The Coronavirus Pandemic has caused many changes to our normal routine. While for most people that means wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, in our case it affects where we live. We normally spend our winters in Key West, but the RV park at the Naval Air Station remains closed so that wasn’t an option. The RV park at Patrick Air Force Base near Cocoa Beach, FL is a favorite location, but they don’t accept reservations and we didn’t want to base where we would stay from November through March on a “roll of the dice.” Many people we know from Key West have stayed at the Recreation Plantation near The Villages and were talking about spending the winter there instead of Key West. Based on all of this we made a reservation at Recreation Plantation.
So far it has been a great choice. While we miss the camaraderie of our “military family” at Key West, many of them are here, and the other “residents” of Recreation Plantation are very welcoming. There is plenty to do here. We are right next to The Villages and there is a system of golf cart/bicycle/walking paths through The Villages we can use. It makes for a nice, scenic ride without having to worry about vehicle traffic. There are many places to shop and eat within a short ride from the RV park. The park has an Activities Office that coordinates several events within the park. The Coronavirus has caused several to be cancelled, but the staff and residents have been very creative in keeping the place hopping.
There is a Thursday morning gathering for free coffee and donuts where they make general announcements about park activities. There is a trailer with fresh produce for sale on Thursdays and one morning there was a blood drive that I supported. I am easily bribed with free juice and cookies and a Wal-Mart gift card!
We celebrated Thanksgiving by inviting another couple Mike and Judy, friends from Key West, to join us for Thanksgiving dinner. Pat baked a turkey and apple pie and our friends brought side dishes. We ate at our picnic table and enjoyed a great meal with great company. I took pictures of the turkey and the pie, but we were having such a good time I forgot to get any pictures of the people! 😦
The local town of Lady Lake held a Christmas parade that was very entertaining.
After Thanksgiving, we decorated our trailer with Christmas decorations. Usually we would have to take these down after a few days because we would fly back to Michigan for the holidays and store the trailer somewhere else. This year we were not flying back home because of the pandemic and not storing the trailer, so they could stay up! Our big decoration is our outdoor tree made out of lights we used to hang on our house.
I discovered that a local SCUBA dive shop, Underwater Adventures, was offering the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Rescue Diver course. I have wanted to take this course for a long time and decided to take advantage of the opportunity.
The course was challenging, mentally as much as physically. I was fortunate to have been a Red Cross Safety Programs Field Representative and, as a result, an Instructor-Trainer in both First Aid and Water Safety. That training and experience was a great help in completing this course. The course included preventing and dealing with equipment failures, assisting divers in trouble both underwater and on the surface. We did the open water diving at Alexander Springs, part of the Ocala National Forest. Our instructor wanted to do this training in poorer visibility, but I was happy to swim in the crystal clear water of the spring. The practical examination in open water was definitely challenging. Doing mouth to mouth rescue breathing while treading water was tough when I was 40, it was even more so at 71 years old!
I don’t see myself becoming a Divemaster or Instructor, but do feel that I am now a much safer diver and will be able to safely and effectively assist other divers who may be experiencing difficulties.
One Sunday morning (at about 1:00 am) we awoke to a whooshing sound and the strong smell of ammonia. When I went outside to investigate I found that the cooling unit of our refrigerator had ruptured and ammonia was spewing out of a rusted pipe. After almost ten years on the road and constant use, it was not surprising that it died. Granted, that didn’t make us happy about it. The next morning I called around and made arrangements to get it repaired at RV Specialist in nearby Leesburg. We had to leave our RV with them overnight for the repair and we took advantage of this to get a hotel room in Disney Springs and see the Christmas lights and displays. We picked up our rig the next morning and our refrigerator is now operating like it was brand new again.
December 12th was the Army-Navy Game. Unlike the past few years when we were at Patrick AFB and this was a big deal, we didn’t find anyone in the park that was hosting a game party, so we did our own thing and cheered Army on to victory. We have no doubt that our enthusiastic support was key to the victory for the Black Knights.
One of the local churches set up an outdoor Christmas light display and it was a pleasure to see the religious symbols of the season in lights.
I usually practice playing my guitar outside our RV in the afternoon and many of the people who had stopped by to listen, encouraged me to do a performance for the park. On December 14th I used the back of our pickup for a stage and held a “Music on the Lawn” performance. It was unique, compared to other campgrounds. In the past people would show up with their lawn chairs, but here it was like a “drive in theater” for golf carts! It was fun and I put on my Santa hat to finish the performance with Christmas Carols.
On December 17th the park had a lighted Christmas Parade for golf carts and bicycles. We decorated our bikes with gift wrap and lights. What a lot of fun! Did I tell you there are a lot of golf carts around here? I discovered that Florida has regulations for golf carts and “Low Speed Vehicles” (LSV). LSVs are super golf carts with higher standards (turn signals, exterior rear view mirrors, head lights, and seat belts. These are considered street legal and you see them all over town.
Wreaths Across America is a non-profit charity that coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at more than 2,100 locations across the United States and abroad While most of the effort is on national cemeteries, some local ones participate. We volunteered this year at the Lady Lake Cemetery.
On December 22nd I gave myself an early Christmas present – a Total Knee Replacement on my right knee. Look for more information on this in a future post.
We celebrated Christmas Day with some Key West friends, Roger and Bonnie Ford, and Rusty and Charito Schlagheck. Roger and Bonnie hosted us at their motor home. A great meal with great friends – a true Merry Christmas!
Our decision to stay at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point was not just a whim. It was the right distance along our route to Florida, we had never stayed there before, and we had friends in the area. The last factor was the most important one. Pelican Point RV Park at Cherry Point is a nice, little park. It offers spacious, full hook up sites with concrete pads. It’s away from the main portion of the base, so it quiet, but it’s a short bike ride to get to the Base Exchange and Commissary. There is a kayak launch on to Slocum Creek right next to the RV park.
We met Jim and Cindy Rose at Patrick AFB last year. They started their fulltime RV journey from the Havelok area. I noticed on Facebook that they would be at Cherry Point when we were scheduled through the area. Lynn Hector and Dave and Clara Inscoe are old friends from Key West and live in the area.
It didn’t take long to link up with Jim and Cindy and we met for lunch at their rig. Jim started playing the ukulele while we were at Patrick last year and we spent the afternoon jamming and sharing songs with each other. Unfortunately we were having so much fun I forgot to take any pictures!
One day we picked up Lynn at her house and drove to meet Dave and Clara at their place in Beaufort, NC. Beaufort is a picturesque community, right on the Atlantic coast near Cape Lookout.
The weather wasn’t very good and we hung out and talked until it cleared a bit. Dave and Clara took us on a boat ride around the Beaufort waterfront and regaled us with stories of fishing the area. They live in the house Clara grew up in and the history was entertaining. Clara’s ancestors had been lighthouse keepers at Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras, and her dad had been a boat builder.
Dinner that night was fish fresh caught by Dave and Clara the previous day. Wow! There was plenty to eat and it was delicious.
Dave and I tried to get out sailing a couple of times but the winds were either too strong or too light and we couldn’t make it happen. However, we were able to get back out on their boat when Dave took Pat and I out to Shackleford Banks. This is part of the National Park Service and is only accessible by boat. We walked the beach and picked up shells and had a lot of fun. Dave is a great tour guide with a host of historical knowledge about the area.
We hung out for the remainder of the time we were there and left on November 4th en-route to Recreation Plantation in Lady Lake, FL.
We traveled from Maryland to Virginia and camped at the Kings Creek RV Park at the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station. This is a very nice park with concrete pads and full hookups. It is well off the beaten path which is a mixture of good and bad. It’s good because it is nice and quiet. It’s not so good because it is not close to much of anything. Fortunately it is in the middle of the Historic Triangle. The Historic Triangle includes the three historic colonial communities of Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown. What a great base to explore Colonial America!
We started our exploration by visiting the Yorktown Battlefield. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing many modifications to local attractions. Many of the local museums and exhibits are either closed or limited in scope. For example, the Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center is closed, but the battlefield can still be toured. There was a Ranger on duty outside the Visitor Center to give advice, maps, and guides, but no Ranger-led tours. On his advice, we downloaded the Yorktown Tour App (available for iPhone and Android). This provided us with a narration for every stop on the Battlefield. The app also includes a tour for Historic Yorktown.
The Battle of Yorktown was a decisive victory by a combined force of American Continental Army troops led by General George Washington, and French Army troops led by the Comte de Rochambeau. They defeated the British army commanded by General Charles Cornwallis. The siege proved to be the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary War. The surrender by Cornwallis prompted the British government to negotiate an end to the conflict.
The guide led us to the critical places on the battlefield. The two places that impressed me the most were Redoubts 9 and 10 and the Surrender Field. Redoubts 9 and 10 were part of the outer fortifications of the British Army. The Americans and French could not defeat Cornwallis until these positions were taken. On the night of October 14, 1781, the French attacked Redoubt 9 and the Americans attacked Redoubt 10. The allies approached with unloaded muskets and fixed bayonets. Sappers (Engineer soldiers) led the way with axes to chop through the log abatis (log obstacles) that protected the redoubt. Looking inside the redoubts I was amazed that the defenders and attackers would even fit inside. The attacks were successful and the defeat of Cornwallis’ Army was close at hand. The assault on Redoubt 10 is even highlighted in the National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, GA.
The Surrender Field was where the British Army formally surrendered to the French and the Americans. General Cornwallis claimed illness so he wouldn’t have to personally surrender to what he felt was an inferior enemy. When Cornwallis’ deputy General O’Hara, leading the British troops, tried to surrender to the French, General Rochambeau calmly pointed to General Washington. Washington was so enraged by Cornwallis’s snub that he directed his Deputy Commander, General Benjamin Lincoln to accept the surrender.
After the Battlefield Tour we parked and walked around Yorktown. It’s a small, quiet community and it made me wonder what it must be like to live in a “living museum.” We visited the Yorktown Victory Monument. On October 24, 1781, LTC Tilghman, Washington’s Aide de Camp, reached Philadelphia and advised the Continental Congress of Washington’s victory at Yorktown. Five days later the Congress authorized the construction of the Victory Monument. It was to be, “a marble column, adorned with emblems of the alliance between the United States and his Most Christian Majesty.” However, the monument was not constructed until 100 years later. This should have been an early warning to anyone who expected the government to act quickly on anything.
After dinner at the Yorktown Pub, we walked to the Yorktown Riverwalk Landing and attended an outdoor concert. This was part of a series of free concerts presented by York County and we enjoyed both the setting and the music. Ice cream cones from Ben & Jerry’s was a special treat!
The Jamestown Settlement is a good mix of indoor and outdoor exhibits. All of the outdoor exhibits have living history docents to explain and demonstrate how the early settlers lived. Our first stop was the Powhatan Village.
Next stop was the Jamestown Wharf. Here we were able to board and explore a replica of the Susan Constant, one of the three ships the original Jamestown settlers traveled aboard from England. A new fact I learned was that the passengers were considered cargo and had no living quarters. They would eat and sleep on the exposed deck or wedged in among the casks and bundles of the non-human cargo. I can’t imagine how much fun a cross-Atlantic voyage would have been in those conditions!
James Fort was constructed to protect the settlers from foreign attackers and the local Indian tribes. Throughout the days of the settlement, relations with the Indian tribes were tenuous. The spread of the settlers into traditional Indian hunting grounds was a constant irritant and the poor communications between the two groups only acerbated the situation. For example; in 1609, Chief Powhatan ordered a siege of James Fort that led to the “Starving Time” that killed all but 60 of the settlers. The folk tale of Pocahontas marrying John Smith is mere fiction. In fact she was kidnapped in a raid by the settlers. However, she did marry John Rolfe in 1614, a marriage that resulted in a seven-year peace.
The inside exhibits are impressive. They describe, in detail, the challenges faced by the settlers and the Indians as they strove to coexist in the area.
On Wednesday, October 7th, we checked out a local distillery and a winery. It was an interesting exploration of different tastes. One of the unique aspects of the Copper Fox Distillery was that it had been a “speakeasy” with a doorway hidden by a bookcase. The Williamsburg Winery offered a great view in addition to some fine wines.
Thursday, we drove to Fort Monroe. This fort was built in 1834 and is the largest stone fort built in the United States. It was vital to the coastal defense of the U.S for hundreds of years. This was the headquarters for the Army Training and Doctrine Command until 2011, when it was designated as a National Monument. What I found most interesting is that the quarters in the fort can now be rented through the Fort Monroe Authority. Some lucky family is now living in the former quarters of 2LT Robert E. Lee and his wife! The fort also houses the Casemate Museum that chronicles the history of Fort Monroe and features a room where Confederate President Jefferson Davis was held prisoner following the Civil War. There is also a guide for a walking tour of the fort available.
Friday, we went back to Yorktown to tour the American Revolution Museum. This, like the Jamestown Settlement, is operated by the State of Virginia. If you’re in the area I suggest that you visit both of these museums, be sure to buy the pass for entrance to both museums and get a 15% discount. The displays and movies were just outstanding! I particularly liked the personal stories contained in many of the exhibits. There were outdoor displays of a Continental Army encampment and a tobacco farm. The encampment’s field kitchen was a circular trench with alcoves for the cooking fires. I found it interesting the Captain’s tents have not gotten any bigger over the last 200+ years!
On Monday, October 12th, we drove to Fort Eustis to shop at the commissary and tour the Army Transportation Museum. The last time I was at Fort Eustis, was decades ago when I was a student in the Surface Deployment Planning Course. The Museum has certainly improved since then. The exhibits traced the history of military transportation from the horse-drawn wagons and pack mules of the Revolution to the HUMVEEs and helicopters of today. Interestingly, the Army actually used pack mules again in parts of Afghanistan, some things never change! The Transportation Corps is the “Spearhead of Logistics.” You can have all the stuff you ever wanted, but if you can’t get it to where it needs to be, then it is worthless. While I spent the bulk of my career as an Infantry officer, I am both proud and have fond memories of the short time I was assigned to the Transportation Corps.
Some of the special events that are highlighted are
1. The motor convoy that traveled from coast to coast in 1919 to test the Army’s ability to move equipment over extended distances, led by Lieutenant Colonel Eisenhower.
2. The “Red Ball Express” in WW II to rush supplies to fast moving Allied forces in Europe.
3. Rebuilding and operating a railroad system in Europe after it was destroyed by pre-invasion bombing.
4. The deployment of forces to Saudi Arabia for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. My own Transportation Detachment, the 1009th Movement Control Team, was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation for supporting this effort.
The Transportation Corps operates trucks, but also operates trains, surface ships, and aircraft. These numbers may be out of date, but at one time, the Army had the fourth largest Navy and the tenth largest Air Force in the world.
We made one more trip to Yorktown to sail on the Schooner Alliance for a tour of the York River. It was a pleasant cruise, but we were disappointed by the lack of wind and we motored around the area most of the time. The crew did a great job narrating about the sites in the area. As we approached the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station we could see a submarine that was unloading its ammunition before going to the Norfolk Naval Station for maintenance and refitting. However, the highlight of the cruise was discovering a pod of dolphins. They entertained all of us with a great show as they played around our schooner.
After doing so much sightseeing in the area, we spent our last week taking it easy and enjoying the quiet of the campground. On October 21st, we departed for Havelock, NC and Marine Corps Air Station – Cherry Point.
It’s amazing what you can discover searching the internet. I can’t remember what I was looking for, but I stumbled across a discussion of kayaking on Mallows Bay in Maryland. The more I read, the more I was intrigued. There is a lot of history of the Liberty Ships, cargo ships that were mass produced for World War II. What I discovered was that between 1917 and 1919, during World War I more than 100 wooden steam ships were built for the U.S. Emergency Fleet. Their construction in forty shipyards and in seventeen states reflected the massive national wartime effort.
At the end of WWI, these ships, poorly constructed and now obsolete, had to be disposed of. Most of them were purchased by the Western Marine & Salvage Company and brought to Mallows Bay, off the Potomac River. Here they were stripped of their metal components, beached in Mallows Bay, and burned to the waterline. The burning occurred on November 7, 1925, and was the greatest destruction of ships at one time in U.S. history. During WWII, Bethlehem Steel Corporation dredged a salvage basin to recover the remaining metal components from the ships to support the war effort. After that was completed the ships were towed back into the bay.
In the 1960’s there was an attempt to remove the hulls in order to build a power generating station in the area. The House Committee on Government Operations identified that an aquatic habitat and ecosystem had been created by the hulls of these ships and declared their removal was unnecessary.
Charles County manages a day-use area at the site. The Ghost Fleet was designated as a National Treasure in 2017. The Chesapeake Bay Program and Charles County has published a guide that highlights sixteen of these wrecks for a self-guided tour.
The Accomac is the only steel-hulled vessel in Mallows Bay. It serviced the ferry route between Cape Charles and Norfolk until it suffered a fire and was taken out of service. It was scuttled in Mallows Bay in 1973.
The Benzonia was named after a Michigan town, served for a brief period during WWI and then sold to the Western Marine and Salvage Company.
The Three Sisters is a group of three wrecks: The Dertona, the “Heron Wreck,” and the Moosabee. The Dertoona was briefly in the coasting trade. The “Heron Wreck” is named for the frequent sightings of great blue herons on and about the site. The Moosabee carried timber logs to Europe from 1919 until 1922.
The Flower Pot Wrecks are two unidentified U.S. Shipping Board WWI ships. Both wrecks are overgrown with vegetation and fire damage is evident.
The SS Boone was named by the wife of President Woodrow Wilson. The Boone was launched in 1918. Her career was brief and it was sold for scrap in 1922.
We kayaked around the Ghost Fleet on Monday morning, September 28th. After lunch we drove to Fort Washington. Constructed from 1814 to 1824, this was the first permanent fort constructed to defend the Potomac River and the Nation’s Capital. In addition to touring the fort, we were able to see the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the Washington Monument.
We spent Tuesday doing some shopping and maintenance. On Wednesday, we headed for Yorktown, VA and America’s Historic Triangle.
On September 11, 2001 forty passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 fought the first battle of the War on Terror. We don’t know, but believe the terrorists intended to fly Flight 93 into the Capitol Building. Because of these brave actions Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, PA instead of the Capitol.
I have been fortunate to have visited this hallowed ground on three previous occasions. I led the Leadership Development Program for the Pittsburgh District of the Army Corps of Engineers from 2008 to 2013. During three of these years, my students and I visited the Flight 93 Memorial while it was being built by National Park Service and the Corps of Engineers. What an experience! We were able to see parts of the site that are not open to the public and hear the inside story of the challenges faced by these organizations.
We stayed at the Friendship Village RV Park near Bedford, PA. It’s a nice park and a relatively short drive to the Memorial. The day we toured the Memorial was overcast and dreary, and it set an appropriate somber tone for our visit. This was the first time that I was able to tour the new Visitor Center. It was quite a contrast from my first visit. Then the “Visitor Center” was nothing more than the pole barn that had been the headquarters for the National Transportation Safety Board, the FBI, and the County Coroner during the initial recovery. It displayed some of the initial items recovered from the crash and memorial items left by families of the passengers and crew, and nearby residents.
The new Visitor Center is a building filled with stories. Two huge outer walls trace the flight path of the aircraft prior to the crash. Inside the exhibits include the position of the passengers prior to the hijacking and their general location after the hijacking. This was compiled based on the seatback phones they used to call family. There are transcripts of some of those calls, radio calls from pilots and air traffic control personnel, and excerpts of radio and TV broadcasts. All of these made it real. It brought back memories of that terrible day when I heard the news in real time.
The approximate point of impact is marked with a huge boulder. The story of how the boulder was transported and placed is a testimony to the creativity and dedication to the private contractors, National Park Service, and Corps of Engineers personnel involved. The crash site itself is only accessible to Flight 93 passenger and crew family members.
From the Visitor Center we walked along a trail to the Memorial Plaza. This was constructed before the Visitor Center and memorializes the names of the forty passengers and crew in a wall constructed along the flight path. From the end of the wall you can see the boulder at the impact site.
From there we walked along the walkway through the forty hemlock groves back to the Visitor Center. On our way out of the Memorial we stopped at the Tower of Voices. This was the last part of the Memorial to be built. This tower has a system of forty wind chimes, representing the voices of the passengers and crew.
The next day we drove to the town of Bedford. We had been told by friends that it was a neat town with unique shops, and they were right! We stopped at the Visitor Bureau and picked up a map of a walking tour of the town. A couple of the most interesting stops were:
1. Fort Bedford Museum. This is a reconstruction of the original fort that was built in 1758 and was used as a supply point during the French and Indian War.
2. The Veterans Memorial honoring Bedford men and women who gave their lives in the service of their country.
3. The Lutheran Parish, not for the building but for the six panel door. The door was designed centuries ago to identify a house as a Christian home. The top four panels outline the shape of a cross. The bottom two panels depict an open Bible with the spine of the book in the center.
4. The most unique building was the Coffee Pot. In 1927 it was built in the shape of a coffee pot by Bert Koontz to draw business to his gas station that was next door. It served ice cream, hamburgers, and Coca-Cola. In 2004, in order to preserve it, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor (a historical organization) moved it to its present location.
On Friday we drove to meet some friends from Key West who live nearby in Hollidaysburg. Nelson and Kim are great friends and after a tour of their home, served up a terrific dinner. Nelson is an accomplished musician and we often play together in Key West, I have learned SO much from him!
The campground hosted a Bluegrass Festival on Saturday and I was able to listen to couple of bands, it was a nice way to spend an afternoon.
Sunday, September 27th we headed down the road to Joint Base Andrews, southeast of Washington, DC.
We had a nice visit with our family in Washington and returned on July 25th Just in time for me to join a picnic of a veteran’s group I belong to, the 425th Regimental Association. Almost everyone there was wearing masks and/or maintaining a good social distance. You could tell the pandemic was having an impact. This event normally has around 150 people attending; this year was less than fifty.
We returned to Bad Axe, picked up our trailer, and said our good-byes and thanks to Geri and Marcia. The next stop was Traverse City State Park. State parks are sometimes a challenge for rigs of our size, but we were fortunate to reserve a site that was big enough and was easy to back our trailer into it. I had forgotten how crowded some of the older state parks can be, but everyone seemed to be practicing mask-wearing and social distancing.
There is a long “Rails to Trails” path that runs behind the campground and we used it for exercising and exploring. One should not visit the Traverse City area without visiting at least one winery. The local wineries had modified or closed their tasting rooms. We had toured the wineries on previous visits and decided one would be enough for this trip. We chose the Grand Traverse Winery. Masks were required and the number of people was limited with marks on the floor to maintain distance. Other than a Plexiglas shield at the counter and the server wearing a mask, it was a traditional tasting. We enjoyed many of the wines we sampled and purchased a bottle on our way out.
We went out to dinner on our last night in town. We found a delightful little restaurant that serves authentic pasties. It had been years since we had one and that made the choice of restaurants easy. The sidewalk dining was the icing on the cake.
On Friday, July 31st we left Traverse City and drove to Ludington, MI.
We were not able to get reservations at Ludington State Park, so we stayed at the Vacation Station RV Park. It is a nice park! Full hookups, back in and pull-through sites, cable TV, and Wi-Fi. The sites are nice and big with level concrete pads, a big change from the state park.
One of the first things we did on Saturday was to take our kayaks to Ludington State Park and kayak on Hamlin Lake. After paddling through the islands near the state park shoreline, we portaged our kayaks below the dam and paddled downstream to Lake Michigan (My dad always called it the “big lake.”) Both Traverse City and Ludington State Parks were very full. People are happy that the state park campgrounds are open again. Out in Lake Michigan, we could see the crowds on the beach in front of the beach house. The beach house was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935 and has always been one of my favorite Ludington landmarks.
The next day we hiked to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse. This light was built in 1867 and was turned over to the State of Michigan by the Coast Guard in 1972 once the light was no longer needed. After a trail lunch on the beach, we hiked along the shoreline to the beach house. Another great day!
On Tuesday, August 4th we made the short drive to School Section Lake Veterans Park Campground. My sister, Susan, lives a short distance away in Canadian Lakes, a big-time golfing community. Seeing her was our primary reason for this stop. We met her at her place for dinner that night and caught up on all kinds of things. As my only sibling, she is special to us.
School Section Lake Veterans Park Campground is a nice place to stay. As with many county parks, they have a large number of seasonal campsites so we were happy we were able to get a good site. They have a large, open field in the center of the campground, which I like because it makes it easy to back into the sites on the perimeter. This is a historical campground as it is the site of a Negro settlement from back in the 1860s. Old Settler Reunions of the families of those early settlers began in the 1890s and have continued to the present. There is a nice swimming beach with rental canoes and kayaks as well as a concession building.
Susan came out to join us for dinner and we treated her to my “famous” BBQ Baby Back ribs. We had another great evening together and we walked around and down to the beach before she left.
Our last day in the campground was devoted to washing the trailer and cleaning out a clogged kitchen drain. When you live in your RV, daily life continues.
On Friday, August 7th we drove to Lansing, MI where we stayed at the Lansing Cottonwood Campground. Because we lived in the Lansing area until we began our full-time RV journey, we make stops here to see doctors and our financial advisor, as well as friends and our son, David.
This is one of our favorite campgrounds because it is so convenient to Lansing. It is located within the city limits on the south end of town. The Lansing River Trail is about a quarter-mile from the campground and will take you to almost anywhere you want to go in Lansing and East Lansing (Michigan State University).
Our son, David, still lives and works in the area and we were able to have him over for dinner, conversation, and table games several times. His big news was that he was moving to a new apartment. Of course, we offered our help and our truck to assist him in moving. He enlisted the help of many of his friends who showed up in force and with an enclosed trailer. The trailer was an essential piece of equipment as it was raining on the day he moved.
Our days were filled with exercising by walking or biking on the Lansing River Trail, appointments with our dentist and financial advisor, and generally practicing the “fine art of doing nothing.” It’s always interesting staying in a park for an extended period of time. We watched neighbors come and go and some of our neighbors had very unique circumstances. For example, one of our neighbors was a family having repairs done to the foundation of their home and moved into the campground to live in a tent, expecting to be there for a week or so. They ended up staying in the park for almost a month. Another of our neighbors was from Alaska, and working in the area for several months. Occasionally, many campers would come in for softball tournaments and we would watch them come and go from the ball diamonds.
We took a day to go kayaking on the Looking Glass River in DeWitt. The local communities have upgraded the kayak launches so it is much easier to launch and recover kayaks. The Looking Glass is a fun river to paddle. You are often paddling through residential areas and communities, but you are secluded enough that you feel like you are in northern Michigan. During the spring, the river is often so high that it overflows its banks and you can paddle through backyards and picnic shelters. However, in the late summer, we found it quite shallow in some spots and a bit of a challenge.
Late in our stay, I made a presentation of the history of Company F (RANGER), 425th Infantry to the Headquarters of the Michigan National Guard for their library. This was the unit I commanded in Pontiac, MI, and I was a co-author with COL Don Bugg, who had preceded me in command.
We were able to visit with several of our friends in the area, either meeting them for dinner or inviting them to join us in the campground. I worked with the management of the campground to do two folk music performances that we called “Music on the Lawn,” on the grassy area across from the office. It was fun and many of the campers enjoyed the performances. Shortly before we left, our neighbor from Alaska asked if we could play together on our guitars. It was a nice way to end our visit to Michigan.
On September 23rd we left Michigan and our next stop is Pennsylvania and the Flight 93 Memorial.
Hiking medallions have been a long-standing tradition in Europe and have become increasingly popular in the United States. I have been hiking and backpacking for years. One year I was with my Boy Scout troop (I was the Scoutmaster) and I found a nice maple branch that had broken off of the tree. It was about the right length and relatively straight so I kept it to use as a hiking staff. A few years later my wife, Pat, suggested that I might use it as a record of where I had hiked. It sounded like a good idea and I toyed with the idea of wood-burning the trail names and dates, but never pursued that thought.
In 2011, Pat and I became fulltime RVers. One of our first major stops was Acadia National Park in Maine. We had just finished hiking to the top of Cadillac Mountain and stopped to browse the Visitor Center. In the gift shop, we discovered our first hiking stick medallion – that started my new hobby! I still had my staff from that Scout camp, and my medallion from Cadillac Mountain was the first one to adorn it. A couple of years ago I retired that staff from active use. It had developed a crack at the bottom and I was afraid that it would split. My daughter blessed me with a pair of telescoping trekking poles that Christmas to replace it. It was a good thing because I was running out of room on my old staff – now I didn’t have to leave room at the top and bottom and I could continue to add to my collection.
In our travels, Pat and I have hiked all over the United States and other countries as well. I haven’t been able to find medallions for all of our hikes, but I have for most of them.
Most medallions are made from light metal that can be gently shaped by hand to fit on hiking staffs, paddles, or anything else you want to use. Because the medal is so light, I find where I want to place it on the staff and gently bend it, either with my hand or a pair of needle-nose pliers, to fit the shape of the staff. My staff is a natural branch so I occasionally run into small knots and I try to position the medallion to avoid those. The light medal allows me to bend it around the knot. Short brad style nails are normally included with the medallion. The brief instructions that accompany the medallion suggest pre-drilling the holes. I normally use a one-inch finishing nail as a pre-drilling tool. I tap the finishing nail in a small fraction of an inch to start the hole. Then I will hold the small brad in place with my needle-nose pliers and gently tap the brad completely into the wood. Some of my more recent purchases have come with a glue backing. This is nice, but I prefer the security of nailing the medallion in place.
My staff is a nice conversation piece when we have friends visit. On occasion, I will just pick it up and use the medallions to spark pleasant memories of earlier hikes. Click on the individual pictures to get a closer look.
My staff now includes medallions from the following hikes:
Great Smokey Mountains, NC
Myrtle Beach State Park, SC
Philadelphia, PA (Independence Hall)
Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO
Multnomah Falls, OR
Mountains to Sea Trail, NC
Kenaj Fjords National Park, AK
Glacier National Park, MT
Denali National Park, AK
Sulfur Mountain Trail, Banff, Alberta, Canada
Palo Duro Canyon State Park, TX
Petroglyph National Monument, NM
Everglades National Park, FL
New River Gorge National Park, WV
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
Haleakala National Park, HI
Kartchner Canyon Stare Park, AZ
Yosemite National Park, UT
Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
North Country Scenic Trail, Upper Peninsula, MI
South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon, AZ
Acadia National Park, ME
Zion National Park, UT
Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
Tahquamenon Falls State Park, MI
Grand Tetons National Park, WY
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, MI
Mesa Verde National Park, CO
Harny Peak Trail, SD
Death Valley National Park, NV
Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, KY-TN
Badlands National Park, SD
Yellowstone National Park, WY
Arches National Park, UT
Gorges State Park, NC
Mount Rainer National Park, WA
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA
Franconia Notch State Park (Old Man of the Mountains), NH
Pinnacle Mountain State Park, AR
Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
Craters of the Moon National Park, ID
Curecanti National Recreation Area (The Blue Mesa), CO
It has been an unofficial tradition when we go to the Smith family cottage for some of our kids and grandkids to fly from Washington to Michigan to join us. However, with conflicting schedules and the Corona Virus it was soon apparent that was not going to happen. Pat and I decided that we would go to them instead.
We flew out of Detroit Metro Airport on Wednesday, July 15th. Flying during the pandemic was an experience! At the airport, 3:00 in the afternoon looked as crowded as it used to at 11:00 at night. Delta Airlines did a good job. All of the middle seats were blocked off, and we boarded beginning with the back of the plane so passengers could stay spaced out. As we boarded we were handed disinfectant wipes so we could give our seats and surrounding area another cleaning. In-flight snacks were bottled water, granola bar, and chips in a zip lock bag, so there was minimal handling. In the airports there were a few restaurants open and some offered disbursed seating. All passengers had to wear masks unless they were eating and this was enforced by the flight attendants.
We arrived at the Seattle-Tacoma (SEATAC) airport on schedule and our son, Scott, picked us up. We stayed with our daughter, Elisabeth, at her house. We had dinners at Scott’s and Elisabeth’s homes with the rest of the family. It was great to see them all again, and this was only the beginning.
On Saturday we drove to Mount Rainer National Park. Mount Rainer is the dominant feature in the area, it is always on the eastern horizon and visible on clear days. We drove to the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise on the south end of the park. There are several hiking trails in the area. I was surprised to see how much snow was still on the ground; after all it was the last half of July! Later I asked one of the Rangers if this was normal and was told fifteen years ago this was the norm. It has only been in recent years that the snow has been light. As a result of the snowfall many of the trails were closed or were marked with warning signs and tall poles to make sure hikers could find the trail. Definitely a new experience for me, but it made it more interesting.
Later in the week, Pat and I, with Scott and Elisabeth, stayed in a room at the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino on the Pacific Coast. It was only an overnight, but a fun trip. We got our first experience of staying in a hotel during the pandemic. We called from the car to see if our room was available. Then we went inside where we were scanned to check our temperature, masks had to be worn and there were surgical masks available for guests who didn’t have their own.
After we checked into our room, we walked along the beach and took some time to practice the “fine art of doing nothing,” just laying on the sand and relaxing. That evening we went to dinner at the hotel, dining during the pandemic is always an adventure. We followed it up with a traditional Wangen game of Dominoes.
On our last night in town, we had the whole family over to Elisabeth’s for pizza. It was a wonderful evening of eating and playing games together. A great way to end our visit.
We arrived in Bad Axe, MI on April 23rd. This was our “safe harbor” during the pandemic, thanks to the generosity of Pat’s brother, Geri, and his wife, Marcia. We parked the trailer in their backyard and plugged into the 30-amp outlet in his shed. Because we had been traveling for the last week or so, we agreed that we would self quarantine for two weeks. After that time was up, we were back into more of our usual routine. They would host us for dinner sometimes and we would do the same. Sometimes dinner was a joint effort.
We thought we had spent enough time in the South that we would be in Michigan for a warm spring – guess again, it was COLD! We were running the furnace so much that I was going through a thirty-pound propane tank in a week. We had both snow and rain. In the Midland area they had so much rain that a dam broke and caused massive flooding. Residents that were already dealing with COVID-19 now had to deal with flooded or destroyed homes, living in shelters, and rebuilding. Homes that used to be waterfront properties now looked out onto a mud flat.
Needless to say, we did not do a lot of visiting anyone else while we were there. However, we made a couple of trips to the family’s cottage on Rifle Lake, near the town of Lupton for Memorial Day weekend and a week later. There we did some of the normal spring cleaning and repair. Geri and Marcia’s daughter, Tara, and her husband, Ron, came up with their kids, Addie and Grant. We had lots of fun and got a lot of work done. Rides in the pontoon boat and late afternoons on their deck looking out onto the lake for happy hour were always good.
Back in Bad Axe, I went to work on a project. They have a small (four foot) lighthouse at the cottage that was showing lots of wear from the weather, and we decided that I would repair and repaint it. This was not true work as I enjoyed doing it and it gave me something productive to do with my time.
Staying at Geri and Marcia’s is really being in nature, as evidenced by these two deer that wandered right through their backyard.
Almost every morning Pat and I would ride our bikes, or walk for exercise. The walking was a real treat for their dog, Dakota, and we gave her some good, long walks.
On June 27th, Pat and I drove to Port Austin for the Port Austin Porch Fest. Organizers arranged for musical performances on neighborhood porches around town. Maps were available at any business and we were able to sit on the lawn and listen to a variety of musicians. My musical preference is folk music, but there were performers doing rock, jazz, and more. The one that impressed me the most was a seventeen-year old young lady who was in Port Austin for her fifth year! She is already a well-known singer-songwriter in the Port Huron/Detroit area. What a beautiful voice!
Independence Day week found us at the Rifle Lake cottage. This time we were joined by many more family members. It was a great week of fellowship, and enjoying good, homemade food together. Of course we spent time on the pontoon boat and swimming in the lake. The weather was so hot that the lake was like bath water. We watched fireworks from the lake, it very easy to do social distancing this way.
On July 15th, we flew to Tacoma, WA, but that’s a story for our next post.
We are now at Recreation Plantation, an RV resort in Central Florida, near the Villages. Due to the COVID pandemic we were not able to spend the winter in Key West. We have many of our Key West friends in the same park and look forward to good time. We’ll be here until early March.