting rid of us for awhile was mistaken. In fact, we are starting Year 2 with a couple weeks in Michigan.

Maybe in month 4 or so, I started to get comfortable with the fact that there isn’t really a right or wrong way to do this. There are a lot of people doing it, and everyone is different. A lot of people that live in trailers full-time don’t even have a home base, and many are working too, so they might travel slower than we do. 

I’ve been accused (mostly by Brian) of sugar-coating the blog. There have been things that have been upsetting on the trip (like all the truck troubles), but overall it’s hard to complain about our lives right now. I do occasionally censor the blog to avoid embarrassment. In the early days of not knowing what we were doing, we foolishly had confidence in our trailer’s cabinets to stay closed while traveling. One cabinet in particular did not cooperate. Over time, we learned to not store heavy things in it, Brian tightened the latch, and then built a slide-out shelf in it, so fortunately it’s been awhile since we’ve had a “clean up on aisle 5!”. 

We definitely don’t have it all figured out yet, but I no longer feel very uncomfortable with that. For instance on our way into the Upper Peninsula, we had our first driving-related mishap. It was dark, and Brian cut a turn a little too sharply and drove the trailer through a ditch. At first we thought we escaped with no damage, but it turned out that we bent a stabilizer jack beyond repair! I feel pretty zen about needing to get this repaired, and don’t feel like it’s a condemnation of us or how we are doing. 

There are things I miss since moving into the trailer. Aside from family and friends, I miss having a dishwasher and a normal bathroom. We have a sink, toilet, and shower, but we don’t poop in our toilet. Maybe that sounds strange (and I’m sure lots of other people do), but we dump our tanks about once a week, who wants to have a bunch of poop stored in a tank? Also, since the trailer in so small, it would kind of be like pooping in our kitchen, living room, and bedroom. So, we’ve gotten really good at using public bathrooms. A new pet peeve is motion-sensored things (toilet flush, soap dispensers, paper-towel dispensers, and hand dryers), that don’t work! Another consequence of this is that we talk about poop way more than we used to. 

I don’t miss working per se, though I do miss having a routine. I think Brian misses working but adamantly refuses to admit it. I especially don’t miss rush hour or business casual clothes. 

Never having famialarity with the area we are in probably affects us less than many other people, because our sense of direction is so bad that we use GPS no matter where we are, even at home! Sometimes we miss having a good, reliable grocery store closeby. But, the trade-off is that we find interesting new things to buy at the grocery stores we go to. It’s fun to find regional products, like cajun ingredients in New Orleans, and green chiles in New Mexico.

Laundromats have not been too bad. It can be annoying that they are all different, and don’t always clearly explain how the machines work, but it’s really nice to be able to do all our laundry at once. Three loads of laundry is everything we have with us. 

We were surprised at how much we enjoy National Parks and Monuments. I expected to visit National Parks as well as cities and State Parks, but National Parks have been our favorite destinations. They are generally very beautiful and unique, with great history and wildlife, and so easy to visit. We can basically just show up, and learn what there is to do and how to do it when we get there. Our favorite city visit so far has been New Orleans, which has amazing food and a unique culture, but visiting was a lot of effort! We had to figure out on our own how to best spend our time to get a good understanding of the city, and figure out traffic and parking and stuff. Cities are also expensive and we tend to eat and drink a lot! Since we are visiting so many places back-to-back without a lot of time to plan, National Parks have made it really easy for us. 

We have gained a huge appreciation for the National Park Service and conservation efforts in America. We often talk about what the park land would be like if it weren’t protected. The National Parks are an amazing asset for all Americans. 

Toll roads are especially annoying for us now. Many areas don’t have toll booths anymore! There’s no way to pay for them on the spot. We could get a transponder or open an account and pre-fund it, but there are different toll agencies in each state/area/or even road. We’ve done this when we can, but it’s a pain, and then we have to request a refund of unspent account balance. When this hasn’t been possible (because it isn’t available, or we don’t know about the tolls far enough in advance), they send a bill (which includes additional administrative fees) to the address we use (Brian’s parents address). If we don’t get the bill for awhile, we pay a late fee too. It’s pretty frustrating! 

When I look back through everywhere we have been in the past year, it feels a bit like a blur. We have been traveling pretty fast, which has advantages and disadvantages. We have seen so much, and never feel too sad leaving a place because we know we are heading somewhere new and exciting. But, we kind of shed each place as we leave it too, to make room for the new places. We haven’t been taking a lot of time to plan ahead or to reminisce, so I suppose it is forcing me to live more in the moment, which I am not always good at. 

We are hoping to continue traveling for another year. In year 2, I’d like to travel slower and take more time at each stop. This would let us have more time to persue other hobbies rather than just travel, and also to enjoy each place without feeling so “go go go!”. It will be hard to slow down, when there is so much out there! 

We would also like to get better at meeting people. The few people we have met in the last year have been really fun. We thought it would be easier to meet people while traveling, but honestly we haven’t been making much effort. I think that’s partly because we are traveling fast, and haven’t always wanted to be flexible and take time to meet people.

In the next year, we’d also like to make it to Alaska, and that will definitely take some planning. 

Before we left, I was really nervous about how everything would be, and for me the only way to get over that was to do it. Now, we are a year in, and it has really been great. I’m amazed at everything we have been able to see and do. This has been an unforgettable experience, and I’m very grateful for it! 

Keweenaw Peninsula

The Keweenaw Peninsula is the upper tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Even though the Upper Peninsula is technically Michigan, I had never visited because it is really far away. Brian’s grandma grew up in the Keweenaw Peninsula, and his great-great-granddad was a copper miner that lost three fingers mining.  Brian celebrates his Yooper heritage. 

It took a couple days to drive from North Dakota to the Keweenaw Peninsula, and we made a few stops on the way. While we were driving through Minnesota, we found a giant statue of Paul Bunyan, and Brian just happened to be wearing a matching shirt! 

We stopped at the first place we passed that advertised smoked fish, which was in Wisconsin. It was a gas station/convenience store, and we bought smoked trout, smoked salmon, and cheese curds, and didn’t regret it. 

While we were in the Wisconsin north woods we stopped at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. A lot of the things to see and do are in the islands, and we didn’t take the time to leave the mainland, but we did take a hike on the Myers Beach Sea Cave Trail. We expected the hike to be along the lakeshore, but we were in the woods for most of it. Even when we were only feet from the cliff over Lake Superior, the trees were so thick we could barely see the lake! 

The first views of the sea caves were 1.8 miles in, we took the trail about 4.5 miles round trip. The viewpoints were a little treacherous, and there were signs saying not to go too close to the edge. Of course everyone is going to go to the edge though, it’s the only way to see the caves. 

The water filling and emptying from the caves made loud thumping drum noises. We were soaked in sweat when we finished because it was so humid.

The next stop was in Porcupine Mountains in Presque Isle State Park for a hike. We hiked to the mouth of the Presque Isle River  on Lake Superior. The rocks here were the best skipping stones. Brian is a much better rock skipper than I am, but I got a couple to skip. 

Then we hiked up the river to Manabezho Falls. I think we picked the wrong side of the river to hike, because our side was muddy and rocky, and the other side had a boardwalk! We did get a nice view of the falls though.

We were hoping for cooler weather and that the leaves had changed colors more, but no such luck. While we were in the UP we had every type of weather! From the hottest day of summer to rain to blustery.

We camped at the City of Hancock Recreation Area. It is on the Keweenaw Waterway, which separates the Keweenaw Peninsula from the rest of the Upper Peninsula. 

The Portage Lake Lift Bridge connects Houghton and Hancock, which are the fifth and eleventh most populated cities in the UP. That’s not saying much though, there are only about 311,000 people in the UP. It’s 30% of Michigan’s area and only 3% of the population. 

The first full day of our visit was Brian’s birthday. We spent it in downtown Houghton, which is the home of Michigan Technological University. We had breakfast at a restaurant called Suomi and then stopped in the downtown shops. In the early afternoon we found ourselves at Keweenaw Brewing Company. 

KBC is a popular meeting place, and I can see why with pints of beer for $2.75. We sat at the bar, and folks sitting nearby struck up conversations with us. I chatted with an interesting guy named Bill who is a retired fish biologist/mushroom hunter. Later his friend Stephen, who is a retired math professor/sea captain joined us. We had such a good time talking at the bar that they invited us over for dinner the next night! Brian cooked pasta and trout, Bill and his wife Marcia made a delicious salad, and Stephen and his son Dan provided beer and wine and strawberry shortcake made with local strawberries. They were great company! 

After two days of meeting interesting people, I was feeling like I finally understood why people go to Michigan Tech or move to the UP… then I remembered the snow. They get so much snow in the Keweenaw Peninsula that they have to shovel their roofs. They get about 20 feet of snow each year! 

There is a National Historical Park in the Keweenaw Peninsula made up of about 20 historic sites. We visited the visitors center in Calumet, and three of the historic sites, the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse, Quincy Mine, and the site of Italian Hall. 

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse is a working lighthouse built in 1871, that is also set up as a museum. We got there about a half hour before they closed, so we had just enough time to walk though it, and a couple of the other small museums on the property.  Brian liked seeing an old snow roller that came before plows. 

Quincy Mine is a copper mine that was active from 1846 and 1945. It was one of the three longest running and most successful copper mines in the area, out of hundreds of mines during the copper boom. 

The Quincy Number 2 mine shaft is over 9,000 feet long along a 55 degree angle following the copper deposit. This required the world’s largest steam powered hoist, to get the copper out of the mine, which was used from 1918 to 1929.

We took the full tour, which included a tour of the hoist house, and a tram ride down the hill to an entrance at the seventh level of the 92 level mine. Then we changed to a different tram and entered the mine through an entrance originally built for drainage and expanded in the 1970s by Michigan Tech students as part of their mining lab work. It was cold in the mine, about 43 degrees, which is why we went the day we did, since it was 88 degrees outside.

Inside the mine, we learned how much it truly sucked to be a copper miner.  Miners started in two-man teams with hammers and chisels by the light of candles. When technology advanced they first implemented pneumatic two-man drills, and then smaller one-man drills. 

To convey the mining experience, the tour guide turned off the lights and lit a candle, and then blew it out. He also turned on a drill so we could hear how loud it was. If being a driller wasn’t bad enough, being one of the guys that moved the rocks was even worse. Brian was the only one that tried to move the rock car. He got it to budge!

It was a great tour, and made us really happy to not be miners.

Italian Hall was a two-story meeting place that hosted community events. It was built in 1908 and demolished in 1984. The archway stands at the site, which has been made into a memorial park for the disaster that occurred in the Italian Hall in 1913. In the middle of a year-long miners strike, at a party on Christmas Eve, someone yelled “fire”, and 73 people, mostly children, died in the rush to escape the building.

We took a couple of scenic drives in the area. One was Brockway Mountain Drive, which gives a nice view from the top of a hill, and the other was a poorly maintained dirt road to the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. I think it was extra treacherous because it had recently rained. The giant mud puddles just made Brian happier. 

We took on a rigorous research project during our weeklong visit. Brian committed to eating at least one pasty each day to determine his favorite traditional UP pasty. It wasn’t easy, and I couldn’t keep up. Pasties are good, but they are filling. 

The culture in the Keweenaw Peninsula was greatly influenced by the Cornish and Finnish who migrated to the area to work in the copper mines, and the pasty came with the Cornish. The traditional pasty includes beef, potatos, rutabaga, and possibly carrot in a pie crust filling. 

After all this hard work, our favorite was from Krupp’s, which is an unassuming convenience store, and was also the first one we tried. They were all good though! At Connie’s we also tried a green pepper pasty that was basically a meatball in a pie crust, and Roy’s offered several non-traditional pasties including a turkey and stuffing pasty, a chicken and broccoli pasty, and a breakfast pasty. Suomi also offers a mini-pasty, which is a great idea.

We went to the rocky beaches of Lake Superior, and I admired the rocks while Brian fished. He caught a small trout, but not big enough to keep. Lake Superior is an amazing lake. It’s the largest, deepest, and coldest of the Great Lakes, with storms intense enough to sink ships. 

On our way out of the Upper Peninsula we crossed the Mackinac Bridge. Built in 1957, it’s a 5 mile suspension bridge. When it opened, the toll for a car to cross was $3.75 (nearly $30 in today’s dollars), because that was the cost to take the ferry. Today it is $4 for a car to cross. It was $8 for us since we have a few extra axles.

Our UP trip was great, but we will definitely need to go back. Our original plan was to see more of the UP, but we decided to spend extra time in the Keweenaw Peninsula and save the rest for another trip. The Keweenaw Peninsula has such an interesting history and culture, and there’s a lot to see and learn there.

Day 364| Mile 39,419