Leaving the huge Truck Stop – the Iowa-80, we head to the Mississippi River and the state if Illinois. It is a lovely day, but as we reach the river were are immersed in fog. It doesn’t really clear for a few hours. Despite this we do manage a few glimpse of the river as we head north to the historic town of Galena. Believe it or not this place that we have never heard of used to be bigger than Chicago. Its wealth came from lead mining, and it shows in the many prosperous homes & rows of shops. It is one of those places that is nice to wander around – not overdone with touristy stuff. Finally we head off & trail through back roads until we finally stop for the night beside the Wisconsin River.
More back roads, until we reach the motorway. We are now in Wisconsin & heading to the capitol of the State – Madison. We rather enjoy visiting the State Capitol Buildings. We easily drive to the city centre, despite it being rush hour, & find a car park close by. And yes it is another awesome Capitol Building. We can even go right to the top for views of the city. There is a farmers market in one of the roads heading towards the lake so we head down to explore. Would love to buy heaps of the fresh veges, but will be coming home soon so have to limit my purchases. Finally head north towards Lake Winnebago passing the Osh Kosh factory – not where they make kids clothes, but army trucks. Talk about diversification. For some reason we assumed Winnebago Motorhomes would be made in Winnebago – the next town, but they are not. So we carry on heading north to our next destination – the Door Peninsula that sticks out in to Lake Michigan. It is nearly dark so we find a spot beside the beach – cheekily in front of a YMCA camp that is closed for the season.
Today we spend most of the day exploring the peninsula. The beaches & little harbours are lovely, but the beaches are mostly built on, so it is hard to get to the water. Of course there is heaps of accommodation, shops & attractions – but most are closed for the season. Our favorite spot on the west side is Egg Harbour with its glorious old buildings. Inland there is lots of farming, including apple & cherry orchards. As we head down the east coast fog swirls in, so we make a stop for lunch, then fill up with water at the Rangers office. By the time we have finished the fog has cleared and we can finish our drive. Then we set our GPS of Milwaukie, get back on the motorway & drive. We turn off the motorway for a late coffee & find ourselves right on a lovely beach on Lake Michigan – our hotspot is working so we arrange a tour of the Power Train Line (Engine & transmission) at the Harley Davidson factory for tomorrow morning. John suggests we camp in their car park but I push to stay here in this nice spot by the beach & drive in to the city in the morning. – So that is what we do. Up early in case we get stuck in traffic – but all is good and we arrive at 7.30am. Plenty of time to spare – the tour is at 9.15am. I stay in GR2, happily doing photos, blog & whatever. I feel no great desire to see engines assembled. When John gets back at 12 we both go in to the museum – very high tech & well done. Fortunately John has no desire to linger here too long. Next port of call – the ginormous Coors Miller Factory. And yes they do excellent free tours, ending with samples of 3 beers. Great value. By now it is getting late so we head south to the first free camp spot we can find – a Sams Club store. It is right beside a Walmart, but because it isn’t open all night, much quieter.
Saturday morning we are up bright & early to head in to Chicago. Perfect day to head in – traffic not too bad & we can park easily to head in to the Visitor centre to get sorted out. Then we head to McCormack Place Convention Centre where we have heard, & double checked, we can camp with the trucks. We expect to pay $30 per night & indeed the sign says $35, but the guy at the boom gate says –”It’s free for you!” Awesome. So follows 2 very busy days exploring the city by foot, by local bus, by train, by hop-on hop-off bus & by boat. The highlights of course are the amazing architecture in such a small area, the sunset view from the Hancock Building, taking photos of the city reflected in the “bean” & the famous deep dish pizzas that we queue for ages for. It will take a lot of exercise to get rid of all those cheesy calories. Yum! To top it off the weather is gorgeous.
Sunday morning we did toy with the idea of driving in to the city & parking, but changed our minds – thankfully. The Hot Chocolate 15km Run was on & heaps of the roads were closed & city carparks full. On Monday morning we head out of the city following the waterfront – not sure if we are legal as there is a no truck sign. Lots of rush hour traffic so we decide to hit the motorways. We are now tracking towards Kansas City to put GR2 in to storage, but have a few days left. Can’t possibly spend them cleaning & sorting.
As we head south we revert to the back roads and find that we are following the Historic Route 66 again (this is one incredibly long route). So we meander along following “The Route”. Heaps of little towns with lots of signs & memorabilia. A fun stop is at Pontiac where the whole town is overtaken by the route. Here the Mayor and minister of tourism spy our truck and come over for a chat. There are free museums & murals on every corner. Also there is a great little museum about Pontiac Cars – they started here. Interesting fact - they were named after an Indian Chief. A lovely guy by the name of Freddy even goes to get a no plate for John when he sees that we do not have the “Illinois” plate in our collection yet.
Finally stop for the night beside the lake in Moraine View State Park – great to have a roaring fire again. The next day brings more back roads & more friendly people. We pull off for coffee at Mt Pulaski & look at their old courthouse where Lincoln once worked (we are in the thick of Lincoln territory now). We get a special opening while some work is done. Next stop Springfield to explore the Capitol Building (as recommended by the locals from Mt Pulaski) – it is amazing, as they all are. Although it is not quite the same with a very noisy protest meeting taking place in the foyer. Every State seems to have a gorgeous Capitol Building. We wander town- there are signs about Lincoln everywhere as this was his home town. Sadly the Historic part of town is deserted, but the new area outside town is full of the usual massive shopping centers and chain restaurants.
As we continue our drive we see lots more sections of Route 66. Another cute stop is Girard. Actually we didn’t plan to stop – but when a lady in the car in front of us kept gesturing out her window John had to stop. She wanted to show us her town – The old Chemist/ Soda fountain shop was a great mix of diner & museum. Lovely to meet all of you from Girard.
Finally we reach St Louis at rush hour & head right in to the centre. Due to road closures we miss our turnoff, which gives us a chance to drive through the old market area before backtracking to the biggest attraction in town – the colossal Arch (known as the Jefferson Expansion Memorial). I tell John that we can go to the top in a tram. He really doesn’t believe me – but we can and we do. Awesome. We are cramped into a tiny cable car to go to the top – it is 630ft high & takes us 4mins to get up. Obviously John goes on about what would happen if it stopped etc. And obviously I tell him politely to shut up. Fabulous views of sunset. It is dark when we get out, so we set the GPS to the nearest Walmart & head there for the night.
We have 2 days left, so we simply look on the map for scenic routes – only find one in the right direction so follow it across country (in this case the State of Missouri) & then head north through the Ozarks – rolling hillsides with a massive lake. Finally we arrive at Kansas City – after a short shopping stop at a huge Outlet complex (sorry John). Nearly there we find a truck wash – GR2 looks great – best she has looked for ages. She actually sparkles again. The next morning we put her inside a huge limestone cave for the next few months. An amazing place with miles of underground storage – nearly a city in its own rite. Then the long journey home.
As usual it has been a great trip. Many thanks again to the boys at SLR for the fabulous job they did building GR2. The real bonus this time was being able to use our bathroom as a drying room as it does take longer for things to dry when it is cold. We simply close off the heater vent in the main area & open the vent in the bathroom where the clothes are hanging and Viola!! Clothes dry quickly.
More to come: 2016