I was all set to spend another winter in southern California, but the Airstream gods had other plans. On my way through Vegas, the electrical system decided to stop working—as in: no solar, no batteries, no 12V, no 120V. A quick check on the “interwebs” found the closest authorized Airstream service center in a place called Apache Junction, Arizona. So I headed to Apache Junction, a town in the metropolitan Phoenix area. It turned out the electrical converter had stopped—well—converting. The guys at Dillon’s RV City replaced the converter, fixed a leak in the roof, and repacked the wheel bearings—in no time at all. After the repairs were done, they recommended I stay at Usery Mountain Regional Park, a Maricopa County campground just a few minutes away, so I did.
Land Yacht Harbor of Melbourne (or LYH as the residents call it) is an RV park in the Orlando area of Florida. I use the term RV park loosely, as it is really more of a close-knit snowbird community built around RVers. Airstreamers built the park in the 1970s, and up until a few years ago, only Airstream brands were allowed to stay. They have since relaxed their rules and let in SOBs (Some Other Brands) — their words, not mine — but over 80% of units at LYH are Airstreams. There is another rule: the minimum age is 50. Well, some rules were meant to broken, and I was given special dispensation to spend some time with the “old folks.” I think it helped that I was mentioned in Airstream Life magazine and that I was, in fact, an Airstream owner. I’m so glad they let me in. Seriously, so glad.
The second province on my tour of the Canadian Maritimes is Nova Scotia. As much as I loved Prince Edward Island, I think Nova Scotia is my new favorite. Technically a peninsula, mainland Nova Scotia is nearly surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. As such, everything seems to revolve around the sea. (Hence, all the photos of boats!)
While PEI was incredibly rural, Nova Scotia has many more urban areas, particularly Halifax. I was pleasantly surprised by this capital city. The geographical location alone makes it noteworthy. Add the historical culture, the friendly people, and the vibrant downtown; I could easily become a Haligonian. (Yes, a Haligonian. I don’t make these things up!) Halifax is in the middle of the province, along the southern shores. This was probably my favorite section of mainland Nova Scotia. The southern shore is one non-stop Rorschach inkblot test full of bays and inlets with small fishing villages around every corner. Peggys Cove, Chester, and Lunenberg are ones that caught my eye. From there, I left mainland Nova Scotia to check out Cape Breton Island.
Not only is French an official language of Canada, it is the only official language in the province of Québec. As such, French is extremely prevalent in Ottawa (Canada’s capital city), Montréal, and Québec City; three of my favorite cities in all of Canada. The many dialects of Canadian French are different from traditional Metropolitan French in France, but it all sounds the same to me! With my rediscovery of the French language, I understand much of the written word, but it is next to impossible for me to speak it or understand the spoken dialogue. No matter, for the Québécois–in fine Canadian fashion–are equally friendly to anglophones.
OK, so I know what I said about Yosemite, and I know what I said about Yellowstone, and I know what I said about Glacier. Forget it all! None of them can really compare to the unparalleled size and beauty of the Canadian Rockies, specifically Banff National Park and Jasper National Park.
I spent most of my time in the towns of Banff and Lake Louise. Banff is a trendy town about an hour west of Calgary, Alberta. Why is it called Banff? It comes from Banffshire, Scotland, the birthplace of one of the major financiers of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Lake Louise (named after the daughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta) is about another hour up the Trans-Canada Highway. Downtown Banff is full of energy, while Lake Louise is more tranquil and serene. Both have absolutely stunning scenery in every direction. Both are on my “Top Ten” list. From Lake Louise, I took the Icefields Parkway up to Jasper National Park and the Columbia Icefield. It is considered one of the most scenic drives in the entire world. I agree!
Do you like apples? Do you like apple cider? Do you like apple cider donuts? Do you like small towns? Do you like friendly people? Do you like small towns full of friendly people? Do you like rolling hills, mountains, and change in elevation? Do you like?… yeah, yeah, yeah, you get the point!
Vermont is an interesting state. It is the second least-populated state; it has the smallest capital city; and no other state has its largest city as small as Burlington (around 40,000 people). This small town atmosphere is refreshing. Vermonters are just some of the nicest people I have ever met.
I am writing this near the shores of the Pacific Ocean — in front of a campfire — at Harris Beach State Park, easily my favorite of all the campgrounds in Oregon. It is a fitting way to end my exploration of the great state of Oregon.
Oregon, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. First, one of the best movies of the ’80s, “The Goonies,” was filmed in Astoria and Cannon Beach. Who doesn’t love that movie? Second, fresh, local, incredible food is available from undiscovered vendors at farmers’ markets in downtown Portland. Pair it with a bottle of wine from any one of the hundreds of vineyards and wineries in Oregon, like Yamhill Valley Vineyards. So good! Third, the same temperate climate that makes great wine is the same temperate climate perfect for lush, green golf courses playable year-round. The best one I played was Langdon Farms Golf Club in Aurora. Finally, Howard Hughes’ famous airplane, the “Spruce Goose,” is at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville. I was so happy to stumble upon this museum — like “kid in a candy store” happy!
It has been a crazy busy last few weeks. I left the Airstream at Elwha Dam RV Park (just outside Port Angeles, Washington) and flew back to Chicago. I was relieved to return a week later with everything just as I had left it: in the middle of the woods — unhooked — just running off the solar panel. During my stay in Port Angeles, I was able to see a little bit of Olympic National Park. It is very scenic, but just doesn’t compare to Glacier or Yosemite.
Inching my way closer to Seattle, my next stop was Port Ludlow, Washington. A sleepy little town west of Seattle, it has a golf course (which I had to play), a marina, an excellent pizza place (Cucina Pizza), a surprisingly well-stocked convenience store, and, well, not much else. It is pretty quiet there; a perfect place to spend the work week! Yearning for some culture, I drove over to Bainbridge Island, caught the ferry, and met some friends in downtown Seattle. Overall, I loved my short stay in the Emerald City. Growing up in northwest Montana, I have been there several times, but it was nice to be back and look at it from a “possible place to live” point of view. I am happy to say, it is definitely on the list!
I just spent the last week in British Columbia, Canada, and absolutely loved it! With the metric units, a little of the French language, “loonies”, “toonies”, and “.ca” web addresses galore, it was an exciting adventure. It all started with a checkpoint at the U.S./Canada border in Douglas, B.C., just north of Seattle on I-5.
According to the “real-time” digital sign, the wait was supposed to be “up to 5 minutes”. Clearly, the sign lied. I waited in line with hundreds of other motorists for almost half an hour until reaching a pair of border patrol officers ready to ask me dozens of questions like, “Where did you stay last night? Where were you before that? How long have you been on the road? How much money do you have in the bank? How much money do you have in your wallet? How do work out of an Airstream? Why are you coming to Canada? Do you mind pulling over there and emptying the contents of your pockets on the hood of your car?” You know, the usual. Obviously, I had absolutely nothing to hide, but I must have looked suspicious, so they asked me to wait inside with the other “degenerate failures” while they searched every square inch of the Touareg and the Airstream – for an hour. They apparently took everything out of the back of the Touareg because the gate wouldn’t shut correctly when I finally got back from my “time out” corner. I noticed they also looked at the photos on my digital camera and even looked under my mattress. And, get this, someone from the border patrol looked up my blog, read a few of the posts, and browsed through a few photo slideshows! I only realized this after I noticed several server log entries from “The Government of Canada” at the exact time I crossed the border. So, in a way, this blog totally helped prove my legitimacy. The officers were very official the entire time, but for the rest of the day I was annoyed that I had somehow “failed” a test. That annoyance soon subsided, because the rest of my time in Canada was awesome!
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!
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.
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!