Sunday, July 8, 2007

4 Days in Sycamore, IL: Lessons Learned

About 10pm Wednesday night, on the 4th of July, after helping with the picnic cleanup, Kyle and Trevor headed off in Kyle’s GMC Jimmy for Kyle’s townhouse in Dekalb.

Late Thursday morning, July 5th, Ken and I followed them north to the Sycamore RV Resort which was about 10 miles from Kyle’s apartment in Dekalb. Since, when he called to confirm our reservations, Ken was told that there was no checking in allowed before 3pm, we took our time, and stopped for a picnic lunch at the I-74 rest area.

Lesson Learned: The I-74 rest stop at milemarker 28 has a dump station – very unusual in Illinois! (We will keep this in mind when using an electric-only site next time since this can be better than waiting in line at a campground).

Lesson Learned: At the halfway point of 250 miles, the perfect break for us is 45 minutes or so at a rest stop where we can take the dogs for a long walk and then kick back in the shade for sandwiches, and cutup fruits and veggies (leftover from the picnic). This is a much healthier and restorative break than a McDonald’s stop by a long stretch!

For Ken this was an exceptionally good drive. Last week he had taken the RV by the scales to check weight and distribution and then to Freightliner to have ride height checked on air ride. It was ¼ inch off in the front, so Freightliner made an adjustment. Ken said he is absolutely amazed at the difference it has made in handling. It holds a much tighter line on the road now even during wind gusts.

Lesson Learned: Suggest that anyone buying a DP have the air ride height checked after delivery. Even a small variation makes a big difference in handling. (Thanks so much to whoever suggested this to him!!)

We arrived at the Sycamore RV Park at approximately 4pm.

Although ‘Baby’ was snuggled in with a view of the lake, this resort definitely did not have the ‘IT’ factor. The RV’s were packed closely together, we had no grass and lots of hot gravel. The owner also seemed to be much more concerned about insuring everyone understood and followed his many rules than concerned about friendliness or hospitality. That being said, the place is full and was very neat and clean, so his rules obviously work to his advantage.

Lesson learned: It just becomes increasingly clear to us that we are more state, federal and COE park people, where there is a lot more nature and without the feeling of being in the middle of someone else’s business.

After settling in we took a walk around to check out our surroundings.

Here’s Ken and dogs, checking out the rows of crop on the RV Farm. They all seem to have tassled (note all the antennae!)

They also seem to grow a fair crop of satellite dishes in spots where they have just the right access to the southern sky.
Lesson Learned: DirectTV as RV Satellite TV provider is winning 4 to 2 over DishNetwork in this random polling. We may switch when our contract is up at home but still haven't found need for the satellite hookup in RV.

Since we chose not to pull the jeep this weekend, Kyle and Trev came by about 6pm and we went to O’Leary’s Bar and Grill in downtown Dekalb for dinner. This is one of Kyle’s preferred hangouts so its nice to get to go to places like this.
Lesson learned: Bartenders in Dekalb know our son on a first name basis!

We then went by Kyle’s apartment since I’d never had a chance to see it in the whole year he’s live there. Unfortunately I forgot the camera. It was actually pretty clean for a townhouse shared by 4 guys. Of course, right now, Kyle’s the only one working in the DeKalb area this summer so he has it all to himself for awhile.

Lesson learned: Law students keep much neater apartments than football players!!

We had originally planned on doing the Brookfield Zoo on Friday but with the heat, Ken wasn’t particularly thrilled with the idea of walking around a zoo he’d already seen.

Lesson Learned: I'd almost forgotten that planning and flexing plans to meet one man’s needs makes for a much simpler world than when I have all 3 of my men wanting different things - Kyle was still in favor of the zoo idea, and Trev wanted to go downtown Chicago and just wander around the big city!

So, finally instead of the zoo, I suggested that we take a daytrip to check out the nearest state park, Shabbona Lake, especially considering we knew we’d have to come back to this area again to camp and weren’t getting the ‘IT’ factor from Sycamore RV Park. This also allowed Kyle and Trev to sleep in a bit longer, showing up at our site about 11am to make the trip.

Shabbona Lake State Park is actually not much farther from Kyle than the Sycamore RV park since it is highway driving, and it definitely appears to have the ‘IT’ factor. It is actually about 25 miles less driving for us from Quincy and drops off the $8 in tolls from I-88. Since we know in 10 months we need to be back to DeKalb for Kyle's graduation, Shabbona definitely will get at least one visit from us in the next year.

Fishing and prairie grasslands appear to be the primary features of this park.

Here the guys are checking out one of several boat docks where we could put in the SeaEagle.

Nothing above 10 hp motors are allowed on the lake making it great for thee kayakers who were out enjoying the sunny July day.

The building Kyle is walking away from is an onsite restaurant in the park with indoor and outdoor dining, offering local fish specialties, like walleye and catfish. They have great soft serve ice cream as well!

We drove the campgrounds section that has 150 electric-only sites, both reservable and non-reservable. Most are fully wooded sites, there were a couple of really nice reservable sites that had awesome views of the lake.

The park also has seven different hiking trails. One is set up as a special educational nature trail with a cassette tape narrative available for you to follow and learn as you hike.

This is definitely a park we will recommend and visit again.

It was about 2:30 by the time we left the park so we decided to stop in the little town of Shabbona for a late lunch.

As usual, we looked for the local café that appeared busy, and made a very good choice with the Kountry Kitchen.

Lesson Learned: Trev is 21 years old and doesn’t need Mommy’s help when he wants to special order something at a restaurant. Resist temptation to continue treating them like kids!

The boys dropped us back at the RV late afternoon and then drove in to downtown Chicago to spend the evening with #3 ‘son’, Luke Henke and his bride Lindsay.

Ken and I took the dogs for a walk around the lake, making a point to walk by the EarthRoamer that had arrived that afternoon. Although we’d seen them on the Internet, this was the first time we’d ever seen one of these 4x4 RV’s in person.

We had a nice conversation with our RV neighbor, David. While he said he was from Los Angeles, his accent said differently. David was originally from New Zealand but has been working construction in California most of his adult life. He said he hasn’t lived in a stick house for the last 14 years. Since his work is primarily winter season, he’s been traveling in his Fleetwood Storm for the last several months, logging over 10K miles during that time, mostly across the upper portion of the US. He’d chosen Sycamore for its proximity to O’Hare International Aiport because he had family flying in from New Zealand and Australia. For the next two months, they will be traveling with him by RV across the US. I was really glad to hear that we have foreign visitors seeing the US this way. So often, when talking with people outside the US, it seems they know nothing of the US except, New York, California, and Walt Disney World. David’s family will get to see the real USA.

As usual, Ditka and Sox caught attention of other RVers, and we struck up a conversation with a couple who dropped by to ask about the dogs. They are working toward his retirement date this winter and had recently purchased a Holiday Rambler, Presidential Suite fifth wheel. He’s had motorhomes before and now is having second thoughts that the 5er was the right direction so he was asking a lot about our rig. His ladyfriend is from Rio de Janeiro so their plan is to live in nothing but spring and summer from now on—6 months in US RVing, then 6 months in Brazil at her home. Sounds like a great plan!

Lesson learned: This weekend further confirms one of the things we most like about RVing…meeting all the interesting people! Let’s face it, how often when travelling do you meet your neighbors when staying at a hotel?!?

During their conversation, David and Ken decided to do a temporary swap of DVD’s, so although it was late, when we got back inside Ken and I turned on ‘Blood Diamond’. It was the first time I’ve watched TV in bed in my own bedroom! Since we made it a practice never to have TV’s in bedrooms at home, it felt very extravagant, staying up after midnight and watching movies in bed.

Lesson learned: It’s a tough life but somebody’s gotta do it!

Saturday, rather than fight the Chicago crowds for “Taste of Chicago”, which was the original plan, the family, Luke and Lindsay included, decided they preferred to play around at the RV and lake.

They all arrived around 1pm, in time for Ken to fix brats on the grill for Luke. To Luke this is a real treat since their Chicago apartment building is owned and mostly occupied by a Hindu religious group that doesn’t allow eating meat. The lease they signed includes a clause that they cannot grill on the patio, apparently to keep the tempting aromas away!

After lunch, Kyle, Luke and Lindsay supervised as Ken and Trev prepared our SeaEagle for its maiden voyage.

Trevor found his own preferred method of using the footpump. (I can’t even push the pump together that way one time!)

We decided to christen the SeaEagle the ‘SE Marge’ since we already have Homer leading the way inside the RV. We didn’t have any champagne bottles around so we had to make do by christening Marge with a can of Bud Lite!
Lesson Learned: Regardless the question or the problem, the answer is beer!

As we prepared to cast off, I considered christening Ken with some of the lovely shoreline muck.

Ken and I thoroughly enjoyed our first paddle across the lake. The boat is easy to steer and very stable.
Lesson learned: If Ken seems distracted, follow his line of sight to the bikini clad girl stretched out on the beach!

And, while putting Kyle and Trev on board pushes to the max the idea that this is a 2-man boat, Marge with her 650 lb capacity, didn’t seem at all bothered by the load.

On the other hand, it appears Kyle was about to knock Trev up side the head with a paddle for not pulling his part of the load.

But then, Kyle turned the tables on Trev and let him do all the rowing.

Luke took a turn with Ken. Obviously in this picture, Luke isn’t real impressed with their steering skills that has placed them in the cat tails.

After playing in the boat, the crew took a break in the air conditioning and watched the second movie we had borrowed from David, The Shooter. It was driving Ken bonkers to be inside so he grabbed Trev, the fishing gear, and Marge, and they headed back out on the lake.
Lesson learned: sitting in a boat with a fishing pole at the worst time of the day to catch fish is still better than sitting inside an RV when there's a boat and a lake outside.

As a special family treat, we’d brought steaks for the grill, along with some of the home-grown sweet corn.

Here Ken is educating the clan on his marinating secrets.

After the meal and sundown, we started a campfire and sent Trev to the store for S’mores fixin’s. Since the park has a ‘curfew’ on visitors after 11pm we said our good-byes about 10:30 and sent Lindsay and Luke with Kyle to overnight at his townhouse. Trev stayed with us since he was riding back with us to Quincy.

We took our time packing up Sunday morning. Then, as Ken, Trev and I headed out of DeKalb we, coincidentally, met Kyle at a stop sign on his way to take Luke and Lindsay to the Metra station.

One last wave good-bye and we were on our way back to Q-town, the stick house and another week of working for the weekend!

Hugs, C

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