Monthly Archives: June 2012

Speeding across Ontario toward Alaska

We hit the big time Monday, speed limits of 100. 100! We can’t even go this fast, we could only keep it at 95 all day. We drove 400 kilometers from Vermilion Bay ON to Portage La Prairie MB. Roads are great! Once we entered Manitoba we hit Trans-Canada Highway #1, just as good driving as any highway in the states. Maybe it’s the Canadian gasoline, or our phenomenal driving method, but we maintained 11.5 mpg until the Winnipeg Rte 100 bypass with a bunch of stoplights. And finished with 11 mpg for the 240 miles day. It’s been a while since we did as well in the states.

Our visit with Bill and Donna was wonderful, refreshing, and difficult to give up. They are preparing for family arriving for the Canada Day long weekend and we need to keep heading west. Ah, but the cool nights and pleasant days, sitting by the lake, are perfect. Poor things, Bill and Donna have to put up with this great weather and cool water all summer.

We loved watching the loons

The loons are the star of the show at Bill’s and Donna’s. We enjoyed listening to the loons and watching them teach their little loonettes swimming and diving. We filmed a couple of minutes of their action and will share it with you when we learn how. The problem isn’t the tools, it’s the techs. The loons were really cool, though.

Prepared with Bill’s and Donna’s suggestions for Tim Horton’s, Husky the Muskie, and Prawda cheap gas, we hitched up and pulled out for an early start Monday morning, left by 11 a.m. Okay, not so early and it means we don’t get off the road by 2 p.m., but we really didn’t want to leave Vermilion Bay and their wonderful lake cabin. They’re perfect hosts and we had a lot of fun visiting and eating with them.

Famous Husky the Muskie

Kenora is a pretty community in northwestern Ontario and fronts Lake of the Woods, a tremendous body of water. We should have stopped in town but the parking was very uninviting and we weren’t inspired — I think we accidentally became goal-driven for the day and thought we could get past Winnipeg if we tried. Should have stopped, Kenora looked really nice. And we did finally find a good pull-over spot and caught this fine image of Husky the Muskie in mid-air. Look closely and see the woman on the ground? Gives you an idea how big Husky really is.

Our drive was effortless until the Winnipeg #100 bypass with its dozen or so stoplights. These even weren’t so bad, we made good time and skipped around Winnipeg before the rush hour. Then Debbie started looking for a place for our overnight. We had unsuccessfully looked for a nice Provincial Park between Winnipeg and our intersection of #1 and #16 highways. Deb whipped out our trusty 2007 Trailer Life book and found Miller’s Resort just west of Portage La Prairie. And there we were with their free (and very very slow) wifi.

from our 2009 Trans-Canada Tim Horton’s tour

Tuesday’s plan is to find a few places to stop and smell the canola, thus avoiding getting destination-oriented. We were doing so well across Michigan’s UP, stopping at so many neat things. We’ll almost certainly stop at one or more Tim Horton’s restaurants to look for wifi. It’s a great opportunity to see if their coffee in china mugs and their doughnuts are still as good as last time. And who knows, they might have wifi now, right? We have time to spare, and even when we’re puttering along on these fine Canadian highways at 95 kph, we’re only doing 57-58 mph, our favorite cruising speed.

Okay, it’s Tuesday and we did stop in Portage, walked to the historic muni building, built 1897 and the last example of work by Thomas Fuller, architect for Canadian government. Also we walked toTim Horton’s in Portage, the bank, and to the post office. Do you know neither of these had free wifi? Finally landed in MacDonalds in Neepawa for free internet. The things we do to stay connected with you, eh?

See you down the road,

Jim and Debbie
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Danger lurks beneath

The guys at the gas station warned us not to linger in International Falls Saturday morning, but to line up early for the bridge toll and border crossing. It seems this is the number one border crossing for all the midwest fishermen to take their boats up to fishing camps for the week. Sure enough, every other vehicle is a pickup towing a bass boat and there are hundreds of them.

We were dutifully in line by 07:30 a.m. and were first in line. The customs officer was courteous about gathering information from us regarding alcohol, tobacco, firearms, or gifts, where we are headed, how long we’ll stay, where we’re from, and when’s the last time we entered Canada. He knew some of the answers, we’re pretty sure, but must have wanted to see if we knew.

This interview went quickly, and he directed us to the inspection shed. Another officer told us to sit on the benches beside the trailer while they inspect in the trailer and truck. She entered the trailer, then another officer entered, then a third. We figured she liked it and wanted them to see what was so cool about our Airstream trailer, right?

International Falls to Kenora Ontario

The drive on Highway 502 from Fort Frances Ontario to Dryden is every bit as nice as the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Natchez Trace. We enjoyed tooling up this smooth and scenic road. The road was very busy with American fishermen speeding northward to fishing camps for the week. Saturdays are the change-over day, so we saw bunches of pickups trailering fishing boats heading south and heading north.

View from Bill’s and Donna’s dining room

We’re staying a couple of days with Bill and Donna on Blue Lake in northwestern Ontario. They have their summer house on the lake and have built themselves a great setup. Fabulously beautiful area, treed lot provides shade for the house. The water is super-clear, and so inviting. But we are hesitant about dangling our toes in this water — check out this recent video of Donna’s brother walking by his pier next door.

Jim and Debbie
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Into Canada on our way to AK

Duluth to International Falls

Sometimes things go according to plan and sometimes they don’t. Our forwarded mail didn’t arrive yesterday but early this morning we received confirmation of the arrival at USPS Duluth. A quick trip to the post office and we returned to hitch up and pull out of Duluth.

Duluth took such a devastating hit from the flood rains Tuesday night. Our exit path was affected too. The highway department blocked access to US-2 westbound on the edge of town. We detoured and found another reach to the highway, connected to highway 53 north, and were off and running for the border.

Highway 53 is a beautiful and easy drive between Duluth and International Falls. Traffic was light, the skies were bright blue with lots of clouds all around. We pulled into International Falls and the campground is out of business. Okay, we’ll continue northbound on 53 into town.

A few blocks along we found Arnolds Campground and RV Resort, on the east side of 53. The driveway is narrow and a little unlikely looking but we coursed down from the street and took a site for the night.

Downtown, after unhitching the truck, we filled up with gas and looked for food. Our choices seemed chinese and italian, so we picked Giovannis. The decor couldn’t have looked less italian. The thin-crust pizza was pretty good.

International Falls is a pretty little town with a really big Boise Cascade paper plant. Downtown has a few businesses and restaurants, and some empty storefronts. Pretty parks, verdant green lawns, neat houses make the residential areas appear inviting.

A couple of Illinois fishermen at our gas station told us to cross the bridge and customs this evening instead of on a Saturday. But we already had paid for a site for the night, we told them. They said we needed to go as early as we could, certainly before 9 a.m. We’re taking their word for it. Every bit of advice we’ve received has been 24 carat gold and improved our journey vastly.

Saturday morning we’re off for Blue Lake Provincial Park, between Dryden and Kenora Ontario. See you on the other side!

Jim and Debbie
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Duluth drainage disaster delays dreamstreamrs departure

156 miles from Porkies across Wisconsin to Duluth MN

Duluth MN was was going to be a simple mail, resupply, and banking stop for us. We had no idea what big news Duluth was making, nor the impact upon our plans. Sometimes we simply roll with it, show our flexibility, change our plans as needed. This may be one of those times.

Remember I mentioned yesterday what a big rain we had blow onto us from southwest Lake Superior? Guess where the rain had recently blown through before heading up to us — yep, Carroll and St Louis counties, Duluth Minnesota and just south of Duluth.

Turns out we arrived the day of the second worst flooding ever to have hit here, our banker told us. He also showed us pictures from his neighborhood and other parts of Duluth. Our rv park is across Grand Ave from the Duluth Zoo. Check out the news about the zoo’s barnyard stock (eleven lost to drowning), the escaped polar bear and two seals (all three swam their way out of the zoo).

This recent news from Washington Post has the best collection of photos.

Duluth’s aerial lift bridge

We visited Canal Park downtown yesterday after supper. We walked along Duluth Ship Canal, circled the lighthouse, and walked back to this great old aerial lift bridge spanning the canal since 1930. While there we watched a 700+ feet-long cargo ship enter the canal and pass under the bridge, tooting their big horn with a long-short-short. The bridge answered back the same signal, supposedly a hello from one to the other.

They sell rain gear, for pity’s sake

Our trip to Duluth Pack, an historic outfitter in business since 1880s, failed because they, like so many other Duluth businesses, were closed due to area rains and flooding. VisionWorks was cancelled, the mall had lost electrical power due to a substation washout. We did find the post office in good condition, but our forwarded mail packet has not arrived. If it isn’t here tomorrow morning we’ll delay departing.

Indian Point Campground is nice and not too wet

We’re fine, we’re dry, and our campsite is almost twenty feet above St Louis Bay. We have a nice view of the bay, watching the current push mud and debris toward Lake Superior. Our weather is mild and sunny through a lot of clouds. Barring much more rain and provided our mail arrives, we might get out of here tomorrow.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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Porcupine Mtns Wilderness on the U.P.

Monday’s drive to Porkies from McLain SP

Monday we drove from FJ McLain SP near Calumet MI to Union Bay Campground in Porcupine Mtns Wilderness State Park. The drive was really pretty and easy. Along the way we came upon a road sign for business route into Ontonagon MI. Hit the brakes, swerve right and let’s see what this lakeshore town is like. It was pretty nice.

We drove all about then found great parking at the US Post Office. Mailed a couple of packages (including the warranty return on the refrigerator control board). And walked up the street to Connie’s for a cup of coffee and a pastry. Great folks, superb house blend coffee. Glad we refueled ourselves. Now we’re off to the state park.

NOT ants in his pants

Know why Yoopers like winter best? Because the swarming black flies don’t. Arrived at Porcupine Mountain State Park, greeted by zillions of black flies. Swarms upon swarms of these flies are everywhere we can see and assuredly in places we cannot. I’ve been in stables and pig stys with fewer flies per cubic meter, for sure. I was refilling the water tank when Deb returned from the campground registration desk. I asked hopefully, “just one night?”

The flies seem to follow moving things. A truck or car motors past our camp site and a huge swarm of black flies follows. We walk between the truck and the trailer and a swarm follow, just waiting for us to stop moving. I conducted a scientific test — while walking I had not a single fly light on my legs, face or arms.

Four times I stopped from a walking pace and within no more than two seconds I had between two and a dozen flies on me. I didn’t wait around to see how many more seconds before they bite. We’d already experienced their bites, didn’t want to invite more.

Best summer gun rack in northern Michigan

Our fly swatter normally stores in a lower cabinet. Not while in Union Gap campground in the Porkies — we needed ready access to this suddenly very important tool. We also decided to enjoy our magnificent view of Lake Superior through the windows of the RV to stop opening the door.

Tuesday morning we shook and rattled the trailer’s door mightily then leaped, one after the other, out of the trailer and quickly swung the door closed behind us. We were off to Lake of the Clouds, a few miles south and well uphill from our campground.

Lake of the Clouds

Lake of the Clouds lived up to its billing — friends Charlie and Janet told us to be sure and visit the Porcupine Mtns Wilderness and especially Lake of the Clouds. Funny, this trip has been shaped several times by recommendations from friends or acquaintances. Every time the recommendations have worked out superbly. This was no exception, the drive was nice, parking was good, a short path led to the overlook, and nice hiking trails go in every direction as long as you want to go downhill.

We hiked along the escarpment trail while keeping an eye on the skies for changing weather. Rain had sprinkled off and on all morning and we were hearing great thunder rolling through the gorge. Luck was with us, we were able to hike a couple of miles and enjoy sitting awhile too. This is a gorgeous spot, quiet and peaceful. The only noises we heard were wind through the trees below us and birds chirping from all directions.

and then the clouds rolled in

No sooner did we return to the trail’s top at the overlook than a great cloud started enveloping the lake. Folks just showing up didn’t know what a great view they had just missed, while skies were clearer. It is still pretty great, but clearly not as nice as what we first saw. Incidentally, Lake of the Clouds is one mile long and no more than 15 feet deep, and remains very calm because it is sheltered on all sides in this gorge. Very nice!

Mid-afternoon we tooled back down the mountain to our campground. Repeated the exercise of flailing arms and hats all about the trailer’s door then somewhat recklessly bounding inside while pulling the door behind us. Only eight or ten flies accompanied us inside — far less than the flies census in a cubic foot in our camp site.

Last night was the darkest we’ve had since we crossed the Mackinac Bridge onto the Upper Peninsula. Soon we learned why — a big-time storm was rumbling west and south of us. We saw lightning lighting up the lake, over and over again. The storm seemed aways off, we weren’t so much hearing the thunder. But winds were definitely up! We left a pair of windows in the bedroom cracked so we could hear the surf, something Lake Superior hadn’t provided so much during the past week.

We were awakened by some of the hardest rain we’ve ever experienced. Rain was pummeling the trailer really hard around five a.m. We battened down the two windows and fell in and out of sleep while hearing this storm battering our trailer. The storm lasted less than two hours. Great news! Our rolling house didn’t leak a drop under this severe downpour. Maybe we’re okay for the summer?

We’re done with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for this trip. As always, we have left something else to see. Another time we will have to try Sault Ste Marie and Escanabe and Gulliver and Manistique and Marinette and wherever else friends send us. This has been a fine visit full of splendid weather, interesting tours, and great vistas. We learned history of mining and shipping and military garrisons in the U.P. We met neat people and saw interesting towns. We’ll look forward to returning sometime.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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A great day exploring the Keweenaw Peninsula

Laurium Manor Inn

Our adventure started in Laurium, near Calumet, a short drive from FJ McLain State Park. Our target was the old Thomas Hoatson mansion, Laurium Manor. This is a tremendous 13,000 square feet mansion built 1908 for Thomas H. & Cornelia Hoatson, owner of Calumet & Arizona Mining Co. The house and furnishings reportedly cost $85,000.00, an astronomical sum considering the local miners were earning less than $1,000.00 annually.

fireplace in library

We spent over an hour examining almost every room of Laurium Manor Inn bed and breakfast. Dave and Julie Sprenger are a wonderful couple who saved the house from demolition in 1989, somehow having the vision and drive to rescue and restore the house and continue still operating a successful bed and breakfast. Several rooms sport very attractive fireplaces and woodwork similar to this one in the library.

One big honking fridge

The kitchen tile floor and the icebox are both original. The icebox is a gem, with its interior glass walls, marble floors, tiled doors. It is beautiful, functional, and has lasted over one hundred years in service. It is an 80 cf icebox, over thirteen times the cooled volume of our home’s refrigerator.

The location is perfect for exploring the Keweenaw Peninsula, a region rich with copper mines, old churches, beautiful lake shores, and a few great eateries. The house has four levels. It includes a 1,300 sf ballroom and maids’ rooms on the top floor, great rooms on the main floor to curl up in a chair with a book, and very attractive private rooms on the second floor. This mansion looks and feels like it is a really comfy bed and breakfast.

The drive from Calumet to Copper Harbor and Ft Wilkins State Park is gorgeous on either Lakeshore Drive or M-41. We day toured up Lakeshore Drive and planned to stop at The Jampot but, of course, it was closed on Sunday. Very poor planning on my part — this would have been a great place to visit.

Fortunately we stumbled upon Eagle Harbor Inn and had delicious food and friendly service. This is a great clean restaurant and bar (and Inn too). I’m only sorry we didn’t notice the daily desserts listed on chalkboard inside the front door. We would at least have split a slice of one of their really yummy-sounding pies.

overlooking Lake Superior

Fortified temporarily, we drove a little more up the coast toward Copper Harbor and Ft Wilkins. Good thing we had consumed the extra rations or we might have blown away at this pretty overlook. The wind was absolutely howling while the day was otherwise completely beautiful.

Our Michigan recreation pass provided us access, at no additional cost, to tour Ft Wilkins. We spent hours poring over the exhibits in most of their nineteen buildings. Fascinating to imagine anyone’s life wintering in these old wooden buildings with iron stoves and a really meager diet.

Ft Wilkins was garrisoned only two years, from 1844-1846 before the Army sent all troops away except for a caretaker. In 1867 the Army again occupied the fort but for only three years before they abandoned it. The WPA started restoration of Ft Wilkins in the 1930s and it has undergone significant restorations since. The exhibits seem to accurately depict army life in the 1840s for soldiers assigned to a very remote outpost.

One more day in Michigan’s UP before we head for Duluth. We visit Lake of the Clouds in Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park, then close the book on our first, and very memorable, tour of Michigan’s UP.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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Keweenaw Peninsula on our way to AK

155 miles Munising to Ft McLain

We thought we might drive toward the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula but decided instead to park the trailer 40 miles south at FJ McLain SP near Houghton MI, home of Michigan Technological University. Houghton is a nice town and host to what may be the largest lift bridge in the world. It spans the Keweenaw Waterway, a portage canal cutting across the Keweenaw peninsula to connect to Lake Superior’s north and south sections.

Quincy Mine supply office

Just after crossing the big lift bridge we came upon the Quincy Mine and Hoist, a historic site with neat buildings and exhibits. Easy access with the trailer, lots of parking, and this site provided an interesting tour of a big successful (but now retired) copper mine.

No.2 Shaft – Rock House

This tall rock house had two skip tracks and allowed operators to readily swap the type of skip. The skips are small rail cars and would include at least one for rock and one for bailing water. And also, of course, a large man car allows transporting 30 men in and out of the mines on a 9,000 feet long trip. The man car took men down and up once each 12 hours for a long shift of work. The rock skips brought the mined rock and copper up.

Large 1920 hoist building and smaller one from 1894

This Quincy Mine was extremely profitable and allowed construction of this magnificent hoist house. The building is 75 feet by 75 feet and has 82 feet high ceilings to accommodate the tremendous hoist engines and drum. Interior walls are glazed white tile, all hand railing was done in brass, and large and well-placed windows provide plenty of natural lighting.

Largest hoist drum in the world

Our guide told us this was the largest hoist drum in the world, installed in 1920. The drum is 54 feet wide by 60 feet tall (diameter). It was capable of smoothly spooling over 13,000 feet of 1 5/8″ wire cable with 2,500 horsepower. The large cables spanned from hoist house to rock house and down 9,000 feet into the mine’s 92nd level below ground. Maximum speed of the ten ton skips was 36 miles per hour. The engineering was just amazing in this place.

The tour was interesting, informative, and enjoyable. We had a short drive from Quincy Mine and Hoist site to Ft McLain State Park on the Lake Superior coast.

Tomorrow we’ll visit Laurium Manor, built 1908 for owners of a large copper mining company and drive up the Keweenaw Peninsula to Ft Wilkins.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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