Friday, November 4, 2011

Best Of Gigantor and The Whale

Here it is, my list of lists, the best stuff experienced on our grand tour. Each category has a top five, in no particular order. Some categories were easy, and some, like Landscapes, was really hard. So hard, in fact, that I had to divide the country into five sections and then put our five favorites in each region. they are:

Top Five...


in the Northeast:

Mount Desert Island
Monhegan Island
Hopewell Rocks New Brunswick
Peggy’s Cove Nova Scotia
Cape Breton Nova Scotia

in the Southeast:

Outer Banks
Cataloochee Valley, Smoky Mtn NP
Cades Cove, Smoky Mtn NP
Blue Ridge Pkwy
Manatee Springs

in the Southwest:

White Sands NM
Arches NP
Bryce NP
Sedona, AZ
Mesa Verde, NP

in the Northwest:

Northern CA (Trinidad)
Oregon coast (Boardman & Harris)
Olympic NP coastal
Bend, OR
Banff NP (Lake Moraine)

in the Central states:

Glacier NP
Yellowstone NP (caldera)
Grand Tetons
Black Hills

Top Five Best Communities - places we'd consider living

Durango, Colorado (favorite)
Asheville, North Carolina
Astoria, Washington
Wellsboro, Pennsylvania
Bend, Oregon

Top Five Campgrounds - the ones we remember most fondly

Frisco Campground, Hatteras National Seashore, Hatteras Island, NC
Whale Cove Campground, Digby Neck, Nova Scotia
Edisto Beach State Park, Edisto Beach, SC
Leasburg Dam State Park, Radium Springs, NM
Custer State Park, Black Hills, SD

Top Five Mountain Bike Rides - flowy singletrack, adrenaline fueled downhill runs...

Kingdom Trails, Burke, VT
Kokopelli & 18 Road Trails, Fruita, CO
Slickrock & Porcupine Rim Singletrack, Moab, UT
Sandy Ridge Trail System, Sandy, OR
Whistler singletrack & downhill, Whistler, BC

Top Five Hikes

Cadillac Mountain, Mount Desert Island, ME
White Point, Cape Breton, NS
Cathedral Trail, Sedona, AZ
Angel's Landing, Zion NP, UT
Castle Trail, Badlands NP, SD

Top Five Kayak Paddles

Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick
Glen Margaret, Nova Scotia
Manatee Springs, Florida
Rio Grande River, Big Bend NP, Texas/Mexico
Clackamus River, Estacada, OR

Top Five Dining Experiences

Kitiyama (sushi), Newport Beach, CA
Elote Cafe (mexican), Sedona, AZ
The Salt Lick (barbeque), Austin, TX
Fresh oranges & strawberries, grove country, CA
Tie: Bowpicker (fish & chips), Astoria, OR - Matthew
......Brit's Pub (fish & chips), Minneapolis, MN - Nancy

Friday, October 21, 2011

Journey's End

Over the last eighteen months I would sometimes look around me and marvel at where I am and how I got here. Two years ago I would get up in the mornings, go to a job that I didn't like, and try to squeeze all of the rest of my life into nights and weekends. Then one November day a casual conversation changed all that. Next thing I know I'm waking up in a different place every few days, looking out over vistas I'd only ever seen in picture books or in movies. How lucky I've been!'s not luck. It's something Nancy and I were able to do because of we way we lived our lives up to that point. Something that seemed crazy and impossible at first, but on closer examination was not only possible, but was the best possible thing for us to do at the time.

From the east coast... the west coast... the mountains...

...across the prairies...

...we've covered a lot of ground. We're often asked questions like: "What's your favorite place so far?" or "Have you been somewhere that you'd like to move to?" Check back soon: I'll be posting a "Best Of" list-of-lists of all of the favorite things we've done and seen along the way.

It was with mixed feelings, and not a little sentimentality, that we made our final camp of this trip. As we went through the familiar routines of set up, preparation of our evening meal, bed-time, and pack-and-load, we were acutely aware that it was the last time we'd be doing these things. Some things, like dumping waste tanks, will not be missed! The final drive, down the familiar roads of the home stretch, were bittersweet as well. One one hand there was comfort in the familiarity; on the other, there were competitive New England drivers and periods of stop-and-go traffic from pure congestion.

One really cool thing happened on the drive home. I got a call from my friend Gene, who commutes up I-91 from New Haven. We realized that we were on converging courses, and amazingly I merged from 691 onto 91 just a few car-lengths behind him! We pulled off into the Rest Area that was conveniently located 1/2 mile later, and we had the first reunion of the many that we look forward to upon our return.

So, all good things must come to an end. Occasionally we'd ask ourselves "Why must it end?", and truth be told, we could probably continue for many more months, even years. But it has to end because without a limit it loses its meaning. Without an end date we wouldn't have been driven to extract the most from each day, to get out and see the sights we'd travelled so far to see. No, this trip, the way its played out, was just right. We've done what we set out to do. We will now get back to the life that we put on hold eighteen months ago, and be content.

Or will we?

Thanks for following along!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

State College & Ithaca, NY

The pull of home gets stronger, like gravitational attraction. Just a few more stops to go! First off was State College, Pennsylvania. We've heard good things about this place, and it seemed a proper destination for Nancy's birthday. Bald Eagle State Park, 20 miles north of town, served as our base for a couple of days. Another good park with nice big sites and electricity. This time of year we don't need leashes or fences for the dogs, although we'd have been better off if we had used them, but more on that later...(and when I say "more on" I mean "moron").

Nancy's 29th birthday (Ha!) got started when I prepared her favorite breakfast: biscuits and sausage gravy. The day's weather turned pleasant enough, so we took the dogs for a nice walk and then headed down to State College for the afternoon and dinner. We drove through the Penn State campus, impressed with its magnitude, and with the throngs of students that we saw on the move throughout. We parked downtown, which is always an adventure in Gigantor, whose massive bulk is not well suited to city street parking. Anyway, once her ample hips were squeezed into a spot, we disembarked and explored the town and campus on foot.

For dinner we went for sushi, but first got set up with a pair of mai tai's, one an old school cocktail, and one the common fruity version:

We enjoyed our dinner, and Nancy continues to expand her repertoire, now including the delightful avocado...

Back at camp, Toby provided us with a less celebratory activity: bathing him thoroughly after he went after a skunk! This is what I get for letting him out to pee off-leash!

The last thing we wanted now, or anytime for that matter, is a skunky dog. His instincts in the aftermath of his anointment were to rub his face on everything. We did the best we could to shampoo the smell away, but this particular aroma is tenacious, and we feared that it would attach itself to the carpet and fabrics of The Whale's interior. Thankfully, it seems that the lingering odor follows Toby, and will not be a lingering issue for our interior. Ah, the joys of dog ownership!

We had planned to overnight in Wellsboro, PA, a town we visited early in this trip, and which we liked a lot. The state park campground where we planned to stay had closed for the season, however, so we revised our itinerary, and just stopped in town for lunch. Truck and trailer were a bit much for Main Street parking, so we found a gas station and got permission to leave the Whale there while we drove the truck in for lunch. We went to the same sandwich shop we'd eaten at before, and once again had a nice lunch.

From there we headed into the great state of New York, and eased ourselves into the driveway of my grandfather's home in Ithaca:

We had a nice visit with my Uncle Jake...

...and with Grandpa , who will be 96 in December.

Grandpa, with his dog Brownie on his lap, spends a lot of time reading, his mind just as hungry for information as always. We share many great memories of times gone by.

And speaking of memories or times gone by, in a few days such will be the case for Nancy and I and our North American Tour. One more stop to empty our tanks, and we're home! Wow....home...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Whales & Snails

Fall weather blew in, and we blew out, cutting across Michigan and just into Ohio. We stayed at Maumee State Park, a great campground on Lake Erie, just east of Toledo. Huge, grassy, level, private, electricity, trails and lakes - all the ingredients of a good place to park The Whale. It got very rainy and windy, strong gusts rocking us on our suspension. But it was pleasant enough the next day to go for a walk down to the lakeshore, where the wind stirred the water brown.

After a day of rest we put in another longish drive into central Pennsylvania. The strong tailwind gave us our best fuel economy, under tow, of the trip at 12 mpg. Our friend Sharon, in the Silver Snail, was camping at an exclusive airstream park near the town of Clarion. We couldn't camp there (common white slab-sided rectangles not allowed!) but she scoped out the campground across the creek, so that's where we headed. It had a steep driveway with a sharp transition, but we made it down despite our long overhang. All of the recent rain had rendered the ground spongy. Despite my best efforts to pick the firmest ground along the creek, when I backed in we made deep ruts. I pulled back out and pulled onto higher ground where we did less damage to the turf. We had the whole place to ourselves, and were very close to Sharon, so it was great.

After we got set up we went over to reunite with Sharon and her exuberant dog, Harley. We also got to meet Sharon's friend Jason and his two dogs, Kirby and Suzie, jack and rat terriers respectively. Jason has embarked on his own tour of the country in an '88 34 foot Airstream motorhome (the Silver Caterpillar), towing a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Pretty cool rig. Sharon made some excellent crabcakes, and then we went out to a pizza pub for dinner proper.

That night we somehow blew the breaker on the 110 outlet we'd plugged into. We made it through the night on batteries, got things going in the morning with the generator, and then when the campground owner came by he flipped our circuit back on. He showed me where the breaker was, in case it happened again. It was hidden behind a broken door in a shed, a tangle of wires and no covers. Not a confidence inspiring electrical system! Luckily it was not necessary to reach into the rat's nest and flip the breaker...

The next day rain clouds were scudding by, but I went out for a good walk with Sharon and Jason, plus a subset of our pack: Toby, Harley and Kirby.

We walked on a paved multi-use trail along the Allegheny River, stopping to admire an old railroad bridge at the confluence of the Clarion and Allegheny Rivers.

Back at camp we collaborated to cook up a taco dinner, and Sharon mixed up a batch of cocktails: bourbon, her own ginger syrup, and soda water, with a slice of beach marinated in bourbon. Very nice! We had a great visit and hope to see these guys again someday.

Friday, October 14, 2011


We diverted off course northward to pay a visit to a family friend, Jim Schmidt. Back in the day, which was a Wednesday, by the way, The Waterman family and the Schmidt family would occasionally get together for visits. One one such occasion, my sister, Laurel, and I, plus Jim's kids Anne and George, formed the Water-Schmidt Circus. I have no recollection of the stunts and acts which we performed, I'm sure they were entertaining, creative, visually stunning, and certainly death defying! I fondly remember our time together.

Jim has an awesome lakefront summer house on the shore of Lake Michigan, in Whitehall. We camped a few miles south at Muskegon State Park, where we got a great site looking out over Muskegon Bay. Very few of the sites at the park were taken, so we had the place virtually to ourselves, which was perfect.

After we got settled we drove up to Jim's and met his friendly dog, Gomez, and his cat, Nosy. Toby got along great with Gomez; when he saw Nosy he did what he always does when he sees a cat: he went for it. But Nosy stood her ground. She puffed up, arched her back, bared her fangs and hissed. Toby stopped short. He approached cautiously, tail quivering, unsure of what to do when the cat doesn't run. When he got within range Nosy struck! Whap Whap Whap! Toby's reflexes are quick, but not that quick. He jumped back and began to bark frantically, a little spot of blood showing on his snout. Nosy still held firm. We let him bark for a minute or so, hoping he would give up and back off. Then we got tired of listening to the noise, and I snatched him up. It was quite an encounter!

After that excitement, we saw the house, then took a walk down to the beautiful sand beach. It was warm and calm - amazing weather. Kinsey poked along at her impossibly slow pace while Toby and Gomez tore around, in and out of the water, getting wet and sandy:

Jim cooked a tasty dinner of grilled pork tenderloin and roasted root vegetables, and we planned to meet the next day for some kayaking.

In the morning I took Toby for a hike in Muskegon park. The sandy trail skirted the lakeshore for a while, then headed into woods and dunes. The going was sometimes tough, trudging up and down steep dunes in powder-soft sand. The scenery was great, the fall colors, blue lake and sky, and blond sand:

Back at Jim's, we put into the water in White Lake, just at stone's throw inland of Lake Michigan. We passed the new channel out to the great lake, and poked instead down the old natural channel, now a shallow, meandering waterway alive with weeds, algae, fish and turtles:

We turned around when the weed got too thick, and paddled around a bit on White Lake before hauling out:

In the evening Jim came over to dine with us at The Whale, giving him a chance to see the vehicle we've been living in, and all of us a chance to visit some more before we shoved off in the morning, eastward bound.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


We tore ourselves away from one of the best campgrounds of our trip and spent the next three hours struggling over roads that the state of Illinois should be embarrassed to call their own. We jerked and lunged our way southward, shouldering through traffic, hitting every red light in the greater Chicago metropolitan area, until finally we emerged into the cornfields near the Indiana border, and made our camp. We stayed at Emerald trails, which we had visited a year ago for our foray into the windy city. The same wackadoo lady was there, asking weird questions, rolling her eyes, clutching her back, staggering around. She gave us a narrow site between seasonal units in an otherwise wide open campground. We were too tired to argue, and spent a peaceful night, grateful to be out of the sprawl.

The next day we had an easy drive over to Shipshewana, to yet another repeat campground and one of our favorites, Riverside, on the Pigeon River. On the way we stopped in Elkhart to have new tires put on the Whale. Her rubber was in sad shape, very tread-bare - baloneyskins as we say. By the time we got back from lunch the job was finished, and we rolled down the road tired and happy ;)

That night and the next we shared the campground with several other campers who were probably in town to go to the Notre Dame football game. Sunday morning they all packed up and left, leaving us, for the first time ever, having an entire campground all to ourselves. Pretty sweet...

While in town we went to the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart.

The museum traces the history of RVs and Motor Homes from the first production units to the present. So, although folks had camped for hundreds of years in covered wagons and the like, production units towed by or powered by combustion engines didn't start selling until 1913. That's when this classy little trailer was made:

The museum is cleverly laid out: all of the specimens are arranged in chronological order, from 1913 through the 70's.

They focus on the older models, which was a good call because they are the most interesting to see. Many of them allowed us to go inside for a closer look, which was fun. This might be the first motor home...

...and its interior:

And here is Gigantor's great-great grandfather, an early example of a 1-ton dually:

One morning we met up with Ken and Jane for a nice paddle on the Elkhart River. I used to work with Ken back at Madrigal Audio Labs, and we've kept in touch. We drove a few miles up river and had a really nice float back to Ken's house, which took a couple of hours. It was such a spectacularly beautiful day, and to be out on the water with friends was perfect.

On Monday I spent most of the day at the Harman facility in Elkhart. A small group there stewards the Mark Levinson brand of high end audio/video products, to which I devoted so much of my career. Mark, Scott and the other team members took me out to lunch, and then we went back and discussed how I might be able to contribute as the brand develops some new products. It was great to see those guys, and I am happy that I might be able to work with them again. Amazing, too, after all of this time on the road, as I near the end of the journey, that opportunity knocks and I may transition seamlessly from nomad back to engineer. Pretty awesome! This cat's been airborne for eighteen months and will still land on his feet!

Amish folk frequently clip-clop past the campground:

Toby cools off in the Pigeon River:

Next post you'll read about when we diverted north to visit a family friend on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wisconsin & the Closing of the Loop

When we crossed the Mississippi River it really hit us: we're on our way home! We stopped for an overnight at a park just over the Wisconsin border, in the town of Holmen. Upon arriving at the large, busy park, we were alerted that even though it was only October 1st, there was a Halloween party underway, and that all of the campground kids would be making their rounds for Trick-or-Treat. We dropped off the Whale and immediately drove into town to stock up on treats. You know, olives, anchovies, pickled eggs, beets and saurkraut. Back home we always get the same exact number of trick-or-treaters every year: ZERO. At Whispering Pines campground in Holmen we went through four bags of candy in an hour!

The next day we had a nice, short drive to Devil's Lake State Park. This place is one of my friend Duncan's favorites, and he actually drove out from his home in Waukesha to spend the afternoon.

Fall colors were near peak at Devil's Lake:

Duncan's favorite thing to do at Devil's Lake is scramble on the boulder fields. Nearly 500 vertical feet of boulders make up large sections of the bluffs surrounding the lake. We had a great time picking our way up to the top, only risking our lives a few times in the process:

The view from the top of the bluff is gorgeous (click to enlarge):

There was still plenty of beautiful day left, so we also went for a paddle on the calm waters, enjoying the scenery from a different perspective:

I baked up a couple of pizzas for dinner, then Duncan returned home to his family. The next day I took to the trails, enjoying a very New-England-esque ride through the woods and along the bluffs:

And Nancy, Toby and I hiked the trails all along one side of the Lake, first high up on the bluff edge...

...and then back along the lake edge, where the trail weaved amongst the giant boulders:

Our next drive Closed The Loop. We intersected our own path from just over one year ago, when I first visited Duncan and stayed at Ottawa Lake campground in Kettle Moraine State Forest. From now on we'll be retracing our steps right back to Middletown.

The campground at Ottawa Lake was one of my favorites back then, and it still holds up as one of the best of the entire trip. Big, private, level, grassy sites, with electric and strong Verizon signal, quiet and access to good trails - that's what makes a good RV site.

While there I re-visited the Emma Carlin mountain bike trails which I enjoyed so much a year ago, and we paid a visit to the Elegant Farmer to get some more of that sinfully delicious apple pie. In the evening we got together with Duncan, Sheri, Sarah, and Sarah's friend Abby, for dinner at Peking House in Waukesha. It was great to see Duncan and his family again. We hope to see them again, perhaps one summer up in New Hampshire or Ogunquit.