Celebrating three years on the road!

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It’s hard to believe we’ve been on the road for three years now.  It seems like just yesterday that we embarked on this journey to explore our beautiful country on March 1, 2012.  How time flies!  And here we are three years later, continuing to make wonderful memories along the way.

We are pretty much still on track with our set goals, and we picked up 10 new states during the past year.  But unlike previous years, our pace slowed down a bit and we stayed longer at most stops throughout the midwest.  On previous anniversaries I posted about our favorite hiking and biking trails.  Alas, we had fewer opportunities for those activities this past year.  It’s not that we didn’t stay active, but we just didn’t do enough memorable walks or bike rides to give a useful report.

So instead I will commence our celebration with highlights of what things come to mind as we review our third year on the road.  Note that the map below depicts our travels during calendar year 2014 – on March 1st we were in northern Florida and heading west:

Our actual route followed our planned route fairly closely, including a couple of detours. We began our third year in the Florida panhandle and traveled  to our farthest northern stop at Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Then, back down we went – about as far as you can get in south Texas – for the winter.

Along the way, we just had to detour for some time with the birds on our favorite Island at Dauphin Island, Alabama.  And even though it was a bit out of the way, our second detour was to have the excellent team at Freightliner do Betsy’s annual maintenance in Gaffney, South Carolina.

Highlights during our third year of travel:

Weather – Gulf Shores, Alabama

Looking back at what we endured while at Gulf Shores, Alabama makes us shudder.  A five-hour non-stop parade of severe thunderstorms went right over us, with the downpour, winds and thousands of lightning strikes forcing a sleepless night.  We got 15″ of rain that day, an all-time record for the area.  Being in the middle of an historic storm was not exactly what we had signed on for, but we really had nowhere to run to.  We were fortunate to not have any serious damage from that one, because other folks around us certainly did.

The full story is here.

Chiggers Attack – Peru, Indiana

How can I forget those nasty bites?  I was miserable for several weeks from the party those microscopic monsters had on my waist and tummy.  Non-stop itching and scratching reddened my skin and was very uncomfortable.  Oh my, I’m scratching myself right now just thinking about it!

The full story is here.

Adult Chigger

My number one arch enemy, the larvae of a nasty Chigger.  Look out you little monster, here comes my finger to crush you!

The Great Lakes

As we hail from California, the Great Lakes were just “big lakes out there somewhere” to us.  But after seeing and touching all of them I can easily name them now – with a vivid picture of each in my mind.  Now I know that the Great Lakes consist of five separate lakes, and together they form one interconnected body of fresh water.  Four of them are bounded by both the U.S. and Canada – Lake SuperiorLake HuronLake Erie and Lake Ontario.  Only Lake Michigan is entirely within the United States.

The full story is here.

Great Lakes

The Great Lakes on a t-shirt

Film Locations – Mackinac Island, MI and Dyersville, IA

Who doesn’t want to see a place where a great movie was set?  Biking around Mackinac Island was a must for us and our friends, and while there we stopped at the Grand Hotel. That’s where the 1980 film “Somewhere in Time,” starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, was filmed on location.  We just gawked at the grounds and outside of the majestic hotel, as $10 was a bit pricey just to step into the lobby for a picture.

The full story is here.

Grand Hotel, Mackinaw Island

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, viewed from the ferry we took across

25 years later, the iconic phrases “If you build it, he will come,” and “Is this heaven?  No, it’s Iowa.”  are not forgotten.  We visited the site that made those words famous, the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa.  The cornfields and baseball field were just as they looked in the 1989 movie. To complete our experience, we watched the movies again and commented about how fun it was to be there.

The full story is here.

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams – Dyersville, Iowa

Man-made Marvel – St Louis, MO

Yup, you guessed it – the 630 ft. tall Gateway Arch.  It is the monument to memorialize the role of St. Louis in the westward expansion of the United States.  Riding to the top of this awesome structure was on our bucket list, and we were amazed by the grand view of the city of St Louis and beyond.

The full story is here.

Gateway Arch, St Louis, Mo

You have to see this thing in person to believe it!

Fall Foliage in the Ozarks – Fayetteville, Arkansas

The south has its own version of Vermont for taking in the fall colors – the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.  If you can’t make it to Vermont for leaf peeping in Autumn, a great alternate would be the Ozarks.

The full story is here.

Yellow Rock Outlook

Vermont? No, but still gorgeous!

Birding Galore – Alabama, Wisconsin and Texas

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting is so darn beautiful!

The birding experiences I had during the past year were rich and varied, from Alabama to Wisconsin to Texas. We were very fortunate to be at Dauphin Island, Alabama when spring migration was underway.  It seemed to be just raining beautiful birds!

At Gulf Shores, Alabama I joined Laurel and Eric to observe bird banding and do some bird watching as well.  In Baraboo, Wisconsin I visited the International Crane Foundation, whose stated mission is to work worldwide to save the endangered Whooping Cranes.  It was here that I saw all 15 species of cranes in the Gruidae family.

Coastal birding with Ingrid in Port Aransas was so much fun – I think the birds knew our names and tried to hide from us!  Then at the birding mecca, also known as the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, Birdie and I were involved in finding and identifying our feathered friends.  Many of them are Texas specialties.

Full stories of my birding escapades:

Dauphin Island is for the birds – Dauphin Island, Alabama

The blogger’s biking and birding bonanza in ‘bama – Gulf Shores, Alabama

If you’re into Cranes, read on! – Baraboo, Wisconsin

Two Birders of a feather – Port Aransas, Texas

Winged Wonders Abound – Rio Grande Valley, Texas

Hiking

We did lots of hikes, but the best of them were in the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina.  Those mountains provided a beautiful scenic backdrop for some heart-pumping, lung-busting hikes.  We’d love to go back there!

Full stories on the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains

Family and Friends

Family and friends, old and new, always make our journey fun and exciting.  Reconnecting with old buddies from my hometown and some of my family is always a joy.  Best of all, I got to spend quality time with my super-cute grand niece Hattie in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The connections we made with fellow bloggers continued to flourish.  We met new friends Laurel and Eric of Raven and Chicadee; Carla and Jerry of CozybeGone and Faye and Dave of the Wandering Camels.   Reuniting with Ingrid and Al of Live Laugh RV and Bob and Susan of Travelbug in Texas was icing on the cake.  Bloggers are all fun-loving people who shared travel stories, a few drinks and some home-cooked meals and outdoor activities.  Having a grand time with these lovely people created memories that we’ll always cherish.  Somewhere, someday we’ll meet again.

Health

While in Port Aransas in January, we kept several doctors busy as we were pronounced alive and well.  But come February, shortly after our birthdays, I had some scary symptoms that prompted two visits to emergency rooms.  For unknown reasons, my blood pressure had spiked like crazy.  Much to my disdain, I am now taking daily medication and everything seems to be fine.

An eye exam for Steve showed early traces of glaucoma, which was not unexpected since his dad had it when he was in his 50’s.  He decided to be proactive and underwent laser surgery.  This was the best option for our nomadic lifestyle, since it should lower his eye pressures for quite a while with just daily drops and fewer follow-up appointments.

Now we are in good health, and Steve determined that we can haul our new medications around without exceeding Betsy’s weight limit 🙂

Steve said he’s glad his heart is in good shape, because the medical bills should start coming in any day now!  We’re glad to have Betsy and ourselves “good to go”, and excited to start heading back north to get back on track with some serious hiking!

Finally, the stats for the past year:

My wonderful hubby and recorder of all things travel-related has this to report:

Miles traveled:  5,631

Diesel burned:  729 gallons

Average mileage:  7.7 mpg

Average price per gallon for diesel:  $3.66

Number of campgrounds we stayed at:  46

Average campground price:  $29/night
(we budgeted $35/night, so we’re happy with this)

In closing

Blogging is sometimes a chore 🙂   But with the connections we have made during the past three years, sharing our experiences in the blogosphere is so worthwhile and satisfying.  I thank all of our readers and followers who have been with us for the ride.  I hope you are still enjoying it, for we are not done yet!  Whether you’d like to drop us a line or just read through our stories, we appreciate you stopping by.

We have 10 states to go, and estimate that we’ll have them all completed by the fall of 2016.  Then we’ll start traveling more like “normal” adventurers, taking long trips to places we missed or just want to spend more time at.

 

Next up:  Where to in 2015?



 

Biking around a charming (but stinky) little island – Mackinac Island, MI

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Mackinac Island

Our active and fun-filled days with Don and Lisa continued, as we moved Betsy up into northern Michigan.  Destination: Mackinaw City, just across from Mackinac Island.  This small island lies in the Strait of Mackinac, between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas.  As we learned first-hand, it’s a favorite summer destination for thousands of folks, with a charming downtown area.  It had been recommended to us by fellow bloggers, followers and friends, so we were excited to check it out on a gorgeous summer day.

But just a quick digression, please.  I want to mention a fun stop we made at Frankenmuth, Michigan, that Don had suggested.  This quaint little German-themed town was definitely worth taking a little side trip for.  Although we only had time for lunch and a look around town due to the long drive ahead, it’s a place we would love to come back to for a weekend.

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A yummy lunch was had by all at the Frankenmuth Brewery

We had a great lunch at the Frankenmuth Brewery, and after driving around town a bit we stopped into the absolutely huge (world’s largest) Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland.  There is no way to describe the sights and sounds of literally millions of Christmas decorations and other goodies this place carries – you have to be there to believe it.  It was busy – even in August – we can’t image what it would be like during the holidays.  But we did have to wonder how the employees can stand to listen to Christmas music all day, every day 😦

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Inside Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the store alone covers 7-plus acres – incredible!

But now back to Mackinac Island.  Ever since we heard about this island months ago, we had been mispronouncing its name.  Originally the area had the Indian name “Michinnimakinong”, but when the French came in 1715 they changed it to “Michilimackinac”, pronouncing the end of the word as “aw.”  The Brits arrived in 1761 and decided to change the spelling to “Michilimackinaw.”  Eventually the name was shortened to Mackinaw, for obvious reasons. But the French kept their “ac” spelling and retained its French pronunciation.  Only Mackinaw City retained its “aw” spelling – hence, Mackinac Island, Mackinac Bridge and Straits of Mackinac.  Just remember if you come to this area that they are all pronounced with “aw” at the end, or you will be called a “fudgie” by the locals (whatever the heck that is).  Got it?  Good!

Round Island Lighthouse

Round Island Light

Mackinac Island harbor

The harbor at Mackinac Island

We thought biking here would be similar to biking on other islands that we’ve enjoyed, like Block Island in Rhode Island and San Juan Island in Washington.  Wrong!  Biking here is unique and charming for several reasons:

  • The entire island is listed as a National Historic Landmark.

Mackinac Island

  • It is accessible only by ferry, aircraft or snowmobile (across the ice during winter) – no bridges.

Arnold Ferry

  • Except for fire trucks, motor vehicles have been banned since 1898!

Main Street, Mackinac Island

Typical downtown scene, and this was before it got busy!

Mackinac Island

Reminds me of the Philippines!

  • 80% of this small island is preserved as a state park, Mackinac Island State Park, and it’s Michigan’s first state park (established in 1895).

Mackinac Island State Park

  • The only mode of transportation is by bicycle, or…

Bicycle Parking Lot

One of the bike parking lots at the Grand Hotel

 

    …horse-pulled carriage – as a taxi, freight wagon or garbage collector.

  • Finally, since this is a horse town with about 500 of them leaving behind their poops and urine, experiencing it takes you back in time to when horses ruled the road.  We began smelling it as the ferry approached the dock, and found it a bit overwhelming in the downtown area.

Bike Rentals at Mackinac IslandConsidering the natural beauty and touristy fun of biking, the four of us brought our own bikes along and first rode around the 8-mile perimeter of the island, following Lake Shore Boulevard (M-185).  It’s the only interstate in the U.S. that doesn’t allow personal motor vehicles.  Bikes can be rented by the hour, but it’s a bit pricey so we took our own and went at a leisurely pace.

We took the slower (and cheaper) Arnold ferry across, at the round-trip cost of $18 per person plus $8 per bike.

Down the road a ways along Lake Huron, we saw an example of Mackinac Island’s breccia rock formations. About 4,000 years ago, the lake waters slowly dissolved the softer material that extended into the center of the formation.  As the lake eroded the middle of the stack, it slowly crumbled into the water leaving the firm breccia limestone arch that is now called Arch Rock.

The island’s landscape is characterized by high limestone bluffs, beautiful vistas of sparkling water and vibrant forests with unique geological formations.

Mackinac Island

On the island’s east side, brecciated geology has produced a series of hills and bluffs

We were captivated by the island’s Victorian charm and relaxed atmosphere.  While most areas were quiet and beautiful, the downtown was bustling and packed with tourists filling the many restaurants and stores.

Some of the quaint (and not so quaint) structures we saw:

As we biked into Surry Hills, we noticed this red building and rode up to discover it was the newly-built Grand Hotel Stables.  It’s a working stable and home to 12 of the hotel’s horses.

Grand Hotel Stables

Biking up to the Grand Hotel Stables

Grand Hotel Stables

Horsies on duty!

Inside the stable building were 20 antique carriages from the Grand Hotel and Mackinac Island Carriage Tours.  One wall displayed a copy of the 1896 resolution to ban motor vehicles on the island.

If you’re old enough to have seen the movie “Somewhere in Time“, then you might want to stop by the Majestic Grand Hotel.  The 1980 film starred Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour and Christopher Plummer, and was filmed on location right here.  However, be prepared to pay a $10 fee just to walk on the grounds and into the lobby.  We stopped here and were happy to view it from the outside.

Grand Hotel's Porch

At 660 feet, the Grand Hotel’s Front Porch is the world’s largest, and is easily visible from miles away on the ferry

Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel viewed from the ferry

After riding several more miles on the island’s interior roads and trails, we parked our bikes downtown and window shopped, cooling ourselves down as the smell of fudge wafted through the air.  And did we buy some?  Of course!

We recommend biking the island – it’s small with just a few hills to tackle.  Although the odor from the horse “leavings” was pretty bad downtown, we enjoyed getting a good workout and had a great time eating and shopping after our ride.

The Lowes RV Adventure

Hanging with Don and Lisa, our best buds

 

 Next Up:  More Michigan fun with our friends!