RV Life – Our Second Year – Great Lakes Summer, Pt.1

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Our Second Year - Great Lakes Summer
A vital artery connecting upper and lower Michigan; the Mackinac Bridge.

A Great Lakes Summer offers endless opportunities to explore vast natural beauty, visit intriguing historical attractions, and experience boundless fun in the sun.

Great Lakes Summer

After spending a portion of our first RV Life summer in the sweltering heat of the Texas/Mississippi Gulf Coast, we both wanted to be northbound to a cooler climate for Our Second Year. We chose a Great Lakes Summer as our destination.

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Besides cooler temperatures, I had another motive for going north. I was born in Red Wing, Minnesota, but my parents moved us away when I was very young. We never returned, so I grew up knowing nothing about the area I was born in. It was always a goal of mine to return one day and see it for myself. It took me 50 years, but this was the time!

Eye of the Beholder - Inspire Me - TOM
My dad, Thomas D. Coryell, 2017.

The time I spent helping my dad write his book in 2016 rekindled my desire to travel to Minnesota.

He shared many stories from the days of his youth around Red Wing and the surrounding area, some I’d never heard before.

It was an easy decision for me to target this area for my next RV Life summer.

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On Memorial Day weekend, 2018, we were on the road heading north out of Kansas City. The weather was perfect that day for the 460 mile journey along Interstates 35 and 90 to Wabasha, Minnesota.

Nestled in the fertile Mississippi valley, Wabasha is a small border town southeast of Red Wing on the shore of the Mississippi River. The 40-mile stretch between the two towns along US Highway 61 offers some of the best river valley scenery one can find in the USA. If you make the 90-minute loop across the river to Wisconsin and around you won’t be disappointed.

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Our Second Year - Great Lakes Summer
An awesome loop through some fantastic river valley scenery.

We parked the rig at the Big River Resort, enjoying a beautiful spot at the edge of large field with an unobstructed view of the western Mississippi River Valley ridgeline.

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Our Second Year - Great Lakes Summer
The Big River RV Resort. What a great spot!
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Over the next few weeks, we explored Red Wing and many of the areas my dad describes in his book. I wrote a short story about it on my dad’s blog in July 2018 … Read Now

It was great finding the old house we lived in back then. It has changed a bit over the years, but it’s still the same old house. I honestly wouldn’t know, because I was only an infant and have no memory of this place. But my imaginations created some visions of it all because of the great stories my dad has shared.

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Our Second Year - Great Lakes Summer
Dad slipped on the icy, snowy driveway one morning and slid all the way down to the road with his lunch box following behind!

Besides personal, nostalgic points of interest, we enjoyed many area attractions and historical locations. Some of our favorites include …

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Cheri enjoyed a day trip to Minneapolis while I was working to see the Mall of America. While there, she took the opportunity to enjoy another taste of Wahlburgers. We are fans of the Wahlburgers show and had recently tried them for the first time in Las Vegas (see RV Life – Year One – Winter). We enjoy their burgers every bit as much as the show!

We experienced another RV Life learning moment while parked in Wabasha. It was in the middle of the night, very A.M., when an alarm started beeping loudly. Our first reaction was … OMG, FIRE!

We leaped out of bed, half-asleep and in a panic, fearing the worst. We quickly realized there was no fire. Thank God! But an alarm was still blasting an irritating warning about something. Cheri and I looked at each other asked the same question, “What’s that strange smell?

It was natural gas. Propane to be precise. It was the CO2 alarm going off. The next worst thing! Fear creeped back in, because a natural gas explosion would be the end of us. We exited the RV immediately into the cool dark night leaving the door open to air out the RV. We waited for several minutes for the alarm to shut-off. I returned to the rig and opened all the windows and roof vents.

I waited for several more minutes outside and then went to find the leak. Apparently, one of us had bumped into the stove and moved a burner dial to the on-position before going to bed. The propane built-up slowly inside the RV until the the CO2 alarm detected it.

It took a couple hours to settle our nerves after that close call, but we were more than grateful that the CO2 detector did its job that night. It surely saved our lives. Thank you Atwood/Dometic!

SAFETY TIP: Check the stove every time you walk by it and make sure the gas is off.

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I had a particular objective in mind while we were in the Wabasha/Red Wing area. I wanted to discover the Robin Hood of Ellsworth and explore the Wisconsin woodlands where my dad’s hunting experiences happened.

We took a drive north into Wisconsin, along some roads-less-traveled, to see Ellsworth and the Northwest Wisconsin countryside. Rolling hills, lakes and streams, high bluffs, thick forests, and green meadows showcase the northland’s natural bounty. I have a better understanding now of why dad speaks so fondly of this part of his past. Besides the nostalgia of his youth, the natural beauty of this environment is simply stunning.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were heading into Ellsworth during one of the busiest times of the year. It was the Cheese Curd Festival! Traffic creeped through town as thousands flocked to this annual celebration of cheese. A line of people stretched for blocks as they waited to enter the festival grounds and grab a basket of the tasty white morsels.

I thought I was a cheese fanatic until these Wisonsonites put me to shame! I tried the famous Wisconsin cheese curds at a restaurant in Pepin and loved them, but not enough to stand in line for hours!

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Our Second Year - Great Lakes Summer
A very young Tom Coryell, a.k.a. The Robin Hood of Ellsworth, abt 1966.

Dad tells a very entertaining story in his book about his deer hunting adventures with his friend Steve Johnson (who I am named after).

Apparently, Steve bragged on it so much that a local reporter heard the story and decided to print an article about it.

Dad has mentioned several times over the years how much he wishes he had kept a copy of the article, so I decided to devote a day towards finding it for him.

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I spent a few hours at the Ellsworth Public Library researching old microfilm attempting to find the original story. Sadly, I was unsuccessful. But it was time well-spent, because it was incredibly enlightening reading articles about daily life from around the area in the 1960s.

It was truly a joy exploring the area my mom and dad called home when they were just a young couple starting out in life from 1966 – 1968. It was sort-of medicinal to drive along the same roads and imagine my mother so vibrant and full of life in 1967, 20 years old, with the windows down in the 1962 Ford Falcon, wind in her hair, dad was probably whistling a 4 Seasons song … makes me smile, and also miss her a little more.

Steve Coryell, from TOM’s Blog 2018
Eye of the Beholder - Inspire Me - Tribute to Mom
My mom, Isabelle M. Clark. I sure miss her. 1947-2013

We left Wabasha for our next destination, driving across Wisconsin towards Lake Michigan. We turned north near Green Bay, following several State and US highways along the lake shore into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the U.P.). Our target was St. Ignace, Michigan.

Located on the southern tip of the U.P., St. Ignace sits prominently between two Great Lakes; Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The Mackinac Bridge (Big Mac) connects St. Ignace and the Upper Peninsula to the lower portion of the state. Referred to as the Mitten, due to its signature shape, the lower portion of Michigan combines with the U.P. to cover about 97 million square acres of natural beauty. It’s the 11th largest state in the USA.

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Our Second Year - Great Lakes Summer

We parked the RV at the Lakeshore RV Campground.

This was another amazing spot with views for days.

Perched atop a hill overlooking Lake Michigan, views of the lake and the Mackinac Bridge dominated the horizon.

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With a short walk down the hill we could access the lake shore to enjoy the soft sounds of waves lapping the shore, wade in the cool waters, and watch the evening sky paint the lake various hues of sunset color.

We spent the next few weeks exploring the Upper Peninsula, seeing some great spots …

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Our Second Year - Great Lakes Summer
Photo courtesy of the Mackinac Bridge Authority.

The view from the Lakeshore RV Campground includes the Mackinac Bridge, so when Mackinaw City put-on a July 4th fireworks show it was visible from our campsite.

We enjoyed a pleasant evening watching the sky light-up over the Big Mac.

One of my co-workers lived nearby, which was part of the reason for choosing this area to camp. Shawn and his wife Sherry made the hour-and-a-half drive up from Houghton Lake for a pleasant weekend visit while we were there. They are also RV’ers. We shared stories about the places we’ve seen and we griped about the problems with our RVs. But mostly, we just enjoyed each other’s company.

We agreed, as amazing as it is to travel and explore America the Beautiful, there’s nothing quite like a comfortable chair, a horizon view, and a cold drink in your hand.

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We left St. Ignace and pulled the rig down to Houghton Lake, staying at the Houghton Lake Travel Park Campground. Shawn and Sherry lived just about 10 minutes away, so we made several visits to their home. We even took a day trip together over to Frankenmuth, a quaint Bavarian community themed with traditional German architecture, shops, and restaurants.

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Our Second Year - Great Lakes Summer
Thank you, Shawn & Sherry, for the wonderful memories!

Shawn took us out on his boat for a few hours one day, but on a smaller lake to the north.

Cleaner and deeper, the water in Higgins Lake is crisp and cool even in mid-July.

Between the warm sun and the cool breeze, it was a perfect day to be on the water.

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During our time in Houghton Lake, we explored several area attractions across the Northern Region of the Mitten, including …

By the time we pulled-out of Houghton Lake it was already mid-August. Our Great Lakes Summer would continue in the great state of Ohio!

See RV Life – Our Second Year – Great Lakes Summer, Pt.2

Psalms 74:16-17

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Steve Coryell