Good afternoon from Army Corp of Engineers Petersburg Campground in Appling, Georgia. We arrived here yesterday after being in Birmingham, Alabama for a week. Our site overlooks beautiful J. Strom Thurmond lake. The irony of it all.
The past few weeks have been pretty busy for us.
Leaving Illinois, we dealt with minor warranty issues with our van in St. Louis, MO, visited with friends, Pif and Chip Hicks in Louisville, KY, dropped in on the new university grads, Tate and Zoe, in Nashville, TN, and finally parked Miranda at the home of Wade and Jennifer Anderson in Birmingham.
Melanie and I were in Birmingham specifically for another event connected to the 80th anniversary year of EPF. There was an event at St. Andrews on Thursday, we traveled to The National Memorial and Museum for Peace and Justice on Friday, then to Hayneville, Alabama for the annual Jonathan Daniels pilgrimage and Selma, Alabama to the National Voting Rights Museum.
Miranda's Mercedes Sprinter got her first service while we were in Birmingham. And, despite the heat, she got her first coat of wax. Solar panels, ceiling fans, skylights over the shower and galley area were cleaned. In short, Miranda is ready and looking good for further adventure. 😎😜
A few portraits from our week in Birmingham
Good morning from Barrington, Illinois just north and west of Chicago, Illinois. Melanie and I have been at the home of Ellen and Ric Lindeen for the past few days. Melanie spoke Thursday past at St. Michael's in Barrington, the parish of Ellen and Rick. Ellen is a board member of Episcopal Peace Fellowship.
We leave tomorrow morning heading south again. We have a stop in St. Louis for some minor warranty work on Miranda, then it's on the Birmingham, Alabama, with a few stops in between to see friends and family, for events including a pilgrimage to The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, The Legacy Museum, and the annual Jonathan Myrick Daniels Pilgrimage in Hayneville, Alabama.
Before arriving in the Chicago area we were in Traverse City, Michigan where Melanie preached at Grace Episcopal Church. Traverse City is situated on Grand Traverse Bay, Lake Michigan. We enjoyed great food and fellowship with the folks at Grace Episcopal Church.
We were also graciously invited to meet up and have lunch with Gary Moore and his wife Kathy who live Fairhope, Alabama. Gary is a representative of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast and co-sponsor of the upcoming Jonathan Daniels Pilgrimage. Gary and Kathy summer, in part, in Charlevoix, Michigan, about an hour's drive away from Traverse, City. Melanie and I were honored they traveled our way to have lunch.
While we were in Traverse City, I was able to get out on Red Ranger one morning (Melanie rode with me another morning) and took a trip north towards Suttons Bay on the Leelanau Trail. Aside from morning temperatures in the 50's, Leelanau is one of the finest bike/waking trails I've experienced on our travels.
The 16.6 mile trail is well maintained and the asphalt surface is nearly flawless. One experiences lakes, farms and vineyards along the way with minimal road crossings. My only regret is not having enough time to make the entire trip to Suttons Bay. Next time. Highly recommended.
Leaving Traverse City, we headed south. Our first evening was spent in rural Mecosta, Michigan with our Boondockers Welcome hosts, Pat and Ray. They shared a spot they'd created for their close friends from Tennessee whom they'd met when they traveled extensively in their travel trailer. Aside from the very quiet rural site, they also offer us 30 amp electric hookup and water, something not required by Boondockers, but definitely appreciated from us. It didn't hurt that the low overnight was in the low 50's.
Next morning we drove towards South Bend, Indiana to another Boondockers site. On the way we made a short stop at Equalizer Systems to have a minor problem with our 4 point leveling system taken care of. I can't say enough good things about Equalizer. They took us in on short notice and had us fixed in less than an hour's time.
We spent the night in South Bend on the street in front of Tom and Miranda's (same name, different chick) home. We had a nice time getting to know them as they had dinner in their nice backyard. Miranda works at Notre Dame. We mentioned the possibility of checking out the campus and Tom graciously followed up with places of interest we might want to check out. We did.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to Ellen and Ric. They insisted we stay in a guest room in their historic home (1888) in Barrington, fed us, took us out for lunch and to BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. They also insisted we remain at their home after they left to meet family for a vacation trip to Wisconsin Saturday past. We thank them profusely and will see them again when we are back through.
Melanie and I traveled into Chicago this past Saturday for the day. We took the train in from Barrington, where we had a Dim Sum lunch in China Town, spent a great afternoon at Art Institute of Chicago, then had dinner at the Rick Bayless Restaurant, Leña Brava. Chicago, what a great city.
Good afternoon from Ludington, Michigan. It's cloudy here, a bit rainy off and on, and it's 73 degrees. Later Melanie and I will ride the bicycles to the shores of Lake Michigan in hopes of seeing some high wave activity. There's a local weather alert predicting high waves and dangerous swimming conditions. I plan on drinking craft beer too. Jus' sayin'.
We've been in Michigan since the 8th of July and it has been glorious, if a bit warmer than I would have expected or desired at this latitude. The locals think it's too warm too. They also don't like the humidity just like we southerners don't. Yes, there's been humidity, but not like we experience in summer in the south. Nobody's dripping here.
We've been in a variety of settings and places since arriving in Michigan. We began in Monroe, Michigan when we left Cleveland. Then White Lake, Manchester, Kalamazoo, Grand Haven, and now Ludington. We were able to catch up with our niece, Isabel, in Adrian, Michigan and had dinner with her there. We'll head north to Traverse City on Saturday.
We spent the better part of a day in Detroit when we left Cleveland. Visiting the Episcopal Cathedral, then walking down the street to D.I.A. The Cathedral Church of Saint Paul is a magnificent structure well-worth the visit. The Detroit Institute of Art is also located in a great building and we enjoyed a number of nice exhibits.
The best part of Detroit, however, was getting a chance to meet up with our friend Keith from Birmingham. He was gracious enough to travel out of his way to meet us in White Lake where we were parked in the driveway of our Boondockers Welcome hosts, David and Joy. We had dinner together and then Joy and David took us out on their boat for a sunset cruise.
Kalamazoo may be our biggest surprise in Michigan though. The county park at which we stayed Markin Glen, a small campground just north of downtown, is a nice spot and well-maintained. The Kalamazoo River Valley Trail runs along the eastern side of the park and easily connects the campground to downtown Kalamazoo. We made numerous trips into town on our bikes to restaurants and a brewery.
The median age in Kalamazoo is 26.2. Couple that with the new cannabis legalization law and you've got potential for the makings of an interesting and progressive place to live and work. We found the same new construction going on in downtown Kalamazoo that we've seen in other similar-sized cities. Again, people seem to be moving back into cities to live and work.
Grand Haven and Ludington are both lakeside communities and tourist havens. They seem similar in size to Fairhope, Alabama. They may to some extent be bedroom communities to Grand Rapids, places where people summer and come to sail Lake Michigan. We've enjoyed both.
The best, however, may be yet to come. Traverse City, Michigan. Across the board when we've mentioned we're traveling there at the end of the week, people have had nothing but great things to say about it.
Good morning from Trinity Cathedral in downtown Cleveland, Ohio where we've been graciously allowed to stay for the past three days. Before you start with the wondering about why Cleveland, aside from surmising we're probably here for a reason connected to Melanie's EPF work, stop. I have to admit when Melanie suggested we'd go to Cleveland so she could meet with an EPF Chapter here, I was, of course, on board, but hoping beyond hope there was something there that might also interest the collective us. Is there a there there?
I've not been disappointed. Like many mid-sized cities we've encountered along the way, a good deal of construction is going on in downtown. People appear to be moving back into the city to live. The baseball All-Star Game begins festivities today.
Cleveland has a number of great attractions including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a very nice Museum of Art, Botanical Gardens, and good restaurants. That's the short list.
Downtown Cleveland is also pretty bike friendly. Melanie and I were able to get out on several occasions and ride around downtown with ease. The path following Martin Luther King Boulevard takes you through the Cleveland Cultural Gardens and leads down to Lake Erie. The ride along the lake is stellar. We've made new friends and we'll definitely be back to visit.
Yesterday marks our sixth month on the road. When we were in Asheville, I mentioned we were approaching this punctation in our journey and was hoping to give you, dear reader, a list of the pros and cons of full-time RV travel. After giving the idea more thought over the past few weeks and reading a bit of what others have to say, I have to admit I've got nothing that would, at least to my thinking, be of value to anyone pondering this life-style or otherwise explain what the hell possessed us to get out here.
Melanie would say one of the cons is she misses having our cats. I too, at times, miss having them around, but alternatively we've been able to spend time with them vicariously via the internet. The upside of that is no cat box in a small space and we don't have to worry about their welfare when we're away from Miranda. I loved having our cats. They are not, however, like our children and, besides, they have great homes now.
There's a Facebook group for those who own Leisure Travel Vans. We are members for, among other things, gaining continuing insight into this kind of travel and into potential problems and the solutions to those problems. But there are also posts from people who are considering purchase of a Leisure Travel Van for various reasons, downsizing from larger Class A motorhomes, those who are retiring and think travel sounds appealing etc. They generally have various concerns for which they seek answers from the forum.
Please don't misunderstand me, I take no small pleasure in stating that many (maybe most) of the their concerns sound like first-world whining and seem to be about retaining creature comforts many of us take for granted in stationary homes. By getting into the minutia, for example, will there be enough power for my coffee maker to work when I'm unplugged, people want to be reassured they will have all the comforts and benefits of a bricks and sticks home while rolling down America's highways. They seem to be saying please reassure me that life won't be too hard and I won't suffer too much should I do this.
Underlying all these questions and concerns is the element of risk. How risk averse are you? Are you willing to do the due diligence necessary on the front end of the travel experience such that once you've made the decision to live in a small space on the road, the quality of life remains good. Like stationary life, there are simply no guarantees. But, if you are too risk averse, if you are worried about creature comforts, my advice is, stay home.
Melanie and I anticipate the travel life will throw us curves, you know, just like those you have in a stationary home. So we plan, as best we can, for all the contingencies we can anticipate. Some things will likely fall through the cracks, just like they do when your home is located at 111 Ideal Lane.
At this juncture, my take on six months on the road is I could not have dreamed it any better. The experience has been much better than I anticipated and I anticipated it would be great.
Melanie and I make a great team. We have a good division of labor that makes traveling easy for us. We love our home. We love the new friends we make and the new experiences we continue to have while traveling. In the future, I'm sure there will be days when we may struggle a bit, but hopefully those days won't be too adverse or happen with such frequency they dampen an otherwise great experience.
And, with the Gods on our side, it's quite possible, Everything [Won't] Be Awful.
A few photographs from around Washington, DC
Good morning from just outside Asheville, North Carolina where we are currently staying with my long-time friend, Ginny, a high school classmate of mine, and her husband, Bill at their wonderful home. Miranda has a great spot in their driveway and Ginny and Bill have graciously allowed us to stay in their "free" B&B for a few days. See Also: Peaceful Hollow, Asheville destination weddings and John and Jill Elopement
Because Melanie and I are approaching 6 months on the road, I figure now is as good a time as any to begin to commence to start a recap of the pros and cons of full-time traveling. I mentioned the idea to Melanie a few days ago and, initially off the top of our heads, we were having a difficult time coming up with the cons.
My first thought was doing laundry on the road. But I decided having to do laundry in a campground laundromat or finding one in any given town we may be passing through, seems like only a minor inconvenience, not really a truly negative experience. And we do laundry now about every other week, so really, not much of a negative. Then there's the people who populate laundromats and the sometimes interesting exchanges I have with them.
So, trying to discern the cons aside for the moment, I'll begin with, at least for me, what is maybe "the" most positive aspect of full-time travel, that being all the great people we get to meet and/or reconnect with along the way.
Maybe there's never been a better example of how just showing up and being willing to have an experience is about 95% of task at hand. The rest, pretty much pure grace. When the experts try to tell you it's not about all the cool stuff you can buy with your discretionary income and you might want to consider purchasing experiences, pay attention.
While our itinerary for travel changed radically when Melanie took the position as Executive Director of EPF, after traveling to mostly cities in support of EPF for nearly 6 months now, the richness of that experience far outweighs all the ideas I had about mostly camping in Miranda in remote wilderness spots and other exotic locations.
Of course, there's plenty of time in between for a fair amount of beautiful, and sometimes remote, spots along the way and, I'm sure, many more down the road.
But the point is I've found the connections with all kinds of interesting people, both associated with Melanie's work and the everyday connections with people we meet along the way, to be the dark chocolate filling in the truffle that makes traveling full-time more than worth the price of admission. Sorry, when in Asheville, The Chocolate Fetish. Jus' sayin'.
We are both grateful for folks along the way who've allowed us to stay in their driveways, their homes or even their B&B for a night or two. Because I enjoy preparing a good meal for friends, I'm grateful for the use of friends', both old and new, kitchens, for the great, often engaging and interesting conversations had after a meal sometimes over a libation, and sometimes staying up later than usual on a "school night."
I certainly should thank Leisure Travel Vans and Komo Creations (not a paid spokesperson) for the great eye-catching design of our Unity IB van and our bike storage chest respectively. Almost daily when we're actively traveling someone will approach us and ask about the van or storage chest which often leads to questions about our travel which, at least in one instance, led to staying overnight at a nice Vineyard in Texas, preparing dinner for their friends and family, and making new friends.
Human connection, one of the big pros of full-time travel.
Boone, Denver, Blue Ridge Parkway, Hendersonville, Asheville
Good afternoon from beautiful downtown Brevard, North Carolina where we are in the parking lot of a local park near the library. Melanie and I have been camped just out of town for a few days enjoying much appreciated cool the mountains have to offer us. Not rubbing it in too much, it was 58 degrees F. this morning when we awoke. 😎
After leaving Tate City, Georgia last week, we briefly traveled south to get our Onan generator serviced in Gainesville, Georgia before traveling to Long Creek, South Carolina to a Harvest Host location, Chattooga Belle Farm. We spent a quiet and cool night on Horseshoe Lake on the farm after enjoying a good lunch at their Bistro.
Using another of our services, Boondockers Welcome, we traveled to Sunset, South Carolina for the evening and spent the night on a nice family farm with a vineyard and great pond in which we were graciously allowed to swim. The highlight of our secluded campsite was in being able to use our outside shower for an actual shower instead of just washing off my feet with it.
Then it was on to Brevard where we spent our first night on the North Fork of the French Broad River. There have been few times in the past five months we've both agreed that one night might be too many nights, but this was one of them. The hostess was really nice and helpful, but the campground itself, not so much. So we moved on the next day to our present location on the Davidson River at a National Forest Campground, Davidson River Campground.
We're headed towards Winston-Salem, North Carolina tomorrow and then, sometime after that, on to Asheville, North Carolina.
Nashville, Florence, Birmingham, Montgomery, Faunsdale, Green Cove Springs, St. Augustine, Tate City, Georgia (and points in between)
Good morning from Tate City, Georgia where we've been avoiding the heat and catching up with our good friends, Trip and John, since last Friday evening.
It's been a while since I've posted mainly due to a busier-than-usual travel schedule and, being back east in our home territory lends itself to catching up with friends and family, not necessarily writing and documenting. We've also had some maintenance type items to take care of during this time.
Our son, Tate, graduated from Vanderbilt on May 10. It was a wonderful time of celebration, meeting new friends and catching up with family who'd been absent for too long. We experienced the last moving out day at Vandy on the 11th, a few great dinners were had in Nashville and then back to Birmingham to retrieve furnishings out of storage for Tate to set up housekeeping back in Nashville. Tate is now pretty much settled into his new apartment. He'll start work as a Civil Engineer I on June 3rd.
Leaving Nashville after graduation festivities and on our way to Birmingham, we traveled to Florence, Alabama and spent the night with our friends, Robyn and Hank Sherrod. Always nice to see and visit with them and we're especially grateful for a great dinner out at Odette and being able to catch up on our laundry.
It was nice to visit Birmingham and catch up our friends and eat in a few of our favorite restaurants. Special note goes to our friends the Nolans and the Andersons who were very gracious in allowing us to, among other things, park Miranda in their driveways for periods of time.
On Sunday the 19th we were in Montgomery to attend March for Reproductive Freedom at the state capitol. The next day we traveled to Faunsdale, Alabama and spent the day with Melanie's dad. We then made our way into Florida to register Miranda and change our domicile to Green Cove Springs, Florida. We stayed in our first Florida State Park, Suwannee River State Park and spend a couple of days in St. Augustine too.
We experienced enough hot weather in Florida to know Miranda needs to be in a cooler climate when possible. Our trip to Florida was productive, even if it was too damn hot. And also discovered traveling 500 miles in one day when the temps are too hot is something to avoid. While we were scheduled to stop in Athens, Georgia for the night on our way out of Florida and before making our way to Tate City, Georgia, temperatures in the mid 90's in Athens upon our arrival there made the decision to press on to the cooler temperatures of the north Georgia mountains a no brainer.
We're in Tate City until tomorrow morning, then briefly south to Gainesville, Georgia to have the oil in Miranda's generator changed for the first time, then we head back north again chasing cooler temperatures staying in Long Creek, South Carolina at Chattooga Belle Farm and Distillery Thursday evening.
Our week here in Tate City has been great especially after the above average number of travel days we experienced over the last few weeks. We are grateful for the hospitality shown to us and the great times we've had with Trip and John. Long-time friends are indeed the best friends to have. They will be missed until the next time around.
Good afternoon, from Perry, Oklahoma and Perry Lake Campground, a pretty nice city-operated full-hookup campsite overlooking Perry Lake. Oklahoma is our 14th state since acquiring Miranda in late October of 2018. Perry Lake is just off I-35. We're headed south at the moment as we have obligations in the direction of Little Rock, Arkansas, Memphis, Tennessee and ultimately (short-term) Nashville for our son, Tate's, graduation from Vanderbilt University.
We are traveling a few hundred miles each day. Not something we have done, at least not on a daily basis, since we began traveling some four months ago.
We're coming off a very sobering experience in Denver the last week or so. The massacre of 12 at Columbine High School happened 20 years ago on April 20, 1999. Melanie participated in a number of gun violence related events culminating in several memorial services at various locations around the Denver area.
I wish I could assure you that the citizens of Littleton, Colorado where Columbine High is located, had their consciousness raised the day the massacre happened. I wish I could tell you they are all advocates for reasonable and sensible gun laws that would assist in preventing future mass shootings. I wish. Unfortunately, what they have done is harden Columbine High School making it a prison-like fortress. What they do is spend millions on security for the school system hoping to prevent another massacre.
We are both still processing all that happened. Melanie's taking a little down time after her busy schedule of events last week as we travel east.
Good afternoon from near Littleton, Colorado where we are located in Chatfield State Park. Chatfield is our third Colorado State Park in the past week or so and is another beauty. We're here for a few days before moving on to nearer downtown Denver for EPF meetings Melanie has this coming weekend.
Those who know me well, know one of my favorite genres of photography is photojournalism. The appeal, in part, is being there, having an opportunity to immerse myself in an event, attempting to see, through the lens, what's happening and to capture for others through images the moments I experience. Couple that with my love of portrait photography and sometimes magic happens.
Such was the case when I took some time to find out what was going on in Civic Center Park downtown Denver on April 20. After our obligatory trip to Voodoo Donuts for decadent breakfast, we made our way downtown, first coming across some protesters in front of Colorado's beautiful state capital. Nice folks out to make a statement on a sunny April day, just as several thousand folks were doing only a block away in Civic Center Park.
As you may expect, Denver's 420 celebration of ganja, weed, pot, marijuana, or whatever you call the green stuff of sweet dreams, was all about peace, love and the art of being high, some of the participants being very, very high. But you can judge that one for yourself. I'm only providing photo evidence for what, for me, was about as eclectic an experience of humans having fun and being themselves I've seen in some time.
April 20 marked 20 years since the 12 students and a faculty member were killed at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Melanie and I attended a memorial service in Clement Park.
Two things. I remembered little about the details surrounding the mass shooting that took place at Columbine High School 20 years ago and I knew nothing about Littleton, Colorado.
As the time drew near to begin the service, I remarked to Melanie that the crowd was..., how shall I put this..., white. Very Caucasian. This came in stark contrast to many, many places we've been on our travels thus far. And because the whiteness of it all caused such a visceral reaction in me, I thought it prudent before I wrote a single word, to do some research into Littleton and into the details of the Columbine massacre.
Littleton is indeed a very white suburb of Denver. They are 93% white. So, for comparison, using familiar territory, not quite as white as Mountain Brook, Alabama, but close. The median income is $67,133.00, or working class compared with Mountain Brook. Their population of just over 45,000 is more than double that of Mountain Brook.
The memorial service was, in essence, a pep rally. It's been twenty years, we're still standing, we feel stronger, healing is on going, but Columbine, hell, yeah.
While we were there, no one mentioned the "g" word. Not once, not in passing, not at all. The word "gun" was not uttered. Not by the preacher from the local mega-church, not the principal, nor the former principal at the time, now the superintendent of schools, and not the current student body president. I remembered, "Guns don't kill people..."
No one talked about the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. since Columbine and what may need to happen to stop it. Nothing to see here, we're doing okay. Columbine, hell, yeah. Nice place to raise a family too.
So, how have they succeeded in making Columbine safer? By investing 3.5 million dollars a year in security for the school district. This includes a staff of 127 people.
In a nation always awaiting the news of another school shooting, no community may be braced for that threat quite like the one surrounding Columbine High, a place forever defined by the 1999 attack that killed 13 people, wounded 24 more and ushered in an Internet-fueled era of mass violence. Twenty years later — the anniversary of the shooting is April 20 — Columbine is constantly invoked as the first name in the ever-growing list of campuses turned into crime scenes. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Santa Fe — each addition a reminder that this could happen anywhere, any time. Almost as if it were impossible to stop.
But all the while, Columbine has been figuring out how to do just that.
Here in the Denver suburbs, the district has built what is likely the most sophisticated school security system in the country: installing locks that can be remotely controlled and cameras that track suspicious people; setting up a 24-hour dispatch center and a team of armed patrol officers; monitoring troubled students and their social media; getting training from world-renowned psychologists and former SWAT commanders; researching and investing, practicing and re-practicing, all to ensure that when the next significant threat comes, it is stopped before the worst happens again.
And to be fair, the crowd was not really an all white crowd. I fibbed a bit on that. There was one person of color, a man who many in the crowd felt very strongly about and rose to give him a standing ovation when he came up on stage. He then proceeded to lead us all in a cheer, a long and raucous cheer. Columbine, hell yeah.
Least we forget the real import here. We all continue to live in a murder lottery. Every day.