Hanging Out in America’s Historic Triangle – October 2020

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!

On Sunday we explored the Jamestown Settlement. We drove to the Chickahominy Riverfront Park and rode our bikes along the Virginia Capital Trail to the Jamestown Settlement, a seven-mile ride, one-way. The Jamestown Settlement is operated by the State of Virginia and the nearby Jamestown Island is operated by the National Park Service.

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.

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The Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay – October 2020

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.

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Flight 93 Memorial – September 2020

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.

2011 LDP Class

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.

Flight 93 Temporary Memorial

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.

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Wandering Around the Michigan Mitten – July/September 2020

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.

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Hiking Medallions

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
  • Canyonlands National Park, UT
  • Olympic National Park, WA
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND
  • Boston National Historical Park, MA
  • Cumberland Island National Seashore, GA
  • Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, AK
  • Hot Springs National Park, AR
  • Crater Lake National Park, OR
  • Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
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A Side Trip to Tacoma – July 2020

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.

Posted in Michigan Traveler, Washington | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Hunkering Down in Bad Axe, MI – June/July 2020

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.

We did drive up to Grindstone City, near the tip of the Thumb to get ice cream at the Grindstone City General Store. Their ice cream is the best and the servings are huge! Due to COVID-19 they were only serving cups, not cones, but it was still worth it.

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.

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The Woes of RV Repair – June/July 2020

In May of 2019, as we were leaving our campsite at Elsworth AFB, our fifth-wheel trailer slid out of the hitch and dropped onto the bed of our pickup. I had visually checked it and we did our test pull, but it still happened. We had the trailer and truck repaired over the summer at Wescraft Truck and RV in the Tacoma, WA area, and thought we were good to go. Unfortunately, as we were traveling to Florida, I noticed that the trim molding under the front cap had been damaged and was bent. I attempted to fix it, but the same condition reappeared after each fix. After more investigation, it appeared that the frame behind the cap was moving independently of the side of the trailer. By now COVID-19 was going on and we headed to Michigan to “hunker down.” Once we arrived in Michigan I found that my normal RV dealer was closed down, but I was able to make an appointment with General RV in Birch Run, MI. I had never had service done there but had used their retail store. As they are a major RV dealer, I thought I would use them to fix this problem.

I contacted Wescraft RV who had done the repair in Tacoma and they said they guaranteed their work and would pay for the repair. I drove the trailer to General RV on June 1st. General RV did not want to begin work with just a verbal agreement so I paid them $3,300 to open up the front of the trailer and begin the repair. If Wescraft didn’t cover everything, I intended to pay the balance. I stressed to our service advisor, Shianne, that we were fulltime RVers, and whatever they could do to expedite the repair would be greatly appreciated. She said it would depend on how long it would take to get parts, and I commented that I didn’t think it would need any parts they didn’t have in stock.

Monday, June 8th I got a call from Shianne and she asked me to come to their shop and see what they had discovered and make some decisions for the repair. They discovered that the original bolts had been sheared off when the trailer hit the bed of the truck and the screws that had been put in by Wescraft had not adequately carried the weight of the trailer and they had sheared off as well. We agreed that they would run carriage bolts through the frame and they would have to drill holes in the fiberglass side to do that. I agreed with this and they suggested that they cover these holes with a decal as it would be better than trying to match the existing paint. I thought that was a great idea and told them to go forward with the repair. I again reminded them that we were fulltime RVers, we were staying with my brother and sister in law but didn’t want to take advantage of their generosity. I asked her to do whatever they could to expedite the repairs.

At the end of the week, I called General RV to advise them I had confirmed that Wescraft was going to pay for the repairs and only needed an invoice for the total amount. Shianne told me that the shop that does the decals would be out to color match the decals to the existing ones on the trailer on June 24th. She told me they had completed their repairs and would send our trailer to Rush RV, the dealer in Holly, MI that they use for bodywork after the decals were done. I suggested that they send the trailer to get the bodywork done while they were waiting on the decals, reminding her we needed our trailer back as soon as possible.

On Tuesday, June 16th I called Rush RV to ask them how soon they could start on the work and was told “we could start today if it was here.” I called General RV and left a voice mail with Shianne to advise her of this. I called Rush RV again, on Thursday, and asked if they had heard from General RV yet. Al, the manager, told me that he had not and I asked again when he could start and I was told “we could start today if it was here.” When I called General RV, Shianne said, “He didn’t tell me that.” I said, “I just asked the question, ‘how soon can you start?’” She said she would go to their front desk and schedule a driver to take it to Holly. I offered to move the trailer myself but she said they couldn’t let me take it without payment.

I called Rush RV on Monday, June 22nd, and was told that our trailer had been delivered that morning. On Tuesday I had to drive to Lansing, MI on another matter and stopped by Rush RV on my return. I met with Al, the manager, and he told me that he had three rigs ahead of me because they had come in on the weekend. I told him that we were fulltime RVers and would appreciate it if he could get the job done as quickly as possible. While looking at the trailer I saw that the trim molding under the cap did not go all the way to the wall of the trailer. I asked him if he was repairing this and he told me, “No, we are only repairing the crack in the cap.” He took a picture of it and said he would contact General RV to make sure he wasn’t supposed to fix it. I spoke with him the next day and he told me that General RV was doing that.

On Wednesday, June 24th the decal shop, Custom Design Accents, drove to Holly to do the color match. On Thursday, Al told me the work was done and he had told General RV they could come and pick it up. I called General RV and told Shianne that the trailer was ready for them to pick it up. She said she would schedule that and I asked her about the repair that needed to be done with the trim molding. She was unsure what Al was talking about and I told her Al had sent her a picture. I described what was wrong and she assured me she would look at it.

On Tuesday, June 30th I called and asked Shianne if they were repairing the problem with the molding. She said she would get with Tom, the technician that was working on it, and see want needs to be done. I asked where we were on the decal and she told me Custom Design was going to send her a picture that she would forward to me. Once I approved the picture they would make the decal and come to Birch Run to apply it. I asked how long this would take and she said it should be done by the middle of next week. I reminded her that they had had our trailer for a month now and it was not just our RV but our home. She then told me she was doing what she could and would try to have it by the end of next week (July 10th) at the latest.

On Wednesday, July 1st we joined other family members at the family cottage on Rifle Lake near Rose City, MI. While it’s a great place to stay it has very poor cell phone coverage. On Thursday, I spoke with Shianne and she said she had the pictures of the decal. I drove to a nearby gas station where I could get a good cell signal on our WIFI hotspot so I could download the picture. Then I drove back to the cottage, checked with Pat to see if she approved, then called Shianne to tell her we approved to picture and to get things moving. I emphasized with her we must have our trailer by Friday, July 10th.

On Monday I called General RV to check on when the decal was to be applied and I was told that Shianne was not in the office that day. When I asked when she would be in I was informed that she was on vacation until July 16th! I said I needed to talk with someone who could deal with this. I was told the Service Manager would call me back. No one called me back. On Tuesday I called again and spoke with another Service Advisor who said his supervisor was covering Shianne’s customers and he connected me to Sarah. I told Sarah about the situation and asked when the decal would be applied and if the trim molding was fixed. She said she would check it out and call me back. Because we were in such a bad cell area, I called her back and she told me that the decal would be applied on Wednesday afternoon and we could pick up the trailer on Thursday. I gave her the email address for Wescraft RV in Tacoma so she wouldn’t have to search Shianne’s files for it. I asked her about the trim molding and she told me that I had said I didn’t want any new parts so they weren’t fixing it. I, not so politely, told her that I had said no such thing. However, at this point, I just wanted to get the trailer back and I felt this was something that I could fix on my own. I told her we would plan to be at Birch Run on Thursday.

Wednesday I called Wescraft to see if they got the invoice and I was told that they called Birch Run with the credit card information right after they got the email. I called Sarah and she said they hadn’t gotten payment. So I told her to call Wescraft and talk to my contact there. Fortunately, things worked out, so I didn’t have to worry about that.

We packed up our stuff at the cottage and headed down I-75 for Birch Run. En-route we called Sarah to coordinate our pick up. She informed me that one of their technicians had found some trim molding and had installed it at no additional cost, what a nice favor (note the sarcasm)!

Finally, after 41 days in the shop, we had our “home” back and we were able to sleep in our own bed again. I don’t know what I could have done differently, but I don’t plan on ever utilizing General RV in Birch Run again, not even their retail store. This whole thing has been one terrible experience in customer service and project management. I guess the only advice I would give to anyone is to be your own project manager and double-check on any major work you have done on your RV.

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Dealing With the Unknown of COVID-19, March-April 2020

While we were in Key West we did not have any television coverage. As a result our only real source of news was Facebook and links to online news articles. We saw some things about the Coronavirus, but it was very light, a few memes on Facebook, and no one was very concerned about it. “Man with coronavirus seeks a woman with lime disease.”

We left Key West on March 10th and spent much of the next week at the Southern Comfort RV Park in Florida City, near Miami. As we watched TV for the first time in almost three months we saw press conferences about school closings and the Governor talking about closing beaches and other actions. Talk about a wakeup call! I had a friend in the campground and we were talking about doing a musical performance together in the park’s Tiki bar. After watching the news for a couple of days Pat and I decided that maybe we should just keep what would soon be called “social distance” and my friend and I decided not to do it.

Our next stop was Palm Harbor, near Clearwater, FL. There we stayed at the Caladesi RV Park and planned to see our niece, Robin, and her two kids. Her oldest daughter, Destiny, was home from college because COVID-19. That was a bit more information to alert us of things to come. We had the three of them over to our campsite for dinner twice and had a great time catching up. However, towards the end of our visit we and Robin sadly agreed that it was probably best to leave any more visiting for next year. We did get in some kayaking to Caladesi Island before the State of Florida closed all of the beaches.

One day we took a drive to MacDill AFB to do some shopping at the Base Exchange and Commissary. We had heard of panic buying in grocery stores, but were not prepared to see at least one third of the shelves in the Commissary completely empty. The wakeup call continues. This is what we saw when we shopped at Costco.

We had a good time at Caledesi. The park was nice, the weather was good, and it was close to the Pinellas Trail – a Bike/Walking Trail. Every morning we would ride or walk on the trail. We were able to shop at Costco and stock up on some items we weren’t able to get while in Key West. Our problem at Costco was that Pat wanted to order new eyeglasses and the Optical department was closed. My big thing was being able to give our trailer a good wash and wax job.

While at Caladesi we began to get the bad news. Our plan had been to drive up the east coast to end up in Bar Harbor, Maine. There we were to meet a group of RVers to do an RV caravan through the Canadian Maritime Provinces. Our first major stop was going to be the RV park at Joint Base Charleston near Charleston, SC. We saw in one of our Facebook groups that JB Charleston had closed to new arrivals, although anyone currently there could stay. A phone call confirmed that. We made new reservations only to have that park call us back to say they had to cancel. One after another our reservations were cancelled. We knew we had to come up with a Plan B.

We decided we should abort our trip up the east coast and head for Michigan. There we could “moochdock,” and “hunker down” at Pat’s brother’s place in Bad Axe, in the Michigan Thumb. We can set up near his big shed with a 30 amp connection and water.

Our most direct route would be generally north on I-75. We still wanted to kill some time until it warmed up enough in Michigan for us to be comfortable and Florida was getting too hot. The Uchee Creek Campground at Fort Benning was still open and we made a reservation for three weeks. We planned to leave on March 30th, but we got a call from them on March 27th advising us that they would be closed to new arrivals on the 30th, but if we got there on Sunday, March 29th we would be welcome. My response was easy, “We’ll see you on Sunday!” We immediately began to pack up and, after an overnight stay in a Walmart parking lot, rolled in to Uchee Creek on March 29th.

The park was about half full. Uchee Creek is a very spacious campground with plenty of space between sites so social distancing was not a problem, but was very strange. Normally I would be off to visit the National Infantry Museum, wander through the Ground and Tower Week training areas for the Airborne School, take a drive to Harmony Church to see the Ranger Department, and make at least one trip to Ranger Joe’s Surplus Store. On this trip none of that happened. We would bike or walk for exercise in the morning, read books, or watched TV for part of the day to stay on top of the COVID-19 situation. We did our Income Tax, completed the 2020 Census. I also resealed parts of the trailer, and generally took it easy. More than once I suggested we could stay longer if we wanted to do so.

I don’t understand why the military campgrounds decided to close. Many of the people that use them are retired members who are fulltime RVers or snowbirds that stay for an extended period. They are not transient campers that visit the campground for a weekend. With these parks closing, it leaves a lot of us with a rapidly decreasing number of options.

Normally we tried to engage with our fellow campers, but not this time. We even met a couple from Michigan, but other than waving as we walked past each other, we didn’t make any attempt to get to know them and they kept their distance as well. When we went on post we had to tell the people at the security checkpoint where we were going, no sightseeing was encouraged. We had to wear facemasks at the Commissary and Post Exchange. However, when I drove in to the nearby town of Fort Mitchell to get propane and some other supplies at the local hardware store, I was the only one there wearing a mask and everyone else seemed to be in a “business as usual” mode. It was like COVID-19 had never happened in this small town in Alabama!

Easter Sunday was an interesting mix of services. The FOX News Channel aired a program with Reverend Franklin Graham and singer Michael W. Smith broadcasting from the Samaritan’s Purse field hospital in Central Park in New York City. The Chapel at NAS Key West recorded a sunrise service and broadcasted it at 10:30. Someone on Facebook has recommended that we sing “Amazing Grace” at 10:00, so I made a recording of me playing and singing it and posted it on Facebook on Easter morning.

As we got close to leaving we looked at our route. We settled on a four day trip, calculated to have as little contact with people as possible. When we stopped at rest areas we didn’t use the restrooms, but used our own in our trailer. We stayed in a Walmart parking lot in Ooltewah, TN and didn’t do our usual shopping in the store, cooking our meal in our rig. Our second night was at the Walnut Meadow RV Park in Berea, KY.  Our last night was at a Cracker Barrel parking lot in Findley, OH. There we did order a meal from Cracker Barrel and picked up donuts and coffee at the Tim Horton’s across the road. We ordered by phone and picked them up at the door while wearing our masks.

Traffic on our route was light all the way, but Detroit made the biggest impression on me. It was like driving through a ghost town compared to the normal traffic flow. We began to get a little worried about the weather as we entered Michigan as we were not seeing any signs of spring. When we arrived at Geri and Marcia’s place the weather was cold and windy. Geri came out to help us hook up our electrical and water connections, but otherwise kept the appropriate social distance. It seemed strange to not shake hands, go in for a snack, and catch up on family events, but that is the new normal (sigh). We did “attend” church with the NAS Key West Chapel via Facebook and were able to take Communion with the rest of their congregation. I guess this is the new normal?

So now we are hanging out in self-quarantine until we and Geri and Marcia are comfortable with closer contact. We always appreciate when Geri and Marcia let us stay at their place. Being able to use this as a “safe harbor” is a special blessing in this situation.

The future isn’t even cast in Jello at this point. Will we be able to do the Canadian RV Caravan? At this point no one knows. That decision will drive many other decisions. Welcome to the world of COVID-19.

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Just Another Day in Paradise – Jan-Mar 2020

This was our seventh winter of the last nine years in Key West. We have never found a nicer place to spend the winter. I don’t think you can get any farther south in the Continental US. As we have mentioned in the past what draws us here is not the physical setting (as pleasant as that is) but the people. We stay at the Naval Air Station RV park in Key West and are among the hundreds that return here every year. We have more friends here than we ever had in the neighborhood where we owned a physical home.

I’m writing this in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis and I almost skipped over our stay in Key West to write how we are dealing with the crisis, but I want to write about something enjoyable before I got into that topic.

Pat and I brought in the New Year with our friends Roger and Bonnie Ford at Navigator’s, the club at the Marina at Boca Chica Airfield. Roger and Bonnie’s favorite band, Island Time, was there to entertain us and we had a great time!

Our little military community at the Sigsbee Island RV Park (NAS Key West) is an active place. For most of us age is just an irrelevant number. We started the year off with our Annual Polar Plunge. We met at the northeast corner of the campground where we formed up and walked into the “frigid” water which was a numbing 78o. After a group dunking underwater we joined together for our first potluck with ceremonial Bloody Marys and Mimosas.

Beautiful sunsets are a routine occurrence at Sigsbee, but they always seem to be a special time in the campground. Another popular activity is taking advantage of the abundant “happy hours” on Key West. One of our favorites is the Commodore Boathouse which is located right on the Historic Seaport. It has great food, good drinks, and a terrific view of the vessels going in and out of the harbor.

I always feel the Pat’s birthday (Dec 27th) gets lost in the middle of the Christmas festivities and decided to make up for it this year. I partnered with some friends of ours, Ray and Harriet Riendeau to give her a surprise party. It was a total surprise, a great time, and she has finally forgiven me for making her the center of attention.

There is great kayaking in the Florida Keys and we hooked up with another couple, Brian and Cindy, to go kayaking in the mangroves at Geiger Key and the Salt Ponds near the airport. There is so much to see, both above and below the water. Some of the channels through the mangroves are pretty tight and we weren’t always sure we took the right turn, but that is part of the fun.

A special treat this year was seeing Reverend Franklin Graham at the Key West Auditorium for his Decision America series. Contrary to what you may have heard or think about Franklin Graham, it was a wonderful, non-political, uplifting experience.

One of our regular events is the Key West Half-Marathon. We don’t run in it, but volunteer at the merchandise sales and water stations. I feel it is safe to say that this year’s volunteer shirts were very colorful and they made me want to break out is singing, “It is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius!” For a change we had beautiful weather and it was a lot of fun.

Eddie and Tina Grooms have become the unofficial social directors for the campground and hosted several major events throughout the season. Their first was a Hawaiian potluck. It’s always a fun time when everyone brings their favorite dish to share.

The Schooner Appledore II took a whole crew of us on an afternoon sail from the Historic Seaport. They provided the drink and we provided the food. It was a beautiful day with clear skies and light, but steady winds for great sailing.

I continued my tradition of volunteering as a docent on the Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Museum. While the fulltime crew has always treated the volunteers as valued members of the crew, this year they threw a special party for us with pizza, drinks, and a showing of the movie, Operation Petticoat, which was filmed in Key West. It was fun to pick out Key West landmarks in the movie that was set in the South Pacific.

We also volunteered to “Plog the Keys” picking up trash along the streets of Key West. The organizers posted the location on Facebook every week and we would meet there on Friday morning to do our thing.

We had a very unique event this year. One of our fellow campers, Marty, does chainsaw sculptures! He didn’t bring any logs with him but one was available so he gave us a demonstration. What a talent! He has won several awards for his work and it was obvious they were well deserved.

For me it wouldn’t be Key West without music. I rejoined the praise team at the Base Chapel. Every Monday afternoon Gary Buck hosted a jam session at the Sigsbee Community Center. What fun to play with a bunch of guys and gals who enjoy music and are trying to become better musicians! Geiger Key Marina hosts an Open Mic Night every Monday and a couple of us were regular performers there. Great fun, great practice, and a great way to get over stage fright!

Two friends of mine, Nelson Clark and Harriet Riendeau, and I presented a Folk Music Concert at the Community Center. It was well attended and I’m not sure who had more fun, the audience or the musicians. I think the audience enjoyed listening to three very different styles of music in one performance.

As we approached the end of the season Eddie and Tina had one more event, Cinco de Marcho. Because most of us go “Up The Road” or UTR in March they decided we should celebrate the holidays we were going to miss. In an almost day-long party we celebrate Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day and any other holiday we wanted to throw in. It was a great culmination of the winter season and we are already looking forward to another fun time in 2021.

On March 10th we headed up the road and into the unknown world of COVID-19.

Posted in Florida, Fulltime RV, Michigan Traveler, Military RV Parks | Tagged , , | 3 Comments