Tag Archives: RV travel

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!

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.

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.

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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.

First Week at the Lighthouse

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

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

Day One – Tuesday, 9-15-15

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

Day Three – Thursday, 9-17-15

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

Day Four – Friday, 9-18-15

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

Day Five – Saturday, 9-19-15

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

Day Six – Sunday, 9-20-15

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

Day Seven – Monday, 9-21-15

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

Michigan Renaissance Festival – A Step Back in Time

Milepost 8-30-15                                     The ultimate summer festival

The RenFest at Holly, Michigan, runs on weekends from late August to Early October each year.  I visited on a Saturday and found it uncrowded and in tip-top form.  The re-enactors and vendors and visitors all seemed to be in a good mood and ready for some fun.  This being my first visit – and photographs being my top priority – I chose not to go in costume.  Of course, there were plenty of costume shops open, so I could have rented or purchased a tunic and a sword.  Maybe next time.

Here’s a photo line-up of this colorful historical attraction.  (Click on any photo to view it in full screen mode.)

Renaissance Festival trio edit

Renaissance Festival portrait

Renaissance Festival portrait ort

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Renaissance Festival vendor edit

Renaissance Festival stage edit

Renaissance Festival edit

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Renaissance Festival pathway edit

Renaissance Festival Knight edit

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Whenever I return to the Michigan Renaissance Festival, I have decided that a sword is a nice thing to have, but I am going to avoid a kilt.  That’s just me.  Do what you want.  It’s all good.  And it’s all a lot of fun.

And don’t miss the traditional turkey drumstick for lunch.  It’s actually slow-smoked and tasty.

And then there is the ubiquitous dill pickle right out of the barrel.

Hmm… so much to savor and so few summer days left.

Here is the link to the RenFest website.  Have fun!