Pacific. Coast. Highway. Drive it. Seriously, it has to be the most scenic highway in all of America. My plan is to eventually drive all of Highway 1 from Canada to Mexico, but that is for another time. For now, I found plenty to do and see along the P.C.H. from Big Sur up to Sonoma. I had an outdoor dinner with impressive views at Big Sur, hung out with great friends in Carmel and Monterey, golfed at the famous Poppy Hills Golf Course along 17-Mile Drive, made it over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, drank some of the wonderful local wine in Napa Valley, and took in the natural beauty of the Sonoma Coast. Not a bad way to spend a week!
So, remember when I said Lake Tahoe had the most impressive scenery and extreme driving requirements to match? Scratch that, because Yosemite National Park now takes home top honors. I think I spent the entire weekend with my eyes wide open, grasping for a description of the sights. The one word that came to mind was “grandeur”.
The first part of Yosemite actually started out a little rough. I left Tahoe with a full tank of gas, a gung-ho attitude, and a campground reservation just on the other side of the park. By the end of the day, all three were in short supply. After a relatively easy drive through the Sierra Nevada mountain range, as I got close to the entrance of the park, one particular mountain peak caught my eye. I kept thinking, “I really hope I don’t have to go up that. I really hope I don’t have to go up that.” But it kept getting closer, and closer, and closer, until I found myself going right on up it. With the engine revved almost to the max I didn’t even stop for a photo, fearful I wouldn’t be able to climb from a complete stop. I maintained a pretty steady 45mph on the straightaways, and finally reached the friendly ranger at the Tioga Pass Entrance to Yosemite with an elevation of 9,945 feet! It is apparently the highest mountain pass in the entire state of California. I drove the length of the park and then began my descent back down towards my campground. With the endless curves, cliffs, and cars, by the time I got down to the other side, I was absolutely 100% spent. All I could think of was a nice spot to relax and spend the night.
After months of anticipation, I finally got to test out the Touareg and the Airstream in the mountains. Admittedly, I still haven’t done the tallest peaks on my itinerary, but I got up over 7,500 feet with some serious ascents and descents.
My first mountain stop was in Park City, Utah. I actually had forgotten it was on my route, and had no plans to stay there until I rolled through on I-80. I pulled up Google Maps, picked the first campground on the list (Park City RV Resort), and ended up staying a couple of days. I toured Olympic Park, visited the trendy downtown, and even drove to some of the surrounding towns. Park City definitely made my Top 10 list!
The last week was generally spent avoiding wind shears, rain storms, tornadoes, hail; you name it. Serious storms moved through the Great Plains, and I was lucky enough to drive my home right through the middle of it all! I keep a close eye on the weather with my iPhone, pay attention to weather reports, and ask the local campgrounds. So far, so good!
I slept in one state park, one Good Sam’s, one KOA, two private campgrounds, a driveway, a basement, and one Wal-Mart parking lot! I had some great barbecue in Kansas City, Kansas (yes, the Kansas side) and bought the new iPhone 3G S in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Apparently I missed Nebraska City, Nebraska. I nearly ran out of gas while searching for an open gas station in the middle of Kansas. Seriously, who closes at 8PM? I spent some time with friends in Ogallala, Nebraska and found an absolutely incredible golf course, Bayside Golf Course, just outside of town. And, finally, I spent a few days in Fort Collins, Colorado to hang out with my sister, brother-in-law, and adorable niece. Overall, I covered five Great Plains states in nine days.
Alright, boys and girls, time for a quick history lesson. In the early 1700s, two men with Lutheran backgrounds traveled throughout Germany and Switzerland forming small congregations of followers. They believed in a peaceful, quiet way of life and strictly followed scripture. By 1855, this growing community had over 1200 members, and was forced to find land in America. A group found attractively priced farmland in eastern Iowa and built a village. They chose to call it Amana, which means “to remain true”. The village (and six other villages in the surrounding area) were all part of a communal way of life. The community owned the shops, mills, and farmlands in common and individual needs were provided by the community. There were simply no wages whatsoever. This self-sufficient, communal way of life lasted until 1932 when Amana officially abandoned the idea.
After logging 1600 miles around the state in the last two weeks, I can safely say I have seen all Michigan has to offer! And, yes, I will miss it. Instead of leaving Michigan last week as originally planned, I decided to stay and use my brand new annual vehicle permit for Michigan state parks. After leaving the Battle Creek area, I cut back across the state through Ann Arbor. I see why they call it “The Big House”. No, I didn’t get thrown in prison. The University of Michigan football stadium; that place is enormous!
I must have passed a dozen signs in the Upper Peninsula for these things called “pasties” (no, not those kind) before I finally stopped to try one for myself. It turns out a pastie (rhymes with “nasty” but is oh, so good) is a folded pastry filled with meat and vegetables. Somewhat of a tourist attraction in the U.P. these days, it was originally a convenient staple for the miners in the 19th century. Mmmm, tasty!
After my hearty lunch, I crossed over the magnificent Mackinac Bridge to spend a few days in northern Michigan. My favorite towns were easily Petoskey, Charlevoix, and Traverse City. Somehow I managed to navigate the tiny streets of Petoskey, fed two meters to park the Airstream, and played tourist for a few hours. What a cool little town! Next, it was off to Traverse City for a few nights at the KOA outside of town. I will have to go back when the cherries are in season. Thanks to a great recommendation, I stumbled upon a little dunes area near Mears on my way to the southern part of Michigan. That is a hidden gem, indeed!
Right on the cliffs of Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore definitely ranks as the most scenic–and remote–spot on my journey thus far. To get there, I drove from Chicago, up through Wisconsin (thanks for the fine amenities, Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Ray), through Cedar River, Escanaba, and Manistique in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and into the national park near Grand Marais.
Once in the park, the first 11 miles or so were a nice and easy jaunt along a paved highway. Simple, right? Then, out of nowhere, the pavement suddenly turned into a one-lane dirt road cut right through the middle of the forest. Even if I had wanted to turn around, there was simply no where to do it. I finally made it to the Hurricane River Campground and found a spot just a couple hundred feet from Lake Superior.
Spending last night in a Wal-Mart parking lot was actually great. It was quiet, paved, level, and free! And in the morning I stocked up the Airstream with some groceries. [Mental note: I am spending way too much time at Wal-Mart.] I will definitely do it again; however, tonight is something completely different. I found a sweet place in western Pennsylvania that has one rule – Airstreams only. I love it! I counted around 25 different Airstreams on the 60 acres here at Penn Wood Airstream Park. The scenery is absolutely beautiful! Goodbye flatland of Illinois/Indiana/Ohio, and hello rolling hills of Pennsylvania. I will spend the work week here at Penn Wood. They have Wi-Fi, laundry, cable TV, full hookups – the works.
Talk about a crazy place to spend the night. I am writing this from a Wal-Mart parking lot just outside Toledo, Ohio. This afternoon I left Chicago for my first solo cross-country trip to New Haven, CT. The plan is to take my time, spend most of the work week in northwest Pennsylvania, and eventually roll into the New Haven area later in the week. I have a few places in mind, but if anyone has any suggestions for local attractions along the way, send me an email. I am always on the look out for local diners, drive-ins, and dives that serve good eats!
The beauty of this whole adventure is the ability to change plans on the fly. With the weather in St. Louis not cooperating at all, we changed our destination to Galena, IL. After a late start from Chicago and surprisingly bad traffic, we didn’t pull into Galena until well after dark. And, with all the pull-through spots taken, I was forced to back into our spot (without scaring too many of the neighbors). Thank you, Kim and Max, for acting as human guideposts! Other than an embarrassingly noisy hitch, everything has gone rather smoothly. Seriously, I have to do something about that hitch; people were staring for all the wrong reasons! Here are some photos of the trip to Galena and Palace Campground (the oldest campground in the state of Illinois).
It is getting close to my departure date, so I figured it was about time to actually spend some trial time in the Airstream. I successfully made it through two days and one stormy night in my new aluminum home; parked in a campground just outside Joliet, IL. I didn’t think it would ever stop raining, but everything (and everyone) held up just fine. Talk about crazy weather for my first night in it!
Even the Touareg is all wired up and ready to go. Steve at US Adventure RV is the man! I got the chance to hook it up myself and take everything out for a test drive (with adult supervision, of course). For the first time ever towing anything, it went pretty well. (Remind me to share the story of the flying blender!) We took the Touareg/Airstream on some side roads, out on I-80, and back to a parking lot to practice backing up. And, yes, backing up is confusing, but I think I have the hang of it!