Elissa and I have spent that last week on the road. We've traveled in our little van through out Minnesota and a good section of Wisconsin as well. Here's what we did day by day and we have a guest writer too. My wife Elissa makes her writing debut here today.
At the bottom you will find Part one and part two of the video of the first stop on our trip. Nerstand Big Woods Minnesota State park.
Monday the 24rth:
The van had an appointment with the mechanic aka “The Van Dr.” after coming back with a clear bill of health we hit the road. It was sometime in the afternoon. Our spirits were high and the van was driving like a dream albeit a sixteen year old one with a ton of rust under him. We thought of it more as a sweet sixteen.
Our first goal was a Minnesota State Park called Nerstrand Big Woods. Our GPS brought us on county roads and single lane highways. Corn, farms, beans, and cattle lined the roads on both sides. The sun was happily shining down on our day.
The town of Nerstrand is quiet and has a listed number of people just over two hundred.
The park is down a gravel road which comes just after the town and at its border is a series of large solar panels. You can’t miss them. After checking in we drove down one of those smallish camping one ways. It was really nice. We immediately felt the stress from our lives drop away as the leaves from the trees surrounded us in a sort of Great Earth Mother hug. There’s nothing like that feeling.
I will admit to being a bit nervous about backing our big van into place. I don’t have all that much experience driving these over sized vehicles around; however, I did fine. There weren’t a whole lot of people there because it was early on in the week, and we loved that. It’s not that we hate our own species we just don’t like them all that much. The rangers here are very helpful and nice, but before I forget Elissa would love for me to talk about the bathrooms. I think I’ll let her do that though.
I went to Nerstrand Big Woods for one day and we walked their trails. They are beautiful and the hidden falls I highly recommend seeing if you get chance. As a woman wanting a clean restroom while traveling is important in my opinion. The restrooms were very clean and well maintain as well as the showers.
Okay, I’m back.
That first night sleeping in the van went pretty well, but early in the morning there was a crazy storm. Hail, lightning, thunder, wind, and heavy rain fell on the van and his solar panels. Woody kept Elissa, Marley, and I safe and sound. Here’s where I bring up something I should have done. There are several types of sound proofing on the market. Some very expensive and some not so expensive. Whatever your budget allows I would say put some on the roof before you insulate it. I love the sound of rain on a tin roof too, but hail and a huge rain storm is a bit much.
The park sports several hikes. These have varying degrees of difficulty. We went on as many as we could find and they were all terrific. Bridges, butterfly’s, birds, nature, and hardly any mosquitos.
Tuesday: Gooseberry Falls
We took the long way because we’d heard that 35 north through the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis is under long term construction and will have delays for the next four years. We figured it’d be prettier to see more corn fields then to see a semis rear end. Gooseberry Falls is a long way from Norstrand, but is way worth the drive. When we finally got there we had another beautiful spot. I backed in like a pro this time even as the jeers and cat calls of the birds echoed off the trees which sheltered us. The spot had a beautiful open center which allowed for star watching and yet the tree’s were around enough to shelter us. It really was a prime spot. On the other side of the park road was a water source and we were maybe a hundred yards from the bathrooms. Beyond the water source was a paved combination bicycle path and walking path and just beyond that was a smallish path our to a rock outcropping and cliff which faced the great Lake Superior. We couldn’t have asked for a better spot. Here again they had hikes for all abilities, and the ones I was one were very wheelchair accessible. We had a lot of luck here and didn’t have a single mosquito. This is where I hooked up our solar panels for the first time. In the morning I made coffee and hooked everything up. It went very well and was easier then I expected. We hadn’t used the house battery all that much to this point because we were using our Lucy Lights which are crazy crazy bright and wonderful. We had drained it a bit though and the solar panels did a great job of topping it off.
Gooseberry Falls State Park was great. The lake was near our camp site and it is a gorgeous lake! The restrooms were ok for being an old park. I thought that they could definitely use a couple more showers and the cleanliness of the restrooms was ok for being big park.
We drove into Wisconsin and visited my father. I’m not going to say where he lives, but it was very nice and we had a good time. Except he had a lot of mosquitos. What I will say is that those Lucy Lights work great for mosquito killers. You won’t find a better one.
Thursday Trempealeau, Wi. and Perrot State Park:
The roads from my fathers place to Trempealeau were beautiful curvy, hilly Wisconsin backroads. That part of Wisconsin is known for this and it didn’t disappoint. The sun was shining in, the temperature was perfect. Picture yourself in a big van doing about sixty mph with the windows down and the radio off. (It doesn’t work) Traveling down windy backroads. Perfect. It just doesn’t get any better.
Perrot State Park is a place I am very familiar with because right across the Mississippi is my hometown of Winona, Mn. We went here all the time, but living right across the river I had never camped here. Boy, was I missing out and now Perrot is one of my favorite camping spots. We parked on the lower loop. The whole east side of the spot was filled with trees and the western side had the start of meadow. Which means that the morning sun was a lot more dappled then the afternoon which beat down a bit more still it was a great spot. We had a water source across the road from us and a pit toilet down the a bit. Here again the trails were accessible to most and everyone we met was very friendly.
I had a gig at the Historic Trempealeau Hotel that night which is a spot not to be missed. They have five star food in a quaint restaurant and bar. It is also a high spot of the musical community, so if you’re able to see music there you can guarantee it will be among the best.
That night we ventured out of our little van and saw the most stars either of us had seen in long long time but the sky had a surprise for us. As we stood there a shooting star screeched by. It was a perfect almost end to a week of camping and driving the van.
Here’s Elissa again for her take on Perrot and it’s bathrooms.
Perrot State Park has awesome trails. I didn't get to use the showers in this park, but I used a pit toilet. For a pit toilet I thought it was very clean well maintained. There wasn't a nasty smell like most pit toilets have.
Friday we stayed at a hotel in La Crosse, Wi. There happened to be a big bunch of stuff going on there as well. Street fairs, live music, and tons of happy joyous people of all ages wandering around getting to know one another.
It was nice sleeping in a king size bed and having tons of wifi and cell coverage.
We drove back with a last quick stop at the Great River Bluffs Minnesota state park. It is just off of I90 by Nodine, Mn. Its very easy to get to and sports incredible vistas of the Mississippi river it’s backwaters and the far western side of Wisconsin. Great meadows, and woods to walk in.
Now it’s Sunday as I write this and I have to admit to being both glad to be home and wishing we were still in the van. I promised you a few of the things we found we need to adjust to our van/camper. Here they are in no particular order.
- The solar. We weren’t going to mount it on the roof and just put it out where ever we found ourselves. This has changed. I still like the idea of keeping them in the van so we can park in the shade and put them in the sun. However they are pretty bulky and took up to much space, so on the roof they go.
- A cooler versus a fridge While the cooler worked just fine I have to admit to thinking a small 12 volt fridge would be better. All of our food got wet from ice melt. We had to throw away to much food and we both hate that.
- Shelves I didn’t build any shelves for a number of reasons and I think this has to change. We found ourselves stumbling around and hitting into each other because of the stuff sitting on the floor. Everything was very chaotic at first. This is probably also because we had brought to many things along.
- Lastly Screens It is important to be able to keep the windows open so that it doesn’t get to stuffy and hot in the van at night, but you don’t want mosquitos getting in and ruining your good time. We have them, but I think they need to be worked on a bit more.
Well this was our journey and I hope we take many many more in our little camper/van ‘Woody’.
Keep building your dreams and keep the shiny side up.