Caffeinated Marshmallows. Seriously.

Today, Aug. 30, is national Toasted Marshmallow Day.

In honor of this holiday I just found out about, I bring you something no parent would ever invent, the caffeine-injected marshmallow.

That's right, the folks at Stay-Puft have apparently lost their heads because they have come out with a new marshmallow that has 100 mg of caffeine injected into it. They come 24 to a rubbery-sided collectible box. Oh, and the box costs $19.99.

Think of it: for 83 cents per marshmallow, you can get your kid hopped up on caffeine and sugar at the same time! Isn't that gooey awesomeness! And if you eat them as s'mores, the chocolate just adds more fuel to the up-all-night fire!

I can see it now: Johnny, how did you like your s'more? It-was-great-grandma-can-I-have-20-more-just-like-it-and-can-we-take-a-bike-ride-and-maybe-I-can-rotate-the-tires-on-the-motorhome-too?

Seriously, folks. And they wonder why there's an obesity problem in America, and a caffeine dependency, too.

Toledo Bass Pro Shop to host RV show

The 2010 Bass Pro Shops RV Road Tour makes a stop at the Toledo store this weekend, Aug. 27-29. Actually, the store is located on I-75 just south of Toledo in Rossford, Ohio.

Not sure about details, but here's what show organizers are saying:

It's a new type of RV show ... Combining all the fun and excitement of visiting a Bass Pro Shops store, at the same time viewing the latest in travel trailers, motorhomes, and fifth wheels, to complete the full outdoor recreation experience. Truly one stop shopping!
All of these shows are open Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The shows are FREE to the public with lots of free parking, prizes and surprises.

Visit the show and spin the wheel of fortune for your chance to win a Bass Pro Gift Card worth $500, plus other great prizes.

Michigan touting new Recreation Passport via whirlwind RV tour

The State of Michigan is betting the future of its state parks on the willingness of its residents to fork out $10 a year. The $10 will buy each resident a Recreation Passport, and the program is Michigan's solution for funding our favorite recreation destinations. It begins October 1, 2010.

Instead of spending $24 for an annual motor vehicle permit or boating access permit, Michigan residents will now be asked to support the Recreation Passport with an optional $10 fee when renewing their vehicle registration with the Secretary of State. The license plate renewal sticker received from the Secretary of State will have a designation that indicates the Recreation Passport payment. If an individual purchases their Recreation Passport fee at the park, the park will provide an identifying sticker. 

The current system brings in $11 million. But if just 25 percent of residents pay the $10 Recreation Passport, $18 million is generated. If there's 50 percent participation, $36 million is generated; $55 million for 75 percent participation and $72 million if every resident buys the Recreation Passport.

But, for the plan to work, people have to choose to pay the tax. So the state is about to embark on a whirlwind tour - in an RV no less - to convince its residents the $10 is money well spent.

This will not be an easy thing to do. Not the RV tour, that's easy. But convincing people to dig deeper into their wallets will be a tough sell. Look no further than the recent August elections. How many local millages were successful? Not many.

Regardless, the state can't afford for the Recreation Passport to fail. That's why the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) is launching the "Road to Recreation" RV tour, a three-month tour of Michigan's festivals, concerts and best destinations.

At the heart of the tour is a 32-foot recreational vehicle completely wrapped with inspiring images of wildlife, beaches, outdoor activities and smiling faces, thanks to the financial support of Merrell, a Michigan-based shoe and apparel company, and General RV, a Michigan-based dealer of recreational vehicles. The RV will make stops along the tour to share information about the $10 Recreation Passport, which - starting Oct. 1 - will replace the current state park sticker and provide easy access into all Michigan state parks, recreation areas and boat launches. The Recreation Passport will also preserve state forest campgrounds and trails, historic and cultural sites in state parks and local parks, too.

Anyone meeting the RV can try their hand at bean bag toss and ladder golf, as well as enter to win one of three prime camping sites being given away for the July 4, 2011, weekend: Ludington State Park, Tahquamenon Falls State Park or P.H. Hoeft State Park. Plus, freebies from Merrell and General RV will be given to anyone who stops by.

"We proudly support the Road to Recreation tour as it strongly ties back to our heritage of making public lands more accessible and getting more people outside," said Amy Roder, marketing specialist at Merrell. "We are dedicated to working with our very own state parks and forest trails to educate people on the best ways to get outside and have fun."

Husband-and-wife team of 43 years, Eliot and Naomi Haycock - residents of Chassell in the Upper Peninsula - happily volunteered to drive the RV. A retired State of Michigan employee, Eliot and his enthusiastic wife, Naomi, said they are up for the adventure. Both are longtime park enthusiasts, having camped in many state and national parks over the last 30 years.

"I think it's been 30 years," said Eliot. "We've been (camping) so long, we've kind of lost track." The two have been campground hosts for the past five years at Fort Wilkins State Park in the Keweenaw Peninsula.

"We love Michigan and, as campground hosts, have been able to help share our love for camping" said Eliot. "We love to travel and we love Michigan state parks, and we thought this would be fun to try something different for the summer."

The Haycocks are responsible for getting the RV to each event during the three-month tour. Once on site, it will be staffed by local DNRE employees who will be on hand to explain the Recreation Passport and how it will benefit Michigan in many different ways.

The vehicle has been generously provided by General RV. "This is a great new way to support our state's most important natural resource - our park and forest land," said Dennis Anderson, spokesman for General RV. "The Michigan state parks are a big part of why so many people vacation in Michigan and it is important we adequately fund them for the future of our state."

Starting Oct. 1, the $10 Recreation Passport replaces the state park sticker for access into all state parks, recreation areas and boat launches. To get the Recreation Passport, Michigan residents can check "YES" on their license plate renewal forms. The Recreation Passport also helps preserve forest campgrounds and trails, historic and cultural sites in state parks, and local parks.

To find out where the Road to Recreation tour is headed, visit the DNRE Facebook page at For more information about the Recreation Passport, visit .

Early Tour Highlights
Oreo Park Tour - White Lake, Holly and Lake Orion
Sept. 2
Nothing says camping like s'mores, but with Oreos new fudge crème cookies, everyone will want s'moreos! The RV tour will make three stops - Highland and Seven Lakes state parks and Bald Mountain Recreation Area - where people who meet the RV will get free samples of the new Oreo Fudge Crèmes (compliments of Nabisco), play fun games and get information about the Recreation Passport.
US-23 Heritage Route Tour
Sept. 3-6
Labor Day weekend will take the tour along Michigan's sunrise side, on the US-23 Huron Shores Heritage Route. This 200-mile tour along the Sunrise Coast, which boasts some of the most significant recreational, ecological, historical and cultural sites in Michigan, is being organized in conjunction with the Huron Shores Heritage Route and Sunrise Coalition. Day one kicks off in Au Gres State Dock, then continues to East Tawas Harbor Park. Day two includes stops at the Harrisville Arts and Crafts Show and the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary's Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center. Closing out the tour will be two stops on day three along the Huron Sunrise Trail bike path north of Rogers City and at the Cheboygan Chamber of Commerce. The Sunrise Coast tour will occur in conjunction with the launch of the new coastal tourism website
Boating and Outdoor Recreation Festival - Mt. Clemens
Sept. 22-26
Join the tour during the five days of the all-new Metro Beach Boat Show in Mt. Clemens featuring an in-water boat show and other exhibits for every outdoor enthusiast, plus live music, fine art, Taste Fest and family fun for all.

Other Events & Dates
Event                                           Date
Merrell HQ                                     25-Aug
28th Street Metro Cruise                 27-Aug
28th Street Metro Cruise                 28-Aug
Kalamazoo Event                            29-Aug
Driving to Pinckney / Jackson Event   01-Sep
Oreo Park Tour (Highland, Seven Lakes, Bald Mountain)
Sunrise Tour                                   03-Sep
Sunrise Tour                                   04-Sep
Sunrise Tour                                   05-Sep
Labor Day Bridge Run                       06-Sep
Gaylord event                                 09-Sep
Traverse City Day use                       10-Sep
Cadillac event                                  11-Sep
Ludington Event                              12-Sep
Clare Welcome Center                      15-Sep
Bay City Event - Birch Run                 16-Sep
Oktoberfest                                    17-Sep
Oktoberfest                                    18-Sep
Renaissance Festival                         19-Sep
Boating & Outdoor Rec Fest              22-Sep
Boating & Outdoor Rec Fest              23-Sep
Boating & Outdoor Rec Fest              24-Sep
Boating & Outdoor Rec Fest              25-Sep
Boating & Outdoor Rec Fest              26-Sep
Capital Complex                               29-Sep
Capital Complex                               30-Sep
Lansing Secretary of State Office       01-Oct
MSU Home Game                             02-Oct
Grand Rapids event                          03-Oct
Grand Rapids event                          06-Oct
Grand Rapids event                          07-Oct
Lansing Event                                  08-Oct
Michigan vs Michigan State Football     09-Oct
Ann Arbor event                              10-Oct
Freepress/Flagstar Bank Marathon       17-Oct

Tips to increase your engine life

The following is a copy-and-paste from Mark Polk's post at Mark is one of my very favorite RV experts, and you might recognize him from the RV Education 101 videos/DVDs and RV University website. Anyways, he has some great information here I'm happy to pass along.

Today we’re going to talk about some easy ways to increase the life of your tow vehicle or motorhome’s engine. Actually there are many ways to to increase engine life in a vehicle, but I want to narrow the list to what I consider the most important. When all you hear every day is how poorly the economy is doing, it only makes sense to buckle down and take better care of what you already own.
A little bit of preventive maintenance (PM) now can pay big dividends in the long run. What’s that old saying? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! So, what can we do to extend the life of your tow vehicle, motorhome, or your automobile engine? Let’s take a look.

  • Routine Oil and Oil Filter Changes
    This is number one on my list. I have known people who I think change their engine oil and filter more frequently than it is needed, but it is usually the other way around. You should follow the vehicle manufacturer’s guidelines for changing the engine oil and filter. If at all possible try to change the oil and oil filter prior to any long-term storage. Acids accumulate in used oil and can corrode the engine bearings. Don’t forget the generator oil and filter, too.
  • Help your Engine Breathe
    A dirty or clogged air filter can rob life from your engine. When the engine can breathe properly it not only lasts longer but is more fuel efficient. Recommendations for checking and replacing air filters are normally based on driving conditions. It only takes a couple of minutes to check the air filter. I check mine when I change the engine oil, and the filter gets replaced if it’s dirty.
  • Pay Attention to Service Intervals
    The manufacturer recommends service intervals for a reason. You guessed it, to maximize efficiency and extend the life of the engine. Whether it’s a diesel or gasoline engine it’s important that you pay attention to, and follow these recommended service intervals. If you don’t perform your own routine maintenance, find a local dealership or repair shop you can trust and put the vehicle on a routine service schedule.
  • Keep it Running Cool:
    Just as clean engine oil lubricates moving parts and extends the engine’s life, clean engine antifreeze helps the major components of the engine stay cool and extends the engine’s life. Follow the engine manufacturer’s guidelines for flushing and replacing the coolant (make sure to use the proper type of coolant for the engine). Every time you lift the hood, check the coolant level and inspect coolant hoses for damage. Coolant hoses deteriorate from the inside out. Inspect all hoses for wear, cracks, soft spots, brittle areas and leaks. Replace any damaged hoses or clamps as required.
  • Perform Pre-Trip Checks:
    Before moving the tow vehicle or RV, make the following checks concerning the engine. Check all fluid levels in the power steering resevoir, engine coolant, engine oil, windshield washer and brake fluid. Check the transmission fluid while you are at it. Consult your vehicle owner’s manual for proper procedures to check and add fluids. Start the engine, allow it to reach operating temperature and check for proper readings on all gauges. Look under the vehicle for signs of leaks. Have any leaks checked out and repaired before using the vehicle.
  • Driving is Important, Too:
    Smart drivers can extend the life of their vehicle engine. Watching RPMs, knowing when to shift gears and monitoring gauges all contribute to extending the life of your engine. Always warm an engine up before driving. Don’t race a cold engine; accelerate slowly until the engine is up to operating temperature. Avoid quick starts and fast stops whenever possible. Always monitor your gauges. If a gauge is reading outside of the normal operating range, pull over when it is safe and have it checked/repaired.
  • Proper Storage Procedures:
    Proper storage procedures can extend the life of your engine, whereas improper procedures can harm the life of your engine. I already mentioned that changing the oil and oil filter prior to long-term storage (say three or more months) can help your engine. Acids accumulate in used oil and can corrode the engine bearings. Start the engine periodically when the motorhome is in storage and run it until it reaches operating temperature. Fill the fuel tank and add a fuel preservative to the tank. Run the engine and generator long enough to get the preservative through the fuel system.
    Protect the engine compartment from critters. Squirrels and mice love to chew on plastic, rubber and anything else they can find, and a vehicle engine compartment makes a safe and cozy winter home. If the motorhome is stored outside I recommend starting the engine more often to deter these critters from calling it home.
If the RV has a generator exercise it on a regular basis. When you run the generator make sure there is at least a ½-rated load on it. Check your generator owner’s manual for instructions on exercising it.
I mentioned earlier that there are many other factors that can extend the life of your engine, but I think these are some of the most important. If any one of these items is not properly maintained it could end up costing you thousands of dollars in repairs. Maintaining your vehicles engine is not that difficult to do, and in times of uncertainty it is what I would call cheap insurance.

Happy Camping.
Mark Polk

Awesome website!

Just came across this very useful website: is a searchable database of free (or nearly free) dump stations across the United States. When you click on a state, then each dump station is listed by both its highway location and by city location. Users can add dump stations they know of, or can add comments about dump stations already listed. You have to create an account, but at least it's free.

For anyone who's waited an hour or more for the state park dump station, this website is very handy indeed.

Cheeseburger in Caseville 2010: Part II

This is the second of two posts about our recent camping trip to the Cheeseburger in Caseville festival. To read the first post, click here.

After setting up camp on Thursday and enjoying cheeseburgers and the music of Marty Viers and the Music Doctors on Friday, Saturday promised to be the best day yet. We were going to participate in the sand castle competition scheduled for the day, and the night included the music of only the greatest Jimmy Buffett tribute band of all time -- Air Margaritaville.

So, naturally, we woke up to rain.

Flashback to a year ago: At the 2009 Cheeseburger in Caseville festival, it rained so hard and so long on Saturday we had several inches of standing water at our campsite. We played every game we had in the camper 500 million times.

So you can understand the feeling of dread that came over us when, this year, Mother Nature was once again raining on our parade.

Fortunately, the rains lasted only until right around noon. It was only a light rain, too, so no campsite lake either. We cooked and ate breakfast (blueberry pancakes, fresh fruit) under awnings, so no big deal with that, either.

My family left the others to head to the county park in Downtown Caseville so we could meet up with my buddy, Steve, and his family. The sand castle competition was to have started at 10 a.m. -- our families were going to work on one together -- but due to the rain we sorta expected the contest to be canceled. We got to his campsite and shot the breeze for a while, then decided to take a walk down to the beach, just to see what was going on.

Yep, you guessed it, the sand castle competition was not canceled.

So we very quickly registered and started to build a sand castle. It was already 1:30 p.m., and the competition ended at 3 p.m. We had our work cut out for us. But we had me and Steve, plus a bunch of our kids, and the wives came and helped after they got back from getting more ice (got to keep the coolers properly cooled!).

For our sand castle we made a "Crabby Patty" (see picture) from Spongebob Squarepants on the Nickelodeon channel. The theme for this year's Cheeseburger festival was crabs, and it was the kids who came up with the idea of making a huge crab, but its body would be a cheeseburger. We were all very proud of the result! Plus, we took fourth place. I think there were about 10 entries that day (the rains scared off a lot of people), but I'm telling everyone else there were 120 entries.

That afternoon we went back to our campsite, ate dinner, showered and the whole group -- 17 people -- headed back for the Air Margaritaville concert.

We put down tarp and our lawn chairs to reserve our spots in the hillside amphitheater, then walked into town to see the sights.

Downtown Caseville goes all out for the festival. Huge pink flamingos hang from the light posts. Store awnings are covered in grass skirting. Parking lots are taken over by civic organizations grilling and selling cheeseburgers. As I mentioned before, the local newspaper reported that 28,000 cheeseburgers were sold on Friday night alone. They probably doubled that number on Saturday; lines were stretched along the sidewalks and the aroma of grilled meat hung in the humid air like a blanket of cheesy goodness.

Downtown Caseville during the Cheeseburger festival is a great scene.

We headed back to the concert so we'd be in our seats before Air Margaritaville took the stage at 7:30 p.m. They would play until 10:30, and the crowd -- a good 7,500-10,000 people strong -- were all of the same happy-go-lucky mood. They -- we -- were there to be entertained, and Air Margaritaville did not disappoint. They are very good musicians who stay true to Jimmy Buffett's songs, and that's exactly what the crowd wanted. They have a great sense of humor about them, too. Frank Bama, lead singer, started the concert by saying "If you have a favorite Jimmy Buffett song you'd like to hear, keep it to yourself. We're playing from a list." Great, great time that night dancing to and singing songs we know by heart.

Sunday morning came too soon. We had another big breakfast, then packed up camp and headed home. (We need later afternoon check-out times!)

The rest of the people in our party, those who were spending their first time at Cheeseburger in Caseville, all vowed they would be back next year. And they're already talking about which other people they want to convince to come along.

So, thanks Caseville for another great time. One of these years we might even make it to the Parade of Fools (100,000 people are said to witness that colorful event), but until then, we'll have a cold beverage in one hand, a cheeseburger in the other and a tropical song in our heart.

Murder and a Meal at Lake Barkley State Resort Park’s Dinner Theater

Tell me this doesn't sound like a good time!

As part of its Dinner Theater series, Lake Barkley State Resort Park in Cadiz, Kentucky presents a murder mystery on Friday, Sept. 24, 2010, from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. where the audience tries to figure out whodunit.

“Check-out Time,” a murder mystery about a troubled innkeeper and her staff, will be performed by Laughing Corpse Production Company out of Nashville, Tenn., with lots of audience participation (click on the link and you can see a video). 

The production company's website offers this description of the "Check-out Time" murder mystery:
"Welcome to the Sleep N’ Snore, a peaceful little inn nestled in the quiet hills of the country. Proprietress Minnie Barr and the inn’s staff, Manny Gerr, Kit Shennette and Hoss Kepping are struggling to keep the inn afloat despite a recent rash of bad luck. Unfortunately, things really start to heat up when Minnie’s ex-husband, Jack Cuzzi, makes an unexpected visit bent on blackmail!"

While piecing the clues together, guests will also enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet, including salad bar, parmesan crusted chicken and beef tips, dessert and more. 

Tickets are on sale now for $40 a person until Sept. 15 after which prices will increase to $45 a person.  Limited seating is available, so get your tickets now!  For tickets or additional information call the lodge at 1-800-325-1708 or email Mary Schmidt at

Besides the  lodge with a spectacular view of the lake, the park includes cottages, the Windows on the Water Restaurant, a seasonal campground, 18-hole golf course, fitness center with indoor pool, marina, fishing, tennis courts, hiking trails, gift shop and recreational and nature programming.  The park is near Cadiz and the Land Between the Lakes at 3500 State Park Road just off I-24.  Exit at Highway 68.  From the exit go west toward Cadiz and the park.

Online Camping Fees

On my companion blog by the same name at, I recently posted about online camping reservations and the fees we must pay to use them.  I'm including a link to that post so people here can also read it.

In a nutshell: State park systems are losing money and staff; contracting campground reservation systems with third-party vendors are paid for by campground users; the two primary vendors are both owned by the same parent company. That's the overview, the details are best explained by reading how one state, Ohio, went about enacting its reservation system (which I do in the post).

Cheeseburger in Caseville 2010: Part I

Once again, the Cheeseburger in Caseville camping trip did not disappoint!

The festival, now in its 12th year, is basically a 10-day tribute to Jimmy Buffett and the laid-back beachcomber lifestyle for which he's known. Featuring music, cheeseburgers, beach volleyball, cardboard boat races, sand castles, the Parade of Fools and much more, the festival is annually voted the best in Michigan.

For 50 weeks out of the year, Caseville is a quiet community of about 2,700 people on the shores of Saginaw Bay in Michigan's "thumb." But during the festival, Caseville becomes a colorful city with tens of thousands of Parrotheads. The city hangs flamingos from the lampposts, businesses decorate in their best Caribbean flair and the smell of grilled cheeseburgers settles in like a sweet aromatic haze.

It is a great event, and we're happy to have camped there, if only for a weekend, for the last three years.

We stay at Albert E. Sleeper State Park, about 4-5 miles north of Caseville and the County Park that serves as Ground Zero for most festival events. One reason we stay here instead of the County Park is because we can "escape" all the hoopla going on. A second reason is it's easier to make a reservation at the state park, especially if you want multiple sites next to each other.

Speaking of multiple sites, this year we needed four of them. The first year it was just my family and I (meeting up with my buddy Steve, who now camps at the county park). The second year my Aunt Sandy and Uncle Ed came. This year my parents and my Aunt Sandy's sisters, Mary, Sue and Lisa, as well as Lisa's family, also came camping with us. A total of 17 people!

We arrived at various times Thursday, Aug. 12, although Lisa and her husband, Scott, and their kids weren't able to get there until nearly 11 p.m.

Friday morning was a big breakfast (pancakes, cantaloupe, sausage, orange juice and coffee) and then late in the afternoon we headed down to Caseville for cheeseburgers and that night's live entertainment, Marty Viers and the Music Doctors.

As I mentioned, downtown Caseville is all decked out for this festival. After parking at the county park and meeting up with Steve and his family, we set up our lawn chairs at the park's natural amphitheater and followed our noses to the dozen or so places grilling cheeseburgers in parking lots and on sidewalks. The cheeseburgers are fundraisers for local organizations, and on that Friday night alone 28,000 cheeseburgers were sold. That's right, I said twenty-eight thousand cheeseburgers.

The music that night was really good classic rock covers from Marty Viers and The Music Doctors. They were as entertaining as the cast of characters found in the crowd and on the dance floor. One older lady in particular had us all laughing. She was the only one dancing during the warm-up act, and since it was Tribute to the Military Night soldiers from the local National Guard were in uniform and walking back and forth. Well, each time a soldier would pass her, the dancing lady would scoot up behind them and goose them!

Something else about the crowd, at least the female portion, did not go unnoticed by Luke, our 12-year-old son (who's also pictured above in a cheeseburger hat). Without going into detail, he simply turned to me and said "Some of these people don't know the meaning of the term 'sports bra.'" It was 90 degrees, very humid and people dressed accordingly.

A very cool laser light show followed the concert. It was a nice ending to a good day. We drove back to the campground and went to bed, since the next day, Saturday, was to be a loooong day of sand castles in the day and the Jimmy Buffett songs of Air Margaritaville at night.

Click here for Part II!

Gameplan for Cheeseburger in Caseville camping trip!

Our next camping trip is our annual trek to Michigan's Thumb for the Cheeseburger in Caseville festival.

The Cheeseburger festival is basically a 10-day festival that pays tribute to Jimmy Buffett and the laid-back lifestyle he espouses. And it turns the sleepy village of Caseville from a quaint community of 2,700 people to a cheeseburger-loving throng of tens of thousands of Parrotheads! Buffett-tribute bands, sandcastle competitions, cardboard boat races, golfing, crafts, cheeseburgers, and all manner of libations are what people have come to expect from this festival, now in its 12th year.

All of the main events take place at the Huron County Park, just a stone's throw from Downtown Caseville. This includes the huge sandy beach on the shores of Saginaw Bay as well as the stage and hillside amphitheater for the live entertainment.

Although the County Park also has an RV campground, we choose to stay a few miles up the road at Albert E.Sleeper State Park. Sleeper is typical of all the Michigan State Parks, although the east section is older and not as nice as the west. There are a number of unlevel sites in both sections, so pay attention to the site descriptions when making your reservations.

The main reason we stay at the State Park is because the County Park is the epicenter of the festival, and we can escape all that by staying up the road. Also, the County Park is extremely tight. Barely enough room to open the awning and spread out.

Another reason for the State Park is we're better able to make a reservation. There's so many people who want to stay at the County Park that they conduct a lottery. If you win, you're given a site, but not necessarily one next to a buddy if there's more than one of you who are lucky enough to get a spot.

We have four campsites this year, all together. We have 16 people, with the potential for another 4 coming.

We're all leaving at various times Thursday, with that night's meal being hotdogs and pies over the campfire. Friday breakfast will be pancakes and sausages, and Friday late afternoon dinner will be bratwursts over the fire. We're eating early so we can get down to the County Park for that night's band -- Marty Viers and the Music Doctors.

Saturday we're getting up a little early so we head back down to County Park for the family sand castle competition. We'll eat another late afternoon dinner, but this time it'll be cheeseburgers from the many places in Downtown Caseville that sell them as fundraisers. That night's concert is a biggie - Air Margaritaville. We'll reserve our spots early and then enjoy some great music that night.

Sunday morning is another big breakfast -- french toast and bacon -- before breaking camp and heading home.

Yes, we're only staying for 4 days. I'd love to stay for more, but we just simply can't afford that much time off work.

By the way: I just changed one of the camper tires. Had to replace one with cracked sidewalls, and was lucky enough to drive home on that one from the last camping trip -- a 4.5-hour trip!

So bring on Caseville!

2010 Camping & Canoeing Extravaganza Part II

This is the second of two posts. To read the first post, click here.

After an enjoyable Friday night by the campfire and a great breakfast Saturday morning, we made our way to Wilderness Canoe Trips in Mesick, Michigan. We would use them again. They service both the Pine and the Big Manistee rivers, and their staff was wonderful. They showed great patience with confused customers (that would be me) as well as others who obviously had already started their imbibing (not me).

On the way to our drop-off 10 miles upstream, I asked the driver for the latest forecast. "Should be like this all day," he said, gesturing to the overcast skies and steady drizzle still falling.

Not ideal, but nothing to be concerned about, we all agreed.

Our driver delivered us without incident, so we set out into the river (cold!) and were soon on our way. The Big Manistee was wide, deep, not too fast and not too slow. Except for the last mile or two, there was nothing on the banks except trees and other vegetation – no cottages or docks or anything made-made in sight. We enjoyed the scenery as much as the antics of other canoeists.

About 30 minutes into our two-hour trip, the rains started coming down. Soft at first, but steady. Steady enough that we decided to beach the kayaks under the cover of overhanging trees and eat our picnic lunch.

Just a quick summer shower, we all agreed. Nothing to be concerned about.

After a solid 20 minutes in which the quick summer shower turned into a steady downpour, we realized that our idealistic Saturday afternoon on the river was not going to happen.

I had my youngest, Ben, in the kayak with me. He was already shivering uncontrollably. My other son, Luke, said his teeth were chattering as much as a "nerd on a typewriter." The rest of the group was just as wet. The smiles were quickly fading.

You know that feeling you get when you have to do something you don't want to do, but it has to be done so you grit your teeth and do it? It won't do any good to get mad about it. There's nothing you can do to change the situation. So you just suck it up and get it over with. That was us. Without saying much of anything, we all simply set off, intent on not stopping until we reached our destination.

About 14 hours later (a slight exaggeration), we finally made it back to Wilderness Canoe Trips. Soaked to the bone, we made the sad, slow walk up from the riverbank, drenched clothes hanging off our bodies and wet hair clinging to our foreheads. It all added up to one thing: that was no fun at all.

That night we were supposed to cook corn on the cob, potatoes and steaks (which had been marinating since Thursday night) over the campfire. Mother Nature made sure that was not going to happen. So yet another eagerly anticipated activity was being crossed of our fun list.

But, you know the old saying about when life gives you lemons, make lemonade? Mrs. Gr8LakesCamper made lemonade out of all this.

She and her brother Craig, as kids, would spend a week vacation with their mom in nearby Manistee every summer while growing up. Mrs.Gr8LakesCamper suggested we take a drive to Manistee, see the old landmarks they remembered as kids, and enjoy a nice dinner inside a warm, dry restaurant.

That was a GREAT idea, we all agreed.

That's exactly what we did. Craig and Mrs.Gr8LakesCamper saw the sights, checked in with the U.S. Coast Guard station (Craig's a retired Coastie) and ate a fabulous dinner at House of Flavors. Andrew even didn't seem to mind too much when Ben spilled his root beer, soaking his flip flop and foot.

So, despite all the rain, we had as good a time as you can expect. We're already looking forward to next summer's trip (white water rafting in West Virginia?).

But if it starts to drizzle on the way there...

2010 Camping & Canoeing Extravaganza Part I

Short of an accident or injury, is there anything worse for a camping trip than an all-day rain storm?

Our most recent camping trip – the 2010 Canoeing & Camping Extravaganza in Wellston, Michigan – was nearly a wash out.

A bit of background: nearly every summer for the last eight years we have gone on a camping/canoeing trip with my brother-in-law, Craig, and his son, Andrew. We always stay at a different campground and canoe on a different river, or at least a new portion of the same river.

This year Craig's wife, Melissa, was joining us. We were excited about this because it had been several years since the last time Melissa went on the trip. That year a borrowed pop-up camper made for rough weekend of camping. It had not been used in some time, so the funky smell and lack of power had Melissa rethinking this whole camping thing.

So when Melissa said she would try camping again, we all were hopeful that this experience would be much better. And, at least in the beginning, it was better. She was able to get Friday off of work (a rarity!) so they were able to get to the campground several hours earlier than first expected.

On the way, and about four hours apart, both of us passed through a scattered downpour that summers are famous for.

But our campground was high and dry, so nothing to be concerned about, we all agreed.

A quick aside: our campground was Twin Oaks Campground in Wellston, Michigan. Very nice owners, spacious campsites (we were on sites #45 and #46) and comfortable (if somewhat cramped) shower/restroom facilities. What I really liked, though, was the group tent camping sites (i.e. rowdy canoers) were separate from us RVers. Actually, set under mature pine trees and with very level ground, the group sites were pretty nice, so if you're planning a large party to go camping and canoeing, I would highly recommend Twin Oaks Campground.

It was about 7 p.m. Friday and we had just started the fire (Twin Oaks sells real firewood, not thin pieces of bark) when Craig, Melissa and Andrew, and Andrew's friend Chris, arrived. After setting up their tent, they joined us around the campfire, cracked open a few cold ones and settled in for a great night of stories and laughter. We also introduced them to Pizza Pies (a big hit, of course).

About midnight we called it a night and went to bed, eagerly anticipating kayaking the Big Manistee River the next day. Sleeping accommodations were thus: Andrew, Chris and our two boys Luke and Ben would be sleeping in one tent; our daughter Hannah and her friend Tara would be sleeping in a second tent; and Craig and Melissa would be sleeping in the camper with me and Mrs. Gr8LakesCamper.

We woke the next morning and, aside from a mole completely freaking out Hannah and Tara (it was scurrying under their tent all night long), there was nothing to be worried about. The skies were cloudy, but the forecast only called for a slight chance of scattered showers.

After a huge breakfast (coffee, orange juice, French toast with cinnamon and Texas Toast, bacon, sausage patties, fresh fruit, scrambled eggs with all the fixings), we made our way to Mesick, Michigan and the Wilderness Canoe Trips livery, about 27 miles away.

As we drove, a slight drizzle began to come down.

Nothing to be concerned about, we all agreed.

We couldn't have been any more wrong.

Stay tuned for Part II...

Michigan House of Representatives Designates August as “Michigan Camping & RV Month”

The following is a press release...

For generations, Michigan has welcomed campers to its woodlands, freshwater shoreline and along its inland lakes and streams, in two distinct peninsulas – nestled in the middle of the Great Lakes Region. In honor of such tradition, Michigan legislators have declared August as “Michigan Camping & Recreational Vehicle Month” – with Representative Ken Horn’s (R – Frankenmuth) introduction and the subsequent adoption of House Resolution 0315.*

"Camping in Michigan is a truly unique experience that is enjoyed by so many people, both in and outside our great state," Horn says. "Officially recognizing camping and RV use during the month of August is an excellent way to honor a great American pastime and timeless Michigan tradition."

Michiganians and visitors alike take advantage of our great state’s array of sun, freshwater coastline, 19 million acres of woodlands, soft breezes and fresh air, where the temperate climate allows for great camping and outdoor recreations.

“Michigan is fortunate to have countless opportunities when it comes to camping around the state,” says Tom Briggs, owner of Grand Rogue Campground and President of the Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC) – Michigan. “Designating August as ‘Michigan Camping & Recreational Vehicle Month’ gives us another reason to encourage visitors to explore our woods and water recreational offerings, whether it be from a tent, pop-up, travel trailer, fifth-wheel or RV.”

The official proclamation supports the economic and recreational contributions that the camping industry contributes to Michigan’s overall tourism package:

• The State of Michigan has more than 950 licensed private recreational vehicle parks and campgrounds, with more than 111,000 licensed camp sites.

• More than 160 county or government operated campgrounds with over 14,700 sites – from rustic to full-service – around the state.

• The State of Michigan is home to 98 state parks & recreation areas under the auspices of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources & Environment, and 7 forests / parks / lakeshores in Michigan under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service, collectively offering 15,000 sites on state and federal lands designated for camping.

• Camping encourages visitors and locals alike to partake in activities such as boating, fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, paddling, pedaling, geocaching, nature watching, photography, and other outdoor activities, which also highlight Michigan’s great outdoors.

• More than 40 million people camp in Michigan each year, generating more than $2 billion for the state’s economy, making it a key contributor in the state’s overall $16+ billion tourism industry, offering a true “Pure Michigan” experience.

“For generations, Michigan residents and visitors have gone ‘up north’…either literally or figuratively, to make ‘Pure Michigan’ camping memories,” says Dave Lorenz – Manager, Public & Industry Relations for Travel Michigan. “These experiences bind families as one and build a life-long tradition of appreciation for the environment.”

Michigan boasts two non-profit organizations: ARVC Michigan - the Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds of Michigan - and MARVAC - the Michigan Association of Recreational Vehicles & Campgrounds - which equally promote and support private campground and RV parks throughout the state particularly by the distribution of hundreds of thousands of free camping directories at RV and outdoor shows, at statewide chambers of commerce, libraries, lawmakers offices, RV sales businesses and campgrounds. All state lands are managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources & Environment, while the national parks and lakeshores are managed by the National Park Service and/or the U.S. Forest Service.

ARVC represents nearly 200 member campgrounds with more than 30,000 sites available throughout the state. Whether pitching a tent, parking an RV or reserving a rustic or modern cabin, Michigan campgrounds offer a great way to disconnect from busy lives and reconnect with families. Campers in Michigan enjoy the great outdoors while fishing or canoeing on the countless lakes, rivers and streams or hiking, biking and riding on the miles of trails that wind throughout the state. There’s definitely no shortage of activities, no matter where the campground is located.