Tag Archives: life on the road

The Color Red in Outdoor Photography

Milepost 5-22-16                  –At our apartment in Michigan

It is no secret to outdoor photographers that the color red is an eye-catcher, and they use it at just the right times (usually) to add pizzazz to their photos.  I don’t know what aesthetic operative comes into play when I see a nature photo with red in it, but it gets my attention anyway.  I have been using this natural phenomenon in my photos for a long time.

Bob promo at Denali 1461_2

When I rented kayaks for a recent paddle along the rugged shoreline of Michigan’s Thumb, I chose red kayaks.  The outfitter had yellow, blue, orange and green, but I knew what red would do in my photos of the event.  Yes, yellow or orange would probably have provided a similar effect, but red delivered the classic look I was hoping for.

Turnip Rock 0004

Sometimes, it’s not up to me to be intentional about using the color red.  Sometimes, I get lucky and it is already there.  Last weekend I was camping at Tawas Point State Park to test some new camping gear and when I hiked out to the historic lighthouse — Voila! — the lighthouse keeper’s dwelling had a red roof.  Cool.  That was easy.  Somebody on the lighthouse restoration committee apparently knew the secret too.

Tapas Point lighthouse fair skies

This knowledge has cost me a small fortune.  It didn’t cost any more money to rent a red kayak than a green one, but I have spent money on red shirts, jackets and sweaters to insert in my photos, and now, anticipating some upcoming road trips to the seacoast, I have bought a red convertible.  No joke.  I would not buy any other color than red, and I actually have been watching the online market for two years waiting for the right car and the right time.

Bob w '07 Mustang HDR

Two years ago, when we were hauling the RV up the Pacific Coast Highway from southern California to Alaska, we had to bypass the California redwoods because we were pressed for time and we couldn’t invest the necessary extra day that it would take to handle that winding narrow road through the tall trees.  At that moment we pledged to ourselves that we would return sometime later and approach it in the proper manner…  in a red convertible.

So, you will be seeing this car on the blog a lot in the coming days.

For our first major road trip with it, we have chosen to take on an adventure we missed last year while heading up the east coast from Florida in the spring.  We want to visit New England and pick up six states that we have never been to, bringing our tally from 43 states to 49.  Not only that, the trip will coincide with our 45th wedding anniversary.   We plan to be cruising the coast of Maine on our special day.

I can’t think of a more appropriate way to celebrate 45 years together than to cruise the seashore in a red convertible — with the top down, of course.

Maybe we will get back to the redwoods sometime –  and now we have the right car for it – but for this time it will be the other end of the country and a place we have never been before.

It’s the appropriately color-coordinated adventure of a lifetime!

Watch for the red sports car in subsequent posts.

DSC_0091

Unfortunately, not every photographic prop can be purchased in red.  Part of the new inventory of camping gear that I was testing last weekend is a new tent.  It’s yellow.  But a red light stick inside changes the color for photos.

And anyway, it is possible to get too much of a good thing, so yellow will be fine for my photos of my tent in future camping pics.  Any bright color will add visual punch to a photo.

Try it if you want to, and see what happens to your photos.

And have fun!

monument-valley-cowboy-ortn-2

Travel: The (Almost) Impossible Dream

Milepost: 5-11-16                       — Just moved into a small apartment

For many years it seemed like this day would never come — the day that we would be free to wander around the country in an RV and a pickup truck and choose our next destination with a random finger stab at the map lying in our laps.  But the day did come, not by accident but by sheer determination and hard work.  There were hard choices.

Six years ago we were living on a retired 30-acre Christmas tree farm with too much mowing to do… and a mortgage we could no longer afford.  Our kids had all grown up and left our spacious rural estate and our large house, and our nearest grandchild now lived 80 miles away.

We had become weary of the upkeep on so much property and wanted to see the world — and our grandkids.  But we couldn’t afford it.  I had been running a full crew with my log home construction company when the housing bust arrived in Michigan — two years before the recession.  It was 2006 and nobody else wanted a log home.  Even the log home dealers were closing one by one — the people who had been referring their buyers to us to build their homes.  I had to lay off the crew.

 Our financial plan for retirement crashed and burned.

We had arrived at retirement age still owing a mortgage.  Reality was brutal:  We could afford to own and maintain this property OR we could afford to travel.  But not both.  We had to choose one or the other.

It looked as though our businesses had run their courses and we wouldn’t be needing so much space and so many resources — tools, machinery, etc.  and the kids weren’t coming home to visit but once or twice a year.  We were ready to downsize.

And so we did.

We spent the next few years cleaning out sheds and closets and selling stuff or giving it away.  We put the property up for sale.  But we were in the middle of the recession and nothing happened.  Finally, a neighbor showed up at our door asking if we would sell him 10 acres.  We did, and then used the money to buy a used RV.  We put the rest of our stuff in storage, put renters in the big house, and we hit the road.

And the next year, while we were wandering around Alaska with our rig, the rest of our property sold.  Our once impossible dream was becoming our new reality.

We finally realized our dream of driving the Alaska Highway.
We finally realized our dream of driving the Alaska Highway.

Over the last couple of years, we have explored three corners of our country, from Florida to California to Alaska and a thousand points in between, and have moved offshore for a couple of winters living in the tropics in vacation rentals.

 New England (the fourth corner of our country) will have to wait for us, because we have decided to take a vacation from traveling (that sounds odd, maybe?)  and move into a small apartment for a while.

And we can finally afford to do BOTH.  We can have a Michigan home base again AND continue to travel.  Our new apartment is only 13 miles from our kids and grandkids, and the rent is less than half of what our old mortgage was!

Somebody else mows the lawns, shovels the walks, and repairs the leaks… while I head down the rail trail with my bike or visit the local farm market or ice cream shop (One of the bike paths here ends at the local Dairy Queen).

If I have one regret, it is that we didn’t start downsizing sooner.  Fortunately, Kaye and I are still physically fit and able to pursue our travel goals, and we really do appreciate and take advantage of our good fortune.  Lots of folks run out of good health before they ever get to realize their dreams.

Anyway, I was doing a bit of reminiscing today and  thinking about how far we have come in the face of a lot of challenges, and decided to write about it here.  I am so happy that our  present circumstance is so far different than where we were just a few years ago.

If you, my reader, find yourself in a similar almost impossible scenario, take heart; there is much that can happen to improve your outlook and bring your dreams within reach.

I suspect that your journey will begin with some difficult decisions and will be followed by a lot of hard work.  That’s okay, isn’t it?

The struggle makes the reward all the more satisfying.

On the other hand, if you are in upsizing mode right now, it might be smart for you to stop and think about what you really want in 10 years or 20 years from now.  Maybe you should quit bringing more stuff into your garage and basement and attic.  It might turn into a ball and chain later and keep you planted at a time when you want to be free.

Just a thought.  Do what sounds right to you.

And have fun!

Obsessive Repositioning Disorder (ORD)*

Milepost 3-12-16                                — in a vacation rental in the tropics

Most of the time it is simply called wanderlust.  It’s that compulsive condition that makes people restless when they’ve been in one place for too long.  Sometimes it is in the DNA and whole families are afflicted with it, and sometimes it is brought on suddenly by a single extraordinary experience, perhaps a childhood trip to Disneyworld or a memorable  weekend in a cottage on the seashore.

Somehow, somewhere, the infection gets under your skin and ends up flowing through your veins and you can’t sit still anymore.  You are compelled to move, even if it is just for a weekend road trip.

One last visit to the beach bar for one last Dominican pizza.
One last visit to the beach bar for one last Dominican fish fry.

Right now, we are getting ready to reposition, and the excitement is building every day.  We have been in the tropics for the winter and are flying back north a few days from now.  There are certain symptoms that accompany the onset of ORD for us:

  • Emptying the fridge and cupboards.  I am not sure how we developed this habit, but part of the excitement of moving on for us is eating leftovers and trying to finish stuff up right down to the last egg in the fridge and the last squeeze of toothpaste.  There is a certain check-it-off-the-list mentally that besets us when we are getting ready to move.  I guess we like to travel light.
  • Daydreaming.  That blank stare might mean I am reminiscing about that great campsite we had on the Pacific coast a couple of years ago, but if I am suffering from ORD, it’s more likely I am dreaming about what the next destination will be like…  or the journey from here to there.
  • Obsessive Googling.  We are both online checking the map of the next destination. “Hey, there is a bike path in our new neighborhood!”  “Oh, cool, we will be able to walk to the cafe down the block from our place!”  Before we even leave for our new location, we feel that we already know what’s there and what’s not.
  • One-Last-Time syndrome.  It may seem weird but we both take note of the last time we use something before moving.  The last time we charge the camera batteries, the last time we order pizza in this neighborhood, the last time we do the laundry, the last time we visit the grocery store, and so on.  I think it is part of the countdown for us.  Does that happen to you?
  • Planning ahead.  This is where we prepare for the trip and the new location. Maybe we buy jerky and crackers for the plane flight.  Perhaps we lay out our entire wardrobe for the trip and the arrival at the new place.  Will we need a jacket?  Where will we eat on the way?  Do we need a haircut before leaving?
  • Stocking up on arrival.  This is the counterpart to one-last-time syndrome.  It is the excitement of re-stocking the fridge upon arrival.  The first trip to the grocery store.  The search for the nearest farm market.  Which restaurant will we start with?

Since we are heading “home” to Michigan next, we have the added anticipation of seeing the grandkids for the first time in a couple of months.  That is a biggie for old folks like us.

Plus, there is an epic change in store for us with this move since we are planning to “park it” for a while and actually move into an apartment near our kids for at least a year, and maybe a lot longer.  We are going to get everything out of storage and rediscover the archives.   We are even planning to stay there through the next winter.  It will have been five years since that has happened.  We are still planning to travel, but we will have a home base again.  We still want to do the New England coast during fall color change… in a red convertible.  And there is my Southwest Photo Safari coming up this fall in the canyon lands of Utah.  And we haven’t ruled out an Art Tour of Italy later on.

So, when the ORD kicks in again, we are not sure what will happen.  Probably shorter trips and less distance from home.  I am sure that we are not done traveling yet.  As long as we are physically able, we plan to keep scratching that itch.

How does Obsessive Repositioning Disorder affect you?  How did you contract the bug in the first place?   Do you have to fight it off because of work or financial constraints?  What do you do when it’s time to move?  Can you take a spontaneous road trip?

Sorry, I don’t think there is a cure for ORD.  You might die with it someday.  Too bad.

In the meantime, have fun!

(*There’s really no such thing as ORD  other than common wanderlust or the travel bug,  I made it up.  Except that it is also the airport code for O’Hare in Chicago., and that carries it’s own suggestive travel connotation.)

A Farewell to the Beach

Milepost 3-11-16      –at a vacation rental in the Dominican Republic

Our tropical winter hiatus is about to end, so we rented a quad yesterday to visit our favorite remote beach for one more time before heading north for the spring and summer. Playa Rincon is an unspoiled and mostly undiscovered haven for all but the most ambitious adventurers because it takes a lot of effort to get there.  It is thirty miles from the nearest gas pump, and the last few miles of the trail are a disaster waiting to happen for rental vehicles with anything but high clearance and four wheel drive.

DSCN4444
Before leaving the village, we fueled up at the nearest “gas station”. The fuel is delivered from a beer bottle or a bleach bottle, take your pick.

We first discovered this beach 26 years ago when we were in the Dominican Republic while teaching at an international school.  I was looking for a quiet place to get away from the noise of the city and a friend told us about this secluded spot that was as far away as a person can get in this country and still be on land.  With our three daughters, we camped in a coconut grove next to the beach.  Nobody came near us the whole time.

Arriving on the four-wheeler, we found the beach peaceful and serene.
Arriving on the four-wheeler, we found the beach peaceful and beautiful as expected.

This time there was a bit of nostalgia mixed with the crashing waves, the hot sun and the swaying palm trees.  We weren’t sure when we would be returning to this tropical paradise, maybe never.

I had been hoping to get some photos and video of the four-wheeler running through the edge of the waves, but the surf was up today and I chose not to chance it, not wanting to risk sending a rented quad out to sea.

What an amazing place to spend a day... or a winter.
What an amazing place to spend a day… or a winter.

We spent our time walking the beach and soaking up sun until we judged we were about to get burned, then headed down the trail to the beach bar for a cold coke and some native cuisine.

After a couple more runs up and down the beach road with the quad, Kaye invited me back on and we waved a reluctant farewell to the beach and took to the rough road back home.

DSCN4469
It’s possible to open up the throttle on a beach that is 2 miles long when there is nobody in the way as far a the eye can see.

On the way back, we stopped at one of our favorite roadside fruit markets to stock up on produce

Kaye hands her shopping basket to the cashier, as it were, at the local fruit stand.
Kaye hands her shopping basket to the cashier, as it were, at the local fruit stand.
As this fruit market they make their own chocolate syrup directly from the fresh cocoa beans grown out in back.
As this fruit market they make their own chocolate syrup directly from the fresh cocoa beans grown out in back.

So the winter is over and we are leaving soon, heading back to the messy purgatory that is Michigan in the spring.

That will be another beach and another story.  The water in Lake Michigan will reach 80 degrees by about…  the twelfth of never.

The Anxiety of the Lone Wolf

Milepost 2-26-16       -at a vacation rental in the Dominican Republic

“Introvert, Know Thyself”.   This is my most recent note-to-self.  I am experiencing a bit of emotional discomfort in my current setting, and I’m realizing that I over-estimated my ability to find solitude in a highly social culture.  For an introvert like me, solitude is essential to a balanced life and healthy emotional equilibrium.

Everybody is different, and it would be easy to assume that the majority of travelers and adventurers are extroverts, loving the excitement and the challenges of far-away places and exotic cultures.  I don’t know if that is the case, and I am not about to launch a study to find out.

What I do know is what an introvert like me needs when it comes to adventure – and life in general:

  • I can enjoy crowds and parties and parades and other highly social settings, but only for a short time, and those experiences need to be followed by a season of hibernation, of being alone so that I can refuel my emotional tank.
  • On the other hand, if I am inactive for very long, I will get restless and need to get outside and satisfy my adventure quotient.
  • The best balance of these two factors – of solitude and adventure – is to find adventures in sparsely populated locations.  Or to follow my crowded adventures with solo adventures in solitary places.
  • I don’t like cold weather for very long.  I can handle Michigan through Christmas every year with just the right allocation of snow and brisk clear air, but after that, the winter is far too long.  This is a third factor that complicates my search for the right balance.  There aren’t that many southern destinations that offer solitude.  RV parks are notorious for noise and overcrowding.  For the solitary soul, they are tolerable when and if there are quiet areas nearby.

Where I ran into trouble this winter was that I chose a tropical setting in the middle of a highly social open-air culture for too long a period of time.  10 weeks of noise, bustling streets, merengue music blasting until after midnight every night… well, I just can’t seem to get away from it long enough to refill my emotional tank.  Of course, even the beaches are crowded with bodies this time of year.

There are few sidewalks, so pedestrians and traffic share the streets.  It's dangerous, and can be irritating.
There are few sidewalks and no parking lots here, so pedestrians share the streets with parked vehicles and moving traffic. It’s dangerous, and can be irritating to a weary traveler.

I find myself avoiding the interaction with the locals that I love so much – for short periods.  I just want to stay home and be alone.

Fortunately, Kaye and I are very much alike in most of these ways, only she likes the northern winters and doesn’t need as much adventure as I do.

We solve this by scheduling what we call Bob-alone times.  I can head off on a solo adventure, thus satisfying my appetite for adventure, while both of us get to refresh by being alone for a while.

Most of my solo adventures are short, lasting only a few hours.  A bike ride down the nearest rail trail works just fine, and I don’t have to talk to anyone along the way, simply nodding to other cyclists that I meet on the trail.  I do this several times a week during the fair weather seasons.

Longer alone times usually involve a tent, a sleeping bag and a cooler full of goodies…  and my camera, of course.  Last summer, I celebrated my birthday by heading up north to the woods with my bike to pedal for miles on end at a beautiful paved bike trail through the woods and dunes of the national lakeshore in northern Michigan.  I camped at a state forest campground by a quiet stream where there was hardly anyone else around.  Ah, solitary bliss.

The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is a premiere cyclist's destination that winds along the shoreline for 27 miles.  It's a steep one with grades of up to 11%.
The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is a premiere cyclist’s destination that winds along the shoreline for 27 miles.

I always feel that when I am alone with myself… I am in good company.  If you are an introvert, you likely know what I am saying.

Anyway,  I am sharing this side of myself for the benefit of other would-be adventures who may not entirely understand what happens to them when they feel stressed while living in a foreign culture for an extended period of time.  Maybe you are an introvert.  Maybe you need to study yourself a bit more and find ways to hibernate from time to time for the sake of your own well-being… and the well-being of those who are traveling with you.

I really do write notes-to-myself that I refer to before scheduling the next outing.  It is good to know yourself.  The thing is, you can’t always know how you will feel or react in a given situation until you try it out.

And that is part of the adventure.

Know thyself.   And have fun!

Venturing Outside the Walls

Milepost 2-6-16                      -We are at a vacation rental in the tropics.

Here’s a tip about travel that first-timers may not discover on their own:  The real adventure is often where the real people are.  I am talking about the backstory that is on the backstreets of your travel destination.  I am talking about the true cultural realities that exist outside the walls of the gated resort where you are staying.

Many travelers see a carefully scripted performance when they go on vacation at the all-inclusive resort.  Even the cruise lines that claim to visit exotic islands, as it turns out, may have bought the island and designed an elaborate facade that is only a fake reproduction of the real culture that they are trying to depict.  But it’s not real.

If you like it that way, fine.  If you want to stay within the enclave, you should be comfortable and safe.  Hopefully, you will be able to relax and have a good time, maybe even make some new friends.  For you, it may be exactly the right thing.  But you might be able to ratchet your adventure factor to the next level with a venture outside the walls.

Culturally, the real fun begins when you leave the reservation.  When you leave Front Street and venture to Second or Third Street… or even farther to where the street turns into a pathway.

When the waiter comes to your table at the resort, do you ever ask yourself, “Who is this person?  Where does he live?  Does she have a family?  What’s her name?”  Better yet, don’t just ask yourself…  ask the waiter.

When I was in the Maldive Islands, my scuba diving buddies asked these questions of our guide, a young man named Ibrahim.  After 2 weeks of friendly interaction with him, we were surprised when he invited us to come to his home and meet his wife — they were expecting their first child.  This sort of encounter is unheard of in the Maldives where the government requires strict oversight of tourists; it just never happens.  But for us, it happened.  The day before Ibrahim escorted us to the airport, he started crying, and threw himself at us with hugs and weeping as we parted company.  I couldn’t believe it.  This was unreal.  No.  This was real.

This sort of rich adventure can be really hard to find when you are on a 10-day cruise where your movements are scheduled and your encounters carefully scripted.   It is hard to escape the confines and get to the raw realities of the real culture.

One of the blessings of the traveling life that Kaye and I are now enjoying is the extravagance of being able to stay as long as we want wherever we want.  We love to find out where the natives live, and we have been invited into their homes lots of times.  Nobody tells us where to be or at what time.  We decide for ourselves.

This winter, we are staying 10 weeks in a little town on the beach in the Dominican Republic.  We have learned enough Spanish to be able to venture onto the side roads and back alleys to see how these people really live.

In fact, by planning ahead, we were able to visit an indigenous family in the interior of the country just yesterday.  We have been sponsoring a kid through an international humanitarian organization that provides underprivileged children with a quality education and health care.  Yorgelis is now 15 years old and we got to meet him.  We hired a car and driver who was able to find his way through the maze of backroads and the small towns (on the cell phone with the host several times for directions) to find these guys in an obscure neighborhood far (4 hours one way)  from the tourist resorts.

We were able to visit our sponsored child's family in their home.
We were able to visit our sponsored child’s family in their home.

What an amazing experience!  Their family is actually part of a community of artists and have a pottery factory in their backyard.  Did you ever wonder who makes the vases and bowls and cups that you find in the gift shops at the resorts where you stay?  We found them.

We got to tour the school where our kid has been educated for the last 9 years, and then his family put on a demonstration for us in the pottery shop.  We could not have asked for a more beautiful experience with an authentic indigenous family.  Precious.

Here I am with Yorgelis and his dad and granddads.
Here I am with Yorgelis and his dad and granddads.

We now have some pottery to add to our international collection at home.  And here’s the thing:  We know the people who made it.

That is the stuff of real adventure.

Here are a few more photos from our visit to the interior yesterday:

This guy threw a beautiful vase in about 5 minutes.
This guy threw a beautiful vase on the potter’s wheel in about 5 minutes.
Yorgelis' dad carved flowers onto the vase in a minute.
Yorgelis’ dad carved flowers onto the vase in a minute.
Yorgelis' family gave us gifts of pottery.  At the rear is his teacher, and on the right is our host and guide from the organization.
Yorgelis’ family gave us gifts of pottery. At the rear is his teacher, and on the right is our host and guide from the organization.
One of the workers was stoking the fire under the kiln
One of the workers was stoking the fire under the kiln

Pottery

We found a nice fruit market on the way home, and our driver provided some tips on selecting avocados.
We found a nice fruit market on the way home, and our driver provided some tips on selecting fresh avocados.

I hope you are able to get outside the walls on your next adventure!

Have fun!

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.

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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.*

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*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.)

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Collecting Lighthouses

Milepost 12-16-15         Rockford, Michigan

There is something innately alluring about lighthouses.  Maybe it is the unique architecture and ingenious engineering of these old towers – or the attraction of the seashore lifestyle, but just about everybody loves them.  Some folks love them so much that they “collect” lighthouses.  That is, they make intentional trips just to connect the dots, as it were, traveling from one light to the next in a quest to see how many they can visit.

Big Sable Point edit _0018
People don’t visit the Big Sable Point Lighthouse by accident; it is at the end of a 1.8-mile hike through the sand dunes at Ludington State Park.

At various times in our lives, Kaye and I have been “collectors” as well.  Living in Michigan, it’s not a difficult thing to do, since the Great Lakes are lined with scores of these beautiful old structures.  Anyone who travels along the lakeshore will sooner or later spot the next one, and if their timing is right, they may get to climb the tower or tour a historic light keeper’s house.

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Locals often gather at the shore to enjoy the evening sunset at Point Betsie Lighthouse near Frankfort, Michigan.

Fortunately, lighthouse tours are becoming more common as the state and federal governments turn over more and more of the old properties to preservationist groups who take over the maintenance and open them up to the public for tours.

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The Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association (SPLKA) is raising funds to rebuild the keepers’ house from the ground up at Little Sable Point Lighthouse, Mears, MI.
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White River Light Station at Pentwater, Michigan, is now a museum; the curator lives in the upstairs of the original keeper’s house.

Lighthouses are designed to be visible, and it’s fun to notice the differences from one to the next.  The original day mark – appearance by daylight – had be distinctive so that ship captains would not confuse them with neighboring installations.  This makes for a plethora of beautiful designs from stripes to contrasting colors.

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The day mark at the Holland, Michigan, lighthouse is a highly visible solid red paint.

The night mark – or characteristic – of the lights at night had to be distinctive as well, so they were varied by colors: white, red, and green, and also by duration: flashing or solid.

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The Point Aux Barques lighthouse  near Port Austin, Michigan, has a flashing white light separated by intervals of 20 seconds and 4.8 seconds.  There are two beacons aimed in different directions on a rotating turntable to deliver this effect.

Most of the still operating lights are owned by the Coast Guard, but only the actual lamps and lenses in the towers.  The properties and structures are now leased and operated by maritime history lovers.  There are several at which you may volunteer and help with the preservation.

Kaye and I spent two weeks at the Big Sable Point Lighthouse near Ludington, Michigan, staying in the keeper’s house and running the gift shop and museum every day with five other volunteers.

Big Sable leaf blower
I used a leaf blower to clear the sand off the boardwalks every day.
Big Sable tower guy
Answering visitors’ questions was part of the job at the top of the tower.

Lighthouses are fascinating structures, and there are loads of folks who are living under the spell, chasing  along the seashores and lakeshores of America from one light to the next.

Are you following the wandering shoreline to see the next tower around the bend?   It is a lot of fun.  And those who live in the Great Lakes state are especially blessed to be in such close proximity to so many great landmarks.

Here are a few more photos of lighthouses we have “collected” over the years:

St. Augustine Light lomo
The day mark at St. Augustine, Florida, is a black and white spiral.  Cool.
Fort Jefferson and lighthouse
The lighthouse at Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Florida, is perched on the top of the brick walls of the massive old fort.
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The Grand Haven, Michigan, lights are lined up on a long pier that extends almost a quarter mile from shore.
Grand Haven lighthouse in a storm
When the gales of November come howling across Lake Michigan, hundreds of people gather at the shore to watch the gigantic waves crash over the 36-foot-high pierhead lighthouse.
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Many lighthouses are on islands, like this beauty on South Manitou Island in Lake Michigan at Leland, Michigan.  It is reached by a 1-1/2 hour boat ride.

I have produced a calendar with 13 high-definition images of Michigan lighthouses, but the 2016 Michigan Lighthouses calendar is sold out.  I will be collecting more great lighthouse photos during 2017 and will offer a new edition of the calendar later in the year.  I will post a notice when it is ready.

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.

Flexibility Makes the World Go ‘Round

Milepost 10-13-15      Montour Falls, New York

… or flexibility is the mother of invention…  or flexibility is the spice of life.  Or something like that.

Anyway, for career wanderers, flexibility is an essential ingredient in keeping life moving along smoothly.  The fact is, stuff happens, and sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men…  get torpedoed.

Our tentative plans for the next year are already laid out, but they are not written in stone.  They can’t be.  Because life happens, and things change.  There are changes in the weather, there are changes in family plans.

And mechanical repairs.  We were planning to tour New England right now, virtually extending a trip to New York to deliver a load of furniture I had built for a customer there over this summer.  I took the pickup in for a routine oil change… and ended up having the entire front end rebuilt when the technicians saw worn edges on the front tires.  The work was scheduled for the following Saturday, the day we were to leave, and it extended into the next week as servicemen found more worn parts.

The upshot was that we didn’t have time left for the planned excursion to the east coast, since we wanted to be back to Michigan for a rendezvous of all of our kids in one place at the same time (they have become quite the traveling vagabonds as well and don’t cross paths but a couple of times a year).

So what do full-time adventurers do when their plans are destroyed?

They make new plans.

While checking the route to New York I had discovered some rugged features including box canyons and waterfalls not far from our drop-off point.  Bingo!  New adventure.

As someone said lately, “Never waste a good fiasco.”  Or when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.  Or when life hands you grapes, don’t wine about it.

Anyway, we modified our plans and spent a couple of days climbing around the waterfalls at Watkins Glen, New York.

I loved it.  Maine coast, eat your heart out.  We will get to you another time when we have the time – and a red convertible – to do it properly.

50 states will wait for us.  We are stuck for the time being at 43.  And that is fine.

Here are some photos I shot while exploring the canyons of western New York.

Visitors enter Watkins Glen through a tunnel (right) and stairways onto the first of several stone bridges.
Visitors enter Watkins Glen through a tunnel (right) and stairways leading to the first of several stone bridges.
The first bridge spans the gorge over the first of 19 waterfalls and cascades.
The first bridge spans the gorge over the first of 19 waterfalls and cascades.
Rainbow Falls has a magical quality that adds to the overall mystique of the canyon.
Rainbow Falls has a magical quality that adds to the overall mystique of the canyon.
The trail leads behind this waterfall, then into a spiral tunnel with a circular stairs cut from the inside of the cliff.
The trail leads behind this waterfall, then into a vertical tunnel with a spiral stairs inside the cliff.
I liked that Eagle Cliff Falls was easily accessible after a short hike and a few steps. Warmer weather would have definitely precipitated a spontaneous shower under the torrent.
Eagle Cliff Falls was easily accessible after a short hike and a few steps. Warmer weather would have definitely precipitated a spontaneous shower under the torrent!
The Finger Lakes region of New York is wine and fruit country; roadside fruit markets abound.
The Finger Lakes region of New York is wine and fruit country; roadside fruit markets abound.

Anyway, if variety is the spice of life ( and to full-time adventurers it really is), then flexibility is the mother of invention.  It results in the invention of the next side trip… and more adventure.

Light Housekeeping and Lighthouse Keeping

Milepost 9-29-15  Big Sable Point Lighthouse, Ludington, MI

Kaye and I just finished a two-week term of volunteer duty at a 148-year-old lighthouse on the western shore of Michigan, and we found it a rewarding experience if a bit exhausting.  Eight-hour days and six-day weeks can be a challenge for a couple of retirees who aren’t used to being on duty for anything but hammock swinging and beach walking anymore.

But rewarding it certainly was.  There is a noticeable boost to self-worth when you feel that you are providing a valuable service in helping to preserve a historical landmark and enriching the lives of hundreds of visitors who come to see a unique treasure of American history.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse is nestled between sand dunes and sandy beach.
Big Sable Point Lighthouse is nestled between sand dunes and sandy beach on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

Staying in the upstairs keepers’ quarters, the volunteers start their work day by tidying the yard around the buildings, then opening the gift shop, the archives room, and the tower for the daily shift.  The doors are open from 10 am to 5 pm, and guests arrive by land or sea, hiking a couple of miles from the trailhead at Ludington State Park, or paddling along the shore in kayaks or coming ashore in motorboats.

Workers rake, sweep, and empty trash bins preparing for the day.
Workers rake, sweep, and empty trash bins preparing for the day.
Board walks are cleaned with a leaf blower. Not very authentic, but a time saver.
Board walks are cleaned with a leaf blower. Not very authentic, but a time saver.  Whenever the wind blows – and that is often – the sand moves.

The day is spent welcoming guests, giving tours, and talking the science of lighthouse technology and the history and life of the old-time lighthouse keepers.

Kaye and Kathy sell souvenirs and snacks at the lighthouse gift shop
Kaye and Kathy sell souvenirs and snacks at the lighthouse gift shop.
Visitors are treated to scientific and historical data in the archives room on their way to the tower stairs.
Visitors are treated to a plethora of scientific and historical data in the archives room on the way to the tower stairs.
Visitors climb 130 steps to the top and a 360-degree view of dunes and lakeshore.
Visitors climb 130 steps to the top and a 360-degree view of dunes and lakeshore.
The view from the top is breathtaking - especially for those with a fear of heights.
The view from the top is breathtaking – especially for those with a fear of heights.

After hours, the workers enjoy the conveniences of modern living – in a very old house – and in the company of new friends.    The upstairs keepers’ quarters are comfortable and homey, and the workers sometimes cook for each other and play table games in the evenings.  There’s no TV, but there is wifi on site, so Kaye and I were happy campers.  Of course, the beach and the million dollar sunsets were available to us every day.

The kitchen is small but efficient with every possible appliance - and a grand view to the north.
The kitchen is small but efficient with every possible appliance – and a grand view to the north.
The old keepers' house has 3 apartments and 15 rooms, including sitting rooms where workers hand out in the evenings.
The old house has 3 apartments and 15 rooms, including sitting rooms where workers hang out in the evenings.
An evening stroll on the beach or dip in the lake is good for body and soul.
An evening stroll on the beach or dip in the lake is good for body and soul.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse is one of four historical lighthouses that are cared for by the Sable Point Lightkeepers Association (SPLKA).  Volunteers at the other three lights sign on for one-week tours, while Big Sable Point offers the only 2-week term.  There are also day keeper opportunities.

Though there are challenges to this sort of experience, Kaye and I are very happy about our time spent here and the new acquaintances we have made.  Some folks travel quite a distance to try this out (one of our fellow keepers was from Connecticut), because it is really a unique opportunity.  There are only so many shorelines and lighthouses in the world, and I am glad to have had the chance to live and work at this one.

Big Sable vertical

For more information about volunteering at any of these four west Michigan lighthouses contact SPLKA.org

I have posted a few more photos below, and made several more of them available from my online web gallery at SimsShots Photography.  Order prints from wallet size to 3-foot-wide sofa-size posters and lots of other products.

Also, there are a few of these on my photo-sharing stream at Flickr.

Big Sable dusk

Workers enjoy a twilight campfire on the sand dunes next to the lighthouse.
Workers enjoy a twilight campfire on the sand dunes next to the lighthouse.

Big Sable nighttime

This was our team of workers during our 2-week stay at Big Sable.
This was our team of workers during our 2-week stay at Big Sable.

Also, there is this:  While shooting the lunar eclipse on the evening of September 27th, a ghostly apparition showed up on one of my photos, adding another episode to the on-going legend that Big Sable Point Lighthouse is haunted.  I think it is some sort of optic anomaly, but others are sure they have seen this sort of thing before and that it is a paranormal occurrence.  What do you think?  Let me say, the night was absolutely clear with no fog or smoke anywhere near.  (Click anywhere on the photo to see it in full screen mode.)

Ghost Moon at Big Sable Lighthouse.
Ghost Moon at Big Sable Lighthouse.

Order prints of this photo at SimsShots Photography.