Zero Miles to Empty…

When last we left our fearless adventurers, they were in Michigan. Sorry things have gotten a bit out of order, but I’ll try to get back on the chronological path we’ve taken and see if we can catch up with where we actually are.

So while we were in Michigan, I realized that the upcoming weekend was Labor Day weekend. I’m not sure how it had escaped me, but we were planning to head to Chicago for the weekend. And then it occurred to me that we might not be the only ones wanting to head to a campground outside of Chicago on this particular weekend. We were not. Not at all. With such short notice, every place I called was fully booked for the whole weekend. Uh oh. We finally found a campground that didn’t accept reservations, but was fully first-come, first-served. So on the Friday before Labor Day, we got up early and packed up quickly to get on the road and hope to be one of those first-served at the Paul Wolff Campground.

We were making good time and coming in to Chicago when Staffan mentioned that we were starting to get a little low on gas. A glance back at our two sleeping children (who always wake up when we stop the car to get gas) and we decided to push on a bit longer and let them sleep. Staffan also mentioned that on his solo trip west (in 1999) the cheapest gas he bought on the whole trip was in Chicago. So we waited. We switched the overhead display to show “miles to empty” and kept an eye on it. And then we hit the traffic. As we inched forward we watched that number drop much faster than we were traveling. Uh oh. Naturally we were in the leftmost lane of four bumper to bumper lanes, and when you’re towing a trailer you don’t just sneak in somewhere when you need to get over. As we worked to get over, we watched that number drop to single digits. Just how accurate are those things? It seemed we were about to find out.

While this little drama was unfolding, with the Chicago skyline before us, I decided to take a few pictures. It was pretty, and watching the little number drop wasn’t putting gas in the car any sooner, so why not?

By the time we found a way to get off the highway, the number read 5 miles to empty. Sure we were exiting into the middle of downtown, not sure if there would be a gas station anywhere nearby, but at least we were avoiding being filmed by a helicopter traffic-cam while a reporter said something like, “Traffic around Chicago ground to a halt this Labor Day Friday as an out-of-state minivan towing an old pop-up camper was stranded in the left lane…” So we exited the highway, and had to decide which way to turn. Left or right? Right! But as we turned right we looked left and saw a gas station. We turned around the first place we could, which happened to be some kind of secure facility that had a hundred cameras and where we were definitely not authorized to be, and headed back toward certain fuel. The miles to empty number was 0. According to all measurements on our car, the tank was empty. But we made it and bought the most expensive gas we’d ever seen. So now Staffan has bought both the cheapest and the most expensive gas of his life in the same city.

Crisis #1 averted. Back to the highway to see if we could find a place to sleep that night. Thankful for the change to the central time zone, which gave us an extra hour we’d forgotten to plan on, we made it to the campground around lunchtime. There were plenty of places available. And that should’ve been our first clue.

The Paul Wolff campground in the Burnidge Forest Preserve of Kane County, Illinois could have been worse. It could have been unsafe, been full of loud and/or drunk people, been dirty or smell bad. It was none of those things. It works when you fail to plan ahead to spend Labor Day weekend camping in the vicinity of a major metropolitan area. But we wouldn’t go back. So here’s the campground review:
Price: Very expensive for what it is. Residents of Kane County paid $15 but the rest of us paid $25 per night. Credit cards not accepted.
Location: About an hour’s drive west of Chicago. The location was really the only plus. It was easy to get into the city, and on the right side of the city for our purposes. Close to hospitals and not far from shopping. The location was right where we wanted to be.
Facilities. NO SHOWERS! At most places, even the “primitive” campsites have access to showers. Really as far as facilities, all I can list are toilets (some flushing, some not). There was nothing else.
Site description: Paved area for parking. Grass in between sites, which were pretty close together. But among the many, many rules were restrictions against putting almost anything on the grass. Picnic table on the site was okay. No trees. It was blistering hot and there was no shade anywhere.
Neighborhood: The other campers were quiet, mostly retired couples but a few families. Mostly larger motor homes (so they had their own showers probably). The unpleasant employee who registered us and read me a riot act regarding the rules, particularly the quiet times, did actually make rounds in the evening. We had to ask her to be quiet to avoid waking the children she was so afraid were going to make noise after quiet hours.
Comments: I’m not sure how this campground gets away with charging $25/night for a total lack of amenities that are common at cheaper campgrounds. There really is an unfathomable list of rules, above and beyond what we’ve encountered anywhere else. And the whole place is on this strange one-way loop, which is poorly marked, so that no matter where you are camped you have to weave in and out and around all the other campsites to get in or out. And don’t just think, “oh there’s no other traffic anywhere and we’re 20 feet from the exit, why drive 200 yards around a loop to get out?” because they will come out of the registration booth to sternly remind you of the one-way roads.

Unfortunately, we forgot to take any pictures of our campsite at this one.

That day was just not our day. Several different things broke on the camper that day and we couldn’t get it set up without a trip to Home Depot and several hours of work on Staffan’s part. But in the end, we didn’t run out of gas, we found a safe place to set camp for the weekend, and the camper was fixed without any budget-busting expenses. So it could have been much, much worse. When you’re traveling for 90 days, you’re bound to have at least a few bad ones. Glad to put that one behind us.

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