Preparing for Departure (by Kaye)

Kaye posts the latest steps toward our anticipated departure from the winter on December 28th:

Milepost 12-21-13  Kingston, Michigan

Life on the Road:  Preparing for Departure:

Today: The Friday before Christmas and the day before Solstice

Location: All snug and cozy in the recliner where I can gaze at the lights of the Christmas tree

Outside: Dark, evidently freezing rain. Sounds like schools are closed – all over the place.

Miles traveled: Probably none. Hopefully we can stay put today.

Walked: Not today. No safe place to walk these days. But soon…

Hubby is: Sleeping

Recent happenings: Oh, my! So many things happening so quickly.  So many decisions. So many plans coming together – and some still up in the air

Surprises: The fact that we will be living in southern California for the winter and spring.

Unexpected: The fact that my mom has decided to move into a smaller place.

Noticed: How weird it is that we have been down-sizing for three years and my mom is suddenly trying to do it all in a couple weeks. Even weirder that I won’t be around to help her with it.

Discoveries: My friends don’t all think like me and sometimes don’t agree with me.  Yah, not a new discovery, just need to remind myself sometimes.

Made me smile: Kind words and good friends

Made me sad: Divisive declarations on Facebook, assumptions and allegations

Made me drool: That picture on Facebook of a “breakfast bake” made with refrigerator biscuits

Blessings: Oh, so many! One that comes to mind is the restorative power of sleep.  AND an amazing husband! Amazing, I say.

Reading: No time to read. So sad. But soon. Very soon.

Watching tonight: Perhaps a Christmas movie. Or perhaps West Wing…

Considering: What I can choose to leave behind from what I’ve already packed

Working on: Packing up all our stuff – to take with us, to donate, and to put in storage

Accomplishments: Wrapping up the remnants of 40 years of living at Hidden Hollows. Nope, we’re not done yet, but we have come a long way and are getting close.

Lessons: I can only do what I can do.

Today’s agenda:  
Finish several packing projects
Clean the cabin.  Again.
Pack things up for heading out for Christmas

Looking forward to: Hanging out with our kids and relaxing for a couple days before the final push and the big departure date

A Race Against Time

Milepost 12-10-13   The newer RV arrived yesterday, and Kaye and I are on a mission to have it ready by our departure day, December 28th, when we hope to head for California for the winter and spring.  Today we emptied the cupboards and drawers of the old RV and carried everything across the yard (through the snow) to the new rig for sorting and re-assigning places – for the stuff we want to take with us for the next phase of life.  It feels like we are in a race against time.

It’s a small slice of the larger race against time:  Life.  And it is informed by bucket lists and lifelong dreams and a watchful eye on the clock of human life expectancy and physical well being.  Can we get everything done before we are too decrepit to climb the proverbial mountain (because it’s there)?  Or will we die trying?  Or will we die NOT trying?

I climbed to the top of a mountain with family members on the Skyline Trail at Glacier National Park.
I summited a mountain with family members hiking the Skyline Trail at Glacier National Park.

It’s been 10 years since Kaye was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, and we have been keenly aware of our mortality since that day, two days before Christmas, 2003.  There’s nothing like cancer to remind a person of the shortness of human life and to cause one to formulate  some quick plans about how to spend what’s left of it.

We decided to travel more, to see more of the world, but our financial situation wouldn’t accommodate us.  All of our capital was in real estate, and none of it was liquid.  We had to make radical changes.  For us, it meant downsizing, and we are still in the process.

Finally, later this month, it looks like we will get to hit the road and wander around the country for a few years…  perhaps until we can’t climb the steps of the RV anymore – let alone the proverbial mountain.

To my younger friends who haven’t yet given a thought to the future and how to make the most of it,  I have some words of wisdom:

  • Enjoy the moment.   Stop and smell the roses.  Don’t wait until retirement to have adventure or to take risks (and don’t seek adventure if you don’t like to take risks; they go hand in hand).
  • Upsize when you need to.   You need a bigger house and vehicle  during the family years.    And a bigger garage — for the Harley.
  • Downsize when you need to.   For us it was after the kids had moved out and we realized our house and 30-acres were too big for two people.
  • Prioritize from the outset.  If money is important to you, get an education.   With a college degree, on the average, you’ll make 30% more over the span of your career (if you can get a job in your field).   At 17 years old, a major factor in my decision to become a teacher was having summers off.  No way would a 2-week vacation every year satisfy my need for extended adventure trips.
  • Love people more than stuff.   Your friends and family will determine your quality of life more than the job you have or the stuff you own.  Respect them even when they don’t seem all that respectable,  hold them tight for the most part,  but give them space when they need it.
  • Go climb a mountain.  Start on your bucket list while you are still young.  Believe me, it’s a big world, and there is too much to see in one lifetime, so you better get started now.
My kids set the pace.

My daughter, Wendi, has visited all 50 states and has backpacked with her husband from Mexico south through South America to Argentina.  She and Scott own an adventure tour business in Alaska where they spend their summers.*  My middle daughter, Angie, has lived on four continents and resided with her husband in India for two years.  She planned their 10th anniversary trip to Florence, Venice and Rome without the help of the tour companies.   My oldest daughter, Stacy, has visited 46 states and will get the other four in 2014 before her 40th birthday.  She could write the book on lone wolf adventures for women (and she might do it), as her husband often works weekends.

Three sisters at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.
Three sisters at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

They’ve been great adventuring role models for me!  Maybe this post isn’t really about the race against time that is life, but more about the race to keep up with my daughters on their adventures!

Angie, Stacy and Wendi camping on South Manitou Island as young adults.
Angie, Stacy and Wendi camping together on South Manitou Island as young adults.

Anyway,  Kaye and I are taking off to assume the gypsy life for a while – and the risks and adventures that go along with it.  Maybe we will meet other vagabonds along the way.  Perhaps we will bump into YOU somewhere between the oceans in the next couple of years.  I hope you will give us directions if we seem to be lost.

Just remember, “Not all those who wander are lost.”   –J.R.R. Tolkien

 What adventures are on your bucket list?  In what phase of life will you make them happen?   Click  “Leave a Comment” at the top to tell me about it.  Also, if you’re interested in life on the road, please “Follow” (in the left sidebar) to see where we end up next time.

* Also see the BBC story from Lonely Planet writer Roff Smith mentioning Wendi and her work at the famous Black Bear Coffee House at Denali.

Oh, The Irony… (Our New Home Has Arrived)

Milepost 12-9-13   Today we went and picked up our newer RV,  a 2001 Coachmen fifth wheel that will be our home for the next couple of years,  and we drove over snowy roads with a blustery cross-wind while towing it home.  Exactly the sort of weather we are trying to get away from.  How ironic.   Or maybe just really appropriate.

We just brought home our new home-away-from-home... in a snowstorm.
We just brought home our new home-away-from-home… in a snowstorm.

We will spend the next few days transferring stuff from the cabin and the older RV into the new rig.  We are moving out of the cabin so it will be available to rent while we are away.   The plan is to head west to California for the winter around December 28th, so we have a lot to do in the next couple of weeks.

It just occurred to me that perhaps we should christen the new rig before we take off.   When they were still at home our daughters used to name all of our vehicles.  We took “Oliver”, our white Ford van for our last trip to California back in 1991.  It was a month-long camping trip that included 8 national parks on a wide circuit from the Tetons and Yellowstone over to the Redwoods and Yosemite in California and then back east via the canyons, Bryce, Zion, and the Grand, and over to Texas for a quick visit to Carlsbad.

The Ford van was perfect for our family of five in the Teton Mountains on an extended camping trip.
The Ford van was perfect for our family of five in the Teton Mountains on a 6000-mile trip.

So, how does one name a vehicle?   I am not sure what method my daughters used back in the day,  and I don’t know if the style or appearance of the rig had any bearing on its eventual moniker.  Shall we call the new RV “the RV”?  Or “The Coachmen”?   Or shall we be a little more creative?

I’m open to suggestions.

My first car I simply called "The T-Bird".
My first car I simply called “The T-Bird”.

Take It Or Leave It?

Milepost 12-3-13

 We are in downsizing mode.  Again.  This time we are packing for the trip to California where we are scheduled for a 5-month work/camp stay at Kenney Grove Park in Fillmore,  through the winter and spring.  We get a free camp site with full hookups in exchange for some part-time handyman work and camp hosting,  an opportunity that Kaye found on the Workers On Wheels website.

Then around June 1st, we head north up the coast highway on our epic journey to Alaska.  We probably won’t get back to Michigan until August.

We have been down this road before, but not quite this far.  It’s the weight of everything that’s the biggest consideration this time, and I do mean weight — as in pounds and ounces.  We are moving into a 29-foot fifth wheel RV that will be our home for the next few years.  We have to cross the continental divide several times in the next year,  hauling this rig and every bit of  cargo we put into it.

So, the importance of each item has to be weighed in terms of its actual usefulness.  Too many heavy things will result in higher fuel consumption and engine work load.

This is where we part with our decorative knick knacks and pottery collection.  The 12-piece cookware set will be left in storage and a single skillet selected.  The glass cookie jars are out, the light weight plastic containers are in.  The toolbox will be culled until only the most essential tools are included.  My piano and organ are going into storage.  I’ve already moved to on-line banking so I don’t need to carry much of an office,  so even the office supplies will be reduced to a bare minimum.

Let's see now, which tape dispenser shall we take, the desk model filled with sand, or the store bought plastic one?
Which tape dispenser shall we take, the desk model filled with sand, or the disposable plastic one?

This is a deeper level of downsizing than we have experienced up until now.  Three years ago we started sorting and pitching so we could move out of our 10-room house and into a one-room log cabin. A lot of our stuff just went into storage sheds, even after we had yard sales and umpteen Craigslist listings to reduce our inventory.

But this is where the rubber meets the road.  Actually.  Because there is only so much space in the RV and only the essential necessities will pass muster.

This can be really difficult.  Kaye is a book lover who had a library in the big house with hundreds of volumes.  Now she will carry a dozen titles at most.  Fortunately, she owns a Kindle and has it loaded with hundreds of digitized books — which are weightless.

And I am leaving my workshop locked up at home with all of my prized power tools and sawhorses; I’m only taking one toolbox, and there’s no room in it for a table saw or a chainsaw.  I’m hoping we don’t have a repeat of our earlier Smokey Mountain encounter where we came around a bend in a narrow mountain road and found a tree down across the road.  I had to use my small campfire axe to cut it in two so we could get through.

Well, it looks as though we will leave the Michigan log cabin around December 28th for our westward winter wanderings — which will turn into our spring and summer sojourns.

With careful packing, our load will be light enough to climb every mountain with ease.   And our adventurous spirits will reach new heights as well!

Neighborly Natives

Milepost 2-2-13   Have you ever met someone for the first time and felt like they were an old friend?  Did you visit a new place and immediately feel that you were home?  That’s what happened when Kaye and I arrived at The Cove in the Dominican Republic last winter.  We were renting a VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) apartment on the beach on the Samana Peninsula at the east end of the island of Hispanola, and as soon as we started to meet the locals, we knew we had come home – at least for the winter.

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Manager Coco – and his son Alexandro – keep everything running smoothly at The Cove.

  Coco was the first to welcome us as our taxi driver dropped us at the front door of our home.  He was the manager of the complex and immediately started taking care of us, first with a tour of the house and a how-to-start-the-air-conditioner demonstration.   The next morning came more info as he delivered a 5-gallon water bottle and told us how to hire the local women to come in and cook a full meal of chicken or fish and rice and salad.  And a whole lot more.  Coco smiled a lot and his default reply to every question was, “No problema!”  He told us where we could buy provisions and cold Coke at the nearby colmado (general store) only a five-minute walk from the house.

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Grandma and her kids and grandkids run the local colmado.

  When we arrived at the colmado we were welcomed with quick smiles as we brushed the cobwebs off our Spanish and dove into the indigenous mode, ordering flour and sugar and milk and eggs… and banana chips.  Processed foods simply weren’t available.  Behind the counter grandma reached for this and that as we pointed at the stuff we wanted, and the grandkids scrambled to help.  We discovered later that the tourists who stayed at The Cove rarely shopped at the local store and in fact, didn’t cook for themselves much, choosing to eat out more often than not.  So, seeing our willingness to engage the local culture and support the neighborhood economy, we made ourselves popular very quickly.

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The guaguas shuttle passengers and cargo on a fixed route all day long.

  We saw even more surprise and pleasure on the faces of the neighbors when we showed up at the bus stop to board the guagua for a trip to the nearest town.  The guaguas are beat-up vans and small pickups with benches built in the back for passengers.  They come by every half hour and charge about 70 cents for a ride to town.  They were often crowded, but people would quickly scoot over to make room for the Americanos every time.  It seems that the foreigners rarely  ever ride the guaguas because they all have rental cars.  Except for us.  We like to get as close to the culture as we can.  Believe me, in a guagua, the culture is very close!

A Dominican visits the local colmado.
A Dominican girl visits the local market.

  The camera was the next thing that promoted our welcome with the neighbors.  The Dominicans love to have their pictures taken.  I rarely shoot a photo of a stranger without first making some introductory small talk, but these folks were eager to smile and pose for the camera.  Sometimes, when I was standing near someone, they would get my attention, point at the camera and then at themselves, and smile real big.  Man, this is easy!  Even teenage guys would pose when they saw the camera without the slightest hint that there was anything uncool about it.

These guys asked me to snap their picture while enjoying the seaside.
These guys asked me to snap their picture while waiting for friends at the seaside.
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These guys invited me in to share their fried fish with me.

  One day I grabbed the camera and headed out for a walk through the neighborhood of El Frances near our house.  The first guy I met on the street motioned me toward the path around behind the colmado where we took a shortcut through the baseball field and ended up standing in front of his house.  Next he took me to the school which was in session, disappeared inside and came back out with the principal so I could take her picture.  From there I continued on down the street where kids were running around naked while their moms hung up laundry in the yard.  Some guys invited me into their kitchen to share some freshly fried fish – right out of the pan.  I love these people!

DR culture edit 0457
A local family on the front porch of their home in El Frances.

  I tell you, at the end of our stay as we said farewell to these great neighbors, it was like parting with family members.

  I love the Dominican Republic.  It’s a beautiful land with splendid beaches and forests of coconut palms.  But the biggest draw to this gorgeous tropical paradise is its beautiful people with their unpretentious grace and easy smiles.

This roadside vendor claimed his Mama Juana makes you strong and sexy.
This roadside vendor claimed his Mama Juana makes you strong and sexy.

  On my next visit to The Cove at El Frances I’m hoping to stay longer if I can possibly do it.  It’s like home after all.

  See my gallery of 250 photos of the land and the people of the Samana Peninsula, Dominican Republic, at my online gallery and photo store here.

Dominican teenager on the seashore.
Dominican teenager on the seashore.
These girls were prepared for an afternoon rain shower.
These girls were prepared for an afternoon rain shower with an improvised rain poncho.

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!

Summer Shenanigans

Milepost 8-1-13 

  The seasons are no more obvious in the northern U.S. than out in the country.  In the city it is hard to see the changes that take place so gracefully and continuously outside of town.  In farm country there are more than four seasons as each one can be further divided into a myriad of micro-seasons.

  In the summer, for example, over a few weeks the wheat changes from bright green and grassy-looking in May and June to golden and grainy at harvest time in July.  The corn changes from knee-high by the fourth of July to nine feet high or more by August first.  The entire landscape goes through a continuum of overhauls right before our eyes.

  Kaye and I have not been traveling as much this summer because we enjoy the beauty of our secluded home in the log cabin here in central Michigan.  And we’ve been staying home intentionally to save money for our next big ventures to California and Alaska.

  So we are enjoying the sojourn of the seasons all around us here in the middle of the farm community where Kaye grew up as the daughter of a dairy farmer.

  I am a visually stimulated sort of guy, and I often see things that ignite my imagination on this journey through the seasons.  Today I pictured some nonsense in the field of huge round straw bales that we pass on our way to the highway and back.  Staging a bit of silly-ness is a lot of fun for me and even more so when my wife is willing to go along with it.  Here are the results of our latest craziness, some just-for-fun photos of our peaceful countryside surroundings.  The straw bales were rolled a day or two after the wheat was harvested.  They’ll probably be around for a while, so who knows what nonsense will follow over the next few weeks.

  Thanks to Kaye for conspiring in the nonsense!

  Hmm, I wonder what we can do with 10-foot high corn fields next?

 

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!

The Dominican Journal

  Well, the finished photo journal entitled, “The Young Men and the Sea” has arrived and I have proofed it; it looks fine.  Fifty pages and 150 beautiful full-color photos depicting the people and culture of the eastern Samana Peninsula in the Dominican Republic.  It’s a hardcover collectible, a coffee table book with which I am well satisfied.

  What I’m not happy with is the price.  I researched several printing companies and discovered that nobody is able to deliver a quality photo journal at a reasonable price.  Something about the heavy stock photo paper and all that vivid ink.

  Anyway, I’m planning to order a quantity of them soon, and hoping to offer them on eBay and Amazon; I have business accounts at both vendors.  Watch for them.

 

Dominican Carnival

Milepost 2-27-13  Okay, I now have almost 300 photos edited from my winter in the Dominican Republic, and I’m about to start compiling the Photo Journal, the coffee table book that has been the object of this cultural project.

  But I need your help.  I feel that I have a working knowledge of the culture from living there for extended periods of time, but I’ve been stumped by a couple of things and would like to have my readers help me gain some background information on these things before I begin on the book.  My goal is to have the book ready by the end of April.

  Here’s one of my puzzles:  While shooting the Carnaval Parade in the town of Samana, I photographed some guys who were covered with oil – at least I think it was oil.  I touched the one guy and sure enough I ended up with a black smudge that I had to stop and clean off before handling my camera any further.

These guys were part of the Carnaval parade in Samana, Dominican Republic.
These guys were part of the Carnaval parade in Samana, Dominican Republic.

  Besides the oily guys in this entourage, there were also a guy with his hands bound in cuffs, a “tyrant” behind them flogging them with a branch, and they were taking donations with a big can and a bag.

  What is the back story on this tradition?  What do these guys represent?  If some of you would do some research and link me to the information, I’d be very thankful.  If you come up with some good stuff, I’ll mention you as a contributing researcher in the book.

  Email me or make a comment here on the blog with the links.  My email is: rasims@juno.com

  Thank you!

Oh, here’s the link to my online-store and photo gallery that has 275 photos from the Dominican Repubic:  http://simsshotsphotography.zenfolio.com/p391431575

Make a donation quick before these guys try to hug you!
Make a donation quick before these guys try to hug you!

 Update:  Okay, folks, I’ve had some people help me out with some great resources.  It turns out that Los Africanos pictured here are representing the original African slaves who were brought to the Dominican Republic and became part of the Dominican heritage.  They take donations from bystanders who don’t want to be hugged by them!

Here are a few more photos from the Carnaval parade in Samana:

Los Tainos, the re-enactment of the original indigenous Indians.
Los Tainos, the re-enactment of the original indigenous Indians.
Los Tainos, the weary warriors after their dance through the streets.
Los Tainos, the weary warriors after their dance through the streets.

See lots more photos at my galleries: http://simsshotsphotography.zenfolio.com/p391431575

Fisherboys

Milepost 1-23-13  Even the young boys contribute to the family business of supplying seafood for the table or the nearby market. They use a single fishing line wrapped around a plastic water bottle and expertly ply the waters from shore. It’s a slow and methodical mode of operation, but it works. Sometimes. I was impressed with the patience and talent with which these boys worked, and without any supervision; their dads and uncles were out on the ocean after all, bringing in the bigger stuff.

The neighbors have become familiar with my presence by now and seem to enjoy finding photos opps for me; I have been invited to shoot the local baseball games, the school, and many families and their small family businesses. I’m getting more ideas for my upcoming photo journal.

The Young Men and the Sea

Milepost 1-22-13  The Dominican Republic.  I have arrived at my winter seaside home in the Dominican Republic and already met a bunch of the local fishermen. My posts will probably be quite short because the absence of internet; I have to go to town to connect, so here’s a photo of the guys dragging their boat out of the sea in the later afternoon. This process is repeating every day as the men leave every morning for a day on the ocean – usually two guys in each boat – and then return with their catch in the late afternoon. They have to recruit a crew to move the boat each time.

More later.

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Travel and Life on the Open Road