Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Recap of Our First Year, Plus, On the Road

2012 DECEMBER 26

It's been one year, and 10 days that we have been "on the road". 

It has been thrilling at times, as well a frightening, peaceful, silly, and tiring. We have been excited, calmed, amazed, and bored. There have been days when it was so hot, that we could not have breathed with air conditioning. There have been winds of incredible speeds in arid climates, as well as in the midst of fierce rains. There have been nights when the beauty of the stars and planets made our insignificance comforting. There have been meteor showers and rain showers, sun rises and sunsets, shorelines of lakes, oceans, and rivers. There have been glimpses of creation, so intense in their beauty, as to be literally, breathtaking. There have been mosquitoes, molting moths, stink bugs, ants, and no see ums. But through it all there has been gratitude for this experience.

We've met people who have been friendly and kind. And one or two who were annoying, or rude. Most have been helpful, and willing to share their experiences and knowledge. Several have been truly special and though we didn't know them long, it made us sad to say farewell when we departed for the next destination in our journey. 

We weren't sure where the road would take us, except that we wanted to go away from Pittsburgh. We left our yard on December 16, 2011, knowing only that we were first headed south, to Florida, for an appointment to have some warranty work done on our shower in our new RV on December 22. Beyond that, we had no plans. 

Our year plus has mostly continued to be one of few real plans. We have been mostly making it up as we go. 

From the place where we got our repairs done, near Tampa, we traveled throughout Florida, south to the Keys, west to the Ft. Myers area, north to Pensacola, and several places  in-between. We visited Mississippi, which was a revelation to a couple of Yankees, with very biased ideas about the deep South. In Arkansas we experienced the beauty of spring in a way we had never expected. Then came Texas. That was a very challenging place. The enormity of it was overwhelming, and we were never even near the Gulf coastal region, nor up in the panhandle, nor along the Rio Grande! We enjoyed seeing the wildflowers in bloom, and the amazing assortment of birds and butterflies. Then, we were off to New Mexico, where we fell in love with the Land of Enchantment and the people who live there. From Carlsbad to Chama, we loved every place we visited in New Mexico. In Arizona,we were also enchanted by the indescribable majesty of the Grand Canyon, as well as the unexpected tribute to Jackson Browne, in Winslow. 

The vague idea of heading from Arizona to California, morphed into a trip to Hoover Dam and Las Vegas. Although it was only late May, the desert proved too hot for us with three digit temperatures, so we headed north. In Utah, we found a wonderful little gem in Spanish Fork. From the mountains behind the golf course across the road, to the river trails behind us in the city park, it was a lovely find. And it didn't hurt that it had water and electric hook ups for only twelve dollars a night! Leaving Utah, we headed for Flaming Gorge and Green River, Wyoming. We finally got to meet one of the internet friends we had made several years before. My only regret, was that I didn't get to meet Kandy and her wonderful family while Hazel was still alive. Hazel was Kandy's Newfoundland dog. Again,the people and the town were wonderful; the beauty of the area, unimaginable. We also discovered the real cowboys live in Wyoming and Devil's Tower is one of those must see geologic wonders.

Wyoming lead us into South Dakota. Our one absolute was to establish South Dakota residency before our Pennsylvania tags expired. We wanted a mailing service in South Dakota, so that we could receive mail, have our ID and driver's license,and register our motorhome. Along the way, we visited the Badlands, Sturgis, Mt Rushmore, and a few state parks. South Dakota State Parks are relatively inexpensive, although they lack water hook ups, they do have electric and wifi. But it was July, and those three digit temps from Las Vegas, had found their way to South Dakota, so we decided to travel farther north.

North Dakota, to be far, didn't see much of us. We did acquire a speeding ticket there, and spent a couple of one nighters in semi creepy campgrounds, on our way to northern Minnesota. 

Now, Minnesota was another surprise! Who knew it was so green! Evergreens, everywhere!   It was beautiful! We visited the US Hockey Hall of Fame, the International Wolf Center, and the North American Bear Center, before heading for our first glimpse of Lake Superior. We camped in Grand Marais, Minnesota, on the shores of Lake Superior and had delicious pizza from a pizzeria with the unlikely name of "Sven and Ollies". Seriously! One of the top three pizzas we've had on the road! We traveled along Lake Superior through Minnesota, into Wisconsin and into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We loved it there. Peaceful.We stayed at week in Hancock and would've stayed longer, but needed to get to an Apple Store for some repairs to the laptop, so we drove south through the Upper Peninsula, back into Wisconsin to the area near Milwaukee. After dropping the the laptop at the Apple Store, we stayed for ten days at a state park while Apple fixed the laptop. Our travels in Wisconsin included lots of visits to lighthouses along the western shore of Lake Michigan. 

Next, after leaving Wisconsin, and heading into Illinois, we thought we were very clever by staying in an Illinois state park until early on a Sunday morning as we planned our next leg, which would take us through Chicago. The plan was to avoid the big city traffic by driving through Chicago at ten AM, Sunday. Best laid plans once again, foiled. After making our way out of Chicago, through a maze of traffic and road construction, we passed through a little corner of Indiana,and then embraced the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, as we planned our journey north through the great state of Michigan.

We stayed in a mix of private campgrounds and state parks as we enjoyed and explored the mitten of Michigan. We loved it there! Nice people, lots of campfires, lighthouses, and of course, one of the Great Lakes! We especially loved the northwestern part of Michigan's hand. (And we love how people in Michigan hold up their hand and point to an area on it to indicate what part of the state they're from.) But, we were on a mission. We were headed back to the Upper Peninsula, this time via the Mackinac Bridge. The bridge itself is an experience. It's very, very long and very expensive to cross. 

The Upper Peninsula is difficult to describe. It is extremely low key. It is green. The people are kind. It felt almost like stepping back in time. We spent more than two weeks in Muskallonge Lake State Park. It was affordable, clean and located on the shore of Lake Muskallonge, across the road from Lake Superior. We had a campsite with an unobstructed view of Lake Muskallonge and a brief walk to Lake Superior. It was here that we learned about Lake Superior Agates. I searched and searched but didn't find any. But I did collect lots of interesting rocks, even if they weren't agates. And, because the UP of Michigan, especially in that area, is very dark, we had an amazing view of the Perseids meteor shower. When we left Muskallonge we headed to Grand Marais, Michigan.

Grand Marais, Michigan is the of the opposite of Grand Marais, Minnesota. Where the one in Minnesota caters to the tourist trade, with lots of campgrounds, bed and breakfasts, hotels, gift shops, pizza, grocery stores, and all manor of other things that tourists find necessary, the Grand Marais in Michigan is a very small town, catering to the outdoor enthusiast. There are two small groceries, a bank, post office, hardware store, gas station,an outdoor sporting goods shop, and two restaurants. They have one campground, municipally operated, on the edge of a rise, overlooking Lake Superior. We stayed for three weeks. You could walk to town, less than half a mile away. We would've stayed longer, but we were already past Labor Day and the nights were getting cooler and we did want to visit Pittsburgh in time for my Daddy's birthday, in late September. We had time, but didn't want to rush our trip south through Michigan along Lake Huron. There were more lighthouses to be seen, after all.

As we finished our tour of coastal Michigan, and headed into Ohio, we decided to make a stop at a wonderful state park near Toledo. The park is called Maumee Bay State Park, and because we were arriving after Labor Day, and were "senior", we got what we considered a great rate, at $21 per day. Turns out, if we had been Ohio residents, it would've been only $14 per day! At such great prices, I really don't understand why more people don't camp! 

One of the highlights of our visit to the Toledo area, as well as one of my personal highlights of our first year traveling, was visiting with and reconnecting with my friend, LaVerne, whom I hadn't seen in about 40 years. LaVerne and I knew each other in a program called Upward Bound, when we were in high school. The last time I saw LaVerne was at her bridal shower, back in 197?. It was so amazing to pick up where we left off, after such a long time and find that friendship can indeed be revived after four decades of absence. It was heartwarming to find that we could still laugh and joke while sharing the details of the last 40 years. It was encouraging to know that our heartaches, though painful, could also be shared, and in the sharing, somehow be diminished.

After spending nearly a week at Maumee Bay,and many days catching up with LaVerne, we headed to Cleveland so Raymond could visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Turns out, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is so enormous that Ray may need another visit sometime in the future. But since it was only a day trip through Cleveland, there simply wasn't time this visit.

From Cleveland, we headed on toward Erie, PA, followed by a stop in Conneaut Lake, PA, for old times sake. Raymond got to see the "old vacation homestead", called "Ray's Place". (The 'Ray' in Ray's Place was for his Grandfather, Father and Uncle, all named Ray). After this stroll down memory lane, we headed south on I-79, toward Pittsburgh.

Well, not Pittsburgh so much, as Cranberry Township, where we camped in Ray's brother's and sister in law's driveway for about ten days. I can't speak for Ray's brother or sister in law, but it was great for me, hanging out in their driveway! We had our own space, yet all the conveniences of their home, as well, plus dinners together and time to visit. Since we didn't have a car, we relied on my dear brother, Vinny's graciousness in lending us his car for a couple of days, as well as the jitney services of my sweet friend, Laura, who hauled me to my doctor's appointment, and to visit my Daddy. We are blessed to have such good friends and kind relatives :)

During the time we had my brother's car, we ventured down to the North Side to visit our old house. It was, for me, a most unpleasant experience. Part of the reason we visited was to consider the idea of parking in our yard for a couple of weeks to save some money. Unfortunately, the idea of returning there was fraught with suffocating feelings of failure, depression, and negativity for me. It was so overwhelming, that I refused to even consider staying in our old yard. I can't say it was rational, but it was real. This led to stress, anxiety and a lot of tension between Ray and me, and ultimately led to us cutting our visit in Pittsburgh shorter than we originally intended. We stayed long enough to visit my Daddy and celebrate his birthday, get a yearly physical, and a decent haircut, from my friend, Karen. We missed seeing many, many family and friends, but now we have a reason to go back to visit again, right? It would be easier to visit if either we had a tow vehicle, or if there was a campground closer to the city. 

We left Pittsburgh, once again heading south. This time we were planning to use the remaining time left in our Thousand Trails membership, by visiting several TT campgrounds in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina before the expiration of our membership on November 30. Since there were some time limitations we spent several days in each of the Thousand Trails campgrounds in Virginia, before heading to North Carolina. I was looking forward to spending one month on the beach in North Carolina, and couldn't wait for October 15 and our arrival in the Outer Banks. Careful what you wish for...

We arrived at Ocean Waves Campground, in Waves, NC, on Hatteras Island on October 15, as planned, looking forward to a month of beautiful Outer Banks weather. We had camped at this particular campground in our two man backpacking tent, with BlueDog and Jake, w-a-y  back in 1986, and were looking forward to seeing how things had changed. It was in the midst of our month, that Hurricane Sandy came to call. Because of the hurricane's location so far off shore, the fact that there was no mandatory evacuation, and the storm's wide ranging wind and rain field, we decided to stay put and ride out the storm. It was a nerve wracking experience. While we had some protection from the ocean afforded by a huge dune, and the fact that the beach was at least twenty-five feet below the dune line, we had no protection from the fierce winds which howled for three and a half days, often gusting to 50+mph. The rain, when it came, was equally fierce, but not as long lived as the wind. It was a scary experience, but not terrifying. Not sure if I would do it again. Although in a way, it was good that we stayed. The road washed out on the southern side of the Bonner Bridge, and when we left on November 15, the road still wasn't open. If we had evacuated, we wouldn't have been able to get back after the storm. When we left the Island we had to take an emergency ferry from Rodanthe, across the sound to Stumpy Point, NC. Still, it was an experience I wouldn't want to forfeit.

Leaving the Outer Banks, we headed across NC on 64, to I-95 south, into SC.  Now, to use up our last two weeks as Thousand Trails members, at The Oaks at Point South, in Yemassee. We had our second "pot luck" Thanksgiving there, having also celebrated Thanksgiving at Ocean Waves prior to our departure from NC. From there, we headed to Edisto Island State Park to spend the month of December, just steps from the Atlantic Ocean. Edisto Island is about halfway between Charleton, SC and Savanah, GA. The Island is quiet and mostly undeveloped, except for housing, a grocery store, post office, bank, bookstore and hardware store. The SC state parks had a fantastic snowbird offer, which gave us a month at the beach or the cost of two weeks. What a deal! The only drawback to Edisto Beach is the drinking water. The Park water has an extremely high saline content, and is not really drinkable. However, you can take water containers to the firehall and fill them for free, so it's really a minor inconvenience.

We have just celebrated our second Christmas "on the road". This one was peaceful and not nearly as much a cause for "homesickness" as was the last.  I was surprised by the number of people present in the campground for what I had always considered a family day. The number of people living this nomadic lifestyle, in one form or another, continues to surprise me. We will be in Edisto Island State Park, until the turn of the New Year. How blessed are we that we could spend thirty full days, camped where we could hear the sound of the waves, just yards from our door?

From here, we continue south.  We'll be heading to Florida, probably for most of January and February.

Then? ...Well, the plan, if you can call it a plan, is to travel along the Gulf of Mexico over to coastal Texas ...maybe for March.

Then? Who knows?

1 comment:

  1. Wow-your whole past year plus in a nutshell-good & bad. It was perfect! Carry on -your groupies are ready for more adventures!!!

    Love ya,