October 19, 2019
On the 27th of this month Melanie and I will have spent a year's time living and traveling the United States of America in our home on wheels, Miranda. As I type this, I'm in the mountains of north Georgia visiting with friends, Melanie is currently traveling out of country on a work-related trip. What a year it has been.
To give you some idea of the kind of year we've had, we have parked Miranda in 123 distinct places and traveled through 32 states. By the time October 2019 has expired, Miranda is likely to have close to 25,000 miles logged on the odometer.
Over the next few days leading up to our one year anniversary, I hope to type in some thoughts about our year in Miranda.
People ask periodically, what place(s) are favorite(s).
For me, the Grand Canyon, Big Bend and Acadia National Park are difficult to beat when it comes to scenic places to play. I also enjoyed my time in Santa Fe, New Mexico, San Antonio, Texas, Austin, Texas, Tucson, Arizona, and crazy middle-of-no-where, Marfa, Texas. No particular order.
My favorite camping spot was Overlook Campground, Chinle, New Mexico. Remote and beautiful. As with many things like a camping spot, timing is an essential element. I've read reviews of Overlook Campground campsite complaining of the locals, the noise and, if I remember correctly, some unsavory characters. There was one other camper at Overlook when we were there. He was a traveling artist and we bought a rock painted like a dog head from him. Al, named after the artist, is our pet rock dog who lies on the floor on Melanie's side of the van. He's a good boy. Really quiet too. No barking. I do imagine, however, he'd pack a vicious impact on someone's head, if such a thing ever became necessary. Guard dog rock.
He's been missing Melanie too. Jus' sayin'.
Melanie tells me that highlights for her include, in no particular order of preference, Lake Michigan (Monroe, Grand Haven, Ludington and Traverse City) shore towns, Big Bend National Park, Acadia National Park, Cleveland, Ohio, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Vermont. I can't disagree. It has been and continues to be difficult to choose which experience and where might be considered "the best."
A Checklist is Necessary
I'm sitting in a KOA campground in Natural Bridge, Virginia this morning having coffee and breakfast pondering our travels. In case you will wonder, no, I will not be taking in the actual Natural Bridge located nearby this time through. I may never take it in and, of course, will most likely be missing something extraordinary. The town is called Natural Bridge. It must be something. Such is life on the road. It's not just a vacation and sometimes one simply doesn't feel very touristy. Right now another cup of coffee sounds better.
Melanie is traveling in the Middle East for work and has been away since October 11. I miss her for many reasons but one of them is having her around to run through our RV pre-departure checklist before we move each time. It's a ritual, it's the mundane stuff of travel, but we've found that skipping it, skimming it or ignoring it will cost you.
Going through it without her makes me miss her all the more, especially since I'm generally the one reading out items as she checks to make sure they are done, except for items performed outside the vehicle like tire pressure. I have no one to blame except myself if something isn't right, at least for two more sleeps anyway.
Since I've been a backpacker all my adult life, having a checklist for this kind of camping was a natural thing. Backpacking often puts you miles away from a trailhead and miles away from some essential item you may need for survival. My brother (from another mother) and life-long backpacking friend, John, is the master of the backpacking checklist. He'd spreadsheet every item (weigh it too) and then we'd discuss who would bring and/or carry what items. The checklist was always one of the essentials when planning a backpacking trip. While we now know pretty much what items of clothing, kitchen wares, etc. we need and use, the following is maybe the most essential check list for van life.
Blue Jobs and Pink Jobs
We're back in Summit, New Jersey at our friend, Diana's home. Melanie is back from the Middle East.
Never was the concept of teamwork more apparent than recently when Melanie was away for a few weeks. Moving and operating the van became a much slower process with me checking the Pre-departure list twice at times.
Before we purchased Miranda, we traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to test drive a Leisure Travel Van. I was in touch with Don Klassen, Territory Sales Manager for Leisure Travel Vans, and he agreed to allow us to drive the van in which he was currently traveling.
He jokingly (sort of) told us that if we were to purchase a van we'd have to make a list of "blue and pink jobs." Melanie quickly picked up on the reference and replied all van jobs would be blue jobs. She was along for the ride.
While there are no gender-specific jobs, no list of Steven or Melanie jobs, each of us has things we perform to keep Miranda, and our lives, running smoothly. It's the proverbial well-oiled machine at this point.
Location, Location, Locations
Over the past year, Melanie, Miranda and I have spent days and weeks in a variety of locations from National Parks to driveways of friends (where we are now), State Parks, and locations using services to which we subscribe.
Because of Melanie's work, some of our best locations have been staying with people (and new friends) who are affiliated with the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. We've made new friends and chuckled about what people who haven't any idea about us or Miranda, but have offered a place for Miranda to park sight unseen, think before we actually show up. I mean, two people from Alabama traveling full-time in an RV coming to visit. Cousin Eddie and Christmas Vacation may come to mind.
We use Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Hosts, two services for which we pay a yearly fee and for which we can then stay a night or two without incurring a fee. Each service has something unique to offer and we generally utilize these services when we don't necessarily need to have power, water or sewer connections.
The driveways of friends are also places we like. They offer a chance to catch up with friends both new and old.
We've also stayed in the parking lots of Bass Pro Shops a few times. They don't offer anything with the exception of a security patrol because of the boats they have on site. While both Cracker Barrel and Walmart parking lots are available, we've never had to or chosen to stay with them.
Each location has something to offer and all of them are essential to our enjoyment of full-time travel.
The Year Ahead
We leave Summit Monday, October 28th, and after events in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island we'll drive south to North Carolina to visit friends, Tennessee, to visit our son, and then head towards the southwest for winter.
Our current plan is to move into Nevada, California and work our way up the west coast then come spring move across the top of the country. Watch this space.
Miranda's parked on the street next to Christ's Church Rye this morning. One of Melanie's EPF board members, Rev. Michael Kurth, is Curate here. She will worship at 10:00 and then we'll have lunch with Michael before we travel to Molly Stark State Park in Vermont.
Before moving down the road too much farther, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how grateful we are (once again) to our friend, Diana Kyser, who lives in Summit, New Jersey for allowing us to park Miranda in her driveway for a few days so we could, among other things attend Climate Strike New York City. We also took in the Biennial with Diana yesterday at the Whitney Museum of Art. It was good visiting with her and the dogs and we look forward to seeing them again in October before Melanie travels to Palestine.
Another note of gratitude goes to out Diane and Jim Paterson who reside in Georgetown, Maine just outside of Bath, Maine.
They hosted us for a few days before and after a very successful EPF event in Bath at Grace Episcopal Church which Diane organized. Not only did the Paterson's allow us to park Miranda at their lovely home along the Maine coast, but they gave us use of one of their Subarus (the official state car of Maine and Vermont) and use of their cottage which sits adjacent to their home.
Because of Georgetown's relative remoteness, I was able to get out on the road on Red Ranger and ride around Georgetown and to Reid State Park which is about 4 miles from Jim and Diane's home. What a great resource for the residents.
We appreciate their generosity and are happy we have two new friends in Maine. We look forward to spending more time with them when we are back through the area.
Good afternoon from Chewonki Campground on the coast of Maine.
We're here for a few days before heading south to Bath, Maine, we'll park Miranda in Georgetown, for an EPF event this coming Sunday.
Our recent time in Essex Junction, Vermont was a great experience thanks to our hosts John Heermans and Cecilia Polansky. They allowed us to park Miranda in front of their barn for a few days, showed us around Essex Junction and Burlington, Vermont, cooked for us, and took us out to their favorite local pub for dinner.
Melanie and I really enjoyed all our time in Vermont and are very grateful for time spent with John and Cec and for their generosity. We look forward to seeing them again in Bath.
Yesterday, while walking downtown, we happened on the Burlington Pride Parade. A few IPhone snaps later.
When fellow campers left a messy campsite and went out for the day, wild horses came through and checked out the leavings.
Assateague's horses are beautiful, tough, and wild. They have learned to survive in a harsh environment. Feeding and/or petting them is detrimental to both visitors and horses. Horses can get sick from human food. Those that learn to come up to the road to beg for food are often hit and killed by cars. Visitors are kicked, bitten and knocked down every year as a direct result of getting too close to the wild horses. Treating wild horses like tame animals takes away the wildness that makes them special. Protect your family by respecting theirs. Give the horses the space they need to be wild. (National Park Service)
Located on Virginia's Eastern Shore, Kiptopeke State Park is a gem. Older campground with adequate amenities. The drive over from Norfolk on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is worth the price of admission.
Good afternoon from Nags Head, North Carolina where Melanie and I have just finished a good lunch at a local seafood establishment. We're sitting in a parking lot near the restaurant. She's working Episcopal Peace Fellowship (EPF) and I'm contemplating the universe for a few minutes before we drive south to our friends, Aida and John's, home Sunrise Over Salvo on Cape Hatteras.
Our visit home to Birmingham and subsequent travels to Montgomery and Hayneville and Selma have weighed on me a bit since we left.
I've now traveled to the The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and The Legacy Museum twice. Both times I was painfully reminded of how white washed (literally) was my understanding growing up in Columbus, Georgia of the treatment of black folks well before and after the Civil War. Visiting the memorial and museum should be mandatory, as a minimum, for all Alabama school children and those wanting a better understanding of slavery and its aftermath.
I grew up in the 50's and 60's living in an all white milieu where I rarely had any contact with people of color. My parents were high school graduates, both were democrats, that is, FDR democrats. They supported John F. Kennedy and were devastated when he was assassinated. They were not progressive or liberal in any sense we now understand those terms. They were raised up during the Great Depression and remembered jobs created by FDR's New Deal. My father's family was poor and he recalled being hungry at times.
My parents were racists. The "N" word was casually tossed around from time to time. My maternal grandmother sported one of those vanity tags on her car that had a confederate soldier holding a confederate flag. The tag read, "Hell no, I ain't forgettin'." You may have seen one of them. I don't doubt they're still a thing somewhere.
After I began practicing law, I left my parent's home in Georgia on one occasion shortly after arriving for a visit when my father casually inquired about my "N" word law partner. I remember saying before walking out the door that they hadn't raised me to think about people of color that way. But really, they had.
Somewhere along the way I escaped the gravity that is contained in bigotry and prejudice and realized many things I was taught and exposed to growing up regarding people of color were wrong and hurtful and, frankly, just ignorant.
Though my pastor was a kind and intelligent man who had a positive influence on my life, many in our small Baptist Church community were also racists. Certainly one of the messages I was taught in church came from that familiar song we sang;
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red, brown, yellow
Black and white
They are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children
Of the world.
One of my best neighborhood friends, Mark's, father, George, was also an influence. George, was a former seminarian turned atheist. He was a reader and a free thinker. I could, and did, converse with him about things on my young mind. He had very progressive ideas about many things, race relations being one.
I am the first, and only person, in my immediate family to attend university. My experience of being exposed to different ideas, like many before me in similar circumstances, was of feeling as though I'd removed my head from the sand, of being an alien in my own family. It's hard not to feel overwhelmed when realizing your socialization contained some pretty fucked up notions.
My experience tells me people are malleable especially when they are young. Myths regarding human nature are not easily dislodged from willing minds, even in the face of counter evidence of their falsity. Sometimes the lessons we learn as children are simply difficult to unlearn. We often don't know that we don't have good information. I am fortunate to have been shown the importance of critical independent thinking. And forgiveness.
I recently posted the following to my FaceBook page. It's from Michael Gerson, President George W. Bush's former chief speech writer. It's worth a repost here:
I had fully intended to ignore President Trump’s latest round of racially charged taunts against anAfrican American elected official, and an African American activist, and an African American journalist and a whole city with a lot of African Americans in it. I had every intention of walking past Trump’s latest outrages and writing about the self-destructive squabbling of the Democratic presidential field, which has chosen to shame former vice president Joe Biden for the sin of being an electable, moderate liberal.
But I made the mistake of pulling James Cone’s 'The Cross and the Lynching Tree' off my shelf — a book designed to shatter convenient complacency. Cone recounts the case of a white mob in Valdosta, Ga., in 1918 that lynched an innocent man named Haynes Turner.
Turner’s enraged wife, Mary, promised justice for the killers. The sheriff responded by arresting her and then turning her over to the mob, which included women and children. According to one source, Mary was 'stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground and was stomped to death.'
God help us. It is hard to write the words. This evil — the evil of white supremacy, resulting in dehumanization, inhumanity and murder — is the worst stain, the greatest crime, of U.S. history. It is the thing that nearly broke the nation. It is the thing that proved generations of Christians to be vicious hypocrites. It is the thing that turned normal people into moral monsters, capable of burning a grieving widow to death and killing her child.
When the president of the United States plays with that fire or takes that beast out for a walk, it is not just another political event, not just a normal day in campaign 2020.
It is a cause for shame. It is the violation of martyrs’ graves. It is obscene graffiti on the Lincoln Memorial. It is, in the eyes of history, the betrayal — the re-betrayal — of Haynes and Mary Turner and their child. And all of this is being done by an ignorant and arrogant narcissist reviving racist tropes for political gain, indifferent to the wreckage he is leaving, the wounds he is ripping open.
Like, I suspect, many others, I am finding it hard to look at resurgent racism as just one in a series of presidential offenses or another in a series of Republican errors. Racism is not just another wrong. The Antietam battlefield is not just another plot of ground. The Edmund Pettus Bridge is not just another bridge. The balcony outside Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel is not just another balcony. As U.S. history hallows some causes, it magnifies some crimes.
What does all this mean politically? It means that Trump’s divisiveness is getting worse, not better. He makes racist comments, appeals to racist sentiments and inflames racist passions. The rationalization that he is not, deep down in his heart, really a racist is meaningless. Trump’s continued offenses mean that a large portion of his political base is energized by racist tropes and the language of white grievance. And it means — whatever their intent — that those who play down, or excuse, or try to walk past these offenses are enablers.
Some political choices are not just stupid or crude. They represent the return of our country’s cruelest, most dangerous passion. Such racism indicts Trump. Treating racism as a typical or minor matter indicts us.
I'm realizing more with each passing day just how important are the contacts Melanie and I make as we travel the country in support of EPF and the ideas and issues for which Melanie, EPF, all the Peace Parishes, and EPF membership advocate. In these troubled times we are both grateful for each and everyone who is willing.
We not only continue to make new friends along the way, but are helping build a coalition of like-minded people who themselves can actively assist in further raising consciousness in support of work being done. We are grateful for all the good works we discover being done and thankful for all the help with EPF's mission Melanie (and I) have gotten along the way.
We are currently enjoying some time at the beach with good friends John and Aida, but we'll be traveling on Saturday north from here towards National Monument, Fort Monroe, and the 400th anniversary commemorations of the first enslaved Africans brought to the shores of North America.
Sunrise on Cape Hatteras
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.