Our First Three Days in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – Just Over the Bridge

Hitch-itch had set-in, time to hookup the fifth wheel and take off for the next leg of this 2700 mile summer drive. Planning started months ago to include reading friend’s blog pages for ideas of what to see and where to stay. Every state has multiple routes that take you by great stops, no wonder so many maps of where we have traveled look like ant trails separated by a few hundred miles. Up one highway and down another never fails to reveal places we could have missed depending on what road we decided to take. In the case of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula the route would include driving over “the bridge” then across US Highway 2 in the south and up to Michigan 28 in the north.

St. Ignace – Just North of the Bridge

Weeks ago locals asked “have you been over the bridge before.” I said no, wondering to myself what’s the big deal with a bridge. I’m more worried about the condition of roads given the Upper Peninsula is 30% of the states landmass with only 3% of its population. Surely the ice of its Canadian winters destroys roads and the budget to fix them would be small as is the number of vehicles that travel through the wilderness. Just before leaving across two lane state highways east from Traverse City, our Michigan neighbor commented his wife was crying by the time they got over “the bridge.” But, according to him, we would be okay as long as there is little wind. He drove it during a winter storm – at night. I pushed thoughts of “the bridge” to the back of my mind. I’ve been over bridges on I-10 along the Gulf Coast that looked like rollercoaster rides as you approach them at a distance. Never has been a problem. But I’ve also never heard of a state offering a service where highway employees drive customer vehicles over a bridge if requested.

The Travel Gods were with us once again. A fine day to move our home, sunny with little wind. As we approached the point of no return, interstate signs became more frequent, ticking down the miles until we would cross over the Straits of Mackinac, a five mile wide waterway joining Lakes Michigan and Huron, traversed by the Mackinac Bridge. All 24,000 pounds of RV, truck and passengers would be 20 stories above the water while perhaps boats loaded with iron ore from the west traveled beneath us. We set the radio to a local FM station providing up to the minute bridge conditions. “No stopping on the Mackinac Bridge. In the event of a flat tire or motor failure, please remain in your vehicle. Bridge personnel on duty will investigate and assist.” Of the four lanes (two in each direction), one would be closed for construction at some point. Maximum speed is 45 miles per hour and we could drive twenty behind the semi trucks with our emergency flashers on.

Construction was completed in 1957. No shoulders adds to the view of the water next to the passenger door.

We come around the corner and there it is the bridge. Fortunately my mind processes hazardous situations quickly. I also ate a sandwich before we began this trip so hunger could not possibly add to any form of anxiety or light-headiness 🙂 This trip across the bridge was going to end as quickly as this paragraph. Lower roadways over water lead to and from the main bridge spans. I could see it’s only the center of the bridge that has the real height. At the top of the ride, with Karen taking photos, I decided this is a good time to relax and go with the flow. At 45 miles an hour, driving the lane with the steel grates that provide a view through to the surface of the water, I felt safe. Looking left and right was wide open water. This was a Why Moment! Meaning this is Why we travel fulltime in an RV. “The bridge” turned out to be a fascinating opportunity. We would discover well maintained roads beyond it.

Karen’s Photo While On Bridge – From Passenger Seat

We had three nights booked at Lakeshore RV Park and Campground. Wow – management assigned us spot 108. What a view of Lake Michigan we have outside the living room window. The folks next to us are in a motorhome, parked facing the lake. They have been coming here for 10 years and finally managed to secure the best view. Utilities are located on both sides of the camper so visitors along the lake view can park in whatever direction they want. You can see the walkway down to the water leading to the campground’s private beach. Thirty-eight dollars a night on full hookups! Great price on the north side of the bridge in Saint Ignace. Our time is limited so I utilize the best sources of tourist information which will be campground management and those parked around us with Michigan license plates.

Outside the campground office is a poster with information regarding Shepler’s ferry boat service to arguably one of the Midwest’s main attractions – Historic Mackinac Island. What – Shepler’s has a free shuttle service from the campground to their boats! Then they will bring us home! I told management we had been delayed and unfortunately don’t have time in the schedule to camp near the Soo Locks at Sault Ste Marie to watch the ships go through on their way to the Atlantic Ocean. No worries, they say it’s only a short 54 mile drive up to the northeast corner of the Peninsula to Soo Locks in our truck. No time for the day trip which would have included visiting a nearby shipwreck museum. There was no way we were going to miss visiting Mackinac Island.

Lakeshore RV Park and Campground has their own beach. Plenty of benches to watch the sunsets.
“The Bridge” in the background. I began noticing changes in the rock colors. This area was formed by glaciers. Later, I would notice the iron colors in the rocks on the west end of the Peninsula and definitely in upper Minnesota which at the time of this posting we have visited.
Hauling iron ore from western mines to cities along the Great Lakes. I downloaded a phone app which maps ships around the world to include right in front of us on Lake Michigan. Fun to see the ship names, where they came from and where they were going along with cargo type.
Finally tried a pasty – warm with gravy. Also everything made from maple syrup is a local treat.

Karen and I celebrated a wedding anniversary while in Saint Ignace (population 2,450). The shore-lined town had quite a few restaurants that were shutdown. While later shuttling us to the boat ferry the driver said a few of the restaurants were already on their way out prior to the pandemic. The hot spot restaurant was a drive-in just outside the RV park. We were disappointed the parking lot was full. I suppose not eating at a restaurant on our anniversary was in the cards. I picked up some local food, a bottle of Champaign and local chocolate. We dragged our campground picnic table to the rear of the RV and had our meal together, looking out over Lake Michigan. I personally will remember this one. I suspect the south side of the bridge, in Mackinaw City may have better restaurant options.

Mackinac Island

The Shepler’s Ferry Boat Shuttle arrived 15 minutes after I phoned them. The driver was a wealth of information as he was a long time resident. Rain was in the forecast the next day so the island would be crowded on this sunny day. The company was transporting 500 people every 45 minutes to the island, with boats leaving from Saint Ignace and Mackinaw City. The 20 minute ferry ride was over choppy water and worth the price to see the lake from another view. Had we left earlier in the day we could have taken the no-extra-charge tour under the bridge.

We stepped off the ferry onto Mackinac Island, following the hordes of people already on Main Street. I figured this must be what it was like for the immigrants arriving in New York. Both Karen and I quickly scanned for any nearby green space, weaving our way through the crowds. Most of the island is a state park and people do live here fulltime. It’s a small community where in 1898 they outlawed motorized vehicles. Horses, bikes and your feet are the only way to cover the four and a half square mile landmass. In 1670 a Jesuit priest wintered here. The British in 1781 made it a military post while the Americans took over in 1796. The island was also involved during the War of 1812. During the peak of fur trade Market Street was full of activity where each July and August Indians, traders and trappers came here from the northwest. In 1817 American Fur Company was headquartered here, by 1834 the fur trade moved westward and the island was already becoming a popular resort area. Lots to see to include two forts, scenic views from hillsides, the original island landing location for the British Army, walks through tree-lined streets to old graveyards and more. On a shady hillside we found a relatively quite place for lunch. Karen walked downtown to shop for our meal while I stayed behind with the dog. We ate while watching the harbor activity. Back in lower Michigan, Karen’s mom’s house has many photos of this area hanging from the walls. Her father was a fine photographer. I felt closer to the family having walked within the same views where her parents spent vacation time.

Line to Get on the Ferry to Island
View From Ferry Boat
View From Ferry Boat
The Grand Hotel
Main Street on the Island. Keep Your Dog on a Short Leash to Avoid the Bikes.
Climb a Hill to Get to the Forts.
View From Hillside to the Island Bay

We are currently parked off I-94 in Jamestown North Dakota, on our way to Roosevelt National Park. My next post will wrap-up our stay in Michigan and the trip here.

Tour of Northern Michigan and Upper Peninsula – First Stop Traverse City

As we decided to begin the 2021 travel season with a trip from Florida to central Michigan to visit family this was a good opportunity to camp Up North in Traverse City. And then drive further over a 20 story high bridge to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Traverse City is the first stop along our twenty-four day journey encompassing northern Michigan. The photo above is to get your attention. This is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore located a short drive from our campground near Traverse City.

The trailer brake wiring issue detailed in my last post is now a memory and well behind us. I went back and edited the post for clarity. We are currently camped in northern Minnesota. I’m happy to report the trailer brakes have performed good as new. I was even able to lower the gain on the truck brake controller. I highly recommend those using a trailer fulltime should have their brakes and wheel bearings inspected annually. My friend Ray from Traverse City, who helped with the repair, will be happy to hear the report. Maybe I can return the favor with your assistance.. He has a class A motorhome and twice has had the front windshield replaced because of a flaw where in his line of sight, as he looks through the windshield to the left of the driver’s side, there is a blurry area in the glass. His eyes refocus as he looks at road signs and then back ahead. Searches for information will state to replace the windshield with an original part (windshield). Any readers here that have worked through the same issue with their motorhome windshield have any ideas? My two cents are worth less than a penny on this one. Seems to me the issue is a flawed windshield during manufacture.

Trip planning had to include where to stay for the fourth of July weekend. We intended to be just south of the Mackinac Bridge on the fourth but were delayed. Are you getting the same question? How far out are you planning given the number of people now Rving? My answer to the question has become: The locals get the good spots way before us as they book them the day the campground opens reservations for the new season. I plan further ahead during the summer when kids are out of school or there is a holiday. I also plan further out if we want a spot for a week or more, and certainly for a monthly stay. I plan further out for our destination spots, in other words, where we intend to end the last leg of the trip such as at a key National Park. I often plan further out if we are going to be camped near a larger city where there is more demand for camping spots. That’s a long answer for sure. You get used to factoring in all this the more you route plan. It somewhat becomes second nature. And as I have written before. No worries if you don’t get he exact campground you want. No matter where you land, there is an RV campground in the area because there is something to see or do. Some of our best discoveries are near campgrounds we had not planned to stay in.

A couple points for new fulltimers: Leave unscheduled space every now and then on your calendar. For example, later on this summer trip we have two weeks to get from Buffalo Wyoming to northern Kansas. I’ve not scheduled those two weeks of campgrounds which allow space to adjust our plans if we want. I read an article recently where a fulltimer said he has no problem with getting a hotel room if the weekend camping spots are full. Personally, I’m discovering city parks, fairgrounds and might take a swing at a casino campground. Later in this post I’ll write about a few items we purchased to help with flexibility when selecting a campground. But now on to the visit in Traverse City.

Traverse City is the county seat of Grand Traverse County although a small portion extends into Leelanau County which also has much to offer. It is the largest city in the area as well as the largest producer of tart cherries in the United States. It is estimated 500,000 people visit the National Cherry Festival which was being held during our visit. We did not go to festival but did drive around town where it’s hard to take a left turn because of all the traffic. Locals says the roads are busy all summer long and visitors drive like they are still in the big city they came from 🙂 I enjoyed reading up on the local history with picture books friends loaned us. This is a great area to enjoy Lake Michigan.
I’m not about to spend big money on a campsite just to be four miles closer to town. Especially as we did not intend to be home much. We camped at Northwest Michigan Fairgrounds. Most of the spots were empty as you just take the one you want upon arrival. Food vendors for the Cherry Festival were here and described the festival and their travels.
Here is a map into the campground. Follow the red line off Blair Town Hall Road. They are constructing a new roundabout on the highway at the Blair Town Hall Road turn. Fairgrounds and City Parks sometimes require more advanced driving skills as you negotiate city streets or gravel drives. We drove US and State Highways to Traverse City where you will meet other RVs on two lane roads, also followed by a line of impatient drivers wanting to speed past you. The State does a good job of building passing lanes where needed. We walked within the fairgrounds wonderful buildings. I looked in on a horse show and a BMX bike race.
$2.50 a pound for the best cherries one will ever eat.
Satellite photo from a public domain website.

You know me, I’ve got to throw in a short history lesson. If you want more here is a link to a fascinating video regarding how the Great Lakes were formed. I’m loving Lake Michigan the more we visit it. The water clarity and color is amazing. It’s not cold along the shore in the summer either. The area was once an ocean. Did you know the entire lake and more have the largest salt mine in the world beneath it. The ground above a limestone layer has harder rocks which were shaped in a bowl as the glaciers receded during the last ice age about 13,000 years ago. The harder rock remains in place as they mine all the salt under the lake.

Lake Michigan was formed by glacial activity while Lake Superior was shaped by volcanic activity. Water drains to Niagara Falls. In simple terms, deep lake dives revealed a river system which made it easier for the glacier to carve out a few of the lakes. I’ve visited the falls from the Canadian side. The rock at the edge of the falls is being broken off at a rate of three feet per year. The landmass that separate the falls from the lakes will eventually erode and the Great Lakes will suddenly drain. Geologist can predict the future based upon past events. They say no worries, another ice age will come and will carve out even larger lakes. Well, maybe the north half of the United States will worry because it will be covered by ice again. We passed a sign on the drive up which welcomed us to the 45th parallel “halfway between the equator and north pole.” The ice that formed most of the Great Lakes was as deep as a mile. That was enough weight to crush layers of earth. The current landmass is still growing in elevation as the earth underneath rebounds from having been crushed. The lakes drain roughly from west to east, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean through the St. Lawrence lowlands. Except for Lakes Michigan and Huron, which are hydrologically one lake, their altitudes drop with each lake, usually causing a progressively increasing rate of flow. Man-made locks have been built which enable ships to enter and be lowered or raised to the next lake level while coming to and from the St. Lawrence Seaway. I’ll probably mention it further in my next post, but many of the ships we saw passing are hauling iron ore from the mines out west. Geological events that formed the Lake Superior region, which now holds 10% of the earths freshwater, also produced iron and copper mines. About 85% of the iron ore used domestically come from the area.

We would discover radical differences in water, sand and rock color while traveling through areas of Lake Michigan towards Lake Superior. I can’t wait to tell you in a future post about spending time in the pristine wilderness remaining in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Hundreds of miles of different tree species, unlike any masses of forest we have experienced in the past. We came here to see different topography and Pure Michigan did not disappoint.

Mother Nature provided fascinating places to visit. There were several driving tours from Traverse City we did not have time for. We did seek out a couple sandier beaches and of course the huge Dunes at Sleeping Bear. Our friends suggested we check out the Grand Traverse Commons which is an old state hospital being converted to shopping and living area.

South of Sleeping Bear Dunes is a town called Empire. They have a great public beach with extra parking.
Empire City Beach is partial sand and these rounded smaller rocks. Glacial activity and flowing water I presume shaped the rocks. The water clarity is amazing.
There are an abundance of light houses to tour in northern Michigan. This is a model on Empire Beach. I included the photo so no one can ask why I did not tour a light house 🙂

We found a sandy beach in Traverse City which is located on a bay. North Beach only had about 20 parking spots. We arrived early and get a spot. You can also park elsewhere and take a walk through a grass lined path running from the downtown area.

View from North Beach in Traverse City. Dog friendly… Glad we stayed a few extra days as many were spent waiting for the rain to leave.

Here is a link to a video I took of a guy riding a hoverboard over the water at North Beach in Traverse City. He rode it out about 75 yards and returned to shore.

This is a photo of our friends, Ray and Charlotte’s yard, outside Traverse City. Beautiful place they have and we really appreciate the time we spent having meals in the backyard. It was also nice for our dog Wyatt to experience for the first time being able to run around a large yard off leash while chasing his friend Dixie whom he still remembered from our winter stay in Florida. These trees are typical of Michigan. Folks live on smaller lakes in the area which I learned were man-made to stop flooding into Traverse City. We were invited to their longtime friend’s home for an annual cookout. Ray and I drove to the cookout while Charlotte and Karen remained behind. Glad we all know it’s okay and necessary in this lifestyle not to do everything together.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore

Located to the west of Traverse City over a scenic drive through the country is Sleeping Bear Dunes. Portions are actually a National Park where we used our America the Beautiful Pass for free admission at two locations. Legend has it that a momma bear and two cubs set out swimming across Lake Michigan. Unfortunately the two cubs tired and drowned. Mom made it to shore where she now rests looking out over the water for her cubs who would eventually rise forming two islands.

The scenic seven mile drive inside the park is worth the trip. Located off Michigan Highway 119 north of the visitors center which is closer to Empire Michigan. There are pull-outs where you can park and walk to views or quiet places to eat a sack lunch. We have started packing lunches when we take tours just because of how many picnic spots we stumble upon. Following are a few photos from the driving tour. These dunes are tall and steep. Signs warn if you try and run down to the lake shore and can’t climb back up the fee is $3,000 to rescue you.

Karen was born in Missouri while her father was in the Army. Her family settled a town in Wisconsin and migrated to Michigan. Traverse City and much of north Michigan were her stomping grounds and places for family vacations. If you ask someone from Michigan where they are going on vacation you are likely to hear “up north.” I listened as she described the area while we passed through, noting the differences from when she visited as a child. Roads that were once narrow lanes now have become heavily traveled tourists routes. Other than a developed parking lot, one place has stayed the same. The Dune Climb which is also part of the National Park, includes a long developed bicycle and walking path. Karen’s family also spent a lot of time in the Crystal Lake area and recommends anywhere along the coast of Lake Michigan as a place to visit. We spent a little time back in 2015 touring the the southwest portion of the lake.

I took a video where after kids make it to the top of the dune, they line up for a race down. Here is a link.

A Few Items That Might Increase Flexibility When Selecting a Campground.

I mentioned campground crowding and how I answer the question “how far ahead do you plan.” Flexibility is something to add to the comments. When we selected our fifth wheel we did so with the idea of avoiding a trailer that would limit where we stay any more than necessary. We could not find a floor plan under 35′ we wanted to live in fulltime. Height is often of more concern than the length but we make due with our tall rig which is 13′ at the top of the air conditioners. We went with a gas/electric fridge which so far we have not depended on for camping without electricity. Our truck holds a 3500 watt generator that we hardly ever use. But there are now items we depend upon in allowing us to book electric only sites. This increases the chances of getting a spot in an area we want to stay. Well, at least two of the items help. The other is just for safety and piece of mind.

We own a 30 amp, 25′ foot extension cord but have never used it. Our rig is 50 amps and we have booked spots in the past that warned in the reviews bring an extra cord. Our main electrical cord is 30′ long and located in the center of the RV. I can run it to the generator in the back of the truck without the extension cord as well as to campground electrical boxes located at the back of the trailer.

I generally advise when you first start out to buy as few camping items as possible until you figure out what you actually need. Plus others you meet will have great ideas. You will start to notice those around you that are big time researchers based on the accessories they have selected. One item I use somewhat frequently is a 30 gallon collapsible water bladder. Place it in the back of the truck, drive to a source and fill up. I drive home and use a 110 volt water pump and hose to fill the camper. No more worries about getting a campsite with a water connection. I went with the Aquatank brand because of it’s durability. Our combined black and grey tank capacity exceeds our fresh water tank size by 30 gallons which is why I went with the 30 gallon model. That way I can top off the tank without moving the RV.

I should mention a goal we had was to finally prevent us from moving the RV to add water or to dump our waste tanks while being able to book two week or longer stays in parks without sewer and water hookups at the camping spot. We have had a system to stay for nine and eleven day periods without having to dump our waste tanks. But those methods are not enjoyable such as always using the public shower and bathroom or washing dishes outside at the utility side of the trailer. Storage space and weight are always a concern. But sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and buy something to make life a little easier in this lifestyle.

So I finally bought a portable sewer tote. Some call these blue boys which is the color of the original tote made by Barker. There are several brands to select from. I’ll skip writing about my research other than to say I wanted something easy to move when full, of reasonable size compared to our trailers waste tank capacity and something that would fit in the back of the truck. Initially I thought about mounting the tank on the back of the trailers ladder but the sides of the tote would stick out beyond the sides of the trailer and create wind drag. Also totes are ugly. I could only find two brands where we happened to be stopped. I went with the Barker brand with four nomadic (inflatable) tires. Ours is 32 gallons and I can easily drag it to the truck to use the hitch, hauling the full tote to the dump station. If the dump station is near, I can wheel the tote to the dump station without using the truck. On a paved road when full I can move the tot with two fingers. It’s that easy to move.

Barker 32 gallon portable sewer tote stored in our truck – no more worries if the campsite has a sewer connection if we are staying more than six days.

The next item might seem trivial but it gives me piece of mind when parked at campgrounds with a lot of foot traffic from outsiders or maybe folks visiting others in the campground – locks… I can honestly say we have never stayed in a campground where we felt unsafe. But, especially now that we are staying at fairgrounds and city parks close to town, I use our locks more often. I have one for the king pin hitch, a 15′ and 6′ cable, secured with round locks that are keyed alike. I also have two other locks where you can set the combination. The photos below depict how I use them. We took a two week break from the camper and left it in storage. I was glad to have the lock for the king pin. We take longer day trips with no worries a random person might walk by and think they can quickly steal expensive stuff left outside. Harden the target (make it difficult to steal) and they will just move on to an easier target. Most don’t carry bolt cutters around a park where everyone can see them.

Rather than hauling yet another propane tank, I simply use one of the spare two already held in our campers propane storage areas. I should add I almost never put the grill on the campgrounds picnic table as it’s something most campgrounds do not allow. I place the grill on a portable table or just set it on top of the large plastic tote I store it in. Chain it all together with a six foot cable and lock. Good luck stealing any one item without dragging the rest with you.
This is how I sometimes secure our portable electric power surge protector connected to the campground electricity. I could have bought a hardwired model that’s kept in the basement area and avoided any chance of it being stolen. Portable and hardwired units have reasons to buy each type or not.

We are currently camped at a city park in Crosby Minnesota. Heading out to Brainerd Minnesota to shop and do the laundry. Thanks for reading our blog.

We Have Arrived in Michigan to Begin our Summer Trip – Campground Crowding

We are currently in northern Michigan’s Traverse City, having finished a 19 day stay near Howell Michigan, 50 miles west of Detroit. We had a wonderful time visiting Karen’s sister, brother-in-law and her mother. It was nice to go back to our own home, parked at two different state recreation areas during the course of the visit. Then just drive a few miles to visit family. Karen was able to spend quality time with her mom. What a benefit this lifestyle is when it comes to family time. Our daughter happened to schedule a trip in the area. She is a runner and participated in a race up north, having spent a few nights at her grandmother’s where we all sat around visiting and having meals together.

Our anticipated route for this years summer trip. 2800 miles beginning in central Michigan, across the upper peninsula and west to Montana. The final leg will be south through Wyoming, clipping the corner of Colorado and on to Kansas City Missouri where we have a spot booked beginning September 7th, just after labor day when the public’s camping season starts to wrap up.

My next blog post will cover our time touring Traverse City and getting with our friends, Ray and Charlotte whom we met last winter in St. Augustine Florida. They don’t want me to brag on the area too much as it’s already a Michigan vacation hotspot 🙂 I know another full-time RVer and blogger 30 miles up north but don’t want to invite myself to see the progress as they build their cabin. Hope they catch the post and comment 🙂 Settling down to a cabin or smaller home is one of many exit plans Karen and I have discussed after we finish roaming the earth. Unfortunately we narrowly missed Steve and Debbie of Down the Road Blog as they were weeks behind us on their way to Indiana. If there was a way to reschedule the many campgrounds ahead of our own trip, to allow time to turn around, we would have done it to meet up with the couple. They and others are amazing having really helped with our migration to fulltime RVing.

If you have been researching living in an RV and read about how you will meet new friends – believe it! The memories we have made beside our friends on this journey will forever be a highlight of our lives. Speaking for myself, these new friends have done wonders to help me leave the old life behind and heal the emotional scars after dealing with so many bad people in my past job. I’m so lucky to be able to live this lifestyle where the rough times are way overshadowed by the joyful experiences that jump out at every turn in the road.

We are approaching our two year anniversary on the road. Still learning lessons, making adjustments and looking forward to the future. Recently I read an article regarding the best days of the week to travel. In the past we have used Sunday as our preferred day to move between campgrounds, especially as the highway traffic through large cities was expected to be lighter. I’ll have to agree that now the preferred day may be Wednesday or secondly on a Tuesday. Especially in the summer when families are vacationing with their children whom are out of school. Seems like during the rest of the worlds summer vacations, they tend to move into campgrounds on a Thursday afternoon, when in the past we could expect them on a Friday after working hours. They tend to leave public campgrounds on a Monday. We want to avoid the herd. City traffic on a Sunday can no longer be counted on as being minimal. From my experience by the afternoon on Sunday the roads are packed – depending on what area of the country one happens to be in.

Yes, things are still changing with the pandemic coming to an end. I’m predicting that people will have to return to a normal life in terms of work schedules, even if they think working at home or hauling the kids around in a camper will be the norm. Employers, for the most part, are not going to allow people to work at home. There are reports of this across the country. So eventually they will put their kids in school, return to the office and get the heck out of our way:) Here in Michigan, things are way different than what we read about during the pandemic. I’ve yet to meet anyone who likes their Governor, often sighting her strict and unlawful tactics during the pandemic lockdowns. But we have been in rural areas for the most part. The city folks may think differently. For sure, everyone here are returning to the campgrounds in a big way and leaving their masks behind.

Both our campgrounds in the Howell Michigan area were public campgrounds. Folks around here call them state parks. I say if they knew what a real state park campground looks like they would not be that impressed with these two. But then again, they are on vacation and I can respect just getting out with family is important. Judging by the dealership stickers on cars and talking to campers, most everyone were locals with a few coming from northwestern Ohio around Toledo. My brother-in-law says area campgrounds are setup for locals to spend a weekend and not really geared towards travelers coming through the area. The rural roads, although paved, need much improvement such as the shoulders that are collapsing or the trees that are not trimmed until the big RVs or trucks break off the branches. No worries, we figured it out and are better off with the experience. That aside, I want to draw your attention to the topic of “campground etiquette”. I’m not complaining; just helping educate. And also doing my best to set realistic expectations for those who might be considering a life in an RV.

I’m of the mindset that assholes are assholes, both when living next to neighbors in a conventional home or parking next to someone in a small public campground. Seldom will they adjust to giving a crap about others. Most of us in the campground, I am certain, are just folks trying to leave the chaos of life behind and letting our hair down while enjoying the free time. Some are just not aware of certain etiquette because they lack experience. Just know if you decide to RV then you may have to live with a few inconsiderations be they intentional or not. It’s not worth the time in court should one decide to take a club to the neighbor’s body:)

Karen and I lived on a few acres in the country before this journey. Had someone entered our property and not been wanted, I could lawfully great them in a hostile way. That’s not the case in this lifestyle. You will give up a degree of privacy and at times, peaceful enjoyment of your surroundings. Frankly, these last couple of crowded campgrounds in Michigan have tasked my patients. None the less was the asshole who was upset at one of only two places at the campground (at the dump dump station) where you could fill your fresh water tank. I decided to let it go when he got out of his truck, walked briskly towards me and asked what was taking so long. I simply said unfortunately this was the only place to fill tanks with fresh water. I hope his day improved. I trust had we been parked next to each other we could have become friends over time. For some reason this was just a bad time for him and fortunately a good day for me. I suspect in the years to come, there will be more people who sense no danger when approaching others with a negative attitude because they lack discipline (from parents and someday from law enforcement if the public does not allow it). We can talk about this over a campfire someday but not on a blog.

Examples of poor campground etiquette are easy to find if you Google search the topic. Not to minimize the topic, but following is an example you will never find mentioned within those articles. Where one parks their truck or extra vehicle is important! Both our recent campgrounds incorporated tent sites within RV sites which included all those that decided to bring two vehicles or allow guests to park randomly. The places looked like an auto factory.

This is actually a more clear roadway than a few other areas in the park. The photo just depicts how busy the campground is. Michigan has a shorter camping season. I met two at the dump station who asked how to de-winterize their rigs. Several in the park had temporary tags on their RVs and new camping equipment to go with it. Although it’s possible they bought all new hoses with their replacement trailers. Talking to people around the campground revealed for sure many were new to the world of Rving, many having bought a rig during the pandemic but just now are taking them out for extended stays. Especially in Michigan where it snows nearly 450 days a year.

View out our front door. Three tents to the site and cars to match. Privately owned RV Parks are generally not as lenient as state parks. Don’t enter or leave state parks on a Saturday if you hope for the road to be clear, as this is the busiest day of the week.
A couple days during the week, sites were not packed with campers so I got this photo. Can you see the area circled in yellow. Those are tracks where RVs turn the corner and go off the pavement as they sometimes don’t make the corner. Don’t park in those tracks on the corners at any time unless you want your vehicle hit by an RV entering the campground at night.
Same corner as above. Those are heavy tire tracks. Over time the corners of the pavement have also been broken down. Everyone is willing to move their vehicle to allow trailers to park or drive through the campground. But what if you are the one with the car and are not at your site at the time? Park as far off the road, especially on corners, as you can. Even a foot makes a difference. This is not about RVs parking in tent areas. The campground reservation system clearly lists what sites are for RVs by size. Man, you would expect for $35 a night with 30 amp electric, no water and no sewer, these campgrounds would have sites spread out a little better:)

Enough of the negative. We did find time to enjoy time at the park. Especially our dog Wyatt catching his Frisbee when during two days of the week the park was nearly vacant. We tie a loose rope on his collar so he feels he cannot run off – that’s a dog training trick.. Although he has grown up around camping and does not wonder off. Yup, we broke the rules also by allowing him to run off leash, even the 30 feet it takes to catch his toy.

Takes an SLR camera to catch these action photos while the dog is in motion. I focus ahead of him and push the shutter button taking multiple photos in rapid succession. Then go back and save the photo that happened to catch the action.
His sun goggles. Karen thinks Wyatt stays in the shade during walks because his eyes are sensitive to sunlight. These goggles have a strap that goes over the head and under the chin. She had him wear it for short periods and then for longer periods of time. He hangs his head out the truck, feeling the wind while wearing them. He can even catch a Frisbee while wearing them. Guess we are officially crazy dog people.

We had to drive through Hell to get here. Howell/Pinckney Michigan is just outside an area of land called Hell Michigan. Not officially a town but a wide spot in the road.

One of two campgrounds. This one was further from family but more spread-out with designated camper and tent spaces. There are small lakes everywhere in this part of the country. Not sure why other than the landscape is scarred by glaciers and maybe these lakes were a by-product.

Michigan is actually two peninsulas with unique topography. This part of the trip is spent in lower Michigan. You drive over a five mile bridge to the upper peninsula or come in from the west via Wisconsin. The upper peninsula is 30% of the states landmass with 3% of the population. That is where we are eventually heading. I urge everyone to visit the northern parts of the state. The trees are amazing…. My brother-in-law took me north to mow his property. The next night it was in the upper 30’s while it was much warmer further south.

We stopped at Clare Michigan for doughnuts. I’d not be caught dead in the place while in my police uniform. Cops and Doughnuts now has four locations around the state. Wonderful donuts with inside dining. The building is home to a continuously operated bakery since 1896. Facing closure, the towns nine cops bought the building to preserve the historical business.

We are currently stopped at Northwestern Michigan Fair Grounds, outside Traverse City. We extended our stay to deal with a first time ever road emergency which is trailer brake related. More on that in the next post along with wonderful stories of friendship and most likely getting lucky to be here for two days of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Campers are arriving as I type this which are vendors going to the festival. The guy next door runs an ice cream tent. Got to go make friends with him.

Howell Michigan Camping

We are stopped at a state park near Brighton Michigan for six nights to visit family. Running on electric only. Our tank sizes are 70 gallon fresh water, 10 hot water, 90 gray and 45 black. We are being more conservative on water usage than our last longer stay without hookups. So far it looks like we will have no problem spending a week off hookups. Paper plates and taking a shower at the public building is about all we are doing to preserve water and tank space.  Karen is being more careful when washing dishes as well.

We have finished 850 miles of a 1700 mile trip. I purchased a one year subscription to RV Trip Planning Wizard and really like it.  I also jump over to campground reviews.com for additional ideas for camping areas. Those years of planning are coming in handy as I’ve got an arsenal of ideas for trip planning provided by friends and readers.  Thanks for that!

One comment that makes since is trip planning and navigation are two separate concepts. Navigation might be using a GPS or map during the drive. Our 2018 Dodge navigation system is working great. As I’m still so new at hauling a monster fifth wheel, I still look at Google Earth for the entire route to check for tight areas. Used to even look over interstate’s on Google Earth as well but now feel comfortable with only checking lessor roads, especially if they are not divided highways. RV Trip Planning Wizard also contains a low bridge database so at this point I’ve not bothered to find a third party application to check for low bridges. At this point, I’ll not purposely take side routes that are not part of the original route planning. Tried that in Indianapolis to get around major highway backups. Was a fun trip to include my first time on a larger road in a residential area and a first time trip through a round-a-bout. That got my nerves sparking but keeping it slow and watching those back tires in the mirrors, along with reassurance from Karen I was going great, were big boosts to morale. Have I said I really, really love Ram’s tow mirrors!  They are awesome. Even if you get a 2500 to tow with, make sure you have the factory tow mirrors!

For now, when I book a camping spot I copy all my notes to Google Calendar. That way we can look things up quickly while traveling or upon arrival.  Click this link to see what my typical notes look like:  Calendar view

For now, because I’m so new at this, I print a campground map prior to arrival so I know how to get to our spot and where dump stations are located. Before we park I make sure I know how I’ll pull out assuming all the surrounding spots are taken and I’ll be maneuvering around cars and other campers. For that matter, when I park in a cramped grocery store lot in the dually truck, I make sure I can get out if someone parks on both sides of me and the travel lanes are narrow.  On the way into the current state park there were two low branches (ya have to look up to see them). It was like driving threw a serpentine course as I weaved in and out of other camping spots to avoid low branches. Just learned I’ll be keeping my tree trimmer with the extendable handles. And I hope not to go to jail for cutting a branch every now and then.

This lifestyle is really going to be healthy. I’m walking more and am generally more physically active. Karen and I are loving our time together. It’s nice to wake up in the morning in our new home then step outside to remember you are dead center in a wonderful state park. It would be hard to explain the wonder of it all in words. Just imagine if you are in your sticks and bricks house, unaware of what is outside, then open the door to amazement.

We are going to try out spending two nights at each stop on the way back to Kansas City. We had a couple overnight stops on the way here and tried to stay around 200 miles for each travel day. RV Trip Planning Wizard has an excellent system for showing travel distances between stops. Really helps with picking campgrounds along the way. So far we are booking our stops when we can. All this helps keep the stress level down for us new guys.  Finding less stressful ways to do things is important during this first year I’m sure.

One stop on the drive to Michigan was at a county campground which does not take reservations. We called and the lady at the county office said there would be spots. At $20 a night with 30 amps, within five miles from the highway in a secluded location, what a find that was. Get your notepad out and mark this one down.

Snap 2019-07-26 at 09.15.54

 

I’ve been using my make-shift office setup to get some work done. Right now I’m sitting at a chair outside the camper. But for more serious work I take five minutes to setup a more involved space at the dining table. Like most everything else, the way we do things seem to be evolving into something that works well.  I might add the process of evolution is also occurring for places we store things to include the basement space where for the most part we started off with containers we already owned. Yup, I’ve already discovered how you setup for the stay has a lot to do with how long you stay. For example, moving a storage containing out of the basement to under the camper to make room to pull other stuff out. I’d say don’t sweat over all the details such as how you arrange storage. Your unique system will just seem to happen on it’s own.

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Current office arrangement

 

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Yesterday’s view from the “office”

For the short-term you may notice a few changes in my writing style. There is a lot going on that I want to report on. I’ll just have to bang out the thoughts more quickly for now.

A sad note is that we lost our dog Johnny-Ringo to illness on this trip. I can’t write much about it. I live around death nearly every day on the job back home. Loosing a dog hurts just as much as when other loved-ones die. Seeing Karen sad hurts . Dogs have such unique personalities. He had a long-term breathing problem and it finally caught up to him. I can’t find the strength to even post my favorite photos of him. At least my mom now has another dog to play with in heaven; I like to think.

We went to bible study with Karen’s mom the other day. It was wonderful. The minister is so educated and smart about the bible. We are looking forward to stopping in at other churches on this journey. Tonight the minister is coming out for a campfire. His wife appears to be equally knowledgably. There were several older folks at the bible study and I got a lot from listening to their wisdom.

To my sister Mary – We saw an R Pod camper across the street from us being pulled with a full size SUV. Most of the campers of that size in this campground are the hybrid travel trailers with hard sides and the pop-out beds at the end. During this week I’ve noticed what appears to be moms with kids coming out during the week presumably when dad is at work. I’ll bet you see the same in your trips.

By the way, we have a contract on the house. Closes August 26th if all goes well. I’ve got to hook-up to the city sewer system and there might be a delay in getting that done as the contractor is backed-up. With the help of the real estate agent, who knows how the city and contractors work, we have a plan B should the sewer connection be delayed. We gave the new residence permission to store personal items in the basement. They are staying with relatives but had to get the kids registered in school. I’m thinking we are going to have a good relationship during the process with the new owners who are over the top excited about the house. They already finished their inspections and I’m waiting for the results. The realtor has us sign everything on-line and I can tell is making sure to allow us to enjoy our vacation time.

A final thought for sure is that I’m thankful to all our new RVer friends and readers of this blog for the last four years or so of planning. So much of what we learned and are now applying will ensure we make it through the curves in the road that pop up in this lifestyle.

Mark from Missouri

Trip to Michigan via Nashville – Visit with Fulltimers and RV Shopping

Karen and I finished up a trip to see her mother and family in Howell Michigan a couple weeks ago. We first stopped off in Nashville Tennessee to pick up her brother who joined us on the trip. Unfortunately we did not have much time to spend in Nashville touring. Karen’s brother is a professional musician and has lived in Nashville for years.  Figure we will make an extended trip there in the future. I’ve already got some ideas for a campground which is Seven Points Campground, a Corp of Engineer Park.

Karen ran off shopping with her sister and mother in Michigan while I took a couple day trips.

Ryan and Deanne from California

Montana with Nice Ram

For quite a while I’ve been sending emails back and forth to a reader of this blog. Ryan and Deanne are from California. Ryan is originally from Michigan and as luck would have it they were in town visiting his father. So off to the south of Detroit I drove for a day trip. I got a grand tour of their wonderful 2018 rear living room, 35′ Montana 3120RL. And a ride in their new beautiful Ram truck that’s equipped for maximum towing with 4:10 gears, dual rear wheels, Aisin transmission and the high-output Cummins diesel engine. We drove to a local joint for Coney style hotdogs which is apparently a Detroit original. As would seem to always be the case, when meeting fellow lovers of RV’s, it took only a few minutes to feel like I’d known the couple for a while. Great conversation for sure. Thank you Ryan for all the valuable conversation in-person and through the internet! Thank you Deanne for the tour or your home. She had a list of what she would change in this fifth wheel. Wonderful input for us who are still looking to buy one.  As a side note, one of the things I like about the Montana is the very large user group. The Montana Owner’s Forum is huge.

My second day trip was to the Haylett RV dealership in Coldwater Michigan. Home of my favorite RV tour videos and one of several dealerships we might buy from if we go with the Montana. Although I’ve known three people who bought their Montana fifth wheels at Lake Shore in Muskegon Michigan. It’s the volume – lowest price dealership. All three seemed to have had good experiences.

While at Haylett RV I was able to compare the 2019 Montana with the newer 2019 Anniversary Edition.  Funny how in just a few months there have already been two significant changes to the same 2019 trailer! I’ve also been reading Keystone is incorporating more technology in their upcoming fifth wheels. That will be the third significant change in one year! So far they plan to hardwire cellular and WIFI into the trailer using some kind of Furrion system.  Here is part of the news bulletin:

“At the end of September, Keystone RV Company will launch another industry first, all Keystone RVs will be 4G LTE and WiFi ready, standard. New Furrion technology offers an antenna that integrates 4G LTE and Wi-Fi with standard VHF/UHF/AM/FM reception. WiFi and cellular signals are routed to a wall-mounted base inside the trailer.”

The trip to Michigan from Tennessee lead us through Kentucky. This was the first time I’d been on Interstates through south to north Kentucky. I was impressed with the scenery. Karen’s brother Steve had made the trip a number of times and alerted us to an upcoming view of Cincinnati Ohio as it entered our view on Interstate 75/71. I cut some photos out of Google Maps that don’t do it justice. Basically, as you approach from the south, down a hill there is a curve. As you make the curve Cincinnati’s tall downtown buildings suddenly come into view.

Here is the view approaching Cincinnati

WAIT FOR IT

 

 

Bam! As soon as you come around the corner the city appears.

North of Cincinnati is Jeff Couch’s RV Nation’s Dealership. Home of the low price volume dealer for the Forest River Cedar Creek. A trailer which has a ton of changes for 2019. Most importantly is their introduction of a 35′ trailer in direct competition with the Montana 3120RL. Wish we would have had time to stop to look over the new model. Karen likes the double bowl sinks in the Cedar Creek which come at the expense of a deep pantry.

Keystone Montana 3120RL

Forest River Cedar Creek 34IK

So that now makes a total of four RV companies who are building our top floor plan. The others are Vanleigh with their Vilano 320GK or Beacon 34RLB and Grand Design’s Solitude 310GK. Subtle differences in some parts and major difference in others among the four trailers. I’ll not get into that unless someone asks in the comments section. If you are looking for a 35′ “luxury” fifth wheel, these are the four we looked at.

We drove four days on this trip with a little over 500 miles between destinations each way. Karen and I really enjoyed the quick brake from our sticks and bricks home. We both still can’t wait to get on the road sometime next year. Till then we keep downsizing and fixing up the house.

Renting an RV – Day Six of Trip

Covert Park Beach and Campground – Covert Michigan

We spent the larger part of the day on the beach at Lake Michigan. Karen used to come to Covert Park when she lived in Michigan. She last stayed here 24 years ago when some friends were building and operating the campground. For those that don’t stay at the park they can get access to the beach for $7 a car load.  There are other free beaches within five miles that are dog friendly. Covert Park Beach Campground does not allow dogs on the beach. During an earlier post I talked about our dog Huck coming out of his shell and turning out to really enjoy the trip. Karen said he smiles all the time in his photos during the trip.

Huck on left smiling

Huck on left smiling

Our RV rental trip is winding down. We have learned a lot to include such seemingly minor things such as we definitely want slam latches on our future rig.

We lived through another storm. Man, it’s loud when the hail hits the roof! We did not have a weather radio but were able to follow the storm which was broadcasted by Chicago area television.  We have no cell phone nor internet coverage here.

During the storm Karen and I drifted to other parts of the camper. I was in the bedroom reading and watching TV while she was in the dining area reading. This was not planned, it just happened. Perhaps the storm event was more important than just knowing we could handle the storm. We had no problem finding separated spaces even inside a 25’ motorhome. Earlier she went through the campground and beach taking photos while I stayed behind to read a new book about Military Police in Iraq I got for my birthday.

I decided to cook up the remaining hamburgers and other meat while I had the fire pit setup with charcoal. That way we would only have to heat up burgers in the microwave during the trip home which we decided will be through Amana Iowa. I learned I would not be taking a charcoal grill with us at first while fulltiming. The new fire pit grate I bought is working well by spanning the fire pit. So far none of the parks we stayed in had a barbeque grill located at the camp site.

We will be back to this park. The weekly rental rate is $170 and it looks like I might be able to get a 40’ rig into a couple spots. A 30’ rig would definitely fit with ease.

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Path to beach from camp site

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Office at entrance - with sharp turn to camp site

Office at entrance – with sharp turn to camp site

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View from beach

View from beach

Our spot

Our spot

Renting an RV – Day Five of Trip

Covert Park Beach and Campground – Covert Michigan

Today’s post turned out to be longer than I thought it would be so I’m not combining it with day six.

Since our last fuel-up I’ve been driving five miles an hour under the speed limit or 65. Miles per gallon today was 8.7 which is hardly different than when I just drove however I wanted.  This is a gas rig running an E450 engine. The empty weight listed on the sticker by the door was 10,756 pounds and limits the cargo, fuel, water, other storage and passenger weight to another 3,300 pounds. This Class C has about as large a basement area as any larger fifth wheel.  Driving just under the speed limit has proved to make the drive more enjoyable. Folks just pass us and I don’t have to worry as much if someone is in our blind spot. It allows for a little more reaction time and I have a chance to enjoy the view out the windshield. Note, I recently read you should not drive faster than the tires are rated for. According to others, 65 mph is a typical RV tire rating.

The trip to Covert Michigan was short and uneventful. The campground is rustic and sits directly on the side of Lake Michigan although none of the camping spots are on the beach. Karen spent much of her young adult years camping here with friends. I had reserved a spot for two nights with a credit card while in Kansas City.  Cost was $32 a night with water and electric.  All the camp sites are surrounded by tall Michigan trees. The walk to the beach is short and we can wade out for a long ways where the water is up to your chest.  Karen said this is a good time of year for swimming in Lake Michigan because the water is at its warmest. It felt cold at first but became relaxing even though the outside temperature was only in the lower 80’s.  I’ll get Karen to take some photos of the park and post them. If you are looking up the park don’t get it confused with the KOA campground.

Location of Park

Location of Park – Click to Enlarge

Dogs are not allowed on the beach here. There are a few dog friendly (and free) beaches in the immediate area.

Of special note is Karen’s sister Kathy and husband Eugene rented one of the two small cabins for the first night of our two night stay. We had a good time on the beach and eating steaks cooked from the fire pit. Tomorrow we have our breakfast menu and lunch planned out as well.  It’s nice having them along. The cabins only have sleeping areas and no air conditioning.

I’ve discovered a couple of valuable lessons and observations about the RV lifestyle from a personal point of view. I’m not sure blogging about each day on the road will be in the cards for me. Maybe that will change when Karen and I are on the road fulltime once I’ve got the internet connections figured out and am not so busy having tons of fun on vacation. I’m sure I’ll want to blog about our longer stays in order to at least have a photo journal of our trips.  This trip however is also about learning the RV way and letting you guys know our experiences that might answer questions you have regarding renting an RV.

So far each park where we have stayed we were escorted to our spot. When I pulled in at Covert Park I found it to be run by a couple. He was sitting on a picnic bench in front of the office watching the traffic backup where they had parked a golf cart with a sign stating the beach was full.  There is parking at the beach where those that are not renting a camping spot can park after paying a $7 fee.  There was a lady behind the counter who had all the paperwork done upon our arrival. She said we were in spot #9 and to turn right to find the spot. She did not offer a map and when asked what side of the spot the hookups were on she said she did not know. I might have gotten off on a bad note with her when I said telling someone who is driving a motorhome you don’t know what side the hookups are on is a bad idea. She said why was that? I said because we don’t like backing up and running over kids in the street.  She then pulled a map out and showed me the spot. The sand/gravel road was a one-way street so I correctly made the assumption the hookups would be on the driver’s side.  Karen walked to the spot and confirmed this. The second time backing the RV into a spot went great. We were hooked up and ready to go to the beach in 15 minutes.  I had to make a sharp right turn (left turns are easier) at the main entrance around the golf cart. I told the male host sitting on the picnic table I’d appreciate him moving the golf cart out of the road to make the turn easier because if the tail of the motorhome hit the picnic table he was sitting on it would send it into the woods.  He said just give it a try. Guess I should not have doubted my newly acquired driving skills because I made the turn while only backing up once. I watched the rear camera, not to make sure I made the turn, but knowing I would not want to miss hitting the table and watching him move from his seated position for what may have been the first time that day. This time of year is late in the season and I’m sure the couple running the park are a bit tired of it. No worries, I prefer to laugh about it rather than dwell on it.  That’s a new emotion for me!

One last thing before I finish today’s epic blog post.  Our cocker spaniel Huck is a little scared of new things. Ringo is the opposite. If you say the word truck around Ringo you better have your keys in your hand because Ringo is ready to go.  I can’t believe how Huck is enjoying the trip. Karen says he even smiles in his photos. Both the boys are doing so well with it all. We turn the air conditioner and radio on in the RV while we are gone with them inside. We also close the window curtains and often come back to find them sleeping. We are learning a lot about traveling with pets. If you have any questions for us or comments about traveling with pets let me know. I’m no expert but can at least pass along what we experienced.

We really appreciate our neighbor Joyce back home in Kansas City watching the cats for us. Thank you Joyce!

Renting an RV – Day Four of Trip

Lake Chumung Outdoor Resort: Howell Michigan

I may be able to combine days 5 and 6 of our trip into one post. I’m not used to putting out daily posts on the blog and for those less interested feel free to skip these about our trip. I’ll do a summary of what we learned about our rental experience at a later date.

I spent some time reading about operating the RV Domestic thermostat before Karen found all the owner’s manuals in a cabinet. The 25’ Class C has plenty of storage for our short trip. So far the motorhome has been holding up well other than the 12 volt power supply to one of the two television melted while watching television.  Do any of you have a point of view concerning the benefit of having at least one 12 volt television, maybe in the bedroom, to watch when there are no electrical hookups? I sent an email to the rental company so they would have a heads up to replace the power supply for the next renter.

Lake Chumung is a first class resort so we did not have to use our waste and water holding tanks. We are however getting the hang of when to conserve water and waste tank space as the rigs smaller tanks are giving us a feel for what we might want when we go fulltime.

I’ve been doing all the route planning from my cell phone as every spot we have been in has not had good WIFI. Mostly I concern myself with looking at the trip around larger cities to find out what lane I might want to be in when changing interstates.

Today we attended church with Karen’s mother and trip planning was a necessity. The City of Howell Michigan had an annual festival so traffic was detoured. They did a fine job of selecting the detour road which had no low hanging spots that would damage the RV and the roadways were wide at turns. Suppose trucks have to use the same detours. I’ve learned truckers are our best friends.  I looked at the church parking lot on Google Earth and Karen called the Pastor the night before our visit to ask if we could park in the back portion of their lot. The Pastor said that would be fine, the area is seldom used. He even offered to let us camp out in the lot overnight if we wanted to.

What a great family day we had. My brother-in-law Eugene and I went shopping. As I’m sure most of you are also doing, I’m trying not to buy anything I would want to sell later when we go fulltime.

The family got together at our RV lot for a cookout. It was wonderful. Karen and I walked the park with the dogs later enjoying the “Christmas” celebration which included a parade of golf carts lit up with Christmas lights. At 8:00 pm there was a community bon fire which we missed. Karen took some wonderful photos of the resort that I posted below.

I’d definitely consider staying here for a month or so. The resort is also a popular spot for those avoiding the hot weather in Florida. There are rental spots available but most of the park is full of folks that bought their lots. I took a look at a few spots that were for sale. Seemed like the average RV lot with hookups was going for about $35,000. I did not see any lake front lots for sale which did not already have a park model on it.

We are off to Covert Park Beach and Campground next.  This stop will be in a more rustic park located alongside Lake Michigan.

Smaller fishing pond

Smaller fishing pond

Me - the beach bum

Me – the beach bum

The lake with homes along the banks

The lake with homes along the banks

Lots of nice landscaping

Lots of nice landscaping

Indoor pool near office and security gate

Indoor pool near office and security gate

Another view of lake

Another view of lake

Park model with Class A parked in rental spot

Park model with Class A parked in rental spot

Renting an RV – Day Three of Trip

Lake Chumung Outdoor Resort: Howell Michigan

Howell Michigan is where Karen’s mother and sister live.  Also it’s the home of a guy name Eugene who is my favorite brother-in-law and happens to be married to Karen’s sister. We think a lot alike. Everyone came out to visit us at the park about 30 minutes after we arrived. Good thing it only takes 20 minutes to setup camp. We are finding it takes about 45 minutes to break camp.

We are also finding limiting our drives to four or five hours is working well. Lake Chumung Outdoor Resort has a check-in time of 3:00 pm and we don’t get in a hurry to leave in the mornings. We lost an hour during the time zone change and failed to factor that in. No big deal, we (I’m) trying to avoid over planning the trip and just taking it as it comes for the most part.

So far I’ve only gotten a little upset about the driving skills of folks around the south side of Indianapolis. Thought about calling their local news channel and telling them two things. Slow down and fix your roads! Even had three state patrolman pass me at 15 over the limit. They were followed by a string of cars as if the state patrol was leading a parade.  Later Eugene and I sat around laughing as I came up with several ways to slow the traffic down around Indianapolis. I’ve got a spare cat. We don’t plan to take any cats on the road with us in four years. Figured I could throw one of them out the window in Indianapolis. One bouncing off the windshield of a speeding motorist should do the trick slowing the rest of them down. I got to thinking I might need more cats. Or maybe I should just go with Karen’s idea which includes the more sane approach which is don’t worry about missing the exit, there is always another exit down the road.   We should have taken the north loop around the city.

I wrote early about our dog Ringo having a problem with the right side of his muzzle. Karen was searching the internet as we drove trying to figure out what could be causing the problem. Got me even more concerned about my boy as she read off every possible cause for his dropping lower lip and not being able to blink his right eye. The parking lot at the animal hospital in Howell was thankfully very large and easy to park the motorhome in.  Turned out Ringo had an inner ear infection and should be okay after we give him 21 pills and a few weeks to recover.  Whew, I was relieved to know it was an ear problem and not one of those terrible causes Karen was reading on the internet which included everything but the dog having been abducted by aliens.

Suppose I should write a little more about the RV Resort and what we are learning. We stayed in campsite 119 which, like most of the Resort, in surrounded by long-term lot owners. Many own park models (that’s a small modular home looking thing). This is a true resort that butts up to an inland lake with a ton of amenities. I can now check it off the list to back an RV into a spot. No problem, I just followed what I learned on YouTube about driving a motorhome. Karen did a fantastic job of directing me into the spot. We walked around the park while the dogs caught up on their sleep. Ringo had been wanting to ride on my lap or crawl under my feet WHILE driving. Figured out a way to block his access to the driver’s area for safety.

Lake Chumung 1

Park models fill the streets

We paid $40 per night and know for sure we could spend a month at this spot. Howell Michigan is easy to drive around. The downtown area is full of little shops and all the larger box stores are nearby.

The drive to Michigan was the best possible in terms of weather. No cross winds and plenty of sunshine. We did live through our first rain storm while parked. No big deal. We just starting moving everything from outside the camper when we noticed everyone else doing the same. We can also check off another first which is Karen doing a load of laundry in an RV park. The bathrooms and laundry rooms are exceptional at this place. It would have taken a team of four men a week to install all the wall and floor tiles in the bathrooms and showers. Next time I’ll have to carry a roll of quarters instead of buying a roll from the office even though they sold me a roll without complaint. It was late in the day so maybe the lady at the desk had no use for the roll. Her husband was in the office and said they have been staying here since 1996. They stay four months and work part time at the Resort which is gated with a security guard who directed our guests to our spot. The man and his wife return home to southern Florida for the remainder of the year.

I can tell there are a lot of snow birds that spend the summer in the cooler weather here in Michigan. We learned what they do in their spare time. This includes this weekend being their Christmas. I held the door open for a guy carrying a Santa suit and many of the homes had Christmas lights on.  We checked the bulletin boards and learned the area was having a large campfire tomorrow night which we plan to attend.  Lots of other activates were also posted. There’s a golf course attached to the resort for those that play golf. I’m sticking with the miniature golf course near the indoor swimming pool.

I don’t know what I’ve done in my life to deserve all these new experiences. Karen and I are truly experiencing much of what we should expect while on the road once we go fulltime. Which will however not include many $40 a night resorts.

I used a couple of our RV related gadgets while stopped in the park. Thank you again to Tom and Joleen (Karen says this is the proper spelling for your name) for our Christmas gift of the wonderful septic hookup.

Sewer line

15′ Valeria Dominator

I’ll not need to purchase a new charcoal grill. Found this one at a local store for $10. It can easily span a 24″ fire pit, cleans up with a rag and water. Figure we will buy a gas grill later and use this new grill stand because more of the sites we found have a fire pit and no charcoal grill. It is very lightweight so we will not have to pay more in truck fuel to haul it around!

Our new $10 grill

Our new $10 grill

I started to keep track of the miles per gallon for fuel. We are getting about eight miles to the gallon. However, I’m driving 70 or the limit and not worrying about any form of fuel savings.  On the trip home I might consider dropping the speed to see if that makes a difference.  I made a mental note to do some research on how to save fuel when driving a larger rig. On today’s drive I felt very confident in my newly learned driving skills. We have covered 850 miles to date.

I’m keeping track of the costs and will post about them later for those that are interested.

Lastly, I hope I did not upset anyone with my joke about the cats!  We are animal lovers and really enjoy our family of two dogs and two cats.

I’ll include a few photos of the park later as we are staying for two nights.

Renting an RV – Part 3 – Costs and Justification

In this post regarding renting an RV I’ll write about the general costs we have estimated and how I justified the expense.

Here are links to the earlier posts:

This all boils down to the additional cost to rent an RV compared to how we would have traveled without an RV. It would appear it is costing us about $161 extra per day with the RV.

For us, this would include consideration of; renting a car or RV, possible hotel rooms or campgrounds, boarding the dogs, fuel and food. We normally rent a car for longer trips to keep the miles off ours and the trip seems shorter and more interesting when driving something you don’t drive every day.  I figure cost for food is a wash, although we may actually save money by not eating out. It will be fun to cook out of the RV! We are also not budgeting to spend money on tourist attractions as the view we want is just outside the RV. I’ve not included those savings.  I should also add if you are looking to save a little more on the RV then don’t plan a trip that includes driving 1,600 miles. The folks that rent the RV said the rental costs have more to do with the miles driven than the number of nights we have the rig.

We are able to take our two dogs saving $280 in boarding fees. The RV rental company is charging us $75 extra for deep cleaning the RV just in case the next person to rent the unit is allergic to dogs. We also decided to take the dogs to the groomer before the trip which is something we normally pay for regardless.

I considered the extra fuel cost compared to the rental car which is $388 more for the RV during the 1600 mile round trip.

Of course, we had to plan for campgrounds. I booked two prior to the trip to make sure they would be available upon arrival. Both are in fantastic areas. We knew about where we would land each night on the trip to and from Michigan. We decided to leave those nights open on the schedule and find spots along the way. Just in case we wanted to drive less or more each day because this is our first time driving a 25 foot motorhome.  Another cost consideration is we can normally stay with family in Michigan. However, if we took a vacation anywhere else the hotel costs would have been included.

If you add up all RV related costs, less having to board the dogs, rent a car and hotels, adding extra fuel costs the total comes out to about $349 per day. Compared to $188 we would have estimated without the RV. Again, that’s $161 extra per day for the RV related expenses. As a side note, we are able to pickup the RV the night before departure at no added charge.

How does one justify these added costs. Well, if we owned the RV we would have been paying at least the cost of monthly insurance along with depreciation as the RV aged.  I can’t take enough time off from work to take enough trips to justify owning an RV right now, so that was not really a valid alternative.

An obvious justification for renting an RV is to see what the lifestyle is like.  But, can you really gauge this during an eight day trip? Anything different seems fun for a short time.  I owned an RV in the past that was left parked at the lake. I can’t recall a single time wanting to come home early.

Planning for the trip had unexpected benefits such as learning about trip planning in a 25 foot rig, searching for the right camp spot and that I need to become a more patient person. I’m normally one of those type A’s who has to have everything in order and double check everything from a list. So we left a few decisions open – to be made as we travel along.  After living in the rig we have a good chance of finding out what works for us in terms of storage and how the space is utilized inside the RV.

Another justification is finding out if a Class C would be something we might want to own a couple years before we buy what will become our fulltime rig.

Perhaps the best justification for the trip is it’s our first real vacation in about 15 years which is priceless.  Camping next to Lake Michigan, in a state park and near where family can (and want to) visit is also priceless.

I’m sure I’ve missed a bunch of details. I hope you get the general idea about the extra costs of renting an RV compared to a rental car trip. If you have any comments or questions please let me know. As always, if you are reading this blog from the beginning, months from now, feel free to comment.

In what will be Part 4 of this series I’ll post a few photos of the rig – and the trip!