Tag Archives: road trip

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.

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.

All 50 States. How Hard to Try….

Milepost 10-6-15  Cedar Springs Michigan.  Parked in our daughter’s yard.

Today Kaye and I are leaving for New England on a spontaneous quest to add 6 more states to our collection for a total of 49 – leaving only Hawaii unvisited.  We really did not have this on our bucket list until coming home from the south last spring.  We had added several new ones while wandering across the south during the winter from Louisiana east to Florida and then north along the Atlantic coast heading back home in the spring.  At some point along there it occurred to us that we were actually unintentionally tallying an impressive inventory of states visited.

By the time we turned west from the eastern seaboard we decided to make it a thing, and we would have to be really intentional about Delaware or we would miss it entirely.  It wasn’t on the way to anywhere else like most of the states we had visited.  We were camping near Washington D. C. and decided to make a quick day trip to score Delaware.

Now we are heading off to New York to deliver a trailer load of custom-built rustic furniture that I assembled during the summer for a client that I had built stuff for a few years ago.  And we have time to continue on to New England and visit the last six of the continental United States.  Maybe we will even see some fall color.

Visiting all 50 states was not a thing for us until we realized we were well on our way to doing it just by chance.  Just by being travelers all of our lives.

Actually, two of our three daughters have already visited all 50 and they got their impressive start while riding in the back seat as kids while we explored the country as a family with a van and a tent years ago (photo at top shows our stop at the Tetons in 1991).

Our kids - with some of their cousins - inside a giant redwood tree in northern California.
Our kids – with some of their cousins – inside a giant redwood tree in northern California.

I am not sure what we will do about Hawaii.  If it really is a thing for us, we will probably have to make it happen sometime.  So is it a thing or not?  I don’t know.  If I have to choose, I might rather continue east and do Italy (one of my daughters is there with a friend right now).  Time will tell.

Meantime, watch for a report from the coast of Maine in the next few days.  See ya!

Postscript:  We had mechanical trouble that prevented us from making the New England trip.  Instead, we spent time in a service garage.  We did get our shipment delivered to our client in New York, but our tour of the northeast will have to wait.

M-22, A Redliner’s Delight

Milepost 8-17-15                    Empire, Michigan

My road atlas shows the secondary roads in red.  Those are the narrow two-lane county blacktops that pre-date the expressways and the superhighways.  And it is where the historical sites and nostalgic gems are still found.

M-22 is a redliner’s treasure, as it winds through mature forests and over sand dunes, outlining the Leelenau Peninsula, Michigan’s virtual “pinkie” finger as it were, the lower peninsula being shaped like a mitten.  It is punctuated by 150-year-old lighthouses and roadside farm markets offering sweet black cherries and other organic delicacies.

M-109 is a road trip within a road trip, a side spur from M-22 that skirts the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
M-109 is a road trip within a road trip, a side spur from M-22 that skirts the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

A side spur from this rural delight is another gem, M-109, which winds lazily through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, an expansive park that is managed by the National Park Service.  It is the home of a well-preserved ghost town.   Glen Haven is an old fishing village with a historic inn, general store, blacksmith shop, fishing cannary and other buildings.

M-109 heads off through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
M-109 heads off through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The National Lakeshore is a wonderland of perched sand dunes, thick forests, abandoned farms and old vacation homes.  The shorelines are gorgeous.  If there is magic where land and water meet, then this peninsula is entirely enchanted.  Shifting sand dunes rise more than 450 above the turquoise waters of Lake Michigan.

Nature lovers and adventurers experience a rush of enthusiasm for a plethora of hiking trails, bike paths, scenic drives and beaches.

Here is a line-up of photos I captured while on a recent visit to the area:

Perched sand dunes loom over the beaches along the Leelenau Peninsula.
Perched sand dunes loom over the beaches along the Leelenau Peninsula.
The scenic overlook provides a gander at Lake Michigan and the distant South and North Manitou Islands, also part of the National Lakeshore.
The scenic overlook at Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive provides a gander at Lake Michigan and the distant South and North Manitou Islands, also part of the National Lakeshore and desirable backcountry camping (backpacking) destinations.
DSC_0345
Visitors see the lake from 450 feet above the water.

DSC_0354

Sleeping Bear N. Bar Lk view
The view of the Empire Bluffs from an overlook on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive includes North Bar Lake in the foreground.
The Dune Climb is one of the most popular hikes in the park.
The Dune Climb is one of the most popular hikes in the park.
The Platte River is perfect for kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding and the like.
The Platte River is perfect for kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding and tubing.
Rock collectors on the beach
Lapidaries and rock collectors search for mineral specimens and fossils like the Petoskey Stone, Michigan’s state stone.
Sleeping Bear N. Bar Lk edit
Families with kids love the warm waters of North Bar Lake which is separated from Lake Michigan by a narrow sand bar.
Paddle Boarding Lake Michigan
Water sports enthusiasts find plenty of opportunity on Lake Michigan and several inland lakes.
Glen Haven is a ghost town, nicely preserved by park service historians.
The port town of Glen Haven is now a ghost town, nicely preserved by park service historians.
The Sleeping Bear Inn ran for more than a century until 1972.
The Sleeping Bear Inn ran for more than a century until closing in 1972.
The fish cannary still stands at the water's edge in the historic port town.
The fish cannary still stands at the water’s edge in the historic port town.
Glen Arbor is alive with tourism during the summer... and dead the rest of the year.
Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor is entirely decorated with school pennants on the walls and ceilings.
Patio at Art's Tavern, Glen Arbor
Glen Arbor is alive with tourism during the summer… and pretty much dead the rest of the year.
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 and through deep woods and open meadows for 27 miles. It has a few steep hills with grades of up to 11%.
Beach walkers are not disappointed along the many miles of beautiful beaches flanked by dunes.
Beach walkers are not disappointed along the many miles of beautiful beaches flanked by dunes and surf.
Sunset at Sleeping Bear Point
This is a land of million dollar sunsets and folks show up all along the shore to enjoy the show across the dunes and Lake Michigan at sundown.

The spectacular sunsets are not lost on the many enthusiasts who show up on the dunes and the beaches every day at sundown.

Point Betsie Lighthouse is near the south end of M-22 not far from the port of Frankfort, Michigan.
Point Betsie Lighthouse is near the south end of M-22 not far from the port of Frankfort, Michigan.

Being over 50 miles from the nearest freeway, M-22 is not on the way to anywhere… except adventure and natural splendor.

My travel tip:  If you can, avoid the crowds of the later summer and visit the area in September when the parks are nearly empty and you have your pick of campsites – or cabins.  The lakes are still relatively warm and accommodating for water sports like kayaking, paddle boarding and swimming.

After that, the maple forests light up with the vivid yellows, reds, and oranges of autumn.

And after that,  it gets nasty out here when the gales of November start whipping off of Lake Michigan and the early snows set in.

Rapere Aestate!  (Seize the Summer!)

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.