Revisiting Childhood Memories

We were sad to leave Brighton and our family, but excited to begin our northward journey through Michigan. Next stop would be Interlochen State Park. This was the closest we could get to the Crystal Lake and Leelanau Peninsula.

Interlochen is actually Michigan’s first and oldest state park. It is located adjacent to the Interlochen Arts Camp. Because it is an older campground, the sites are fairly small and close. Large trees shade the campground providing an extra challenge when backing into a campsite. The park was our launching pad for discovery and, as such, it worked just fine.

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Our first day, we headed west to see Crystal Lake. Some of my oldest and fondest memories are of family vacations at the Blue Anchor in Crystal Lake. We stayed in cabins and swam in the lake. We had sailing lessons and, for a big treat headed in to Frankfort for olive burgers and root beer floats at the local A&W.

In fifty years or more, much has changed at Crystal Lake, but it remains a beautiful lake. The Blue Anchor must be long gone replaced by vacation homes, but the A&W is still there and they don’t seem to have changed a thing! Sitting outside at a picnic table, we had a delicious lunch of Lake Michigan-caught white fish at the Port City Smokehouse.

Afterwards we intended to take a walk in a dog-friendly part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore but ended up on a long drive around the area including a stop at Point Betsie Light House. We would have to leave Sleeping Bear for another day, but took a walk on a rail to trail in Sutton’s Bay.

Leelanau Cheese Shop was recommended to us by Renee and we followed that with a stop at the Sutton’s Bay Ciderie for a tasting.

It was a long, but thoroughly enjoyable day with more adventures sure to come.

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Motoring Through PA

After three days of driving, we’ve almost hit Ohio. Goodness there is a lot of Pennsylvania. We have regained our travel legs and everyone is enjoying the journey.

Our first night we stayed at Promised Land State Park. We had a lovely site in the Pickerel Point Campground. It was a perfect afternoon/evening and we were so happy to be back in the trailer. About 5:30 the skies darkened and a big thunderstorm hit. This is when we pity the tent campers. The blue skies returned and we enjoyed the rest of the evening.

We made it to Woodland, PA for the second night and stayed at a nice commercial campground. Biggest catastrophe to date were the bumps that made our over-filled freezer open and dump everything on the floor. Nothing a little duct tape can’t address.

The third night we stayed at the nicest commercial campground we have ever seen. Rocky Springs Campground had a lot of seasonals, but everything was immaculate.  The rolling western PA hills were gorgeous. The campground was enormous with kids running everywhere having a magnificent time. They had a heated inground pool, playground and the sites were widely spaced. We don’t prefer commercial campgrounds, but this one broke the rules. We had a delightful evening by the fire.

Nomads Head West

After months of stated intent followed by months of planning, the time is finally here…tomorrow we head out for a long meander through our country to see sights oft heard of and, as yet, unseen by us.

It didn’t always look like this would happen. Delayed from an anticipated late Spring departure, we were at the starting line when our most beloved room mate, Dakota of course, had to have emergency gall bladder surgery. We can only be thankful this did not happen once we were on the road. We delayed our departure by a week to allow for convalescence and reconfigured the beginning of our trip. And now all systems are go.

We hope you will join us on our adventure. Our plan is to head west and, when the weather turns, south. Assuming all goes well and we are having fun, we will return home before Christmas.

Jenny, Jim and Dakota

The Return Is the Next Beginning

Our last stop on our five month walkabout was the same as our first had been. We were back at Colonial Airstream in Lakewood, New Jersey. We had a laundry list of repairs and fine tuning to take care of. One downside of never having a practice trip to break in the Airstream, but simply heading out, was we had no shakedown trip. We discovered issues as we traveled and slowly assembled a prodigious list of things to address. We would spend two nights and the intervening day waiting to become ship-shape.

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This is in no way a negative about Airstreams, Colonial or the Airstream manufacturer. Even in a travel trailer with no engine to worry about, things are bound to break or go wrong and need attention. The issues we faced were far fewer than those potentially faced by Fifth Wheels with lots of pull outs and moving parts or even the giant Class A’s with their amazing amenities. Our trailer is a simpler creature. It has fewer bells and whistles and, therefore, fewer things to need repair. But there is inevitable wear and tear.

Our home base was a pet-friendly Comfort Inn. We had stayed there before. It was clean and the staff was very nice. Located about 20 minutes from Colonial Airstream, it is the only pet-friendly motel in the area.

We dropped the Airstream at Colonial on Tuesday evening. The drive from Jersey Shore had been wet and grey and the parking lot at Colonial was a succession of small lakes. We were feeling sad and bereft at leaving our comfy trailer. Those feelings were somewhat balanced by the thought of a long hot shower in a private bathroom. Ah, that would be nice.

We got ourselves checked in to the Comfort Inn. There was plentiful Wi-Fi signal and Dakota seemed pleased when we brought his bed in from the truck and, of course, his yellow duck and his water and food bowls. All the furnishings that a furry dog could need or want.

With no kitchen at hand, we were forced to go out to dinner. I had been hankering to go to a Longhorn Steakhouse for weeks and there was one nearby. We loaded Dakota and his bed back into the truck and headed over through the rain. Dinner out in a restaurant, how exciting!! A steak, a little red wine and all was fine.

For the next two days we would need to entertain ourselves. The next morning was grey and rainy and we hung out in our room. Then we made a stop at Petco. Dakota was properly satisfied with the 35 lb. bag of kibble we picked up. We have a storage container in the back of the truck. Periodically, we refill the container of kibble in the trailer. We had pretty much run through our inventory so it was good to top that off. We enjoyed a lunch at Ruby Tuesday’s. We hadn’t been to one in years. As Peter put it once so nicely, we don’t eat out often, but we tend to patronize restaurants owned by sole proprietors.

The day stretched before us. We still had a whole afternoon to kill. I was secretly hoping they would call from Colonial and say, “Surprise, we’re all done…” But that call never came. We thought about going to a movie, but didn’t want to leave Dakota in the truck for such a long time. We ended up driving around looking at public libraries. We thought we could go in one and catch some Wi-Fi. Sadly, the local libraries all looked terribly uninviting. We finally went back to the room and hung out. We were so stuffed from lunch, we ended up skipping dinner and eating unhealthy munchies in the room.

It was still grey and rainy the next morning. This was getting ridiculous. Once again we hung in the room until checkout time. We drove over to the shore. Jim’s longest term friend, Bruce, had a family place in Mantoloking so we drove from the south to the north checking out the beach towns along the way. It looked like things had been pretty well cleaned up after Superstorm Sandy.

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Jim had located a state park not too distant from us and we thought a hike might let us stretch our legs. I was still secretly wishing the folks from Colonial would call to say we were all done. This waiting was really getting on our nerves. We were both anxious that we get under way heading home as early as possible. Neither of us wanted to get caught in the traffic around the Garden State Parkway and the city.

 

The Double Trouble State Park was billed as an outstanding example of the pine barrens ecosystem. Despite its frolicsome name, they were clear online that they had a lot of ticks. Nevertheless, it was the only game in town. This park is a restored village. Originally, they harvested and shipped cranberries. They did claim to still have a cranberry bog and I had always wanted to see one. We wandered around the park looking for a map and the bog. If I had only wandered over to the little white house which said ”Restroom”, all would have been clear. Unfortunately, I only did that after we tried unsuccessfully to locate the cranberry bog. And there were the trail maps… And speaking of locating, I picked three ticks off Dakota’s paws. Yuck.

Next we stopped by Colonial just to let them know we were there. They said we might be done about 2. That was excellent news. We were hopeful. A delivery man wandered by with a stack of pizzas. We asked him where the restaurant was and we headed there for some comfort food.

There was a long table set up in the restaurant and shortly after we sat down about 20 older gentlemen trooped in. This was clearly a fairly regular gathering and all were in fine spirits. We entertained ourselves eavesdropping on their lively conversations and jokes. They had known each other for a long time and it seemed like a really good group of fellows. The pizza was excellent.

Still no call. It was after 2:30. We had no motel. We had nowhere to go. It was still raining. We couldn’t eat another bite. We were out of entertainment ideas. About half a mile from Colonial was a bowling alley. We toyed with the idea of going in to bowl a game or two, but we had no heart for it. In a pathetic display of lack of imagination, we parked in their large parking lot and Jim snoozed while I knitted. We weren’t the only ones. There was another truck parked in the lot just whiling away time for some reason as well.

Finally we headed back to Colonial to see what was happening. It was 4:30 and we thought they would be closing for the night at 5:00. We were completely impatient to be under way and secretly concerned that they wouldn’t finish and we would need to stay another night.

Happily, they were almost done. They had ticked off every item on the to-do list except for one. They had determined that our antenna had failed. That explained why halfway through our sojourn we were no longer able to get television reception. They didn’t have a new antenna on hand so we would need to deal with replacement at another time. Amazingly, we were charged not one thin dime for the two days of labor and parts. It was all covered under the warranty. That was a very happy surprise. Life doesn’t usually work that way.

We hitched up and headed out of the Colonial parking lot for the last push homeward. Very clear in both of our minds was the memory of leaving that same parking lot at the beginning of our trip. So much had happened. So many miles had been traveled and we were now so much more confident and seasoned as Airstreamers. It was a very satisfying moment.

The rain continued off and on as we drove northward on the Garden State Parkway and then picked up 87/287 and crossed into New York. As we passed our former home town of Rye Brook, we mused that we would be home now if we still lived there. But, no, we had another hour and a half of driving ahead of us.

It was well after dark and 10 p.m. when we made the turn on to Grantville Road. We were bone tired and anxious about the final hurdle. While we were on the road, a parking pad had been built for the Airstream next to our house. We would be backing our trailer into an unfamiliar pad in the pitch dark. Ironically, this was perhaps the most difficult maneuver we had faced since way back in January when we needed to extract the frozen Airstream from the snow and ice in our yard. After over 8,700 miles, here we were back wrangling the trailer in the yard.

After two hair-raising attempts at backing in, Jim almost gave up. I was shining a tiny flashlight to help illuminate the target. The pad wasn’t quite wide enough where we needed some extra room and the ground beside it was very soft. We were falling down tired and had begun to try to think where we could hang up the trailer for the night when Jim gave it one last try. He gunned the engine and forced the trailer back on to the pad. Thank heavens. We locked the truck, left the trailer hitched and headed directly to bed. We were home. Our trip was now officially done.

In the time since we arrived back home, I have thought about an appropriate coda. What insights would I share as a conclusion to our voyage? How would I sum up what this trip meant to us?

We had a dream about venturing around our country with an Airstream. We were so incredibly fortunate, and determined, that we were able to live out this dream. We learned so much. We got to know a pretty good swathe of the south and west of our country. We feel a connection to this land we could never otherwise have felt. Florence, Tupelo, Lost Maples, Pedernales Falls, Ochlockonee; these places and memories will live in us as long as we breathe.

We met so many people who were living their lives in other places, under other circumstances. These people may well have held different beliefs than we and, yet, we could share the experience of travel and discovery. On a macro level we may have felt very differently about our respective worlds, but on a micro level, we could and did share much. We are, after all, humans with hearts and souls and dreams and disappointments. Ultimately, we all want the same things in life.

Being on the road together brought us closer than ever. We were a team. We were a team of three in many ways, but certainly Jim and I were more reliant upon each other than we had ever been before. We needed each other for companionship and for the daily tasks at hand. I think we learned to be kinder and more accepting of each other. We were traveling through a great land in a very small space. There was so much to share and everything meant more to us because it was shared.

Being home was an effortless transition. We were happy to be back in our familiar setting. We were also very happy to have our Airstream just outside the door. Being home coexists with the promise of future travel and adventure.

Sometimes we just go out and spend time in the trailer. It is so familiar and comfortable. Dakota grabs his yellow duck and curls up on his bed. He often smiles and it is easy to see he is relaxed and happy to be in the trailer. So are we, we are happy to be in the trailer.

There will be future adventures. We will head out again. We saw much, but we left even more to be discovered. We have a short trip already planned for the near future and the glimmer of a grander undertaking farther into the future.

Returning home was not a conclusion, it was simply the next beginning.

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A Different Flock

As always, it was tough to say goodbye to Alex. We had a great time all weekend, but this was our last hurrah. We had only one more stop to make before we would be home. As we hitched up Monday morning, it felt like our thinking had shifted. We were no longer deeply immersed in the journey. We were itchy and restless.

In four short days, we would wake up in our house in Connecticut. We wouldn’t wake up in our bed in the Airstream, but in our house. We had not yet voiced it, but we had both been feeling and thinking the exact same thing.  It was an odd feeling of going through the motions. Before we were completely engaged. The good and the bad moments were deeply felt. Now that feeling of glorious freedom, of unlimited horizons was slowly dissipating. We were no longer the bird on wing floating through the air, we were coming to ground. We talked about this as we drove. I expect this shift in thinking did not happen in one moment. It had been coming on slowly.

Our penultimate stop was another Airstream-only park. The Jersey Shore Haven was a stone’s throw from the ocean near Cape May. Like Highland  Haven, this park is a cooperative. However, it was quite different from Highland Haven in many ways. Highland Haven is known for having fairly stringent guidelines and rules. Airstreams are not allowed to remain on site during the winter months. There are guidelines about site maintenance. This may feel constraining, but it does promote a neat and tidy campground.

Jersey Shore Haven on the other hand, had no such regulations. While it had certain amenities, such as a large swimming pool and bathhouse, some of the Airstreams had been in place for an extended length of time. In fact, some of the Airstreams looked downright abandoned. Jersey Shore was very family oriented. In speaking with two of the shareholders, they explained that the haven was 40 years old and many of the current shareholders were third generation. It did very much have the feel of a family retreat.

We had hit another rainy period and the skies were grey and leaden. We were only staying the night at Jersey Shore so we stayed hitched. The rhododendrons were in full bloom. Between rain showers, we walked the roads in the campground and enjoyed looking at the various vintages of Airstreams. We saw models which we had never seen before including a most un-Airstream like Fifth Wheel.

After this brief interlude, we hit the Garden State Parkway again on our northward progression to our final stop.

A Weekend Full of Family and Friends

Our next stop was the Cherry Hill RV Resort in College Park, MD. This is the closest park to DC and, more importantly, to Columbia, MD.

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Cherry Hill RV Resort is quite an extraordinary place. First off, it is enormous. There are literally hundreds of camp sites. It has two swimming pools, a water park, a restaurant, miniature golf and a store with rv supplies, food and all sorts of things. Busses run guests to nearby mass transit and into DC proper. They even host nighttime tours of DC.

The resort is a sea of Class A’s and Fifth Wheels. During our perambulations around the resorts’ streets, we saw only one other Airstream. When we checked in, the man at the desk asked if we would prefer to be near the bath house or somewhere else. I asked for a quiet spot and we got a lovely site surrounded by trees. It was hard to believe we were in a major urban area. It felt like we were at a secluded state park.

Our weekend at Cherry Hill was a very social one. If we had been on our own since early March when we visited Jim’s brother, Jack, and his wife, Phyllis, in Pearland, Texas, we were now in for a full dose of family and friends.

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Columbia is the town in which Alex, our first-born and family Marine, lives. He works at Fort Meade, but lives with a friend. Alex joined us Friday night and we had a treat-your-child-special dinner in the Airstream. My goal was to make his favorite things which I know perfectly well, he doesn’t usually get to eat. We had steak, sautéed mushrooms and baked potatoes.

With some not-so-gentle maternal urging, Alex slept over with us in the Airstream. Saturday we lounged in the trailer in the morning and then headed to see his house in Columbia. It was very good to get a sense of our firstborn’s daily life. We met his room-mate, Rose, the actual homeowner, and Rose’s dog, Archer. Rose is a fellow Marine and seems to be a good friend and landlord. Rose is his last name. I don’t even know his first. I am not sure Alex knows his first name.

We were happy to see Alex living in an actual house—much better quarters than the barracks. The house had apparently been cleaned before our visit. It was, nevertheless, a bit of a bachelor pad. Both Alex and Rose are into video games and much more had been invested in monitors and CPU’s than sofas and chairs.

Saturday night we traveled down to DC to have dinner at our friends’ house. Hannelore and Didier live in the NW part of DC. I have known them both for decades—Hannelore since I lived in Vienna after college. Visiting with them is always a treat. They live in a lovely house with a back garden that is truly an oasis. Alex, their son, was home. A rising senior in high school now, we have watched him grow up and mature. Charlotte, their daughter, is almost always off on an adventure. They all tend to roam the world from France to Austria and back again.

Hannelore is the Washington Bureau Chief for the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, the public service television channel). Didier is now retired but was a journalist for Agence Presse for many years. They have lived all over the world. In their home english, french and german intermingle from sentence to sentence. Hannelore is also an excellent cook. Every time we visit she cooks something marvelous which I happily take home to add to my own repertoire. Happily, the weather was delightful and we dined al fresco as we caught up on our respective lives.

As you can imagine, life has been pretty crazy for Hannelore for quite some time now. During our visit, President Trump was in Saudi Arabia and Hannelore looked very happy to have a brief respite. She has certainly been getting more than her fair share of air time.

Sunday was another quiet day. Alex is a very easy guest. He is happy to sit quietly and read. Actually, that isn’t quite true. It is somewhat difficult to get him to stop sitting quietly reading. He asserts, with some validity, that he should be able to do what he wants when he is not at work. Okay, so we sat quietly and read for much of Sunday.

Sunday night my step-sister, Kathi, and her wife, Kim, joined us at the Airstream for a barbecue. We cooked burgers, beans and slaw—perfect cookout food. We sat out under the awning. Despite Cherry Hill’s proximity to the urban sprawl of DC and I-495, our site was wooded and private. It almost felt like we were in the great outdoors. We cooked s’mores for desert and enjoyed a last campfire for this journey.

Tempus Fugit

We drove east and northward through Virginia to our next destination. Virginia flattened out a bit as we headed east. We drove through Lynchburg and gazed upon the sprawling campus of Liberty University. It lined each side of the interstate. The President had just spoken there so I, at least, was more aware of this place of Christian education. It was indeed an enormous campus. I had to wonder how the students negotiated such distances especially with a big highway running through the middle.

Next we passed the Jerry Falwell Memorial Highway. We were certainly in the white-hot center of things Christian.

We arrived at Holliday Lake State Park on a beastly hot afternoon. A heat wave had engulfed half the country so we weren’t alone in the sweltering heat. We un-hitched at our camp site. Halfway through the process we were both dripping with sweat. There was a little breeze so it was cooler sitting in the shade outside.

We needed to do some planning. We had reserved two nights at Holliday Lake. Our next stop was in College Park, MD and that was quite a distance from our current location. All told it was a 220 mile drive, but much of it was in urban traffic which would make the drive more taxing and certainly longer.

 

Sitting at our camp site, we were becoming convinced that we should only stay one night at Holliday Lake and then push on. We were also feeling oddly detached from this park. Perhaps it was the heat or the concern about the drive in two days. Maybe it was the fact that this was the last state park scheduled for us to stay in. In any case, we decided that we would leave the next morning and find an intermediate stop before heading to the DC metropolis.

However, the camp ground was deep inside this state park and any whiff of a cell signal had long since faded. We identified two potential places to stay, but with no signal, we wouldn’t know which path we would take until we were under way. This was all somewhat out of character behavior for us.

Our site was next to the Campground Host’s site. We met them coming out of their Fifth Wheel. They were off duty and it looked like they were heading to town. Reluctantly, we closed up the trailer for the night. It was just too hot inside and there wasn’t much of a breeze. We had a somewhat desultory dinner. We listened to some music and then turned in.

The next morning was cool and lovely. The campground at Holliday Lake was so deep into the forest, there was only the sound of birds singing. We had driven close to five miles from the highway through the forest to get to the campground. We hitched up in the  cool air knowing the heat would soon come.

There was one particularly enormous bumble bee hanging around the campsite. He had been there when we arrived and Dakota had barked angrily at him as if he were a small dog. That is how big he was. Now, as we put away the awnings and prepared to hitch, he buzzed around us like a small aircraft. He was an interested bystander and seemed to be watching everything we were doing. He was a benign and friendly presence.

The Camp Hosts had told us this was their favorite park. They loved being here. We tried to see what they saw. It was pretty. Mountain Laurel was in bloom and there was a bush just inside the trees. We had driven past the lake for which the park was named when we arrived. It had a wide beach and was undoubtedly popular on the weekends. There were trails all through the park, but in the heat we had no desire to hike them.

We set the GPS for one of our two proposed destinations. We drove for miles through rural countryside before there was enough signal for me to call to see if they could accommodate us. The woman on the phone at the campground paused when I asked if they had availability. Whether it was because she was checking or hadn’t been asked that question in a while was an open question. Once we got to Shenandoah Hills Campground, it seemed like the latter was the stronger possibility.

We were somewhat aware this campground had mixed reviews when we chose it. We read online that the roads were pot-holed. The campground personnel were not very friendly or nice. More recent reviews had been positive and that had emboldened us to give it a chance.

The campground at Shenandoah Hills could have been nice. There were plenty of trees and appropriate space between the sites. One of the issues with campgrounds which we had slowly come to understand is full-timers. When a campground has a significant number of full-time tenants, things begin to deteriorate. Rigs begin to age and can become covered with moss and dirt. Since this is an inexpensive way to live, the trailers and rv’s aren’t always high-end to begin with. Camp sites become untended as they fill with accumulated possessions. The infrastructure begins to degrade. It is almost counter-intuitive, but transient guests help keep a campground looking fresh and tended. This campground was almost half filled with full-timers.

Indeed when we pulled in the potholes were terrible. The woman at check in was friendly enough. Tipped off by the reviews, I asked if there had been some fairly recent change in management at the campground. She said there hadn’t although they had been a KOA campground until five years ago. She explained that they had dropped KOA because they didn’t like paying the marketing fee. Cash flow did seem to be an issue at Shenandoah Hills.

Our next door neighbors were a friendly family who had just bought their travel trailer used. They were planning a big trip west through Texas in June. That’ll be hot all right. The man was full of questions and Jim was only too happy to share his newly gained wisdom. He was no longer a newbie, but a seasoned Airstreamer with knowledge to share.

We ran our air that night for the second night in a row. We really missed the open windows, night sounds and fresh breezes. We were up the next morning ready to hitch and go. Even though we had cut the day’s driving distance in half, we had a lot of ground to cover. But there was a big payoff. A major incentive to head to our next stop.