I’m Not Even Sure What to Say About 2020

Where to begin?

Every year I like to write a post that wraps up the previous year’s travels with a proverbial bow, reliving all of the joy and wonderment we experienced. You can see how this is usually a fun little project by checking out the posts for 2018 and 2019. Obviously, this year is different. Like, so, so different.

We started the year spending the winter in the San Diego area as full-time Airstreamers and ended the year living in a condo in Bozeman, Montana. To say things took an unexpected turn is a bit of an understatement. I know that COVID-19 affected the life of pretty much every one on the planet, in a wide range of ways. We are so very grateful to be able to say that, as of this post, we have not personally experienced the virus, or lost loved ones to it. We know there are so many that can’t say the same, and our hearts hurt for the pain and loss others have experienced during this time. We know it’s still going to be a long road for our community, our country, and our planet, but we’re hopeful and optimistic that 2021 will eventually bring some health and happiness.

Besides the isolation, frustration, and disappointment that the pandemic brought to our lives, we also had to deal with the loss of our third amigo, our travel buddy, our faithful canine companion — Max. We said goodbye to Max on February 25th, just two days shy of his 15th birthday. When we first started our full-time travel life, we were so unsure how well Max would adapt. It turns out there was no need to worry, because he was the BEST Airstream dog. He slept through travel days like a champ and preferred so stay ‘home’ whenever Travis and I would venture out. The strangeness of not having a dog around after 15 years was compounded by the weirdness of the early days of the pandemic. Ten months later, and we still miss him dearly, but the thought of him no longer triggers a twinge in the heart.

So, yeah, 2020 hasn’t been the most enjoyable year, but we did have some good times and we were able to travel to some great places. Let’s look at some of that joy and wonderment we DID get to experience.

We travelled 4,608 miles across nine states — California, Nevada, Utah, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Dakota. Our longest travel day (which we’ll never do again) was 738 miles (you can read about that here) and our shortest travel day was 19 miles. We averaged $36.78/night for site fees, which is almost $10 less per night than 2019, so, yay us!

Michigan was the only new state we added to our travel map this year, making it our 20th state that we’ve ventured to with the Airstream. We were very happy to be able to spend some time in Michigan in fall — such a great time to be in the area!

While we had originally planned to visit a number of new National Park Service sites this year, we were able to make it to only eight, with four being new and four being return visits.

The four new sites were:

Capitol Reef National Park

Check out more from our visit to Capitol Reef here.

Voyageurs National Park

Our visit to Voyageurs makes 19 national parks visited thus far! Check out more from our visit to Voyageurs here.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Check out more from our visit to Pictured Rocks here.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Check out more from our visit to Apostle Islands here.

The other four sites we were able to revisit were:

Zion National Park

Due to the pandemic, the only exploring we did of Zion during this time was to take a drive up the canyon, which is usually closed to vehicles, but was open because the shuttles weren’t running.

Check out more about our visit to Zion here. Read more about our previous visit here and here.

Yellowstone National Park

Check out more from our visit to Yellowstone here. Read more about our previous visit here.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Check out more about our visit to Roosevelt NP here. Read about our previous visit here.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument 

Check out more about our visit to Little Bighorn here. Read about our previous visit here.

But our year wasn’t just about the parks! Take a look at some of the other things that brought us joy this year –>

We visited some of the ‘World’s Largest’ statues:

We ran into some interesting creatures in the Anza-Borrego Desert:

We tried a new sport:

We were able to meet up with a handful of other full timers:

We enjoyed some beach days and amazing sunsets:

Pre-pandemic, we were able to spend time with some of our favorite people:

And when we didn’t think it was going to happen, we ended up being able to spend some safe, socially distanced time with family:

The pandemic forced us to change our travel plans for 2020 (goodbye, hard-earned FL state park reservations!), so we made a decision. A big one. Even though the RV lifestyle somewhat prepared us for pandemic life (you can read about that here), it didn’t make sense for us to stay on the road. After dealing with multiple reservation cancellations and watching things close as the case numbers rose, we decided that the best thing for us was to get off the road and settle down for the time being. One of the best parts of full timing is not only exploring the natural wonders of our country, but also meeting new people along the way and checking out things in each city we visit — restaurants, museums, community events, etc. With all of these things closed, traveling just wasn’t that enjoyable. And we wanted to make sure we stayed healthy. So, we purchased a condo in Bozeman, Montana in July. Read more about what led to that decision here.

We’ve been enjoying safely exploring our new city:

And we’re learning to embrace winter (kind of):

But probably the weirdest thing to happen to us personally in 2020, is our appearance on HGTV’s House Hunters!

We filmed the episode in August and it aired in December. It highlighted our transition from full-time travel to part-time condo living. It was an interesting and tiring experience!

Which brings me to what’s next for us:

We plan to continue to travel in the Airstream — A LOT. It’s nice to have a home base to return to when we need a break or something comes up, but we miss being on the road. We’ll get back out there once we feel comfortable doing so, which for us means when we’re both vaccinated. It’s been nice to take a pause and enjoy some of the things you give up when you live tiny, such as a kingsize bed, a dishwasher, a washer & dryer, and easy access to our mail, medical care, and good grocery stores. There’s still so much left to explore! And we aren’t really cold winter people, so we’re looking forward to seeking out warmth in the coming winters.

We’re wishing everyone a safe and healthy 2021! Hopefully, we’ll see you somewhere out there!

 

One Gorgeous Night at Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park is one of those under-the-radar national parks — so much so that when we told people we were stopping there on our way back to Bozeman after visiting family in Wisconsin, most people had never heard of it. Voyageurs is named for the 18th century French Canadian adventurers that canoed through the area lakes and rivers, transporting furs and other goods. It’s located along Minnesota’s northern border and some of the parks lakes are shared with Canada, so visitors to Voyageurs need to be aware of their location so as not to inadvertently improperly cross the border. The red dot on the below map of Minnesota signifies the park’s location.

Besides the three visitor centers and a couple of trails on the mainland, Voyageurs is a water centered park. Very little of the park is accessible without a boat to traverse the four major lakes — Rainy, Kabetogama, Sand Point, and Namakan. Unfortunately, COVID put the kibosh on exploring the park via one of the visitor centers (they were all closed) or a ranger-led boat tour (they were all cancelled for the year). The only camping within the park is tent camping, and requires boat access and a permit. In a typical year, some campsites can be accessed via boat tours, but many require reserving a canoe and paddling to your destination.

Woodenfrog Campground is an excellent place to stay with an RV or tent when visiting the area, as it’s centrally located on the shore of Kabetogama Lake, and about a 10-minute drive to the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center.

Woodenfrog State Forest Campground

County Road 122, Kabetogama, MN 56669

www.exploreminnesota.com

  • 61 First Come, First Served Primitive Sites
  • Picnic Table
  • Fire Ring
  • Vault Toilets
  • Drinking Water
  • 2 Boat Docks within Campground
  • Picnic Area, Boat Ramp, Swim Beach and Interpretive Center in Day Use Area

Due to time and weather constraints, we were only able to spend one night at Woodenfrog. We arrived at the campground around 1pm on Wednesday, September 23rd. Approximately half of the sites were available, so we were able to drive through and pick out a site that suited our needs. There are some sites with lake views, but they were all occupied, mostly by tents, probably due to how unlevel those particular sites are. The size, privacy, and levelness varies greatly from site to site, so I’m glad that it was not busy and we were able to take our time scouting out sites. (This involved Travis staying in the truck while I got out and ran up the road to check out the available sites so that we didn’t have to circle back around.) We ended up in site 43 — a very deep, very level site with a good amount of privacy that is located next to a water spigot (which was turned off by the time we visited) and across the street from a vault toilet (which we didn’t use). We were also able to get plenty of sun to keep our batteries charged via our solar panels.

Even though boat tours were not available during our visit, Arrowhead Lodge, a private resort located right next to the day use area of the campground, had canoes and kayaks available for rent. If we would have stayed another day, we definitely would have rented a kayak to get out on the water and explore some of the islands.

Late September was the perfect time to visit Voyageurs to be submerged in the beauty of the changing leaves. The campground, including our site, as well as the islands scattered across Kabetogama Lake, were all putting on a brilliant seasonal display that seemed to be at peak during our visit. We had never experienced such gorgeous fall colors and were so glad that we visited during this time, even if it was just for one night.

We would love to return to Voyageurs National Park when everything is fully operational and we’d have the opportunity to paddle out to an island to camp for a few nights. This is such a unique park and definitely worth a visit! Combine it with visits to Northern Wisconsin’s Apostle Island National Lakeshore and Northern Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and you’ll get to experience some of the best the Midwest had to offer.

Northern Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

We spent the first 30+ years of our lives in East Central Wisconsin but never made it up to the northern border along Lake Superior where you’ll find Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. It’s a shame, because the city of Bayfield, which is the main gateway to the islands, is super cute and the lakeshore is beautiful.

Fun Fact: At 487 residents (as of the 2010 census), Bayfield is the smallest official city in Wisconsin. For a new city to be incorporated today, state regulations require a population of at least 1,000 residents, so Bayfield would be considered a village with those parameters. But don’t let the smallness scare you — the city has some great food and retail options, and of course, outdoor recreation.

As we had spent the previous three nights dry camping, we wanted to have full hookups for a few days while we were in Bayfield. There are not a lot of options in this area, so we were fortunate to get two different sites for two nights each at Apostle Islands Area Campground. The first two nights were in a full hookup site and the second two nights were in a water and electric site.

Apostle Islands Area Campground

85150 Trailer Court Rd, Bayfield, WI 54814

www.aiacamping.com

  • Partial and Full Hookups Sites
  • Tent Sites
  • Cabins
  • Camper for Rent
  • Laundry
  • Restrooms
  • Pay Showers
  • Fire Ring
  • Picnic Table
  • Dump Station
  • Camp Store
  • WiFI
  • Playground
  • Boat/Trailer Parking

Navigating through the campground could end up being a little awkward due to the fact the streets are really only wide enough for one-way traffic, but two-way travel is allowed on most of them. Luckily, we never encountered an issue, but there were traffic jams near the dump station at times because of its location right on the side of a main thoroughfare. Our first site was #27, which was a full hookup (30 amp) site. It was an easy back in until we noticed after we had put the jack down and unhitched that we needed to back up about another foot in order to reach the water hookup that was in a really awkward spot. As a matter of fact, the electric hookup was in a very weird spot at this site as well, and we noticed this was a common occurrence at the full hookup sites in this section of the campground. After hitching up again, putting the jack up, and backing up another foot, we were good to go with all of our hookups. Kind of. Our sewer hose decided to fall apart on us and were worried we were going to have to drive at least a half hour to the closest Walmart to get a replacement. Luckily, the campground has a precent decent camp store with RV supplies, and had what we needed. Crisis diverted!

Site 27 is an end site, so it was very private and we had nice tree views.
Site 27 is a good size and easy to get into.
There’s a parking spot off to the side for site 27.
The electric hookup is on the wrong side, and because we had to back up so far to hook our water up, we opened the door right to the pedestal.
The water hookup is very far back and off to the side, basically in the site next door. It took us a little bit to determine this was in fact our water spigot. At least the sewer hookup was close enough that we didn’t have to break out our extension, and it was downhill, so that’s a win!

Our second site was #32 — a gigantic, woodsy, water and electric site. This was also a back-in site, but a little more difficult to get into as we had to make more than a 90-degree turn going down a steep decline. Thankfully, because of the size of the site, we had a lot of room to work with.

In site 32, a small stream ran below the back of our site.
Thankfully, the hookups at site 32 were in a much more sensical location.

Even though we had the site reserved for two nights, we ended up only staying one. We left early to avoid some weather that would have made our last day not very enjoyable. As we were moving on to a location without hookups, we made sure to fill water and stopped at the dump station before departing.

Food and Drink

Disclaimer: We still continue to diligently social distance and keep our public outings to a minimum, and on an infrequent basis, we partake in food/drink situations that are outdoors with a lot of spacing between tables. Because of this, we most likely missed out on some dining opportunities, but it gave us peace of mind.

Thanks to the weird hookups situation and having to get a new sewer hose, it took us longer than anticipated to get situated on our first day. When we finally did, we drove into town to find something to eat. It was that weird time of day between lunch and dinner and the only place serving food at the time was Greunke’s, which is both a restaurant and inn. We ordered a trout plate, which was HUGE — definitely enough for two people to share. It was the best trout we had ever had and we enjoyed it on their outdoor patio.

We picked up apple cider donuts from Erickson Orchard on two different occasions, as well as some apple cider. We enjoyed the first batch of donuts on a hike and the second batch for breakfast/travel snacks on the day we left.

We got lunch at The Deck at the Bayfield Inn on our second day. Missy got the fish tacos and Travis got a burger, and both were absolutely delicious. They were very diligent with their COVID protocols, which was nice to see. Actually, every establishment in this area strictly adhered to protocols that the city had put in place. The views were beautiful from the rooftop deck and the cocktails were tasty!

We walked along the waterfront after lunch as it was a gorgeous early fall day. We came upon the Maritime Museum that looked very intriguing from the outside, but it was closed — we wouldn’t have gone in on this trip anyways.

The last food establishment that we patronized in town was to pick up some smoked trout at Hoop’s Fish Market. You guys. It was so, so, so good! We bought two filets — only one is shown in the picture below — but we wish we would have gotten at least twice as much.

Hiking

Meyers Beach Sea Cave Trail

This is an out and back that can be as long as 11 miles (where you’ll find a campsite), but the normal turnaround point for most people is at 3.6 miles. We ended up doing a little over five miles round trip, which gave us plenty of opportunity to see some nice views and enjoy our donuts at the halfway point. It’s an easy to moderately difficult trail with more elevation gain the further you go, and the first 3/4 mile is a plank trail.

Lost Creek Falls Trail

We really enjoyed this hike! It’s about 2.5 miles roundtrip and a decent stretch has boardwalks, making this fairly doable for all skill levels — though it does get a bit more aggressive toward the end. I’m assuming this trail is pretty busy during the summer, but we had the falls to ourselves on the late September Tuesday afternoon that we went.

Obviously, one of the main things to do at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is to kayak amongst the islands and various sea caves. When we visited, the kayak outfitters were no longer renting out gear for the season. I did find one that was still doing guided tours, but only on the weekends, and we were there midweek. Boo. It was probably for the better anyways. There were [rough water? rough sea? high surf advisory?] warnings while we were there, so we probably would have capsized anyways, because 2020. There are various tours offered by Apostle Islands Cruises, though the schedule was a bit diminished this season. Again, because 2020. A lot of the islands have lighthouses and camping, accessible via the tours/water taxis. There’s also a ferry to Madeline Island, which while not technically part of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, is the largest island and has commercial development such as restaurants, as well as full-time residents. It’s unfortunate we weren’t able to experience Apostle Islands from the water, but that’s the breaks when you still work full time — you can’t be confined by a ferry/cruise schedule.

Regardless of our waterless adventures, we enjoyed finally visiting this part of our home state.