Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I left the park in Michigan and drove just a few miles south to Port Huron where I crossed into Ontario.

It seemed to me that there was a lot less scrutiny by the border guard once it was established that I would be driving straight through and back into the US in the same day. So I cruised along, past Hamilton, and to Niagara Falls. I couldn't see the falls from the road (been there, done that), but did see some mightily impressive hydroelectric dams. At the US border I had to wait while the man in front of me attracted a whole gaggle of guards, who escorted him away somewhere and then one of them drove his car to park it! (Probably some kind of terrorist spy) I had an easier time, waiting only as long as it took they guy to check the trailer for illegal immigrants! I must have been within the limit, as he sent me on my merry way.

I stopped for the night at a Passport America participant camp so that I could pay 50%, and it worked out well. As it is off season, mid-week, and rainy, there's nobody at these places. I had my choice of spots, and could let the dogs run free. The next morning I was quick to leave, having never unhooked the truck or put down stabilizer jacks, and plus I was eager to move along and get to the:


I pulled off the New York State Thruway and headed north into z hills. As I climbed I watched the colors improve, and although where I stopped is still southern Adirondacks, the trees might have already peaked here. I camped at a state park campground: Moffitt Beach. It's all spread out along a beautiful lake - my campsite was a mile from the camp office! Most of the sites are too crowded with trees for my big-rig, but there were a few roomy ones, and I found one where I could back up to the lake. Again, nobody around, so I could let the dogs free. Toby lost no time finding the sharp end of a porcupine and getting some quills stuck in his muzzle! He was brave as I yanked them out one by one.

The rainy weather that I had been driving under all day finally cleared out late afternoon, and the view was gorgeous over the late at the hills ablaze with color:

The sun set behind storm clouds, and I caught this silouette of Toby framed by the lake and distant angry sky (click to enlarge, as always):

The next day I took Toby for a hike up in the hills and we had fun crossing a swollen stream in a couple of places. It was warm and smelled of fallen leaves and fresh rain:

Found this colorful array of fungi:

Back at camp, we found the lake millpond-smooth, so I couldn't resist launching a kayak and going for a quick paddle before dinner. Toby was trembling with excitment as several beavers smam nearby and spashed their tails with tremendous slaps. He would have jumped in and swam after them if I hadn't held him back! He is still gazing intently as I manage to snap a few pictures:

And the evening ended with a roaring campfire, smoky burgers, and one of the reddest sunsets I have ever seen:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Mitten

I understand that the lower, bigger part of Michigan, the part bounded by Lake Michigan to the West and Lake Huron to the East, is called The Mitten. Yeah, I get it - it's shaped kind of like a mitten. Anyway, that's where I've been for the last four days.

I drove across the UP, enjoying the peak of fall color despite the persistent rain and gust winds. I crossed an impressive suspension bridge down onto "the mitten", signs warning trucks and RVs to drive slowly due to strong crosswinds:

I pulled into Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling, Michigan. Its a large park with a good campground. They offer full hookups and those with electric only, which I chose because those were more private and less expensive. Just a few miles away in the town of Grayling is an Army Air Base, and the sound of artillery practice was audible, although thankfully not to the point of freaking out Toby.

The weather was not good, but between showers I got out for a walk with Toby to a nearby pair of small lakes. These lakes were formed when giant chunks of receding glacier broke off and melted in place. Only a few hundred yards across they were 37 and 47 feet deep - impressive for such small bodies of water. The fall color reflected nicely in their clear waters:

And I got out for another ride. They call these mountain biking trails, and I suppose they are in the sense that they allow bikes. The trail system was a 3 x 1 mile rectangle with two crossing trails dividing it into three equal parts - all straight paths wide enough to drive a car over. The only redemption was the attractive variety of connifers, birch and alder, and the pinkish tall grasses:

Another state park the next day, this time on the shores of Lake Huron, in Lakeport, Michigan, where I am poised to drive across a chunk of Ontario from Port Huron to Niagara Falls. Lakeport State Park is more like a private campground in the density of campsites, and as I was there for a weekend, it was packed. Not a lot to tell of my stay here. I went to an apple orchard and picked up some cider and doughnuts, and went to nearby Lexington and broused a little car show they had going on there. Other than that I spend a lot of time doing dog-management, and un-tangling myself from their leashes as they dart this way and that when we "walk". The weather has been cool and rainy, so not conducive to longer hikes or kayaking.

I'm getting itchy to get home - travelling alone with dogs is getting old fast. I will make a stop in the Adirondacks, and finally the Berkshires before I park the Whale in the driveway again, and expect Nancy to rejoin me in Massachusetts.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The U.P. & Gitche Gumee

I left southeastern Wisconsin and drove north through all of the state, past Green Bay, and into Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I arrived at J.W. Wells State Park, and was pleased with the size of the sites and how few were occupied. I selected one that allowed me to look out upon Lake Michigan from my rear picture window:

I found nearby a trail system in state forest, bordering a mirror-smooth flowing river, so naturally had to get in there and put a new coat of mud on the Remedy:

My next drive took me north again across the breadth of the U.P. to the shores of Lake Superior. I've always held a fascination for this lake, from seeing it's wolf's head shape on maps, to learning the words to Gordon Lightfoot's classic "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald":
"The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they called "Gitche Gumee".
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
when the gales of November come early."

So, after all these years, I finally lay eyes on the icy waters of Gitche Gumee (seconds later I had a shoe full of it!):

Remember, all of these photos can be viewed larger by clicking on them:

Here is a little sand sculpture carved by the relentless north wind:

The next day I took a drive into Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, where I stood atop 300 foot tall sand dunes:

And took the dogs onto 12 mile beach:

Walked through white birch forest:

And came home in time to catch the sunset over the lake:

Saturday, September 18, 2010


So it was that, having sent Nancy home on a plane from Chicago, I drove up into Wisconsin with only the two dogs as companions. It was an uneventful drive, and I arrived at a state park campground confident that there would be spaces available. There were, but only 3 out of the nearly 100 sites! The Ottawa Campground at Kettle-Moraine State Park is very nice, with large sites, spaced apart, with dense foliage between. Very private - excellent for minimizing dog barkage. The site driveways are also obliquely oriented to the camp road, making it a breeze to back in, so my first solo parking job was a piece of cake.

Here is the Whale at rest in site 318:

I travelled to this area of Wisconsin to see a friend. Duncan was a roommate of mine back at Clarkson University. So I've known him since 1985. Yikes! That's 25 years! After getting settled in I drove over to Duncan's house in Waukesha. I think we were both pleased to see that we weren't the only one who'd lost a lot of hair! It was also very nice to see Duncan's wife, Sheri, who we haven't seen since they move to Wisconsin more than a dozen years ago. And I was also very happy to meet their charming daugter Sarah, who is 12 years old. I heard about all of Sarah's accomplishments, got the tour of the house, and got somewhat caught up. We made a plan to have dinner and go apple picking while I was in town.

During the day, while Duncan was away at one of those annoying job thingys (he goes every day - its like he's obsessed or something!) I had time to explore the massive state park, particularly its two mountain bike trail systems. The first, called John Muir, featured seven loops, all well marked, and all within the longest - the blue loop of 9.5 miles. This is the one I rode, and I loved the way the trail was designed specifically for bikes, and that the turns flowed beautifully from one to the next. The surface was very hard and smooth - very few roots and even fewer rocks. Not at all like riding in Connecticut! It was fast riding, and tremendous fun. Some rain had made several of the turns a bit greasy, so I slid around on these, and exited the trail system caked with mud!

Here I am on a typical stretch of trail:

The next day I rode the Emma Carlin trail system, a shorter ride, but with sections of turns that were so sweet and flowy that I found myself grinning and chuckling as I rode. I also found hills here, which Muir really had none of, and even a few log rides to add a technical element. All in all, even though the trails are for the most part not very challenging, they make up for it with great flow and a huge fun factor. Awesome.

Speaking of awesome, I rejoined Duncan, Sheri, Sarah and her friend Sarah, for dinner at a mexican restaurant: The Station. We had a great dinner of tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, and the like. After dinner Duncan and I played many of his Wii games, and my lack of experiece in this arena was clearly evident when I was thoroughly outscored in almost every game we tried. Nevertheless, it was fun.

That night Kinsey was not feeling well. She was making horrible wheezing sounds, and was clearly also suffering from some abdominal discomfort. I let her sleep on the bed, but was worried that she might not make it through the night! She survived, thankfully. Here she is the next morning looking miserable:

Duncan and family came over to my camp for lunch grilled over the wood fire, and then we drove over to Mukwonago to the Elegant Farmer to go apple picking. Well, I just watched - I'm not really set up to do a lot of canning in my camper, ya' know. Sarah enjoyed climbing the trees to get the apples:

The family:

Nature's bounty:

It was in the farm store that I contributed to the local economy. I picked up some local cheese, some of the unique phenomenon of cheese curd, some corn, and one of their "world famous" apple-pie-in-a-paper-bag. So, they made a big deal about how great these pies are that are cooked inside paper bags. Celebrity chef so-and-so gave them top marks; big New York newspapers declare them the best in the America, etc. Well, I consider myself a good judge of what is and what isn't a good apple pie, so we'll just see about this claim of theirs...
My loot:

Alright, I just finished licking my plate...and I try to keep this blog clean, for the kids and all, but....holy shit! Sorry, Mom, but I just ate the best apple pie in America! Gotta go lay down.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


On the drive over from Shipshewana, we were cruising along on the interstate, and a billboard caught our eye. It looked like there was a sniper sitting atop the billboard! As we got closer we realized that it was part of an ad for the arts: it was a violinist! But then...when my eyes came back to the road..I saw in the lane in front of me: a full chest of drawers! I couldn't swing left as there were cars there, so I swung right towards the breakdown lane, but was afraid that an abrupt maneauver would jack-knife the hit the dresser! A glancing blow. In my mirror I saw the rear of the whale clip the furniture, and heard the sound of smashing wood! There was no apparent damage to the trailer, no flapping trim or blown tires, so we drove on to the next rest area, passing the young couple pulled over on the shoulder, looking at the spot on their trailer where the dresser had been. At the rest area we looked closely, but couldn't find so much as a scratch! Lucky!

We had identified a campground that was a reasonable distance away from downtown Chicago and Midway airport, and with some trepidation had made a reservation there. Trepidation because many of the reviews on-line were bad. The Emerald Trails campground has a kind of strange acting woman host, but is quiet and wooded, better than many of the higher rated camps we've stayed at.

We drove into Chicago in the afternoon, bringing our bikes on the recommendation of Ken back in Elkhart. It was a great suggestion. We parked on the waterfront near the Soldier Field stadium, then rode along lake Michigan, around the Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, and north up to Navy Pier. My Trek Remedy7 full suspension mountain bike was a bit over-qualified for the city streets!

Here is view of the skyline from the aquarium:

And me in front of the anchor from the USS Chicago on Navy Pier:

On the way back we ducked into the city to take in Millenium Park, where the amazing pavillion looks like an exploded tin can:

And there is a captivating fun-house mirror ovoid to walk around and under:

We locked up the bikes and walked around in the theater district for a while, then had a sushi dinner before riding back south. On the way back we got a better look at the Buckingham Fountain:

The next day we got an early start and drove into Midway Airport, where Nancy caught a plane back home. I returned back to camp with the dogs, and the three of us will keep the trip going, looping back to Connecticut over the next couple of weeks. The blogs will keep coming, so stay tuned.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Shipshewana; Elkhart; Notre Dame; Change of Plan

Driving across Ohio the landscape flattened out considerably, and as the cornfields got larger and larger, there were still many forested areas to break the monotony. We entered Indiana and drove along I-80 just below the Michigan state line. In the town of Shipshewana we found our campground, also named Riverside. It's a small facility along the Pigeon River - only 30 sites, just two of which were occupied when we pulled in. We backup into a large site next to the river, and were very pleased with the peace and quiet. Occasionally the clip-clop of hooves would break the silence, as an Amish buggy rolled by.

Here are the dogs relaxing with the river view visible through the windows behind them:

The next day we headed into Elkhart to visit the facility formerly known as Crown Audio, now labeled Harman Specialty Group. When I worked for H.S.G., they were headquarted in Bedford, Massachusetts, and we developed a flagship level power amplifier with a team of engineers from Crown. I got to know Mark and Scott during that time, and so now it was great to have the opportunity to see them again. Before heading out for lunch we took a tour of the facility, including the lab spaces where the brands I used to design are now developed, and the sound room which also showcases several pieces that I had a hand in designing.

Later that day we met up with another former co-worker of mine, Ken, who I've know since back when the company was called Madrigal Audio Labs, and located in my hometown of Middletown, Connecticut. Ken took us over to South Bend, home of Notre Dame. It was the evening before a big football game: the fighting Irish of Notre Dame against long time rivals, the Michigan Woverines. The campus was swarming with rabid fans, and a pep rally was just wrapping up as we arrived. The rowdy crowd was adorned in all manner of ND logo apparel and some were wearing body paint or waving flags. The atmosphere was electric; the excitement was palpable and contagious. When we walked into the campus book store/logo merchandise retail store, I almost succombed to the urge to buy overpriced kelly green T-Shirts and the like...almost. Its a big, beautiful, well laid out university, and we walked all over it, admiring the immaculate and stately structures, and the impecable grounds. We ended up at a street where a block party was in full swing. After ducking into the on-campus Five-Guys Burgers & Fries for a meal, we joined the throng, and had an adult beverage, shouting to be heard over the energetic rock band blasting tunes into the crowd. It was an amazing and overwhelming evening, which I'm sure would seem tame compared to the full-blown frenzy that was to come on actual game day. (Michigan scored with 27 seconds left in the game to win over Notre Dame 28-24

Nancy and I in front of the golden dome:

Touchdown Jesus!

Our next day (game day) was cool and rainy. I spent time trying to troubleshoot Gigantor's 12V accessory jacks, which quit on us a few days ago. I had the dashboard and console largely apart, but didn't find the problem. Later we went out to eat at an enormous restaurant (over 1000 seats) called Das Dutchman Essenhaus. The Essenhaus campus has the gargantuan restaurant, a conference center, and Inn, and a complex of gift shops selling country arts & crafts stuff, smelly candles, quilty, etc (kitchy krap). The restaurant specializes in family style dining, where for $15 you are served salad, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, a vegetable, and desert. It was very good comfort food, and we left content, to walk the grounds and walk off some of the untold calories that we'd just consumed.

A covered bridge on the Essenhaus grounds, with a horse-drawn carriage about to enter:

We also got to meet and share stories with Ben and Mary, the only other camper's we've seen who've fashioned fencing to keep their two dogs in camp when off leash! They also, like us, like to cook over a wood fire, and prefer quiet, uncrowded campgrounds. It was nice to connect with people with whom we have so much in common.

Went for a nice paddle on the pigeon river. The dogs got off onto a log:

Found this little silver-dollar sized snapping turtle crossing the road:

Lastly, we've been fortunate so far, but a matter has emerged that will require us to deviate from our travel plan. Nancy will be adding a new engineer to the staff of Network-IT, and doing so will require her to spend several weeks at home, starting a soon as possible. So, we while we're in Chicago, Nancy will catch a plane back home. I'll have an adventure on my own of bringing Gigantor and the Whale back solo, as I head up into Wisconsin, out Michigan's Upper Peninsula, through Ontario, and back home through New York state. Hopefully by mid to late October we'll be able to head out again, but ultimately, we will stay at home until the new employee is up to speed. A trip this long is bound to require some adaptability as life goes on in all of the aspects of our lives. C'est la vie!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


We rolled into the Buckeye State on the afternoon of Labor Day, skirted Cleveland, and arrived in the lakeside town of Vermilion, Ohio. The Riverside RV Park and Marina has many seasonal sites each with their own dock on an inlet off of the Vermilion River, but it also has a group of overnight sites along the river itself, and these were all vacant. So, we dropped our jacks in one site that has 10 vacant ones as its yard, and it is so awesome to have the quiet and the space after the noise and crowds of the last camp. We had a coupld of issues to overcome, though: wasps in the electrical hookup box, and no water at our spigot. Linda, the manager, found me some wasp killer, but I had to make due with our limited on-board supply of water.

Here is the rig all by itself at the campground. Dogs were able to be off-leash most of the time, which was really nice for all of us:

Toby enjoys his freedom, looking contemplatively out over the river:

Thankfully Kinsey and Toby were napping and did not see this young visitor to our site:

The Vermilion River is part of a 27 mile long kayak trail. We paddled from camp down to town and back, a stretch of river lined with homes, camps, docks and marinas. The closer we got to Lake Erie the denser and nicer they got. Here's Nancy paddling down river:

Toby and I went out again the next morning and pushed on all of the way down to the lake. Here we are near the river's mouth:

And here is Toby sitting on the jetty with the broad expanse of Lake Erie behind him:

We met Sharon on Mount Desert Island: she lives and works out of her airstream trailer and we have kept in touch.
She has family in Cleveland, and she and her trailer were getting fixed up at the nearby Airstream factory, so she happened to be in town during our stay. We met up for a tasty meal at Sokolowski's University Inn, a Polish Restaurant, and then walked around the streets of the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland to admire the local residences and village green. Sharon then took us on a drive around Cleveland, through some really nice parks, upscale neighborhoods, and cultural centers. It was great to get a flavor of the city in a way that we probably wouldn't have done on our own. It was nice to catch up, and we hope to see Sharon again as we both criss-cross the nation.

Here is a view of the city from Sokolowski's:

The architechtural wonder of the Peter B. Lewis building:

And the city and some of its many massive bridges:

The next day we went to Cuyuhoga National Park, which is just south of the city. The park's focus is the Cuyahoga River, along which there was a canal for transporting goods and passengers. The towpath that was used for teams pulling the canal boats up and down the canal is now a multi-use trail, popular with hikers and horseback riding, but especially great for cycling. Nancy and I took our bikes in and spent a pleasant afternoon riding along the old canal, and then caught the awesome park service train back to the station that we parked at.

Here we are at one of the old canal locks:

Nancy tries not to flinch as the massive engine thunders past her:

Back at the truck we collected the dogs and walked them along some of the towpath, stopping to admire some of the bridges that span the river:

So, we've had a great experience here in Vermilion and Cleveland: beautiful campground, kayaking, visiting with Sharon, seeing the city, and biking in the park. But, the road beckons, and now we're off to the endless cornfields of Indiana!