Our long-awaited engagement at the Big Sable Point Lighthouse at Ludington, Michigan is upon us, and there are a couple of notices I need to post for those who might want to visit while we are there.
The first is that this is a remote location that is only accessible via a 1.8-mile trail through the dunes from the visitor center at Ludington State Park. It may be a difficult hike for those who are not used to that much physical exertion (at least it is not hilly). And then there is the lighthouse tower with its 130 steps if you want to climb to the top. Then, of course, the return walk to the car.
The second thing to be noted is the hours of operation. The lighthouse and museum and gift shop are open from 10 am to 5 pm daily. The surrounding grounds – mostly sand dunes and lakeshore – are open all the time.
There is a small fee for entry into the state park unless you have the Michigan Passport license plate. Trailhead parking is immediately inside the park entrance. The cost to climb the tower is $5 for adults and $2 for kids twelve and under. Kids must be 40 inches tall to climb the tower.
Kaye and I will be arriving at the lighthouse for our tour of duty on September 14th after 5 pm, and leaving on the 28th. We will stay in the original keeper’s house which is attached to the lighthouse and be working alongside four other volunteers, taking turns in the gift shop, the museum and the lantern room at the top of the tower.
I plan to post reports and photos of our activities while at the light whenever I have access to wireless services, so stay tuned.
9-16-15 Update. Day 3 of our 2-week engagement:
We arrived on Monday and settled in at our upstairs bedroom in the 150-year-old light keepers’ house along with the other volunteers. The weather has been sunny and very windy every day so far. Kaye and I take turns with the others, running the till in the gift shop, answering questions about the history of the lighthouse in the little museum, and keeping visitors safe on the tower platform 100 feet above the Lake Michigan beach.
We also rotate in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal for the group. Today I baked pizzas from scratch and they were accepted with delight.
Skies have been totally clear the last 3 nights and I have had a chance to attempt night sky photography, something I have been hoping to try for some time but haven’t been in a dark enough location. Though we are 9 miles from the nearest town, this is still not the best scenario, since the light on the ground tends to overpower the Milky Way. Wish I could find how to turn off those amber yard lights next to the building. Here’s a sample of my first attempt.
The RenFest at Holly, Michigan, runs on weekends from late August to Early October each year. I visited on a Saturday and found it uncrowded and in tip-top form. The re-enactors and vendors and visitors all seemed to be in a good mood and ready for some fun. This being my first visit – and photographs being my top priority – I chose not to go in costume. Of course, there were plenty of costume shops open, so I could have rented or purchased a tunic and a sword. Maybe next time.
Here’s a photo line-up of this colorful historical attraction. (Click on any photo to view it in full screen mode.)
Whenever I return to the Michigan Renaissance Festival, I have decided that a sword is a nice thing to have, but I am going to avoid a kilt. That’s just me. Do what you want. It’s all good. And it’s all a lot of fun.
And don’t miss the traditional turkey drumstick for lunch. It’s actually slow-smoked and tasty.
And then there is the ubiquitous dill pickle right out of the barrel.
Hmm… so much to savor and so few summer days left.
Here is the link to the RenFest website. Have fun!
My road atlas shows the secondary roads in red. Those are the narrow two-lane county blacktops that pre-date the expressways and the superhighways. And it is where the historical sites and nostalgic gems are still found.
M-22 is a redliner’s treasure, as it winds through mature forests and over sand dunes, outlining the Leelenau Peninsula, Michigan’s virtual “pinkie” finger as it were, the lower peninsula being shaped like a mitten. It is punctuated by 150-year-old lighthouses and roadside farm markets offering sweet black cherries and other organic delicacies.
A side spur from this rural delight is another gem, M-109, which winds lazily through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, an expansive park that is managed by the National Park Service. It is the home of a well-preserved ghost town. Glen Haven is an old fishing village with a historic inn, general store, blacksmith shop, fishing cannary and other buildings.
The National Lakeshore is a wonderland of perched sand dunes, thick forests, abandoned farms and old vacation homes. The shorelines are gorgeous. If there is magic where land and water meet, then this peninsula is entirely enchanted. Shifting sand dunes rise more than 450 above the turquoise waters of Lake Michigan.
Nature lovers and adventurers experience a rush of enthusiasm for a plethora of hiking trails, bike paths, scenic drives and beaches.
Here is a line-up of photos I captured while on a recent visit to the area:
Being over 50 miles from the nearest freeway, M-22 is not on the way to anywhere… except adventure and natural splendor.
My travel tip: If you can, avoid the crowds of the later summer and visit the area in September when the parks are nearly empty and you have your pick of campsites – or cabins. The lakes are still relatively warm and accommodating for water sports like kayaking, paddle boarding and swimming.
After that, the maple forests light up with the vivid yellows, reds, and oranges of autumn.
And after that, it gets nasty out here when the gales of November start whipping off of Lake Michigan and the early snows set in.
I love the activities of summer and the pleasant weather that makes them so enjoyable. Summer is definitely my favorite season of the year. Life is easy. The sweaters are in storage and t-shirts and flip flops are the standard uniform.
Kaye and I are parked in a small town campground for the summer and we have a virtual smorgasbord of events to choose from in the mitten of lower Michigan.
Every town is having its annual summer festival and the air is filled with the aroma of cotton candy and corndogs. Carnivals are buzzing and whirring everywhere as the Tilt-a-Whirl makes its frenzied spin. Food trucks offer gastrointestinal delight (or disaster) at every midway. What fun!
Here are some photos of summer festivals that we have enjoyed in lower Michigan over the last couple of years.
Dog Daze at Marlette, Michigan.
The Thumb Octagon Barn Festival, Gagetown, Michigan.
The River of Time, Bay City, Michigan.
This annual encampment re-enacts a complete timeline of American military history from the native Americans to World War II and Vietnam.
Blues on the Mall, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Creekside Days, Ortonville, Michigan.
Farm Markets everywhere!
I am loving the growing popularity of the local farm markets. They are springing up in every little town and city and offer locally produced health and organic foods in bulk.
Not only that, but some permanent bulk food stores are popping up here and there. In our old neighborhood in Michigan’s thumb (the lower peninsula being shaped like a mitten), Country View Bulk Food store is owned and operated by a Mennonite family and offers a plethora of farm products in bulk. It is growing so fast that the owners are adding space to the building every summer!
There are only a few weeks of summer left and then fall arrives and the weather changes. And our opportunities to take advantage of the summer farm markets and festivals will end for another season. Better get out there right now and make hay while the sun shines, as it were. Soon enough the snow will fly and the outdoor markets will be gone.
Maybe this photo will provide the virtual kick in the pants that you may need to get out to the local festivals and farm markets pronto!
There is good and bad in everything, and it is no different with the traveling life. We have been at this modern gypsy thing for a while now, and sometimes it seems that the life style comes down to a balance of convenience and inconvenience. With every trade-off of one for the other, there is the question, “Is it worth it?” “Is there a reward?”
I don’t know that it varies from any other sort of life style in that way, the details are just a little different. Here are some inconveniences we have had to consider:
With adventure there comes a certain amount of risk. When we lived in the big house in rural Michigan for over 40 years we never locked the doors. Even when we were gone. Now we live in unfamiliar neighborhoods with dwellings only a few yards apart and we lock every time we leave for more than a trip to the mailbox. Maybe we don’t need to – campers tend to watch out for each other – but we don’t know the area well enough to know how safe or unsafe we are.
On the other hand, most of the parks we have stayed in are gated communities and have prepared for every scenario to ensure the safety of their clients.
One of the things that old people want to know about their community is where the nearest emergency room is. It can be inconvenient to drop in to the nearest urgent care facility and not have access to your medical history. Searching for a dentist when you chip a tooth a thousand miles from your hometown can be a challenge.
Stores and restaurants are usually not a problem any place in America. Even on our epic drive to Alaska last summer, we were able to pick up basic foods at a local convenience store… at twice the price, of course. The nearest supermarket was 125 miles north of us at Fairbanks.
Access to viable internet and television signals can be a bit less handy. Back home you subscribed to cable or satellite link-ups and then forgot about it for two years. Not so with the mobile life. Thankfully, in every campground there are veteran RV-ers who can help you find the nearest and strongest providers who will keep you connected. Month-to-month and without a contract. Cool.
Stuff requires maintenance. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a hobby farm, a condo, an estate, or a travel trailer, stuff has to be serviced from time to time. The convenience of the RV life is that there is much less stuff to maintain. The house is smaller and that means less vacuuming and mopping. The yard is non-existent, so there is no mowing (unless you are a work-camper) and no mower whose blades have to be sharpened. You have left the keepsakes in storage along with the cupboards and bookcases that housed them, so there is a minimum of dusting.
But the RV needs the wheel bearings greased every few thousand miles, the rubber roof needs to be re-treated every 2 years, and the siding, if it’s fiberglass, needs waxing every couple of years. The truck or motor home engine needs the usual oil changes and tire rotations. The propane tanks need filling every now and then (more often in the wintertime) so you will need to locate the nearest filling station.
One of our biggest inconveniences is that we are away from our kids and grandkids for long months at a time. We have never been homesick because our home is with us, but we do miss the grandkids every now and then. When they are young they grow from one phase to the next quickly, and we feel like we are missing out. The FOMO factor kicks in (Fear Of Missing Out).
Occasionally, we miss a family reunion. Last year, when my brother passed away in Michigan, we were on a 5-month work-camp assignment in California and had to excuse ourselves quickly and fly home for the funeral. (It’s important to keep funds on hand for such emergencies.)
For Kaye and me, the thought of having a pet with us is not worth the inconvenience, but we are surrounded by pet-owners who are making a go of it. One of their biggest challenges is making sure their pet doesn’t become an inconvenience to their neighbors. A yappy dog quickly becomes a very unpopular thing in the middle of the night in a campground. Most of the pet owners we have seen are really good about the essential inconvenience of picking up after a pooping dog.
I cannot speak to the challenge of the young family who pursues the traveling life; we see very few who are doing it. The few that we have encountered are home schooling their children, of course, and that presents its own challenges, but location doesn’t seem to be a problem. In fact, it’s the only way to educate your kids on the fly and it can be done anywhere. We met a family on the beach in Alabama that was sailing the high seas with the kids in a sailboat. Maybe they wouldn’t do it forever, but they were certainly building an unforgettable educational experience while the kids were young.
I think the bigger problem with kids would be what to do with them on rainy days when everyone is trapped indoors in a crowded space. You can’t send them to the basement rec room or to their bedrooms with a book or a toy. You can’t ever really get away from them. You will have to be creative. Every town has a library and a theater or bowling alley and we even found an indoor aquarium or two in a couple of places. Without imagination or an on-board library – whether books or videos, I see gypsy burnout on your not-so-distant horizon (but if you are lucky enough to do it, try it for a while anyway!)
If your pastimes include road tripping, sightseeing, hiking, farm marketing, campfire cooking, reading, photography, or “collecting” lighthouses or waterfalls or new friends, you are in luck. The mobile life will accommodate all of these and lots more.
If, however, you amuse yourself with carpentry, pottery, classic car collecting, or welding, you may be up against a bit more of a challenge. I have managed my interest in carpentry by doing it seasonally. When I am back in Michigan every summer I get my portable workshop-in-a-utility trailer out of storage and build the latest book shelf for my kids. If they need some project done in the house, they just know not to ask for it in the winter when I am wandering around the south or in the tropics. Come summer, I will back into their yard and open up my mobile workshop and fix whatever needs fixing.
I am also a musician and have my piano on board with me. Last winter in Alabama I found a campus band to play along with, and one guy even had an entire recording studio set up in a tent next to his RV. How about that.
The trade-off for the inconveniences of the wandering life is the rewards that it offers, and that’s really the reason why most of us are doing it. We want to see new places, meet new people, try living somewhere else in the world for a while and see what it’s like. We are tired of the old place, we are tired of the cold winters, we are tired of feeding and weeding and mowing the lawns and trimming the shrubs.
There are mountains to be climbed, there are beaches to be combed, there are forests to be hiked and ocean sunsets to be enjoyed. We are not waiting any longer to get there.
Inconveniences be damned, we are going for it!
Are you thinking about going for it? Trying to weigh the risks with the rewards? Will it be worth it?
You know what? You won’t think of everything. And that’s all right. Relax. Prepare for it the best you can, talk to people who’re doing it, read blogs like this one. But don’t let fear of the unknown be a roadblock to your new adventure.
The worst inconvenience of all would be getting to the end of your health – or your life – without the satisfaction of having pursued your irresponsible dream of the traveling life, the way of the vagabond, the beach bum.
If you don’t like it or it turns out to be more inconvenient than rewarding, you can always go back to the former life with its security and its predictability. Either way, have fun!
“Our culture has become so obsessed with the before and after that we’ve forgotten that all the living happens in the during.” –Stacy Sims Brown; see her blog, Fat Aunt Sassy Sees the World
I had a chance to join a few other photographers on a back-alley visit to some run-down landmarks in Detroit a couple of days ago, and the experience was both adventurous and nostalgic. There is a certain sad aura that surrounds these historical sites when you think about the faded glory of the past.
Eastown Theater was opened in 1930 as a fancy movie theater seating about 2,400 people. Much later, it became the premier rock venue for bands like Alice Cooper, the Doors, Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, Bob Seger, Jethro Tull and the Grateful Dead among others, mostly from 1969 to 1973.
The scrappers have been busy in the building since it closed for the last time in the late 1990’s. The roof and some of the floors have collapsed after a fire in 2010.
St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church was founded in 1920 in a new frame building and grew quickly with the immigration of auto workers from Europe so that a larger brick sanctuary was constructed and opened in 1930. A school and rectory were soon built next door. But times changed and so did the neighborhood. The Baptists bought it in 1984 but it proved to be too much responsibility for their smaller congregation. It closed in 2012 and the vandals broke in and trashed the place.
Fisher Body Plant #21 was built quickly in 1919 to meet the growing demands of the automotive industry. It supplied car bodies until 1984. It is a massive site with six floors of space and endless surfaces to delight the graffiti artists.
Southwestern High School was one of the first schools built specifically as a high school. At the time of its construction in 1916 Michigan students were not required to attend school past the eight grade. Its swimming pool, gymnasium, and auditorium made it the pattern for other high schools to be built across the state in the years following. It had many upgrades and additions over the decades and was remodeled just a few years ago at a cost of millions of dollars, then it closed when declining enrollments precipitated a downsizing in Detroit. The scrappers and vandals were not long delayed and made a mess of the once-famous landmark.
Study the interesting histories of these old landmarks here:
In our wanderings over 43 of the 50 states and several foreign countries, Kaye and I have not found the perfect place to live. But we have happened upon some pretty wonderful settings. In fact, after returning from our winter sojourn in the south, we have set up habitation at a remarkable campground in Ortonville, Michigan, where the nearly perfect balance exists between rural rest and city convenience.
Only 12 miles from our grandkids, we live in a park with a beautiful lake with a trail around it fringed by protected wetlands and mature forests of oak, maple, beech and pines and frequented by wild geese and whitetail deer. McDonalds is right across the street and A&W – the old fashioned kind with the car hops – is a 15-minute walk up the street, and there are shopping malls a few miles away at the outer fringe of the Detroit metropolitan urban sprawl.
The perfect home doesn’t exist anywhere. But when we lived in the rural Michigan farm community where we raised our kids and owned a 30-acre Christmas tree farm, we often reveled in the changes of the seasons right outside the windows of our 10-room house in the woods. We felt that we were enjoying the almost perfect location for our family at the time.
Except that I couldn’t keep the car clean because the gravel roads turned to mud with every rain storm. I watched the rocker panels and the fenders rust out in slow motion right before my eyes. And it was a half-hour drive to Walmart and more than an hour to the nearest shopping mall.
It seemed there was a trade-off in everything. Being a school teacher, my kids would ride to and from school with me rather than riding the bus to our small town district of less than 800 students. The students seemed more laid-back than their suburban counterparts and didn’t seem to have anything to prove. Our kids thrived. But they eventually grew up, went to college and then were too educated to find professional jobs in the country. They left the area and pursued their own lives, leaving us alone on our mini-paradise.
And the mowing got tiring in the summer – and there was a lot of it. And the firewood processing and snow removal, though good for the physique, became wearisome in the winter. The elements were relentless. Winter became life-threatening as we got older. The place was no longer ideal for us in the mature stages of life.
We talked about where we would like to live as we started to downsize and list the property for sale. It might be outside the edge of a city where we could live in the relaxed atmosphere of the country, while being within a few minutes of the conveniences of the metropolis.
And here we are. At least for the summer. We like it well enough to already be talking about returning here every summer for the next few years. We love the beauty and comfortable climate of Michigan in the summer and fall, but not during the harsh winter.
I have concluded that the ideal home is a somewhat elusive concept that changes with the seasons of the year – and with the seasons of life. What is perfect at one phase of life may become less than ideal later on.
Having sold our labor-intensive property last year after a four-year downsizing, we are now in discovery mode, exploring every part of the United States (and outside the borders if we want to) in search of adventure and new experiences. An aside from our quest to see new places is the underlying search for the next perfect home. That greener grass on the other side (except that I don’t own a lawnmower anymore).
And apparently, It is rather like aiming at a moving target for us at this point in our lives. Michigan in the summer and fall, points farther south in the winter. On the move right after Christmas with the rabid cold nipping at our heels as we leave the state and scurry south for warmer comforts.
Right now we are in a nearly ideal spot (except it’s a campground and there’s no privacy) and there is a swimming beach here and a playground for the grandkids. And there are five pizza joints in this town – we have started sampling them. Because part of finding the elusive perfect place to live in the world is also the important quest of locating the best pizza.
I am thinking that the perfect spot in life may be less about greener grass and more about perfect pizza.
Anyway, Kaye says that though there is no perfect home in all the world, there is a place that is just right for us for here and now. And that is a truer quest, as the perfect place does not exist, we are in that place that is just right at this point in our lives. And loving it.
This is a great New Year’s post (but it speaks to lifestyle as well) that Aunt Sassy (my daughter) published on her site for solo travelers on January 1st:
DREAM BIG. start small.
I can’t count the numbers of times others, upon learning that I am travelling alone or camping alone or going to the movies alone, incredulously say “I would love to do that, but I just can’t!” And “just can’t” has a different meaning for everyone but usually it is some variation of being scared or anxious or overwhelmed or intimidated or….you get the picture. Here’s the thing: if you have actually said some variation of wanting to do that someday but being too scared to do it then you are actually worlds ahead of those who have never even considered doing anything as “crazy as this.” If you are one of those who has never ever in your life considered challenging yourself in this way and are totally happy the way your current level of adventure is in your life, then so be it and awesome for you (and why are you reading this blog?) BUT if you are so blessed/cursed with this desire to go out and explore the world, then you are already at the “but HOW do I actually do it” phase. This phase is where I am a Viking. So I got your back. Here’s the dealio. Ya gotta DREAM BIG! But start small.
First, spend some time daydreaming about those huge things you wanna do and where you wanna do them. This is not the time to be practical or reasonable, this is the let your inner child run wild. For instance, I want to sip wine (and eat pasta) in a café in Italy after a day of gazing at art and architecture. I wanna gulp beer in a Bavarian tavern after touring the Neuschwanstein Castle. I want to blissfully wander around Quebec City some long winter weekend. I want to sweat in a bazaar in Istanbul. I wanna savor Scotch after a day of angling in Scotland. I want to sip pina coladas on tropical beaches (at least once a year). And, above all, Iceland. All of it. Etc. And so on, and more. These are my dreams. (And someday, many of them will be my stories). Take some time to dream big. Write those big dreams down. Tell them to someone. Speak your fantasy into a wish. Turning those wishes into goals comes later.
So, now you are dreaming big….. but, did you get overwhelmed at all by thinking about actually doing those? Did you catch yourself saying “aw, but I can’t actually DO these things.” This is where the starting small comes in. When it comes to action, small steps are the key to later taking big leaps. The truth is I already have a lot of my big dreams done, many of them were easier to do with other people….I’ve wandered art museums and sipped wine in Paris in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, I’ve toured London several times, I spent a month in Hong Kong, a summer in Morocco, and sipped many a pina colada on many a tropical beach. But I can’t do all of those remaining wishes of mine right now…not only do I not have the time and money yet, but I also don’t have the research done yet. And some of those are really intimidating if I don’t know what I’m doing yet. It doesn’t matter how much I travel, I am still very intimidated about travelling to unknown places (especially where I don’t know the language) alone. I’ve done it and I will continue to do, but it is still scary. And the longer times in between trips, the more anxious I get before the next big one. So I often have to start small again.
Starting small means starting where YOU are NOW. And it’s different for everyone so it isn’t gonna be starting at the same place someone else starts (so stop comparing). What are you currently comfortable with and is there a way you can push just a teeny tiny bit past that? Are you okay with flying somewhere alone for business, but get overwhelmed with going on a vacation by yourself? Are you ok with driving a few hours away but not quite ready for a big road trip by yourself? Are you okay with running into Starbucks and waiting in line for your Pumpkin Spice Latte alone but not ready to go to a nice dinner by your lonesome? Figure out small step things you can do. For instance, on your next business trip, maybe stay 2 days longer and do some sightseeing alone. Or perhaps choose a place you are okay driving, but book a night in a hotel and go out for dinner while there to make it more of a roadtrip. Next time you are in the Starbucks line, get your coffee “for here” and get used to sitting alone quietly reading a book while caffeinating. This is your chance to push yourself just a little more and have some fun with it. Once you start small where you are NOW, you will have found yourself just a little further along. And then, you start small from where you are then. Before you know it, small steps turn into quite the epic journey.
This is me exploring our nation’s capitol by night when my work sent me there for a conference by day. Starting small. But I’d been dreaming big about visiting DC for decades.
Here’s the link to Stacy’s site ( You will also find a lot of women’s self-confidence content there). Consider Following her at:
After four years on the market, we have finally sold our houses and property. We’ve been working on the downsizing for about as long, so we have said “Good-bye” to a lot of things. We have parted with lawn mowers, construction machinery, sporting gear, household furnishings and personal keepsakes. It’s been a monumental process.
But here’s the other side of it. We are saying “Hello” to a lot of things too.
While we are saying “Good-bye” to the snow shovel and the windshield scraper, we are saying “Hello” to flip flops and beach towels. Not a bad trade-off, I’m thinking.
When you move in a given direction, you move away from one thing and toward the next thing, and it’s the moving toward that is the fun part for us at this juncture. We are moving into the RV as a lifestyle now, so while we are saying farewell to a spacious kitchen and a nicely organized workshop where the tools can be laid out all the time, we will shift to outdoor living, dining outside on lawn chairs, and I’ll have only the most essential tools in the traveling toolbox.
There’s good and bad in everything, and this is no different. But we are very nearly done with the hard part, the downsizing and parting with old favorite worn-out sweaters and no-longer-used kids toys and two wheelbarrows and three ladders. We are not planning to own property again while we are well and able enough to travel. Maybe later when we are too decrepit to move and climb into the cab of the pickup.
So I left the snow shovel and two lawn mowers for the new property owners along with rakes, shovels and weed whips. I did keep a small chainsaw — just in case — but I don’t know if I’ll ever use it again, so I left it in storage.
Chainsaws aren’t needed much when you’re living on the road. And since we are heading south every winter, a snow shovel is about as useful as a comb for a bald man.
Well anyway, having said a thousand good-byes over the last four years, we are planning to say about as many hello’s for the next few.
Maybe we’ll be saying “hello” to you if we cross paths while wandering across the south this winter. Here’s the plan:
Three months of winter, three islands in the south.
Dauphin Island, Alabama for January; Anastasis Island, Florida for February; and Emerald Island, North Carolina for March.
Then back to Clearwater Campground, Holly, Michigan for next summer and fall.
If we do come your way, don’t forget to say, “Hello”. That’s what we’re all about these days.
I have just added lighthouse keeping to my bucket list.
Kaye and I just spent some time at Ludington, Michigan, where we visited with the lighthouse keepers who are volunteering at the historical Big Sable Point Lighthouse. This is one of multiple locations in America — there are several in the Great Lakes region — where volunteers may actually stay at a lighthouse for a period of time and offer their services in a variety of assignments. At this site, they even stay in the original keepers’ quarters dating back to 1867.
The folks who were on site when we visited are from all over the country and serve as guides, historical interpreters, and gift shop operators. They also help with maintenance and upkeep when needed. They stay here for two weeks at a time, then a new group arrives, a few of them overlapping to help with orientation.
The volunteers often develop a camaraderie and lifelong friendship during their stay at the lighthouse.
This is one of several Michigan historical locations where paranormal activity has been observed and ghost stories abound. One of the regular workers, Nancy, tells of the ghost of a young girl who has appeared in an upstairs bedroom on at least one wildly stormy night apparently frightened and asking the residents if she can climb into bed with them. Now that’s downright creepy!
Kaye and I are looking forward to pursuing our new dream of living and working at a 150-year-old lighthouse, and this spot would be our number one choice… even though the old fashioned beds are quite small and won’t offer enough room for more than the two of us in the bed at one time. Hopefully.
My bucket list is a short one (and it does not include sky diving), and it’s going to take something pretty amazing to rival the Alaska Highway experience. This looks like a promising candidate.
Postscript: We have been accepted and scheduled for a two-week stay at Big Sable Point Lighthouse for next fall. Come and visit us while we are on duty from September 14 – 28 and we’ll give you a personal tour of the historical light station! Maybe get a campsite at Ludington State Park; the lighthouse is a 1-1/2 mile hike from the campground.
Nomadic Matt speaks for me when he describes his post-trip depression. Before I had been home from Alaska for a full month, I started getting restless again. As of now I’ve been home at the Michigan log cabin for less than two months and have already started making plans — and reservations — for the next journey… to the south this winter.
I’m getting ready to scratch that travel itch. Adventure keeps calling.
Some days I can’t believe where we are. In fact, some days I don’t know where we are. I wake up in the morning and open my eyes with a bit of surprise to see the inside of my fifth wheel bedroom loft and see the California sun peeking in through the mini-blinds – and I remember again. We moved out of our big house after the kids all grew up and left. We sold or gave away much of our furniture and tools and extra clothes. And we hit the road.
It had been a dream of ours for a long time, but we’d been anchored to a large property by debt and a mortgage. There was no money for traveling more than a few miles from home. Having raised our three daughters – as well as 17 foster kids, 5 foreign exchange kids, and a few other extras – all on a solitary public school teacher’s income, we reached retirement age still carrying a mortgage. And we still had liabilities from my log home construction company that had closed when the housing market tanked in Michigan in 2006.
Here’s how we were finally able to realize the impossible dream:
Downsizing the property. Many of our friends have had two-income households pretty much all of their lives. They are able to keep the home place and still afford another place in Florida. Or a brand new RV. Not us. We had to be willing to part with our homestead of 40 years. There was just no way around it. And it was pretty much empty with the kids gone anyway. Every time the furnace kicked on in the wintertime I cringed at how much it was costing to heat a 10-room house with only two people in it.
When we couldn’t sell after two years, we put renters in the big house and moved ourselves into a one-room log cabin on the same 30-acre property. Finally, we split the property, sold 10 acres to a neighbor, paid off the last of our credit card debt, sold the farm tractor, and then bought a strong 10-year old pickup and a used RV.
Downsizing the possessions. We sold the construction equipment on Craigslist along with the extra furniture and the SUV, and then we took many loads of extra clothing and housewares to the local thrift store. We gave as many of the family heirlooms to our kids as they would take. They finally told us we didn’t have anything left that they wanted. We put the rest in storage.
Buying depreciated vehicles. Did you know that a car loses about half its value in the first 5 years? And the quality of American-made vehicles is so much improved over the last 30 years that a diesel pickup may well go a half-million miles before it’s done. We were able to find an RV that had been given much TLC by the previous owner – he even waxed the outside – and even buying from a dealer, we paid $8,000 for a 12-year-old RV that had cost $27,000 new (That’s 70% depreciated). It had been parked much of the time, had new tires, and no roof leaks ever. It is probably the last RV we will ever buy, ’cause with standard maintenance it will last longer than we will.
Okay, that was all just to get started. But how could we afford the gypsy life? We looked at campground costs and freaked. A one-night stay in a typical KOA was $45. At this rate a month in the same park would cost $1,350! Yow! And then we discovered the monthly rate.
Stay long-term. The same private campground almost certainly has a weekly, monthly, and seasonal rate that reduces long-term costs significantly. Most private parks have monthly rates under $400, including all hook-ups, even cable TV and Wifi. And if you want to stay for an entire season, you’ll do even better. Of course, parks along the ocean and near popular attractions will not be so reasonable. They don’t have to be, because people will pay the premium rate to be on the waterfront or next to Disneyland, etc.
Stay for Free. When you are on the road, it is possible to save camping costs by not setting up for the night. Most Walmarts (but not all) will allow overnight stays in their parking lots if you don’t unhitch.
Of course, truck stops are available, but you need to be a sound sleeper who won’t be wakened by the rumble of truck engines all night. Friends and relatives are a resource for backyard camping, but you need to be socially savvy enough that you don’t invite yourself where you are really not welcome. And don’t over-stay your welcome. State and National Forests allow camping just about anywhere, for free or for $10 a night, within certain guidelines. This sort of off-the-grid camping is called boon-docking and there are various websites dedicated to the practice. RV’s are designed for self-contained camping with storage tanks and batteries for several days of service – off the road and off the grid.
Work-Camp. You’ll find a plethora of websites that will help you get started earning a free campsite by working half-time at a campground. Our first experience here at Kenney Grove Park in Fillmore, California, has been working out fine for us. I am doing tree trimming and handyman work for the park and enjoy a beautiful campsite surrounded by live oak trees, cacti, and Bird-of-Paradise. In keeping with the higher costs in southern California, the campsite is valued at $1000 a month and includes full hookups, private patio, and storage shed. Malibu and Hollywood are nearby (a film crew was parked onsite last week while filming just down the road). Kaye and I are living here for free this winter and spring by helping out around the park.
When I first looked into work-camping I found many kinds of assignments available, from park hosting to nature trail guiding. One spot in the desert was needing a host for a campground at an off-roading racetrack. I passed that one up thinking that all-night security duty would be part of it and I didn’t want to play bouncer to a bunch of rough-and-tumble monster truckers. Matching the worker to the job is definitely important. Many work-camp arrangements run for 6 months but are negotiable.
These are some of the most significant endeavors you can undertake to achieve and then pursue the wandering life. There are many more, from gas cards that offer discounts on fuel, to memberships in camping clubs, and yearly rates for state and national park access. And a whole lot more. I think we will be in the discovery stages of this for a long time.
There are many dreamers in the world. But turning dreams into reality is a pro-active pursuit, and it doesn’t happen by wishing, and it doesn’t happen by accident. It might start with wishing, but making it happen takes careful planning and determination.
Oh, one more thing. Many of my readers are looking forward to a wandering lifestyle after retirement, but a few very lucky – or very determined people are making it happen sooner. One couple I know sold their business in Seattle and left the rat race to live in the desert in a 40-foot motorhome. They are total boon-dockers, living completely off-grid, operating on solar energy and batteries and running an internet-based business by satellite uplink. Way out in the wilderness, legally living for free on government land, and totally connected. Cool.
See? There are ways to get where you want to be. Start planning now and make the lifestyle changes that are necessary… and you’ll get there! Maybe Kaye and I will bump into you somewhere along the way.
If you have read Bob’s latest blog post about risk and adventure… AND if you know me very well, you may be wondering how I feel about all that. You may be thinking that I am not quite the adventurer he is. And you would be right.
I’m the cautious one. The one who likes safety and security. The one who doesn’t much enjoy driving on mountain roads or going out in a boat. I’m pretty much a wimp when it comes to scary adventures. I guess I’ve always been cautious – both by natural temperament and by family upbringing. I was raised to be careful and conservative. Calculated planning was valued. Dependability, faithfulness, responsibility and wisdom were the highest virtues. Risk-taking, irresponsibility, and recklessness were flat out wrong.
I don’t like to take risks. I like to make wise choices. I like predictability and routine. I love to have a schedule and a map in hand that show exactly where we are and where we are going. My idea of adventure might be to order something new from the menu, to take a different route home, maybe even to go red-lining. You know… getting off the interstate and exploring those red lines on the map and maybe even the gray ones. Ooh, scary stuff. We don’t know what we might find back there on those roads – or even worse – what we won’t find.
But I married an adventurer. How reckless of me.
Oh, I had done adventures of my own. Well, one anyway, that I can think of. During college I went to a foreign country all by myself – well, along with a bunch of classmates and our professors. But I did it by myself – meaning that I stepped out and made the decision – even though decisions often paralyze me. So yah, it was a dramatic step for me to do something this big on my own initiative without my family, without anyone leading me or holding my hand. That might be my only big adventure on my own, but I did have that one. I had stepped out of my comfort zone – and made a choice that felt scary and risky. And I had the reward of a wonderful experience, one that I would forever cherish.
A seed was planted.
Risky adventure does not have to mean dangerous or extreme sports. You can choose to take big risks in other ways. Like selling your home of 40 years. That was a biggie for me. Besides being cautious, I am also sentimental. Letting go of security and stability was a huge leap. Trading them in for an unknown life on the road filled with risks of all kinds became an adventure for me that was definitely scary.
But we realized that we wanted to go, that we wanted the freedom to move. We made the choice. We took the leap. We weighed the risks and the rewards and made the best decision we knew how to make. Yes, we took the risk, but not recklessly.
In his article, Bob spoke of the risk-reward ratio – partly because I’ve been thinking out loud about that idea lately. As I deal with scary mountain roads and other risky adventures, I am trying to learn how to find a balance that works for me. For us. At this point my formula is pretty simple. The reward has to be big enough to be worth taking the risk. In other words, I won’t choose to go on “those” mountain roads unless it’s for a really good reason.
As for the big picture…
On this big wild and crazy journey we are traveling, we try to be patient with ourselves and each other as we weigh the risks and rewards of this new life. I must admit that there have been some scary days, when it seemed like the very things I feared were coming true. That too many things were going wrong or the sadness was too great. But there have also been the days when the rewards have been wonderfully sweet.
And so the adventure continues. There will be risk and there will be rewards – hopefully with some balance between them that is healthy and good – even if not always fun.
“I can’t move my legs,” my friend whispered in the pitch black darkness as he slipped into unconsciousness. We were teetering on the face of a steep mountain in the Sierra Madres of Mexico where Marc had just tumbled head over heels 90 feet down a rough slope, his balance thrown off by the overloaded backpack. It didn’t help that there were only three flashlights for 15 hikers; because of delays, we had been caught on the mountain after dark, something that our guide hadn’t prepared us for. Our efforts for the next hour proved to make the difference between life and death; not to worry, Marc lived. And he recovered quickly over the next few days, having no broken bones and no lasting injuries.
That was a bit more adventure than I had counted on when I organized this trek for a group of young summer missionaries. Marc’s fall caused him no small amount of trauma and an equal amount of stress for me and the rest of the trekkers.
And that’s the risk one takes when he signs on for an adventure.
Most Americans never have such a scary experience, because most do not sign on for much adventure at all. For many, their most risky experience is the morning commute to the job in the city. Mind you, it can be stressful too, but is hardly ever an adventure.
The American dream is a comfortable one and not very adventurous. Most of us spend our summer weekends on the backyard patio with a steak on the grill and a cold drink in hand. We don’t paddle any whitewater or jump off any cliffs. And that’s how we like it. No adventure, no risk, and no worries. Mind you, for some, that is the best thing.
But there are others who become restless if they haven’t had the crap scared out of them a time or two within the last six months. They get cabin fever when the winter is too long, and they start dreaming of tents, sleeping bags and the latest climbing gear.
I’m not sure if it is personality that makes the difference, or if family history is a more profound ingredient in the adventure quotient. My dad was a camper and loved to take the family on an adventure every summer. Some of his kids are the same way, but not all of us.
On the other hand, my three kids are all adventurers and world travelers. I give partial credit to an extended adventure that I took the family on in the middle of my small-town teaching career. Taking a one-year leave-of-absence, we moved to an underdeveloped country in the Caribbean where Kaye and I taught in an international school. We lived in an indigenous neighborhood where we were isolated from other Americans. This experience changed our family forever. The adventure factor has run strong in all of us ever since.
Are you a restless adventurer? Do you get frustrated when you spend more time punching a time clock than kicking through the gears on a motorcycle? Do you live for the weekends? Have you applied the risk-reward ratio to your financial portfolio but never to the balance of comfort and adventure in your life?
Maybe it’s time for a change – If you feel that you need more excitement in your life. If you are young, you might want to take this into consideration when you are choosing your career. At 17 years old, I chose teaching partly because of the long summer vacations. I knew myself well enough to know that I would not be happy with only the two weeks off every year that my friends who went to the auto assembly plant would get. They made a lot more money – I had a lot more fun.
And it was a wise decision, because I eventually became the adventure trips planner for our local church youth group and found myself in all kinds of exciting locations over the next 35 years.
I had teams of 13-year-olds squeezing through wild caves in southern Indiana, groups of boys lost at night on the sand dunes by Lake Michigan (just because their group leader was an Eagle scout didn’t mean he had earned the badge for orienteering).
I have been skinny-dipping with friends in the middle of the nighttime bioluminescence of the Indian Ocean – green sparks exploding in the water with every movement. I’ve crashed a motorcycle on the most winding two-lane road in Michigan (my only broken bone ever), and rafted the whitewater of the Ocoee River in the mountains of Tennessee – the same river used for the kayak races in the 1996 summer olympics.
And now I’m living on the road in an RV with my life-long companion as we explore the backroads of America. And Kaye and I are gearing up for the ultimate road trip this summer, the Alaska Highway, with a pickup and a fifth-wheel.
When our appetite for risk and adventure is satisfied, we pull into an RV park or a friend’s backyard, and we stay a while. We fuel up our comfort-and-safety quotient for a while until we start to get restless again and long for the open road. A couple of months is just about the perfect duration for us to stay in one place.
The adventure appetite runs pretty strong with us right now. Age and failing health will park us someday, but for now we plan to git while the gittin’s good.
How about you? Do you have your summer planned full of adventures yet? What about the rest of your life? Are you assigning enough risk to satisfy your adventure quotient?
Don’t get me wrong, adventure is not for everybody. It depends on your appetite for risk. If you don’t have it, you are fine to enjoy the security of a comfortable and stress-free life in America.
But, if you are increasingly restless and keep gazing out the window of your office or your kitchen, it’s possible that the adrenaline runs stronger in your veins than you thought. And maybe you should do something about it. Increase the risk factor. Dive into the next adventure.
Okay, so maybe too much adventure can be deadly, but a more common tragedy is the slow death of dreams and bucket lists while we safely watch the grass grow in our comfortable back yards, the regretful long-term product of too much comfort and security.
For your own well-being, maybe you should get some adrenaline going on this summer. Have fun. And be safe.
One of the joys of settling into a new community is exploring the unique features that make it what it is. Santa Barbara, California, is known for its premiere historical site, the old mission. Kaye shares her perspective on our visit there yesterday:
(Kaye writes) Much of the California coastline is dotted with charming old missions that stand as monuments to the religious and cultural history of this region when it was still part of Mexico. One of the more beautiful and more famous ones, Old Mission Santa Barbara, is wonderfully restored and maintained.
Visitors are greeted by a lovely view of the old church – which has been expanded and repaired many times through the years – and by a welcoming portico that runs the full length of the adjacent mission structure.
I was enamored by the uneven tile floor full of dips and smooth worn edges, but still shiny as can be. Meanwhile, Bob was fascinated with architectural details like the awesome arches, magnificent doors, quaint windows, and walls that were more than three feet thick – photographic opportunities galore.
After buying tickets for the self-guided tour, we stepped through a door into a dim hallway, past the first of many beckoning stairways, and back out into the daylight of the huge square courtyard, dubbed the Sacred Garden – which is in the midst of major rejuvenation, but still lovely with roses and plants of all kinds and graceful palm trees encircling a modest three-tiered fountain.
Visitors are allowed to wander along two sides of this wonderful courtyard before finding our way up picturesque staircases and through stone pathways skirting yet another lovely courtyard and leading eventually into the cemetery.
Signs seemed to indicate the possibility of using the Mission Renewal Center for personal or group retreats – an idea that I find very appealing. We also learned of the possibility of having one’s cremains buried in the mausoleum – an idea not quite so fun to me.
From the cemetery we went into the nave of the church and spent a leisurely time soaking up the beauty and symbolism and stillness of that great place. I almost would have expected that to be the climax of the tour, but then came the museum room – and then another room and another. This was actually a rather impressive and extensive museum with re-created rooms from long-ago mission life as well as a good variety of artifacts displayed and historical events illustrated and well-explained for those who took time to read them.
The experience was well worth the five dollars we paid and I would recommend it to people who enjoy history and culture. We prolonged our enjoyment of the gorgeous sunny day by sitting on the grass out front for a couple more hours.