Almost All of 2020

Pictures can be found here

As usual, the update of our travels has been overlooked.  When last updated, we had just returned to the Kemah area for the winter.  We settled in at Gordy Rd. RV Park, where we have spent every winter since we got the RV.  Our spot this year is just two spots away from where we were last year.  One neighbor from last year is still there, so now he is our neighbor again, but on the other side of us.  Our winter started out fairly quiet.  I did a bunch of maintenance on the bus, including doing my own annual oil change.  I had done my own oil change last year at my brother’s house, since he had things like a large drain pan.  This year, it occurred to me that even though I don’t carry a large pan, I can buy a bucket with a lid at Home Depot for less than $5 and simply throw it away when I’m done.  Compared to saving about $250 doing it myself, $5 extra is worth it.  In addition to the oil change, I installed a new stereo, replaced our six house batteries, and accomplished several other little projects from the never ending list.

One of the things we always do during the winter “back home” is catch up on doctor appointments.  My annual blood work revealed that my Check Liver light had come on, so a big change in our lifestyle is that I have stopped drinking.  I guess we won’t be seeking out breweries and distilleries in each town we visit.

As usual, we took several little side trips during the winter.  In December, we took the bus up to the TX Hill Country to our friends Karen & Henry’s annual Christmas dinner weekend.  We stayed at Peach Country RV Park, less than a mile from Karen & Henry’s house.  It was good to see several friends whom we only see this once a year.  Also in December, Barb’s ex-husband passed away unexpectedly.  Fortunately, he and her son live in Houston, so we were close-by to be with her son and help him navigate this.  The last side-trip we took in December was an over-night down to Crystal Beach, east of Galveston.  Getting to Crystal Beach is always fun because it involves a twenty-minute ferry ride, but the large vehicle doesn’t faze the ferry workers.  We park next to our friends Barry & Melissa’s beach-front house where we can be plugged in for the night.  The reason for coming down here is to be at the annual full-moon bonfire on the beach where our friend Jerry Diaz entertains for a couple hours.  Some guy showed up with a trailer load of wood and made what is normally a modest bonfire, huge.  There was a good consistent breeze the whole evening, making staying near enough to the fire for warmth, while not having to dodge smoke, easy.

In January, we drove the car over to New Orleans for Pardi Gras, the annual Trop Rock event we attend and help organize with friends Jerry & Mary Diaz.  The weather for the whole weekend was perfect and the event went off well.  The rest of the month was just hanging at the bus working on some of those projects I mentioned earlier.

February took us on two side-trips.  The first was back to the Hill Country to Marble Falls.  Marble Falls is about an hour northwest of Austin.  We are here for the fourth annual Lone Star Luau, a Trop Rock music event put on by friends Thom Shepherd and Coley McCabe-Shepherd.  We help out with this event also, so while enjoying the music, we are also working to make it all happen.  It’s a lot of work, but fun.  Our second February trip was from Kemah down to Port Aransas for yet another Trop Rock event.  This one was Pirates & Poets, put on by friends Jon Burns & Danielle Diaz.  Pirates & Poets is a combination of music at Shorty’s Place, known as the oldest and friendliest bar on Mustang Island and a listening event at a host hotel.  Shorty’s is hard to describe if you’ve never seen it.  Dive bar doesn’t quite cover it.  Shorty’s somehow escaped significant damage during hurricane Harvey a couple years ago, although many say a good washing out by a hurricane would do the place good.  The good news about Shorty’s is that the music is performed out on a porch, so the only reason to go inside is to go to the bathroom or the bar.  The main event of Pirates & Poets is held in a meeting room of the host hotel, where about 80 people get to listen to three performers perform their songs in-the-round, along with the stories of how the songs came about.  This part is a listening room type event, not a baroom party setting.  This has become my preferred way to hear music. 

Normally the Port A trip is the kick-off to our season of moving north.  This year however, we are going back to Kemah for another month.  Our plan this year is to spend the summer in NY again and it is too early to head that far north.  Once back in Kemah, we started thinking about how the developing COVID pandemic was going to affect our plans.  We were starting to hear of cancelled events and travel restrictions being put in place.  Our plan was to leave Kemah and stop at my son’s house outside Dallas anyway, so at the end of March, we moved up there.  As the uncertainty of the pandemic grew, our logic was that worst-case, we could just stay at my son’s all summer.  At my son’s he was still going to work, but his company was being very proactive with implementing mask and sanitation protocols, so we weren’t too worried about him bringing something home.  Speaking of masks, at the height of the shortage of masks, a member of our Alfa RV club started making them and sent us two.  They not only were functional, but they were tropical colors.  The things we had planned for the summer, an Alfa RV rally, grandkids high-school graduations, another Trop Rock event, a Caribbean sailing trip, a NY NASCAR race, and several visits to friends in the northeast, all were getting cancelled or postponed.  So, our planned three week stop in Dallas stretched to ten weeks.  The time spent at my son’s was productive.  I did the weekly mowing of the six acres, helped him install four ceiling fans, helped him use a large rented stump grinder to get rid of several large stumps, and provided onsite project management for pouring of several concrete pads and installation of a water line to serve both the RV parking and the barn area.  We also paid a visit to the Dallas Karting Complex  where I challenged my son and his son-in-law to some racing.  The old man had the fastest lap, proving he still has it.  We really didn’t fancy the idea of staying in Texas all summer though, as even in north Texas, it gets pretty darn hot in the summer.  So, we started thinking about options that would be cooler yet keep us safe during a pandemic. 

The plan we came up with was to go to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Barb found an RV park that sounded good and we made a reservation for a month.  Not knowing what to expect in actual traveling, we planned the trip from Dallas to Michigan as a quick transit, rather than a slow meander.  We left my son’s on June 10th and drove to Little Rock, AR.  Little Rock had been on our itinerary last spring but had to be scratched due to flooding of the Arkansas River.  Downtown Riverside RV Park is right on the river in downtown Little Rock.  There is no flooding this year, so we stopped here and plan two nights so we can maybe see some stuff we missed last year.  Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, many things we wanted to see, like the Clinton presidential library were closed.  We did take a drive around the area, including Pinnacle Mountain State Park.  The RV park is almost directly under the bridge that carries Interstate 30 over the river, and there is a railroad bridge just upstream from that, so there was a fair amount of noise all the time.  We met another Alfa owner in the park who was a train engineer on vacation, and he told us there was also a large rail yard just north of us that also contributed to the noise.  After two nights in Little Rock, we moved on to St. Louis.  In St. Luis we stayed at the Casino Queen RV Park because again, it was right off the interstate.  We have stayed here before, but last time it was very full.  This time, we were one of eight rigs in the park which holds well over 100.  This was just an overnight stop and the next day it was on to Madison, WI, where we had reservations at the KOA.  We have also stayed here before, and we are staying two nights so that we can have a quick visit with my niece.  We went to my nieces house the next day for brunch, served outside where we all social distance.  These few days of traveling have been a learning experience with mask wearing and social distancing. 

Our final travel day took us from Madison, WI, through Green Bay to the Pictured Rocks RV Park outside Munising, MI.  The RV park is only about a half-mile from the south shore of Lake Superior, although you can’t see the lake from the park.  We would later realize how much being so close to the lake played a role in keeping us cool.  The lake water never gets warmer than the mid-60s, so within a couple miles of the lake, the air is cooled significantly.  There could be a ten or fifteen degree difference once you got away from the water.  It made for a nice cool beginning to our summer.  The park is about 70 large spots spread over a nice hillside.  When we first arrived, we were one of only four or five rigs here.  I asked at the office if the sparse population was due to the pandemic, but was told that it was just because their season had just started on Memorial Day weekend, so they were just getting going.  Over the course of our month-long stay, the place filled up, becoming full on the weekends and less-so during the week.  The area is hugely popular with snowmobilers in the winter and four-wheelers in the summer.  So, many of the people visiting were coming with their RVs and a trailer with several four-wheelers.  They would all take off in the morning on the four-wheelers and return in the evening to campfires.  We spent many of our days just hanging, reading or watching TV.  Since we didn’t know what to expect for the summer, just being out of the Texas heat was our minimum goal, and that was being met. But, as we got more knowledge about the pandemic specifically in the UP, we ventured out a bit.  The county we were in only had four reported cases, and no deaths.  The whole UP had only a handful of cases compared to the rest of the state, and because of that, there was no “lockdown”, just simple mask and occupancy restrictions.   We started taking day drives to explore the area.  We took several trips to Marquette, the next nearest town, where we were able to enjoy the occasional meal out.  Between Munising and Marquette we noticed a place called Lakenenland Sculpture Park.  The sign said it was free, so we stopped by.  The first thing we found funny was the signage at the entrance.  Obviously the guy who owns this place has had some disputes with the local zoning board and other authorities.  In my pictures you can see an example of this.  We parked and started walking the loop which contains over 100 sculptures made from junk.  It is the perfect example of what happens when an artistic welder is unemployed. Much of the “art” clearly displayed the artist’s feelings about union support and the current state of affairs in the country.  It was definitely worth the time to stop and see, and one of those little gems we wouldn’t see if we weren’t living this lifestyle.  We took a long day trip from Munising, east along the south shore of Lake Superior to Sault Ste. Marie, south to Mackinaw City, west along the north shore of Lake Michigan to Manistique, and back north to Munising.  During this road-trip, we noticed large birds standing in the grass along the shoulder.  The birds were quite large, like a Blue Heron size, but they were a reddish brown color.  When we stopped and looked them up, we found out they were Sandhill Cranes and are quite common up here in the summer.  Many of the touristy things to do were restricted due to the pandemic, but the boat tours of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore were operating on a limited capacity basis.  Since we were here for a month, we were able to plan far enough in advance to get reservations for the tour.  The boat ride is about two hours long and takes you east from Munising along the rugged shoreline of the national park.  Most of the shoreline is the sheer cliffs with their interesting shapes and colors, so the only way to see it is from a boat.  Another popular tour is by kayak, but we prefer the comfy method.  We learned that a local food item is the pasty.  While it sounds like something found in a strip club, it really is a fold-over pie crust filled with beef, potato and turnip.  While it is considered a must-have, I found them kind of bland.  One night our power went off for a minute and then came back on.  Since we have a large inverter and large battery bank, the only way I know if the shore power goes off would be if the heat or a/c went off unexpectedly, or if I hear the “clunk” of the surge protector.  And, since the evenings are comfortable, we didn’t have the heat or a/c on.  Of course I can also tell by looking at the controller for the inverter/charger, but I wouldn’t see that unless I was specifically looking for it.  Anyway, the power came back on in a minute, so we didn’t think much of it until it did the same thing a minute later.  Once it had my attention, I went outside to look at the surge protector.  I found that it would connect for just a few seconds and then cut off again.  Once it cuts off, it waits two minutes before connecting again, and it seemed to be doing this over and over.  The lights on the surge protector didn’t tell me anything, and after reading the surge protector manual, I convinced myself that it had broken.  I unplugged us from the shore power and decided to deal with it in the morning.  In the morning, I plugged us back in and it connected fine.  So, thinking the surge protector was getting flaky, I researched new ones but fortunately didn’t purchase yet.  That next evening, the same thing started happening.  This time when I went outside to look at the surge protector, I noticed several neighbors out looking at theirs also.  This told me it wasn’t my problem.   I got my meter out and started trying to measure the power at the park pedestal and found that the voltage coming in was different on the two hot legs of power.  I found that if I plugged into the 30 amp plug which only uses one hot leg of power, the problem went away.  So, I did that for the night and then in the morning went to the office to tell them there was a problem.  I wasn’t the only one to complain, and it turned out to be a power company problem feeding the park.  The power company was in and out of the park several times during the day, but they got it resolved before evening.

About three weeks into our month in Munising we needed to think about what was to come next.  We thought about moving south through western Michigan along the shore of Lake Michigan, but since the main part of Michigan was dealing with large numbers of COVID cases, we elected instead to see more of the UP and then go west.  In our planning, we found that we were part of a surge in RVing due to the pandemic.  Many people are using RVing as a way of getting out and naturally being somewhat socially distant.  RV sales are skyrocketing due to this and perhaps because many families are losing their homes and are turning to RVs as a solution.  Between this and the normal problem of being in a place where the vacation season is short, we are finding that getting reservations is a little more challenging than previous years.  On our road-trip which had a stop in Sault Ste. Marie, we had seen that it is a cute town, and the locks deserve more investigation than just a stop.  We had seen a couple of RV parks right on the water, so we made a reservation for Monday through Friday at the Aune Oswald Campground, a city run RV park right on the St. Mary’s River which is the link between Lake Superior and Lakes Huron and Michigan.  We were only able to get the weekdays because the weekend was full.  So on Monday, July 13th, we moved to Sault Ste. Marie.  Our spot isn’t on the front row, but only one row back, so we can clearly see the water and the boat traffic in the river.  The park is about two miles east of the Soo Locks, which move boats between Lake Superior and the St. Mary’s River which connects to both Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.  There are several types of commercial ships moving through the lakes, from tanker to container ships, but the stars of the show are the 1000-foot lake freighters that move iron ore, limestone and coal. The largest of these ships, the 1013 foot Paul Tregurtha, happened to come past the park just minutes after we had gotten set up.  The ships have to pass a ferry just west of the park and usually blow their horns when they pass, so it’s easy to know when one is coming.  I have an app on my phone that tracks all commercial and many pleasure boats throughout the world, so I could see when ships were expected.  Apparently lots of the other campers had various ways of knowing when ships were expected, because each time one was coming, people would migrate to the edge of the water to watch them and take pictures.  Having been around lots of large ships in our boating days, I found it interesting to learn about this new type.  There are thirteen of the 1000-footers, and numerous smaller ships, although smaller is relative.  The 1000-footers can never leave the Great Lakes because the Welland Locks at Niagara Falls can only accommodate a maximum of 800 feet.  Just down the street from the RV park we toured the museum ship Valley Camp.  Valley Camp plied the Great Lakes between 1917 and 1966.  In 1968 she was permanently parked in Sault Ste. Marie and turned into a museum.  She is only 550 feet long, so age and capacity compared to newer ships made her obsolete.  In addition to details about this ship, the museum also had displays relative to the era in general and an exhibit dedicated to the Edmund Fitzgerald.  As probably the case with most people, our knowledge of the Edmund Fitzgerald came from Gordon Lightfoot’s popular song from 1976.  It was very interesting to learn a lot more about the wreck.  We took a day to drive back west an hour from Sault Ste. Marie to visit the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point.  The museum is at a still working lighthouse and is dedicated to the many ships lost over the years in the Great Lakes.  People may think “how bad can a lake be on a boat?”  But the Great Lakes can be as treacherous as the ocean in storms.  The loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald is a good example of this.  The museum has the actual ships bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald on display, and we watched a very informative video about that day.  Back in Sault Ste. Marie, we booked a boat tour that includes transiting the locks.  The tour boat dock was again, just down the street from the RV park.  There are three locks in Sault Ste. Marie, and a fourth under construction.  The smallest of the locks is on the Canadian side of the river and is used primarily for smaller pleasure boats and the tour boats.  On the US side, there are two large locks that can handle the 1000-footers, but one is closed while a third is being built next to it.  The tour boat normally goes “upbound” through a smaller US lock, and returns “downbound” through the even smaller Canadian lock.  They use the terms upbound and downbound instead of eastbound or westbound.  The terms relate to the river flow, although I don’t know if that’s really their origin.  As our tour left the dock and headed for the locks, the tour guide pointed out several shore-side things and gave us history of the town and the locks.  When we got to the locks, we stopped and waited a bit.  After a little wait, the tour guide explained that there was something going on with the railroad lift-bridge just west of the locks, so we would go over to the Canadian side instead.  We proceeded to the Canadian locks and after waiting for some downbound traffic, we moved into the lock.  Having been through a few locks in our boat, this procedure wasn’t totally foreign to us and it was fun watching folks who had probably never done this before.  I also enjoyed watching the people on a couple of pleasure boats in the lock with us who didn’t seem to have much experience with it.  I’d like to think that even when we were rookies at boating, we weren’t as obvious as some.  Leaving the locks, we toured around the Canadian side and then made our way over to the US side for the downbound trip.  Our captain was in touch with the people working on the railroad bridge and they said it should be opening soon.  We hung out for a little bit and finally the bridge opened.  Also waiting for the bridge was the 600 foot Manitoulin.   While hanging out waiting we got a lot closer to the Manitoulin than I thought would have been appropriate, but once the bridge opened, we passed it and entered the smaller McArthur lock.  As we approached the lock, the tour guide pointed out the guy to our left working on repairs to the concrete and rub-rail where one of the big ships had rammed the side recently.  The Manitoulin slowly maneuvered towards the Poe lock as our lock doors closed behind us and we started to be lowered to the river level.  We completed our tour back down the river to the dock.  From the tour, we drove down the street, just past our RV park to have lunch at Clyde’s Drive-In.  Clyde’s is an old-fashioned burger and fries place known for their large burgers.  We parked and a girl came out to the car to take our order.  We ordered and then went over to a picnic table in the shade.  Clyde’s is right on the river where you can watch the ships, and while waiting, here came Manitoulin from the locks.  We weren’t much farther away now than we had been on the water.  Clyde’s food turned out to be worth the stop.  One evening in the park, I struck up a conversation with our next-door neighbor.  They had a new-to-them fifth-wheel but they were interested in our bus.  They had previously owned an older class A and they were interested in how we had renovated ours. 

For our next stop, we had found weekend accommodations at a KOA in St. Ignace.  St. Ignace is south of Sault Ste. Marie on the northern side of the Mackinac Bridge.  The primary reason for this stop is to travel by ferry to Mackinac Island for a day.  Mackinac Island is the town time left behind.  Once arriving by Star Line ferry from either Mackinaw City or St. Ignace, the only transportation around the island is by foot, bicycle or horse drawn carriage (or snowmobile in the winter).  We walked up from the ferry dock to the main drag and assessed our options.  Since neither of us was inclined to ride bicycles or walk on a hilly island, we opted for a carriage tour with Mackinac Island Carriage Tours.  Due to the pandemic, the carriage capacity was half the norm, which made it more comfortable for us.  Our carriage driver/tour guide, Eden, was a young lady who came to the island to work in the summer.  There are less than 500 year-round residents of the island.  The population swells in the summer with service people to accommodate the 15,000 daily visitors.  Again, given the pandemic, the visitor numbers were way down making our visit much more enjoyable with smaller crowds.  Our tour was a little less than two hours and took us through town and around the whole island, which is less than five square miles.  Along the tour, Eden gave us quite a fun and informative narrative.  She seemed to really know the island history as opposed to just memorizing the tour.  We stopped midway in the tour so that we could get out and take a short walk to see Arch Rock, a natural bridge overlooking Lake Huron.   Mackinac Island is home to the Grand Hotel, which is known for the world’s longest porch along with its general opulence.  The tour will either take you back to downtown where it started, or you can disembark at the Grand Hotel for a visit and then walk the short distance back downtown.  We elected to get off at the hotel and pay the $10 fee to roam the premises as if we were guests.  We roamed around the public areas like the lobby, and then sat out on the porch for a spell.  As soon as we sat down in the large Adirondack chairs, a server popped up out of nowhere to see if we would like anything.  We declined and just sat and enjoyed the view and the ambiance.  After a bit, we went inside and upstairs to the Cupola Bar which is the very top (maybe seven stories) of the hotel.  The view of the grounds and the lake was great, and of course the service was top shelf.  Again, we were one of only three tables occupied due to the small crowds.  After enjoying a beverage, we left the bar and walked through the front grounds of the hotel back towards town.  We had some time to kill before the next ferry back to St. Ignace, so we sought out what looked to be the best ice cream shop on the main drag.  The main drag is like many other tourist towns with ice cream shops, coffee shops, bike rentals, and souvenir shops.  We sat out on a bench watching the people and eating our ice cream until the ferry arrived.  When we got back to St. Ignace, we had a little surprise.  There are three different ferry docks in St. Ignace, belonging to the two different ferry companies.  The Star Line which we are on owns two of the docks.  Our boat was approaching the dock we had departed from, and where our car is parked, but stopped before entering the protected harbor.  The captain was on the radio, but I couldn’t hear the conversation.  After a minute, the boat turned around, raising eyebrows on all aboard.  The captain came on and explained that due to unusually high water, we would have to use their other dock, and that they would have a bus take us back to our cars.  I didn’t understand how high water could affect docking the boat until we got back to the car.  The problem wouldn’t have been tying up the boat – it would have been wading from the gangplank to our cars.  The water was up in the parking lot, just shy of where we were parked.  So, we didn’t get wet and we understood the problem.  Back at the RV park, we saw a couple of interesting old bus conversions.  One was a 1956 Vistaliner, and the other was a 1971 MCI.  They had both been converted inside to RVs, but looked close to original outside.  They both had loud old Detroit engines, so you couldn’t miss knowing when they were underway.

From Mackinaw, we plan to turn west towards the Dakotas.  Our next stop was at Torch Lake Campground in Conover, WI.  Conover is in northern Wisconsin in the area known as Land O’ Lakes.  The park itself is a relatively new county park.  It is so new that if you look at the satellite view on Google Maps, it wasn’t there yet when the picture was taken.  I checked and double checked the address and directions on their website, but was still a little leery as we proceeded down a small country road that had a Dead End sign at the beginning.  I had studied Google Maps to see where I could possibly turn around if in fact the directions were wrong.  But, to my relief, at the end of the road we found this nice new park.  The spots were large and well-spaced.  Shortly after we got set up the park host came by to give us an info package and welcome us to the park.  We spent Monday through Friday here, but there isn’t a week worth of things to see if you aren’t into hiking or off-road riding.  We took a drive one day north to the town of Land O’ Lakes and then made a big loop clockwise through lots of small lakes and beautiful country.  We did venture out for lunch and groceries one day and found a sports bar in the town of Eagle River.  We weren’t sure about the restaurant pandemic protocols, so we had our masks on as we entered.  What we found was surprising – no masks on any customers or the wait-staff.  The majority of or time spent here this week was sitting outside enjoying the surroundings and the weather while reading. 

Next stop was the Duluth, MN area.  Once again I encountered trouble finding a place with space on the weekend.  We wanted to spend a week in Duluth, but for the weekend we had to stay outside town a bit at Northland Campground.  Northland Camping is just outside Superior, WI, which is right across the state line and the St. Louis River from Duluth.  The park was an older, no-frills place, but there was nothing wrong with it.  On the trip this day we got detoured due to a road closure.  The road we got turned on was a smaller county road, but still ok for the bus.  Although our navigation system kept trying to turn us around on small dirt roads, we followed the well placed detour signs.  The detour took us almost twenty miles back to the highway, but it kept us on roads that even 18-wheelers could handle.  Once we got to the RV park, we parked right next to the couple we had been next to back in Sault Ste. Marie.  We spoke with them again and laughed about following each other.  We took a drive one day northeast around the peninsula that goes towards the Apostle Islands.  We stopped in Bayfield, WI for lunch where again, we found a little more mask compliance but still people were resistant to the idea.  Bayfield is the port where the ferry to the Apostle Islands departs from, but given pandemic restrictions, we didn’t actually go to the islands.  Our ride continued south to Ashland where we turned back west towards home.  This was the highway we had been detoured from in the bus, so we kept our eyes open looking for the reason for the detour.  We found a place that looked like there had been a serious accident with a large cleanup that must have been it.   In Superior we found the SS Meteor museum.  The Meteor is an old lake freighter.  It is the sole surviving whaleback design ship and is called that because the style is shaped kind of like a whale.  We stopped in to take the tour, but found that because of the pandemic, you need to schedule an appointment.  The next appointment available was Monday at 11:00 AM.  Since we are supposed to check out of the RV park Monday, we made the appointment and I planned to just stop here in the RV on our way to the next park.  There was a large parking lot, and I thought there would be plenty of room to park.  But as an easier alternative, I checked with the RV park manager and asked if it would be a big deal if we didn’t pull out until maybe 2 PM.  She said that was no problem, so Monday, we got the bus all ready to go, then went and toured the Meteor, and were ready to pull out as soon as we returned.  The Meteor tour was interesting.  Since it was by appointment only, it was just the two of us with the tour guide.  The idea of the whaleback design was that the boat rode a lot lower in the water and was rounded.  This was to let it take the waves better.  Unfortunately, the design had a couple of drawbacks.  One was that the hatches were small limiting the speed the ships could be loaded or unloaded.  The other was that since they rode low in the water when loaded, they were harder to see and were involved in several collisions.  The Meteor is located directly adjacent to a putt-putt golf course.  The Meteor was a steam powered ship, and the steam whistle still operates.  The tour guides love to give a toot on the steam whistle when you are on the bridge of the ship, which scares the crap out of the people playing golf.  After the tour, we went back to the bus and immediately hooked up the car and took off.  This late departure works great because we are only traveling about 30 minutes to our next stop.

Lakehead Boat Basin is right in Duluth.  Duluth’s harbor is protected from the sometimes large waves of Lake Superior by a long, skinny peninsula.  Big ships get in and out of the harbor by passing under a large lift bridge which carries the street that runs the length of the peninsula.  During the winter, all the boats in Lakehead Boat Basin get taken out of the water and stored in the parking lot.  During the summer, when the boats are in the water, the parking lot turns into an RV park.  It is just a blacktop parking lot, but the location is cool if you have a boating background as we do, and it is just down the street from the lift bridge which itself is a tourist attraction.  We had scouted out the route here and the park a couple days ago in the car, so what looked a little sketchy on the map was not a big deal.  We got backed in between two neighbors who were both quiet and nice.  They both got replaced during the week by neighbors who were loud and had kids.  You can’t win them all.  As soon as we got there, I started checking out both the website for the lift bridge, and the MarineTraffic app on my phone.  I wanted to watch some big ships come through the lift bridge.  We weren’t disappointed because there was a large ship coming in the next hour.  It wasn’t one of the 1000-footers, but it was the 650-foot Arthur Andersen, which is known historically as the last ship to be in contact with the Edmund Fitzgerald when it sank.  We walked the four blocks to the bridge, and crossed over to the north side where there is a park and a large walkway all the way out the jetty that is the approach to the bridge.  Shortly after we crossed the bridge, the gates closed and the bridge went up.  I was surprised how early it went up, because the ship was still a mile out from the jetties.  I guess they leave nothing to chance, because you can’t just stop a ship like that if something kept the bridge from rising all the way.  As was the case in Sault St. Marie, we weren’t the only ones who flocked to see a boat come by.  The plaza filled up as the boat approached, and then everybody went back about their day after it had passed.  The boat crew enjoyed the show also, as several of them were standing on the side waving to the crowd.  We repeated the boat watching a couple of times during the week.  It was cool also being at the bus and having them come right by the marina/RV park.  Of course we did some riding around in the car.  We went north and previewed our next stop, and while on the north side of Duluth, we found a Great Clips so we could get long-needed haircuts.  We also drove all the way out the peninsula that the RV park is on.  At the very end we found a seaplane base and watched as one came in for a landing.  The one attraction we were able to visit was the Great Lakes Aquarium.  It had just re-opened with mask and capacity restrictions, which we are still getting used to. 

Next stop was again, just a stone’s throw up the road.  With only a thirty-minute drive to Burlington Bay Campground in Two Harbors, MN, we waited right up to check-out time to leave, hoping that arriving before check-in time wouldn’t matter.  You never know from campground to campground about arriving early.  We had no problem checking in early, and were pleasantly surprised by the campground.  Looking at the park’s website, it looked obvious to me that there was an older part of the park that had three loops of spots among trees, and then there was what appeared to be just an open area across the street with no tress.  What you couldn’t appreciate from the park map or Google Maps, was that this large open area was terraced and the utilities were laid out so that you could pull in the spots head-first and every spot would have a beautiful unobstructed view of the lake.  The spots were also good-sized, so you weren’t right on top of your neighbor.  It truly was a gem.  I noticed a trailer in the next row that was a style I couldn’t figure out.  It was a bumper-tow, but after it was disconnected, the box of the trailer lowered down to be flat on the ground.  I got the brand name from it and started researching, and found out it was what they call an Ice House RV.  It’s designed to be taken out on a frozen lake, lowered down onto the ice surface, and then there is some number of openings in the floor to be used for ice fishing!  No wonder I didn’t recognize the style.  I guess it makes sense to have an ice fishing house that can be used year-round.  Two Harbors is so named because there are two bays from the lake.  Burlington Bay which we overlook is just north of Agate Bay, where there is still an active ore loading dock for the big ships.  While we were there a ship came in to load.  We drove down as close as we could to the dock and tried watch the operation.  It was really amazing to see how quickly the process goes.  Belly-dump rail cars would have come in beforehand, running out on the top of the dock, and dumping their loads into huge hoppers.  Then when the ship pulls alongside, giant doors open and dump the hopper full into the ship.  We could barely see from where we were, but we could hear it as each hopper emptied.  It reminded me of my childhood when we had a coal furnace and a dump truck would deliver coal down a metal chute into the big bin in the basement.  Of course we took a little road trip north from Two Harbors as far as Silver Bay.  Silver Bay has a still-active ore loading dock on the waterfront, and the town is up a hill away from the water.  On our way back south, we stopped at the Split Rock Lighthouse.  In addition to the lighthouse itself, there are several other historic buildings on the site.  There were several residences, one of which is restored as the light-keeper’s house, one is the fog horn building, and one was where the oil (flammable) was stored away by itself.  It was a nice historic preservation.  A little further south, we stopped at Gooseberry Falls State Park.  We had walked in just as far as the visitor’s center when it started to rain, so we decided to come back another day to see the falls.  When we returned the next day, we found the crowd to be much larger and there was no parking available.  I guess Gooseberry Falls is not on our “must see” list.  There are two must-do food things in this area.  One is Betty’s Pies, and the other is smoked fish.  Betty’s Pies was just north of town.  It is both a sit-down restaurant as well as a pie shop.  They have an outside window for ordering to-go, so we went up and checked out the available pie flavors.  It was mid-afternoon when we were there, so several flavors were sold-out, but they have a peach/blueberry available, and those are two of my favorite fruit flavors.  So we took home a whole pie which we enjoyed with vanilla ice cream over several days.  For smoked fish, the reportedly best place to get some was Lou’s Fish House which is almost directly across the street from the RV park.  We stopped in there not really knowing what we were doing.  They had several types of fish, smoked in different kinds of smoke.  We chose some smoked whitefish to make a dip out of, and salmon to just snack on with cheese and crackers.  Interestingly, in these times of getting used to mask wearing, the girl behind the counter asked us to remove our masks because she was hearing impaired and needed to read our lips.

Our plan from here is to leave the Great Lakes and take a month or so to tour the Dakotas.  We have done some of South Dakota a few years ago, but North Dakota is one of the few states we have not even touched in our travels.  With that as a goal, we headed west from Two Harbors.  Or first stop was Walt’s Hidden Acres in Walker, MN.  The RV park itself is a couple miles out of the town of Walker.  It is fairly new and is owned and run by a local couple who also have full-time real jobs.  So, payment and site assignment are all done before you arrive.  We spent five days here and never did meet the owners.  Walker is on Leech Lake which is a pretty good sized lake in a land of thousands of lakes. This area is the headwaters of the Mississippi River.  As with our entire trip this summer, this is the land of snowmobiles and off-road vehicles.  We took a day trip to circumnavigate Leech Lake by car.  Coming back into town, we stopped at Shingobee on the Bay, a restaurant and small casino.  They had a nice outdoor seating area overlooking the water where we had a meal.  This was the first place we encountered them taking our temperature before coming in.  This stop was again a sit and read for several days kind of stop.  Our one distraction in the RV park itself happened right across from us.  On Friday evening, a fifth wheel came in just before it was predicted to rain.  It was pretty threatening looking as he pulled in.  The guy driving seemed to know what he was doing and backed in and setup very quickly in the spot right across from us.  That’s when things got interesting.  Two cars showed up, with six people who obviously had no knowledge of camping or RVs.  They loaded bags into the RV and then sat around, while the original guy setup a grill and hastily started preparing dinner.  It was obvious that this was like a crewed charter where he was the captain and cook and they were just there to enjoy the weekend.  We observed all weekend as he took care of meals and cleanup and they were just guests.  Another clue was that he slept in the backseat of his pickup while the guests slept in the trailer.  It must have been cozy in the trailer with six, even though it was maybe 38 footer.  Come Sunday, they didn’t seem to come alive until about 11 AM, which is the regular checkout time.  They were just making trips to the bathhouse, and the host guy was starting to cook breakfast.  The park’s owner guy came over and had a conversation that didn’t seem to be entirely congenial, but I’m guessing it had to do with “late checkout”.  It wasn’t until late in the afternoon that everybody got back in their cars and left, then the host guy packed up, hooked up, and off he went.  The idea of a crewed charter is common in the boat world, but I had never heard of it in the camping world.

Our next stop was our first foray into North Dakota.  We had thought about stopping in Fargo, but I didn’t find any RV parks in the area when I was looking.  So other than a fuel stop, we kept going west to Bismarck.  We are staying at the Bismarck KOA for a week.  The spot we got was near the edge of the park, which unfortunately borders a pretty busy road.  The park is nice, with lots of big trees and shade, but that means we have to hook up to the park cable to get TV.  The couple we met in Sault Ste. Marie and Superior are also here.  Guess we qualify as stalkers since we arrived second.  We drove around the Bismarck area a couple of times and about the only thing of note was the fact that they have what I think qualifies as the ugliest state capitol building that I have ever seen.  We did find a nice park called Keelboat Park that has a replica of a boat used in the Lewis & Clark Expedition.  Other than that, we spent a lot of time again reading and relaxing.

We are heading for Custer, SD where Alfa friends workamp.  To break that trip up, we made a stop for two nights in Bowman, ND at a county park called Butte View Campground.  Like most state/county parks we’ve stayed at, this was prepaid and the site preassigned, so there was no check-in or contact with anybody.  While the park suited our needs of a place to park and have full hookups, it had nothing much else to offer.  It obviously hadn’t been mowed or tended to in anyway in a while.  There was a train track just a couple hundred feet from us, but there seemed to only be two trains each evening and there were no crossings nearby, so no horns.  During the full day we were here, we took a long ride which included The Enchanted Highway.  This ride took us from Bowman back north to Dickenson where we had lunch at Player’s Sports Bar.  At lunch, I ordered a non-alcoholic beer, since I’m not drinking anymore, and the server mentioned that he wasn’t drinking anymore either – and then pointed out the ankle monitor he was wearing courtesy of the local justice system.  He explained that he had gotten a DWI while sitting in his car in front of his house.  Sounded like he got a raw deal, but I expect there is another side to the story.  At any rate, I thought it was funny how open he was about discussing it.  After eating, we went one exit east of Dickenson to the beginning of The Enchanted Highway.  The highway itself isn’t special, but along the highway are six huge sculptures made out of junk.  From Interstate 94 south to Regent, there are seven of these large displays.  In Regent the same guy operates the Enchanted Castle Hotel.  The whole trip was about 180 miles.  Other than the sculptures, pretty much all we saw was wheat and sunflowers, both of which are huge crops in North Dakota.  There was one exception to this.  As we were driving along the straight road with its rolling hills, we crested a hill and saw a huge combine coming our way.  The combine was a couple miles away, but it didn’t take but a second to know this wasn’t going to work.  I slowed and found an entrance to a field where I could pull all the way in to the fence and be way off the road.  We sat and waited until the machine passed with a big wave from the driver.  I’m sure this is a common occurrence out here, but I  just recalled the “laws of gross tonnage” from my boating days and got out of the way.

Our next stop was Custer Mountain Cabins & Campground in Custer, SD.  We planned this stop because our friends and fellow Alfa owners, Rudy & Beate, spend their summers here workamping.  We visited this area in 2016, staying in Rapid City, but exploring the Custer area by car.  We’ve already seen the big-name attractions in the area, like Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse, but Rudy & Beate are known to explore everywhere they go, so I’m sure they will have some suggestions for things we haven’t seen already.  When we first got to the campground, we saw another Alfa there (besides Rudy & Beate’s), and we found that another Alfa couple we know, Wayne & Sandy, were visiting with Rudy & Beate by car.  By the time we were checked in and set up Wayne & Sandy were leaving, but we found that they were coming back for dinner.  That evening, we enjoyed some of Rudy & Beate’s German cooking and caught up with everybody.  Since we didn’t have an annual Alfa rally this year, it was nice to catch up with folks we would have seen there.  The couple from the other Alfa that is parked here are not here this week, so we did not get to meet them.  Rudy & Beate are workamping here, so we had several days to entertain ourselves in the area.  We had to go into Rapid City one day to pick up a prescription.  Instead of just returning to Custer, we headed south to Hot Springs where Rudy had told us about The Mammoth Site.  We thought we would stop for lunch on Hot Springs before touring The Mammoth Site, but we found that due to the pandemic, the few sit-down restaurants in Hot Springs were all closed.  Not wanting to settle for fast food, we saw one other option that appeared to be on the edge of town.  We were following Google Maps out of town on a small road and were about convinced that this must be an error, when we finally came to the long driveway for the Southern Hills Diner.  Although they don’t have a website, from Google reviews and Facebook, this place was purported to be a farm-to-table restaurant with good reviews.  What we saw in front of us was an old house, with several outbuildings.  There was only one car in the parking lot, but it was about 1 PM.  We thought about turning around, but we were hungry and figured, how bad could it be?  As we got out the car, a woman was picking some herbs out of the garden right in front of the house and she greeted us.  We stepped inside and found a couple of rooms with tables, shelves lining the walls with jams, pickles, and other preserves, and a counter where you placed your order.  The small menu was on the wall, and we placed our order with a young girl behind the counter.  There was another couple enjoying their meal when we sat down, so that’s a good sign.  The woman we saw outside was the chef and I’m guessing the girl who took our order was her daughter.  Our food took a little while to come, but I’m sure it was because everything was made just for our order.  The food was great and it felt more like we had lunch at someone’s house than at a restaurant.  After lunch, we went back to Hot Springs to The Mammoth Site.  The Mammoth Site is exactly what it sounds like.  In 1974, while clearing a site for a new housing development, the bulldozer operator hit something that caught his eye.  It turned out to be a mammoth tusk.  Archeologists were contacted and after some careful excavation, it was clear that this was an important discovery.  The development idea was scrapped, and the land was donated to a new non-profit organization.  Eventually, they built a building around the site so that the public can see the ongoing excavation and research in the dig.  The site is the largest collection of mammoth remains with over 60 distinct animals discovered (so far).  Inside the building they have built walkways over the dig so you can see what they have excavated.  The place is an active dig, so there are people there working and you can interact with them directly if you have questions.   It was another pleasant surprise since we had never heard of it until Rudy told us about it.  We did a couple of other road-trips; Iron Mountain Road includes a couple of tunnels the as you look through them you see Mt. Rushmore in the distance.  Needles Highway also has lots of switchbacks, great views and interesting geology.  Another trip took us around the Wildlife Loop.  Last time when we did this we saw bison, elk, and big horn sheep.  This time we didn’t see anything except one bison that lies in the same spot along the road all the time and a small herd of burros who were obviously tame.  On Rudy & Beate’s day off, we took a trip to Rapid City.  Our first stop was at the Chapel In the Hills.  What makes this church very interesting is its architecture.  It is what’s called a “stave” church, a style brought here from Norway.  Due to the pandemic, we could only walk around the outside and look in and visit the gift shop.  From there we went to downtown Rapid City.   Our first stop was Prairie Edge, which has all sorts of Native American art and the most amazing selection of beads.  Next was an interesting coin and pawn shop.  The walk took us through Graffiti Alley.   And finally for lunch we went to Firehouse Brewing Company.  At Firehouse Brewery, there are patches from fire departments all over the country on the wall, and it just happened that on the wall right by our table was a patch from Middletown, NY, very near where I grew up.  It was great to spend the day with our friends. 

After a week in Custer, we turned back east.  Our next firm destination is Clear Lake, IA, where we were supposed to be attending a music event.  The event has been cancelled, but we kept the RV park reservation.  We have ten days to get to Iowa, so I just broke the trip up into three legs of relatively equal distance.  First stop was Chamberlain, SD, where we got a reservation at a county park right on the Missouri River.  We broke the day’s trip up by stopping for lunch in Wall, SD.  Wall is known for Wall Drug.  We have stopped at wall Drug before, and it is mostly a tourist trap.  We didn’t actually eat at Wall Drug, but rather at another restaurant just down the street.  The RV parking lot was a bit tricky as there was only one empty spot, and they are quite skinny.  I took pictures of our neighbors just in case we came back to find any damage, but it all worked out ok.  The RV park in Chamberlain is pretty large, but only has about six spaces large enough for a big-rig like ours.  These spaces are kind of isolated from the main portion of the park and on a dead end, so even over the weekend when the place filled up, we weren’t subjected to much traffic.  Chamberlain is kind of in the middle of nowhere and there is only one local attraction.  We took a ride to the one attraction, Dignity Statue, which is on the edge of town just off Interstate 90.  Dignity Statue is a fifty-foot stainless steel statue of an Indigenous woman.  It was gifted to the state for its 125th anniversary of statehood, in honor of the Lakota and Dakota peoples indigenous to the area.  It really was quite impressive, especially being in the middle of nowhere.  After the statue, we took a ride north along the Missouri River to Fort Thompson where we crossed the river on Big Bend Dam.  Fort Thompson is the largest community on the Crow Creek Reservation.  On the way into town, we saw something we hadn’t encountered before.  Large portable electronic signs along the road told non-residents not to stop in town due to the pandemic.  So we didn’t stop and crossed the dam and headed back south on the west side of the river.  There wasn’t much out there to see other than rolling fields to the horizon.  While it may sound like there was nothing to do on this stop, that was a good thing.  I spent lots of time sitting out behind the bus and read several books.  The weather was beautiful while we were there, with the exception of one hellacious storm that came through after dark one day.  Our spot was adjacent to a tent camping area and the night the storm came through, there were two tent campers there.  Remarkably, the tents held, but the people rode the storm out in their cars.

Next stop was Sioux Falls, SD where we stayed at a KOA.  The park was nice with a big, easy pull-though spot.  Even though it was just off Interstate 90, the noise was not bad.  The attraction in Sioux Falls is of course the falls.  Falls Park is just north of downtown.  There is a nice several-story observation tower that gives a great view of the falls and surrounding area.  The remains of the Queen Bee Mill are part of the park.  The Queen Bee Mill was a large grist mill that was built in 1879 and opened in 1881.  It only lasted two years before it went bankrupt because there wasn’t enough water or wheat to sustain its capacity.  I wanted to go out to breakfast one day and looked on Google Maps for nearby options.  I found Marlin’s was the closest non-fast-food place.  The street Marlin’s is located on is one truck-related business after another.  All the major truck dealers, several independent repair shops, truck tire shops, and a couple of trucking company terminals are all within a couple miles.  In the middle of all this, the original Marlin’s was no no-frills looking place.  Of course they had a parking lot behind the building so trucks could park.  While we wore our masks in, there didn’t seem to be any capacity restrictions, but it was mid-morning, so they weren’t crowded.  We both ordered coffee and I asked for a large orange juice.  The large orange juice came in a QUART Mason jar.  For our meal, Barb ordered Eggs Benedict, and I ordered the daily special, which was two eggs, hash browns, and biscuits and sausage gravy.  The server asked if I wanted my hash browns “loaded” with cheese and onions.  Well, of course!  The food was all great and we were set until dinner.

I had kept our reservations at Oakwood RV Resort in Clear Lake, IA, even after the Island Fever Showcase Trop Rock event was cancelled because it was over Labor Day weekend.  The event we were going to was to be held at the  Surf Ballroom.  Surf Ballroom is famous because it was the last place that Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper performed before they were killed in a plane crash in 1959.  While the Surf has always been a rock & roll venue, from the beginning it was decorated to make you feel like you were at the beach, so hosting a Trop Rock event was a natural.  This was to be the second Island Fever Showcase, but now it’s been postponed to 2021.  The RV park itself was great.  It is run by the on-site owners who were very friendly.  The pull-through spots were huge, about 100 feet long and 40-50 feet wide. 

On Labor Day Monday, we headed south.  Summer is over on Labor Day right?  Funny how many people feel that way.  We did northeast Iowa to northeast Texas in two days.  We spent the night along the way at Stage Stop Campground, a cute little place not far off Interstate 49 in Neosho, MO, a little south of Joplin.  Stage Stop only has 15 spots, and several of them seemed to be seasonal people, but five of the spots are pull-throughs, so we never had to unhook the car.  They have a cute little western town there, but it was closed due to the pandemic.  Our original plan had been to simply sleep at the Loves truck stop just down the street, but this was a much better and quieter option.  Next morning we were off to my son’s house outside Dallas again.  So, we did about fourteen hours driving in two days, but now have down-time for a few weeks.

We plan to stay at my son’s until the middle of October when we will join our Trop Rock friends for the Karavan To the Keys.  The big bus thing we need to do while here is replace our refrigerator.  We replaced the RV-style propane/electric fridge with a regular residential Samsung five years ago at Ronnie Wolfe Alfa Shop in northeast Louisiana.  The original Norcold fridge was a fire hazard due to cheap construction, and even though it had the modification that was Norcold’s answer to a recall and class-action lawsuit, I didn’t trust it.  Even though it worked as well as it ever did, absorption refrigerators just don’t work as well as residential ones.  So like I said, we replaced it five years ago, but the Samsung started to not keep the freezer at 0⁰ about a year ago.  It still was ok for most frozen foods, but it wouldn’t make ice if it wasn’t below zero.   We put up with buying ice for a long time, but the temperature the freezer would hold was slowly getting warmer.  So back in July, when Lowes had a sale, we ordered a new fridge.  We order the exact same model, because even though this one failed, hundreds of Alfa owners have installed this model and are very happy.  Guess we just got unlucky with ours.  If you wonder why not get it repaired, there are a couple reasons to just replace.  Getting a residential fridge repair guy to work on one in an RV is not easy.  They usually want nothing to do with it.  The problem is likely a weak compressor, which would cost at least half what a new fridge costs to replace.  Samsung is apparently known for poor parts availability, making it a real possibility we would be stuck without a fridge for weeks while waiting for parts.  And last but not least, refrigerators these days are like most other electronics and are considered throw-away items.  And, they aren’t built like they were years ago when they lasted forever.  So, like I said, we ordered the new one when it was on sale in July.  They quoted a mid-August delivery, which was fine since we weren’t planning to be able to get to Ronnie’s until after Labor Day.  Ronnie agreed to store the fridge until we got there.  Well, the August delivery date came and went, and it was rescheduled for September.  After many frustrating calls to both Lowes main customer service, and the local store, I learned that the problem was Samsung and appliance deliveries in general because the pandemic was affecting all imports from the Far East.  Ronnie was very understanding, as he had already experienced similar problems getting other parts.  The fridge was finally delivered on October 1st.  We drove the four hours to Ronnie’s on the 1st so we were there for the swap on Friday the 2nd.  First thing in the morning, Ronnie and I started working on the swap.  While it still involved taking out a big window in the slide for access, swapping is not quite as complicated as the original Norcold swap.  So the bill for the labor of swapping was about half what it cost the first time.  I didn’t want to risk getting back to my son’s after dark, so we spent a second night there at Ronnie’s place and left in the morning.  We spent two more weeks at my son’s house helping him with a few projects around the farm and helping with the mowing.

We left Dallas on Friday, Oct 16th to participate in the Karavan To the Keys #5.  We have been on all the Karavans so far, and even though we are a little hesitant because of the pandemic, we are going to go.  The big official Parrothead event in Key West has been cancelled.  But lot of the independent Trop Rock musicians and lots of the fans are still going to go and have a more informal event at the local bars and venues, which are open.  The Karavan is starting in Kemah, with the first night’s show at T-Bone Tom’s, and the second day at the Kemah Elks Lodge.  We are dry camping at the Elks Lodge both nights.  First and foremost though was as soon as we were parked, and not even fully set up, we unloaded the car and went to early vote.  Because of the pandemic, Texas expanded their already good early voting period.  Because of this, we didn’t have to worry about if something prevented us from getting back to Kemah by Election Day.  We should be back by then, but if we had a breakdown or something, that could be jeopardized, so early voting it is.  T-Bone Tom’s has a semi-outdoor palapa but they didn’t have any capacity restrictions, so it was crowded.  We stayed at our table the whole time, rather than mingle, which was hard since this was the first time since last spring that we were seeing all our Kemah friends.  The next day, the show at the Elks Lodge was outside so spreading out and social distancing was no problem.  Sunday was a travel day to Cajun Palms RV Resort in Breaux Bridge, LA.  We have done Cajun Palms before.  It is a very nice resort, but this year it was noticeably empty due to the pandemic.  The evening entertainment started with diner and music just outside the RV park, at Crawfish Town USA.  Crawfish Town is normally only open on Sunday from 11 – 2, but this is the second year they have reopened for our private party from 4 until we’re done.  We had live music while we enjoyed the great food.  After dinner, we all went back to gather at the Radio Trop Rock RV for informal music until about 10 PM which is the parks “quiet time”.  We had a second day to relax at Cajun Palms.  A couple of the participants got together and made breakfast tacos for everybody in the morning, and in the evening we had fajitas with everybody contributing side dishes.  Then there was music again until 10 PM.   Next day was moving on to Pandion Ridge RV Park in Orange Beach, AL.  In previous years the Karavan has always stopped in the Gulf Shores area, but this year is the first year at this RV park.  The first evening in town we went to the Flora-Bama, a famous bar on the beach right on the Florida-Alabama state line.  The Flora-Bama has several stages, and the one where our entertainer was has a balcony that was very sparsely occupied.  We stayed up there to be a little more distanced from a lot of the crowd.  Wednesday, a lot of the karavaners went to play golf.  We don’t golf, so we just hung out and went to The Wharf for lunch with a few others who didn’t golf.  The show this evening is at the local community center and while it’s inside, the chairs were all placed in pairs a spaced out well.  Thursday we traveled again to the parking lot of Bass Pro Shops in Gainesville, FL.  This is the third year we have taken over this parking lot.  We all pitched in $5 and ordered a pile of pizzas from Dominoes who delivered them to us in the parking lot.  The guitars came out after dinner, but unfortunately, so did the largest, meanest mosquitos I think I’ve ever seen.  These suckers were brutal, and had to be swatted even with lots of repellant on.  Barb chose to stay in the bus while I stuck it out and enjoyed the informal setting with the guys playing music.  The mosquitos actually died down a bit after dusk, so it wasn’t that bad.  Friday we pushed on to Sebring, FL to the home of a local Parrothead.  This guy has a couple acres of land out in the country on a dead-end road.  This is not the same place that we’ve been to on this leg in previous years.  Behind the privacy fence that makes it appear like any other average home from the street, he has built his own “Little Key West”.  He has a stage, a beach, a crashed plane, a tiki bar, and he has several buildings that are really garages and other outbuildings, but on the yard side, they are painted like Key West buildings.  He also has quite a bit of land behind the “developed” part of the yard where we planned to park all the RV’s.  The first RV that was planned to go in was the Radio Trop Rock one, and he is the largest and heaviest.  Unfortunately, as soon as his rear wheels got off the pavement, they sunk in the sand and he was stuck.  After quite a while of jacking and trying to get boards under the wheels, one of the last arrivals showed up with his four-wheel drive pickup pulling his trailer.  He unhooked his trailer along the road and came back and hooked his truck to the trailer hitch on the big RV with some heavy tow straps that the host guy had.  The pickup was on the pavement, so he had good traction, and together they got the RV back on the road.  So now, the plan changed for the larger RVs to park out front, on both sides of the road.  The smaller RVs and trailers were still able to get in back.  We’ve had our RV stuck three times in six years, and we had no desire to up that number.  We had music Friday night, and then all afternoon and evening Saturday.  This was all outside, the weather was perfect, and we were able to stay distant from everybody while here.  Sunday was the end of the line for us.  The Karavaners are continuing south to the Keys, and we are turning back north to TX.  We took three days to make the trip, with stops in Tallahassee and near Baton Rouge. 

This brings us back to Kemah where we will spend a few months.  The rest of the Karavan went on to Key West for another week of music.  Unfortunately, quite a few of our friends ended up getting COVID.  Since the whole Key West event was unofficial and unorganized, there is no way to know how many people attended, although more than 1000 would probably not be a bad guess.  Of course they were never all in one place, but they were in and out of bars that were not limited in their capacity.  As a result several people died (none that we personally knew) and many got sick.  I’m very glad we didn’t go on down to the keys and we probably got lucky that we made out ok with as much as we did.