Kickapoo/Paint Creek

August 6-8

We checked into site #75, in the Illini loop of Kickapoo State Recreation Area (SRA) in Illinois, after stopping at a really nice grocery store en route to pick up some dinner entrees. Possibly due to the difficulty of keeping the water pipes from freezing in winter, none of the sites have water, although many have electricity. There are also sections where tent camping and/or unserviced RV camping is the norm. Cell service at the site is okay—we had two bars of Verizon LTE. The bath houses are clean and sufficient.

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Camping area map: detail from a larger, elderly map. That’s I-74 west and east on the right.

As is usual when we have stayed at Kickapoo in times past, an individual of the local deer population greeted us.

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We enjoyed the company of this very interesting tree in our site, too. If we’d been staying longer, we probably would have used it to hang a hammock to lounge about some.

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Instead of lounging, however, we set off on our bicycles to explore more of the park area than we’d ever had time to do in the past. This is a really huge recreational area, with hiking and mountain biking trails, and so many ponds and lakes I think one might get lost.

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At the turn of the century, the area was a surface mining operation. We tried to ride to a mine “shaft” designated on the map, but it was gated—even though we rode around the gate, we stopped at a dilapidated old wooden bridge that had way too many saplings growing on it for comfortable crossing. The entire SRA is 2,842 acres, with 22 deep water ponds (221 acres of water) along the Vermillion River. The state purchased nearly 1,300 acres of the mining operation in 1939 from United Electric Coal Co. Most of the purchase price was raised from Danville, IL residents at the time. So if you’re a water or fishing enthusiast, it’s a great place to visit. Check it out here.

There is a ton of infrastructure around, but on a Monday, we encountered only enough vehicles to count on two hands; and we saw only a few individuals and families taking advantage of the vast amounts of fishing and paddling (most of the waterways are designated electric motors only) opportunities available. Maybe things are different on the weekends, but overall we found the place quiet and sedate. Surprisingly, there were very few printed materials available to folks who might want to know more about the trails, the history, or the amenities. Without actually riding on any of the “trails,” most of them appeared to be rugged, mountain-bike-only trails.

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The park stretches on both sides of the I-74 corridor, with roadways going over and under the highway.

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I thought it odd that there was no safety structure along this overpass, keeping folks from pitching themselves or objects off the bridge . . . 

Here is a map of the whole shebang, that I’ve cut into two halves so it’s not so huge:

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Our ride took us over all of the roadways designated in white, plus a few that don’t seem to be on any maps at all. The roadways and some of the put-in areas for boats and fishing were somewhat unkempt and in need of some TLC, but its an old park, after all. We took our time and tootled about for a couple of hours. It was pretty hot and muggy.

Bike Stats:

  • Ride time = 1:25
  • Stopped time = 1 hour
  • Distance = 12.3 miles

After our exertions, we treated ourselves to another grilled salmon dinner—this time eating delicious wild sockeye, with grilled squash and Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice. Yum.

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We headed to Ohio the next morning, to Paint Creek State Park (near Bainbridge, OH), where it began to rain and refused to stop the entire time we were there. We also moved from central time to eastern time, and started the adjustment to misplacing an hour somewhere along the way.

Our site (#125) was the same one we’ve stayed at before, because so many of the sites are elevated (nice and level) parking areas where both sides of the “lawn” areas fall off sharply from the site, making erecting an awning difficult if not impossible. While #125 is rather sandwiched among other sites, the one to our “face” was empty this time, and with the rain keeping us indoors anyway, it was not a problem.

The bath house is fine, but augmented with a couple of toilet-only structures, and there’s a laundry, but no dish washing station. And the sites are all either unserviced or electric-only.

Since it was raining steadily, and since we stayed indoors the whole time, the lack of tremendous amenities was not a problem (check the link above to our prior, 2017 stop here to see more of the lay of the land). We have, however, thoroughly enjoyed a long bit of in-campground cycling in the past.

The State Park is another boating haven, with the reservoir created when Paint Creek was impounded providing power boat and jet ski entertainment, as well as more sedate fishing, canoeing/kayaking, and swimming opportunities. There are also hiking trails and a few Mountain biking trails, plus a disc golf course (and an archery range), but few cycling options other than the campground roadways. The park office offers wifi, but otherwise, cell service (Verizon) is non-existent.

We started a jigsaw puzzle we’d purchased in Michigan at the Sleeping Bear Dunes gift shop, featuring pretty Michigan rocks in the shape of the state. It was fun but very challenging.

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To the patter of rain on the roof, we got about a third of it put together on our nook table before calling it a day at 12:30A in the EST, where we felt it was still 11:30 CST.

The next day, we continued putting the puzzle together through breakfast and lunch, and finished around 2 in the afternoon. We didn’t want to get it partway done and have to undo all our work before our departure on Wednesday, August 8, so we kept at it. And it kept raining.

For our evening’s entertainment, we watched the third of the three movies we’d brought along: Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, MO. We found it to be a tight, unsettling story very well told, with just enough ambiguity to provoke lots of thought. Troubling, overall—leaves you wondering what you might have done in a similar situation. Well worth the look-see.

Still damp, we left for Grindstone Federal Campground in the Mt. Rogers Recreation area, near Damascus, VA: our final stop along this odyssey, back to Virginia with friends and neighbors for the first time in nearly 6 weeks. What a fun adventure it’s been.

To Kalamazoo: Travel Days

July 23, 2017

Due to several late nights in a row—a couple of overhot sleeping nights when our own ceiling fan could not keep up with the humid, still air; housesitters’ lost luggage flying from Buffalo NY to Greensboro NC; a trip to Roanoke to close on my mother’s house (and a lovely lunch afterward to celebrate—and in no small measure, to mourn—that milestone with her); and a wonderful evening on a classic “southern porch” with ceiling fans and wide floors for a delightful meal and wondrous company and conversation—we arose on our departure day pretty exhausted. With the timing of everything having to do with the housesitters’ later arrival than expected and our desire to squire them around, showing off the sights and “gotta-dos” in our area (not to mention the house and critter minding routines), we elected not to hitch Roomba nor even load our 2015 Subaru tow vehicle on Saturday.

So our departure morning began with these final load-and-hitch routines. All along, we’d figured on leaving by about 10A, but we had a long way to go (guestimated at 6 or so hours) to our first overnight, Paint Creek State Park in Ohio. So anything earlier would have been excellent. But alas, even with the help of Angela and John doing the “morning run” for critter management, we did not pull out of our driveway until 10.

Briefly stopped at the intersection of I-77 and Rt. 58 near Hillsville for an AM snack, and found the interstates totally packed with semis and probable vacationeers headed home after a weekend or so away. Lots and lots of traffic.

Listened to the beginning of an engaging mystery novel, and ended up trading drivers much more often than normal because we were both tired. Jack got us into West Virginia where we took another break and I took a photo of our Roomba next to an enormous three-axle fifth wheel whose weight I could not possibly imagine. So glad we have our modest teardrop.

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I took us through all the WV toll plazas along I-64 to make it to OH. A final stop in Chillocothie at a grocery to get our usual chicken salad to go on the lettuce we’d brought along for a quick-and-delicious no-cook dinner after set-up, and we got to Bainbridge, OH, which was the closest ‘burgh Jack had been able to find for the onboard mapping system. So, because Jack was driving by this time, actually finding Paint Creek State Park and their campground fell to Siri on my phone using AppleMaps.

Even when I’d plugged it in, the route seemed “around our thumbs to get to our butts,” but sometimes, especially when you’re navigating around a lake upon which the target state park is oriented, that’s how you have to go. So we headed out of Bainbridge on Rt. 50, with the map image and brown signs indicating that Paint Creek Lake and the State Park properties were all along our right-hand side. Small brown signs appeared at intervals along our route indicating marinas and boat launches. Nowhere was there a major sign that actually said Paint Creek State Park. One small, narrow brown sign packed in with a bunch of other thin brown signs along a short signpost (most of them about boat access points) had the words “camping: 5.” We were unsure if that was attached to the park or not even though it was a brown sign.

So we skipped the only indicator of camping of any sort, and carried on the way Siri was suggesting. By this time it was 6PM and we had encircled the entire park (judging by the map) but there was one narrow road that showed a bridge across a part of the lake, and we figured it was possible this was the only way into the park if you’re not launching a boat. From the 7-hundred numbered road (753) we had taken from Rt. 50, we wound up on a small farm road whose sign near our turn-off said “no outlet.”

Maybe that meant that it dead-headed into the park?

Still marginally hopeful, and noting that there were no handy turn-arounds at this end of the road in any case (and dead tired by this time) we carried on. Another mile or two and we saw a sign that said, “Road ends 500 ft.” Sure enough, a low road with a barrier across it was, in fact, the end (I figured it had been flooded out at some point, and never re-opened). But we were obviously not the only trailer rig that had made this error due to lousy mapping, and there was a decent pull-in/back-out spot for an about-face right next to the barrier.

Around 6:30PM we were back in the neighborhood of Rt. 50, re-tracing our earlier route (which was only about 13 miles all told), and searching (in vain) for a State Park sign. Along the route (I was driving at this point, as I did the back-and-go at the turn-around) Jack was able to get a street address for the park, and we mapped that, but it wasn’t anywhere near where we were, so we decided that was a mail box or an office address. We tried to call, but by this time, the office or check-in station or wherever we were going to pick up our reservation materials was closed. So we decided to take the small “camping” indicator sign direction, down another narrow road, and at long last, found the park camping entrance.

Our site (#125) is very nice and shady, with a well-positioned fire ring (unused by us). We’re near the bath house, which is old but clean, offering additional laundry area, but no dish washing station. The sites have electric but no water, although there are well-positioned faucets everywhere. The sites, we’ve noticed, however, are very short and narrow. There’s only one position in which your trailer or rig can sit. Some are in the full sun, and others, along the lakeside, are very shady to semi-shady. Our site does not have access to the lake — in fact on our side of the camping area, one can only glimpse water down a thoroughly forested (and poison oak infested) bank.

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Site #125

The site next door is one of the camp hosts and we met the couple minding this area as they were headed back home for two days to mow their lawns and re-stock their stores. Very friendly. The other big rig we are sandwiched between had to park their tow vehicle cross-wise to their camper because both would not fit on the asphalt back-in area. There are many big rigs whose TVs do not fit on the parking sites — and many of the sites, while there’s a nice, level, narrow asphalt place to put your rig, many are placed such that the ground around the asphalt falls off substantially, sometimes to both sides, making putting up an awning like ours impossible. In these cases, the fire ring is way away from the trailer site, and in others, they had to build a “deck” off the asphalt (and the user must pay more for that privilege) so one could set up even a chair. Forget having a convenient place to set up a screen house.

Still, many sites are nice with generous spacing between — while others, like #125, are fairly tightly sandwiched.

So we felt a bit crowded (especially because they were cigarette smokers and our site is downwind of them) and we turned on our AC to help close out them and their smoke — they also chose to build a campfire, which of course, blew smoke into our space and would have filled Roomba if we’d chosen our normal routine of merely letting the exhaust fan keep the inside cool. Happily, before leaving the hosts had told us our neighbors were scheduled to leave tomorrow. Besides, we were glad for the AC as it was warm and muggy, and the hosts reported they’d had a deluge the night before.

We did a minimal set-up both inside and out (just the awning and a couple of chairs outside) and ate dinner around 8-8:30. Shortly afterwards, a gang came along and wanted a tour, as one of them had seen an Alto model 1743 in the past, and he wanted his friends to see ours. They were nice and kept it short and sweet, so we could enjoy the rest of our adult beverages, and so I could make up the bed. We called it a day around 9 and neither of us read for very long before the eyes were slamming shut.

July 24, 2017

The day dawned without our knowledge and we didn’t climb out of bed until around 8A. But it was cool and breezy — even looked a bit like it wanted to rain, but didn’t — as we sat outside to enjoy our coffee and tea. A toasted croissant with jelly served for a meal, and around 11 we boarded the bikes to have a short tootle around the grounds.

Our first stop was at the “camp store” which is also the check-in area, and we got our proper paperwork and a couple of maps of the immediate environs. This is quite a nice campground, with putt-putt golf, a frisbee golf course, several nice playgrounds and open areas, a nature preserve with identification signage, and other amenities.

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There are quite a lot of hiking and horse-riding trails, and also some mountain-biking trails, but we stuck to the paved roads as we had not changed out our road tires for nubbies. We rode our bikes around the biggest camping loop (ours), and then down Tyler Road to one of the boat launches.

There was a significant amount of flood debris scattered around down at the launch area, and you could see that the flood waters had risen a serious level above the parking area there. My guess is that the parking had to have been 20 or 30 feet underwater, judging by the mess left. This would explain the washed out road we encountered yesterday, but after looking at a map, I still don’t know why any mapping system would send folks to that area, since there’s nothing there but lake and natural area.

We climbed back uphill and went the other direction from the campground until Tyler Rd. met Rapid Forge Rd., and turned around to head back, did the smaller of the two camping loops, and returned to Roomba for lunch. The breeze was still quite lovely, and managed to keep most of the bugs away. Nevertheless we kept the AC going as the sun moved around to bear down on Roomba’s Big Front Window (BFW) for a while before the tree closest to our parking pad could offer the shade that the later afternoon promised.

Jack had arisen in the AM with a sinus headache, so after our ride, during which we found enough cell service up at the camp store to receive a few emails and texts, he hit the bed for an afternoon lie-down. As the sun and heat rose, I joined him—just to read my book, mind you.

We awakened around 3 and decided to rouse ourselves with another short pedal up to check out the weather where we could get cell service. All forecasts were for cooler and dry weather. Not having to deal with humidity is a true blessing after the prior week at home.

For dinner we enjoyed some tamales that cousin Laura and our mutual friend, Steph, had fixed and then frozen earlier this year. They had given us some to try, and they packed small and stayed frozen, so we had brought them along. A little steam in a pot and presto, we had fresh, home-made tamales! They were the best I’d ever eaten, and I’m not a tamale fan, normally.

Because we had a long drive to reach Kalamazoo, we did most of the break-down after dinner, and again enjoyed an early night, setting the alarm for 6A to have tea/coffee and hit the road west.