Before I begin, I need to tell you that this blog has only a couple of pictures in it, so sorry there's so much writing. I'm allowed to download only a certain number of pics each month on this site, and I just reached my quota for May! However, you can see all the pictures at my photosite at http://semitte.photosite.com. (I just posted 12 new pictures).
The Frozen Tundra
The morning we left Minnesota, it was a brisk 43 degrees. The day before, it got up to 85 in the afternoon; but within 3 hours, it fell to 52 -- a drop of 33 degrees in 3 hours! (A cold front came in). Of course, that morning at the campground, we saw campers outdoors fixing their breakfasts, dressed in hoods and parkas. But being the terminal west coasters that we are, we were out there in our shorts and flip-flops. I'm not sure which of us campers were crazier! Garrison Keilor refers to that north part of the country as "The Frozen Tundra", so that's been our affectionately-given nickname for it!
We rolled into Wisconsin, and it was beautiful. I've consistently been surprised every time we drive into another state that each one has its own personality and its own look. Wisconsin was no different.
The landscape consisted of rolling hills, with all kinds of small-diameter trees -- pines, cedars, birch, spruce, maple. It was beautiful! To add to that bucolic scene, everywhere you looked, there were farms and cows (it is the Dairy State, after all). The barns were all alike -- they sat on a stone foundation about 3-4 feet high. Then they were red, tall and rounded, with a little peak at the top. Then each barn was flanked with one, or two, or three silos. In any direction you looked, you saw several of these settings.
I had to laugh, though, thinking of those Wisconsin cows. I'm reminded of the commercials for California cheese -- the ones that advertise that they have happy cows. There was one commercial that showed the Wisconsin cows shivering in a blizzard, explaining that their cows were not happy cows. I couldn't look at the cows without imagining them shivering! (I know, I'm weird!).
As we drove through Wisconsin, I loved the names of some of the cities -- Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls, Altoona, Wausau, Menomonie. I found myself looking forward to seeing upcoming road signs.
By the way, also in Wisconsin they have the large, permanent fireworks stores. This seems so strange to me. I'm not sure about Oregon, but I know in California they put up little shacks, and are allowed to have them up and running for about 2 weeks. They're very strict about that. So to think about having year-round fireworks is a strange thing for me.
Random Road Report
I've been amazed at the rest stops in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. They're all very big and nice, with tourism information, nice and varied vending machines, and big clean restrooms.
We saw several advertisements (on signs or billboards) for used cars "with no rust". I thought that was funny until Mike explained to me that they put tons of salt on the roads every winter, and that salt flies up underneath the cars and rusts the metal. So these dealerships will go to the auto auctions in Arizona or someplace and bring back cars with no rust. I've never thought about anything like that.
I reported last time that we passed the road sign to Medford, Minnesota, and included that picture on my photosite. In this leg, we also passed Medford, Wisconsin, although I wasn't quick enough to snap a picture. I think that will be one of my past-times while I travel -- to see how many cities called Medford we can get near! ;-)
I saw several signs around Wausau advertising a ski area -- Rib Mountain. I thought, "Huh? Skiing in Wisconsin?" But when I looked it up, I found out that Rib Mountain is just 1900 feet high! I guess that's high and ski-worthy for Wisconsinites (is that what they're called?), but it's kinda hard to swallow for an Oregonian/Californian! Can you say "Bunny Hill"??
On the West Coast, I'm used to passing fields of alfalfa that is harvested and fed to the cows. Back here, they don't grow alfalfa, but clover. It's very green and grows to about 5-15 inches high. They still cut it and bale it, but it looks very different.
And now, here's what you've been waiting for -- the roadkill report. There have been a few raccoons, but probably over a dozen white-tailed deer. We never saw any in the trees, but we certainly saw plenty in the road (sad).
We finally made it across the state and drove into Green Bay. Of course, we saw Lambeau Field, the stadium of the renowned Packers! But what is amazing is the Green Bay area itself. Probably some of you long-time football fans may already know all this, but I didn't, so I'm going to assume that some of you don't either. The GB area has only about 100,000 in population, and it's totally out in the boonies, yet it supports a major NFL team, with a stadium that sits about 72,000. Think about a city you know that has only 100,000 people, and the ridiculousness of it all becomes clear. Also, the city itself owns the team and the stadium, etc. so that the community can enjoy this team into perpetuity. A lot of the city is very blue collar too, so I just imagined that these people saved some of their weekly pay all year long so they can go support those 8 home games each year. It's pretty mind-boggling!
The rest of GB was not necessarily too noteworthy. We went out to the bay, but it's kinda nasty and muddy and brown (not green at all!), not to mention that that day, it was about 45 degrees. The town next to GB, Ashwaubenon, was nicer -- it had some shopping and restaurants, etc.
In a couple of other states we had seen a store called ShopKo, and had wondered what it was. So when we saw one in Ashwaubenon, we decided we would go in. I had imagined by its name that it was kinda like a Winco (for those of you who don't live in the West, that's a discount, bag-your-own grocery chain). But actually, it was more like an upscale Fred Meyer (for those of you who don't live in the West, that's like a ShopKo) ;-) I actually bought 3 pair of very cute shorts that were on sale, of course. Oh, and ShopKo had fireworks in it too (althought I didn't buy any of those).
Up to the U.P.
From Green Bay, we decided to travel up and over Lake Michigan, through Michigan's Upper Peninsula (the "U.P." as the natives call it -- native Michigonians, not native Americans -- and what DO they call people from Michigan? Sorry, I digress).
Michigan quickly established its own personality as well. It was very beautiful, and was 76 degrees the morning we left -- although there were definitely signs that this was some cold country. In Escanaba, we say a sign that was advertising the "Ice Fishing Extravaganza" that took place in February. Darn it, we missed it! But maybe we can come up next year! (NOT!!) Also, as we passed the Escanaba High School, we saw that they were the "Home of the Eskimoes". Then in Nahma, we saw a sign for "You drive/you ride dog sleds". Hmmm.....
What was the prettiest of all, though, was that Lake Michigan (LM) was to our right just about the entire trip. After seeing that Green Bay was brown, I was expecting more brown. But I was surprised to see that LM was a beautiful blue, and even a bright turquoise near the shore, like the beaches in Hawaii. Wow! As we drove along, it felt like it had many times in our experience in driving along the Oregon or California coast, but something felt different. It wasn't the terrain -- in fact, the area kinda looked like Monterrey with the trees and hills. We finally realized what it was -- there were no waves crashing onto the shore! That body of water was so huge, and looked more like an ocean, so it was hard to imagine that it was actually a fresh-water lake! I got out in Brevort because I just had to put my feet in the water. It was definitely cold, but it was nice and clean, not sticky and salty.
Random Road Report, Part 2
We saw many, many log trucks along the road, but they were very different than those we see in Oregon. The Oregon trucks might carry 4 or 5 fat, long trees, and carry them lengthwise in the truck. But all the ones we saw carried a much smaller diameter cedar tree. They had been cut into about 8 foot lengths and packed in the back of the truck sideways. And since they were so small around, they could pack in dozens of logs.
I saw a couple of interesting signs: one was in front of a little shack and said "Honest Injun's Tourist Trap" (ah, I love truth in advertising). The other was at a "Dairy-Flo" just past the Tacoosh River: the sign said "We now have monkey sticks." Now I didn't stop to find out what monkey sticks were, but I certainly pondered it over the next few miles (but with no success).
I haven't talked previously about gas prices, but I must comment here in Michigan -- these are the highest prices we've seen yet! I started keeping track of the highest price I would see (which was, of course, for the "supreme"), and the winner was in Michigan at $3.85/gallon! UGH! Now we haven't had to pay that since we use diesel, and that's lower now than gas. In Michigan we were generally paying about $2.89. The lowest price we've seen so far is in Oklahoma City at $2.60. The highest we've paid so far was in California (a tie between Northridge and Turlock, of all places) at $3.10. (After I wrote this, I just found out that gas is over $4.00 in Medford. That diminishes this paragraph, but I'm leaving it in!)
Crossing the Bridge
We reached the end of the U.P. and came to the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the U.P. with the L.P. (the lower peninsula). It's a pretty suspension bridge, and it's very tall (about 200 feet above the water) so that ships can pass under it. It reminded me of the Golden Gate Bridge, although it's green instead of orange. As we were crossing the bridge, all that cool wind was coming off the water, and it was 46 degrees. By the time we had driven 30 minutes inland, the temperature had increased by 30 degrees.
We were ultimately heading to Traverse City (TC), the home of my Medford friend Margie. She had told me so much about the area that I just had to see it for myself. It was indeed a beautiful area. All around that area they grow cherries, so we saw a lot of cherry trees.
When we got to TC, we saw that it WAS a wonderful place. There's a big bay there which is divided by a long skinny peninsula called the Mission Peninsula (MP). It separated the bay between the east bay and the west bay.
We drove out to the end of the MP, about 18 miles, where there is an old lighthouse at the end. All along the way were beautiful homes, vineyards and wineries. After that, we drove over to the much larger Leelenau Peninsula (LP). It's also full of beautiful homes, wineries, and lots of cherry trees. We found this one winery called Black Star Farms that made its own cheese (from happy Leelenau cows!). We sampled the one and only cheese they make, a Switzerland-inspired cheese called raclette -- we tried the newer 3-month-aged cheese, and it was really good. But then we tried the 8 to 10-month-aged cheese and OHMIGOSH it was absolutely the best cheese I've ever tasted in my life! We bought 3 chunks, and took an order form with us. It's kinda spendy, but definitely a luxurious experience!
We wandered around the perimeter of the LP and found the beautiful sandy beaches. I imagine that area is really nice in the summer -- pleasant, not too hot. I was surprised, though, because it was 83 degrees on a beautiful day, and no one was there. I don't get it!
Baa Baa ZuZu and Other Treats
Along the way, we saw an out-of-the-way little shop called Baa Baa ZuZu (don't you love it?). They buy old wool coats from places like Goodwill, then cut them up into a random patchwork and make new trendy coats. It was a very cool concept. But the cutest thing we saw there was the "shop dog" -- she was a Golden Doodle (a mixture of Golden Retreiver and Poodle). That was the cutest, most mellow dog I've ever seen. We hung around there for a while just to play with the dog. A picture of her is on the photosite.
We also walked across the way to what we were told was a coffee shop, where we, of course, planned to get a cup of coffee. However, they didn't sell retail, but were coffee roasters and distributors. We talked with the young girl there for a while, and found out about the coffee roasting process. She had open bags of raw coffee beans there from Mexico and Sumatra, so I asked her if I could taste one (she said yes, of course). It was interesting. The beans were tough and relatively tasteless. After chewing on them for a while, I could eventually taste the coffee taste a little bit, but it was a stretch. It's amazing just how much the coffee taste we enjoy comes 99% from the roasting process.
Lake Michigan Circle Tour
We decided to head south by going down the lakeside highway. There were signs along the highway as we headed up from Green Bay that said it was the "Lake Michigan Circle Tour". So we decided to head south by taking the same Circle Tour route. I was disappointed, though, because the southbound highway was just far enough from the Lake and separated from the water by hills that we never saw the water. That's ok, though. I've now just about circled the Lake, and considering that we've already seen the Lake around Chicago, I just have a few more miles that I'll have to drive in the future to complete the Circle Tour!
Our next stop was South Bend, Indiana. I had always wanted to see the Notre Dame campus, so that's where we went. As you can imagine, the city of South Bend was extremely loyal to their Fighting Irish, but the city itself wasn't too impressive. Then we drove onto the campus. Wow! We got out and walked around the campus, since it wasn't really very accessible by vehicle. It's the most beautiful campus I've ever seen. I also saw certain buildings and yard areas that I had seen in the movies before, which was fun. In the middle of the campus are all the old original buildings, first built in the 1800's. Among those was the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, built in 1870. It was a very beautiful cathedral with lots of stained glass.
RV/Truck Accessory Mecca
After visiting Notre Dame, we drove a few miles east to the city of Elkhart. You have to understand that since Michael has been in the RV and truck accessory business for probably 35 years (and we've been married 26 of those), I've heard of Elkhart for years. Elkhart is the place where dozens of the top RV and truck accessory manufacturers are located, along with the additional dozens of their sub-contractors and suppliers. I was amazed at the massiveness of their industrial parks and was imagining just how low their unemployment rate must be (I know I'm weird for thinking about such things). Anyway, I'm glad to have seen it after all these years, so now I know what Michael is talking about.
We were originally intending on going on down to Tennesee from here and look around before heading to Louisville in September, then up to the Northeast and work our way down. Since we're (way) ahead of schedule, we decided to take a different approach, so we decided to go over to Indiana then Ohio, and head off to Pennsylvania, then work our way down the east coast before heading to Tennessee. (Did you follow that??) ;-)
Anyway, we decided that we would go down and see Indianapolis, to see what's there. We just about figured out what we were going to do and where we were going to stay, then Michael remembered that Memorial Day weekend was the time for the Indy 500. We certainly weren't going to find a place to stay anywhere near the city! So we decided to go on down to Lebanon, Ohio (near Cincinnati) to see Mike's neice, Candi (which we WERE going to do in September anyway). We're going to drive over to Indianapolis and just look around -- although we're going to stay far away from the Speedway. I figure everyone will be over there, so the downtown and other areas should be relatively empty!
Random Road Report, Part 3
In Southern Michigan, we stopped at a rest stop, and pulled up next to a trucker who was up on a ladder fixing something on top of his cab. We both went in to the restroom, then came out and went on down the road. When we arrived at our campground about an hour later, we realized that our ramp was gone. Michael had built this very awesome wooden ramp that helped us level out the fifth wheel. He always threw it into the back of the pickup, never worrying that anything would happen to it -- after all, it was very heavy, and you really couldn't even see it -- that is, unless you were on top of a ladder next to the pickup. We've commented many times along this trip that that was one of the best things we brought along, so I was really bummed that this bum took it. We're making do with other stuff we have.
On a happier note, we were driving through the country and saw the coolest thing. This big farm house had an oval pond out front, and this kid was riding a jet ski around in it, doing "rooster tails" to splash his friends. How cool would that be, to have a jet ski in your own pond?! I had already mentioned to Michael that my ideal house would have a pond, so if I get that, I'll have to add a jet ski to the mix!
For miles and miles now, I've seen field after field of either the remainder of last year's corn fields, or empty ready fields. During that same country drive, I finally saw corn coming up -- it was about 6-8 inches tall, and there was mile after mile of this stuff. I've been amazed to think about just how much corn is used in this country -- corn to be eaten by humans and animals, to be made into corn syrup (which is in everything!), corn starch, etc. It's just a huge industry!
We entered Ohio by a country road, and I have found that country roads don't usually have the big "Welcome to (new state)" on them. However, this road did have a big sign, but it was placed right between two little farm houses right on the road. I wish I had noticed them quickly enough to take a picture, but it was quite a sight. And I bet they had fun telling their friends and relatives that their next door neighbor was located in the next state.
And I saved my favorite for last -- outside of South Bend, there was a nice clean little building with a sign that said "Dad's Transmission and Flea Market." Ah, small town America.
More about the trip to Indianapolis and visit with Candi next time!