This trip was inspired by the second season of the television show “Feasting on Asphalt”. We are following the Great River Road that runs along the Mississippi River from Venice, Louisiana to the headwaters in Lake Itasca State Park, Minnesota. When possible we will stop at locations featured in the show, however time has found many of them closed.
I slept really well that night, no doubt a combination of a poor sleep the night before, a long day, and wine slushie. And even though I was up early, for me anyway, there were several people up before me and out on the water behind my campsite. I couldn’t see what it was through the thick stand of trees but I think it was a small tributary and not the Mississippi River. As the dogs seemed content to lounge a bit longer, I left them in the tent while I went to have a quick shower. I noticed that I had been a little light with the sunblock and had a lovely shade of pink on my left arm; the unmistakable mark of the road traveler.
I was deep in that spaced-out shower state, OK not really since I was barely awake, when I glanced down at my thigh. It took me a second to process what looked like a new freckle. OH JEEZ LOUISE NO!!!!! My blood ran cold. There in all its tiny glory was a tick. My arm grazed my hip and I felt a bump. Suddenly the water felt like a million little feet running along my skin. I braced my right hand on my back and tried to twist to see my hip when it slipped in the soap and stopped on my, shall we say, very lower back area. ANOTHER ONE. Thankfully I was alone in the shower building as I’m sure it would have sounded like a lot of groans and splashing. In actuality I must have looked like a dog chasing its tail as I kept twisting around to see the unseeable parts of me.
Realizing that I was asking for either a fall or a visit to a chiropractor, I stopped and took a deep breath before I reached to the very lower back area hoping that it was just another piece of vegetation. The little bump pulled away easily enough and for a split second I felt relieved. Until I looked down and saw a small lone star tick pinched between thumb and forefinger. Crap. I broke Rule #1 when it comes to dealing with ticks: never leave the head embedded. I was optimistic that since the ticks were so little that either I couldn’t see the head or the head was so small that it wouldn’t cause any issues. Like an infection. I thought about just washing off and going back to my tent where I had tweezers to remove the ticks but in that moment of almost-panic, I just brushed the other two off. Had they been the larger ticks from home that I’m more familiar with, I would have gone for the tweezers. At least that’s what I tell myself and not that I had a mini-meltdown.
I finished washing off the soap, checking for any more hangers-on, and then went back to the tent where I went over the dogs. They had none. I had three and they had none. Oh well. I guess that since Piper and Jack had each had some in Natchez, it was only fair that I joined in the fun.
For some reason, I had the urge to make my own coffee so I set out my little camp stove to boil water as I began to break camp. I noticed a white truck that was slowly driving around to the campsites and figured it was the ranger checking on permits. Sure enough, he stopped at my site and asked if I had a permit. I mentioned that I had gotten in after everyone had left and there were no permits in the box. “Uh huh,” with that “suuuuuuure you did” look was the response I got. Perhaps because my coffee had not brewed yet, and perhaps because I was nursing a slight sunburn, and perhaps because I had just pulled three ticks off while contorted into shapes that would make flipping Cirque du Soleil take notice, I almost almost let the inside voice out: “Oh really? I could have been out of here before you even knew I existed. Poof puff of smoke like. For crying out loud I went and paid for a site in Natchez that gave me ticks LITERALLY for days and you’re busting my chops about paying for a flipping permit?!?!?” Fortunately I just smiled and filled out the permit.
He left and I made my coffee. In case you’re curious, I have a collapsible cone filter that rests on top of my mug. Add the grounds and pour over the water and soon you have a delightful cup of coffee to enjoy with leftover donuts. You can’t let donuts sit for too long after all or they go stale.
With donuts safely packed away (in my belly), a coffee in hand, and camp packed up, we headed out down the road. We drove right next to the Mississippi River which was a nice change from when we first started out in Louisiana and were driving next to levees. It’s also much less built-up and a pleasant place to stop to let some travelling dogs out to walk around. Of course even this far north, the flooding was still severe enough to cover over roads and a few of the parks that we had stopped at were off limits because of the water level.
We crossed into Iowa and drove to Muscatine looking for “The Clamshell”, one of the “Feasting on Asphalt” locations. It wasn’t there anymore so we stopped at Riverside Restaurant instead. I left with a waffle, another coffee, and the dogs got some loving at the front (of course). Then we drove to a park at the side of the river to enjoy breakfast. As I parked the car, I noticed a man setting up a smoker nearby. I looked around, trying to surreptitiously figure out if there was something going on as I found a shady picnic table.
The waffle was really good with a nice crispy exterior and a soft chewy interior. I added a little bit of butter and just the barest hint of syrup and I was in waffle heaven. It was a warm sunny day and we had finally escaped some of the humidity, there was a nice breeze blowing off the Mississippi River right in front of us, and the smell of smoke kept the air perfumed with the smell of barbecue. I just had to find out what was going on. That and a creepy guy that I’m pretty sure was higher than a kite was wandering in the area and I figured that at least if I was moving it would be harder for him to approach me. I wasn’t worried that he’d try anything but the thought of having to push him in the river or having to pull him from the river made me want to move on.
I told the man with the smoker that it smelled amazing and he told me he was getting ready for a graduation party. If that isn’t the most awesome grad party I don’t know what is. I was a little sad that there wasn’t any to sample but having crushed four donuts and a waffle thus far, it probably was for the best.
We continued on along the river. I’m not quite sure where I was when I looked to my right and saw a massive golden dome in what looked like an industrial area. It took me totally by surprise especially since I never saw a sign to give any indication of what it was. It looked way too pretty to be a factory.
We drove on until I saw Bellevue State Park and we stopped for a short hike. As we were far above the river, we were able to enjoy some spectacular views. Unfortunately the lack of a breeze and the thick trees meant that we were feeding the local mosquito populations, especially Leo with his thin coat and large patches of black. The dogs had a quick run around that soon turned into lazy sniffing which told me they wanted to move on. So we did.
We stopped at Kalmes Restaurant in St. Donatus and I was hoping to sample Luxembourg -style noodles. I mean, they looked really good on “Feasting on Asphalt”. And even though the internet said they’d be open and the sign on the door said they’d be open, they were not open. Darn. So back in the car we went.
We crossed into Wisconsin and were following the road north when we came to Potosi. At first I was struck by what a cute town it was and HOLY CRAP THEY HAVE A BREWERY!!!! Quick turn into the parking lot of Potosi Brewery, a hustle through a patio, and into the side door. Yes I can bring the dogs onto the patio (SCORE!), yes I can order food to go so I can sit on the patio (Double SCORE), yes we have several beers on tap (excited hopping from foot to foot). I was handed a menu and so many things called to me but the brisket sandwich seemed to be calling the loudest. I sampled a few beers then settled on the golden (Good Old Potosi) and went out to the patio. It is one of the nicest patios I have ever had the pleasure of sitting on. There was a waterfall streaming out of the rock face behind the patio with a koi pond at the base. It was nice and shady, a welcome respite from the heat of the day, especially for this northern girl. The tables weren’t crammed in next to each other, I’m sure partly because the patio wasn’t technically open yet. And even though it wasn’t open, one of the staff brought my food out to me and stayed for a minute to play with the pups. And several people that were passing by took my lead and also joined us on the patio It was just way too nice to sit inside.
The verdict on Potosi Brewery: YOU MUST GO. The food is outstanding, the beer is incredible, and the people are just ridiculously nice. When I popped back inside to tell them how much I enjoyed the food, I noticed growlers for root beer and had to ask about it. I’ve noticed that alcoholic root beers are showing up all over the place but this is one that’s non-alcoholic and after tasting a sample, I left with a growler in hand. I’m not a big fan of re-visiting places but this is one place that I would go back and spend some time really exploring.
Having made the mistake more than once of waiting too long to start looking for a place to spend the night, I decided to stop when I saw the signs for Nelson Dewey State Park. I’ve lost the “get a bit further down the road” gamble a few too many times on this trip already. So when I pulled off the road, there was a sign that says you have to get a vehicle sticker and if you’re camping go find a site then come down and fill out a permit for the site. I didn’t see the permit box as we drove in and we drove up to the sites and sure enough, there were a bunch open. So I drove back down to the front to see if I could find the permit box. I did find the box which I had passed as soon as I drove in, but then I had forgotten to remember the site number, so I drove back up to the site that I picked, set up the tent (checking for ticks as I did), and drove back down to the entry and filled out the permit info then drove back up to the site. And for some reason I decided that I wanted to have a fire so I passed by our site, bought a bag of wood, and finally parked the car.
Usually I don’t have fires when I’m camping because, well I’m not sure. I like fires and I like sitting around fires. I think it’s because when you’re by yourself you have to sit there and watch the fire. And since you’re not supposed to transport wood from one place to another you have to use it all up. However, the dogs all seemed exhausted and were content to flop down rather than explore so we were going to be up for a while. I didn’t even bother running their leashes to their tie-out since no one was camping near us any way.
I had brought a blanket just for them to act as a base layer for their sleeping blankets. I got the idea from Jamie at Hiking Girl with Dog and the dogs really seemed to like it. Except Piper who seems to have no faith in my fire-tending skills. As soon as it was lit, she got as far away as she could. In fact, if she could have squeezed under the fly of the tent I’m sure she would have. What’s funny about that is that I heat my house all winter with a wood stove so there’s always a fire going. It may have something to do with the fact that I once set a skillet on fire in said wood stove. But that’s another story.
Once the fire had burned out and were were all dozey on the blanket (yes even Piper eventually joined us) we crept into the tent and were all snuggled up and asleep.