Iowa after Three Days and 1,100 miles.

I planned on having a couple of days to prepare for five weeks of travel with my two nieces, Shannon and Megan, my brother Brian’s girls, after I returned from a trip to Canada by myself.  There was a family party scheduled for the weekend between my arrival home and my departure, and more importantly, my daughter, Betsy, and my two grandchildren came up to see me and attend the party. Grandchildren are a powerful attractant for a grandfather. Everything seems to be dropped and put off. I did, and I’m not sorry. Both my grandkids are at a perfect age, and I hope that they will always be a perfect age. They change, as a state of being. I suppose I’ll have to change, so they remain the perfect age. I’m up for it.

I started preparing for the niece trip as soon as I arrived home. It made for busy days, and I was pretty tuckered out by the time it came to leave for the trip. A fishing trip to the local lake, a swim in a neighbor’s pool, general play, breakfasts, a day at the Turtle Back Zoo, all with the grandkids.  Great fun; a tuckered grandpa. So that was why the day I was to leave, I found myself mowing the lawn. I had, over the preceding months, contacted three people regarding the lawn, but the rear lawn is like a marsh, to soft to walk in without sinking into the soil, and the front is barely a hundred square feet, if that. Either no one was interested, or they felt they couldn’t charge. So, they didn’t do anything.

I planned on leaving no later than 11AM. Friends in Ohio had offered to feed us and provide cookies for the girls. I really like my friends, and require no enticements, so I really didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see them. The bribery was wonderful though; I’m a sucker for it, and practice it frequently. They have been very supportive for me, for a long time. I feel very comfortable at their home. When I’m with them, they promote a sense of belonging. They’ve become family in many ways. So everyone loaded up the RV, put stuff in the places assigned to them, and generally got organized. I managed to get the extra stuff out of the RV before the lawn mowing, so things were going well. I had even taken a couple of days in Maine to clean, sort, and arrange the RV. There was no confusion when the nieces arrived and settled in. I added water, cleaned and arranged things to my satisfaction and took off at about 11:20 AM. That was good enough.

So we started our adventure on July 17th. Louise and I had our first date on July 17th  1978. She’s was as sappy as I am, so every year we planned to do something nice; visit a pretty place on July 17th. When the girls were small, we would head off to High Point State Park, pick blueberries and swim. The state cut down most of the blueberry bushes sometime in the late 1980’s, so we stopped going there and did other things. I tried to always have the day off. It’s always been an auspicious day; I’m hoping it’s the start of a successful trip.

The trip across Pennsylvania is always pretty dull. The girls entertained themselves listening to silly pod casts and giggling. I entertained myself by listening to music from the 60’s and when I got tired of that, finished an Audible book. Listening to an Audible book, having someone read to me, makes the time fly. I don’t seem to get as tired driving. I’m not as completely aware of everything around me as when I’m not listening, but when I’m not listening I can tell you how many red tailed hawks we’ve passed, whether that truck passed us before, and the state of the license plate of the car that passed us three cars ago. It was the 24 years of sucking up everything I passed when I was driving that persists.  Not being that aware is less tiring.

We arrived at the Rigby’s in Ohio. I love seeing them. We all miss Louise very much, and they were fortunate to know her before she forgot. I had kept them up top date on our location. Chris has a lovely dinner prepared. I brought a bottle of nice wine. We drank wine, had appetizers, talked and had a very lovely evening. They were kind enough to hook us up with electricity, and the initial settling in time, generally a confusing time with what goes where, and the order in which to do things needs to be determined, went smoothly.

I was up early the next morning and left the girls sleeping. I had a great conversation with Jack along with some coffee and later, a great breakfast, with blueberry pie! That guy knows hot to live, and eats a great breakfast. Louise liked just pie for breakfast, with some coffee, especially peach pie. Jack says blueberry pie, eggs and sausage includes all the food groups and tastes really good. I’m not about to argue with Jack, pie is better than toast.

We left without rush, fueled up, and were back on the Ohio Turnpike. Fuel prices are all over the map. I think there has been a 75¢ difference in price, per gallon. Initially on the ride, I didn’t notice any change in the scenery. Five years ago, when Louise and I essentially took the same route, the scenery was corn fields, soybeans and hay as far as the eye could see. There wasn’t a square inch of land that wasn’t under agriculture. Now, there are barren fields everywhere you look. Stubble, weeds, or the occasional corn crop that is 6” tall. Those farmers are optimists. That crop will never mature. The ratio must have been two or three fallow fields for every one that had a chance of making it to harvest. We did see some very nice fields in Iowa, where the corn was easily six feet tall, right where it should be this time of year. It’s easy to see who had luck, and who didn’t. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing some farmers well, and I’ll tell you, there isn’t a slacker in the bunch. If a field is fallow, there’s a damn good reason.

It was just a long, uneventful, drive to Indiana Dunes State Park. It was the first real tourist stop, and the originator of the trip. Megan and I were talking shortly after Louise’s death, and I asked her about traveling. She’s been with me and her father in the RV on several occasions. She mentioned that she would like to, and said, offhand, she’d like to see a Great Lake. Somehow, the word bucket list was mentioned, and we started talking about bucket lists. I knew that I wanted to be away from the house as much as possible, until I figured out life, so I was all in for a trip. We framed the outline of this trip then; I told her that she couldn’t go alone. No High School student should spend the amount of time the trip would take with her heading towards seventy Uncle. (How did I get this old?) Shannon was unknowingly signed up.

Later in the planning stage, I fortunately made reservations, something I’m not predisposed to do. It was a good thing. The park was packed, there were no open sites and it was hot, about 95 degrees. We went directly to the beach, walked to the dune, climbed it, ran down it, and waded in the water. I like the water. Jumping in the water is not the first thing that generally comes to mind. I like pools. Pools are predictable. The bottom is concrete, the water temperature is generally within a regular range, and there are steps. Megan suggested taking a swim. Back to the RV, I pulled the shades for privacy, waited outside, the ladies put on their swim attire. I jumped in, changed in the bathroom, which has been converted into my room. All my stuff, upon the suggestion of my daughter Kitt, is in the rear hanging closet. Brilliant move. Off we went to the beach. The lake seemed cool when you first walked in, and unlike any bay or ocean, you walked out into the water forever until you were up to your knees. I think the North shore of PEI is the same, but I didn’t have anyone suggesting we take a dip on that trip. I went in up to my neck. The water was quite comfortable once you accustomed yourself to it. It was very strange to get out of the water, and not be cold. The breeze verged on hot.

We registered, stopped at the camp store, where I found a sticker for the back of my RV. It was not for sale. They sold out of the stickers on the Fourth of July, and it was stapled to a cardboard display. I tried to convince the girl behind the counter, but she was of the opinion that it was a display and that the store couldn’t make a profit off the display. It was the last one available. She did say she would send a text, and to come back the following morning. We visited the Camp store the following morning, but it didn’t open until 10 AM. Really? Check out time is sometimes 11 AM. Poor management.

I showed the girls how to do camp things. Hook up the electricity; put the windshield cover on, mounting the flag, where the groundmat was. We had a great dinner, as usual. The ladies opted to take a shower in the RV instead of the shower house (good choice), so we had Friday night on Thursday, did the dishes. I was beat, so I went to bed.

We awoke to find the day hotter than before. The Wall Street Journal finally became aware of my lack of paid participation, so they turned off my access to their on-line version of the newspaper. I haven’t been a customer for three months, so we’ll see if the paper version continues to be delivered to the house. In the past, my friends have collected, and enjoyed, the paper while I’ve been running around.

Some things don’t change with time. Chicago traffic and Illinois roads are still as bad as they were five years ago. The roads were concrete in 1950 and have been covered with asphalt, but not fixed. A Hundred miles of thump, thump, thump, on the still extant concrete seams. Chicago mobsters may mysteriously disappear, but those road joints are forever. Eventually, the roads got better. The mathematical formula for road condition must be where road condition is proportional square to the distance from Chicago. I was surprised when I looked at the temperature reading on the dashboard. It was a hot day, but I was surprised when I saw the temperature was 102 degrees.

We arrived at Prairie Flower Campground at about 5:40, and I was done. I registered, filled with water and looked around. The place was as open as it could be; essentially an old farm field, and HOT. The grass was toasted and appeared ready to burst into flame. We cruised around, and thank you God, we had one, or the only, shaded spot in the campground. Setup was a breeze. I was leveled, slide out, windshield covered, flag mounted, doormat out, electricity plugged in, in under 10 minutes. The girls wanted franks and mac and cheese for dinner, so there was no thought to dinner. Megan did the honors on the mac and cheese, and I grilled the franks. My nieces have me pegged. “Uncle Bob”, said Megan “I can assume that we’re not boiling the frankfurters, your grilling them, right?” Correct, even if it is 99 degrees.

So, there we were, a quick dinner, camp setup only took about 8 minutes, and I was very pleased. God provides and we had what seemed the only fully shaded spot in the whole park. Woo Hoo! AC was turned on as soon as we settled, and by 8:00 PM we had finally gotten the inside temperature down to 80 degrees. Not bad for 99 degrees when we arrived.

The best is, I’m back to writing. A shower and bed as soon as I’m done.

Post script. I was too tired. Slept all night long and arose at 6:20 Am to seethe last portion of the sunrise. Got to see a biplane crop duster fly over (Yes that fixes it, we are in Iowa) and finish. It promises to be a hot day today, but a short 3 hour drive.