Roadtreking On Water or How to begin a Sugarbeet Adventure

dsc_0765On the way to a workkamping temporary job in North Dakota….

Sitting on the deck of the SS Badger crossing Lake Michigan, I am worrying about two things. 1)Will Cricket, our pooch who is riding in the Roadtrek on the ferry’s auto deck below get sick? 2) Two decks above her on the promenade, will I?

dsc_0800Usually it’s just coffee for breakfast, but this morning, on board the 63 year old coal fired car ferry crossing Lake Michigan from Ludington to Manitowac,Wisconsin, the breakfast bar looked good.  No price was evident, but by the time I added a couple sausages and eggs to my plate, the unseen $ 12.00 per plate price appeared and increased my appetite….at least my indignation. If I’m paying that much, I’m going to get my money’s worth. So sausages, ham, biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs with onions, French toast and pancakes were loaded on my plate.  Need I say more?

(NOTE: To see a video tour of the SS Badger and a behind the scenes look at crossing in a Roadtrek, see Mike Wendland’s earlier story – http://roadtreking.com/great-lakes-shoreline-tour-crossing-lake-michigan/   You can go directly to the video at https://youtu.be/4cRSQkzhibM)

The nautical term “one foot swell” would imply tiny little waves which would not bother a 62 year old 410 foot car ferry or a 65 year old passenger. dsc_0807Well, “bother” is a vague term and the ship did very well with the swells. Accompanying the swells was a cross wind of perhaps 6 to 10 knots. (“Knot” is another nautical term meant to convey the mystery and romance of sailing.) Combine the two and the aforementioned 65 year old becomes obsessed with his own abdomen oriented nautical mysteries.

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Through the magic of digital photography, my Sweetest One’s complexion was turned to a less green, more normal shade.

Oh, one other worry comes to mind. My wife of 46 years, during which perhaps eight days have been spend aboard a ship, is changing colors. And wobbling.  And praying that I can do something to help her. I cannot, but we decide there must be something to do, so we begin exploring the ship.  Here are our findings:

  • We discover the stern is rougher than the bow. Then we discover the bow is the front of the boat and, in fact, the bow is rougher than the stern.
  • The middle of the ship, known to sailors as “mid-ship” seems to have the least amount of up and down motion, or what we heard described as “lurch.”
  • The gift shop is located midship as well as the lounge for those who need as little gyration as possible.
  • The side of the ship facing the wind is colder and the leeward side is warmer. The leeward side also happens to get cinders and smoke from the stack of this coal burning relic of 1953.
  • We also find there are two types of plastic chairs set out on the deck. The lighter ones, though easier to move, are also more prone to collapsing when the ship suddenly lurches upward as a body is dropping downward.
  • (Note to self and multi-chromatic complexioned spouse–use the heavier chairs if given the choice.)
  • Dramamine is to be used before you start getting sea sick, as using it afterward adds rainbow colors to the range in which your world and complexion will turn.

dsc_0817Once settled into heavier chairs mid-ship on the leeward side we relax and enjoy the view.

As the cruise nears its interminable end, we catch sight of the Wisconsin land mass. Soon enough our Roadtrek bearing Cricket the Sooper Pooch, appears driving under the flood gates of the ferry and out into the parking lot. Control of our travel was once again mine. Terra firma lay beneath my wheels.  And our trekking returned to the terra firma.dsc_0822

Two Walmart stays later, we’ve traveled to the head of the Mississippi River. There, in the beautiful town of Bemidji, Minnesota, we attended mass at St. Phillip’s Parish.  The local Harvest Table restaurant provided us scores of breakfast choices and finally, refreshed in body and soul, we motored the rest of the way to Drayton, North Dakota.

The rain had been falling since we left Bemidji adding its own cast on our apprehension about working on a sugar beet harvest.
dsc_0898Our tour is to be the fifteen days it takes American Crystal Sugar Inc. to harvest all the sugar beets from fields up and down the Minnesota-North Dakota border. Twenty nine sites are established where the beets will be delivered and piled and eventually moved to the plant in Drayton.

dsc_0896Our harvest jobs, while listed on the ACS website as HARD work, were described by our newly acquainted retiree camphost as no problem.  Egad, as much as we like to hear that, we don’t quite know how to handle such dissonance. And so there is a palpable apprehension regarding the upcoming  harvest, perhaps a life changing revolution is in store for us.

We will see if the beating of our hearts, echoes the rumble of the trucks

and if there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes.

(apologies to Les Mis)




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  • Andrea Elkins

    Love your style, Jim. I rode my first car ferry in Quebec a few years ago and am looking forward to more. (Dramamine/Bonine first, of course!) Glad you survived. 🙂