Rolling Again!

Fwaaap! Thwack! BANG! This must be how you say ‘Welcome to Ohio’ at Kiser State Park. As we rolled into the campground to begin a six week trip around the coastal southeast, all we could hear were the bangbang sounds of black walnuts crunching beneath our tires. Already, Jezzy was not a happy camper. On a sultry day with late afternoon temps in the mid-90s, we had a choice of a campsite with electric service and no shade, or a shady site with no electric (meaning we couldn’t run our a/c). We debated, and chose the shade, so we could at least sit outside. Oh man, it was HOT! We were lucky to have one of the few sites shaded by towering maples, instead of black walnut trees.20170924_161705 We could hear the walnuts bouncing off cars and RVs all over the campground. We escaped that, and were fortunate that the temps dropped into the comfortable 60s for the night. We’re back on the road! It’s been a long summer, spent mostly in our own back yard

Our plan for this trip is to wander south toward Atlanta (Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum!), then over to Savannah. From there, we’ll hug the coast as we wander north, getting as far as Norfolk before turning west and heading home. Since we made our plans, Hurricane Irma slammed into the coast, closing Huntington Island State Park (SC) until the end of the year. We’re hoping Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Phillipe, etc. leave us (and everyone else) alone.

After just one night at Kiser, we headed to the Wayne National Forest and the Iron Ridge Campground. What a gorgeous campground. Large campsites, thoughtfully laid out with flush toilets and showers. wp-image-247140785The downside? How would you feel about being invaded by about 5000 stinkbugs? It was disgusting! They got inside, outside, on everything we owned. An endless invasion. We’d roll up our shades, and five would drop out onto the bed. They collected inside our ceiling fan, clattering around when we turned the fan on for circulation. Eventually, we couldn’t stand being outside anymore, and simply holed up for the evening. Fortunately, they must be late sleepers, as we didn’t have any issues as we quickly pulled up stakes and hustled out of town after just one night. Good luck with this, Ohio. We’ve got some in Michigan, but this was beyond my worst nightmares.

So, we’re not exactly off to a rip-roaring start.

What else has happened since my last post in May? Not much, really. We spent most of the summer trying to rehab our lawn, which suffered from neglect all spring due to our late homecoming. Perhaps a better plan is needed if we want to be gone for so long every winter. We did add two new bikes to our backyard sculpture park (or bicycle garden), including this little polka-dot King of the Mountain bike which makes me smile every time I see it. 20170917_185453Thanks to my cousins Mary and Laurie for the supercute plaque. Gardening this year was a huge flop – yeah, the kale grew, but bugs got most of my herbs, and my four tomato plants produced a grand total of six cherry tomatoes.  Needless to say, I’ve gone in like Sherman into Georgia and hacked everything down. Need to rethink my gardening options for 2018

I bought a new bike! Yay!! But, then I hardly rode it. Boo. Except for a four-day camping trip with a friends from our bike club Rapid Wheelmen. They tried to kill me, making me ride up the scenic drive at Sleep Bear National Lakeshore. Worth every pedal stroke.20170721_121541-1August was our best month, headlined by the 5th Annual Night Shift (the epic 100 mile nighttime gravel road ride for which John and I provide crew services). New route this year found us camping for the first time at Yankee Springs State Park. Omg, what a nightmare. Just don’t go there. Never have we been cheek to jowl with so many campers, each site with an RV, a tent or two, two cars, bikes, wagons, kids, and flashing lights, TVs, and whatnot.20170813_082634 But, the ride was a hoot! Our T@DA pals Jen and Chuck came up from North Carolina to participate, and spent two days camped in our driveway while we explored Grand Rapids.20170809_173714 A little BBQ, a brewery or two, and a stroll around Meijer Gardens made this week the highlight of our summer. Here’s Chuck doing his best Life Imitates Art impression. 20170809_143825John has been an amateur astronomer for years, and has seen two total eclipses. We made plans to see his third in Kentucky with John’s brother and friends. Wow!! I have no photos – why bother? Every person with decent equipment and knowledge posted incredible photos of this stunning event. We spent our time in a small boat in the middle of Lake Barkley, near Hopkinsville, watching the shadows creep across the sun, until we could finally remove our paper glasses and just stare, open-mouthed at the amazing total eclipse. The surrounding air turned a dusky twilight color – like being surrounded by sunset at noon. It was eerie and amazing.20170821_132429I can’t wait until 2024 to see it again.

But, the funniest thing happened as we motored our way back to the dock in the small speedboat (fishing boat?) we were in. As we meandered back toward shore, an Asian Carp suddenly leaped out of the water and hit John right in the back of his head! It then slapped his shoulder, and dropped behind him, nearly landing in brother Don’s lap. Needless to say, pandemonium ensued. There was a mad scramble to grab this two-foot long fish and fling it overboard. I was standing in the front of the boat trying to get a photo, and laughing so hard I nearly fell overboard myself. If you live in Michigan, you probably are aware of the Asian Carp menace. If not, click on the link above and see what we’re talking about. There is genuine concern that they will decimate the salmon population in the Great Lakes if they get established here. Although I don’t have any action photos, and what I did take are cockeyed and crazy, I do have a photo of the fish imprint on John’s shirt. 20170821_140114Our only other adventure this summer was riding the Big Bear Butt Bicycle Tour. We once again camped in our favorite Michigan Campground at Lake Michigan Recreation Area. We cycled on a perfect day for about 65 miles in northern Michigan on pristine roads through woods and small towns. A piece of the ride went along the Lake Michigan shoreline near Arcadia. My Michigan pride wells up here – will happily match our shoreline against the best scenic views anywhere.20170827_122821So, that’s my summer. We’re happy to be on the road again, and will post up as time and access permits. In the meantime, we’re dusting off our hiking boots for a six-mile jaunt tomorrow into the beautiful Jefferson National Forest.

Back Again

It’s been forever since my last blog post – seems like home life got in the way of camping life this summer, so there hasn’t been too much to write about. Happily, we are finally on the road again.

What kept us so damn busy that we couldn’t camp?

Yard work – check out our newest addition to our Backyard Bicycle Sculpture Park.

Bike stuff – volunteer duties for our weekly bike club Time Trials, John’s weekend on the National 24 Hour Challenge, and our SAG duties for the Night Shift (100 mile nighttime gravel road bike ride + camping extravaganza).wp-1475114600152.jpg This was our only camping trip since May, and we made the best of it. The down side of this 10 days of camping was that it rarely got below 90 degrees. Even though we were camped on the shores of Lake Michigan, it was ridiculously uncomfortable (but oh so fun…!)wp-1475117531960.jpgwp-1475117416439.jpgFireball repairs – the window that blew out in a freak storm in Death Valley was finally replaced. Whew! We sweated that one out….John wound up taking a trip with the Fireball to Ohio, where a slightly larger window was installed. Since it involved cutting the actual panel of the Fireball to make it fit, he didn’t want to tackle it himself. Pleasant Valley Trailer did a fantastic job. They also installed diamond plate on the front protect the front from stone chips. wp-1475117491721.jpgJohn installed a small 10W solar panel on the battery box to use as a trickle charger to keep the battery up when the Fireball is in storage. Hopefully, we’re done with Fireball repairs for the next year or so. Repairs can suck the joy out of camping, for sure.

Our friends Gail & Sid from Virginia camped in our driveway with their T@DA. Double trouble! We were the talk of the neighborhood.wp-1473178554171.jpg

I had surgery on my right thumb which kept me off my bike and very grouchy (I know that’s hard to believe).wp-1475114514065.jpg After nearly three months, I’m trying to wean myself out of my hand brace, and bring full functionality back. Being able to ride my bike is huge, although not without its trials. I’m finding that riding my road bike is ridiculously painful, so (for now, anyway), I’m sticking to my mountain bike. Not having an opposable thumb for a couple of months is no laughing matter. I wasn’t much handier for day to day chores than Jezzy.

But, enough of that!

I’m a crazy Detroit Tiger fan, so we splurged and bought tickets to two Tiger games last weekend.wp-1475120571787.jpg Although (pitifully) the Tigers managed to lose both games and severely hamper their ability to get into postseason play, we had a great time. We ate coney dogs, drank craft beers, and wandered around Detroit. In addition, we sat behind the cutest Miguel Cabrera fan EVER on Sunday afternoon.wp-1475068847132.jpg Here’s a sampling of the sights.

Nemo’s Bar – a classic old tavern near the old (demolished) Tiger Stadiumwp-1475068879253.jpgHart Plaza on the Detroit Riverwp-1475068711779.jpgwp-1475068659963.jpgGM Headquarters, where we tried to negotiate pension raises for our GM retiree relatives!wp-1475068639748.jpgConey dogs! My favorite was American Coney Island, John preferred Lafayette. Yum!wp-1475068617449.jpgCoolest handmade townie bikes. I want one! Custom Faygo pop colors had sparkles!wp-1475068557796.jpgTree growing on the roof of an empty building downtown. wp-1475068529293.jpgNow, we are finally on the road again for a month or so – heading to the Dakotas to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and everything else in between. Our plan is to generally follow US2, which means we went across the Mackinac Bridge – always a thrill.wp-1475119570125.jpgWe spent our first night at Young State Park in Boyne City, MI.wp-1475119612711.jpgwp-1475068408220.jpg The Park itself is gorgeous, perched on the corner of Lake Charlevoix. It’s easy to imagine total mayhem in the summer months though, as the sites are mostly small and very close together.

Today, we’re in Little Bay de Noc Campground in the Hiawatha National Forest, on the northern shore of Lake Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. This is camping at its finest.wp-1475119452139.jpg We have a huge site in a 38 site campground, which we are sharing with only one other trailer, plus a camp host. The wind is roaring, and we can hear the waves lapping on the shore. Along the way today, we stopped at Seul Choix Point, and wandered around the lighthouse, which was built in 1895.wp-1475113118477.jpgwp-1475113147430.jpgI’m a bit shy on photos for this post, but I’ll try to better going forward. It’s so great to be rolling again.

Let the camping begin!



Camps and Rants

Boy, does it feel great to be out of the house for a few months – we’re finally done with the patio and roofing projects. No more yard, no more garage-cleaning. Time to camp!

I’m especially excited about this trip, because it’s taking us to places that are new to me, and largely unexplored by John, too. September/October are great camping months – every geezer in decent health with an RV hits the road on Labor Day, and we are no exception. The first month of our journey has been plotted out – we’re leery of finding full campsites on September weekends, so we’ve made a few strategic reservations, and simply plotted out the other stops. Hope this works…

OUr first day on the road is a long one (for us). We try to max out around 300 miles a day – with fuel/food/random stops, that’s a full day on the road for us. So, we plotted our first two nights at West Branch State Park in Ravenna, OH – a 330 mile distance from home. Checking in, we asked the Ranger what his favorite site was – “if 58 is open, you’ll love that one”, was his response. We bee-lined it to 58, and Bingo! It was perfect. wpid-20150907_173252.jpgBluff over water, no neighbors, and a deep site which allowed us to get away from the road. Perfect. However, Labor Day was still in full force, and we were in the midst of what John coined PER – Petroleum Enhanced Recreation. Every dude with a boat, jetski, or other petroleum-sucking device was screaming along the water. Directly across the waterway from our campsite was the beach, which roared with the last happy sounds of summer. Knowing that Tuesday would bring peace and quiet, we actually enjoyed the commotion. Tuesday morning…..wpid-20150908_073407.jpgMountain bike trails surround this state park, so we, emboldened by our endeavors from the previous week, decided to saddle up and hit the Trail. Yikes! It was even scarier than our last expedition. But, I guess we’ll never get any better at this unless we extend our Fear Zone a bit. We did catch a few nice scenes of tranquility to calm our racing hearts.wpid-20150908_073407.jpgThis park is open year-round for camping, and we would definitely go back. The facilities were first-rate, and the campsites well spaced. Good job, Ohio!

On the road Day 3, heading to the Allegheny National Forest in PA, we traveled along a gorgeous section of Interstate and State highways. (I have a newfound appreciation for all allergy sufferers – never have I seen such abundant goldenrod. It must be miserable to have fall allergies). We circled the National Forest, traveling through one tiny town after another, finally landing at TwinLakes Recreation Area, near Kane, PA. This was a bit of a shock.The National Forest Service website characterized this as an “extremely popular campground”, so we expected to find some signs of life.The Campground Manager site was had an RV and all kinds of paraphanelia lying about, but there was just one other trailer. No big deal. We picked a site, set up (expecting rain – we were not disappointed), and wandered off to explore. wpid-20150910_181912.jpgHmmmm, all the water spigots appear to be shut off. The bathroom is open, but there’s no water in the sinks, and the showers are inoperable. The toilets, thankfully, are the marvelous composting-type. I’ve only ever seen these in National Parks or National Forest campgrounds, and they are wonderful. No water needed – no stink. Wish they were in every campground.

Everything has the forlorn look of summer’s end. The beach is empty. wpid-20150910_114733-1.jpgwpid-20150910_114113.jpgIt’s a beautiful thing – having this marvelous site to ourselves. After a rainy night, we decide to hike down an old logging road to explore. My photography skills don’t convey the beauty of all the wildflowers springing up alongside the road. There wasn’t anything exceptional – but the abundance of color and absence of noise made it a memorable afternoon. After a few miles, we saw this – seeing a stop sign in the middle of nowhere was unusual, to say the least. Of course, we wandered down this path.wpid-20150910_125140.jpgAfter a half-mile or so, the enormous amount of Leaves of Three lining the path got my attention. Sad, because this was such a beautiful path. Carefully, we backtracked.wpid-20150910_125539.jpgwpid-20150910_125233.jpg

How can a walk in the woods be so restorative?  This unknown species of butterfly was unconcerned enough to let me get right on top of him/her to take a photo..wpid-20150910_134927.jpgBeautiful colors, peaceful surroundings.wpid-20150910_134106.jpg

Day 5 is a short mileage day, along one of the most gorgeous stretches of roadway I have ever seen – US 6. Although our planned stop for the day was only 200 miles away, The Google (as we affectionately refer to our mapping wizard), advised us that it would be a 4+ hour trip.  For us, that means easily six hours.  Our actual time was 7.5 hours (so, don’t wonder why we try to limit our days to 300 miles, max!) But, what a journey….wpid-20150911_100418-1.jpgwpid-20150911_095040-1.jpgIn nearly 200 miles of travel, I don’t think there was one piece of litter on the roadside. Picturesque villages popped up every 25 miles or so.  Beautifully maintained farms and rustic scenes entertained us, but there was no place to pull off for photos.  Go see it yourself – it was amazing.wpid-20150911_134642.jpgIt was curious that this stretch of highway seems to want to be a BBQ mecca. John finally succombed to stopping for brisket (he was sorry – Pennsylvania ain’t Texas!). But they did have an interesting mural in their outdoor seating area, so it wasn’t a total loss.wpid-20150911_143135.jpgSo, we’ve landed on Day 5 (September 11) at Lakawanna State Park. This is one area where I made a reservation, worrying that nice weather might fill up the park in early September, leaving us stranded.  At least at this park, the camping loops are segregated between pet/non-pet.  When making our reservation, I chose a site in the rustic/pet loop – knowing that we didn’t need electric/water for a few days, and I liked the looks of the sites (as far as I could tell from the website).  Oh boy – did we luck out!  The pet sites are tthree times larger than the non-pet sites.  Old-growth trees with very high canopies surround us. The light is ethereal.wpid-20150911_172317.jpg As I write this, two Barred Owls are having a conversation nearby.  The only other camper in this entire loop seems to have gone to bed hours ago.

So, we’re off to a great start.  Checking out the State Park map, it looks as though there are dozens of trails to ride/hike.  If the predicted storms come through, we may drive into nearby Scranton to see what the city looks like.  September rocks!

OK, a few more random thoughts……

Pennsylvania has some crazy road signs.  Here’s my favorite.And my 2nd favorite.

How is it possible to have such a beautiful highway (US 6) with No Litter? Who picks it up? Or, is it possible that drivers/passengers have recognized how wonderful it is to have a gorgeous roadway? And keep their litter in their own cars? Nah…not possible.

Camping is wonderful. Thoughtfully laid-out spaces make the camping experience exquisite. I know that the main attraction of many Michigan state parks is the proximity to our beautiful shorelines. But, do our parks really need to be parking lots with RVs?  The more I camp elsewhere, the less I want to camp in Michigan State Parks. Sad. (We have many wonderful State and National Forest campgrounds, though).

Ohio and Pennsylvania are the goldenrod capitols of the universe. Glad I’m not a person with allergies.

Every state should have a bottle/can redemption law. Recycling facilities in campgrounds are inadequate. Where some State Parks have set aside containers specifically marked “Aluminum Cans Only”, idiots have deposited their trash, plastic, glass, and other crap  Do they really think a Ranger or Camp Host is going to sort through this to recycle the few cans for cash for their kids’ programs? Hardly!

West Branch State Park (OH) calls their Camp Hosts – “Camper Hosts”. Thought that was funny – that’s the only time we’ve seen that.

Brighton, Birds, Bats, and Bikes


That’s the sound I’ll associate most with our most recent camping expedition to Brighton Recreation Area (MI).

Was it the sound of the Detroit Tigers bats pounding the LA Angels? Hardly.

Perhaps the sound of squeeky doors opening in the chilly, overcast air? Nope.

It’s the sound of all the Sandhill Cranes who make their home around Bishop Lake. Many were bold enough to stroll right through the campground in the morning hours. Others flew far overhead, where we never could see them through the ever-present dark clouds. But, there were few times during our three days there where we didn’t hear them. No, I never did get any photos. My best chance was one early morning as I strolled across the campground to the restrooms. Three Sandhills were prancing around an empty campsite. There was lots of wing flapping and hopping going on, as they stretched their early morning bodies. Naturally, my camera was back in the Fireball – who takes their camera to the bathroom, anyway? Besides, you can find superb photos of cranes at some of my birder blogger buddies Quietsolopursuits and LiveLaughRV. (Thanks to Ingrid at Live Laugh, a trip to the International Crane Foundation in WI is on the travel wish list for 2016.)

Since this was our first trip to Brighton, we weren’t familiar with the park. Knowing what we now do, we would opt to camp in the rustic section of the park (pit toilet/no electric) instead of the improved campground, where all sites have electric service. Although we had a pretty good site, overall it’s pretty cramped. The rustic sites were huge.wpid-20150826_124806.jpgWe loved the mountain bike trails, but did stress ourselves out a bit by riding pretty much beyond our technical capabilities. But, we’ll probably never get any better at this if we don’t stretch our comfort zone(s). John’s not so eager to do this – I am really wanting to be a more proficient mountain bike rider. Protruding tree roots and dropoffs caused several anxious moments along the ride for all of us – sister Lynn and brother-in-law Jerry were along for the trip, and for the ride.20150826_12280020150826_122852In additional to mountain bike trails, there are hiking and equestrian trails throughout the Park, which is spread out over several small lakes. 20150825_16104420150828_09160320150828_090926wpid-20150828_093426.jpg20150828_093704On one hike around the lake, we discovered these enormous weeping willow stumps. I had no idea that willows could be so massive. Wow. This stump was easily 4-5 feet across.20150825_155130My love affair with Detroit Tiger baseball is going through a rough spot – it’s hard to love a team that just can’t seem to put together two wins in a row.  We got beat 2-0 on the day we went to the game. But, the loss was tempered by the fact that we had the best seats I’ve ever had for a ballgame. Being close to the field is amazing.20150827_120705 There were 30K+ people at the game, but we just couldn’t cheer/stomp any runs across the plate. Last place sucks! Dont want to be a fair weather fan, but….

Naturally, now that we’re home, the sun has decided to peek out.  First sunshine we’ve seen in a week – honestly.  Lots of cleaning, organizing and planning to do.  The East Coast is beckoning. We’ll be some of the lucky folks for whom camping season really begins in September, vs those for whom the season is ending.

Camping: Good, Bad, and Weird

It was a mixed bag for our first lengthy camping outing of the summer.  Without any really clever way to organize things, I’ll just take things as they came.

Three nights of driveway camping in one of the most scenic spots in NW Michigan started us off on the right foot. My friend Deb rented a cottage near Torch Lake, and when she offered us a spot in her driveway there, we jumped at the chance.wpid-20150811_085029.jpg Torch Lake = pontoon boats, campfires, great food, and best friends.wpid-20150813_115820.jpg This was during the time of the Perseid meteor shower, so we thought there would be great stargazing from the the cottage shore. Well, almost.

Wednesday was the grand finale as far as the meteor showers were concerned, and we were primed and ready.  All seven of us (plus four dogs) were stretched out in lounging lawn chairs, waiting for total darkness to envelop us, and for the big show to begin.  As stars began to pop, we also noticed that clouds were rolling in. Is that thunder? Jezzy’s behavior said that, yes, indeed, it was. We stalled as long as we could, hoping that we’d catch a few meteor sightings before the rain. All of the sudden, a spiderweb of lightening cracked across the sky and lit everything up. We scattered! Holy cow! What a storm. Thunder and lightening like I haven’t seen in years. Almost worth missing the big sky show for.

We headed off Thursday morning for Lake Michigan Recreation Area, our favorite campground in the state, in preparation for the Night Shift.  This was to be the 3rd Edition of the Night Shift, an overnight 100+ mile bicycle ride over gravel roads, trails, and seasonal two-track roads in W. Michigan. We’re not silly enough to actually ride – but we love being crew for this wacky bunch – just five riders this year. To sum up the night, in brief…..

It was a dark and stormy night. Big time. Lots of laughs.  Lost riders. A flat tire (not our truck – the other one) at 4:30am in the middle of nowhere. Weird conversations with curious locals. Sunrise and sloppy joes.wpid-20150815_070617.jpg Coffee galore. Near miss with a whitetail. FINALLY! Into camp at 9:45am – 13hours, 45minutes after rollout.wpid-20150814_202817.jpg Big breakfast. Zzzzz. This sounds like a crazy ordeal, and it is. But, oh so fun.

A day later, everyone has departed.  We’ve got six days of camping left, and a few considerable issues with which to deal.

First of all, this is a rustic campground – no electric, scattered water pumps throughout, pit toilets.  What we love about this campground are the huge shady sites.  Unfortunately, ours is so shaded that our solar panels are totally ineffective. After the first day, we know that we have to shut off our refrigeration to preserve our battery power. Not the worst thing, but inconvenient.

Worse than this is the fact that we’ve contaminated our fresh water supply with hideous, sulfur-smelling water from the outside faucet at the Torch Lake cottage. We now have no shower, nor any water supply for the camper, other than the one-gallon jugs we fill from the pump. Ugh. When was the last time you went a week without a shower? Horrible, horrible smelling water.

But, as usual, Jezzy provides us with comic relief.  We had an extended conversation with a confused gentleman who insisted that Jezzy was probably part Mastiff. Do you see the resemblance? No? (random mastiff on left/Jezzy on right). Neither do we!

On the bright side, hiking and biking are great – apart from two rainy days. Tent camping friends Cal and Dot joined us for two days and shared laughs, food, and fire. wpid-20150820_185335.jpgLake Michigan is approachable for swimming.  Beautiful azure waters and decent temperatures.wpid-20150820_120458.jpgwpid-20150814_091813.jpg Such a bonus, since it’s our bathtub!

Other good stuff? Folks camping next to us offered us the rest of their firewood for $20, and delivered it! A huge stack! wpid-20150814_085140.jpg We had lots of reading time – amazing what you can do when there’s no internet to distract you (no phone signal, either!) Few bugs. Other than the rain, it was perfect camping weather.

I’ll quit while I’m ahead after showing a few more photos.  Note to self: polish blog skills!

I took a few photos of UFOs (Unidentified Fungal Objects).  Always a curiousity.wpid-20150816_162315.jpgwpid-20150819_133636.jpgwpid-20150819_130108.jpgI really liked the contrast of these two growing side by side.wpid-20150819_103655.jpgI threw away this Jagermeister cap I found after using it for size comparison.wpid-20150819_124344.jpgMore beach shots….wpid-20150814_095203.jpgwpid-20150814_095807.jpgwpid-20150822_142555.jpgJezzy found this mermaid mummy on the beach on a very windy afternoon.wpid-20150818_133541.jpgWe resupplied in nearby Ludington one afternoon, and stopped for a beer at Jamestown Brewing.  Really liked this kid trying to ride the bike rack.  His dad was having a fit!

One lone cardinal flower was growing along the roadside.wpid-20150816_153636.jpgAfter one day at home, we’ve fixed our water problem (bleach/flush/fill/flush/fill), resupplied and are ready to roll out again tomorrow for another three days at a new (to us) spot.