Trip Report: Midwest in July (#2/3)

Last time, I covered where we stayed and why. Now then, what do three vegans eat and do during a week-long camping road trip across the Midwest?

sun over lake erie

We spent a week discovering a bunch of new reasons we love RVing. Sleeping in our own beds every night. Not having to haul luggage in and out of hotels or people’s houses. And especially on this trip, being able to store and prepare our own food.

The food thing

I’ll talk more about this in my next post about finances, but eating out for every meal is a good way to blow your vacation budget. Eating in is a lot easier if you’re driving around and camping with your own refrigerator, microwave and stove top. When you eat a plant-based diet as we do, you can’t just rely on a gas station hot dog to get you through to your next meal. Eating vegan is certainly possible almost everywhere and easier than ever, but doing it well in unfamiliar surroundings is best done with a little planning.

We ate dinners out three times during our vacation, once by ourselves and twice with family. Without Roxanne, that almost certainly would have been six dinners out and six lunches too. We’ve come a long way since our first RV trip, when the only cooking we did was to heat water!

The dinners out

don't eat hereDinner 1: Sandusky, Ohio

In an unfamiliar city, an Asian restaurant is almost always going to be a good bet. There are vegetables, usually tofu, and we’ve had good luck with this approach time and time again. Unfortunately, we picked a dud on this trip. Ballyhooed as the place for beer lovers and the #1 Asian restaurant in Sandusky, the restaurant just didn’t live up to its billing. Portions were small, flavors were odd and the service was lackluster at best. Disappointing for our first dinner on our big trip. I’m not even going to name the place or provide a link. If you ever find yourself staring at a Vietnamese place outside the Sandusky Mall, keep driving.

Dinner 2: Dragon Bowl, Munster, Ind.

We’ve been to this place with my mom a bunch of times. Big menu, fresh food, large portions. This time, XY’s attention wandered among her dinner, BattleBots showing on the restaurant TV screen and the owner’s kids who were seated in a booth nearby. Even got some leftovers to keep in the fridge for the next day.

Dinner 3: Cocina de Carlos, Perryville, Ohio

This place was a find. For starters, it’s a rare Mexican restaurant that not only describes itself as vegan-friendly, but has specially created vegan items on the menu. Also, margaritas and the ability to seat a table for 16 on a Sunday. The fajitas were great. XY tore up her rice, beans and tortillas. We got to catch up with a lot of family we hadn’t seen in ages, and a few younger members we hadn’t even met yet. And we found a huge, new Kroger grocery next door to stock up on a few things for the drive home.

Other stuff we ate on the road

vegan pigs in blanketMade ahead and took with us:

  • Pigs in a blanket, vegan style. Field Roast hot dogs, store-brand crescent roll dough. Delicious, modestly healthy and very easy to eat while driving. These disappeared the first day.
  • Pesto pasta.
  • Leftover sicilian corkscrews (sadly, this one didn’t last long enough for us to eat it).
  • Oatmeal cakes, for breakfast.

Also ate and drank:

  • Corn flakes
  • Silk soy milk
  • Wraps with Tofurky and Field Roast Chao
  • Burritos with canned refried beans
  • Cut up veggies
  • Tortilla chips, pretzels, veggie straws
  • Twizzlers
  • Starbucks VIA
  • Homemade hot cocoa mix
  • Lots of fruit
  • Lots of water

We were running a little low on supplies toward the very end of our trip, which we fixed with a stop at the Kroger. But otherwise, no complaints about what we decided to take along. There was plenty of variety, flavor and nutrition there. It also saved us from the lure of expensive, unhealthy snack fare everywhere we stopped.

Lesson learned: the fridge and power management

The Travato’s three-way fridge is a technological marvel. So much so that I’m not going to try to explain how it works. But I did learn a valuable lesson about how not to use it. The three power sources are:

  • Plug-in, which you use when connected to an electric supply (shore power)
  • Battery, which you use when you’re driving (because the engine charges the house battery)
  • Propane, which you use at all other times

The user of the fridge must change power sources manually. So using the fridge in different settings requires staying on top of how it’s set. Keep it set to plug-in when you’re not plugged in: no power to the fridge. Keep it set to propane when you’re driving, if you’ve followed the instructions and turned off your propane supply: no power to the fridge. Keep it set to battery when you’re parked for more than an hour or two: battery drained, no power to the fridge.

I committed two of these fridge fouls during our trip. First, I was trying to get out of the van too fast and mistook the plug icon for the propane icon. Oops. Then, I underestimated the amount of time we’d be parked on a warm afternoon and left the fridge set to battery. Came back to a de-powered coach and a lukewarm fridge. We lost a bag of baby carrots and a couple of nectarines during the second incident, but this was a small price to pay for a very solid awareness of how to work the fridge in the future.

Attraction: Put-in-Bay

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What a neat place. I knew before we left that Put-in-Bay is an island in Lake Erie. That Lindy had been there when she was a kid. And that we’d better bring our own food, because the local fare was mostly pub grub and marine-themed items that don’t belong near a lake anyway, like saltwater taffy and lobster. Anyway. We drove briefly from East Harbor State Park to Port Clinton, and grabbed the Miller Ferry across the lake to the island. Rented a golf cart, and away we went! We stopped at the National Park Service monument to Commodore Hazard Perry, under which is the resting place of officers from both sides of the War of 1812. (Also, you can see Canada.) We played in the park, ate our homemade lunches and got excellent Ohio-made lemon sorbet. We rode around at a top speed of something like 7 miles per hour, saw houses from mansion down to trailer size and read about the new police chief and the high school graduating class of 4 in the Put-in-Bay Gazette. I think I was expecting something like Ocean City-sized crowds, and the place just wasn’t that crowded. We got delicious iced coffee at a place that also housed a chocolate museum.

Our last stop was a local winery that has operated continuously through five generations of family, including during Prohibition. The tour featured a trip down into a cave that is basically the world’s largest geode. We enjoyed the description of winemaking much more than we did the actual wine (and XY the grape juice), returned our golf cart and got back on the ferry to head back to camp for dinner.

Attraction: The Volo Auto Museum

This place gets the prize for most surprising attraction during our entire trip. Despite growing up in the Chicago area, I had no idea there was a town called Volo in the area. Or that there was a museum with cars in it in Volo. Or that the museum would be so enthralling that we’d find ourselves wishing for more time there.

We were in the northwest suburbs for a big reunion. Dozens of adults and kids. When the forecast called for a chilly, rainy day, the organizers decided to scrap the planned pool trip and go for a Plan B. The description we got was of a massive collection of classic and movie cars, all in a single place. I pictured a drab warehouse of multiple acres, with row after row of dusty vehicles. I thought the kids would get bored because they wouldn’t be able to sit in any cars or touch anything. Boy, was I wrong.

volo auto museum

Aside from the picnic pavilion, playground, display depicting travel throughout American history, antique caboose and life-size Simpsons statue, the museum is actually five separate buildings full of cars buffed to a shine. Most of them are for sale. You can sit in and touch some of them. And the others are from the movies!

There’s a 1966 Batmobile and a 1989 Batmobile. Cars from the original Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Star Wars and the Cat in the Hat. Celebrity-owned cars include Michael Jordan’s Bentley and a Rolls-Royce built for Princess Diana’s last trip to the United States.

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The museum also features motorcycles, snowmobiles, tractors and a smattering of military equipment. I couldn’t believe how much stuff on wheels the owners had put in one place. One of them says in an introductory video that he supplies a lot of vintage cars to Hollywood studios for period films, and that connection allowed him to start collecting movie cars like the Batmobiles.

It’s a thoughtfully curated collection, and easily a place to spend a number of hours with kids or grownups. Living as we do outside DC, we tend to have a bias against paying museum admissions (the Smithsonians are free). But this place was well worth the $15 for adults and $9 for kids. It’s about a half hour from Palatine on one side or the Wisconsin border on the other.

Next up: Finances of an RV trip, and other lessons learned.

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