Category Archives: Minnesota

More Deer Than People

Traveling the last two days left me behind on posting. On Saturday morning, we started off with Donna’s famous banana pancakes made with just two ingredients – bananas and eggs. We eat them with a little maple syrup and a dollop of fresh ground peanut butter.

Donna's banana pancakes on the induction cooktop

Donna’s banana pancakes on the induction cooktop

The rain in the forecast never materialized – it passed to the north of us. Donna went out for an 18-mile bike ride to check out Lake Cleary Regional Park. On the way back, she saw what looked liked a farmers’ market in downtown Prior Lake. Sure enough it was, but all the vendors were just breaking down. The market is open from 8am to noon every Saturday.

We took advantage of the dry weather and put the Traeger grill to use roasting a whole chicken. Donna rinsed the chicken, patted it dry, brushed it with olive oil and spiced it with salt and pepper inside. She added grated fresh garlic and put a cut lemon with a few sprigs of fresh rosemary inside. This is how she usually prepares the chicken to roast in the oven.

I preheated the grill on high for 10 minutes, then put the chicken on the rack at 450 degrees. An hour later, I added mixed veggies in a special grilling pan with holes in it. Donna cut up peppers, onions and asparagus and coated the mixture with oil before I put them on. After a total time of 75 minutes, we had a delicious roasted chicken and veggies.

Roasted chicken

Roasted chicken

Roasted veggies to go with the chicken

Roasted mixed veggies to go with the chicken

Clean-up was a snap. I had lined the drip pan and bucket on the Traeger smoker/grill with aluminum foil before started. All I had to do was wipe down the grill, pull the foil and throw it away and wipe the pan. Simple. I like simple clean-up.

On Sunday morning, we pulled out of Dakotah Meadows RV Park and said goodbye to Prior Lake, Minnesota. We crossed the Mississippi River on I-94 and were in Wisconsin. We left I-94 at the junction of US29. We followed this almost to Wausau before we headed north toward Merrill.

The terrain was a series of rolling hills, never flat. As we drove north on US51, there was a steady stream of vehicles in the southbound lane – cars and trucks pulling trailers with ATVs and boats along with many RVs. Everyone was heading back to the city after a weekend up north.

We took a break at a truck stop and Donna fixed lunch for us. That’s one of the nice things about a motorhome. We can stop and eat, use the restroom and move on without even leaving the coach.

We finally found ourselves driving east on US8 after Nally (our Rand-McNally RVND7720 GPS) directed us along a few lightly traveled county roads. It wasn’t the route I would have chosen looking at a map, but it was interesting drive.

Ozark was in her plastic carrier crate and she wasn’t happy about it. She took a couple of short naps, but spent most of the time vocalizing her displeasure with rolling down the road. I think the crate is the best thing for her though. She isn’t freaked out by the motion and going crazy, just complaining. I don’t know if cats ever get to be good travelers.

We covered about 300 miles of fairly easy driving before we found a wayside park west of Armstrong Creek that we had read about. It had a large lane for parking RVs or trucks with trailers. Overnight parking in rest areas is allowed in Wisconsin, so we set up for the night. We only put out the bedroom slide on the curb side to keep from having a car hit a slide on the street side in the night.

I went outside to check things in the trailer and found the area thick with mosquitoes. Donna put on plenty of insect repellent before she went for a power walk down a forest service road.

In the morning, I went outside to do my usual walk-around before hitting the road. I like to look everything over and make sure all is as it should be before we roll. It had rained in the night and the mosquitoes were out in force. I came inside and swatted 12 mosquitoes on my arms and legs, number 13 was on my face and number 14 got away.

Wayside Park for the night

Wayside park for the night

We continued east. Once again, Nally directed us to a little used county road to shortcut our path to US2. The county road was fine at first. Once we crossed the Michigan state line, the road surface immediately deteriorated. Michigan’s reputation for poor road conditions is well-deserved. On this section, we saw more deer than people. My friend Jim Birditt would probably say, “That’s not a bad thing.”

We stopped for fuel at Hermansville and continued east on US2. This route took us through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula along the north shore of Lake Michigan. After 230 miles on the road, we checked in to the Lakeside Park Campground on Lake Michigan about 3 miles west of St. Ignace, where I’m typing this. We lost an hour along the way as we are now in the Eastern Time zone.

Ozark was much better about traveling this time. She spent most of the time napping in her crate and only cried out when Donna would get up or start talking to me. Maybe she’ll adjust to traveling after all.

Donna took a walk along the northeastern shore of Lake Michigan and shot a few photos. I’ve been having a problem with my foot since being bitten by a bug in Texas and have limited my walking while it heals.

Trail from the RV park to the lake

Trail from the RV park to the lake

Mackinac bridge (say Mackinaw) a few miles east of us

Mackinac Bridge (say Mackinaw) a few miles east of us

Power company sign warning about underwater cables across Makinac Strait

Power company sign warning about underwater cables across Mackinac Strait

We didn’t unpack the grill from the trailer since this is just an overnight stop. Donna prepared tilapia piccata and a veggie medley of oven roasted parsnips, carrots and beets. Like most root crops, beets are full of nutrients but I’m not a fan – they taste too earthy to me.

Tilapia and veggies

Tilapia piccata and veggies

Today we are road warriors again making the drive across the Mackinac Bridge south through the state to Addison Oaks County Park in Oakland Township – our old stomping grounds. Addison Oaks is one of the first places we stayed in when we started RVing. So much has happened in the two years since then. It’s the time warp I’ve mentioned before. When we think of all the places we’ve been and the things we’ve experienced, we have to wonder how it could all happen in just two years.


Memphis-Style Ribs

Donna took advantage of the last few hours before returning the rental car yesterday. She drove to Cub Foods and shopped for groceries. She enjoyed walking the aisles and picking up whatever she wanted without having to think about how much she could carry home on the scooter. While she was shopping, I hung out and read. After she brought the groceries home, she had to return the car. The guy at Enterprise drove her home, saving me from making the trip on the scooter.

After lunch, I removed the tire covers and the front window shades. It was warm and dry out, but the forecast calls for rain on the weekend. I always like to pack the covers and shades while they’re dry. Packing them away wet and leaving them in the basement for a couple of days invites mold.

With that chore done, I filled the hopper on the Traeger wood pellet grill. Donna picked up a rack of baby back ribs at Cub Foods. I’ve never tried grilling baby back ribs before, but now that we have the Traeger, it was time to try it. Donna and I loved the Memphis-style ribs we had on Beale Street. So I found a recipe and gave it a shot. Memphis-style means the ribs are dry-rubbed with seasoning, grilled hotter than wet St. Louis or Kansas City-style ribs and served with additional dry seasoning after grilling.

I fired up the Traeger and preheated it to 325 degrees.

Digital controller on the Traeger

Digital controller on the Traeger

The Ortech digital controller on the Traeger doesn’t hold the precise temperature. It monitors the temperature through sensor inside the grill and adjusts the pellet feed and blower fan accordingly. The pellets are fed through an auger – it’s like a large screw encased in a metal tube. As the screw turns, pellets are forced through the tube to the fire pot. When the controller senses temperature higher than requested, it stops feeding the pellets and slows the fan until the temperature drops. Once the temperature drops, it starts feeding pellets and stokes the fire with the fan. The actual temperature at the sensor is constantly rising above and dropping below the target temperature because it’s impossible to burn wood pellets at a precise, constant temperature.

Our Traeger grill also has an analog temperature gauge mounted on top of the barrel. There is very little variation in temperature shown on this gauge and I’m convinced the rising and falling temperature is inconsequential. The meat on the grill is held at the average and doesn’t heat up and cool down quickly like the flame in the fire pot does.

Dry-rubbed baby back ribs

Dry-rubbed baby back ribs

I removed the thin membrane from the bone side of the ribs and seasoned them at 1pm. I wrapped them back up in the butcher paper and put them back in the refrigerator. I brought them out of the refrigerator at 2:45pm while the grill was preheating. At 3pm I put them on the grill.

I kicked back in our lounge chair and read a book. Periodically, I monitored the temperature of the grill and stirred the pellets in the hopper to keep them feeding smoothly. There wasn’t much to it. Donna prepared russet potatoes by washing them, slicing them in half lengthwise, then coating them with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder. At 5pm, I added the potatoes on the grill.

Baby back ribs and potatoes

Baby back ribs and potatoes

That was the only time during the cook that I opened the grill. Just past 6pm, it was time to take the ribs and potatoes out of the grill.



Just as I held the ribs in tongs over the cutting board they parted in half. The tender ribs broke away from the bone at the tongs! Luckily it didn’t happen while I was holding them over the grass! I grilled the potatoes with the cut side down. Next time I might do them skin side down.

Ready to serve

Ready to serve

This was too easy and oh, so good. The ribs were tender with a nice crust but I think I could have taken them off the grill a little sooner than I did. The potatoes were cooked perfectly. The maple-hickory-cherry pellet blend left a nice smoky flavor.

Dinner is served

Dinner is served

We dined al fresco at our picnic table. I enjoyed a bottle of Lagunitas IPA with the meal.

Today, thundershowers are expected to move into the area some time after noon. I’ll need to organize the trailer and load the scooter. I need to figure out how to fit the Traeger grill in the trailer too. Hopefully I’ll have that done before it rains and we’ll be set to roll out of here tomorrow with minimum fuss.

Our plan is to head east across Wisconsin. We’ll find a place to dry-camp overnight then continue through the upper peninsula of Michigan to St. Ignace.

Cooking Without Gas

In my last post, I mentioned we stopped at Costco in Burnsville on the way home from Donna’s bike race in Minneapolis. It was a nice store, not crowded at all, but maybe a little smaller than some of the Costcos I’ve been in. I wrote about the start-up of the Price Club and eventual merger with Costco in this post.

We had a few things to pick up – I wanted to stock up on bottled water for our travels next week and also buy clumping kitty litter for Ozark. Costco has a 42-pound bag for just a few bucks more than the 19-pound pack at Petco.

As we wandered through the store, Donna bought organic boneless, skinless chicken thighs and tilapia sourced from Costa Rica. We looked at salmon and that made me think of cedar planks. Sometimes we can find a good deal on a package of cedar planks at Costco. I looked in the area where they had charcoal and other barbeque supplies.

Donna saw a guy by some grills and asked him if he knew where the cedar planks were. He told her he hadn’t seen any, but if we had one of his grills, we wouldn’t need them. I didn’t pay much attention, but I heard him say these grills were wood-fired. I was imagining finding fire wood for the barrel shaped grills anytime I wanted to grill. Then he caught my attention when he said they use wood pellets. What? I didn’t know wood pellet fired grills existed.

I understood the pellet technology and how wood pellet heating stoves work – I had one when I lived in the Pacific Northwest. It turns out that the company that invented wood pellet stoves in ’80s found their market to be too seasonal. People only thought about heating their homes and buying pellet stoves in the fall or winter. In the ’90s, they came up with the idea of making a wood pellet fired grill and smoker. They filed patents and started marketing the grills to fill the slow spring and summer seasons. Over time, they refined the product. This company is called Traeger and it’s headquartered in Portland, Oregon.

Costco is now carrying Traeger smoker/grills. I ended up talking to the guy for about 20 minutes as he demonstrated how it works. I already understood the basic operation. We told him that we’re full time RVers, so he showed us a compact model.

I knew from my experience with pellet heating stoves that the quality of the pellets matters. Low-quality pellets don’t make as much heat and also leave ash deposits. He told me that pellet grills use special “food grade” pellets made only with hardwood (more on this later). Heating pellets are often made from lumber mill waste (saw dust) and contain softwoods such as fir and pine which would not be as good for cooking.

He was a good salesman and kept pitching the product. When I asked how much the Traeger Junior Elite (the compact model) costs, he broke out his iPad and showed me the MSRP was $449 with some places selling it for $429. He said the Costco price was $349. Then he said he would include the grill cover, which retails for $60 (I found it online for $45) and a bottle of dry rub spices. He had a ton of pictures on his iPad of food he and his dad have grilled.

I went for it. I figured we had the car today, I couldn’t see myself strapping this 60-lb. grill on the back of the scooter if I bought it later – and I was getting about a $500 value for $349.

It took some doing to get the big grill box, two cases of water and 42 pounds of cat litter in the rental Passat with Donna’s bike and gear already in the back, but we managed. When we got home, I unpacked the grill box on the picnic table. Some assembly was required!

Some assembly required

Some assembly required

Everything was nicely packed. I was impressed with how the hardware was handled – every screw had a washer and nut on it, making sure nothing was left out. All I had to do was remove the nuts and washers, install the part and install the washers and tighten the nuts. I read the assembly instructions, then went to work.

Handle with nuts and washers atatched

Handle with nuts and washers attached before assembly

Start with an empty barrel

Start with an empty barrel

I followed the directions with only a couple deviations where I saw a better way. The hardware pack included spanner wrenches in 3/8″, 7/16″ and 1/2″ sizes. I used my own wrenches and 1/4″ drive sockets to speed the assembly.

Fully assembled smoker/grill

Fully assembled smoker/grill

I completed the assembly in about 30 minutes. Once I had it put together, I filled the hopper with Traeger pellets I bought at Costco. There are a variety of wood pellets available – hickory, oak, cherry, apple, etc.  that can impart different flavors to the food you cook.

Maple, hickory, cherry wood pellet blend

Maple, hickory and cherry wood pellet blend

Pellet hopper full of pellets

Pellet hopper full of pellets

I bought a 33-lb. bag of maple, hickory and cherry blend of wood pellets at Costco for $20. This will last for 15 to 40 hours of cooking time, depending on temperature selected and ambient wind and temperature conditions. This fuel is more economical than propane and it imparts flavor like charcoal or wood-fired cooking. I fired up the grill and ran it on high for 45 minutes to season it and burn off any oils or manufacturing residue.

The Traeger has a temperature sensor inside the grill and a digital controller. Once fired up, you set the desired temperature and let it warm up for about 10-15 minutes. Then you place the food on the grill and leave it alone! No peeking. Let it cook for the required time and voila!

I don’t usually impulse buy like this, but I was intrigued by the wood pellet technology and felt like I needed to move up from our trusty Weber Q grill. This thing has so much potential for barbeque, smoking, roasting and baking – yes, baking. Donna prepared boneless chicken thighs and I preheated the grill. It was so easy – set it and let it do its thing. The chicken was delicious.

Before I began cooking, I lined the drip pan with aluminum foil. Any fats that drip grease are caught by the pan which slopes and drains into a grease bucket. Easy clean up and no flare-ups.

I spent time on the Internet and found that wood pellet smokers and barbeques are quite popular among the barbeque competition crowd. Some people say it’s cheating because they’re too easy.

I also found there’s controversy over “food-grade wood pellets.” Heating pellets are about a quarter of the cost of “food grade” wood pellets. The thing is, there’s no standard for “food grade” that I could find. One site mentioned a USDA requirement, but after half an hour on the cumbersome government site, I couldn’t find anything. My thinking is this – I’ll buy the “food grade” stuff from reputable firms for my own well-being. I know first-hand that heating pellet quality varies and I wouldn’t want to use a pellet with soft woods, bark or recycled construction waste – not to mention made on manufacturing equipment that wasn’t using food grade lubricants.

The reputable manufacturers of pellets intended for grills use only hardwoods with no binders and use food-grade lubricants such as canola or soy oil. The pellets are made by pressing saw dust through dies under extreme pressure at about 250 degrees. The saw dust is lubricated to facilitate the extrusion through the dies. The naturally occurring lignin in the wood binds the pellet together during the process. Heating pellets may contain cornstarch as a lubricant and binder or other undesirable elements. Until standards are established as they have in Europe, I’ll stick with major, albeit more expensive brands. Traeger has their own pellet manufacturing plants to ensure quality pellets for their grills.

There is one consideration that has me keeping the Weber Q at this time. Wood pellet grills are really smokers or convection ovens. They don’t really provide direct heat, so it’s difficult to get pleasing grill marks on meat. The pellets are burned in a small pot with a fan blowing air across them. This oxygenates the burning pellets and also creates a convection flow in the  grill. There’s a diffuser over the burning pot – this along with the drip pan prevents direct heat from reaching the grill. There are ways to work around this and I’m looking forward to learning. I hope to move on from the propane Weber in the near future.

I'm afraid this cover says "steal me"

I’m afraid this cover says “steal me”

Donna had a book signing in St. Paul last night. Before she drove to St. Paul, we went to the farmers’ market at the tribal Mazopiya natural food market. It wasn’t much of a farmers’ market – just a few tables of locally grown produce.

Today Donna wants to go back to the natural food market before she returns the rental car. The weather guessers are calling for a warmer day with temperatures in the mid 80s before thundershowers move in for the weekend. I think I’ll remove the tire covers and windshield covers this afternoon and pack them away while they’re dry. We’ll pull out of here on Sunday.

Senior Olympics Experience

I scootered Donna to Enterprise rental car in Shakopee on Tuesday. We met back at the Dakotah Meadows RV Park and had lunch before we headed out to the Minneapolis Convention Center. The gal at Enterprise gave Donna a free upgrade on the car – we got a VW Passat and it had South Dakota plates matching our coach and scooter plates!

VW Passat with South Dakota plates

VW Passat with South Dakota plates

We found parking across the street from the convention center and made our way to the hall where check-in for the Senior Olympic Games was taking place. Donna picked up her packet and we had a look around. Pickleball is a Senior Olympic sport. We found a vendor near the pickleball area selling high-end paddles made by RiverStyx here in Minnesota. They were very lightweight and reported to be extra durable, but at $166 each, we passed.

Donna at the check-in

Donna at the check-in

From the convention center, we drove out to the fairgrounds to preview the bicycle race course. We saw several racers riding the course for practice. The course was laid out entirely within the fairgrounds complex. It was a criterium-style course with lots of tight turns and little elevation change. The length of the course was just over three miles – the race would cover eight laps. Donna hadn’t raced on this style of course before – she’s always been on longer road courses with fewer turns.

Donna said the race started at 9am for all competitors. She had e-mails dating back for months stating this. I found it hard to believe. For one thing, men and women rarely start together. Add in the fact that 300 riders were expected. Three hundred riders of all age groups, genders and abilities on a tight criterium race course at once would be a recipe for disaster. She was nervous and I was nervous for her.

On the way home, we made another stop to visit with Donna’s friend, Shannon. We took a tour of her house and chatted for about 40 minutes before we were back on the road. By then, we were hitting rush hour traffic and it was brutal. One of the things I don’t miss at all is the requirement to commute in rush-hour traffic. I don’t have to do it, so I avoid it whenever possible.

On Tuesday night, I was looking for additional race information on the Internet. I stumbled upon a document that showed all cycling participants by group with different start times for each group. One group would begin their race starting at 8am. Donna’s race would start at 9:30am. This document wasn’t provided in the race packet nor was any reference made to it in any communication Donna received from the organization. We were glad I found it, but not too impressed with the way we accidentally learned the schedule.

We were up early on Wednesday morning. Well, Donna was up early, she didn’t wake me until 6:40am. I was planning on leaving here by 7am. That didn’t happen – it was 7:15 by the time we left. I had mapped a different route from the traffic-ensnarled route we took the day before. Our new route took us east, then we hit I-35E north. This worked so much better. That’s always the challenge when we’re in new locations – we don’t know the traffic patterns and best alternate routes. Google maps help, but there’s nothing like local knowledge.

We made the drive in less than an hour. We found the check-in table despite the lack of any signage directing racers where to check-in or what was expected. We talked to several people who all thought the race started at 9am. The men’s races didn’t begin until 11am with some of the age groups starting at 1pm and 3pm. A lot of guys were unhappy about getting up early and fighting traffic to be there for a 9am start that wasn’t happening. The race director really needs to figure out how to communicate the schedule. I wonder if anyone missed the 8am race, thinking their event started at 9am.

We found Donna’s Aunt Kathy and her cousin Ginny at the start/finish area. Donna warmed up and staged shortly before the 9:30am start. As I suspected, the race pace was very fast. The leaders were experienced racers who powered through the turns on this flat course. Donna started off fast but says she got dropped in the first quarter mile. The pace at that point was 27.2 mph! Her goal was not to crash and to average 17-18mph with some drafting. Riding alone, she made it to the finish with a 16.7mph average pace. She was feeling her lack of training these last months due to a combination of heavy rain, unsafe roads, and too-hilly routes along our route. So while she didn’t do as well as she expected, she’s happy to have had the experience of making it to the National Senior Games.

Donna on teh course

Donna on the course

Catch the draft

Catch the draft

After the race, we followed Ginny and Kathy to a popular restaurant called Muffuletta’s in the Como Park neighborhood. Of course, Donna and I ordered the muffaletta sandwich. I had sweet potato fries on the side with mine – Donna had a salad. Donna’s Aunt Kathy used to work nearby and says this restaurant gets packed for lunch and dinner. The service and the food was excellent and we enjoyed eating outdoors on the patio.

Donna, Jenny and Kathy after the race

Donna, Ginny and Kathy after the race

We backtracked our route down I-35E and made a stop at Costco. We wanted to stock up on a few things while we had a car. I ended up making an impulse buy that I’ll describe in my next post.

Today we expect mostly sunny skies with the temperature reaching 80 degrees. Later this afternoon, Donna will drive to downtown St. Paul for a book signing at Subtext Books.





Sixty to Zero

Sunday was a travel day. We relocated from Des Moines to Minneapolis. There was a lot of activity in the Des Moines State Fairgrounds campground as many of the car show attendees were bailing out on the last day of the show.

We took our time packing up. By the time I had dumped and flushed the tanks and pulled the slides in and jacks up, it was nearly 11am. We said our goodbyes to our new friends, David and Karin, and I fired up the engine. As usual, before pulling out I said to Donna, “There’s a big road ahead…if it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen out there.” It’s a line I paraphrased from the movie Captain Ron.

This time, we traveled with Ozark in a cat carrier crate. She wasn’t happy about being confined to the crate, but overall it was less stressful for her and us than the last two times we rolled down the highway with her. We made a stop at a nice rest area at exit 158 on I-35 and ate a hot lunch.

We continued north on I-35. About ten miles into Minnesota, we hit road construction which narrowed the route down to one lane of travel.  We were moving along smoothly at about 60 mph though. I kept a reasonable distance between our coach and the car ahead.

Suddenly, I saw brake lights as the traffic came to a screeching halt ahead. I braked hard and at the same time switched the Jake brake to high. I was braking so hard that the tires were beginning to squeal on the threshold of lock-up.

I was amazed at the braking performance. I stopped a good 20 feet behind the car in front of me and a car behind me had to swerve onto the shoulder because we stopped so quickly. I wouldn’t have believed stopping our 33,000 pounds could happen that fast if I hadn’t done it myself.

When we began moving again, I saw the cause of the panic braking. A guy had run his car off the road and hit a cable barrier on the right, spinning the car around. The driver and passenger appeared to be okay.

Like I said, if it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen out there.

We pulled into Dakotah Meadows RV Park around 3:30pm. We stayed here before when we first hit the road in 2013. We have a pull-through site on a concrete pad near the pond. This is a clean, quiet RV park with security patrols and level pads. When we came here the first time, I thought it was nicest park I’d ever stayed in. I don’t know if I would make that statement today – we’ve been to a lot of RV parks over the last two years.

While were driving down the road, Donna had a pork tenderloin in the slow cooker. She sets up the slow cooker in the kitchen sink so it won’t slide off the counter – which it would have for certain when I had to make the sudden stop. The aroma in the coach whetted my appetite for sure.

I put the jacks down and slides out before hooking up so we could let Ozark out of her crate. She was fine – she didn’t bound out of the crate and go crazy – just sat up inside with her head sticking out and jumped out after a few minutes. I completed our hook-up and put tire covers and window covers on. I unloaded and set up the grill and had the scooter out of the trailer by 5pm.

Donna served dinner – it was slow cooker char siu (Chinese barbeque pulled pork) and it was delicious. She served it over brown rice with fresh steamed green beans from the Des Moines farmers’ market on the side. She got the recipe from our neighbor, Karin, along with others. They enjoyed talking about food and cooking and sharing recipes.

Slow cooker char siu

Slow cooker char siu with samba oelek (chili paste)

I watched the Formula One British Grand Prix at Silverstone which I had recorded in the morning. Ozark was happy to roam in the stationary coach.

Ozark the cat

Ozark the cat

A thunderstorm rolled in at bedtime. Ozark slept through most of the night – she hadn’t slept as much as usual during the day while we traveled. The forecast calls for rain to continue most of the day today.


We couldn’t have asked for better weather in Prior Lake, Minnesota. Yesterday was mostly sunny with the temperature around 80 degrees. The dew point was in the 50s which means the relative humidity was low. Today will be more of the same, maybe a little warmer. It’s sunny and 55 degrees as I write this at 7:30am.

Donna missed the beautiful weather as she left for New York City. Her driver arrived right on time and took her to the airport at 9am. She will return tonight around 9pm. So, I’m posting today without my editor! I’ll do my best to proofread before posting but a second set of eyes always helps.

I mapped a route to Eden Prairie to go to the Best Buy store. I needed to go there to pick up a new laptop for Donna. The route I chose worked out great. From the Dakotah Meadows RV park I went through Shakopee north to Chanhassen then directly east to Eden Prairie. This was an easy route to memorize and a nice ride on the scooter. The main routes in the area are wide, fast roads. Speed limits vary from 40mph to 55mph.

On the way back I saw a restaurant sign proclaiming “Chinese Cuisine”. That sounded good. I dropped off Donna’s laptop in the motorhome and went to the restaurant for lunch. Once seated there I looked over the menu. I had a sinking feeling when I saw another sign in the window that said “Chinese – American Food.” One of my restaurant rules is to avoid eating at a place that advertises “Chinese – American Food.”

I ordered the Kung Pao Chicken. It was quite good and came with fried rice and a spring roll. My only disappointment was the lack of soup. If they had served a cup of Hot and Sour Soup with it I would rate it 3.5 on a scale of 5.

While I was out, I stopped at an O’Reilly’s Auto Parts store. When I was checking tire pressures I lost one of the valve stem caps. I dropped the cap into the opening on the wheel and couldn’t retrieve it. I’m sure it bounced out of there once we drove away. So, I bought a set of steel valve stem caps with rubber seals. I like these because they can prevent the loss of air from the tire through a leaky Schrader valve. You never know, the valve may not seat properly and that can create a slow leak. Using a cap with a rubber seal is a second line of defense – a belt and suspenders approach.

The rest of the afternoon was pretty lazy. I sat outside and read a book. I went for a long walk and took a few pictures. I don’t know why I have a camera bag full of gear in the coach. I’ve been taking all of my pictures with my Samsung Galaxy G4 phone. They call it a smart phone but I rarely use it as a phone. I play games on it, I e-mail with it, I check Facebook on it and I take pictures with it.

View towards our site from across the pond

View towards our site from across the pond

Last evening, I took another stroll through the park. I saw bats flying over the road behind our coach. Donna and I used to enjoy watching bats from our deck when we lived in Rochester Hills. There are more than 45 species of bats in the US. They can be found throughout the USA – and the world for that matter. They exist everywhere except for the Arctic, Antarctic and a few islands. About 70% of the bat species are insectivores. The rest are mostly fruit eaters. I like insectivores – anything that feeds on mosquitoes is okay, right?

Photo from Wikipedia

Photo from Wikipedia

Today I’ll check and adjust the tire pressure. Now that I’ve weighed the coach I know I should increase the rear tire pressure from 90PSI to 95PSI. I have a small compressor that provides up to 150PSI. I plug it into the outlet in one of our basement compartments to fill the tires.

I also plan to re-arrange some of the items in the trailer. I want to move some of the heavier items rearward to increase the axle weight and decrease the tongue weight. I think I’ll also disconnect the hitch to inspect and grease the ball. The trailer hasn’t been disconnected for more than 2,200 miles. That’s how many miles we’ve covered since we left three weeks ago.

By the end of the day, I’ll have most of the stuff packed and ready for tomorrow’s travel. We’ll head to South Dakota tomorrow. Our original plan was to stay a few days near Madison – we have business to attend to there. Then we would move to Mitchell where we have an appointment next week. I’ve booked a week at Camp America Campground in Salem, South Dakota. We couldn’t get into the campground at Madison for more than one night. They’re completely booked for the weekend. As always, plans have a way of changing.

Salem is between Madison and Mitchell – roughly 30 miles southwest of Madison and 30 miles east of Mitchell. We’ll scooter to our appointments. I hope the beautiful weather holds up! The campground is in a rural area, it’s about a mile and a half north of I-90.

I don’t know how the internet access will be in that area. So far we’ve had 4G coverage with our Verizon Jetpack everywhere we’ve stopped. Here in Dakotah Meadows I’m using their wifi – we have a good connection and it’s fast most of the time.

Before we head out of here tomorrow, I want to use the RV wash. The coach and trailer have 2,200 miles of road grime. I’ll also gas up here. The Gas Buddy app shows this to be the cheapest gas in the area. In fact, it’ll be the cheapest we’ve seen at $3.33/gallon.

That’s about it. I don’t think I’ll post tomorrow morning before we leave.

RV wash and gas pumps

RV wash and gas pumps

Inside the RV wash - catwalk to reach the upper areas of the RV

Inside the RV wash – catwalk to reach the upper areas of the RV


Hot Pink

In yesterday’s post I wrote about the Hormel mystery meat called Spam. Today I’ll open with a few words about the other kind of spam – the electronic type. We all get spam in our email inbox from time to time. Anyone with a blog or website knows they are also vulnerable to spam.

In my case, spammers hit my blog daily through the comments. I enjoy reading comments from people who actually read the blog and I wish I could allow people to post their comments freely. I can’t do this because of the spam. Therefore, all comments have to be approved before they are visible.

I can understand some of the spam I receive. Sometimes the spammer writes what appears to be a valid comment at first glance. Further reading reveals the product(s) the spammer is hawking. Other times the spam is trying to sell me software to “enhance” my blog. These spam entries usually contain links that I immediately delete – this is to protect my blog and to protect readers from clicking on potentially dangerous links.

There’s another type of spam I receive on a daily basis. These “comments” are pure gibberish. I don’t understand what these are about. It’s usually a series of hanzi or kanji characters (I’m not sure if they’re Chinese hanzi or Japanese kanji) followed by “words” that look something like “jjgrt kllpt”. What’s this all about? This is the most prevalent spam I have to screen out. End of rant.

Yesterday I unpacked Donna’s road bike. She went for a ride in the morning while I attended to some business. I rolled my 401k into an IRA. I did this because I want to set up a 72t (SEPP) distribution that will allow me to supplement my pension without paying a 10% penalty. The IRS has a rule, 72t, that allows this with certain restrictions if you are under 59 and a half years old.

My company’s 401k rules also had a provision for allowing withdrawals without penalty if you are separated from the company and over the age of 55. This provision requires a one time annual lump sum payment. I opted for the IRA with a 72t distribution because it allows me to dribble the money out of my account in monthly payments. I think this is a better way for me to take the money and allow the investments in equities and bonds to keep working. There are pros and cons to each method, but I think what I’m doing is right for me.

After Donna returned, we had lunch. She had conference calls to attend at 1pm and 2pm. I got out of her way by taking the scooter for a ride. I explored a bit and found the easiest route to Best Buy. After her conference calls, Donna wanted to go shopping for a new laptop. I came back and picked Donna up around 2:30pm. We rode to Best Buy. Donna found the laptop she wanted. It’s an ASUS with a hot pink shell!

Unfortunately, the Best Buy we were at only had it in green. We were told the Best Buy in Eden Prairie had it in hot pink. Donna wouldn’t settle for green. The route to the Eden Prairie store was complicated due to construction on I-169. I wasn’t too keen on scootering “two up” on the interstate anyway. So, we returned to the park. I looked up an alternate route online while Donna packed her bag for her trip to New York City.

We had a simple dinner. I grilled Wisconsin bratwurst and roasted corn on the cob. The Wisconsin bratwurst had cheese stuffed in the casing along with the sausage. It was a little on the salty side for my taste, but I enjoyed it.

Wisconsin Brats - that's cheese oozing through the casing

Wisconsin Brats – that’s cheese oozing through the casing

This morning Donna will fly from Minneapolis to New York City for a job she has there tomorrow. Later I’ll take the scooter and go to Eden Prairie to pick up the hot pink ASUS laptop she wants. I don’t have much in the way of plans beyond that for today. I might laze in the outdoor recliner and read a book. Maybe I’ll get motivated and get my road bike out to bicycle the area. We’ll see.

I walked around the RV park and took pictures of a few million-dollar-plus coaches. These were all built on Prevost chassis and body. The three pictured started with the same chassis and body but the coach work was performed by different manufacturers.

Liberty coach built on a Prevost chassis

Liberty coach built on a Prevost chassis

Marathon coach built on a Prevost chassis

Marathon coach built on a Prevost chassis

Royale coach built on a Prevost chassis

Royale coach built on a Prevost chassis

Tomorrow I’ll wrap up a few more financial arrangements and start packing our coach before Donna returns. Then we’ll head west to South Dakota.


Across the Mighty Mississippi

Sunday morning, instead of cooking breakfast in the coach we ate at the campground pancake breakfast. This was more convenient than cooking and cleaning up before we broke camp and departed. Donna had the pancakes and brought her own syrup (pure maple) plus a hard-boiled egg. I chose the biscuits and gravy with sausage. I ate hearty but maybe not so healthy.

During breakfast the camp host couple talked to us about points of interest as we head west. They knew we were westward bound and leaving that morning. A family from Toronto at the next table overheard this and offered to give us their AAA Guides to the western states. They were on their way home and said they didn’t need the guides anymore. After breakfast Donna walked with them to their camp and returned with the guides.

It continued to rain as I made preparations to leave. I dumped and flushed the holding tanks while Donna prepped the interior. Once I had the shore power and water disconnected, I had her pull the slides in and retract the jacks. I was a little wet, but I was also glad that we packed the trailer, loaded the outdoor furniture and mats and put the awning in the night before.

I weighed the coach at the truck stop before we hit I-90 west. As I suspected, we are a little overweight. It’s not the total weight, it’s more of a weight distribution issue. Our rear axle is overloaded while the front axle and trailer are below capacity. I think I can relieve some of load by reorganizing the trailer again to reduce the tongue weight. I’m not sure how I can redistribute things in the coach. I’m not too worried about it.

We crossed the mighty Mississippi on I-90 and are arguably in the west. I really don’t consider Minnesota to be a western state. I’ll feel like we’re in the west when we reach the South Dakota Badlands. After we crossed the Mississippi, the rain stopped and the clouds thinned out. We continued on I-90 to Rochester where we turned north. Just before we left I-90 we stopped at a rest area. It was very clean and nicely landscaped with several picnic tables. Donna made tacos with leftover pork loin and avocado. We sat in the sun at a picnic table and enjoyed our lunch.

We considered detouring south to stop at the Spam museum in Austin, Minnesota. Austin is the home of Hormel foods – the maker of the mystery meat in a can. Roadside America rates the Spam museum as Major Fun. It features the history of Spam with humor.

Spam (the meat) always reminds me of Hawaii. They have the highest per capita consumption of Spam in the US there. It’s on the menu in many restaurants – eggs and Spam, Spam omelette with cheese. Grilled Spam and cheese sandwich. In Hawaii, McDonalds has Spam on the menu. In 2007, Burger King added Spam to the menu there to compete with McDonalds. Enough about Spam. We passed on the museum and stayed on our planned route.

At 3pm, we pulled into the Dakotah Meadows RV Park. As I mentioned previously, this park is owned and operated by the Shakopee Mdewankanton Sioux Community. It’s a large, fully paved and nicely landscaped park. We have a pullthough site near a pond that covers a couple of acres. The pond has an aerator sprayer – it looks like fountain spraying water in all directions from the center of the pond. Last night we slept with windows open and the aerator provided a soothing white noise. Otherwise it’s very quiet here.

The tribe operates this park to complement the casinos they have in the area. Free shuttle service from your campsite! I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and I’m not too interested in the casino. The concept must work though. There are more high end motorhomes in this park than I’ve seen anywhere else. The shuttle came by several times. It doesn’t follow a schedule, you call for pick up. Including tax our paved, full hook-up 50amp pullthough site is under $30/night. The sites were graded fairly level before paving, so I didn’t have to do much adjustment of the jacks.

Today Donna wants to do some bicycling. We’ll also go laptop shopping – there’s a Best Buy a few miles from here. Then she’ll probably go to the casino resort for a manicure and pedicure. She has to fly to New York City tomorrow to do a national TV satellite media tour on Wednesday. She’ll fly back Wednesday night. I’ll be a bachelor for a couple of days.

The weather forecast calls for sunny skies, temps in the upper 70s with low relative humidity for the next few days. Not what I expected in Minnesota but I’m not complaining.

View of pond from our site this morning

View of pond from our site this morning