Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota

IMG_5797The most important thing to know about this blog post is that LD’s Barbecue (attached to the BP) exists and you need to go there. The second most important thing is to know that my friend Matt is never wrong about a restaurant. Nev-er.

Located south of Milwaukee, near Lake Geneva, I’d heard about LD’s from my co-worker Matt. I have taken his restaurant recommendations probably two dozen times and he has never, ever led me wrong. He’s also from Wisconsin. I thought surely, this was the place to end his streak. What do Wisconsonians know about barbecue? And it was attached to an Interstate gas station! In the end, LD’s delivered the best or second best brisket I have ever bought. Pecan Lodge in Dallas, LD’s and then Bubba-Q in Woodstock and Jasper Ga. — if I were to make a Mount Rushmore of Brisket, that would be on it. Matt’s streak is still alive. I told Jess that if we ever get married again, LD’s is catering.


After leaving the UP, we traveled over to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

In a crazy coincidence, on one isolated stretch of highway in Wisconsin, we noticed a Gatorade green VW heading the opposite way. Inside were two frantically waving Canadians — Julie and Christian! What are the odds of that?

Bayfield, Wisconsin is the gateway to the Apostle Islands and it’s a cute little town. In Bayfield,  we found the kayak shop Ben’s family owned and learned that he had arrived safely the night before. At the National Lake Shore, our campsite was a county campground that appeared to have been mapped out by a drunk Packers fan. We finally found our site and met a group of sea kayakers from Wheaton College who were on a 14-day paddling trip around the islands. The skies were gray and the water was choppy so we decided not to go on a boat tour.

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 1.34.42 AMFrom the Apostles, we had a long drive down to Appleton and High Cliff State Park. Appleton was the former home of Harry Houdini and had a nice children’s museum (free with our membership!), which made for a nice Saturday. I wish we could have checked out the park more, but we had to move on to Lake Geneva and Big Foot Beach State Park for my conference to begin Sunday.

We did stop at some point for all three of us to get haircuts and a Great Clips. Things didn’t go great. Braden’s haircut wound up looking like an uneven version of Jim Carey in Dumb and Dumber. Jess got a few inches cut off and apparently created two dozen flyaway strands. Mine has a nice ducktail sticking up in the back and random hairs sticking out way to far from the sides like a boxwood hedge pruned with safety scissors. We’re all looking forward to hair growing back to where our normal hair cut folks can fix it in Chattanooga in September. Learning moment: if you notice regular customers avoiding one particular barber, you should too!

The conference was held at a very nice hotel that apparently used to be a Playboy Club. The GPS still recognized it as being on “Cotton Tail Road” and the hotel did have a little curio of Playboy mementos, but otherwise it was scrubbed clean into an upscale family resort.

We attended church at the Lake Geneva United Methodist. The 10:30 contemporary service was pretty sparse. With us, there were 7 in the congregation, not counting the band (guitar, bass and fiddle) or the preacher. The sermon was much more political than we were used to. The preacher said essentially that just because the federal government does not endorse Christian beliefs (she said “theocracy”), that doesn’t mean we are persecuted. She said she gets plenty of emails claiming that Christians in the US are being persecuted because of A, B or C. I’m not saying she was wrong, but it waded into some areas I don’t think most Southern churches would wade into.

IMG_2084Lake Geneva was a bustling little tourist town 90 minutes from Chicago with an odd custom — dozens of people park their boats in a few feet of water just off shore in the lake for most of the day Saturday or Sunday and many evenings. They don’t move them into the rest of the lake and many are not even 10 feet from other anchored boats that appear to be complete strangers. You could almost have hoped from one anchored boat to the other for several hundred feet along the shore. Odd.

Jess is concerned that after spending time at Lake Superior, we’re going to become Lake snobs. If Lake Geneva is any indication, that may be the case.

We did get a chance to enjoy a nice arts festival downtown.

While at the conference I met a man who told me about the time it snowed 39 inches — on Halloween Night. It was a good reminder that we are a long way from home and we need to get back there before the leaves turn.

In Wisconsin, we passed through a town claiming to be the Loon Capital of the World, but — you know the story by now — we didn’t see or hear any loons. Only the giant fiberglass one the town set up apparently to mock me.



From Lake Geneva, we steamed across the bottom of Wisconsin and were surprised to find the Mississippi River and Dubuque. IMG_5793I knew the Mississippi was around there somewhere, but just didn’t think of it being in Iowa or Wisconsin. We camped right on an island in the Mississippi at a $15/night county park. We also found an alarming amount of glass around our site.

Jess and Braden went to the National Mississippi River Aquarium and Museum. I got the oil changed in the RV (4000 miles since July 4th IMG_2122weekend) and looked for an RV surge protector to replace the one that had gotten waterlogged one rainy night in Wisconsin.

While there, I saw my first ever firewood vending machine. It’s a little shed with a drawer and five dollar vending slot. You slide your $5 bill in just like on a Coke machine and for a few seconds, it sounds like someone is getting beaten up inside the shed. Then, you open the drawer, and your bundle of logs is there waiting. This may have been the most exciting thing in all of Dubuque.

While I was getting our orange-glazed pork chops ready to cook on the fire, our small group called on Skype from church. It was great to see everyone and we really appreciated them thinking of us.

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 1.35.43 AMAfter Dubuque, we drove a few miles to Dyersville where I fulfilled a dream I’ve had for 20 years. The Field Of Dreams movie site was free to tour and since Braden and I had our baseball gloves, we played a little catch in the outfield. Since he is four, it was more like pick up and chase, but it was still an experience I’ll remember for a long time. We also wandered back into the corn, but despite Braden’s best efforts, we didn’t find Shoeless Joe’s ghost.

IMG_5873Braden and I did take time to reenact the scene where Karen chokes on the hotdog. Quick! Send in Doc Graham! I had left the movie back in Chattanooga, but I can’t wait to watch it again.

We followed the Great River Road alternating between Iowa and Wisconsin up to a Corps of Engineers campground on another island. As a bonus, the trip included what was hands-down the sketchiest big bridge I have ever been on. There’s a 40-percent chance our last bridge over the Mississippi was actually an Eagle Scout project from an Erector Set enthusiast. It was all metal grate, so you could see through it and so narrow that we would have had to fold our mirror in if we had met another RV or truck coming the other way. No photos from the bridge because I was squeezing the steering wheel to tight. 

We were hit by one of our biggest storms of the trip at that site. I got out our weather radio, but by the time I figured out how to change the stations and found the one for LaCrosse, Wisc., the whistling wind had stopped.


After a couple of weeks wandering in the wilderness, our drive up to Minneapolis was a welcomed social break. We camped at a nice, clean, Wi-Fi enabled campground in St. Paul, with cheap laundry for two nights. Had we known how nice the Dakota County campground was going to be, we probably would have ditched Iowa a day earlier.

IMG_1745But what made us really enjoy Minneapolis was the people. While there, we got to spend time with Jess’s cousin Christi, her husband Brad and their two boys. They invited us over for dinner Friday night and we joined them at The Works children’s museum and the Wild Rumpus book store on Saturday. It was good, grown-up conversations with a couple of really neat folks we don’t see a lot.

Saturday evening, we were invited over to the home of an old college friend of mine Jerid, his wife Colleen and their one-year old Ollie(spelling). Jerid is a cocaine scientist at U of Minnesota, or something like that. His job involves injecting rats in a lab and developing new medications. He must be good at his job, but he’s not good at foosball. He knows this. Colleen, however, is really good at making chicken chili. It was superb and the company, which included Colleen’s cousin, was excellent. Jerid, Colleen and their dog Lola were some of our original camping buddies back at Cheaha and other locations during our Anniston and Wedowee days, so it was good to catch up and find them all doing well.

Minnesota is also known for loons, but apparently, they were in some of the 10,000 lakes than anything we saw.


Cub Foods disappeared from the Atlanta-area years ago, but is apparently alive and well in Minnesota.

Originally, Colleen was going to make pea soup for dinner, but decided it might be an acquired taste for those not familiar. It sounds like it’s a big thing up North.

It’s hard to find biscuits up here. Several stores didn’t have the easy-bake Pillsbury kind so we were hoping McDonalds would. Not where we stopped in Wisconsin. Braden was very disappointed when he got Hot Cakes instead. We finally did find a bag of Pillsbury.

The key to cooking or especially baking in the RV propane stove has been to preheat the oven for at least 10 minutes. The propane is lasting well. We just refilled in Wisconsin for about $25. That lasts us almost three months.

The Corps of Engineers campground gave us our first experience in shower tokens. They were free, but we had to use one for every five minutes of shower water we wanted at the bathhouse.

Speaking of showers, the Lake Geneva bathhouse was the first shower on the trip where I have been able to get under the shower head without ducking. Small victories, right?

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