I am the world’s worst Blogger…I freely admit it and while I don’t like it, I’m coming to grips with this reality. Our original intention with this blog was to document weekly our Big Big Trip adventures for family and friends (why would anyone else want to read this?). In case you haven’t noticed, up to this point, we have failed miserably in the blogging world. From the moment we started we were behind schedule and trying to catch up. Every new day and every new campground we would fall further behind. Now, here we are knocking on December’s door and I’m still trying to finish the post about our August trip in northern Michigan! At this rate, the blog is a meaningless collection of out-dated, travel-related drivel and I’m a little stressed out! It isn’t a lot of fun and it ends now…
So, in an effort to catch-up and get back on track, I’ll summarize the past four months in one post.
After our hectic and buffoonery-riddled sprint across the plains, we enjoyed a short week at my Dad’s in southwestern Michigan before embarking on a four-week trip around northern Michigan. Over those four weeks Owen earned three new National Park Junior Ranger badges as we explored Michigan’s upper peninsula and northern lower peninsula.
By the numbers, we stayed at eight Michigan State Parks (Straits, Fayette, Porcupine Mountains, Fort Wilkins, Tahquamenon Falls, Traverse City, Leelanau, and Mears), one National Park (Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore), and one City Park (Marquette). Over 26-days, we pulled the trailer 1,398 miles, and drove the truck almost another 1,000 miles during our explorations. We ate an untold number of ice cream cones—Anna was shocked at the amount of ice cream Michiganders eat in the summer!
Before returning to my Dad’s yard for another 2-1/2 weeks of trailer maintenance and family time, we wrapped up our northern Michigan swing with a few days at Mears State Park in Pentwater, where I spent many formative summer vacations growing up.
By mid-September, it was time to hit the road again. A tour of New England was our objective. The plan was to make it as far northeast as Acadia National Park before turning south and skirting the coast through the mid-Atlantic with the goal of spending Thanksgiving in Charlotte, North Carolina. However, like any good operational plan, it didn’t survive first contact with the real world…
Our first stop after leaving my Dad’s yard was five nights at Sterling State Park in Monroe, Michigan. We wanted to explore Detroit and with very few campground options near by, staying 25-miles south in Monroe was our best bet. This made for a rather long commute into Dearborn for the Henry Ford Museum complex as well as into Detroit for an afternoon Tigers game. However, the upside to staying at Sterling State Park was its proximity to the River Raisin National Battlefield, where Owen earned another Junior Ranger Badge.
Our planned assault on New England was via New York State. The first stop in NY was the Finger Lakes region and as we’ve driven by Niagara Falls multiple times, we decided to take the southern route around Lake Erie to facilitate visiting old Navy friends in Pittsburgh. We took three days to drive from Monroe, Michigan to Ithaca, spending our nights on the road parked at a Harvest Host farm in western Pennsylvania (our first visit to a Harvest Host location), moochdocking at our friends’ home southeast of Pittsburgh, and finally at a full hookup Army Corps of Engineers campground in northern Pennsylvania.
Once in NY State, we stayed three nights in Ithaca at Robert H. Treman State Park. Treman State Park is a fantastic NY State Park that is close to downtown Ithaca and even closer to Ithaca Beer Company (you can read our review of Treman State Park here). We had a great time exploring Ithaca (Ithaca is Gorges), eating at Moosewood, and catching up with my nephew’s wife who is attending grad school in the area.
Next on the agenda was Saratoga Springs, NY where I spent three years of my life as an instructor at the Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion Training Unit in nearby Ballston Spa. Between Ithaca and Saratoga Springs, we spent one night on the road at another Harvest Host location (a wonderful little winery outside Cooperstown, NY) to facilitate visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame. [In case you’re wondering, Cooperstown, NY is one of the least friendly RV towns that we’ve visited.]
In Saratoga Springs, we had been invited to spend the weekend moochdocking in the yard of our old Navy friends, Eric and Nicole. We had a great time catching up with old friends, revisiting old haunts, drinking too much, and enjoying Nicole’s fabulous cooking! At the end of the weekend we relocated to a nearby state park to catch up on laundry and groceries, and tour the Saratoga National Battlefield where Owen earned another Junior Ranger Badge.
After Saratoga Springs we meandered north into the Adirondacks, setting up camp at Lake Eaton State Park (just outside Long Lake, NY) where we had plans to meet up with another full-time Airstream family; a couple of hours after we arrived, Dave and Ann and their two daughters pulled-in and set-up camp next door. I’ve been following the exploits of Dave and Ann for a while and they were a source of inspiration to us as we planned our Big Big Trip. This was our first “Instameet” and it was awesome to hangout with them for a night in the Adirondacks. The next morning we parted ways as they headed west. We stayed put and spent the next two days enjoying fall in the Adirondacks.
We left Lake Eaton and drove east towards Vermont, spending a couple of nights at Crown Point State Historic Park (NY) on the shores of Lake Champlain. We enjoyed hanging out at the park, exploring the ruins of the two forts located in the park, and visiting Fort Ticonderoga. This stop closed out our two-week stay in NY as we crossed the Lake Champlain Bridge into Vermont.
Anna and I visited northern Vermont as newlyweds over a long winter weekend in 1997. We were living in Newport, Rhode Island where I was stationed as a newly-minted Navy Ensign and decided to go skiing in Stowe. While the skiing was crappy due warm weather and lack of snow, we had a great time exploring the area. We remember Stowe and Waterbury as fairly sleepy towns and we’ve always held fond memories of that weekend trip. With that in mind, we pointed the rig towards Little River State Park in Waterbury, Vermont.
Both Stowe and Waterbury have grown significantly since our stay there 19-years earlier. Outlet stores and major chain restaurants had replaced former mom-and-pop shops. The charming Ben and Jerry’s factory tour had grown into a hippy-dippy inspired theme park. Traffic was terrible. People were rude. Prices were high. In a nutshell, Stowe and Waterbury were pretty disappointing…
Not to be put-off by our Stowe and Waterbury visit, we spent the next day in funky and quirky Burlington, which renewed our faith in our decision to visit Vermont. Burlington has a lot going for it and while our trip there was initially utilitarian, (laundry and groceries), we also took advantage of the opportunity to explore. I tackled the laundry while Anna and Owen explored the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain (a combination aquarium, science center, and children’s museum that is fantastic). We met for lunch after I finished laundry and wandered around the downtown area before getting groceries and heading back to the trailer. We drove out of town wishing we had more time to devote to this charming, small city on the shores of Lake Champlain.
The following day we drove south on Vermont 100 spending a few nights at the Winhall Brook Army Corps of Engineers campground. Nearby Manchester was another town that stuck out in my memory. While stationed in Saratoga Springs in the early 90s, I spent a lot of winter days skiing at Stratton Mountain and I always thought that Manchester looked liked a cool town. Plus Orvis was there and I wanted to tour the rod factory. Other than Orvis, Manchester was another big let down. Much like Stowe and Waterbury, tacky outlet stores, heavy traffic, and rude shoppers from points south burnished Manchester’s charm. After three nights at Winhall Brook, we turned east towards the Maine coast, with the Portland area as an intermediate overnight stop on our way to Acadia National Park.
In an effort to slow down, we decided to play things more by ear and didn’t try to get reservations at Acadia National Park until we were in NY. Needless to say, due to the influx of fall travelers, the availability inside the park was tight and we could only get three nights at the park’s Blackwoods Campground. That being said, three nights were better than nothing and we had a great time. We went on a couple of hikes, visited the beach, watched the sunrise on top of Cadillac Mountain, earned another Junior Ranger Badge, and had our second Instameet. We met Chris, Don, and Tessa of @13Roads at a lovely restaurant in Bar Harbor. Another full-time Airstream family, Chris and family started their full-time travels about the same time as we did and are delightful; we felt like friends right off the bat and can’t wait to cross paths with them down the road.
The following three days were spent traveling south and exploring the Maine coast en-route to Boston. We spent two nights at Camden Hills State Park in Camden, Maine and one night moochdocking in the LL Bean parking lot in Freeport, Maine. In Boston, we decided to use the Hanscom Air Force Base Family Campground as our basecamp due to price, proximity to the T, and the fact that there weren’t really any better choices closer to Boston.
We have stayed at military campgrounds three times previously: once in Rapid City on the Big Big Trip and twice in our old camper during our move from Washington, DC to Everett, WA (Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois and the Air Force Base in Omaha, NE). While they aren’t always our first choice, they are generally low cost and almost always have nice facilities and have proven to be a great option when near an urban area or when everything else is either expensive or full.
Prior to Boston, we had a fair amount of dry camping experience under our belts. NY and Vermont State Parks don’t have electric or water hook-ups and, when combined with our dry Winhall Brook site and our overnight stops, we had somehow managed to log over 30-days of dry camping with only four intermittent days of electric hook-ups. Things were going well. With an average daily consumption of about 60amp-hours (more with the furnace running), our two Trojan T-145 batteries had plenty of capacity to get us through several days of low sun. When the sun was shining and we had a campsite with full or even partial sun, our rooftop panels easily topped us off each day with little effort. However, multiple cloudy days, combined with the deep woods of the Adirondacks, Green Mountains, and Acadia National Park, proved too much for our solar panels and I was forced to break out the generator a few times to charge the batteries back into the 80-percent range.
With unlimited electricity and water, Hanscom was a welcome relief after a month of boondocking. The only downside was that it was located adjacent to a busy executive airport. Luckily, with 50amp hookups we ran the A/Cs to cover the noise. We spent our four days at Hanscom exploring Boston, Lexington, getting maintenance done on the truck, and of course the usual suspects of laundry and groceries. Highlights were earning two Junior Ranger Badges (Boston and Minute Man) and getting a very special behind the scenes tour of the USS CONSTITUTION. (A former shipmate made the social network introduction to the Captain of the CONSTITUTION and he graciously arranged for special tour for us. We spent over two hours walking and crawling around the ship seeing anything and everything we wanted. As the ship was in drydock, we also got to go down into the dock and see the hull and touch the keel!) Continuing with our Navy theme, next on the agenda was Newport, Rhode Island.
We left Boston on Friday, October 21st and headed south into Rhode Island to spend an extended weekend in Newport. During my 26-1/2 years in the Navy I moved a total 17 times—12 of those moves were after Anna and I were married. As a family, we’ve lived in 11 different homes (12 if you count the Airstream!) in seven different cities and, although only six years old, Owen has already had four different homes. Throughout all this back and forth across the country, one constant has been Newport and it will always be a special place for us. Newport was our first home as a young, married couple and 13-years later Owen was born there during our time at the Naval War College. Between those two stops, over three additional stints I spent a total of 12-months in Newport at various Navy schools. Newport was always a home-away-from-home and it was nice to get back.
We spent five days parked at the Navy’s campground on the shores of Narragansett Bay. While we had electric and water, we didn’t have a sewer hook-up and this proved to be challenging for a five-day stay for a family of three that enjoys a daily shower. While we didn’t get to see or do everything we wanted, we did get to catch up with good friends, enjoy some chowdah, eat some lobstah, do the Cliffwalk, and generally freeze our asses off in the Narragansett wind. We also spent a lovely afternoon down the road in picturesque New Bedford at the Whaling Museum and National Historical Park. Owen earned another Junior Ranger badge and I had the best chowder of my life at a nearby tavern.
Shortly after leaving Michigan, we began getting regular updates from my sister regarding my Dad. At 88-years old, he was increasingly having trouble and while we were in Boston, he ended up in the hospital after another in a series of falls. While in Newport, we decided that after our New York City stop we would take a strategic pause, cancel our mid-Atlantic swing, and head back to Michigan for a few weeks to see my Dad and help out at home. The next morning we departed Newport and drove west towards New York state and eventually Michigan.
After stopping for lunch in Groton and a tour of the NAUTILUS, we drove across Connecticut and spent two nights at the West Point Army Campground. We stayed at West Point so that we could visit FDR’s home in Hyde Park before driving 30-miles south to suburban New Jersey. We are lucky enough to have old friends with a large driveway in Ramsey, New Jersey and they invited us to moochdock for a long weekend. We explored NYC and then joined them for Halloween (they have two young boys around Owen’s age, so everyone had a good time).
While in NYC, Owen earned another Junior Ranger Badge at the Statue of Liberty. We followed this up with some serious suburban New Jersey trick-or-treating. Finally on November 1st, we pointed the rig west towards Michigan. We drove the almost 800-miles in two days, spending one night on the road parking lot surfing at a Cracker Barrel on the Ohio Turnpike and arrived at my Dad’s on the 2nd of November.
We ended up staying in Michigan for 18-days and finally hit the road again on the 20th of November. We spent the next two days driving south towards Charlotte, North Carolina to spend Thanksgiving with Anna’s Aunt and Uncle before continuing our Big Big Trip with the Winter 2016/17 Southeast Tour.
So, that’s what we’ve been up to over the past four months and as I look back on this post, I realize that I started it in Ithaca—in mid-October—what the hell happened?!?!
Obviously, it would be easy to blame our busy schedule, the weather turning colder and preventing me from working at the picnic table (while Anna and Owen worked on school-work), or the lack of adequate data/internet availability, but those would just be excuses. The root of the matter is that I’m inherently lazy and while I often bitched about not getting the blog updated, I rarely did anything about! So, I’m going to try to make writing and updating this stinkin’ thing a priority and with luck it will improve…