Minnesota and Iowa Ramblings

Lutsen-Mtn-Fall-Color-Pano-2As of this writing it is a cold, windy, and dreary rainy afternoon in central Iowa, a perfect time to work on a blog post. With the gusty wind, cold rain, and even sleet, trees are fast shedding their colorful leaves and the woods are taking on their winter bare aspect. Park Rapids, an area we visited about a month ago, just had their first blizzard of the season and northern Iowa saw their first snow flurries with this storm. It’s time to begin the snow bird flight back to warmer climes.

A lot has happened since our last blog update. From Itasca State Park and Park Rapids we bid a fond farewell to Kim’s uncle, Tom Bell, and family friend, Barb H., and moved on to Two Harbors, Minnesota. We enjoyed the trip to Two Harbors, driving along highways through forests vibrant with fall foliage. We arrived at the City of Two Harbors Burlington Bay Campground, a gem of a municipal park on the north shore of Lake Superior. There we met up with my sister and brother-in-law, Shirley and Craig Phinney, on vacation at one of their all time favorite spots.

We stayed at Two Harbors from September 30 to October 8, enjoying the sights, good food and good company with Shirley and Craig. We were treated to wonderful fall weather for most of the time during our stay, only a few days of clouds and rain. Inland from Lake Superior, the forests were nearing the peak of the seasonal fall foliage display.

Highlights of our stay include: a visit to Gooseberry Falls State Park to see the amazing waterfalls, namesake of the park; a day trip to Grand Marais to one of Craig & Shirley’s favorite North Shore restaurants, the Angy Trout Cafe; a picnic on the shores of Lake Superior near Split Rock Lighthouse; a day trip to Jay Cooke State Park for a picnic and to view stunning rapids and waterfalls. We took drives along local roads to view the fall color and a ski lift ride up Lutsen Mountain for more stunning views of the fall foliage. (Yes, even Kim, no fan of heights, was brave enough to take the ride – well done!) We also enjoyed drives around historic Two Harbors, watching 1000 ft ore freighters at the Two Harbors Taconite ore terminal and lunch at another favorite local restaurant, the Lighthouse at Emily’s.

Finally, we enjoyed a visit to an amazing meat market, Old World Meats, in Duluth. Craig and Shirley placed a large order and were returning with several coolers full of meats for grilling in the months to come. Makes us wish we had a much larger freezer in our RV!

From Two Harbors, we caravaned with Craig and Shirley on their return trip to Ankeny, Iowa, stopping for a three nights, October 8-11, at Lake Byllesby Regional Park, near Cannon Falls, Minnesota. One afternoon we took a trip to nearby Red Wing, Minnesota, for wine and wood-fired pizza at the Falconer Vineyards winery, visited Frontenac State Park, and dropped by the famous Red Wing Stoneware store.

Kim and I also had contacted a friend from college, Jon McDermott, who lives nearby. We met Jon for dinner at Ettlin’s Ranchero Supper Club for some great German food. We learned that traditional supper clubs are still very popular in rural Minnesota and Wisconsin, providing a very fine dinning experience and packed with clientele (reservations recommended!)  in an otherwise very small town. We had a wonderful time catching up with Jon, having last visited with him nearly 27(?) years ago. Keeping in touch on Facebook just isn’t the same. Great to see you again, Jon! We hope our next visit won’t be so long away.

From Lake Byllesby RP, we headed out for our next stop at Prairie Flower South Campground at Saylorville Reservoir, near Ankeny, Iowa, with reservations from October 11 through the 24th. We had not been driving long and were just a few miles from the Iowa border when we had a catastrophic blowout on one of our trailer tires. I had no indication of trouble until a loud BOOM sounded, followed by flubba-flubba-flubba sounds. The tire pressure monitor alarm was sounding and reading zero PSI. Not good!

I cautiously pulled to the side of Interstate 35, deployed the triangle hazard reflectors and inspected the damage. The rear tire on the passenger side had blown and was completely shredded. The shredding tire had knocked the fender skirt trim off and damaged the corrugated sheeting and insulation sealing the underside of the trailer. Hydraulic lines and electrical wires were dangling from the torn underside.

On closer inspection, I could see no damage to wires or hydraulic lines and proceeded to zip-tie the wires and lines up out of the way to prevent them from being snagged and ripped away once we were back on the road. (I did not find out until the trailer was in for repairs that the wires to the electric brakes had been completely torn away, leaving no brakes on that side of the trailer!)

I checked to see if I could tape up the corrugated sheeting and insulation, but there was too much damage and too large a section for a taped patch to hold. I trimmed the damaged section away using a box cutter and applied some duct tape to several edges to prevent further flapping and tearing.

Using the hydraulic leveling jacks, I was able to lift the damaged tire and change it out for the spare tire. Kim, Craig and Shirley were on hand to help out with the repairs. Thanks! In just a short time, we were back on the road, stopping at a rest area two miles down the interstate to double check the repairs and tire lugs before heading on down the road. We arrived at the Prairie Flower South Campground mid-afternoon, October 11, with no further incident and could relax a bit.

At this point, Kim had planned to take the Toyota Tundra pickup and drive back to California. Kim’s parents are in declining health and she has been under increasing pressure from family to return early to be with them and assist with their care, where possible. We reviewed the route back, double-checked hotel arrangements, programmed the GPS, and got her packed up for departure in the morning.

The next day, once Kim was safely on the road, I was on the phone ordering a replacement tire and attempting to schedule repairs for the trailer. I finally found a Montana dealership, Good Life RV, Webster City, Iowa, who could take our rig on short notice with repairs scheduled for October 22. While arranging for trailer repairs, I also scheduled several other minor repairs and annual preventative maintenance tasks, including: repair the under belly damage, repair the wheel-well trim and inspect for other damage; replace a broken exit window latch; attempt to repair a ceiling light (which had never worked properly on purchase of the rig or after multiple visits to Mike Thompsons RV to repair the issue); inspect, adjust, and lubricate slide outs; inspect axles, bearings and brakes, as well as repack the bearings; inspect, clean and apply sealant to the rubber roof.

Concerned that repairs might take several days, requiring me to stay somewhere else for the duration, the dealership assured me that I would be able to stay in the rig on the dealership lot each night, as necessary. Furthermore, the dealership would supply the rig with electricity, so there was no need to empty the refrigerator and freezer. What a relief!

Repair arrangements taken care of, I was able to relax and enjoy the stay (at least, as much as possible with Kim gone) at Saylorville Lake and further visits with Craig, Shirley, and my Mom. Mom was able to come out and stay evenings using the guest bed from the living room couch. A few days after we setup at Saylorville, Craig and Shirley joined us, setting up their rig a campsite next to us.

Highlights of the stay included day trips to the Ledges State Park, campus town in Ames, and other drives through the country to view fall colors. One afternoon, we visited another favorite restaurant from college days, Hickory Park, in Ames, Iowa. I enjoyed many meals & cookouts with Shirley, Craig and Mom. My cousin, Scott West, joined us one afternoon for dinner and a walk with the dogs down to the lake. The pups enjoyed a good romp, swim and fetching balls in the lake.

Another afternoon, we were joined with teachers, Barb and Brad Ewest, whom Shirley and I had in grade school and high school, respectively. We had lost touch with Barb and Brad years ago, but Shirley had stumbled on them, recently, and we renewed contact via Facebook. Brad and Barb now live just a few miles from the campground and were able to stop by for a quick visit along with their grandson, Jack. (Brad & Barb, great to see you again and thanks for stopping by!)

The time finally arrived to drop the rig off at Good Life RV for repairs. Our appointment was for October 22, but our campground reservation extended to the 24th, so we made arrangements with Saylorville to hold our campsite, in case repairs were completed quickly enough for us to return for a final night or two. Mom and I left early in the morning for Webster City, about a 60 mile drive, arriving just after 8 AM. We dropped the rig off and spent the day checking out local parks and campgrounds in the area. Followup with the RV dealership revealed no surprises, other than the detail that the electric brake wires had been ripped out by the tire blowout, but were easily fixed.

Repairs and maintenance tasks were progressing smoothly, but would not be completed until the following day. At the end of the day, the dealership pulled the rig out of the service bay and set it up for us to spend the night on the lot. How very convenient! (Oh yeah, the ceiling light proved to be an easy fix – the tech spotted right away that the light had been wired backwards at the manufacturer.)

The following day the weather took a turn for the worse, with cold, grey overcast skies, wind, and rain showers. We drove around a bit, but returned to the dealership fairly quickly and waited in the customer lounge for repairs to be completed. Jasmine and Pepper were allowed to come inside with us and did very well – sleeping most of the time, content to just be with us. By mid-afternoon, the repairs were completed, but the service tech had spotted another issue – another one of our tires was starting to bulge and was well on the way to another blowout. The tech suggested that we only had about a 50-50 chance of making it back to Saylorville on the tire.

We called the Big-O tire store in Ankeny to arrange for two more tires. (Three out of four original tires had failed, time to replace them all!) The tire store informed me that the tires would need to be ordered and would not be available for 3-5 days. We had the tech change out the tire with the spare and headed back to Saylorville.

Overall, we had a great experience with Good Life RV and can heartily recommend them for RV repairs. Good Life took great care of us, the service representatives and repair technician were friendly, knowledgeable, and very helpful. Being able to stay in the rig overnight with electrical hookup saved us additional expense for a hotel room, as well as convenience of not having to empty our refrigerator and freezer.

We stayed at the Prairie Flower South Campground for the final night we had reserved, October 23. Our stay at Saylorville was almost up, and the campground was due to close for the season on October 25th, so other arrangements needed to be made for me to camp while waiting on the trailer tires. Calling around, I was able to get into another nearby campground, Griffs Valley View RV Park in Altoona, Iowa.

There have been several delays with getting the tires in, but I may have the tires by tomorrow, October 29. I already extended my stay at Griffs another day – I hope I do not need to stay longer. Once I have the new tires on the rig I will begin my own return to the warmer climes of Southern California to overwinter.

That’s all, for now. Until next time…

3 thoughts on “Minnesota and Iowa Ramblings

  1. Oh my gosh! Glad you all are ok! Hope Kim’s parents are ok. We will probably see you sometime in December if you will be at Sitent Valley.

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