Leaving Michigan

Our last 2½-weeks in Michigan are a little blurry. In between family stuff, I spent almost all of my free time working on a handful of projects. Many of them were the usual corrective and preventative maintenance items that come hand-in-hand with fulltiming in an Airstream, but one was significantly more ambitious and complex than usual.

Anyone that follows our social media accounts (Facebook and Instagram) knows that I ripped out the rear bunk and rebuilt Owen’s bedroom into something more usable for us. For those unfamiliar with the Airstream Flying Cloud 30 Bunk model, the rear of the trailer has a lower full bed and a small upper bunk. Owen has been sleeping in the bunk and using the lower full bed as his “bedroom” for playing, hanging out, losing Legos, and storing whatever sticks and rocks he finds fascinating. Because of the way that we use our trailer, the lower bed has always been a pain in the ass. It’s hard to make and quickly fills with 7-year-old boy and Schnoodle detritus. While the bed maximizes the sleeping capacity of our trailer, it wasn’t the best fit for our family.

airstream 30 bunk sleepover

This is what the lower bed looked like most of the time prior to the remodel.

[Ed. While the 30 Bunk makes a lot of sense for larger families (i.e., more than three people), for us it wasn’t ideal. We were drawn to the completely separate sleeping areas, not the maximum sleeping capacity of the trailer. For the life of me, I don’t understand this need for RV manufacturers to maximize sleeping capacity!]

For several months we’ve been discussing replacing the lower double bed with a single bed/settee, along with incorporating some type of desk arrangement. This would let Owen move to the lower bunk for sleeping, give him a place to work on roadschool and LEGO projects, as well as providing floor space for him to use his bedroom. An added benefit would be additional, out of the way storage now available in his old bunk. Win-Win!

For our upcoming four-month stay in Portland we are planning on having Ultimate Airstreams reupholster our trailer. Now I’m pretty handy and enjoy woodworking, but I’m inherently lazy (especially when confronted with the prospect of trying to work on projects with someone else’s tools—I miss my tools and my old workshop area). So, I thought that as long as Ultimate Airstreams would have our trailer for the upholstery project, maybe they could remodel the rear bunk beds? Based on their estimate and my ability to finally source the matching laminate for our 2013 Flying Cloud, I decided to do the project myself.

[Ed. In case you’re wondering, the laminate used on our 2013 Flying Cloud is WilsonArt’s Gold Alchemy. Once I finally figured out the style name (which really wasn’t that difficult to find and I’m embarrassed I didn’t figure it out sooner), sourcing it was fairly simple to do].
airstream 30 bunk rear bed

The rear lower fullsized bed – Before remodel

Starting on October 18th, I spent the next 10-days knee deep in the rear bunk renovation project. I removed the lower bed and gave away the mattress to a fellow Airstream Addict. The project didn’t really take 10 straight days of work to finish, but because of all the laminating involved; it required a lot of periods of overnight drying before I continue on the next step. Overall, I’m pretty happy with the way the lower bed/settee and combination nightstand, desk, storage area, and steps to the upper bunk turned out.

Airstream 30 bunk remodel 1

Step one of the renovation was removing the rear full bed.

Airstream 30 Bunk Remodel - Bed Removed

A clean slate. The black PVC pipes are the drains for the toilet and the shower.

Airstream 30 Bunk Remodel - Mocking up the work area

We originally thought that the remodel would enable an adult to sit on the bed and use the desk. Mocking up the proposed renovation proved the futility of that idea…

Airstream 30Bunk Remodel in progress

Remodel pretty much complete.

Airstream 30 Bunk remodel Desk

I originally planned to install a fold down desk on the wall, but gave up because I was concerned about the sturdiness of that set-up. I ended up opting for a slide-out desk incorporated into the nightstand/steps/storage area.

Airstream 30 Bunk rear bath

As soon as I had the rear full bed removed, I realized an added bonus to the remodel–the bathroom door would now open ALL THE WAY! It’s the little things in this lifestyle!

We planned to leave Michigan on November 1st so Owen could spend Halloween with his cousins. I spent Halloween day frantically preparing to leave. I needed load up the truck, get the propane tanks topped off, dump the trailer’s tanks, and adjust the weight distribution hitch (new, bigger truck tires and the modifications to the back of the trailer changed the weight distribution geometry and necessitated the adjustments). I also wanted to get the trailer weighed to see how we were doing after my mods. I had everything wrapped up by 4pm and we were ready to go Trick or Treating.

GMC BF Goodrich

One of the projects was new truck tires. I upgraded to something slightly beefier than the stock Goodyears.

Halloween

We wanted to stay in Michigan so Owen could Trick or Treat with his cousins. His cousin Drew is Colonel Sanders. I don’t know what Owen is?!?!

GMC and Airstream

All hooked up and ready to roll.

Our original plan was to drive straight to Chicago and spend three or four days exploring the city. However, we were all so fried after the previous few weeks, we decided to take our time getting there. So, we left on November 1st and broke the three-hour drive up into three days, spending the first night at the kitschy RV Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart, Indiana and second night at Indiana Dunes State Park. This route kept our drives easy, gave us time to rest from our hectic late-October schedule, provided an opportunity to visit the RV Hall of Fame (on our bucket list for about a year), and staged us only an hour away from our citified Chicago campsite. On Friday, November 3rd, we headed into the windy city for a few days of urban boondocking.

The RV Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart, Indiana.

The RV Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart, Indiana.

The RV Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart, Indiana.

The RV Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart, Indiana.

Wally Byam

The RV Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart, Indiana.

Posted in 2017, Airstream Maintenance, Indiana, Michigan, Midwest | Tagged , | Leave a comment

500-day Nomadiversary Post

We recently crossed the five hundred day threshold and once again I started thinking about writing a Nomadiversary post…

One of the last sunsets from our Everett, Washington home, prior to selling and launching on the Big Big Trip.

One of the last sunsets from our Everett, Washington home, prior to selling and launching on the Big Big Trip.

Last December, I spent a week thinking-writing-deleting-rethinking-writing-editing-writing-and-eventually-discarding our Six-Month Nomadiversary Blog post. I gave up on it because; with only six-months of fulltiming under our belts, I didn’t feel we had much to say. Plus, we were still in the process of figuring this lifestyle out. Six months later, at the one-year point, I briefly reconsidered the Nomadiversary post, but again rejected the idea for the same reasons as before. So, here we are, five hundred-days in and once again I find myself on the horns of a dilemma: we passed another chronological milestone on our nomadic journey and I don’t really have any deep philosophical thoughts about it?!?!

While five hundred days may seem like an unorthodox benchmark, it coincides with our recent decision to throw a significant curveball into our full-time Airstream lifestyle. Since we are headed back to the west coast to begin a temporary sabbatical from road life as Anna works for a few months, I convinced myself that I needed to take stock of where we’ve been and where we’re going. In doing so, I hoped to reveal some deeper meaning in our journey.

Pre-Launch Trips with our Airstream

We purchased our Airstream in July 2015. Over the next 11-months, we used the trailer for about eight weeks over seven different trips. These Little Trips helped us in deciding how we would use the Airstream after we launched. While we learned many lessons over those seven trips, the learning curve really started once we launched full-time in June 2016.

Over the past week, I repeatedly tried to force the issue and went through the whole “…writing-deleting-rethinking-writing-editing-[blah, blah, blah…]” bullshit again. Ultimately, I ended up at the same fork in the road: give up or keep fighting through. I’m fairly stubborn. So, in the process of battling the writer’s block, realized that I might have at least one philosophical nugget to share with the five or six people that read this drivel.

Through the process of digging through 500-days of experiences looking for something deeper to share, I inadvertently stumbled into a light-bulb moment. While perusing my spreadsheet of Big Big Trip data, I realized that my only real philosophical nugget (for both myself and anyone who reads this) is to stop looking for some great metaphysical epiphany and just fucking sit back, slow down, and enjoy the ride.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. - Ferris Bueller

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
– Ferris Bueller

Whether it was Emerson, Eliot, Hemingway, Aerosmith, or Ferris Buehler that said it, life is a journey, not a destination…in our fast-paced world, it’s really hard to break free from our ingrained proclivity to be in constant motion. Taking the time to stop and smell the roses along the way makes all the difference in this crazy journey called life. Living in an Airstream has got to be one of the best ways to do that. Hell, we’re over 500-days into this thing and I still struggle with this lesson. So, if that’s the case, perhaps someone else could benefit from this wisdom…

Where have we been?

  • Days on the Road:                                                      500-days
  • Miles Traveled:                                                           25,482-miles[i]
  • Days that we’ve traveled:                                          142-days
  • Average Distance on those travel days:                 176-miles
  • States Visited:                                                             34 States
  • National Park Sites Visited:                                     73
  • Time Zones Crossed:                                                 11

Over the past 500-days, we’ve traveled 25,482-miles through 34 different states, crossing time zones 11 times (albeit, the same three time zones multiple times), and visiting 73 National Park Service sites. Of those 500-days, we’ve spent 142 of them actually towing our home to a new location. That means, on average we have relocated about 176-miles every five’ish days. That’s a pretty healthy clip, but not as fast as we were moving when we first started out.

Preparing the Airstream for launch [Spring 2016]

Preparing the Airstream for launch [Spring 2016]

Last year during our first six months on the road, prior to learning that we needed to slow our roll, we traveled 10,051-miles and relocated every about 3½-days. After six months of so much entropy we were burnt out. Luckily, three weeks in Key West were the just the medicine we needed to figure out how to slow down.

With our newfound appreciation in the journey, after Key West we managed to reduce our pace by about 2,000-miles over the second half of our first year (or about 300-miles less traveling each month). Prior to our 2,477-mile Michigan detour, we were poised to slow down even more during the first six months of our second year on the road.[ii] That being said, I don’t feel like we have slowed down. Recently, I feel like we are doing more rushing from one place to the next and we’re feeling harried and anxious.

Moving Day - We sold our home in Everett, Washington. While we downsized quite a bit, we still have over 7,000-lbs of household goods in storage.

Moving Day – We sold our home in Everett, Washington. While we downsized quite a bit, we still have over 7,000-lbs of household goods in storage.

When we sit back and reflect on the past six months, we have reasons to feel rushed and a little tired. Over the past five months, we have completed three long, multiple-day relocations (east coast to Colorado in May/June, Colorado to Oregon in August, and Washington to Michigan in September). Now, as I’m writing this post, we’re in the middle of our fourth—our return trip to the west coast after a six-week stay in Michigan. In our own defense, we are conscious of this and trying our best to take our time as we work our way westward, but it’s hard to fight the laws of physics. Once we’re moving, it’s difficult to slow down unless something forces the issue. We have to constantly check our own inertia.

Airstream GMC Truck Eastern Washington State

Finally on the road. While Anna and Owen headed to Colorado to spend time with her family, I left Washington and headed to Montana for a week of fly fishing. We met-up in Colorado 10-days later.

Luckily though, regardless of our pace, one thing that has remained relatively constant throughout our journey has been our average travel day mileage. We average about 176-miles per travel day (give our take a few, here and there). So, this means that while we have a handful of long travel days, almost half of our travels days are less than 150-miles.[iii] These shorter travel days directly equate to less stress and more enjoyment. It also means that when we do make long cross-country drives, they seem more painful because we’re not used to it.

Our first campsite as a family on the Big Big Trip [July 5th 2016 - outside Rocky Mountain National Park]

Our first campsite as a family on the Big Big Trip [July 5th 2016 – outside Rocky Mountain National Park]

The bottom line is that slowing down has made a huge difference to the enjoyment of the journey and our overall quality of life. Stopping to smell the roses along the way has enabled us to see things and meet people that we never would have met before. We’ve stumbled upon some of America’s beautiful and peaceful places where we could sit back and enjoy just being. Spending a few days at one location prior to moving a few hundred miles further on enables us to get to know an area while having some semblance of a daily routine (regular meals, school for Owen, etc). When you’re focused on the next goal or making another 400-miles the next day, you don’t have much time to sit back and enjoy your surroundings. Everything else takes a backseat to the mission. Basically, taking our time lets us smell the roses along the way. While we understand this lesson in our hearts, sometimes we need to remind ourselves to do it. So that’s my philosophical nugget. Life’s too short not to enjoy the journey, so just fucking sit back, slow down, and enjoy the ride.

Slowing Down makes all the difference  [New Years Day 2017 – Key West, Florida]


[i] These are strictly towing miles. I haven’t kept track of the total miles driven. We now have just shy of 54,000-miles on our truck and I routinely kick myself that I didn’t annotate how many miles we had on it when we left Everett, Washington in June 2016. Fuel Economy: Our tow vehicle is a 2015 GMC Sierra Denali HD with the Duramax Diesel package. Fully loaded, our rig tips the scales at slightly over 18,000-lbs (truck loaded with people, gear, and a full tank of fuel; trailer loaded with gear, food, and a full freshwater tank). For safety and economy reasons, our towing speed is 65-mph or less. We have burned over 2,152-gallons of diesel fuel while towing and our overall average fuel economy while towing (in all conditions) is 11.8-mpg. When we aren’t towing, our mileage varies widely, but averages around 17- to 18-mpg (over various 50-mile aliquots, I’ve seen as low as 9-mpg and as high as 27.9-mpg). My fuel expenditure records are not accurate or complete enough to give a meaningful total cost for fuel. However, I did keep good records during our September 2017 trip from Washington to Michigan. In case you’re wondering, we drove 2,477-miles and burned just under 200-gallons (averaging 12.4-mpg). Our average cost per gallon during that leg of the Big Big Trip was $3.09 per gallon, which averaged out to $0.25 per towing mile (strictly fuel cost and does not include DEF, periodic maintenance, or other wear and tear costs).
[ii] As I’m writing this post in Missouri on November 13th, it looks like we should log about 9,800-miles by the end of the current six month period on December 16th, 2017. So, even with our Michigan detour and subsequent return trip to the west coast, we still aren’t moving as much as we did during that first six months on the road.
[iii] Of our 142 travel days, 17% are greater than 300-miles and 48% are less than 150-miles.

Posted in 2017 | Tagged , | Comments Off on 500-day Nomadiversary Post

Day 500 and What’s Next?

It’s been over 500-days since we left on The Big Big Trip. Looking back, it’s difficult believe that it’s been that long. When we started talking about this adventure, we originally envisioned a trip of 12- or 18-months duration. Based on that original timeline, either we should be fondly looking back on our travels from the comfortable confines of a new residence, or preparing to settle in at that new location. At this point, I can’t imagine being back in the throes of a normal sticks-and-bricks/9-to-5 lifestyle.

Don’t get me wrong; our dreams do not involve an indefinite continuation of this nomadic lifestyle and we look forward to the day when our primary home doesn’t have wheels. However, we aren’t quite ready to make that commitment, park the rig, and settle down somewhere with a white picket fence. There are still too many things to see, too many places to go, and too many things to do. That being said, we do need to shake things up a bit and therefore are rapidly approaching a major lifestyle adjustment.

Although I gladly gave-up my former career and retired from the Navy for the sake of this adventure, Anna’s journey down the on-ramp to the Big Big Trip was a little harder. While I easily walked away from a career with which I had become disillusioned, Anna never shared those feelings for her career. Anna had a vocation that she loved and calling that fed her soul on an almost daily basis. She willingly gave up that daily nourishment to vagabond around the country in a 240-sqft trailer with her family. I’m forever thankful that she reluctantly put her career on-hold to make The Big Big Trip a reality. However, the reality is that she must periodically practice medicine in order to maintain both proficiency and marketability. Knowing that requirement, we agreed that we would take a strategic pause at some point mid-journey so that she could spend time working. As the Big Big Trip progressed, the timing of that strategic pause began to look more-and-more like the winter of 2017/18.

Late this past summer, Anna started talking to Headhunters and polishing her CV. We were well into the search-phase when the Michigan detour threw a monkey wrench into our plans. Luckily, Anna acquired several lucrative targets and managed to engage a 16-week gig that should be very rewarding. However, that job is 2,300-miles away and by early December we will be in Portland, Oregon.

In order to let Owen to enjoy Halloween with his cousins, and to give ourselves five-weeks of flexibility to drive 2,300-miles, we set our departure date as November 1st. We have tentatively planned several stops along the way, as well as a weather-dependent Thanksgiving stop in Colorado. Hopefully, if all goes according to plan, we will be in Oregon by the 5th of December.

We have researched RV Parks around the Portland area and have one picked out for at least two-months of our four-month-long stay. We also intend to get some work done on the trailer while there, so we may end up in no-shit rental place for four to six weeks while Ultimate Airstreams work their magic. I will take over the roadschool homeschool responsibilities, as well as fine-tuning my Mr. Mom/Stay-at-Home-Dad skills (Portland should make that transition pretty easy!) So here we are sitting in Michigan on the cusp of Day 500, staring down another cross-country trek and a major (temporary) lifestyle adjustment. As we prepare to turn the page to a new chapter of the Big Big Trip, it seems like a good time to take stock of where we’ve been and what we’ve done over the past 16-1/2 months, although I’ll tackle that with the next post.

Owen says, "Bring it, Bro..." to the next 500-days.

Owen says, “Bring it, Bro…” to the next 500-days.

Posted in 2017, Michigan, Midwest | Tagged , | Comments Off on Day 500 and What’s Next?

Autumn in Michigan (part II) – You Can’t Always Get What You Want…

You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometime you find,
You get what you need.
The Rolling Stones

We were disgruntled, frustrated, and anxious. This was the third time we changed plans to support an extended stay with our parents. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t angry about it, we were just feeling a little defeated by the responsibility of having aging parents and the benefit of a flexible lifestyle. We had a rough sketch of our plans through the middle of October and made the decision to scrap them in favor of returning to Michigan. We had no idea what we were getting into as we drove eastward across the country, trying to find the silver lining was proving difficult. We didn’t know how long we were going to stay in Michigan and couldn’t even think about what we would do when we left. One thing we did know was that we would need to escape periodically. We finally decided to use my Dad’s yard as a home base. We would spend a week or so visiting him and then make short trips to explore areas we missed last summer. Additionally, these mini-trips had the side-benefit of the opportunity to dump our holding tanks.

Our arrival in Michigan coincided with an unseasonably hot September. With temperatures hovering into the 90s, after nine days in my Dad’s yard we decided to escape the cornfields and relocate to the Lake Michigan beach.

skateboard

Owen shredding in Grandpa’s driveway.

I grew up about 25-miles from Lake Michigan and spent many summer days at the beach at Holland State Park. I hadn’t been there in well over 20-years, so the opportunity to share some of my youth with Anna and Owen sounded pretty good. The night before we left the paterfamilias homestead, Anna received a text from the Alumalarkies; they decided to ditch their Chicago plans and crash our beach party! So on a hot and sticky late-September afternoon, we headed to the beach and another sandy rendezvous with our some of our favorite full-timers.

An impromptu Airstream Rendezvous at Lake Michigan.

An impromptu Airstream Rendezvous at Lake Michigan.

Over the next three days, we had a great time pretending to be weekend warriors with Brea, Shannon, and their boys—the dogs had a great time too. We frolicked on the beach, sat around the campfire, solved world peace, and practiced our skills at breaking into an Airstream. On Wednesday morning we said goodbye as our friends headed to points east. We were staying for one more day before returning to family homestead.

SUP on Beach

There seems to be a pattern forming with these three… [Holland State Park, Michigan]

Our second respite from patriarchal moochdocking occurred about a week later. This time, we wanted to extend our legs slightly beyond 25-miles. Heading up north for an autumn colors trip sounded about right.

We visited Traverse City during last summer’s northern Michigan tour. We both like the area and wanted to take another look around. Also, I’ve wanted to fly fish northern Michigan’s Au Sable River for years. This moochdocking hiatus looked like the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

The Old Mission Lighthouse

The Old Mission Lighthouse

We arrived at Traverse City State Park on Wednesday, October 4th. Last year we stayed for only two days. This time around, we planned to spend four days exploring the downtown area and the Old Mission Peninsula.

I see Uranus on the TART [Traverse City, Michigan]

I see Uranus on the TART [Traverse City, Michigan]

Youthful and vibrant, Traverse City’s downtown area is a mix of charming and eclectic shops, breweries, and eateries. The State Park is located about 4-miles from the downtown district, but is connected to it by the very nice Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation (TART) Trails. We spent one afternoon riding our bikes downtown and grabbing a late lunch and beers at The Filling Station, a wonderful microbrewery and pizza place located in an old railroad station. On another day we spent a few hours exploring the downtown area neighborhoods, trying to imagine ourselves settling down there. While we love the area, the summers can be incredibly crowded and the winters can be, to quote a local, “Brutal!” Suffice it to say, the jury’s still out on this one, but the Traverse City area is on our short list…

Hartwick Pines Autumn Airstream

Our Campsite at Hartwick Pines State Park [Grayling, Michigan]

After Traverse City we moved 52-miles east to Grayling, Michigan. The main reason we relocated was so that I could fish the “Holy Waters” of the Au Sable River. We managed to snag a rare full hook-up campsite at Hartwick Pines State Park. I spent three days fishing, but took Tuesday off so Owen and I could visit Hartwick Pine’s main attractions: a very nice visitor center, a 49-acre tract of Old Growth Pines, and a CCC-constructed Logging Museum.

By the 1860s the country’s eastern forests were depleted. By 1869, Michigan’s large tracts of virgin White Pine earned it the distinction of being the largest lumber producer in the country. Michigan’s seemingly unlimited quantities of white pine rebuilt Chicago after the great fire and helped build hundreds of small towns on the Great Plains as the railways worked westward. In the late-1800s, the Hartwick tract was spared when a recession slowed the building boom. The loggers never really returned to this tract and 85-acres of Old Growth Pine were preserved. A November 1940 blizzard destroyed 36-acres and Hartwick Pines’ remaining 49-acres of 300+ year-old-trees is one of the last continuous stands of old growth white pines in the nation.

By the 1860s the country’s eastern forests were depleted. By 1869, Michigan’s large tracts of virgin White Pine earned it the distinction of being the largest lumber producer in the country. Michigan’s seemingly unlimited quantities of white pine rebuilt Chicago after the great fire and helped build hundreds of small towns on the Great Plains as the railways worked westward. In the late-1800s, the Hartwick tract was spared when a recession slowed the building boom. The loggers never really returned to this tract and 85-acres of Old Growth Pine were preserved. A November 1940 blizzard destroyed 36-acres and Hartwick Pines’ remaining 49-acres of 300+ year-old-trees is one of the last continuous stands of old growth white pines in the nation.

While not as impressive size-wise as other old growth trees we’ve visited, Hartwick Pines is awe-inspiring simply because it exists. In an era of exuberant growth and unchecked greed, it’s strange to fathom that these trees were left behind. Walking among the majestic monarchs was a like taking a stroll back in time. It’s hard and humbling to imagine that 160-years ago the majority of Michigan was covered with these immense giants. More than just a campground close to legendary trout waters, Hartwick Pines State Park provided a valuable lesson in not only our nation’s logging history, but also in the cost of our avarice and the benefits of our desire to conserve and preserve the environment.

While not as impressive size-wise as other old growth trees we’ve visited, Hartwick Pines is awe-inspiring simply because it exists. In an era of exuberant growth and unchecked greed, it’s strange to fathom that these trees were left behind. Walking among the majestic monarchs was a like taking a stroll back in time. It’s hard and humbling to imagine that 160-years ago the majority of Michigan was covered with these immense giants. More than just a campground close to legendary trout waters, Hartwick Pines State Park provided a valuable lesson in not only our nation’s logging history, but also in the cost of our avarice and the benefits of our desire to conserve and preserve the environment.

Au Sable River Brown TroutOn the days that I fished, Anna and Owen kept busy with school work, exploring the State Park, and poking around the downtown Grayling area. Anna also spent a fair amount of time working on paperwork for her upcoming temporary job—I’ll provide more information on this development in a few weeks.

In 1959, a group of frustrated anglers met on the Au Sable River near Grayling, Michigan and formed a conservation organization dedicated to ensuring that wild and native trout populations were allowed to thrive as nature intended. As a Lifetime Member of Trout Unlimited, as well a Michigan native, fishing the Holy Waters of the Au Sable River has been something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. While I would miss the epic summer evening hatches, I would be able to chase the legendary—and hopefully angry—pre-spawn Browns for which the Au Sable is famous.

In 1959, a group of frustrated anglers met on the Au Sable River near Grayling, Michigan and formed a conservation organization dedicated to ensuring that wild and native trout populations were allowed to thrive as nature intended. As a Lifetime Member of Trout Unlimited, as well a Michigan native, fishing the Holy Waters of the Au Sable River has been something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. While I would miss the epic summer evening hatches, I would be able to chase the legendary—and hopefully angry—pre-spawn Browns for which the Au Sable is famous.

With limited time to explore and not sure where begin my hunt, I learned a long time ago that enlisting the talents of a fly fishing guide dramatically shortens the learning curve and pays ample long-term dividends. Also, sans a drift boat, a guide would be my only option to float this storied waterway. Being sort of a traditionalist, my only real choice was turn to Gates Au Sable Lodge for help with a guide and deciphering the Au Sable.

With limited time to explore and not sure where begin my hunt, I learned a long time ago that enlisting the talents of a fly fishing guide dramatically shortens the learning curve and pays ample long-term dividends. Also, sans a drift boat, a guide would be my only option to float this storied waterway. Being sort of a traditionalist, my only real choice was turn to Gates Au Sable Lodge for help with a guide and deciphering the Au Sable.

 

Au Sable River Trout [Photo by Gates Au Sable Lodge Guide, Steve Pels]

Au Sable River Trout [Photo by Gates Au Sable Lodge Guide, Steve Pels]

I spent two days floating the river with two of Gates’ great fly-fishing guides and one day exploring the “Holy Waters” on my own. I’m not the best score keeper, but I think I managed to entice close to two dozen trout to chase my streamer. I actually caught six or seven nice Browns and hooked but lost (long-distance released—LDR’d—if you’re keeping score at home) about another half dozen. All-in-all, it was a great three days of fishing on the Au Sable River.

 

After ten days of autumn exploring in northern Michigan, we hitched up and headed back to the Grand Rapids area on Friday, October 13th. After a few weeks of discussion, we finally had a rough game plan for after Michigan. We would stay in Michigan through the end of the month and head out on November 1st. This would give us a few more weeks with my Dad and also let Owen spend Halloween with his cousins. After that, we will begin a slow’ish journey westward.

Autumn in northern Michigan [Hartwick Pines State Park - Grayling, Michigan]

Drying my wading boots at the Campfire: Autumn in northern Michigan [Hartwick Pines State Park – Grayling, Michigan]

Shopping for a Halloween Costume...sad!

Shopping for a Halloween Costume…sad!

We really weren’t sure what we were getting into when we made the quick decision to ditch our autumn in Washington and return to Michigan. We had no idea what we were going to do once we got here, no clue how long we were going to stay, and no inkling of what we would do next. The benefits of this lifestyle have been the freedom and flexibility to do what we want, when we want. Towing our home with us has allowed us to comfortably change tacks and easily relocate. I left home when I was 18-years-old. Throughout our married life, we’ve never lived closer than 300-miles from our families. With aging parents, the freedom of this lifestyle has given us the opportunity to spend more time with them and to give Owen more opportunity to know his extended family. In fact, it’s a little shocking when I look back at our travels and realize that we’ve spent over a quarter of our time moochdocking at our parents’ homes. It isn’t how we envisioned this great adventure when we started, but it’s funny how things seem to evolve into exactly what you need even if you don’t know it at the time…

Airstream and Milky Way

Night Skies at Hartwick Pines State Park

 

Posted in 2017, Michigan, Midwest | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Autumn in Michigan (part II) – You Can’t Always Get What You Want…

An Autumn Return to Michigan

Over Labor Day Weekend, days after our return to the Pacific Northwest, we received word from Michigan that my Stepmother passed away. We debated flying from Seattle for the service, but quickly ruled that out after a myriad of scheduling constraints prevented the three of us making it to funeral. Ultimately, after consultation with my family, we decided that our best course of action would be to scrap our plans for an autumn in the Pacific Northwest and head back (we were just there in May) to Michigan for an extended stay. On Sunday, the 10th of September, following a week of medical and VA appointments in Seattle, and one final PNW hurrah at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, we departed on the 2,400-mile drive to Michigan.

Roslyn Washington Airstream GMC Northern Exposure

We stopped for lunch in the small Washington town of Roslyn. Located east of the Cascade Mountains, Roslyn was used for the town in the TV series Northern Exposure.

We allotted ourselves six days to drive from western Washington to southwest Michigan. Our planned route was across Washington, Idaho, and western Montana via I-90. Then we would veer north on I-94, traveling through eastern Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, before finally skirting around Chicago and reaching southwestern Michigan. This route had us driving through North Dakota (which we had not yet visited) and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which has been on our bucket list for years.

Thorp's Market Airstream GMC

Stopping for fruit in central Washington. The box of Honey Crisp Apples we picked up here lasted us through early October.

Our usual, run-of-the-mill, travel days average around 170-miles, but when we’re trying to put miles behind us we average between 350- and 400-miles. Practice has shown that after two or three 400-mile days, we are all a little stir crazy and in need of break. With a week of 400+ mile days planned, a day off in the middle would be a welcomed respite. Since Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park was almost exactly our halfway point, spending some time there recovering from the previous three travel days and preparing for the next three made a lot of sense. Therefore, we adjusted our travel days accordingly and spent Wednesday, September 13th taking a day-off from traveling and exploring a wonderfully diverse National Park. As luck would have it, Theodore Roosevelt wasn’t the only NPS site we visited during our eastward trek.

Continental Divide along I-90

Crossing the Continental Divide, eastbound on I-90.

During long travel days, we try to plan interesting and extended lunch stops in order to get out of the truck, get some exercise, and unwind a bit during the middle of the day. I also appreciate the opportunity to grab a 20-30 minute nap (the old Navy habit of a “nooner”—no not that kind!—has proven difficult to break!) Two of our more memorable lunch stops happened to coincide with opportunities for us all to learn something and for Owen to earn two additional Junior Ranger badges.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

Still an operating cattle ranch, Grant-Kohrs preserves and commemorates the era of open range ranching and the role of the Cowboy and Cattleman in our Nation’s history [Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site]

When researching our route east, I came across the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site in Deer Lodge, Montana. This Historic Site became a planned lunch stop for Day Two. Set aside in 1972, Grant-Kohrs is a wonderful little National Historical Site that that is both educational and entertaining. If you ever find yourself passing through Deer Lodge, Montana, do yourselves a favor and visit. We spent three-hours there and could have stayed longer.

Owen learning about cattle drives at the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site.

Owen learning about cattle drives at the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site.

On the morning of Day 3, about 45-minutes after leaving the Billings, Montana Cabela’s parking lot (where we spent our second night on the road), we came across a sign for Pompeys Pillar National Monument. Located east of Billings, off I-94 on the Yellowstone River, Pompey’s Pillar wasn’t on our radar. Because Pompey’s Pillar is administered by the BLM vice the NPS, it wasn’t listed in any of our National Park resources. [Ed. we have since learned to peruse the BLM and National Forest Service websites, as well as the NPS site when we’re doing travel research.] However, the name rang a bell. I couldn’t recall the details, but I knew it had something to do with the Corps of Discovery.

Pompey's Pillar and the National Monument Visitor Center. [Photo Credit: Friends of Pompey's Pillar http://www.pompeyspillar.org]

Pompey’s Pillar and the National Monument Visitor Center. [Photo Credit: Friends of Pompey’s Pillar, http://www.pompeyspillar.org]

In 1806, on Lewis and Clarks’ return trip from the Pacific, in order to cover more territory, they split up in western Montana and traveled separate routes back to the Missouri River. Lewis headed north to determine the northern extent of the Missouri River tributaries and Clark crossed Bozeman Pass and descended the Yellowstone River. The two parties reunited back on the Missouri River in early August 1806.

Anna and Owen studying Clark's signature (along with almost two centuries of others wanting to leave their mark). [Pompey's Pillar National Monument]

Anna and Owen studying Clark’s signature (along with almost two centuries of others wanting to leave their mark). [Pompey’s Pillar National Monument]

While the Blackfeet Indians would eventually chase Lewis and his party out of northern Montana, Clark had relatively few problems on his leg of the journey. On July 25th, Clark camped near a rock outcropping on the Yellowstone River that he named in honor of Sacagawea’s son, whom he nicknamed Pompey.

Like any good soldier, upon discovery Clark immediately climbed to the top of the pillar and desecrated it by carving his name and date into it (Go Navy, Beat Army!) Clark's graffiti on the top of Pompey’s Pillar is some of the only surviving evidence that we have of their amazing and world-changing journey in 1804-1806. Also, it seems to be one of the only explorers’ only tributes to one of the more valuable members of their expedition, Sacagawea—albeit the tribute is to her son and not her…

Like any good soldier, upon discovery Clark immediately climbed to the top of the pillar and desecrated it by carving his name and date into it (Go Navy, Beat Army!) Clark’s graffiti on the top of Pompey’s Pillar is some of the only surviving evidence that we have of their amazing and world-changing journey in 1804-1806. Also, it seems to be one of the only explorers’ only tributes to one of the more valuable members of their expedition, Sacagawea—albeit the tribute is to her son and not her…

While our stop at Pompey’s Pillar was significantly earlier in the day than we would have liked, it was definitely worth it because the monument and visitor center were absolutely excellent. We had a great time exploring visitor center, climbing the pillar, learning more about Lewis and Clark, and earning another Junior Ranger badge.

With Junior Ranger badge in-hand and the memories filed away, we pulled out and continued our eastward trek in Clark’s wake until the Yellowstone River meandered north from I-94 and we finally exited Montana at the North Dakota state line.

With Junior Ranger badge in-hand and the memories filed away, we pulled out and continued our eastward trek in Clark’s wake until the Yellowstone River meandered north from I-94 and we finally exited Montana at the North Dakota state line.

Soon after leaving Pompey’s Pillar we encountered thick smoke from the wildfires raging in northern Montana. While the smoke abated slightly as we traveled east, it would be an ever-present companion for the next three days until we got east of Bismarck, North Dakota.

We pulled into Medora, North Dakota and because of the smoke debated staying in an RV park vice inside Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The private campground did not look appealing so we decided to drive into the park and check out the NPS campground. We would make a decision at that point. A combination of beauty and abundant wildlife convinced us that staying in the park was the right decision—we could live with a little smoke.

Owen watching prairie dogs through the thick and persistent wildfire smoke [Theodore Roosevelt National Park]

Owen watching prairie dogs through the thick and persistent wildfire smoke [Theodore Roosevelt National Park]

While all the literature said that Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s Cottonwood Campground rarely fills midweek, we were surprised to find that it was filled-up on a Tuesday night because of the wildfire refugee campers that relocated from Glacier National Park. Luckily, the campground hosts let us spend the night in a very nice overflow site until we could move to a regular site in the morning. Although it was smoky and moving our rig was a lot of rigmarole, we are glad we stayed inside the park.

Theodore Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Cabin

Theodore Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin

Inside the Maltese Cross cabin at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Inside the Maltese Cross cabin at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is divided into three units: the Northern Unit, the Southern Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. We stayed at the Southern Unit, which is located along I-94 in Medora, ND. The Northern Unit is located 68-miles north of the Southern Unit and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit is located between, and just west of, the two other units. Although we wanted to visit the other units, we didn’t have enough time to do so. Regardless, the Southern Unit was impressive enough to whet our appetites for another, longer and more in-depth, visit.

Our Campsite at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Our second campsite at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

During our 38-hours in the park, we drove the Southern Unit’s loop road, did a short hike to a few scenic overlooks, toured TR’s first ranch (moved from its original location several miles south of the park), watched prairie dogs frolic and a Coyote stalk his dinner at two of the Park’s three prairie dog towns, got a little too up-close and personal with a Bison, and saw several more, as well as few antelope playing. Both nights of our stay, we were serenaded to sleep by the haunting howls of Coyotes somewhere along with Little Missouri River valley. While our stay at Theodore Roosevelt National Park was short, it left a lasting impression and we are really looking forward to another visit.

North Dakota Badlands at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

North Dakota Badlands at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

We departed Medora, ND on Thursday morning and continued our journey east to Michigan. The next three days of driving all seemed to blend together as we made our way across North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and into Michigan. About midway through North Dakota we could feel the air becoming more humid and unpleasant—welcome to the Midwest! On Thursday, we spent an uncomfortable and loud night in a Minnesota WalMart parking lot and decided to pay for a campsite on Friday. We set our sights on a Madison, Wisconsin KOA for Friday night in order to full hook-ups, giving us air conditioning and the ability to pull into my Dad’s yard with empty grey and black tanks. On Saturday, the 16th of September, after 2,477-miles and 34+ hours of driving, we arrived in Michigan at my Dad’s house.

Airstream GMC Byron Center Yard Moochdocking

Homebase for the next six weeks.  A LOT of bugs were harmed in the making of this journey…

Since early September, when we decided to scrap our Pacific Northwest plans and head back to Michigan, we hadn’t really discussed plans much beyond a few weeks at my Dad’s. That really didn’t change as we go closer. While going home was the right thing to do, we were both a little frustrated and slightly anxious about the change and didn’t want to think about what was next. Since August, Anna has been working with a variety of headhunters to coordinate a temporary job to earn some extra money and keep her proficiency up. We had previously been limiting our search to the west coast, but decided to expand it during our trek eastward. After our drive from Washington to Michigan, we were having a hard time fathoming a return trip. Her temporary employment options appear more limited on this side of the country, so even as I write this post in early October, we don’t know what’s next. We plan to stay in Michigan through Halloween so Owen can enjoy trick or treating with his cousins. We intend to leave Michigan on either the 1st or 2nd of November, but we’re not sure where we will be going. The jobs Anna looked at on this side of the country haven’t panned out, so we’re still focusing our search on the west coast and that’s ok…at this point, three weeks since we arrived, the pain of that cross-country pseudo-sprint has faded quite a bit, so I guess we’ll see what happens next…

 

 

Posted in 2017, Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site, Great Plains, Idaho, Michigan, Midwest, Montana, National Parks Service (NPS) Sites, North Dakota, Pacific Northwest, Pompey's Pillar National Monument, Rocky Mountains, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Wisconsin | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on An Autumn Return to Michigan