Posts tagged ‘travel’

Reconnaissance to Wayne National Forest

River View

Things are slow in the travel and adventure arena at the moment. Oh, conditions are great! The kiddies are back in school, the fair-weather ‘campers’ and RVers have packed up their tents and winterized their lines, the weather is nice and cool, and the sun has been out!

Unfortunately, DW and I have been unable to get our schedules arranged for much mutual free time; we used to have afternoons and evenings for some extensive bike riding, but her new position shifted her working hours. She goes in later and comes home later. By the time she gets home she’s more tired, and in the autumn the sun goes down sooner. No bike rides. I’m now home two hours before she is, and the expectation is I’ll do some housework in that time, and have dinner ready when she walks in the door.

We won’t go there.

We have, however, managed to squeeze together a couple of days in mid-December for a little boondocking trip, and we thought we’d give Wayne National Forest a look-see. It’s not far, and has free dispersed camping throughout the forest; we’re just not sure how well it’s set up for dispersed camping in a van. So we figured a little reconnaissance of the area, before we head down for camping trip, is in order.

Our topographical maps ( and I love my iPad app for this function) show a lot of hilly terrain, but there appear to be level areas where a van could park, and unpaved roads with access back to those sites. More importantly, the topo map depicts areas within the National Forest which are privately owned, and could not be legally accessed without permission. Verifying the terrain with an online satellite view, as well, shows new structures in the area, that have been built since the maps were made, as well as more accurately depicts clearings in the forest, or other obstructions that might make the area undesirable for camping.

Since it’s so close, we’re going to take a day to do a quick recce, to drive through and check it out, before taking the camper down for a few days. Although a lot of the fun of boondocking and traveling are the unexpected sights and events, a little proper prior planning, or a little foreknowledge of the area, never hurts. We’ll take Gail’s compact car for that, to save on gas. I wouldn’t mind talking to a couple of the rangers, either, to get their advice on boondocking areas; and make sure I have any emergency phone numbers for the area.

It never hurts.

Well, it won’t be too much longer before DW retires, and we’ll have a lot more free time together for traveling. Then, I can get after HER about getting housework done, and having my dinner ready when I walk in the door, and….

We’d better not go there.


The Cow Palace

Maine is a wonderful travel destination. Personally, we tend to gravitate towards the sea coast. We love the scenic harbor towns: the wharves and boathouses, fishing boats and nets; the sea breeze carrying the unique fragrance of Poseiden’s realm; the sounds of the gulls and waves.

Our son was two, and was totally spoiled by a doting set of grandparents, who were not about to let us take their precious grandson away for two whole weeks. So, on this particular trip, we needed to rent a place to stay – a place to hold two adults, one child, and three grandparents. After a little research, we found a captain’s house on Penobscot Bay, near Stockton Springs. It was still undergoing renovation, and only the bottom two floors were usable, but this was the first season the new owners were renting, and the price was extremely reasonable. So, we made reservations and, as soon as school was out for the year, we hopped in our Suburban and drove east.

Actually, we drove north and THEN east, but I think editorial license permits a bit of understatement.

The trip was a riot, and Beloved Son was king: he dictated who sat where; especially, who had the privilege of sitting at his left and right hands, those who would have the honor of entertaining and waiting on him, as opposed to the one banished to the furthest borders of his kingdom – the back seat.

King Solomon never had it so well.

The trip took two days, and eventually we pulled into Stockton Springs. The directions to the house were a bit confusing, so we stopped at the major intersection of town, and asked the gas station attendant for assistance. We had momentary trouble making our intended destination known, but finally we saw his mental light click on.

“Oh,” he said, “you mean the Cow Palace.”

The Cow Palace. My wife and I are seldom on the same wavelength, but this time we were both in sync. Visions of mulling cows, flies, and various bovine-scented deposits were filling our heads.

The attendant must have noted our response, but he just smiled, gave directions, and refused to expand on his remark.

Our destination was, in fact, just a few miles down a side road, directly on the sound; and as soon as we turned into the drive, we understood the attendant’s remark. There, behind this charismatic and scenic old captain’s house, was a faded, grey, used-to-be-painted-white barn, and along the top were the hand-painted words, “The Cow Palace.”


The grounds were lovely, and the house was only a few hundred yards from the rocky beach. Several miles down the road, on the point, was an old New England lighthouse. Other than that, there were no buildings, or neighbors, in sight. That night, the windows open to the cool sea breeze, was the darkest and quietest night I have experienced. At one point, with the tide either leaving or returning, we could hear the soft “shurrrr-rush” of the water. But, when the tide was still, the complete stillness was frightening.

We spent a wonderful week along the coast; the harbors, Acadia National Park, and just the hours spent walking along the long rocky beach, which we had entirely to ourselves, were memorable. Of the thousands of images I have probably photographed throughout my life, it was on that beach I took the one which will always be my favorite: a boy and his grandfather, walking hand-in-hand, frozen in mid-laugh. No other image will ever bring to heart as strong an emotion than the image of that particular moment.

It was a fantastically relaxing vacation which ended entirely too soon, and the memories saved, both on film and in the darkroom of the mind, were – and still are – priceless.

Oh wait – I nearly forgot! The most unique feature of the entire Cow Palace…

… the bathroom.

The owners had taken an entire first floor bedroom, and converted it into a bathroom. The most spacious bathroom I have ever seen; and, somewhere in the twisted mind of a two year old, our son decided that the middle of the bathroom was the perfect location for game playing.

Picture, if you can, three senior citizens, two grown adults, and one dictatorial two year old, in the middle of a good sized bedroom decorated with toilet, sink and shower, playing ring-around-the-rosie, and going ‘all fall down’ on the hard tile floor.

So tell me – think he grew up spoiled?


But at 22 years of age, he still gets to decide who calls, “Shotgun!”

O’Haver Lake


I love to boondock; and by boondocking I mean to get out in nature, away from people, to locations not normally viewed by the human eye. State Parks are nice, in the off- season, when the rugrats are back in school, the weather is a bit too cold for the average ‘camper’, and there are at least ten vacant spaces between occupied campsites, but even in the best of conditions the State Park is only a temporary fix, designed to momentarily ease the incessant cravings of the addiction known as the Great Outdoors. This desire to get away from everybody else is one of the reasons DW and I chose a 19 foot camper van as our choice of recreational vehicle. It does not have four wheel drive, unfortunately, but so far it has managed to get us everywhere we have asked it go, then get us back out again… … even to O’Haver Lake. It was the first time we had taken the GyrFalcon out west, and we were cruising the Colorado, Utah and New Mexico area. One of the towns high up on our retirement short list is Salida, Colorado, and we decided to spend a few days in the area. It was June, and we wanted to avoid the campgrounds in the area, but weren’t familiar enough with the area to know where we could legally boondock, but the map showed a camping symbol next to a splash of blue labelled O’Haver Lake. It was getting late, we weren’t looking for an adventure – just a parking spot – and the camping area was just off a county road, so we figured it wouldn’t be too inaccessible. Ha! As we turned off the main road, we found ourselves driving through a ranch in the valley, passing through open gates in the fence which were guarded by metal grates which cars could pass over, but cattle could not. It was easy driving and nice scenery – at first. We eventually came to a spot, however, where the concept of ‘road’ took on a much more primitive color. Yes, it could still be called a road, if one’s concept of a road is grapefruit sized rocks tossed up the side of a hefty slope with hairpin turns that even Herbie the Love Bug would have difficulty negotiating. Seriously – we climbed that slope at 5 mph, having to back up to make one particularly sharp curve, hoping the suspension held up and we didn’t meet anyone coming down the other way. Doors, cabinets and drawers flew open, and food, clothing and everything else went flying askance. I am not one generally given to profanity, but I will say every hard bump that jolted the suspension elicited words I thought I had left behind in the Marine Corps, each one roaring to a louder crescendo than the last. The bumps got so bad at one point, I thought my teeth might rattle out. And they’re my own. The drive wasn’t excessively long, it merely seemed that way; but once we got to the top we decided the ends justified the screams. It was beautiful. The lake appeared popular among fisherman, who were serenely floating in inner tubes, and who would propel themselves gently backwards by paddling with their feet, their fishing lines trawling in the wake. I don’t recall ever seeing anyone catch anything, but I supposed catching something was, in actuality, secondary to the lazy drifting about, and the slow, smooth flick and swish of the line. Un-amazingly enough, most of the campers along the lake were in bed mounted units atop four wheel drive pickup trucks. There were a couple of smaller Class Cs, and one small Class A, which I doubt had ever moved from its current location – at least in my generation. Thinking back, most of the campers were probably up there on a seasonal basis, or better. Secondary vehicles indicated the locals probably came up on the weekends or during their vacations. DW and I spent a couple of days walking around the lake, relaxing, reading, but eventually had to leave because the GyrFalcon’s batteries were running a bit low. Time to find a place to hook up to shore power for an overnight charge. The ride down the county road was less stressful than the drive up – we knew what to expect, and gravity helped out; and the only thing that even tempted to pull me out of my relaxed and peaceful mood was the sight and sound of a wheel cover merrily bouncing down the road ahead of us, which eventually made one last, and successful, leap for freedom into the surrounding woods. But who could blame it? Freedom, after all, is what it’s all about.

In Praise of Older Vehicles

Now, I admit a passion for older vehicles, whether they be cars, trucks, or camper vans. They are very much like a woman who has, shall we say, driven around the block once or twice. Or more. They still have beautiful lines, their exterior can still be buffed to an acceptable glow, there’s a little bounce left in the springs, padding in the upholstery and, well, they have acquired a certain character over time.

One certainly sees one’s share of characters.

The difficulty though, as with any budding relationship, is trying to get a feel for what’s going on INSIDE the object of our possible affection. Oh sure, she purrs smoothly, but every man who is familiar with the potholes of life, who knows of the internal damage often caused by a lack of proper maintenance, possibly even neglect, and who has, himself, experienced the terrifying fires of a crash-and-burn, knows that deep down inside this deceptively apparent treasure, there has got to be something terribly wrong; and he’s not going to discover exactly what is is until after he’s made the commitment.

Well, sorry Son, there are no guarantees in life. There is one thing, however, which can let you enter into this potentially disappointing relationship with – at least – a little peace of mind…

…the rubber.

Examining the rubber components of any vehicle offers a splendid indication of how well the vehicle has been maintained, and provides a fairly accurate indication of how much money you’re going to have to invest to ensure she keeps purring at you lovingly, even once the honeymoon is obviously over.

Every rubber part on a vehicle should be soft and supple: no hardness, and certainly no cracks. A hard piece of rubber cannot perform the function it was designed to do, whether it is a tire, a hose, a belt or a bushing. A tire with cracks will soon begin losing air, sometimes quickly and often at the most inconvenient time. A hose which leaks either air, vacuum, or fluids will prevent the engine from running properly, or possibly the brakes from functioning. A rubber bushing, which provides cushioning and protection between two metal components, will allow those components to wear, work loose, or break, should the bushing grow too rigid. A belt which is cracked is going to break, and possibly damage the engine when it does.

Examine beneath the bonnet ( the hood), and all around the steering and suspension, looking for rubber components that have failed, or are failing. If they’ve already failed, it’s possible there’s other damage that will be needing repair. When you find pieces that need to be replaced, look around it and try to imagine how long it would take a mechanic to replace that part. Think in terms of about $100 an hour – plus parts.

Don’t get discouraged. There are many, many worthy matches out there just waiting to be discovered by the proper individual. You may reject a great many possibilities, some which have, maybe, just a bit too much character. But that’s OK – you’re not going to find what you need without a lot of searching, quite a bit of inspecting, or even the occasional test drive. So, get out there and start looking for that new partner to help to help you cruise down the highway of life.

Just don’t forget the rubber.

Grand Marais

Click on any one of my ‘Travel Shots’ photos in the sidebar for more images from Grand Marais and the Upper Peninsula

Last July, DW and I got the urge to head out for cooler climes, so we traveled north into the upper peninsula of Michigan, along the shores of Lake Superior. We stopped overnight in Paradise; we had planned to stay longer than one night, but we quickly found out that it wasn’t: wasn’t Paradise, that is. Every time we stepped outside the safety of our GyrFalcon, we immediately became the target of swarms of mosquitoes who, if their appetite was any indication, hadn’t been fed all summer long. It’s a pity, because the surrounding area was rather interesting. We enjoyed a hike to Root Beer Falls; so named because the tannic acid in the water made it look like root beer as it rushed over the falls. We rode our bikes to the lighthouse at Whitefish Point, and photographed a small, handmade tribute to several crew members of the Edmund Fitzgerald. But it seemed no matter what we tried – thick clothing or gallons of insect repellent – the mosquitoes were tenacious. So we left early the next morning and cruised down the road, curious what we might find in the little harbor town of Grand Marais.

Grand Marais is located on a beautiful and peaceful harbor. There is not much to the town, and we only planned on staying overnight, but we actually ended up spending a week. While the town is more popular during the winter months, because there are numerous trails crisscrossing the area which are employed by snowmobile enthusiasts (we even located a closed-for-the-season hot chocolate stand), we found several attractions to the area that kept us from leaving.

There was only one campground in the area, which stretched along the shore of Lake Superior. We could look out from our camper, and watch the iron freighters cruise by. The campground was not crowded, and it was right on the edge of the town itself. They had a farmer’s market in the evening for fresh fruits and vegetables, several nice restaurants, the roads were nice for cycling, and one could sit along the bay and just relax.

One recommendation for visitors, and that’s to make sure you have some cash, and not plan on depending on credit or debit cards. One unique restaurant, which you will want to vist – the West Bay Diner and Delicatessen – only takes cash, and when we tried to get cash from the one ATM in town, we found it only worked if you happened to be on the local bank’s network; which we, of course, were not.

As the local postmistress put it: “Well, you ARE in the U P…”

We had an added bonus over the weekend, as a large group of people began motoring into town for a well-attended sea kayak symposium. DW and I had been talking about getting into lake kayaking, and we had some interesting moments speaking to some of he participants as well as the hosts of the symposium. We enjoyed watching both beginner and experienced paddlers having fun out on the water. Overall, the presence of the paddlers added a level of enjoyment we hadn’t expected.

Unfortunately, the quiet week was over far too quickly, but we headed home relaxed and rested. We didn’t get to explore much deeper into the UP, but that just means we have more new sights to look forward to on our next trip north.

Trip to Lima (Final Day)

Sunday, the third and final day of our little jaunt to Lima, Ohio, was basically quiet and relaxing. As the original post indicated, we slept late, but then we got up and walked around the campground, and down towards the lake, for about an hour. We meandered back to the campsite, unbuttoned the windows, unplugged the shore power, and headed of for a drive around the area.

Driving around an old resort town in the off-season can be a bit gloomy: all the old stores and restaurants with empty parking lots, run down seasonal campgrounds with now-vacant mobile homes, beaches and playgrounds with no one enjoying the area … In a way it appeals to the introvert inside me, but I also realize that the income of most of the locals depends on the money of tourists.

My donuts had been some time ago, so we were in the town of Russell Point, looking for a place to eat. In one parking lot was a sign advertising freshly grilled chicken, $6.99 with one side, and the cook had a couple of pieces of chicken sizzling on an outdoor grill; but there were no customers about, even though the noon hour had come and gone. We considered turning around and going back – the thought of grilled chicken was particularly tempting – and pulling the camper along the beach for a lakeside picnic, but a small restaurant named Aunt Millie’s caught our eye. A small place, but there were quite a few cars in the parking lot. Mostly locals, I suspected.

When it comes to good eating, always trust the locals.

DW had the perch, and I had the lightly fried chicken, both accompanied by a soup and salad bar. The salad bar was small, but they had the right fixings (IMO), and all the ingredients were fresh. The homemade soups were particularly good – thick and tasty. Even the broccoli soup was excellent, and – to me – the only way to make to make broccoli edible is to cover it with something that completely eliminates its flavor. This time, however, I was suitably impressed.

I don’t remember much of the leisurely drive home: full tummy, warm sun through the windows, the hum of the tires on the road … you know how it is. Since I got out to the camper before DW, I was able to call ‘Shotgun!’ and jump into the navigator’s seat; and since a straight shot down the expressway require little effort from the navigator…

… the ‘thump’ of the curb by our driveway was the only thing to disturb my little siesta. Needless to say, I got the task of unloading the camper.


It was, however, worth it.


Trip to Lima (Day 2)

We woke up Saturday morning to a lovely frosting on the ground. Chocolate donuts for breakfast (are we noticing a trend here?) but, unfortunately, we didn’t have power to the electrical outlets to make a pot of fresh coffee. DW, however, being the rough-and-ready former Girl Scout, had brought along a couple of cups of a pre-made, microwaveable coffee product, optimistically labelled Mocha Latte. It was thick, brown, and syrupy, possibly chocolaty, with no hint of coffee flavor that I could determine. DW announced it an acceptable substitute. I did not.

I settled instead for one of those unnaturally flavored bottled waters. You know the type: they look like orange drink, taste faintly of orange, but – other than the water – have absolutely nothing natural or even organic used in it’s manufacture…

… which is more than I can say about the Mocha Latte.

Speaking of natural fluids, we had another interesting discovery at the Poor Farmer’s Campground: they specialize, it seems, in their own brand of mineral water. Unfortunately, that mineral is sulphur. We had used the campground facilities the night before, and we both thought the previous users had merely failed to flush the toilet. This morning, however, we noticed the water from the campground faucet had the same golden tinge.

It still beat the Mocha Latte.

We were in no hurry to leave, as BS’s (Beloved Son’s) cross country race didn’t begin until noon, and it was only an hour’s drive up the road. But we eventually got the GyrFalcon (and ourselves) into road-ready condition and found a scenic country route into Lima.

The race was being run at a country club on, of all things, a golf course. It was politely explained that participants were not welcome in the club area (porta-potties were provided) and all the greens had been decorated completely around the perimeter with lovely yellow stay-the-heck-off tape. Some were even decorated with pumpkins.

Despite the somewhat snooty surrondings, we had a great visit with our son. It was a fantastic day for running, and the course had only mild slopes – a wonderful opportunity for a personal best. Unfortunately, the fates are not always kind. It was a good, strong run, but no personal records were broken. The company and conversation, however, were enough to raise the spirits. I really wish we could find the time for more visits like that one.

Unfortunately, all too soon he had to catch the bus back to the university, and DW and I were left to our own resources, again.

Now, DW and I have lived in this area ninety percent of our lives, but – amazingly enough – neither one of us had ever been to Indian Lake; so we decided we’d take the back roads down to Indian Lake Campground and take a look around, to see what there is to see.

Indian Lake, for those not in the know, was a summer vacationing hotspot way back when I was young. Yes, they really did have vacations back then. There was even a song about it that made the charts for a while:

Indian Lake is the scene you should make with your little ones;

Keep it in mind if you’re looking to find a place in the summer sun…

Well, you get the idea. It was a place where thousands of people could herd together in the campgrounds, on the beach, in seasonal mobile parks … probably the reason DW and I never went there.

It’s off-season now, and I have no idea if it still gets crowded in the summer, but on this day it was still, and quiet, and colorful – absolutely wonderful! We had an entire section of the campground to ourselves. We hadn’t brought our bikes, because the forecast had been rain, but there’s wasn’t a raindrop in sight. Some very dramatic clouds, yes. Rain? No. We should have brought our bikes. But we got some excellent walking time together, and the sunlight was just at that point where everything in its rays reflected golden. Some very nice photos were taken. (Photos in side bar.)

Yes, the campground facilities were showing their age. The place would have been nicer with a bit of tender loving care. But still, some days are timeless, and no amount of repairs or fresh paint (or clean stalls) could made the day any better. After all, it’s not where you are that makes life living: it’s who you’re with. In that manner, on Saturday, October 29, was a grand day, and I felt I was the luckiest man in the world.

Synthetic orange drink, organic coffee and questionable mineral water notwithstanding.

What else needs to be said?

P.S. For those who read the Day 1 blog, who caught on to the fact I’m going to be drinking REAL coffee Sunday morning, but are puzzled because they know I can’t use the electric outlets to power the coffee maker: I ran an extension cord outside to the 20 amp service Saturday night just long enough to brew a pot of coffee. Sunday morning, 9 am, I reheated it in the microwave.

Mystery solved.

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