Category Archives: The Road Behind

Here are the places we’ve been.

At Home Anywhere (Revisited)

Milepost 1-28-14  Fillmore, CA.  Work-camping in an RV Park

This is a repost of an entry that I posted on the old blog in December, 2012.  We had moved from the big house to the one-room log cabin six months earlier and were set to spend the winter on the beach in the Dominican Republic.

What does it really take to feel at home in a place that is not your home?  This is one of the worrisome questions that presented itself when Kaye and I started to contemplate and then pursue the idea of downsizing and moving out of our house of 40 years.  We were not used to moving, but we were smart enough to know that there would be challenges that could either make or break our success.

  Twenty-five years ago, at the encouragement of our three daughters, I arranged a one-year leave of absence from the small town public school system where I had been teaching since graduating from college.  We had decided to move up our dream of visiting mission fields after retirement and offering our help wherever we could.  The girls had heard us talking and had realized that if we waited until I retired, they would be grown up and moved away.  They didn’t want to miss out, so they said why not do it now while the family is all at home?  And we did.

  We took positions (I taught 6th grade, Kaye was the librarian) at an international school in the middle of the Dominican Republic, and we rented our house to friends who were “in between” houses, and we took off for one school year, and it changed our lives.  Our kids have been spoiled for the ordinary ever since and are all frequent international travelers. 

Home, Home-Home or Home-Home-Home

   A while after settling in to our new habitation in Santiago, we noticed that we needed a new way of designating our location during our conversations with each other.  We were spending the Thanksgiving holiday at a beachfront village (there was no turkey dinner for us that year), and we were confusing each other by referring to the hotel room as Home when returning from the beach – then the house in Santiago as Home, and then also making the same reference to our Home in Michigan.

The Sims family at their tropical "home" in the Dominican Republic, (1989)
The Sims family at “Home” in a foreign country. (1989)

  One of our three daughters finally solved the problem:   “Home” was our hotel room, “Home-Home” was our house in Santiago, and “Home-Home-Home” was our old place in Michigan.  And that really did help clear up the confusion when we talked about “Home”.

 Feeling at Home Somewhere Else

  So, in our current transition, we can look back on the experiences and challenges of moving away from our familiar home 20 years ago and setting up a new place to call home – in a foreign country no less.  But our lives have changed in the meantime, the kids are gone, and it is just the two of us.  And the answers to the original question are becoming clearer to us now that we have been out of our house for more than half a year.  Here are some of the things we have discovered to be part of our sense of home:

  • Being together.  The most familiar thing about our new locations – whether in the RV in a campground or the log cabin or a hotel room – is that we still have each other.  We pursue our adventures together, and that makes every challenge or adjustment more manageable.  When someday one of us is gone, I’m not sure how much spirit of adventure will be left for the other.
  • A decent bed.  When we were tucked into the loft of the little log cabin, we had a king size bed up under the eaves that was comfortable and welcoming every night.  Now that we’ve moved into the larger historical log house, we brought that bed with us, and it’s wonderful.  In hotel rooms we seem to be blessed every time, but in the camper there is not as much room.  We are saving to upgrade the camper, because a good bed is important.
  • Internet.  We both spend a fair amount of time on the web, Kaye for her writing, me for photography and journalism, and both of us for communication.  We may have scant internet access in the beach hideaway we have reserved in the tropics this winter but have decided that we cannot book places for very long that are off the grid.  It may happen in the national park campgrounds that we plan to visit next winter, but we will have to come to town often.  To connect and upload and communicate.  It’s just that important.
  • Family and Friends.
    We FaceTime the grandkids from time to time so we don't miss them so much.
    We FaceTime the grandkids when we are away so we don’t miss them so much.

      Since the kids have left and found husbands and jobs elsewhere, we find ourselves with an innate need to connect with them and with friends quite often.  Again, the internet has helped satisfy this need, and we are in touch with the kids almost daily through Facebook and email.  And we meet up with them in person whenever we have a chance.  We still have friends nearby when we are at home in Michigan, and we are often making new friends in the places we visit.

  • Food.  It’s interesting that this becomes an issue more at holiday times, because there are certain foods that are essential to the spirit of a holiday, for some psychological reasons, I guess.  Rather like snow is essential to a Christmasy feeling for all northerners.  And it’s hard to make Christmas cookies in an RV, because the counter space is non-existent.  So adaptation is necessary.  Fortunately, we have been able to visit one of our daughters and make cookies there if we want to.  In foreign countries, familiar foods are harder to find and their absence can contribute to homesickness.  I don’t know why every country doesn’t have Kraft American cheese slices, but they don’t.  Go figure.
  • Favorite Tools.  Even some of the expert travelers we have read on the web have admitted that they have favorite cooking utensils that they carry in their luggage wherever they go.  Some kitchens and hotel rooms don’t provide the stuff that is the most familiar to you, so you have to carry your own.  With me it’s a small flashlight that I like to put on the night table wherever I sleep.  It somehow provides a sense of security and preparedness that offsets the unfamiliar air of a new environment.
  • Comfy Jeans.    Everybody has their favorite items of clothing that they can’t be without no matter where they are in the world.   I am not comfortable without my favorite cap.  After posting this article a year ago and asking, “what makes you feel at home away from home?”  a piece of clothing was the first thing my daughter thought of:
    Stacy enjoyed a pina colada right from a pineapple mug in the tropics last winter.
    Stacy enjoyed a pina colada while contemplating here favorite jeans.

    Stacy commented, “I have a lightweight bathrobe that I take with me wherever I go. I wear it constantly at home and it is light enough that I could probably just fit it in my purse. Actually, it’s a swimsuit cover-up that I bought 10 years ago on sale for like $10 and it is now covered in snags and stains….feels like home. I could fit that, my passport, some cash, my debit card, some flip flops, and my phone in my purse and be ready to go anywhere.”  “Okay, now after reading that article about the caves in Samana, I have to add one more thing that I like to take with me that makes me feel at home…..my Saloman water shoes!!!! Never know when you are going to need that type of adventure!”   Yep, clothing can be really important when it comes to feeling at home.

  These are some of the essentials that we have found to be contributing factors to the sense of home that everybody needs.  I think we are doing a pretty good job of mixing our away-from-home adventures with our times of staying at home in the cabin and enjoying the security of the familiar.  And the cabin really does feel like home to us now.

Here I am feeling at home in my office in a corner of the historical log cabin.
Here I am feeling at home in my corner study in the historical one-room log cabin.

  What is it that makes you feel at home when you are away from home?

Kaye's favorite reading spot in the DR was either the veranda or the poolside.
Kaye’s favorite reading spot in the DR was either the veranda or the poolside.

Postscript 1-28-14:   Well, we did spend last winter at a seaside resort in the Dominican Republic and had to re-adjust to a foreign setting and a new sense of home.

This winter we are feeling at home in the newer RV and trying the work-camp experience at a small park in southern California for the winter and spring.  We don’t plan to return to the log cabin in Michigan until after our epic trek to Alaska this summer.

The RV has a roomy kitchen, living, dining area that has allowed us to bring along some of our familiar cookware, and the refrigerator and cupboards are large enough for some of our favorite provisions.  We’ve been watching rented Red Box movies on the Mac since there is no TV reception here – just like back in Michigan.  It’s all making us feel quite at home here.

The Coachmen fifth-wheel has a slide-out that expands our sense of home.
The Coachmen fifth-wheel has a slide-out that expands our sense of home.

So, whoever you are, wherever you are…   welcome home!

Ozarks, Outposts… and Onward!

Milepost 1197:  Amarillo, Texas.

We have made it to Amarillo, Texas, and we’re liking the idea that we are half way to our winter haven in California.

But we’re also a bit uncomfortable with our surroundings.  The Ozarks of Missouri were beautiful and rugged, with outcroppings of rocky cliffs on both sides as we rode on the sawtoothed back of the beast, rising and falling with each hill and valley for a hundred miles.  It was almost dizzying.  The powerful Ford worked valiantly to deliver us safe to the other side. (Sorry, no photos of the Ozarks; I was busy driving.)

But the other side was the bleak prairie of Oklahoma.  It was desolate and creepy, and I’ll have to admit, it spooked us.  We stayed at a lonely outpost called Big Cabin last night, but there didn’t seem to be a town.  Just a solitary Super 8 hotel with nobody around but the girl behind the desk in the lobby.  It could have been haunted.

Wide open spaces full of...  nothing.
Wide open spaces full of… nothing heading across the Texas prairie.

And then today we drove all day to transverse the length of dreary Oklahoma, making it into Texas before sundown.  And again, the desolate and massive panorama left us dispirited, and the chilly wind off the plains whispered discouraging words over our shoulders as we scuttled to the cheap motel room while the tentative new crescent moon rose hesitantly over our temporary home on the range.

So, while we have escaped the violent winter that’s pouncing upon our friends back home in Michigan  – there’s no snow here at all, and the ponds and rivers haven’t the least bit of ice on them – we are still not resting easily, disquieted by the uneasy spirit of the wide open and unfriendly spaces.

Here’s an unusual bit of travel trivia that we encountered today while on the open freeway: The semi that had just passed us weaved a bit as it pulled back in ahead of us as if dodging a stray animal.  But what emerged was a large tumbleweed, 3 feet in diameter and rolling across the highway.  Strange.

Tumble weeds somersault across the roads on every windy day.
Tumble weeds somersault across the roads on every windy day.

Tomorrow we hope to make it across the Texas panhandle and into New Mexico.  And we are planning on quitting early, putting in a shorter travel day to spend more time relaxing.  Maybe we will find it warm enough to finally unfurl the RV and stay in our own abode for the night.  We need some down time to gather our wits about us.

The Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson

Milepost 11-13   If I were to compile a bucket list for nature lovers and history lovers – and adventurers who like to find the most isolated corners of the country, the Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson would be on the list.  The Dry Tortugas are a cluster of islands in the Gulf of Mexico 68 miles west of Key West.  This remote destination is managed by the National Park Service.

  It is a great location for nature lovers because of its diverse aquatic life.  As an avid snorkeler, I was astounded at the wide range of sea creatures I saw there.  Besides the scores of tropical fish, I saw stingrays, spotted eagle rays, nurse sharks, reef sharks, lobsters, tarpon, barracudas and of course, sea turtles (tortugas in Spanish).

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The moat seems unnecessary as the fort is surrounded by the ocean on three sides.

  Fort Jefferson is a massive structure built of bricks, 16 million bricks!  In fact, it is said to be the largest brick building in the western hemisphere.  It was  built over a 20-year period beginning in 1846.  The fort was never attacked, and none of its cannons were ever used in battle.  One of those guns was capable of firing a cannonball 3 miles!

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Now THAT’S a cannon!

  Probably its foremost claim to fame is that it was used as a military prison and was the place where Dr. Mudd was incarcerated after the assassination of President Lincoln.  He was later pardoned after saving many lives in an outbreak of yellow fever at the fort.

  There is a small campground on the island in the shadow of the fort, and campers pay a few dollars per night.  When I camped there the ocean was almost dead calm and the snorkeling was easy.  My friends and I snorkeled all the way around the island in an hour-and-a-half in about 12 feet of water.  Then after dark some us returned to the water with a dive light for a nighttime skinny snorkel.

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The small tent campground offers about a dozen sites.

  There are a couple of reliable shuttle services that zoom to the islands from Key West with powerful double-hulled catamarans – in only a couple of hours at about 35 knots!  If you want to get there even faster, take the sea plane.

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The fastest shuttle to Fort Jefferson is the seaplane from Key West.
Even though it seems huge, the fort was once crowded with 400 residents.
Even though it seems huge, the fort was once crowded with 400 residents.

Best lightning photo

A nighttime thunderstorm interrupts the normal summer calm just offshore from Garden Island.  A sheltered cove protects boats.

Retiring the Old RV

Milepost 10-1-13 

  We just camped in our old travel trailer for the last time.  We have put money down on a newer rig but haven’t taken delivery of it yet, so we made a spontaneous decision to take advantage of the mild weather of early autumn and take the old camper out for one last outing.

  It’s only an hour’s drive to our favorite campground on the beach at the tip of the Thumb at Port Crescent State Park, and we were able to get the same site we had last year within a few yards of the beach.

We can enjoy a panorama of Lake Huron from our favorite campsite at Port Crescent.

  Port Crescent’s golden sands are perfect for beach walking and the water was still relatively warm.  The weather was unusually mild for this time of year and we were able to linger out by the campfire well into the evening.

Our favorite beach walk takes us west a half mile to where the Pinnebog River empties into Lake Huron.

  We have been really excited about the newer fifth wheel and are anxious to bring it home and set it up with the necessary provisions for our once-in-a-lifetime journeys to California and Alaska and the other far corners of the country, but on this excursion we did a lot of reminiscing.  We have owned the old travel trailer for ten years and have built a lot of memories.

Anybody looking for a vintage travel trailer?  It’s a 1978 Jayco, and it’s too small to live in for more than a few days.

  This is one of the trailers that my construction crew stayed in while we were building new log homes all over the state a few years ago.  We worked year ’round, so this was our home away from home even through several winters.

  But we have to have something bigger for our next adventures, because Kaye and I will be living in it for months at a time as we tour the U.S. from coast to coast.  The new RV has a slide-out that expands the living space and should be a great help in preventing  cabin fever.

So the sun has set on another Lake Huron shoreline adventure.

  The sun has set on our adventures with the old Jayco.  We are looking forward to a new dawn with the newer Coachmen.  Watch for upcoming posts with the new rig!

Michigan’s Sandy Shorelines

Milepost 7-2-13 

  Michigan is defined by it’s natural boundaries – the Great Lakes.  The lower peninsula is shaped like a mitten which is bordered by sandy beaches on the west-facing shorelines along Lake Michigan and mostly stony beaches facing east along Lake Huron (see my earlier post describing some of Michigan’s Rocky Shorelines).

  Probably the most impressive stretch of sandy shoreline is near Traverse City at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore which includes several miles of perched sand dunes along the Leelenau Peninsula and the large offshore archipelago, North and South Manitou Islands.  These large sloping sand dunes tower 450 feet above the beach and Lake Michigan.  The Manitou Islands are premiere backpacking destinations and offer real seclusion for the wanderer seeking remote solitude.

 

The view of Lake Michigan from atop the bluff at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

  South Manitou Island has designated campgrounds, fresh water supplies, lighthouse tours and shipwrecks.  On North Manitou hikers are allowed to camp anywhere away from a body of water or a historical building (there are remnants of ghost towns on both islands) and must filter or boil water for drinking and cooking.  Friends of mine who just camped on North Manitou two weeks ago reported that they didn’t see another human being for several days while hiking and camping on the large island.

 

Hikers descend the dunes for an evening swim in Lake Michigan – before the grueling return climb.

  The west Michigan shore is basically a 200-mile-long stretch of sandy beach that is interrupted every few miles with a lighthouse and harbor town.  Not only the area inhabitants but also thousands of tourists have tapped in to the beauty of this region with swimming, boating, kayaking, fishing, diving, four-wheeling, kite boarding, skinny dipping… and a whole lot more.

 

Young hikers on South Manitou Island.

Many of the beaches that line Michigan’s west coast are managed by city and state park services, and private land owners keep an eye on their waterfronts, but there are vast stretches of sand that don’t seem to be regulated by anybody – there’s simply nobody around.  Ah, what seclusion, what freedom, what natural beauty, stretching for miles and miles!

 

On the eastern side, there are also golden sands that border the sunset side of Michigan’s “Thumb” from Caseville up to Sleeper State Park and Port Crescent State Park near Port Austin at the tip of the Thumb where the beaches end and the stony bottoms of the eastern shores take over.

 

South Manitou Island snorkelers leap from the wreck of the Morazan, a freighter grounded during a blizzard in 1960.

(This activity is not endorsed by the Park Service.)


  There are few places where it is legal to drive your Jeep on the beach, but at Silver Lake Dunes you are welcome to drive around on the sand dunes in your dune buggy or other four-wheel-drive vehicle, and there are many campgrounds nearby.

 

  Visitors are often surprised at the shorelines of Michigan and the vast beauty – and recreational opportunity – that they present.  One could spend a lifetime enjoying all of this, but there’s something to keep in mind before scheduling a visit here:  Michigan is crossed by the 45th parallel, the latitudinal half-way point between the equator and the north pole, and this means that winters are harsh here.  And the beaches are deserted while the local inhabitants hibernate next to the fireplaces in their cabins.  The lakeshore is not a safe place to be when the snow is blowing, the wind is howling, and the ice is piling up on the beach in huge mounds.  That’s why many Michiganders head south for the winter.

 

  But in the warmer months the Michigan shorelines – whether sandy or stony – are some of the most inviting spots in the midwest!  My personal favorite time is September after Labor Day when the kids have gone back to school and the campgrounds are empty but the water is still warm enough for wading, snorkeling or diving (I keep a wetsuit with my snorkeling gear in case the water temp isn’t quite warm enough for me) .  And the cool evening temps make the campfire even more appealing.  Ah, peace and quiet!

 

Each September, Kaye and I camp within a few yards of the beach at Port Crescent State Park

Michigan’s Rocky Shorelines

Milepost 7-1-13 

Michigan has more shoreline than either Florida or California.  And it has more inland lakes (about 11,000) than Minnesota, which is said to be “the Land of 10,000 Lakes”.  And Michiganders own more boats than the constituents of any other state.  I guess maybe it is the “Texas” of freshwater lakes.

  Much of Michigan’s shoreline is rugged and rocky, especially surrounding the upper peninsula where there are forest-covered cliffs and crags and boulders along many miles of the shore.  The lower peninsula is sandy along the entire west side bordering Lake Michigan, but the eastern shore, bordering Lake Huron, is a mix of stoney bars and sandy beaches.  You could generalize that if the beach faces west, it is sandy, and if it faces east, it is stoney.

The Lower Peninsula

  The only real stretch of rugged shoreline in the lower peninsula is at the tip of the Thumb where there is an outcropping of shale that stretches for several miles.  The most prominent landmarks are Hat Rock, Table Rock, and Turnip Rock.  These are accessible mostly from the water, as there is private property bordering much of this shore.

Turnip Rock is best reached by canoe or kayak.

  As the crow flies, Turnip Rock is a couple of miles east of the village of Port Austin, but the trip by water is much farther because there is a stone bar that extends almost 2 miles from shore, so the boater must add several miles of paddling to get around this formation, unless he is willing to portage across the stones to shorten the trip (wear heavy-soled sandals or sturdy water shoes).  On a nice day it takes about an hour-and-a-half, unless the wind is against you.  This upside-down “V” route takes you within a half mile of the Port Austin Reef lighthouse at the northernmost point.

Port Austin Reef Lighthouse is 2.5 miles from land.

  During my last visit there it seemed odd to me to be able to get out of my kayak and walk around on the flat shale bottom in only 2 or 3 feet of water… when I was 2 miles from the nearest shore!

  It’s a good idea to call ahead for availability of rental equipment at Port Austin Kayak Rentals.  After a hard day of paddling on the lake, I found Joe’s Pizzeria in Port Austin to be a welcome landing for delicious pizza and pasta and a whole lot more.

The Upper Peninsula

Michigan is rich in hiking destinations.

Michigan’s most famous shoreline in the upper peninsula is the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore which is managed by the US National Park Service.  This impressive Lake Superior shoreline is dominated by sheer cliffs that reach over 200 feet high and are punctuated by arches, overhangs and caves.  There are hiking trails that follow the tops of these cliffs making it a popular backpacking destination.  

Hiking trails are perched atop the cliffs and call for caution.

A few campgrounds are scattered throughout the park, and it’s important to make reservations early if you hope to get a good campsite.  This is back country camping, so there are few water pumps to be found.  Most everyone dips water from the lake or stream and either boils it or filters it for drinking and cooking.

It is possible to see the Pictured Rocks from below by boarding a tour boat in the town of Munising a few miles to the west.  Also, kayaking is becoming an ever more popular means of getting up close to the caves and arches that undercut the huge cliffs.

Board the tour boat for an up-close look at the cliffs.
The cliffs are riddled with caves and natural arches.
Spray Falls drops 75 feet directly into Lake Superior.
Hikers get their fill of the spectacular grandeur from the vantage points along the cliff top trails.

  The Pictured Rocks are not the only picturesque shoreline along Lake Superior.  Among the other famous locations is Isle Royale, a large and remote rocky island that is home to populations of both wolves and moose.  Camping and hiking on Isle Royal is limited and requires working months ahead to reserve a spot on the ferry and a back country camping permit.

  Lake Superior waters are always cold even in the late summer, so swimming is not usually on anybody’s agenda.  If you’re kayaking, have a way to keep warm with a wetsuit or warm waterproof clothing.

  After your hiking or kayaking adventure, don’t forget to enjoy one of the famous north Michigan pasties at one of the local eateries like Muldoon’s Restaurant in Munising which always gets good reviews for its authentic Scandinavian cuisine.

Tulips and Old Technology

Milepost 5-20-13  

  Last weekend my wife and I visited the west coast of Michigan for an early anniversary get-away, and we were privileged to see some famous sights and meet some interesting  folks along the way.

The DeZwaan Windmill dominates the landscape at Windmill Island Park.

  Our first stop was the Windmill Park in Holland, Michigan, where the annual Tulip Festival had just ended the day before.  The tulips were in top form, and the 400-year-old windmill was open for tours.  Our guide was a Dutch American woman named Irene who was able to climb five flights of stairs to the fifth floor of the mill to give us a tour.  This particular mill was a fully operational grist mill that grinds flour with the power of the wind, and there is some really old wooden technology inside.  The gears are all made of wood, mostly ironwood, which is self-lubricating.  It was bought from the Dutch and shipped to the US in 1964 sporting an array of bullet holes from being strafed by warplanes during World War II.  It’s the last windmill that was allowed to leave the Netherlands as they had just declared all their windmills as historic sites and were beginning to restore many them.

 

Irene gives a knowledgable and friendly tour of the old windmill.

  Next we had lunch with some friends at a Dutch restaurant called the DeBoer Bakery on the north side of town.  The cuisine was authentic and delicious.

 

The 120-year-old Maplewood Hotel.

 

  We stayed at the Maplewood Hotel in Saugatuck for the next two nights, a nineteenth century edifice with much of the original woodwork intact.  The floors creaked appropriately in a lot of places as we rambled through the convoluted corridors, and we imagined spooky tales of ancient ghosts roaming the halls at night.

   Killwin’s fudge shop in town was open and we took full advantage.  Scooter’s restaurant on the waterfront has some of the best pizza in town at a reasonable price.

 

 

  We spent the second day of our trip near the Lake Michigan waterfront in the town of St. Joseph enjoying the parks and the wharf.  This was my first opportunity to shoot the lighthouses there, and I was also happy to find the fishermen on the jetty hooking some catfish.  I don’t know if these guys knew I was coming or what, but their attire was perfect for the setting.

 

 

 

 

 

   The Beachside Deli is an authentic Mediterranean restaurant downtown where the Greek gyro sandwiches are filled with a delectable mix of lamb and chicken and a specialty sauce.  Mmm, terrific!  It’s on State Street near Broadway (not near the beach).

 

  Kaye and I love the west side of Michigan, and return year after year to enjoy these very picturesque and welcoming people and places.  I hope you get a chance to visit there too.  There is a lot to see!

 

 

The lighthouses on the pier at St. Joseph/Benton Harbor guide the boats going and coming.

See a gallery of my Holland/St.Joe photos at my photo website here.  Click “Slideshow” in the top right corner to view the photos in full screen mode.  Thanks!