Are we having fun yet?  You betcha (how Midwestern is that?) Each stop in the past few weeks has been different, interesting, and exciting. We hope our string of successes doesn’t let up.

Having the good sense to get out before we were thrown out of Sandi and John’s welcoming arms, we headed into the Berkshire Mountains (NW Massachusetts) for a rally with other like-minded campers in T@Bs and T@DAs. There’s a great affinity among those of us with these unique campers – whether we share like political views, or have similar family situations – it doesn’t matter. There’s a kinship there that’s wonderful. Hard to explain because it sounds silly. It’s not. We had about 18 campsites occupied, with singles, couples, old and young, plus bunches of dogs. All good.

Our rally HQ for a long weekend was Historic Valley Campground in North Adams, MA. 20150926_181840Driving there on Thursday was uneventful, until we hit some steep hills. Not long, but steep, and we knew we were close to our destination. The autumn color we had expected was non-existent. Apparently, this area has experienced very dry conditions for the last many weeks.  Trees were greenish/gray and tired-looking. More ready to drop their leaves from exhaustion than from having spent their energy with color. The only fallen leaves we see are dead ones – no paths strewn with color.

Friday seems like a beautiful day to stretch our legs with a hike. Yay! The Appalachian Trail runs very close to camp, including a stretch up and over Mt. Greylock, the highest spot in Massachusetts. How could we not hike this stretch? Even better, there’s no dog restriction as long as they are leashed (Jezzy NEVER is allowed off her leash. Ever.) We make a pack lunch, grab a couple liters of water, and jump into the truck to find the Trailhead. Yikes! These roads are not for cowards. We pass a few signs that say 17% grade, and suddenly the nose of the Firetruck is pointed into the sky, or down below our windshield view. So glad I’m not driving – I can put my head down and mutter little grunts of fear or relief. 17% might not sound like much, but that is Steep!

The AT at this point is pretty interesting. We’ve got a 3.6 mile uphill to the summit at Mt. Greylock and a return down the same path.20150925_142848 Climb up, scamper down. The Trail surface is uneven rock – not difficult to maneuver, but tiring, because footfalls are never level – we were constantly teetering off pointy little rocks. But, this was oh so worthwhile……when we finally crested Mt. Greylock, there was a contingent of hang-gliders leaping off the peak into the breezy void. What a treat to watch. A big crowd had gathered – thru-hikers who were taking a breather, a few day hikers like us, and many who had driven to the peak to see the view. It was hot and still – perhaps not an ideal day for the kites, but pleasant nonetheless.20150925_14072920150925_141028 We ate our sandwiches, and gave our leftover snacks to a hungry-looking thru hiker. Many of these guys are living on ramen noodles and raisins, so he was surprised and happy to receive crackers/cheese and chocolate.20150925_14164120150925_14214820150925_142439Our legs took a pounding that day, and we were happy when we arrived back at the Firetruck. Jezzy was a trouper to hang in there, but we could tell that she was exhausted as well.

The next day, John hung around camp and washed the Fireball. Three weeks on the road take a toll, and she was looking pretty shabby. The Firetruck was taken into town and treated to a real car wash.  We feel better when are gear isn’t looking quite so sad. I decided to cycle into North Adams to find the farmers’ market. I got to ride down one of those 17% grades. Yikes!  Thanks again, John, for putting new hydraulic brakes on my mountain bike.  That was a nail-biter of a descent to a stop sign at the bottom of a very steep road.

Loved the small, but colorful farmers’ market. This duo performing Sylvia, won me over. Found all the stuff I needed for a great grilled vegetable dish for the rally potluck Saturday night. I wandered around a bit, taking a few photos of the extravagant New England views. The small towns here are all so picturesque – it’s what you imagine New England to look like in your dreams.20150926_12235420150926_122450Can you believe that this building is the town library?20150926_12262920150926_122934We spent the rest of the day chatting with our fellow campers, checking out their trailers, having our checked out as well, and exchanging tips on campsites, storage, maintenance, and camping philosophies. We’ve learned lots from our fellow campers at these rallies.

T@B trailers were first produced in 2004, discontinued by the original manufacturer in 2009. T@DAs followed in 2008, discontinued in 2010. About 1500 T@DAs were produced in all, the majority titled as 2008. Ours is a 2009. We suspect they were all manufactured at the same time, and simply titled out as the manufacturer sold them thru their dealer network. Little Guy Trailers has been making the T@Bs since 2010, keeping the original shape and feel, but improving many features and construction issues. Our rally was a great combo of new/old T@Bs, plus one other T@DA.

One T@B really caught my eye. A Steampunk-style T@B owned by Bridget and Ed. They’ve gone to great lengths to customize their amazing trailer. My photos don’t do it justice, but all the small details are incredible. Bridget found a custom trunk from an old 30s Hudson, which has replaced their standard propane tank holder.20150927_101508 All the trim on the T@B has been removed and painted to match, complete with brass accents and decals. It’s amazing.

20150927_10155120150927_10251720150927_102921 We find that folks with these small campers go to amazing lengths to customize their rigs to match their style and comfort levels. One couple, Bob and Carol were spending just the fourth night in their brand new 2016 clamshell T@B. Although I love the comfort of being able to get out of bed and make morning coffee inside, I love the true camping feel that a clamshell offers.20150926_160023 Maybe I’m just not tough enough. We cook everything (but coffee) outside, but love the flexibility of having a fridge inside. Maybe I’m just a big sissy, but I’m NOT going out in the rain to make morning coffee!

Sunday morning, we said our goodbyes and headed off to Newport, RI. Each of our stops in New England (so far) has been so different from the last. We’re expecting that trend to continue with millionaires and jazz in Newport.

Cruising Cape Cod

20150922_092106The Fireball looks pretty sweet tucked in alongside Santa Baby, the Airstream owned by friends Sandi and John, doesn’t she? In fact, we liked it so much that we stayed for three days in their driveway, while we explored Cape Cod.

After being Boston city kids for five days, Cape Cod was a breath of wild fresh air. 20150922_14434820150922_111941Stretching for forty miles along the bay, the Cape Cod National Seashore is a collection of sandy beaches, marshes, and salt ponds. Oaks and pines, seemingly stunted by the ever-present ocean breeze have a squat, weathered appearance. It’s all very rustic and wild on the National Seashore side, while the other side of the bay is an assortment of small towns and villages – each doing their best to collect their share of the tourist dollars  that flow through the area.

Since Sandi and John are both still working folk, we decided to head out on bikes (surprise, surprise) to explore on our first day. Naturally, the Visitor Center was our first stop. We viewed two films – one was an introduction to the area, and the second explored the formation of the Seashore, and the challenges of erosion. The damage done each year by storms alters the shoreline just a bit. Rising ocean levels pose significant challenges for the decades ahead.

At the Visitor Center, there’s a large skiff, which was used by early settlers to harvest sea hay, which was collected at low tide, brought to shore, dried, and fed to livestock. A side note indicated that many old timers in the area recall milk having a salty taste.  Well, yes – I imagine that it would!

Clutching our map with a bike route plotted out for us by a friendly Ranger, we headed off. Our intended destination was Provincetown (or P-town, as it’s known around here). The route comprised the Cape Cod Rail Trail, short stretches of US and State Highways, and beautiful narrow roads, winding along the shoreline.20150922_113106 20150922_143944We fell well short of our destination goal, stopping to gawk at the spectacular views, and sometimes to gasp for breath after short steep climbs. At Wellfleet, we threw in the towel, grabbed lunch, and turned back. We pedaled past Marconi Beach, the site where Marconi built his transmission towers that sent the first wireless message across the ocean.

Along the way though, we wandered along a salt marsh teeming with tiny little crabs and other wildlife.20150922_123737 There’s a peculiar earthy, rather rank, odor to a salt marsh from sea life left behind by the tide and decomposing plant matter. We watched a Great Blue Heron tiptoe across a slender rivulet of water to quickly snag an unsuspecting fish. It’s an interesting spot to lurk and observe.20150922_12483320150922_130252During our three days on the Cape, we feasted on clams. Fried clam strips and whole belly clams, fried scallops, clams on the halfshell, and (of course) clam chowder.20150922_195729 In our time in Massachusetts, I think John has probably devoured eight cups of clam chowder. Pretty sure he’s not done sampling yet.

Sandi had the day off on Wednesday, so she offered to be our guide to P-town. 20150923_13034920150923_14281720150923_15270120150923_144355Originally a Portuguese fishing village, P-town is now a cramped artsy town, loaded with restaurants, shops and galleries, and a wharf with whale watching tours, moonlight cruises, charter fishing boats and plenty of colorful characters. Fun to visit, but too crowded for my taste.20150923_14525120150923_143348While we probably missed plenty of historic sights, we also missed getting a view of the seals which rest on the beach at low tide. Our timing was off, and by the time we got to a spot where we figured to find them, they were already back out in the waves, diving for dinner. 20150922_145224(That dark spot in the middle is a seal head.) Seals consume hundreds of pounds of fish each day. In turn, Great White Sharks hunt the seals. It’s a timeless battle.

After three nights parked in Sandi and John’s driveway, it was time to move on.  John renewed his Airstream lust. We replaced one of the Fireball’s tires, discovering that we had cord peeking through the side. This was the side that was damaged by our bearing incident, and we hope that this is the last vestige of that mishap. Sandi and John (he’s a contractor) have the most remarkable shower I’ve ever experienced – three showerheads and a pebbled floor make it a shower you never want to end.  Wow. And, I wouldn’t be being honest if I didn’t say that I was floored to find that John collects Currier & Ives dinnerware – he has place settings for 90! wpid-20150924_091704.jpgLet’s just say that you could throw a hell of a party with all this!

Time to roll. It’s always good to leave before you get thrown out. ;-)

Compare and Contrast

Remember when you were in elementary school, and the lesson was to Compare and Contrast? That’s the theme of this post – our last two camping experiences could not be more contrasting.

Here’s our campsite at Lakawanna State Park, near Scranton, PA.20150911_172317Our two nights there were peaceful and quiet – the most notable sound being the rain that persistently drummed on the roof. We wandered for miles through the Park trails. Nothing truly notable, but there were plenty of wonderful scenes.20150912_10400520150912_12021420150912_12193320150912_125554wpid-20150912_104900.jpgOkay, now Compare and Contrast those peaceful scenes with our current campsite at Winter Island Park in Salem, MA.wpid-20150913_164925.jpgIf you peer just to the left of the tree in the center of the photo, you’ll see the Fireball tucked into our little square of pavement in this busy parking lot at Winter Island Park in Salem, MA. We’re right next to the boat ramp.  Behind us (behind where I’m standing to shoot this photo) is the sewage treatment plant. But, the other view is the gorgeous Salem Bay.  Wow – it’s a knockout sight, especially at sunrise.wpid-20150916_060545.jpg20150913_160535Our first order of business is to check out the NHS Visitor Center and see the film. Actually, there are two films here – we only saw the one you had to pay for, which centered on the witch trials of 1692. Nineteen men and women were hanged, and one 81-year old man was pressed to death (a most gruesome way to die) before the fervor passed, and life moved on. In the city cemetery in the center of town is a quiet, moving memorial to these individuals.20150914_13130420150914_13153420150914_131744(I flubbed my panoramic shot just above, causing some of the lettering not to quite match up properly. But, you get the idea.)

If you have a vision of a colonial New England town, Salem would fit the bill. The main historical sights are easy to find by following the red line self-guided walking tour through the city. Particularly fascinating to me at the towering homes, many built in the 1700s. Compact courtyards, carriage houses, shutters, and some elaborately details soffits make this a photographer’s delight. It’s a sad fact that my photos really don’t convey the beauty of this area.20150914_12185020150914_12401720150914_12334820150914_122741-120150914_12341920150914_122459Loved the guy who was brave enough to hang a NY Yankees jersey in his window. That takes guts in this town!20150914_122116One cannot help but be struck by the challenges of living in these historic homes, where repairs are frequent and expensive. I’m thankful that there are folks willing to take on these challenges, and maintain these places for us to enjoy.

Churches are everywhere.20150914_12153220150914_121350wpid-20150915_103048-1.jpgOf course, an important part of Salem’s story is her history as an important port. There’s a replica of the three-masted, square rigger merchant ship Friendship in the harbor. We climbed aboard as guests of the National Park Service. Although the ship was completed in 1997, work continues on it. Unknowingly, we went below deck and wandered around – startling the Park Ranger on deck when we came back up from the hold. Apparently, that door was supposed to be locked. Ha! Our gain.20150914_14245520150914_14202020150914_14040720150914_141409Across the street from the wharf is the Customs House, where vessels entering the port paid tax on their stores. 20150914_103035Although we didn’t visit the Peabody Essex Museum, we did enjoy the willow sculpture commissioned by it which sits near the town center.20150914_104010Another fairly crappy shot, but I do remember this sculptor’s show at the Meijer Sculpture Gardens in Grand Rapids several years ago. Whimsical and fun.

What would be a visit without an exploration by bicycle? That was the plan for our second day, having logged nearly 9 miles by foot on Day 1. Our plan was to circle the bay and roll around Marblehead. We didn’t find much there, although it is the location of one of the oldest cemeteries in New England. Established in 1632, there are nearly 600 Revolutionary War soldiers buried here. wpid-20150915_112858-1.jpg20150914_130111Marblehead is also the home of Fort Sewall, which is neatly bunkered below ground. This Fort sits on a gorgeous spit of land, jutting into the bay. Originally a British fort, was captured by the Americans, and used in as a base all the way through the Spanish-American war.wpid-20150915_120207.jpgPoor time management hampered our plans for cycling to Gloucester, a fishing village north of Salem. We pedaled most of the way there, but turned back at Manchester by the Sea, because we realized we were cutting into the time when Jezzy needed to be walked and fed.

Today, we leave Salem and move to a Wompatuck State Park in Hingham, our base for exploring Boston. We’re pleased to know that our campsite here (#16) is going to be occupied for the next few days by someone from our T@B/T@DA Facebook group.  What are the chances of that?