Tag Archives: Downsize

When Giving Back – Gives Back

Milepost 2-2-16              –living in a rented apartment near the beach.

My dad used to say that the real joy of having anything – is sharing it, and I proved him right again today.  The joy of artistic expression through photography has been multiplied by the joy of giving as I have been visiting my Dominican neighbors with copies of photos that I took of them 3 years ago.

I have made a project of printing the photos, mounting them on 5×7 rigid foam backings, and then handing them to the folks who are in the photos.  Part of the fun for me is experiencing the reactions of people who don’t often get noticed by passersby, let alone being given a memorable gift that will almost certainly become a family treasure.

We visited friends at the local colmado (mini-market) who said they knew everybody in the photos.
We visited friends at the local colmado (mini-market) who said they knew everybody in the photos.  Some of them were in the photo from 3 years ago displayed at the top of this page.

A lot can change in 3 years, and it has been both surprising  and gratifying for me to locate so many of the folks that I photographed last time we were here, although in one case, the horse was the same and the people were different.

I shot these guys washing their horses in the ocean 3 years ago...
I shot these guys washing their horses in the ocean 3 years ago…
... and found the same horse this time being ridden by his brother.
… and found the same horse this time being ridden by the man’s brother.

The quest to locate these people has created a secondary adventure that is even more fun than the original photo expedition.  When I found one young guy at a fruit stand, the place had changed a lot and  I didn’t recognize him.  When I stopped and showed him the photo asking him, “Where can I find this guy?” he looked at the photo and pointed at it and then himself, exclaiming, “It’s me!”

This guy was running a fruit market and gift shop 3 years ago...
This young guy was running a fruit market and gift shop 3 years ago…
... and I found him at the same market, though I didn't recognize it from the photo.
… and I found him at the same market, though I didn’t recognize it from the photo.

One of the funnest reunions was when we finally located a little old grandma  — after several stops to ask where she was, each stop getting us a little closer to her.  She was on the porch of a house with her granddaughters mixing a big bowl of cake batter.  When we handed her the photo her eyes got big and she threw back her head and started laughing.  They passed the photo around with excitement and then she told us the old house had fallen down, and she pointed to an empty slab next door.  Yes, there had been some changes in 3 years.

3 years ago I stopped to shoot a 10-foot high poinsettia plant and found these beautiful old folks in the doorway of their shack.
3 years ago I stopped to photograph a 10-foot high poinsettia plant and found these beautiful old folks in the doorway of their shack.
We found her living with her grandkids next door to where her house had been.
This time we found her living with her grandkids next door to where her house had been.
Coco was the maintenance man at the condos where we stayed 3 years ago. I had fired his son to wash my rental car. Coco has since been in a motorcycle wreck that destroyed his knee. He has had it reconstructed and doesn't even limp now.
Coco was the maintenance man at the condos where we stayed 3 years ago. I had hired his son to wash my rental car. Coco has since been in a motorcycle wreck that destroyed his knee. He has had it reconstructed and doesn’t even limp now.
The night watchman, Sergio, has nearly died of cancer since we were there. Now they say he will likely survive.
The night watchman, Sergio, has nearly died of cancer since we were there. Now they say he will likely survive.

Photography is a wonderful traveling companion.  Feeding my artistic appetites has brought me a lot of satisfaction over the  years.   And in giving it back to my subjects and enriching their lives in this small way, I have found a way to feed my soul as well.

The real joy of having a photograph is sharing it — not just with the cyber  world, but with the people who shared their beautiful faces to make it what it is,  a work of art.

I love the people of the Dominican Republic.  They are gorgeous, inside and out.

Rincon Grandma portait

Read Kaye’s beautiful account of this adventure on her blog here.

Not Wasting Away Again

Milepost 1-25-16                     -at a VRBO in the Dominican Republic

Our list of reasons to leave the northern winters is a short list for good reason.  Who needs more than a couple of good reasons to leave misery behind?

  1.  Physical well-being.  For many of us it goes beyond the discomfort of a chill running down your spine when the north wind blows.  The lack of sunshine and the short days in Michigan in the wintertime have a noticeable debilitating effect on human beings that becomes even more bothersome as they age.  Joint aches, muscle pain, and an overall lethargy that makes you want to go to bed right after supper all combine to make life dark and depressing.  Not to mention that if you do actually venture outside for a walk or a trip to the store, you may well slip on the ice, split your head open and end up at the hospital for stitches.  Winter is actually life-threatening for highway travelers, as indicated by traffic death statistics for the winter months.  Every snow storm ends up being the last one for some unfortunate travelers as their car slides off the road and hits a tree.
  2. Emotional well-being.  There is a reason why February is the month when the most suicides take place, and I am sure the long winter’s night of the soul has something to do with it.  Cabin fever may sound entirely benign until it goes beyond restlessness and brings on bona fide depression and a sense of hopelessness.  A feeling of being trapped in a dark place is not a healthful mental state for the human soul.  There is a sense that you are wasting away while hunkering in a human hibernation mode until spring.
  3. Financial well-being.  Winter can be expensive when you are paying to heat the house.  You end up caught in a mental and emotional tug-of-war as you shiver while the thermostat is pinned at 65 degrees to save money.  75 would be a lot more comfortable, but the utility bills will rise exponentially.  And the lights are on longer as the days are shorter, so the electric bill takes off as well.  Instead of being out in the yard in the evening, you are sitting in front of the TV… and consuming even more electricity.  And that means more popcorn and potato chips.
  4. That’s enough.  Who needs more than 3 reasons to head south in the winter?  Is self-preservation not enough?

(Note:  I realize that I am not speaking for winter sports enthusiasts.  Go out and sled, ski and skate while you are young, and have fun.)

So What Do You Do With Yourself?

Having escaped the northern winters and living as the proverbial snowbirds, we have been asked this question a few times.  Those who have not retired yet wonder the same thing.  What do we do to occupy our time?

It is a question that no one can answer for you, because the answer rests entirely on your personality and interests and physical state.  If you can’t think of something to do, maybe you shouldn’t retire.  A former co-worker of mine is still teaching school in his 70’s because he can’t imagine what he will do with time on his hands.  He says he will die teaching – and I believe him.

Lots of folks will move to retirement communities that surround golf courses or marinas. That is perfect if you love golf or boats.

For Kaye and me, having open spaces for walking and biking is important.  We hope to stay physically active as long as we possibly can.

As a photographer, I seldom land in a place that is without visual opportunity.  When it does happen, I have always been able to find something within a short drive.

Fruit Market edit w quad.jpg
A short drive on the quad took me past this colorful farm market on the way to the beach.

As a musician, I have been a little bit more frustrated as my piano is heavy and not very mobile and presents certain logistical challenges.  Still, I have found ways to express my musical self in almost every place we have stayed.  A couple of years ago I found a fellow musician who had set up a recording studio in a tent next to his motor home in a campground in Alabama.  We collaberated on a song or two.  Cool.

Escaping to Margaritaville

This winter we flew to the tropics where we are renting a vacation house near the beach in a small fishing village.  Our daily walks consist of sauntering downtown to the French bakery for a croissant or a pizza, or a short walk in the other direction to one of several palm-lined beaches.  A swim in the ocean is always available – and the water is 80 degrees.

A twilight stroll on the beach can be good medicine for the soul
A twilight stroll on the beach can be good medicine for both body and soul

In the apartment, we are able to stream movies to our laptops while lying on the bed or chatting with the kids and grandkids back home through social media or FaceTime.  We read books that we download for Kindle.  We journal about our adventures.  Kaye and I are both actually writing books this winter.

Adaptation is necessary for a successful migration in the wintertime, but every new place offers its own smorgasbord of opportunities.

If boredom sets in, we look for ways to change things up a bit.

And remind ourselves that at least we are not shivering in the northern snow and wondering how we will stay warm if the power goes off during a winter storm.

If we have a worry here it has more to do with blowing out a flip flop or stepping on a pop top.  We are not wasting away this winter.*

And just so you know, we are not on vacation either.  For us, this is life.

I wonder if these guys will sell me that frozen concoction that helps me hang on.*
I wonder if these guys will sell me that frozen concoction that helps me hang on.*

___________________________________________________

*Lyrics from Jimmy Buffet’s song, Margaritaville.

What’s Your Travel Mode?

Milepost 1-18-16                                   – at a vacation rental in the tropics

Travelers come in all sizes and shapes, and so do their travel preferences and their budgets.  Not everybody can afford to start out with a 40-foot motor home towing a boat.  Young families usually start out with tents or pop-up campers and graduate to more comfortable amenities later on.

When our kids were young and we had foster kids and foreign exchange students, we drove a full-size van every day of the week, so when we wanted to head out on a road trip, we just threw the tent and cooler – and the porta-potty – into the van with our sleeping bags and away we went.  It was rather an all-purpose vehicle.  We could only afford one vehicle at a time, so it had to be versatile.  We stayed in campgrounds or in the national forests where the camping was free.

A van is a very versatile vehicle for road trips with a family.
A van is a very versatile vehicle for road trips with a family.

Family Camping

But the budget is not the only consideration that has a bearing on our travel mode.

Destination is another.  You can’t very well take a motor home when you are flying to the tropics for the winter or traveling to Italy for an art tour.  On the other hand, if you are planning to hike along the Appalachian Trail you would need the lightest of tents and backpacks.  Weight would be a consideration that might limit you to one can of Spam for the entire trip.  Darn!

Further, the type of travel comes into play.  What is the experience you are looking for?  If you want to motorcycle the length of Route 66 with other Harley enthusiasts, your equipment is pretty much going to be determined by the requirements of that particular mode of travel.

Suitcase travel is a mode that will take you a lot of places but not to the backcountry.  It is the thing for staying in hotels, bed & breakfasts, cruises and vacation rentals, but you’ll need to switch to a backpack if you are hiking down through the Andes in South America.

Since we hit the road, Kaye and I have frequently switched modes when we were ready for some variety.  We drove the Alaska Highway – the ultimate road trip – with a pickup and a fifth wheel camper which we stayed in for months at a time.  That was how we also did our work-camping where we earned a winter campsite in southern California by working 20 hours a week at the campground.

Last fall, when I wanted to head off on a solo photo shoot, I threw a small tent, an air mattress and a cooler into the back of the pickup and took off for the state forest  in northern Michigan where the facilities were rustic and the stress level almost non-existent.  (Towing a fifth wheel is not entirely stress-free, especially through cities and along truck routes.)

DSC_0268

It is entirely likely that over the course of a lifetime most of us will experience an evolution of travel modes, starting out small and gradually growing as our travel tastes change over time.

Mind you,  I do recommend planning.  It might be nasty to invest in a huge camping rig (with a monthly payment to match) and then wake up some morning in a crowded RV park with the realization that what you really wanted was to sail around the Bahamas, gunk-holing from one sheltered cove to the next.

On the other hand, there’s probably no harm (other than the cost) in trying things out.  If one mode of travel doesn’t suit your fancy or you get tired of it,  try something else for awhile.

This has been our objective since we sold the house a while ago and took to the road.  Let’s see where this takes us.  We’ll try RV-ing for a while and then change it up when we need some variety.

Right now, the RV sits in storage, the plumbing winterized against the Michigan cold and snow,  while Kaye and I sit on the veranda of our vacation rental in the tropics in a quiet little fishing village at the end of the road in the Dominican Republic.

Dinner on the beach is part of the setting here in the tropics.
Dinner on the beach is part of the setting here in the tropics.

Hey, whatever blows your hair back (if you have any hair).  When it comes to travel, almost anything goes – at the right time in your life and at the appropriate price tag, and in the preferred mode.

Hey, go see stuff!  And have fun!

Photograph (36)
Our daughters thought a Conestoga wagon might be a fun mode of travel when we were touring the Southwest.

Oh, the (Zany) Things We Will See!

Milepost 1-14-16                         Las Galeras, Dominican Republic

Travel will entirely change your world view.  And part of that is that very often it just offers really unusual sights that are not on the itinerary.  My experience has been that nary an adventure transpires without bonus stuff thrown in, little surprises that add interest to the story.

We have moved to the Dominican Republic for the winter, one of our favorite and most affordable tropical destinations, and our biggest surprise so far was the sighting of a pirate ship that ran aground on the beach next to the restaurant where we were having lunch with our French hosts.

DSCN4067.jpg

The beach-going vacationers were called on to help free the heavy old vessel and they were eager to dive in and help.  Well, actually, diving wasn’t necessary as the water was only a meter deep.

Okay, everybody, put down your pina colada and heave ho!
Okay, everybody, put down your pina colada and heave ho!

Their efforts were futile, and the seamen decided to try towing their ship off the sand using a motor boat.  Alas, they couldn’t find enough rope to reach to deeper water where the boat was waiting so they had to give that up.

DSCN4082
Hmm, not enough rope to reach the tow boat.

When we left they were attempting to push the ship seaward with a backhoe.  I don’t know if they were successful with that; I think there  is a limit to how far into the ocean you can drive a backhoe.

Pirates can be quite resourceful when their ship is beached.
Pirates can be quite resourceful when their ship is beached.  Let’s use a backhoe to free it

So we had some pretty amusing dinner entertainment – and an unanticipated photo op.

The surprises that the travel life offers are not always fun.  I am sure the ship’s owner was not amused by his predicament.

Our motto for travel has always been, “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and take what comes.”

Because you never know for sure what you are in for when you set sail on life’s sea.

How Travel Ruined My Life

Milepost 1-1-16                            In a vacation rental at Rockford, MI

I am spoiled for the ordinary.

As a summer camper and beachcomber, my dad was the one who did it to me and my siblings.  I remember the day he took the whole family to Sears to buy our first cabin tent that would sleep all 7 of us.  I have precious memories of mountains we climbed and trails we hiked while hauling that heavy tent on the luggage rack of the family stationwagon.

Dad overloaded the old station-wagon and then drove it along the beach as far as he could to reach a remote campsite.
Dad overloaded the old station-wagon with camping gear and then drove it along the beach as far as he could to reach a remote campsite.

And I have done it to my kids likewise, dragging them around the country to national parks and seashores in an old van, and later, offshore to foreign countries for months at a time.

In the heart of the Rockies, my daughters explored the ruins of an old ghost town.
In the heart of the Rocky Mountains, my daughters explored the ruins of an old ghost town.
Our family shopped at the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall tienda for daily provisions in the Dominican Republic.
Our family shopped at the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall tienda for daily provisions when we lived in the Dominican Republic.

And as a mentor, I have done it to a whole lot of other people’s kids as well.

A  youth volunteer at the local church for 35 years, I took kids camping, hiking, canoeing, and spelunking.  My wife and I even took them on cross-cultural trips to underdeveloped countries to see how the rest of the world lives.

Our girls posed with the neighbors where we lived for one school year in Santiago, Dominican Republic.
Our girls posed with the neighbors where we lived for one school year in Santiago, Dominican Republic while teaching in an international school.

One of my mentees once complained to me, “Bob, you have ruined my life;  I am no longer satisfied with normal American life.”

Okay, so he said it with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, but there is real truth to the matter.  The American dream sits at the top of a ladder to success whose rungs are installed in a standard sequence that goes like this:  Do well in school so you can get a good education so you can get a good job so you can marry the right person and provide for the perfect family and live in a nice house (with a mortgage) in a good neighborhood and have two cars and a boat in the garage so you can eventually retire and travel or play golf all day.

Feeding your inner travel beast too early can change the order and mess things up.  I used to tell my mentees that “What you feed is what will grow.”

Well, if the thing that you feed is a wanderlust, you may become dissatisfied with the normal sequence of American life and want to get out early.  You would have been better off to never leave home in the first place.  You wouldn’t know what you were missing and would be content to stay put.  You should never have opened the cover of that first National Geographic magazine.

My daughters have traveled just about as far as they could get from their home in rural Michigan.
My daughters have traveled just about as far as they could from their home in rural Michigan.

So, I am all about blowing up the status quo.  And ruining people for the ordinary.  And I will never apologize, because the end result of an inconveniently interrupted American lifestyle is actually a much richer existence.

Nobody arrives at their deathbed saying, “I wish I had traveled less and seen less of the world.” or “I wish I had not met those foreigners and broadened my world view.”

I hiked the backcountry at Denali - where my youngest daughter lives and works every summer.
I recently hiked the backcountry at Denali with my daughters – where my youngest daughter now lives and works every summer.

So if I can feed your wanderlust I will do it.  I would love to blow up your common life by helping you get out the door and on the road.

Because I know you will someday thank me for it like I thank my dad for blowing up his modest household budget one summer by purchasing that expensive canvas tent at Sears Roebuck & Company.

But you need to have your eyes wide open.  What you feed is what will grow.  Feeding your inner gypsy is dangerous.  It could devastate the comfortable lifestyle you now enjoy.   You could end up selling your house and hitting the road – like me.

And discovering an alternate universe, as it were, in the next state and around the world.

Yes, travel has demolished my routine.

And it can do the same for you.

Thanks to my dad's travel bug, my brothers and I waded into the narrows at Zion Canyon National Park.
Thanks to my dad’s travel bug, my brothers and I waded into the narrows at Zion Canyon National Park when we were boys.
We brought the world to our house by hosting foreign exchange students... and then taking them on the road to see America.
We brought the world to our house by hosting foreign exchange students… and then taking them on the road to see America.  Here are our 3 daughters and 1 Russian student on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Someday is Just Code for Never

Milepost 11-24-15    In a vacation rental at Rockford, Michigan

I breathed a sigh of relief at the moment when, in the movie Knight and Day, Ms. Day (played by Cameron Diaz) says that she plans to travel someday, and the undercover spy, Mr. Knight, (Tom Cruise) replies, “Someday is just code for Never”.  This hit close to home for me, because my wife and I had struggled for several years to free ourselves from debt and a mortgage so that we could hit the road.

Our 30-acre Christmas tree farm required a LOT of mowing, and that was just the beginning. of it.
Our 30-acre Christmas tree farm required a LOT of mowing, and that was just the beginning.

But we had done it.  After closing our business and downsizing for several  years, our house and property finally sold and we put the last of our keepsakes into a storage unit and took off to follow our dreams – and the American road – in search of adventure and a more untethered lifestyle.

Our summer in Alaska would have been difficult if we still had lawns to mow back home.
Our summer in Alaska would have been difficult if we still had lawns to mow back home.

Sometimes spontaneity doesn’t happen without a lot of planning.  It seems like a contradiction in terms, but the American dream has stakes that are driven deep, and it may take a determined effort to pry them out of the ground when one finally gets the notion to be free.

Isn’t it odd that the freedom we enjoy in our country compels us to go after so much stuff that it becomes its own kind of bondage?  Mow the lawns, weed and feed the grass – so it will grow faster and greener – and require more frequent mowing.  Climb the corporate ladder so you can afford a bigger place with larger lawns, that need to be weeded and fed so they will grow faster and look nicer; but now require a much larger lawnmower – which we will buy with a credit card.

And our own personal empire doesn’t necessarily submit to our commands.  We wake up one day and discover that we are not driving it anymore; it is driving us.

It's hard to relax on a tropical beach - for an entire winter - when you have to think about a house up north that would freeze up in a power outage and be destroyed by water damage.
It’s hard to relax on a tropical beach – for an entire winter – when you have to think about a house up north that would freeze up in a power outage and be destroyed by water damage.

Someday we will get free.  Someday we will travel.  Someday we will spend an entire day in flip flops – or barefoot.  Someday we will see the world.  Someday we will live on the beach.

Someday we will forget what day it is.

Thankfully, it has finally happened for us.  Kaye and I often wake up in the morning and have to think for a minute to remember where we are and what day it is.  We are delightfully lost – and not looking for the way home.  Wherever we are, we are home.

Sometimes we like to see just how far from responsibility we can get... like camping on the beach.
Sometimes we like to see just how far from responsibility we can get… like camping on the beach.

But it almost didn’t happen.  It took a lot of determination and hard work to free ourselves and to finally get lost enough to find ourselves.

We no longer use the word “someday” without taking out our calendars and setting a date.

When will you starting setting dates for your travel dreams?

How about TODAY!

We spent last winter walking on southern beaches. Because we could.
We spent last winter walking on southern beaches. Because we wanted to – and we could.

First Week at the Lighthouse

Milepost 9-15-15    Big Sable Point Lighthouse, Ludington, Michigan

Kaye posted a daily journal of our first few days of volunteering at the Big Sable Point Lighthouse:

Day One – Tuesday, 9-15-15

  •  We arrived last evening and met our team members. The place is so beautiful. It’s hard to imagine we have this amazing opportunity. And so it begins.
  • There is WiFi at the lighthouse!!! Wahoo!!! I am downright happy about that.
  • After a brief demonstration from one of the other volunteers, I worked the video room most of the morning, re-stocked the cooler, gave tours of the keepers’ quarters to some possible volunteer recruits, shadowed someone closing out cash register, learned to open safe. Bob worked in the tower and at various other jobs.
  • I am on a steep learning curve! Lots we need to know to be lighthouse keepers. Glad we don’t have to haul oil up the tower to light the lamp. Also thankful for a great team to work with and to learn from.
  • Exhausted. Feet hurt…
 Day Two – Wednesday, 9-16-15
  •  From our bedroom window, we saw the Badger leaving the harbor on its way back across Lake Michigan to Manitowac, Wisconsin.
  • I learned a bit about running the cash register.

Day Three – Thursday, 9-17-15

  •  Field trip!!! Craziness.
  • Somehow Bob and I ended up having the place to ourselves for the evening. The whole freakin’ lighthouse and the whole dang beach. How bizarre! Wonderfully peaceful and quiet after having those students here all day. Well, quiet except for the wild wind and pounding surf.

Day Four – Friday, 9-18-15

  • Our day off – so we visited the new grand-daughter who is one week old today.
  • Stopped at the famous House of Flavors for supper. Fish is excellent.

Day Five – Saturday, 9-19-15

  •  Busy day. I worked the video room all morning, the cash register in the afternoon, and then back to the video room.

Day Six – Sunday, 9-20-15

  •  What an awesome view. Nine miles to the south, the Badger is heading out of the harbor and across the lake passing a row of seven sparkling white sailboats as a speed boat zips by all of them. Several fishing boats are spread across the horizon as well.
  • Lots of interesting and inquisitive visitors came inside and still more lounged outside. On a quick afternoon break upstairs, I glanced out windows to the scene below. Families were sitting and/or playing in clusters on the beach. People strolled along the boardwalks and hiked into the surrounding dunes. So lovely.
  • One of my online writing friends came to visit today. It was our first chance to meet face-to-face after corresponding for three years. Fun times. Actually all of us on the team had friends or family visit this evening.

Day Seven – Monday, 9-21-15

  •  Another gorgeous morning – in a long string of beautiful weather. We sure picked the right time of year to be here!
  • An interesting day. First visitors were from London, UK, and later some from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Then a keeper from Passage Island and Rock of Ages in Lake Superior. What fun to chat with him.
  • It was 2 o’clock before I even knew it – and before I had chance for a break.
  • I feel like I’m beginning to understand the process of closing out the cash register. We were one penny off.
  • State park ranger, fire and rescue paramedics, and ambulance all showed up in our yard responding to a medical emergency call during the evening. Turns out all is well.
  • Finished out our first week with a campfire out on the dunes.
(Click on photo to view in full screen mode.)
Read more of Kaye’s accounts at her blog, Wondering Journey.

One Old Fart in Five Old Forts

Milepost 3-27-15    Emerald Isle, North Carolina

A fortunate byproduct of our quest to live on southern islands and forever walk the beach this winter has been the close proximity of so many beautiful historical sites, especially old forts and lighthouses.

We spent January on Dauphin Island, Alabama, within walking distance of Fort Gaines, and five miles from Fort Morgan  just across Mobile Bay.

In February we were on Anastasia Island near the archaic Castillo de San Marcos at St. Augustine, Florida.

Heading from Florida to North Carolina we stopped for a week at Savannah, Georgia where we visited Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island in the Savannah River.

And in March we are on Emerald Isle, North Carolina, sharing the island with Fort Macon which we visited yesterday.

We are ending our winter sojourn in early April and heading back to Michigan, and  I wanted to post a photographic review of these historical attractions that offered us so much aesthetic intrigue  while wandering around the south this winter:

1.  Fort Gaines, Dauphin Island, Alabama.  This fort was less than 1/4 mile from our campground.

Fort Gaines has long tunnels leading to the five corner bastions.  Cool.
Fort Gaines has long tunnels leading to the five corner bastions. Cool.
The bricklayers who built these forts were masters of their craft as seen in the intricately vaulted arches.
The bricklayers who built these forts were masters of their craft as seen in the intricately vaulted arches of the northeast bastion.
Though the interior buildings were burned during the Battle of Mobile Bay, the restorers have done a great job of rebuilding.
Though the interior buildings were burned during the Battle of Mobile Bay, the preservationists have done a great job of restoring and maintaining what was left..
Here's a gem I discovered hidden deep inside a chamber, a 10-seat latrine.
Here’s a gem I discovered hidden deep inside a chamber at the end of a long tunnel along the 4-foot thick outside wall, a 10-seat latrine.  Soldiers apparently didn’t have much privacy.

2.  Fort Morgan, Mobile Bay, Alabama.

I loved the endless vaulted casements of Fort Morgan and the mineral deposits built up by the chemical action of rainwater percolating through the brick and mortar.
I loved the endless vaulted casemates of Fort Morgan and the mineral deposits built up by the chemical action of rainwater percolating through the brick and mortar.
Fort Morgan is a fort within a fort.  This view is from the tunnel through the postern (outer fort) viewing the entrance of the inner fort.
Fort Morgan is a fort within a fort. This view is from the tunnel through the postern (outer fort) viewing the entrance of the inner fort.
And this view is from the entrance tunnel in the inner fort toward the postern (outer fort).
And this rear view is from the entrance tunnel in the inner fort toward the postern (outer fort).

3.  Castillo de San Marco, St. Augustine, Florida (1565).  This one is really old and was built with local stone – coquina – before bricks were manufactured in the U.S.

Castillo de San Marcos sits on the waterfront downtown.
Castillo de San Marcos sits on the waterfront at downtown St. Augustine..
I loved the graceful grand stairway above its asymmetrical arch.
I loved the graceful grand stairway above its asymmetrical arch.
This fort had a great collection of cannons, some of the oldest ones I have seen.
This fort had a great collection of cannons, some of the oldest ones I have seen.
Although most of the forts have seasonal re-enactments, this one has costumed guides on hand every day.
Although most of the forts have seasonal re-enactments, this one has costumed historians on hand every day.

4.  Fort Pulaski, Cockspur Island, Savannah, Georgia.

Though the impervious nature of fort design leaves them looking nondescript and unwelcoming on the outside, this fort had an attractive inside archway.
Though the impervious nature of fort design leaves them looking nondescript and unwelcoming on the outside, this fort had an attractive inside archway.
While many forts are restored to their pre-war condition, this one was still covered with the scars of war.  Only the corner that had been breached during the Civil War was rebuilt like the original.
While many forts are restored to their pre-war condition, this one was still covered with the scars of war.  Only the corner that had been breached by the Union Army’s rifled cannons during the Civil War was restored to its original condition.
Fort Pulaski had several cannons installed at their original stations.
Fort Pulaski had several cannons installed at their original stations.
There were five stairways, one in each of the five corners of the fort.  Three of them were circular stairs.
There were five stairways, one in each of the five corners of the fort. Three of them were circular stairs.
...and the other two had their own unique designs.
…and the other two had their own unique designs.

5.  Fort Macon, Emerald Isle, North Carolina.

My favorite feature at Fort Macon was the three identical stairways built over graceful arches.
My favorite feature at Fort Macon was the three identical stairways built over graceful arches.
The smaller rear entrance was as interesting and beautiful as the front.
The smaller rear entrance was as interesting and beautiful as the front.
The arches and hidden stairways create interesting scenes as the light plays around them.
The arches and hidden stairways create interesting scenes as the light plays around them.
The approach to Fort Macon is a study in beautiful curves.
The approach to Fort Macon is a study in graceful curves.

Kaye and I have really enjoyed our southern sojourn and the side trips that have been available to us.  I love old architecture, so this was a great place for me to explore while avoiding the hostility of the northern winter.  This is the final post to the Southern Sojourn as we are heading back to our new summer home (campground) in Michigan soon.

There are more photos of these beautiful historical sites on my Flickr photo stream here.

And they are available for purchase as prints and other great gifts at my photo galleries and web store here.

Creative People – (Kaye features local artists)

Kaye posted an account of our visit to a glass studio…

“One of the cool things about all of our wandering is that we get to meet interesting people along the way. People with fascinating stories. Everybody has a story, you know – about where they live, where they used to live, about where they’ve traveled, what they’ve experienced. About their jobs and hobbies and accomplishments. Maybe about things they are good at or things they love.

“Lauren is one of the interesting people we met in St. Augustine. A friend of ours who has lived here for a few years has formed a band with Lauren and her husband and we were able to hear them play one night. Besides being a talented musician Lauren is also a glass-blower. How cool is that?!?”

Continue reading here

Old Folks in an Old Town – St. Augustine

Milepost 2-18-15   St. Augustine, Florida

It’s the middle of the winter and we are in the middle of our sojourn at St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest town in America.  They are celebrating their 450th anniversary this year, so there is a lot going on here.  Then again, this is one of those hidden pearls where there is always a lot to enjoy, even when there’s nothing special happening.

When we pulled into town and moved into our campsite near the ocean, we were surprised to see vehicles driving on the beach.  Yes, this is one of the few places in the world that accommodates the sport.  The beach is a hundred yards wide at low tide allowing plenty of room for walkers, bikers, kite flyers and four-wheel-drivers all at the same time.

4X4's are permitted to drive on the beach for ten-mile stretch.
4X4’s are permitted to drive on the beach for a ten-mile stretch.

The historical fort is well preserved and maintained by the National Park Service.  Castillo de San Marcos was built in the 1560’s using the local coral stone (coquina) quarried from Anastasia Island near where we are camped.  This is the third of four historical forts I’m visiting this winter.  (I’m planning a post next month reviewing all the forts on my itinerary.)

Castillo de San Marcos sits on the waterfront downtown.
Castillo de San Marcos sits on the waterfront downtown.
I loved the graceful grand stairway above its asymmetrical arch.
I loved the graceful grand stairway above its asymmetrical arch.

St. Augustine is built to accommodate the thriving tourist industry and there are trolleys running tours every day throughout the historical downtown district.  Some of the old narrow streets are closed to vehicle traffic so visitors may peruse the old shops at their leisure.

St. George Street is now a shop-lined attraction for walkers only.
St. George Street is now a shop-lined attraction for walkers only.
Many of the original buildings - like the old governor's house - were built with coral stone.
Many of the original buildings – like the old governor’s house – were built with coral stone.

A great place to get an overview of the area with a bird’s-eye view is the huge old lighthouse dating back to 1861.  One of the more recently-built landmarks, it was built of brick.  In fact, it took more than a million bricks to construct this 165-foot-tall edifice, one of the tallest in the country.

St. Augustine Light lomo

Only the young and most physically fit will make quick work of the 216 steps to the top of the lighthouse.
Only the young and most physically fit will make quick work of the 219 steps to the top of the lighthouse.
The tower climb offers a rewarding view of the surrounding city and waterfront.
The tower climb offers a rewarding view of the surrounding area and nearby waterfront.

Kaye and I are engaged in an ongoing challenge of testing the local eateries.  It became apparent very early on that we will certainly run out of time before we manage a comprehensive knowledge of the plethora of amazing culinary options here.  But we’ll do our best.

Average temps here are in the 60’s during the day and the mid-40’s at night, so we are enjoying our success at finding an affordable location for missing the brutal winter weather back in Michigan.

You Say Good-bye, I Say Hello.

Milepost 12-18-14     Waterford, Michigan

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.

We just hauled away the last pickup load of stuff from the Michigan cabin.
We just hauled away the last pickup load of stuff from the Michigan cabin.

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.

No show shovel is needed on the southern beach.
No snow shovel is needed on the southern beach.

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.

Which road will you say "Yes" to, right or left?  This time it doesn't matter -- they both lead to the beach!
Which road will you say “Hello” to,  right or left?   Don’t worry,  this time it doesn’t matter — they both lead to the beach!

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.

An Extravagance of Space

I have lived in North America for most of my life and have only been vaguely aware of the luxurious space in which we live.  I became more aware of it while traveling the Alaska Highway last summer. Many times when I was ready to pull back onto the road after a fuel stop or an overnight campground stay,  I would look both ways for an opening in traffic…  and not see another vehicle in either direction.  Really.  As far as the eye could see.  Nobody.

I was repeatedly surprised — and a bit unnerved — at the vastness of it all.

Not another vehicle in sight, as far as the eye can see.
The Alaska Highway across the Yukon.  Not another vehicle in sight, for miles and miles.

Canada has a population density of 9 people per square mile (the US has 48).  That amounts to a lot of uninhabited space.  I have had anxiety issues in traffic before, usually in the middle of a 5-lane-wide traffic jam in some inner city.  But out in the vast and lonely stretches of the Alaska Highway I almost had anxiety issues of another sort imagining what it would take (and what it would cost) to acquire help in case of a breakdown when the nearest town was hundreds of miles away — and there was no cellular service anyway.

The reality of our isolation was profound.  We were quite truly and utterly alone.

_______________________

And now there’s another sort of space situation that we are facing, but it has more to do with elbow room than the availability of roadside services.

After four years of downsizing,  first from a 10-room house to a one-room log cabin,  we have finally sold both the house and the log cabin on our 30-acre property of 42 years and are hitting the road in a 29-foot fifth wheel.  Fortunately, we have already tried it out for awhile, traveling the country for the last year, but we still had the Michigan property and plenty of storage space for our stuff.

We have started moving the last of our stuff into the storage unit.
We have started moving the last of our stuff into storage.

 We were able to be extravagant about what we kept while sorting through our lifetime accumulated stash, because we had enough room to store everything.

But that is no longer true.

We just brought home our new home-away-from-home... in a snowstorm.
We are moving from the log cabin into the RV for the next few years – and leaving snow behind.

So we are moving the last of our keepsakes into one of those self-storage units and will inhabit a tiny mobile space for the next few years.  They say that that sort of close co-habitation will either cause two people to bond inseparably…  or make them kill each other!

Our salvation from cabin fever has always been the great outdoors.  We have lived in rural Michigan for most of our adult lives and could safely walk or bike the side roads or the pathways and lanes on the property.  Shoot, I had a private  route mapped out — and mowed — for jogging a mile without even leaving the property.

But part of our reason for selling the place is the brutality of the  Michigan winters.  The cold and ice and snow brought about a virtual house arrest as it were, trapping us inside for a third of every year.

For two active retirees who like to get out and walk several miles every day, that’s not good.  And we are doing something about it.  We are heading south during the wintertime.  Now we’ll be looking for new open spaces, new bike lanes and boardwalks and walking trails in every new place we live over the next years, hopefully in places where we need not worry about slipping and falling on icy roads or sidewalks.

We’ll be looking for other extravagant spaces.  Nature trails and wildlife areas and rail trails and beaches.  Especially beaches.

The beach at Seacliff.
I loved the beach at Seacliff, California last winter — entirely unaffected by the Polar Vortex.

Because Americans really do enjoy an extravagance of space.  Even RV-ers living in their highly efficient but tiny mobile spaces.

(Just think, you could have been born in Macau, the most heavily populated country in the world, with a population density of more than 73,000 people per square mile.)

Yukon Do It!

Alaska Highway Milepost 3,678  Lincoln, Nebraska

Having completed the Alaska Highway – both out and back – there are some tips that I would share with the next would-be adventurer to help you survive the ordeal.  And yes, like any other challenge, there is both good and bad that awaits you.  Thoughtful preparation will minimize the negatives and ensure an enjoyable experience.

The Alaska Highway skirts Kluane Lake in the Yukon.
The Alaska Highway skirts Kluane Lake in the Yukon Territory.  Most of it is paved.
  • First of all, it will streamline the entire venture if you do your homework before leaving your house.  Study the route and know where you are going, which attractions you want to stop and explore, where you plan to stop each night, and where you can stock up on provisions.  The most comprehensive help that most travelers get comes from the famous Mileposts publication.  We ordered one from Amazon.com along with an Alaska atlas of maps.  We kept both in the pickup cab and referred to them constantly.
    This RV park at Coal River, Yukon, was 100 miles from the nearest power grid and was operating on its own generator.  We had the campground to ourselves for the night.
    This RV park at Coal River, Yukon, was more than 100 miles from the nearest power grid and was operating on its own generator. We had the campground to ourselves for the night.
  • Another thing to do before heading north is to prepare your vehicle.  Your tires need to be in good condition along with a solid spare for both the RV and the tow vehicle.  Make sure you are able to change a tire if necessary.  Replace worn belts and hoses and change the oil.
    Your vehicle needs to be ready for just about anything, although this sort of off-roading is not required along the highway.
    Your vehicle needs to be ready for just about anything, especially if you plan to go into the backcountry for fishing, hiking, four-wheeling and the like.
  • It is important to inform your bank and credit card company that you will be traveling internationally so your cards won’t be flagged and leave you stranded at the gas pump.  Carry multiple sources of revenue and keep a reserve of funds on hand for inflated costs and emergencies.  Assume that you will see an expensive souvenir that you just have to have for the grandkids. We found ATM’s located in far-away places and carried cash for those times when the bankcard wouldn’t fly at the gas stop.  It happened several times.
Many of the roadhouses have closed, some many years ago, some last year.  Even Mileposts magazine listed some that we found no longer in service.
Many of the roadhouses have closed, some many years ago, some last year. Even Mileposts magazine listed some that we found no longer in service.  We filled our tank often to avoid being stranded.
  • Also in the planning stages, set aside as much time for this trip as you possibly can; there is a whole lot to see and it is spread out over a vast area.  We spent about 2 weeks on the road each way, and more than 5 weeks at the Denali area.  Still we did not see everything we could have.
A side trip to the old Independence Gold Mine in the mountains above Anchorage, was a hike that I was able to take in after parking the rig at the RV park for the night.
A side trip to the old Independence Gold Mine in the mountains above Anchorage, was a hike that I was able to take in after parking the rig at the RV park for the night.
  • The Alaska Highway is in a state of constant reconstruction and should be approached with a realistic sensibility.  Backup plans need to be in place for those days when you don’t reach your destination because you’ve been caught in a construction zone for a couple of hours.  Flexibility and a good attitude will help.
Traffic across this bridge was narrowed to one lane while workers maintained the superstructure beneath.
Traffic across this bridge was narrowed to one lane while workers maintained the superstructure beneath.
  • Don’t count on internet and iPhone service anywhere beyond the Canadian border.  Our cell phones worked for calls (big roaming charges) when we were in towns and RV parks, but not out in the boonies, and our mobile wifi didn’t work anywhere in Canada or Alaska.  There are hundreds-of-mile stretches with no service, so make sure you still know how to navigate the old fashioned way.  Fortunately, we were able to get (weak) internet service at some of the RV parks where we stayed, so we were able to keep up with our online banking, email and Facebook updates, and so on, but the bandwidth was never sufficient enough for Skype, FaceTime, or uploading photos to the blog.  Bummer.

For most people, driving the Alaska Highway is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.  It will be memorable either way, but if things go well, it will be a positive memory rather than a disaster.  If it’s on your bucket list, I hope you plan ahead and have a great time.  Be safe!

The biggest hazard on the Alaska Highway is the wildlife.  Moose, bears, bison and caribou are all large and will completely destroy your vehicle if you hit one.
The biggest hazard on the Alaska Highway is the wildlife. Moose, bears, bison and caribou are all large and will completely destroy your vehicle if you hit one.

DSC_0030

Gorgeous sights line the Alaska Highway from beginning to end.  This is the mountain range the road follows between Delta Junction and Fairbanks.
Gorgeous sights line the Alaska Highway from beginning to end. This is the Alaska Range viewed from the north along the road between Delta Junction and Fairbanks.

Heading Home

Milepost 260  Palmer  Alaska

Alaskans are only half civilized… and proud of it.  The call of the wild includes the lure of wild wide-open spaces, but it brings a lot of inconvenience for the outsiders from the lower 48 who are used to their perks.  While camped at Denali for the last five weeks Kaye and I have had to accept that we won’t have a good internet link, and for me that has meant a long silence with regard to my travel blog.  I haven’t posted because I simply couldn’t get online for much of the time.

Anyway, we departed Denali yesterday for the 4,000 miles trek back across the Alaska Highway to Michigan and plan to take about three weeks doing it.  Our first stop near Anchorage provided a good internet connection, so I’m logging a quick post to let everyone know we are on the road again and will likely not be posting very often while heading across through the Yukon and northern Canada.

I am planning to write some more extensive reviews after arriving back in civilization.

Bob and Kaye at the entrance to the 6 million acre Denali National Park and Preserve.
Bob and Kaye at the entrance to the 6 million acre Denali National Park and Preserve.

On the Road Again!

Milepost 265:  Fillmore to Salinas, CA

Yay!  We have finally re-started our epic road trip to Alaska! We left Michigan last December to get away from the harsh winter, and for five months we work-camped at Kenney Grove Park,  a private campground at Fillmore, California.

The beach at Seacliff.

Finishing our duties there and leaving in the afternoon, we decided on a short jaunt to the sea coast where we found a campsite right by the ocean.  There are a few places in the world where RV camping is allowed virtually on the beach, and Seacliff, California, is one of them.  We set up in the middle of a 2-mile stretch of seashore lined with more than a hundred RV’s parked for the night in a sort of linear campground, if you will.  This is classic boon-docking, as there are no services, no hookups, so only self-contained rigs can do it.

We clambered down the rocks to the beach for a long walk before sunset, then went to bed early.

The sun sets over the RV on the shore at Seacliff, California.
The sun sets over the RV on the shore at Seacliff, California.

This morning we did a U-turn and headed north over the pass to spend much of the day crossing another dessert and through the vineyards at Solvang to end up at Salinas by mid-afternoon.  We moved into a site at the KOA campground at Prunedale just north of town.  Salinas was the home of John Steinbeck, who inspired us with his American road trip epic, Travels with Charley.  We are planning to see his home place tomorrow and visit the Steinbeck museum before we break camp and continue north toward San Francisco.

It looks as though our route will need to be kept rather fluid, since we keep discovering changes that need to be made.  One of the latest is the news that our route north of the Redwoods requires a white-knuckle climb through a dangerous mountain pass that has travelers leaving fingernail marks in the upholstery.  We might have to skip the Redwoods this time around.  Maybe we’ll come back some other time and do that one in the red convertible (we’ll rent one somewhere).

We are trying to keep the main thing the main thing here.  Getting to visit our kids in Alaska at Denali is the main thing, and having an enjoyable time doing it is the next main thing.  A route that delivers too much stress may result in a change of direction.

I’m not sure where we’ll be the next time I post.  Our mobile internet has been quite dependable so far, but we may be boon-docking some more, and that means no electricity to run the computer.  We can still post from the iPhone or the iPad like we did last night on the Facebook page (“Like” it in the right sidebar to join the Facebook group or click here) but I prefer the photo editing programs on my Mac, so my posts from the other devices are short and not very aesthetic.Bob's feet on the beach

Tomorrow we’ll take the next step and see where we end up by evening.

Thanks for reading!