09-27 to 09-30-2022 Wisconsin to North Dakota

First signs of fall color along I-94 in Wisconsin.

After the two-day rest in Milwaukee, we slowed down a bit, only covering 773 miles in 4 days.  Taking it slow, right?  What I haven’t mentioned is that we had been having trouble with a slow leak in the outside rear dually on the driver’s side of the MoHo. Every couple of days we would have to find an air station to pump her up from 24 pounds or so to the required 80 psi.  Not a fun thing when traveling.  We found air stations at some of the bigger fuel stops, often not working, or set to much less than 80 psi.  We also found that Costco tire shops usually have an air station nearby sometimes open, sometimes not.  A few days before we got to Milwaukee, somewhere in New York, we stopped too early and had to beg the guy behind the closed doors for information as to where we could find some air.  He was a sweetie and came out and turned on the machine for us.

Leaving Milwaukee in the early morning, we knew it was time to figure out how to get that tire fixed.  We do carry a spare, but getting it on the MoHo would be as much of a hassle as simply getting the tire fixed.  Our first thought was to get out of Milwaukee and maybe head toward Madison where the larger size of the city might give us more opportunities to find a shop that could take us in.  However, as we neared Madison, the traffic got a bit heavy and the navigation once again seemed a bit overwhelming so we said, heck with it, let’s go for a smaller town.

On to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, not far from our newly added overnight stop north of Eau Claire.  There were two tire shops listed and the first one I called said he was booked solid and I would have to wait a week or so.  UhOh.  Surprise, the second shop I called said, “Sure, bring it in, we can fix it right away”.  Lucky break.

The shop turned out to be a shop that specialized in truck tires and had no problem taking us in immediately.  Great guys at All Season Tire Pros, just in case you ever are in Eau Claire Wisconsin with a bad tire. Three guys hanging around in the office were all friendly and very helpful.  The boss said there was a great little diner just down the road or if we wanted a beer there was a burger place in the opposite direction.  We decided on the burger place.

Valley Burger Co

What a treat!!  Valley Burger Co. is in a refurbished old bank building, complete with a giant safe in the center of the open space.  We treated ourselves to a superb burger and fries, washed down with our new favorite, PBR.  In less than the time it took to eat our shared burger, I had a message on the phone saying the MoHo was ready.  As is often the case with our dually tires, the valve stem was the problem, rubbing against the wheel edge where they develop a leak.  Still, no solution since the valve stem extenders that would solve this problem don’t fit our wheels. But the fix with a new stem worked for the rest of the trip and we had no more problems with low tire pressure.

Country Villa Motel and Camping

Our campground was just a few miles north of Eau Claire, a small park behind a motel that had mixed reviews.  I trusted the good ones that said the owner was great and we called for a reservation.  Country Villa Motel and Country Camping sounded a little bit sketchy, but it was in the right place at the right price so we gave it a go.  The owner said that he was in town and when we arrived, just go to our spot and he would check in with us later.

The small park turned out to be a nice place for an overnight.  Most of the folks there were working people who were obviously long-term tenants.  We settled into the very level site and after a couple of hours the owner showed up to take our cash which allowed us to take advantage of a small discount.

There was plenty of room to take Mattie for walks and everything was quiet, even after the worker guys returned around dinnertime.  The nearby bathrooms were spotless, with a lot of hot water and plenty of pressure.  Amazing how happy we can be with a level site, a decent internet connection with the motel wifi, and lots of hot water.  No need for much supper since we had enjoyed such a tasty late lunch.  I finished up a few more of the cheese curds that Mo declined to taste.  They were even good cold.

The next morning, we had more leftovers for breakfast. We enjoyed the last of the Milwaukee Mad Rooster meal. Just look at all the yummy stuff that was in my fritatta.

Wisconsin color along the highway

The next morning we were on our way again, with a reservation that we had made last spring waiting for us at Lake Bemidji State Park in Minnesota, not far west of Duluth.  We had good memories of our time in Duluth back in 2010, once again choosing to enjoy our memories and bypassing the city entirely as we finally turned onto US Highway 2, what we later learned is called The High Line.

I had memories of Highway 2 being mostly 4 lanes, wide and smooth, and with very little traffic.  Yes, it was back in 2010, but could it have changed that much?  Right out of Duluth, the two-lane road was full of bumps and ruts and so rough that the entire rig was rattling, along with our nerves.  Was my memory failing me?  Was our choice to travel the High Line a huge mistake?  We were going to be on that highway for several hundred miles as we crossed the rest of Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana into Northern Idaho!

Thank goodness, within ten miles or so, the road once again had four lanes, all smooth and sweet and easy traveling with only an occasional car sharing the highway with us.  It was a lovely drive. With our trip plans doing a bit of juggling, I had moved our Bemidji reservations up a day, moved our upcoming Grahams Island State Park in North Dakota up a day, and added a second night to that reservation.  The emailed receipts were a bit convoluted but in the end, it wasn’t a problem with the only loss for each of them being a reservation fee.

Bemidji State Park was lovely this time of year.  Not a bug anywhere, and the leaves were turning beautifully.  Our campsite was situated strangely, with our site butted up very close to our neighbor’s site, but they were quiet and mostly absent so it didn’t really matter.

Lake Bemidji in Minnesota

After we settled in I found a trail leading to the lake and was glad we had decided we didn’t really have time to take down the kayaks.  It was much too windy for kayaking!  It seems that many of the bodies of water that we enjoyed during this latter part of our trip were in windy locations, even in the early mornings which are usually calm.

I told Mo about the trail leading toward the lake and the kayak launch site and decided I would rather take the car to the beach rather than walk it again.  The launch site was tucked away in a tiny inlet away from the lake breezes and there were several boats tied up at the docks.  Still, no need to kayak in that wind, but it was pretty down there. 

Lake Bemidji SP Shelter Fireplace through the windows

We especially enjoyed the historic Lake Bemidji State Park Shelter, built by the CCC so many years in the past.  Even though it was closed, I could see inside enough to get a photo of the massive stone fireplace that is such a hallmark of the CCC work crews during the Depression.

The weather was gorgeous, with blue skies in between the clouds and temperatures that were warm enough to be comfortable and yet cool enough for a campfire at our site.  It took a bit of getting used to the incredibly friendly people all around us.  Isn’t there some kind of saying about how “nice” Minnesota people are?  It was certainly true here at Bemidji State park. Our neighbor walked over to introduce herself laughing and talking about their campsite, their family, their time camping, and other simple conversation.  She wasn’t intrusive, just kind and fun.  More people strolled by with their dogs, especially around dog-walking time before supper.  We finally put Mattie in the MoHo because she wanted to jump off her camp chair and assert her authority over all the other dogs, big or little, that happened to pass by.  I felt a bit bad as we watched 4 different dogs all playing together off-leash a couple of campsites down but really didn’t feel like going through the introductions and the explaining that would entail until Mattie settled down.

The night was surprisingly dark and quiet except for a little bit of rain that pelted the roof of the MoHo, waking us for a moment and then quietly dying down.  We were glad we had packed up the chairs and put them away before bedtime in case this might happen.

I still had red hair and was riding my bike when we last visited Grahams Island State Park in  August 2010

When the next morning dawned, the skies were clear and we continued west to one of our favorite destinations.  When we traveled the High Line Highway 2 in 2010, we spent just one night at Devils Lake, at Grahams Island State Park.  Our destination on this day was only 265 miles of beautiful, traffic-free driving on Highway 2 as I remembered it.  Wide open and smooth pavement.  I kept imagining what our day would be like if we had succumbed to the slight push to continue west on I-94 toward I-90.  There is so much heavy truck traffic on those interstates that there are permanent ruts in the pavement that no amount of repaving can eliminate. Always a rough ride, and always a lot of truck traffic. 

Devils Lake in eastern North Dakota is the largest natural body of water in North Dakota, with more than 160,000 acres and hundreds of miles of shoreline.  It is especially known for its reputation as the perch capital of the world and ranked as one of the top five fishing lakes in the US.  In addition to the jumbo perch, it is home to white bass, northern pike, and whopper walleye.  Mo and I don’t fish, but our memory of the state park was of wide open, uncrowded space and we were not disappointed when we arrived.

The road that goes out to the state park is a narrow levee that crosses an arm of the lake, several miles from the town of Devils Lake to the east.  The name Grahams Island State Park was chosen for a reason, it is on an island.  There are more than 130 plant species that are native to the island.  With two days and nights to enjoy the park, we fiddled around a bit with our choice of a campsite and eventually settled for an ADA site close to our original choice which, surprisingly, wasn’t the least bit level.  At the new site, for just a little bit more money, we got a perfectly level, pull-through site, with full hookups, including sewer.  That was a surprise since we had only expected to have electricity when we booked the site for this late in the year.

The park was as beautiful and spacious as we remembered, in addition to being nearly empty.  The busiest part of the park was the boat launch and boat trailer parking where it was obvious that fishing was the main activity that people loved to pursue on this wide open lake.

We arrived just in time to check in at the visitor center and then go back to request a site change, but not in time to explore all the books about the area and the lake that were in the attached bookstore.  After settling we opened up our awning and enjoyed the bit of shade it provided on the warm afternoon.

What we didn’t enjoy, and I shouldn’t forget to mention were the small flies that immediately gathered around our motorhome, landing on the sides and waiting for even a tiny crack to open in the entry door as we went in and out.  It was a bit sad because the flies were so bad that we had to give up and go inside earlier than we had planned that evening.

Sunrise over Devils Lake

Our two days at Devils Lake went by easily, with morning walks along the water with Mattie and afternoon relaxation with books in the shade, at least until the flies drove us back inside. 

I found a beautiful quiet empty part of the park for Mattie’s morning walk and shared it with Mo later in the day for another beautiful meander without another soul around.

On our second evening we had a lovely campfire that did a great job of keeping those pesky things mostly at bay until we went to bed.  Once under the covers, trying to read by the light of our kindles, the buzzing sound of tiny wings dive bombing us was considerably irritating.  I think the next morning we counted at least a dozen caught in the mighty swipe of our fly swatter.

Although the park was very different this time in muted fall colors, it still had that same wide open space feeling that made us enjoy it so much so many years ago.  I was glad I had chosen to make this a two night stay.