Revisiting the Indiana dunes

Okay, we’re back home and I have much catching up to do. To start I thought I’d go back to the wonderful beginning of my circle tour in the Indiana dunes. Makes me smile just to remember how special it was.

The blue dot was my location in Indiana Dunes State Park. Wonderful short walk through restored wetlands to long sandy beach with distant view of Chicago skyscrapers. Really lovely Art Deco structure on the beach. More images to follow.

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Henry Boy was so happy I brought his outdoor rug that he immediately took a snooze.

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A little Henry David Thoreau while I catch up

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Drawing of Thoreau’s original cabin on Walden Pond

Seems like life has gone non-stop since my last posting. I apologize and will catch up soon starting with my time on the Door Peninsula in Wisconsin. But for now a shift in direction (although related).

I’ve been fascinated with and studying the design, building and living in small cabins and homes for perhaps 30 years. I’ve only had substitutes: a 30-foot travel trailer I used as writer’s cabin for two summers and now Ecovision, my 22-foot motorhome. So I thought I’d post a series of videos and information on small homes starting with the first and best: Henry David Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond.

The vulnerability of being off-line

In everyday life I’m never long away from being online and able to communicate via mobile phone, email, Facebook, text messages, Twitter, blogs and so on. It’s so much a part of my life that I give these connections little thought. So finding myself last Thursday night without good connections stopped me in my tracks.

First of all I stepped back in time by staying at an inland RV campground called Plymouth Rock. I mean, Plymouth Rock?! I’ve been to Plymouth Rock and it wasn’t in Wisconsin. But this Plymouth Rock certainly is.

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I ended up at Plymouth Rock because of a very late start from the unpleasantness of Illinois Beach State Park. I didn’t want  to get to a campground I had never been to after dark and I wanted one with a decent shower house.

I guess I misread or misunderstood Plymouth Rock on the All Stays app I frequently use and really like. It wasn’t until I was on the road for awhile that I realized that the campground was very far away from my circle tour. It was already about 3 so half-heartedly I laid to rest plans to drive and stop at various lakeside locations and resorted to the fastest route my GPS could get me to Plymouth Rock.

I was tired when I got there at 5 minutes to 5. The woman who I had talked to on the phone and who greeted me was so nice. This late in the season I had my choice of many sites with electric. It did feel a little strange because they were laid out around the circumference of a circle of trees and you parked on grass. I found the site she had arbitrarily given me to be just fine so took 503 I think it was. Not much to it, but an easy hookup of my power cord to an aged but working system.

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It certainly felt like a step back in time. The picnic table was made of concrete, which I found odd and too cold to want to use. The campground was dated with dozens of seasonal park homes with decks and screen porches. There was a corral for golf carts and several outdoor pools with one and a whirlpool still open. It was chilly so no takers. I took care of Henry then checked out the shower house with plans to use in the morning. It seemed small and in need of updating, but clean. I met and had really nice conversation with a couple who have no permanent  home base but travel in many parts of the world doing various things. At Plymouth Rock they had been selling zone memberships for RVers. Next they were heading to Ohio to sell See’s Candy then to on to Spain where they have rented a house for six months.

Henry and I had a relaxing evening. In fact I stayed up quite late and Henry Boy patiently waited laying his head down on my journal that I had put on the bed. His sweet adorableness inspired me to just crawl into bed. Could you resist him?

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As with all good plans, in the morning they changed. I had prepaid reservations for three nights at Peninsula State Park and called to confirm. I had only been able to reserve a site without any utilities and for three nights that felt like a stretch this time of year. However, the staff person mentioned that if I got there at 10 am if one with electric was available I might be able to get it. So my plans for a leisurely morning with shower were abandoned and I was on the road and actually got to the park office just a few minutes after 10.

When I got there she marked me down as second on the list. Nice! But everyone had showed up so not even one of the 130 sites with electric were available. Darn. But I could try again the next morning, Saturday, as long as I arrived again at 10 am.  Geez, I thought, not being able to get out and about until after 10 would reduce my time exploring the Door Peninsula. And it did.

With this inauspicious beginning, the next few days on this important Great Lakes peninsula were both marvelous and seriously disconnected. Hence no posts here until tonight because I’m back to reliable Internet and at a campground! More on my journey in the next posting.

 

Illinois Beach State Park disappoints

I thought with a wonderful setting right on Lake Michigan that this state park would be a lovely place to camp. Not so much. Gorgeous sky and clouds greeted me Wednesday, but from there it was all downhill.

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The day-use parking lot was empty and there were hardly any campers. I had my pick of hundreds and hundreds of sites. All but two handicap sites were gravel and very few seemed level. Felt kind of sad here despite the lovely weather.

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I picked one backing up to the lake relatively near the shower house. I think there are only two shower houses and they are spread way apart. In this photo it looks like there are more campers than there actually were because we’re all down by one of the shower houses.

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They have been planting young conifers to improve the sites.

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I was beat by the time we settled in so I just made dinner, walked Henry, checked email, read and turned off the light early.

Thursday morning I got a late start as I struggled with my Verizon MiFi. It again was asking me to sign in and pay more money. I called technical support and a nice customer-service agent who not only explained what happened and ways to avoid it, but gave me back all those 3 GB! I learned I had used up 3 GB just since Saturday and a likely culprit was Facebook automatically playing videos. I can do Facebook just fine on my iPhone so I’m not even going to check it on my computer. Plus I turned off that feature in my iPhone settings.

At that point it was time for lunch so Henry and I ate. I was still dragging, but I thought I better get a shower before leaving. That was a big mistake. While the shower house looks old-fashioned, but okay it was not pleasant inside.

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Clean, yes (I think), but there was not one hook and you had to be a midget to feel comfortable in the shower stalls. Worst of all you have to reach in to push a button to get the water going and it sprays all over everything that you have in the “dry” part of the stall. My Birkenstocks, even though outside the shower well, got soaked. I ended up using both of the shower stalls, one to keep my clothes dry and the other to shower in. At least the temperature was good and I did get clean.

The take-away message is that the State of Illinois has a huge missed opportunity at Illinois Beach State Park. This park is on one of the most beautiful lakes on Earth with an expansive shoreline, but it needs a huge renovation to bring it up to 21st-Century standards. Indiana Dunes State Park was gorgeous and packed while this one was drab and empty. So Illinois get with the program!

Heading north along west coast of Lake Michigan

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Despite this glorious morning and how lovely the Lake Michigan shoreline is here in Indiana Dunes, Henry and I are packing up the RV to head north. Friend Karen suggested I start on I-90, which should get me to my preferred way of taking the Skyway to Chicago then driving north on Lakeshore Drive. I don’t mind paying tolls because this is a much better way to see and move to and through Chicago.

One of my jobs involved going to Chicago once a month for over year. Plus all of my Great Lakes jobs have involved frequent travel to Chicago because the Great Lakes National Program Office of the EPA is located on Jackson Avenue. The people in this office do such a great job of overseeing the complexities of protecting, restoring and conserving these irreplaceable, valuable, magnificent Lakes. Quiet heroes and heroines.

Over the decades I’ve come to know Chicago as one of our nation’s best cities and I get excited just thinking about the Chicago Institute of Arts, the hustle and bustle, the architectural and shoreline boat tours, all the top-notch restaurants, skyscrapers (invented here) and the magnificent lake it sits on.

This will be my first time navigating Chicago with my motorhome so I’ll just take my time and enjoy it as much as possible. Not even sure where we’ll camp tonight, but I’ll fill you in later with activities and photos from yesterday and today.

Rocky start and hunkering down

Saturday September 20
There was no traveling until my son came over to slide the house batteries back into Ecovision. An essential part of a motorhome are the house batteries. These are the ones that power everything inside the motorhome. Unless they are sealed, you have to check the level of distilled water. I did the right thing by checking these levels and did need to add distilled water. The batteries are new and taller and narrower than the ones they replaced making it difficult to pull the drawer out that holds them. Well I got the drawer out, but then could not get it back in.

I tried many things then called AAA. I have AAA Plus for RV coverage. After long discussion and the agent wishing he were closer so he could personally help, I learned they would not be sending a repair truck. Why? Because it wasn’t broken down. I couldn’t drive it like that, but it wasn’t broken down. That’s when I contacted my son who, as always, came through. He figured it out and with his usual persistent patience got the battery drawer to slide back in. Thanks Matthew!

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Finished packing up food, clothes and way too many electronics and off we went. It was quite windy, but we headed southwest on Michigan Avenue (M-12) right into the wind so driving was manageable. It started raining about five miles away from Hayes State Park where we were going to stay for the night. Oops, the rubber blades on my windshield washers were awful! Useless, actually. Amazingly there was a gas station right across the street from the turn into Hayes State Park. Nevertheless I was filled with dread because unlike the gas stations of the 50s and 60s when actual mechanics ran them and could always help fix things, I knew chances of my getting help were slim to none. And that’s what I found. The two woman were helpful but knew little. The gas station was filled with row after row of snacks and drinks. Fortunately they did have the 18″ blades and two were only $6.13 for the pair! Then a nice young man filling his truck with gas came right over and put them on for me. I told him was an angel and I so appreciated his help.

So we drove around the state park until we found a couple of campsites I liked then secured one at the office. Here we are settled in with Ecovision plugged in and ready to give us a cozy place to spend the night.

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Later quite severe storms blew in with thunder and lightening and gusty winds. I do carry a weather radio (and put fresh batteries in and tested before I left), but not quite bad enough to turn on. So we toughed it out. I should say I toughed it out, because Henry is oblivious to even the loudest of thunderstorms. He’s always the happy camper.

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I reheated some turkey meatloaf with carrots and onions courtesy of Chef Elrod of the People’s Food Cooperative. Yum.

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Henry was content to check things out around us and wag his tail at the two kids at a nearby campsite. He also growled at any dogs that passed by. Unfortunately, Henry has never forgotten having had his neck ripped open by a pit bull when he was a puppy that took two surgeries to get him back to normal.

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I spent some time getting my iPhone and Macbook connected to my “old” (2 years old) Samsung Mifi. Even though I had gone to a Verizon store, paid $40 for 4 GB of service and they got me set up, now that I was on the road I couldn’t connect. So I had to call Verizon only to be told I had been given the wrong information in the store. Helpless on the road, I had to fork over another $20 for 1 GB less capacity. So $60 for 3 GB. Grrr, but I do now have a portable wireless hotspot for the next 30 days or 3GB, whichever comes first.

I read for awhile, but I was pretty exhausted from an over-busy week followed by getting Ecovision ready for the road. I started nodding off and by 9 p.m. turned off the light.

Henry makes reading in my couch-bed very interesting and cozy. Fortunately he doesn't stay up there all night.

Henry makes reading in my couch-bed very interesting and cozy. Fortunately he doesn’t stay up there all night while I’m sleeping.

Sunday September 21
In the morning it was pretty wet outside.

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I woke at 7 and made a typical simple breakfast I enjoy while camping.

Peanut butter on Ed's sourdough bread with grapefruit juice and organic green grapes

Peanut butter on Ed’s sourdough bread with grapefruit juice and organic green grapes

I read some more enjoying this view from the couch-bed. The view is nicer than the photos suggests.

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In the back of Ecovision are lovely dappled, wooded wetlands. Very private. Hard to tell, but there is a steep drop down to the water.

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Had a little frog-friend take shelter from the rain alongside Ecovision’s window. Friend Karen thinks it’s a tree frog. Sure was tiny, size of my fingernail.

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The wind continued and by 10 a.m. I decided I had to stay put another night. Winds were 15-16 mph with gusts of 28, which means RVers stay put. At least this one does. Henry and I walked to the office and paid $25 for a second night. I don’t mind supporting Michigan’s wonderful state parks for another night, and the staffer loved and cuddled Henry so a bonus. Then I called Indiana Dunes State Park and for no fee they moved my reservation from coming Sunday to coming Monday! Another bonus!

So that’s about it thus far. It’s not quite three and chilly and windy with some rain. Going to go back to reading “The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, from Key West to the Arctic Ocean” written by Pulitzer-prize winning Philip Caputo. This is a memoir about traveling the longest possible road with his wife and two hunting dogs pulling an Airstream. Perfect book to read on my own travels with Henry. More adventures tomorrow!

Whew

What a day. I did a few things here in the morning and filled up my car with another load. I drove to the storage facility and pulled out Ecovision and put my Honda in her place. I unloaded my car, but didn’t put anything away. Then it was a quick half-hour drive to Camping World in Belleville. Before I left I turned on my 3-way refrigerator (on DC) so it would start to cool down for my trip.

Things went really smoothly and (amazingly) inexpensively at Camping World. The mechanic assigned to my dewinterization was ready and even waiting when I got there and he handled everything easily. He made sure my tire pressure was correct (65 pounds in front tires, 80 in rear tires–if you don’t know why the differential then you need to get your motorhome weighed!) and that the propane was on. Last time I had Ecovision serviced I had the suggested propane drop test done so I know it’s good to go.

I drove back to the storage facility switching around the vehicles. I put everything away and made my bed. Sure is feeling cozy and welcoming in there. I switched the refrigerator onto “gas” (propane) so it will continue to get cold. Hopefully by morning I can load in my food with no worries.

As I was driving home I saw a Verizon store. I needed to get my 4G Samsung mifi going for a just one month via prepaid at Verizon so I stopped in. That took some time because it’s so “old” (2 years, 1 month!) and they didn’t know how much to charge. After two phone calls it turns out it’s only $40 for 4GB. Should take care of all my wireless needs for the two to three weeks I’ll be on the road. Sweet. Then I stop service and put the mifi away until next year.

It is a glorious day. Just finished walking Henry and didn’t even want to come home. Hopefully most of our days circling will be nice although frankly a rainy day forces me to read, write and maybe play a little solitaire. This evening I’ll finish the laundry and packing. I also plan to cook and freeze some pork chops in a red currant sauce so they are ready to load tomorrow. Henry’s all packed. He will be so excited when he see Ecovision. Henry Boy loves to RV!