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Digital Nomad Life Month 73

Month Seventy-Three was a busy one! We traveled through eight states, saw some cool stuff, had lots of trouble with our van fleet, and worked at a BBQ Festival in Kansas City.

I spent the first five days of the month still housesitting and looking after sweet Bear the dog in Boulder. We did a brewery crawl, ate out at a couple of places, did some local hikes, and I even hiked to the top of Green Mountain, one of the harder hikes I have done in a while.

We said goodbye to Bear and spent another five nights in Denver, catching up with friends and family before hitting the road for our big Great Lakes road trip (which isn’t going to be so big after all, more on that in the lowlights).

Downtown Denver

From Denver, we headed to Lawrence, Kansas where we celebrated the fourth with friends that live there, via an overnight stop in Hays. We spent three nights in Lawrence then headed to Kansas City to work the Kansas City BBQ Festival.

We spent five days building, working, then breaking down the festival and it was hard work. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be setting up/building a festival again but I enjoyed working it and loved the people I met. I even had a couple of friends drop by the festival and it was great to see them and hook them up with some BBQ.

The last night we had a big farewell dinner and drinks with our workmates at a local dive bar and it was a night! Very hungover the next day and poor Toby and some of the others had to still load the trucks. So worth it though.

We spent a night in a motel in Kansas City after Toby finished work to nurse our hangovers and sort out our lives after lots of long days of working and doing little else, then did fly-by stopovers in Des Moines in Iowa, and Vermillion and Sioux Falls in South Dakota, before getting to Minneapolis where we were spending a couple of days.

Sioux Falls waterfall

Toby has a friend who lives just outside of the city, and he and his wife kindly put us up for our visit. It was nice to sleep in a real bed, do laundry, and have showers for a couple of days, as well as the great company.

From Minneapolis, our next stop was meant to be Duluth, but unfortunately, our engine fan broke so we ended up stuck in a tiny Minnesotan town for 24 hours till we could get it fixed – not ideal.

We finally reached Duluth then made our way east to Bayfield and the Apostle Islands, crossed the border into Michigan to visit Marquette, then finished the month in Munising, the gateway to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Beach in Marquette MI

It’s been a crazy month and we are hoping the next month will be more fun and less stress.

Now onto the stats!

Countries Visited: USA

Places Visited:

  • Colorado: Denver, Boulder
  • Kansas: Hays, Lawrence
  • Missouri: Kansas City
  • Iowa: Des Moines
  • South Dakota: Vermillion, Sioux Falls
  • Minnesota: Minneapolis, Bruno, Duluth
  • Wisconsin: Bayfield
  • Michigan: Marquette, Munising

National and State Parks, Monuments, and UNESCO Sites: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Islands Visited: Apostle Islands

Best Meals: Margherita pizza from Pizzeria Locale in Boulder; Mixed berry pie from Colorado Cherry Company in Denver; Fried shrimp po’boy from Terrebonne in Lawrence; BBQ Festival eats including grilled lobster from GQue BBQ, potato casserole from Smokey D’s, chile mac and cheese from Plowboys BBQ, Creole Shrimp from Central City BBQ, and Smoked Turkey from Sugarfire Smoke House; Original Jucy Lucy burger from Matt’s Bar in Minneapolis; Potato and leek pizza from Young Joni in Minneapolis; Smoked white fish from Hoop’s Fish Market in Bayfield; Blueberry bagel with blueberry cream cheese from Third Street Bagel in Marquette.

Worst Meals: Turns out salads in Missouri have orange grated cheese all through them – or maybe I just got two bad ones in a row. Won’t be ordering a salad in Missouri again unless it’s in St Louis (one of the young guys I work with from Missouri said that he just thought it was normal to have lots of cheese tossed through a salad – ha!)

Best Craft Beer: King of the Carrot Flowers Carrot and Elderflower Saison by Ratio Beerworks, Passion Fruit Sour by Sanitas Brewing Company, Watermelon Sour by Dangerous Man Brewing Co, Pontoon Pounder Sour by Ursa Minor Brewing; Pineapple Chile Ale by Hoops Brewing.

Hikes/Walks:

  • Dakota Ridge Trail in Boulder, CO – 3.8 miles
  • Boulder Creek Canyon Trail in Boulder, CO – 2.6 miles
  • Red Rocks Trail in Boulder, CO – 2.5 miles
  • Green Mountain Trail in Boulder, CO – 5.8 miles
  • Clear Creek Trail in Wheat Ridge, CO – 5 miles
  • Berkeley Lake, Rocky Mountain Lake, and Tennyson Street loop in Denver, CO – 4.8 miles
  • Gray’s Lake Loop Trail in Des Moines, Iowa – 2 miles
  • River trail from Boom Island Park to St Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, MN – 1.6 miles
  • Canal Park to Leif Erikson Park section of Lakeshore Trail in Duluth, MN – 3 miles
  • Iron Bridge and Big Ravine Trail in Bayfield, WI – 2 miles
  • Presque Isle Loop Trail in Marquette, MI – 2.3 miles
  • Sugar Loaf Mountain summit loop trail in Marquette, MI – 2 miles

Red Rocks Trail in Boulder

Watching: The Outsider – the best Stephen King adaptation for television I have seen, absolutely gripping, Blue Miracle –  a tear-jerker and love that it is a true story.

Reading: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – lives up to the hype but I still love The Signature of All Things more. Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver – a brilliant read and up there with her best work, The Poisonwood Bible.

Highlights

Hiking Green Mountain in Boulder

I have been wanting to do the Green Mountain hike in Boulder for a while and I finally made it happen during the last couple of days of our housesit. It was challenging but I felt good, the weather was gorgeous, and the views were outstanding. 

Views from Green Mountain in Boulder

As I won’t be getting to hike further than the Front Range in Colorado this year, at least I got a taste of the big mountains with this hike.

Exploring Boulder’s Brewery Scene

I have always wanted to do a brewery crawl in Boulder but we haven’t actually stayed there before, we usually just stop by on a day trip or on the way somewhere else.

Now we were actually staying there, I made sure to hit up some of the breweries I have been wanting to try including Sanitas Brewing Co, Upslope, Ska, and Twisted Pine. It was a fun afternoon and now I feel like I have properly experienced Boulder’s beer scene, although there are still lots more to try next time.

Toby’s Delayed Birthday Celebrations

Toby was working in Vail for his birthday in June so I organized a fun night out with some of the family at a Brazilian Grill, followed by drinks and indoor mini-golf at the quirky and fun Urban Putt.

It was a fun night and was great to see some of our favorites before leaving Colorado for possibly the rest of the year.

Gorging Myself at the Kansas City BBQ Festival

Although you definitely couldn’t call me a meat lover as I generally only eat chicken and seafood, I love BBQ, so getting free food from some of the best grillmasters from around the country was pretty awesome.

Other than the lobster from the Demo stage I was managing, and the Creole shrimp from Central City BBQ, most of my favorites were the sides – which is pretty much always my favorite BBQ food. The sides at the festival did not disappoint, and I am still dreaming about Smokey D’s potato casserole in particular.

Loving All the Breweries in the Midwest

I always think of Colorado as having the best beer scene (and it still does in my opinion) but the Midwest has really surprised me with the number of excellent craft breweries, and the inventiveness of the beer.

Ursa Minor Beer in Duluth

My favorites so far have been Confluence Brewing Co. in Des Moines, Severance Brewing Co. in Sioux Falls, Dangerous Man Brewing in Minneapolis, Ursa Minor Brewing in Duluth, and Ore Dock Brewing in Marquette. I can’t wait to try more!

Going Back in Time at Two Living History Museums

The history geek in me loves a living history museum, and we went to two this month –  Shoal Creek Living History Village outside of Kansas City, and Living History Farms in Des Moines.

Living History Village in KC

Shoal Creek didn’t have any buildings open when we went but the site was so pretty and bucolic – it reminded me so much of the town of Spectre in the movie Big Fish (when he first visits). There were information panels outside each building so we just walked around and read those.

Living History Farms was a larger operation with an 1800s town, and three farms representing different time periods. There are costumed interpreters throughout the town and farms, and it was really interesting to learn what life was like in the Midwest at that time.

Living History Farm in Iowa

Hanging Out in Minneapolis

I have been wanting to visit Minneapolis for a while and I enjoyed our two days getting a taste of the city. We mostly stuck to the tourist sites that we were interested in including eating out on Eat Street, grabbing a Jucy Lucy from Matt’s Bar, sampling beer at one of the local breweries, walking the river trail to St Anthony Falls, paying our respects at George Floyd Square, visiting historic Fort Snelling, going to an art fair, visiting the Sculpture Garden, and admiring Minnehaha Falls.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

It was a fly-by visit but I really liked Minneapolis and can definitely see us returning to see more in the future. I definitely want to check out more of the different suburbs on our next visit, and delve more into the dining and brewery scenes.

A Boat Tour of the Apostle Islands

One of my big highlights of the month was the Grand Tour we did of the Apostle Islands by boat. We had originally wanted to kayak but it was cold and windy the day we were there so we decided to do the cruise instead.

I am so glad we did! Our tour wasn’t till 5.30 pm and after wandering around the cute town of Bayfield during the day with thick cloud cover, the sun came out just before we boarded – and stayed out.

Apostle Islands Sea Caves

We saw multiple bald eagles, including a chick in a nest, remains of an old fish camp, incredible “sea” caves around Devils Island, a couple of attractive lighthouses, and miles of beautiful coastline on the islands we passed.

What a beautiful part of the country and I know I definitely want to return to camp on some of the islands and do some kayaking.

All the Lighthouses

I absolutely adore lighthouses and seek them out when I travel, and there are so many in the Great Lakes Region. And along with the sheer number of them, I love the diverse styles too, and the fact that you can tour a lot of them.

Raspberry Island Lighthouse

Michigan is actually the state with the most lighthouses in the U.S. so I am excited to explore even more next month.

Loving Beautiful Marquette

I hadn’t even heard of Marquette before I started planning this trip, and it has turned out to be my favorite place on our road trip so far. We spent a day and a half in Marquette and I could have spent much longer.

Marquette Harbor Lighthouse

There are beautiful hiking trails, pristine sandy beaches, an attractive and vibrant downtown, excellent beer, and a cool lighthouse. It really felt like we were in a seaside town – there were even seagulls!

If you are planning a Michigan road trip – make sure you don’t miss Marquette.

Getting Into the Groove of RV Life

RV life is quite different than van life, and it took me a little while to get my head around it. But now – I’m loving it (except for all the mechanical issues – more on that below).

Because the amount we spend on gas has increased dramatically, our goal has been to find free places to stay most nights, with occasional nights at affordable camping grounds to recharge our batteries and to shower.

Brownie the RV

I have been using the website Campendium to find places to stay and it has been so helpful. We have mostly been staying at a mix of rest areas, casino car parks, and even a free town campsite in Vermillion with power and water hookups! 

We have also been finding free dump stations on the website, which is really helpful as a lot of RV parks will charge you unless you are staying with them. And parking has been easier than we thought too as our RV is only 21 feet long so if we reverse into sites with curb space behind us, we can fit.

We are still learning but it has been fun so far.

Lowlights

Ongoing Issues With Brownie

Wow, Brownie has been a very bad RV this past month. I know it is old and needed some work but we really thought we had the main stuff sorted when we hit the road. Guess not.

This month Brownie delayed our departure from Denver by a day because of a faulty alternator wire, our water tank cracked, the lock on the backdoor broke, our waste hose broke, a fan belt came loose, and worst of all – our engine fan broke while we were driving down the highway – more on that below (it’s so shit it deserves its own write up). 

We also couldn’t get the part we needed to pass emissions in time for our departure so we had to drive three hours out of our way to register it in South Dakota, which allows you to register if you are from out of state.

I really, really hope this it for at least a while. I can’t take any more things breaking on this trip.

Minneapolis downtown

Breaking Down in a Middle of Nowhere Town

We were less than an hour out from Duluth when it sounded like something exploded in the engine so we immediately pulled over on the highway. It was looking real bad at first – we thought it was something with the engine and that Brownie was toast, but luckily it wasn’t as bad as we thought.

We were towed to a nearby town of around 100 people called Bruno. It had a single bar and grill – and that’s about it. It was midday on a Sunday and the mechanic was closed so we spent the day hanging out and working online in the bar, then most of the next day too, until the actual problem was fixed – the engine fan was faulty and broke, causing damage to our water pump as well. 

It was definitely not the most exciting town to be stuck in – way too many Trump signs for my liking – and I was so happy to get on the road again.

Extreme Weather and Long Days at the KC BBQ Festival

I’m not used to working long days outside so working the KC BBQ Festival was definitely a shock to the system. After a shorter first day, the next four days were between 12 and 15 hours long, melting in the extreme heat and humidity, or dodging thunderstorms – Kansas City sure had some extreme weather while we were there!

KC BBQ Festival

It was very intense and tiring although by the last couple of days I was getting more used to it and was feeling stronger.

A Pricy Fix For Casper

Casper has been so good this year so, of course, just before we left Denver the alternator went out and it was a very expensive fix. So frustrating as we have left Casper in Denver and won’t be using it again until at least October. 

A Slowly Dying Laptop

My seven-year-old laptop finally got to the point where it has become unusable for work – it overheats and slows down massively after about two hours of use.

It wasn’t great timing with all the other costs this month, but it is so nice having a fast laptop again! I’m loving all the new features that have come our over the last seven years too.

Having To Cut a Big Portion of Our Great Lakes Itinerary

So we had originally planned to spend nearly five months making our way around the Great Lakes and some of the East Coast, as well as working a couple of festivals along the way.

Marcy Holmes Historic District n Minneapolis

What we didn’t plan for is how fast everything has gone back to “normal” in the US and that there are lots of festivals this summer now. Toby’s friends who own an event company (we worked for them in LA in April) want him to work as many as possible as he is one of their key team members so he will now be working from mid-August till the end of October with pretty much no breaks.

Obviously, this completely messed up our original plans, so we made new ones. We’ll now be finishing our trip in Chicago which I am bummed about, but we can always explore more of the Great Lakes Region on another trip.

I do have some exciting travel plans for when Toby goes to work – find out what I will now be doing from mid-August at the end of this post!

Beach in Marquette, Michigan

Spending

A lot of these costs are my half with Toby paying the other half. I also don’t include international flights in my recaps.

Total: USD$2924

It was a very expensive month, easily the most expensive of the year. With buying a new laptop, having tons of things to fix on Brownie and Casper, and eating out and drinking at a lot of breweries on our trip – it just really blew my budget.

Next month should be better, although I have a big trip planned for the second half of next month so maybe not!

Accommodation $51.50

My paid accommodation for the month consisted of a night in a cheap motel in Kansas City, and a night in a camping ground in Munising.

My unpaid accommodation for the rest of the month included five nights housesitting in Boulder, five nights with family in Denver, one night at a rest area in Kansas, three nights in the RV parked outside a friend’s place in Lawrence, five nights in a hotel paid for by work in Kansas City, one night outside a mechanics in Bruno, and six nights at either a casino car park or a rest area in Des Moines, Vermillion, Minnesota Valley, Duluth, Bayfield, and Marquette.

Walking Bear in Boulder

Food and Drink $824

A very expensive month for eating – in part because I paid for me and Toby to have a nice dinner and drinks for his birthday, and also because we have been going to new breweries a lot and eating out at most of the places we have been visiting – it all adds up!

Over the past week we have been better at cooking more and drinking less so this should be more normal next month.

Clothing $30

  • Underwear set $20
  • 1 x tank top $10

Transport $378.50

  • Gas $360.50
  • Lyft $18

Gas is really expensive right now and Brownie is a gas guzzler, but what RV isn’t?

Activities $123

  • Two courses of Urban Putt Mini Golf for three people $42
  • Entry Fee for Living History Farms in Des Moines $15
  • Entry Fee for Fort Snelling in Minneapolis $8
  • Apostle Islands Boat Tour $51
  • Marquette Harbor Lighthouse Tour $7

Sioux Falls

Other $908

  • Hulu $6.50
  • Phone plan US $40
  • Patreon $5
  • New Laptop $842.50
  • Kitty eyemask $14

Website Costs $12

  • Monthly payment for Keysearch $12

Van/RV Costs $597

  • Parts for Brownie $65
  • New Alternator for Casper $350
  • Light for Casper $5
  • Kitchenware and Bedding for Brownie $58
  • Oil change for Brownie $27
  • Casper Registration $78
  • AAA for Brownie $14

Not a good month for our vehicles – felt like something needed to be fixed every second day, at least for Brownie. It’s Toby’s RV so he pays for most of the fixes (I knew it was going to end up being expensive and I didn’t want him to buy it), but we share some costs.

Views from Sugarloaf Mountain in Marquette

What’s in Store for Next Month

Well, what’s in store for next month now is very different than what it was a month ago! The plan now is to spend the first two and a half weeks continuing our Great Lakes Road Trip with stops planned at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Mackinac Island, Manistique, Door County, Milwaukee, and finishing in Chicago.

This isn’t set in stone and is time and weather dependant. We may also add on Madison as I have heard great things about the city – we shall see what happens.

I do know that I want at least five days in Chicago, a city that both Toby and I love. I can’t wait to explore the city again (the last time I visited was 2013) and to eat all the deep-dish pizza.

Downtown Chicago

And then…. the last two weeks of the month I will be in Greece! This was not even a thought in my mind until we heard that Toby was going to be working solid for three months straight. I was originally thinking I could fly back to Denver and get Casper then continue roadtripping around the Great Lakes and East Coast, but then I thought – why not go to Greece? 

Greece is carefully screening the tourists coming in, requiring vaccination or COVID test, and I feel safe for my own health being vaccinated, although I do know I’m not 100% protected and that there is a small possibility that I could be a carrier.

I will be meeting my Danish friend Heidi in Athens for a night then we are taking the ferry to the dreamy island of Naxos where we will be spending six nights together before Heidi flies home. From there I am taking a ferry to Paros where I will be spending the remainder of the month.

I am so excited to return to Greece, one of my favorite countries. It will be my third visit but the last time was way back in 2008 so my return is way overdue. 

To read additional Monthly Recaps, you can find them here

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