The Thunder Rolls and So Do We

The next day thunderstorms were predicted. Their time of arrival seemed to shift each time we checked the weather. Noon, then late afternoon and then back to noon. We hitched as the skies suddenly darkened and were happy to be road-ready by the time the thunder began.

Our next stop was Burt Lake State Park. This park shared much with our previous Michigan state park stops. Once again, this is an older park. The campground is studded with mature growth oak and maple trees making it both shady and attractive. Unlike Interlochen, the sites at Burt Lake were large and well-spaced. Overall this park was a bit smaller with about 300 sites, still pretty big.

Burt Lake is one of Michigan’s largest inland lakes. Formed over 25,000 years ago as glaciers carved a series of lakes across the north, it is a vast and lovely lake. The campground has extensive beach and this makes it another great place for families to frolic. I was tempted to swim myself.

Our intent while here was to visit Charlevoix and Petoskey. And that we did. Charlevoix was the most distant and we headed there first. Unlike Frankfort and the Crystal Lake area, both Charlevoix and Petoskey were quite developed. Too developed really for our taste.

We sauntered through Charlevoix’s downtown lined with shops and down to the marina. The marina waterfront was nicely built out as a park with an amphitheater, benches, picnic tables and a lovely promenade. We walked its length and then turned back to the main street. It was lunchtime and a little gourmet deli shop was just what we needed. Dakota and I waited outside the shop and were treated to the drawbridge opening.

The waterway to Lake Michigan beckoned and we strolled out towards a red lighthouse. Next to the lighthouse was a very nice beach and park. We enjoyed our sandwiches watching children splash in the waves.

Heading back to our truck, we passed some lovely old houses in excellent condition.

We headed back north towards Petoskey and stopped off at a beautifully maintained rest stop. People were combing the beach for Petoskey stones and there was a memorial to seven Air Force personnel based out of Westfield AFB in Massachusetts who lost their lives during a training exercise in 1971.

Charlevoix had fulfilled our desire for traffic and downtown shopping so we headed back to our campground. Dakota and I reconnoitered the beach area while Jim took a nap.

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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.

Oscar Scherer State Park—An Airstream Quickie

IMG_1604No, not that kind of quickie. This was a quick overnight stay. And yet another lovely Florida state park. Does everyone in Florida realize what treasures they have in these parks? This was Jim’s first selection of a place in which to stay. Situated right off Route 41 this is a perfect example of hidden treasure. It wasn’t a huge park, but it was big enough to have a little lake and a good selection of hiking trails.

We got to the park early enough in the day that we could head off for a hike. Since this was just one night we didn’t bother unhitching, but just put down the stabilizers, hooked up the water and electric, opened up the propane tanks and there it was—home sweet home.

It was a warm late afternoon and we had a good three mile hike across the sandy soil. One of us (no names will be mentioned, but he has four feet) was less than enthusiastic about the heat. Of course, when one insists on wearing a fur coat everywhere and everyday, the heat does take a toll.

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It was a very pleasant evening in the trailer and an early night. We had had a long stretch of rv parks and the quiet green outside our windows was all the more welcome.

Transit to Naples

Sunday was rainy. We had the dubious pleasure of packing up and getting ready to take off from Road Runner in a steady drizzle. By the time the awnings were stowed, water and sewer disconnected and the Airsteam hitched we were a bit cold and wet.

The day’s goal was Naples. The most direct route would have been south on I-95 and then Highway 41 across the state. But, rather than drive super highways, we elected to take Route 70 west to Route 27 and then to 29.

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The dark skies and rain followed us on our drive. It was actually a welcome change from the bright Florida sun. Despite the grey skies and rain, this was an excellent and fascinating route to take. We headed through the real Florida. Gone from sight were the strip malls and endless plastic civilization of the built up urban areas of the east coast.

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We headed west from Fort Pierce to Okeechobee and then took a southward turn through Palmdale and Immokalee. At one time Florida was second only to Texas in terms of cattle ranching. Cattle ranches alternated with citrus groves and periodically a small town would punctuate the rhythm. It was open country with few inhabitants. The small settlements were pretty down at heel. Clusters of shacks and, more often, mobile homes housed the workers for the small retail businesses in the towns and the workers for the surrounding ranches. Abandoned homes were liberally interspersed among the inhabited homes. It was a stark contrast to the Florida most people visit. This was a tougher life and land.

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The ranches were identified by gates and signs. These were big places and stretched for miles. In particular one family holding caught my attention. We had seen a sign for this ranch and then miles and miles later, we were still seeing their signs. How big could this spread be?

 

The Lykes Bros. Ranch. Floridians may well know this name, but this Northeasterner had never heard it. However, this is a dynasty worthy of any television saga; great wealth, greed, lust, revolution and ultimate loss. At one point, the Lykes family were billionaires, the largest landowners in Florida, and the wealthiest in Tampa Bay.

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It all began in the 1870’s when the patriarch, Dr. Howell Tyson Lykes left his medical career behind and settled on a 500-acre cattle ranch in central Florida. Ultimately, he had seven sons and one daughter and each of the sons came in to the family business. In 1895 Dr. Lykes moved to Tampa and began shipping cattle to Cuba. In 1910 the family incorporated as Lykes Brothers and their holdings expanded to include enormous ranches in Florida (330,000+ acres), Texas (200,000+ acres), thousands and thousands of acres of citrus groves, banking concerns and shipping. They also owned a 15,000 acre estate in Cuba which was nationalized during the Cuban Revolution.

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Over time, the family burgeoned, but they remained land rich and cash poor. Over time, assets were sold to feed the expanding family which eventually numbered 250 shareholders and they ended up in court fighting over the valuation of their assets. Don’t cry too much for them though, they still hold their big ranches and major prominence in Tampa society. Forbes ranked them in the top 200 richest families in the US in 2015. They seem to be reinventing themselves as “green” entrepreneurs, but I just bet buried in their past are a million juicy stories behind the glitz and glamour.

 

 

 

Life’s a Beach

Life’sJust outside the oldest city in the United States lies Anastasia State Park. This is where we would next park our rig. Of course, we had to get to Anastasia Island to do this. This involved driving along Route A1A and crossing over the Bridge of Lions. Memories of Savannah flooded back into our minds as we threaded our way along the narrow two lane road through town with hundreds of tourists dodging in front of us and behind us in search of the next souvenir. I wonder if this will ever become less stressful?

St. Augustine is a very old town and there are some lovely and historical parts of the city, but it is also very touristy. We enjoyed poking around a bit and saw Flagler College and its distinctive architecture, but our interest lay more across the inland waterway on Anastasia Island.

The state park is very lovely. There aren’t any hiking trails to speak of, but the beach is beyond gorgeous. It definitely rivals the most glorious beaches on the east coast. It was also almost empty of people which made it even more delightful. The only downside for us is that it was not dog-friendly so we viewed its glories from the end of the boardwalk and then turned away. We aren’t such big beach people anyway although I would love to have walked its length with Jim and Dakota and searched for crabs and seashells.

We spent two days in Anastasia State Park. I think that we can add to our learnings that two days is too short a stay. It really doesn’t give you time to get settled and then begin exploring. Before you know it you are hitching up again to move on to the next destination. This is good information to file away for future planning purposes. In the meantime, we had a higher purpose to serve and pushing on was the means to fulfilling that purpose.

Georgia On Our Minds

Yep, we saddled up and headed out of Aiken without ever seeing the charms of historic Aiken or the cottage named Joye (although Robert said you can’t see much from the road anyway). Our disappointment was greatly mitigated, however, by visions of toilet valves and having a fully working water system in the Airstream.

It took just about an hour to get repaired. Our planned trip to see Stone Mountain State Park and the Atlanta branch of the Frost clan was sadly abandoned. We’ll put that on the list for later as well. We headed south for a quick overnight at New Green Acres RV Park  (more on RV parks at a later time) and then on to Savannah and the Skidaway Island State Park.

Sometimes GPS is tremendous and sometimes GPS just doesn’t think about traffic patterns and how they might impact towing a 27 foot Airstream. In this case Francine (the GPS lady) guided us right through the middle of tourist-laden Savannah’s narrow and crowded streets, past the surprised faces of tourists from Des Moines and Muncie and right smack into a bunch of streets under construction. I know my hair was standing on end. Thank heavens Jim has steadier nerves. Next Francine wanted us to enter the Harry S. Truman Parkway where no ramp existed! All of the locals were driving past the now defunct ramp, executing a tight u-turn and entering the highway from the other direction. Airstreams don’t do tight u-turns. But fate protects fools and panic-stricken Airstreamers—right where others were making the tight u-term there was a water treatment plant with a drive through. Huge signs decorated both sides of the narrow driveway saying, “Wrong way! Do not enter!” but we recognized salvation even if it meant transgression. Meeting no irate oncoming traffic, we completed our about face and entered the parkway. A little shaken, but none the worse for wear.

Skidaway Island State Park is nestled just outside Savannah on the Skidaway Narrows and part of the intra-coastal waterway in Georgia. It is absolutely lovely. The campground is spacious and lined with live oaks and cascading Spanish moss.

Arriving at the park, campers operate on a first come basis to find a camping site. We ultimately found a lovely and level site canopied by trees and just across from the only other Airstream in the park. Setting up was a joy. We put out our awnings, our veranda mat and folding chairs.

Our Airstream neighbors across the road, Larry and Mary, were actually from just up the road. They had just got their darling  Airstream Bambi and Larry was as full of enthusiasm as he was of questions. Jim stood a little taller realizing that finally there was someone who knew even less than he did about what was going on. Larry and Mary loved to talk. Walking near their Bambi pretty much guaranteed a good 30-minute chat. But, hey, what have we got to do?

The park has lovely hiking trails which wind across marshland and give peeks to the waterway.

We hiked all the trails in the two plus days we were there. Along the trails are historic bunkers used by the Confederate soldiers to defend Savannah and its shipping from the Union forces.img_4903

One other thing we did do was take an afternoon walking tour of Savannah. With Dakota in tow, we needed a pet-friendly tour. Free Savannah Walking Tours was just what we needed. A no frills business started by two young native Savannans, we had a 90-minute guided tour of the key squares in the historic center of the city.

Savannah was as gorgeous as I thought it would be. We saw the house (above) from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and got a good sense of the historic squares and romantic buildings in the city. Walking is a great way to see things.

There was one draw back. Of course, Dakota is quite beautiful and everyone wants to pet him and he is very friendly. But let a small dog walk by and Dakota sounds like he would easily tear him to bits in seconds. He is all bark and no bite. The whole time he is barking and growling, his tail is wagging, but he does make quite a scene. Every time another dog walked by, and it was frequent, or a horse-drawn carriage clopped past, Dakota lost his mind. He doesn’t actually have that much mind to lose and by the end of the afternoon, Jim was a wreck. Dakota causes more marital stress than all three of our children ever have.

I would go back to Skidaway Island in a heartbeat. It was such a comfortable and lovely place to camp. We really enjoyed hiking the trails and the facilities were first-rate. We set up camp and could have stayed for a very long time. With a working kitchen including running water, we made a big meal of steak and all our favorites. Now this is what we signed up for! After three days we reluctantly headed south to our next destination: St. Augustine.

Sun On Our Faces

As we headed to Aiken, the sun came out, the snow and ice disappeared and we could shed a few layers. It felt so good to be warm again. The sun felt warm on our faces.

Having had a few bumps in the road so to speak, Aiken State Park was our first real opportunity to settle in a bit. We were the only campers there. Besides the rangers and the campground host, we had the whole park to ourselves. It was a beautiful park. Our site was a back-in and Jim handled it perfectly. We were so incredibly happy and, even without water yet, I cooked a lovely dinner and we enjoyed the quiet and serenity. Looking out the windows there was lush green vegetation in all directions.

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On day two Jim decided to try to de-winterize the unit. This was not a completely successful undertaking. Rather than discover the expected pink anti-freeze, when we began to operate the system, the toilet began leaking and we deduced that somehow the Airstream had not been properly winterized. That odd leak we experienced back in December took on new meaning and we realized it was the result of the toilet valve bursting. Oops. Clever as he is, Jim figured out how to get most of the system in operating order, we just didn’t have use of the toilet. Good enough for me, I could finally wash dishes in the sink rather than a bucket. It may not have been perfect, but we were reveling in what we had. I even took a shower in our own shower!

I had always been fascinated with Aiken, SC. Ever since reading On a Street Called Easy, in a Cottage Called Joye by Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh, I had wanted to visit Aiken. It sounded like a fabulous place. I loved that book for all its romance and the idea of chucking it all and making a new life. Somehow that resonated with me.

Aiken is big horse country. The roads around Aiken are lined with horse farms. Huge fenced paddocks and wide fields are dotted with long-limbed horses. Every other field hosts an assortment of jumps including cross-country fences. Every house features a horse trailer. It would seem naked without it.

We were very happily enjoying our stay in Aiken and now we had a social opportunity as well. My former colleague, Robert, and his husband, Milton, had retired to Aiken two years ago. I am not sure Robert ever expected us to drop by, but we had kept in touch and, please note, giving me your contact information can be dangerous.

We arranged to have coffee our second morning in Aiken. We had a delightful visit with Robert and Milton, saw their beautiful home and met their dogs, Lucas and Shorty. It was great fun. We tentatively made plans to have drinks and possibly dinner that night, but the sometimes capricious hand of Airstream life intervened.img_1487

After we left Milton and Robert, we began what would become an all-day attempt to find someone to repair our burst toilet valve. We called the closest Airstream dealer back up in Columbia, but he said they were way too busy. After many calls and finally coming to terms with both the fact that we were not going to make it to our next planned stop in Atlanta and we were going to drive three hours out of our way for a repair, that first fellow called back at the eleventh hour and said he would fix us up the next morning. Hooray! As the nav system says, “re-calculating…”

Our disappointment at missing Atlanta and the Atlanta Frosts was balanced by our relief. Just between us, we believe one of the people we talked to during the day called the first guy up and told him to help us out. They all knew each other. No matter. However it happened, we were thrilled! Ironically, I never did see Aiken, the town. This is fair warning to Robert and Milton that we will be back someday!