Harvest Stompede

It began with a limerick:

A Gerwurstraminer from Shady Lane

Can be enjoyed in the sun or the rain

It sure beats a beer 

that is brewed south of here

And the view from their deck is insane!



Last October, the Leelanau Peninsula Vintner’s Association held a poem contest on Facebook and I won with that entry.  Of course, I was the only entrant.  😉  The cool thing was that I won two free tickets to any event that the LPVA was hosting over the course of the next year.  With one event left before the year was up, we decided it was time to get on the wine trail!  The two day event was called Harvest Stompede, which kicked off with a series of foot races through one of the local vineyards on Saturday morning.  After the races, the wine trail opened with 22 vineyards featuring one of their wines along with a food pairing.  All of them offered additional tastings of between three to five pours.

Our friends Patti and Lane also had tickets. Since we all had commitments on Saturday, we decided to visit the trail on Sunday.  Lane was gracious enough to drive, which we really appreciated!

First stop was Black Star Farms.  The netting on the vineyard in the photo above is used this time of the year to keep the birds from eating the ripe grapes.  This has been one of Diana’s and my favorite wineries on the peninsula for years.  We’ve stayed at their inn as our mid-winter getaway several times during our careers, including one magical night between Christmas and New Years Day when we had the entire inn to ourselves. 

For the Stompede, Black Star was featuring tomato braised beef meatballs with a creamy parmesan polenta paired with their Red House Red.  Unfortunately,  I had to pass on most of the offerings for the day, due to my gluten allergy.

Next up, we stopped at Ciccone Vineyards.

This winery is owned by Silvio (Tony) and Joan Ciccone…known to many as the singer Madonna’s dad and stepmom…but around here as pretty darn good winemakers and a sweet couple.  Tony has been making wine since he was a kid in Pennsylvania.

One of the things I have always enjoyed about this location is walking into the kitchen area for the food pairings.  Joan usually has some Italian dish going that smells like so many of my childhood friends’ homes back in Detroit.

This time around, she made her famous Oriental salad paired with their Gerwurtztraminer.  I really missed the smell of marinara, but it never hurts to change things up.  😀

Patti wanted us to see the amazing view from Ciccone’s barn, so we walked up the hill to check it out.  Our friend, Mary, has done the flowers for weddings here and has told us how great of a venue it is.

This cavernous building plays host to wedding receptions and other events.

This is the view looking east out of one of the windows.  That’s the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay with the Old Mission Peninsula beyond it.

This vista looking west from a tent they had set up outside the barn.  They are definitely on the top of the hill.

As we were walking around, we saw Tony talking to some people who were also checking out the view.  It was a nice opportunity to speak to him one on one about his vineyard.

Here’s Lane and Tony discussing the different varieties that he grows on the property.  

This particular type of grape is used to make Gerwurtztraminer, which is one of my favorites.

Tony also told us we were welcome to come pick grapes with him in a few weeks. Hmmmm….might have to consider that one.  

He says he puts complete strangers at one end of each side of a row and that they know each other’s life stories by the time they get to the other end.

We enjoyed getting the chance to speak with him in his little slice of heaven.  😀

Next up…or should I say down the hill…was Chateau de Leelanau. 

Their tasting room is in a barn with several other businesses right alongside M-22.  I do have to say that the atmosphere is not what you would expect from a winery, but they definitely have their winemaking down pat.  

For the Stompede, they were pairing a smoked beef brisket and cheddar slider with a choice of one of their Tractor Pull hard ciders.  I thought the cider was very tasty.  The slider looked yummy!  We sampled some of their other wines and thought they were very good.  I’m glad Lane put them on our tour.   😀

From there we dropped down the peninsula to Shady Lane Cellars.


This was the subject of my limerick! Their patio is a great place to spend a summer evening, especially when they have a musician performing. 



Their offering was a BBQ chicken flatbread paired with their 2014 Pinot Noir Rose.  We sampled a few of their other wines, including their outstanding 2013 Blue Franc. They have what we feel are the best reds on the peninsula, and their whites are also excellent.

Our next stop was Brengman Brothers Winery.

This is a beautiful location and a premier wedding venue.  As a matter of fact while we were here, we ran into our friend Julie and her daughter Maren, who is having her wedding reception here next year. 😀

The tasting room is just gorgeous!

They were serving chips and spinach dip paired with a choice of their Runaway Hen White or Brengman Brothers Vignoles.  
After Brengman Brothers, we headed over to Longview Winery.

Winemaker and owner Alan Eaker has an outstanding cherry wine and also a very interesting cherry mead.  We ended up buying a bottle of each.

Here he is serving up his son’s roasted salmon chowder which was paired with his Dry Riesling.  Lane said the chowder was simply outstanding.

From there we drove up to Bel Lago Vineyards and Winery.  

Bel Lago means ‘beautiful lake’ in Italian, as this winery sits high on a hill above Lake Leelanau.  Their winemaker, Charlie Edson, is well respected in the area for his skills in producing quality wine.

For the event, they served a smoked cherry barbecue pulled pork with cherry tortilla chips paired with Bouquetti.  Lane pointed out that someone was watching the number of people coming in the door and bringing out just enough fresh servings of food as they entered.  Very nice.

Diana and Patti were definitely having fun!

After that, we zoomed up to Laurentide Winery. Named for the continental ice sheet that shaped this region 10,000 years ago, this winery pays tribute to the earth the vines grow in.

That’s co-owner Susan Braymer holding a bottle of the day’s featured wine, Sauvignon Blanc.  Her and her husband Bill have worked very hard to perfect their wines and it shows.

Susan’s food pairing was her creamy cucumber soup, which was served chilled.  When I asked her if it was gluten free, she replied that it definitely was. Woohoo! My first gluten free pairing of the day!  Thank you, Susan…it was delicious!

At that point the clock was ticking towards the trail’s 5 pm ending, so we made one last stop at Boathouse Vineyards on the way back to Wild Cherry Resort.

This is one of Diana’s and my favorites.  Their 2014 Pinot Grigio (sold out) was my all-time favorite, and their 2015 is extremely close!  Their lawn extends down to The Narrows, which is the channel between North and South Lake Leelanau.

Their pairing for the day was a blackberry brie tartlet served with their 2013 Pinot Noir.

When we were done, we plopped into their Adirondack chairs and called it a day.

Even the clouds seemed to smile and wink at us, as if to say “great job!”

If you ever get a chance to experience a Leelanau Peninsula wine tour, by all means, do so. If driving is a concern, half price tickets are available for designated drivers (food only), or you can book a limo or van through one of the local tour services. More information on the events being held throughout the year are available at lpwines.com.

A Very Busy Summer

If it seems like our posts have been a little spread apart this summer, you are correct in that observation.  Our plans for our time in Michigan this year included a few renovations with our rig and finishing up Diana’s mom’s business.  We also hoped to spend more time just enjoying Leelanau and sharing our discoveries here on exploRVistas. We did accomplish what we had planned, but there were a few obstacles thrown in to make life interesting.  Top that off with an extremely full resort and…well…there wasn’t much time for writing!  Things are settling down though, so here’s a summary of our past few months.

After spending the last half of April and the first week of May in Grand Rapids (doctor visits and working through Mom’s business), we headed north to Wild Cherry Resort near Lake Leelanau.  We knew that we had two renovations we wanted to get to this summer…new carpeting and a new kitchen countertop and sink.  Before I could get to either of those, Diana and I were looking at our entry steps, as there was a loose piece that needed some attention.  As we were inspecting them,  Diana noticed several cracks in our frame.  That lead to having quite a bit of welding done to our rig, something I covered in detail on our post, A Solid Foundation.  When I was finishing up that job, I noticed that one of our leaf springs was completely worn out.

That’s the new spring on top of the old one.  I purchased four new springs and, with the help of my neighbor Tom, we installed them in an afternoon.  It sure was nice having his help, along with the use of the resort’s tools!  Just about the time that job was completed, we were hit with a doozey of a hailstorm.

A solid 10 minutes of marble to golf ball sized hail.  Both of our vehicles sustained damage, along with all three of our slide room toppers.  Several people in the park lost all of their roof vents, but those of us with MaxxAir covers did just fine.  Unfortunately, my tonneau cover on the truck looked like someone had taken a ball peen hammer to it.  

Thank goodness our insurance covered it all. In the midst of getting the vehicles fixed, I decided that I’d better get going on the countertop, if I had any hope of getting it done this summer.  I used to make them for a living in a factory setting; this was going to require field work.  Fortunately the resort has a table saw in the barn.  Jim let me build the top there and I had it installed in short order.  

We are happy with the way it turned out!
As soon as that project was complete, we called a local flooring installer and started the process of having our carpeting replaced.  I had been worried about a soft spot in our floor that I wanted to fix, so I told him I would remove the old carpeting.  Upon doing so, I noticed that the RV manufacturer had cut a hole in a perfectly good, one-piece subfloor.

Not sure why they did that, but they evidently thought that putting a hundred staples around the edge would hold it in place.  The portion over the heat duct had nothing supporting it.  I removed the board and built a support structure below it with square aluminum tubing.  After re-mounting the board, the repair was as solid as the rest of the floor.  Problem solved.

The carpet installation process took a week, as the installer had to subcontract the binding on the edges that hang off the slide rooms.  That meant cramming our vehicles full of the stuff that normally was in our rig.  We kept the Escape driveable, but the truck was completely packed. Jim let us store our loveseat and dinette on a utility trailer in the barn, which was a huge help.

Again, we were really pleased with the results!  Nothing like soft carpeting between your toes!  😀

So while it’s been a busy time, it’s been a great summer in Leelanau.  Autumn is fast approaching, and there are several things we would like to do before we leave.  Stay tuned to see what’s next!

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The Manitou Islands

Approxametely 15 miles west of Leland, the Manitou Islands rise from Lake Michigan. This archipelago is a vital part of Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, yet very few visitors ever get there. A few weeks ago, Diana discovered a trip that the Leland Historical Society was taking to both North and South Manitou Islands on the same day. Ferry riders normally get to choose between one or the other, and the transit schedule North Manitou requires overnight tent camping. This once-a-year trip offered both islands! Seeing that we had never been to either one, we decided to join the tour. Joining us would be our friends Camilla, Lane and Patti. The trip was supposed to take place on Tuesday, August 23, but it was delayed two days because of strong southwesterly winds. As luck would have it, that put the trip on Thursday, August 25th…the 100th birthday of the National Park Service!

We arrived at Fishtown in the village of Leland, ready for adventure! For those who have never been to Leland, Fishtown is the historic dock where Lake Leelanau empties into Lake Michigan. Some of the old fish processing shanties have been turned into a collection of gift shops, while others still house fisheries.

Our vessel for this special trip was the 52 foot Manitou Isle. Built in 1946, she has seen a lot of use in her 70 years. The larger and newer ferry on the left is the one that is used daily.

On the way to the islands, we passed the North Manitou Shoal Light Station. This lighthouse was built in 1935 and was the last manned offshore light on the Great Lakes when it was automated in 1980. It sits in 26 feet of water and the focal plane of the light is 79 feet above the surface of the lake. The sea birds sure appreciate it! The lighthouse is currently up for auction, with a bid of $10,000 already posted online. If you are considering bidding on it, be warned that it is still active…including the fog horn. 🙂

As we approached our first stop, the South Manitou Light Station came into view. 

After years of visiting this region, we’ve finally made it to South Manitou Island! The smaller of the two isles, South Manitou is 8.2 square miles. There is a ranger station that houses a few seasonal workers, but no permanent residents. That’s not to say it was always that way though. The island has been home to lumbermen, farmers, lighthouse keepers, and lifesaving crews. 
 

This relief model of the island shows how the western side is dominated by dunes. Both North and South share this feature, as do the Fox islands to the north, as well as most of the shoreline of the mainland in Leelanau County. The model also shows the crescent-shaped harbor, which is the only natural deep water harbor between Buffalo, NY and Chicago. The football-shapes in the water are shipwrecks. The one on the right is the latest shipwreck, the Francisco Morazan…a 234 foot steamer which ran aground in a November gale in 1960. Most of the vessel is still visible above the waterline. Time constraints did not allow us to visit the wreck or the giant 500 year old cedar trees that stand west of it.

If you recall in my previous post, Port Oneida Fair, I spoke of a ship owner named Thomas Kelderhouse. On this day, we were honored to have our tour guide be his great-great-great granddaughter, Kim Kelderhouse! Here she is explaining the legend of the Sleeping Bear, which is how the dunes and the national lakeshore received their names. According to Native American folklore, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a great forest fire in Wisconsin. Knowing their only escape was to get to the other side, they swam day and night. The cubs lagged behind and drowned just off the Michigan shore, where their mother waited for them. The Great Spirit eventually covered the cubs with sand, creating the Manitou Islands. As the mother bear slept, he also blanketed her, creating the Sleeping Bear dunes. As Kim stated, it is indeed a sad tale.

After leaving the dock area, which is where the former lifesaving station stands, we split up into two groups. One group headed to the farm and cemetery, and our group headed with Kim to the lighthouse.

South Manitou Light Station was first established in 1840. The original tower was replaced in 1858 by the cream brick structure in the photo above, which had a lantern room on top. It was deemed that light was too short (64 feet), so the current tower was built in 1872, closer to the water. It has a focal plane of 104 feet above the lake surface.

Kim explained how the spiral staircase is only supported in the center. If it were attached to the sides, the tower would crumble as it shifted in the wind and the stairs pulled at the walls. I’ve been to many lighthouses over the years and never knew that fact. Learn something new every day!

The third order Fresnel lens is a replica. The light shines nightly from May through October.

Here’s the motley crew on the lighthouse gallery!

Kim took us into the keeper’s quarters, which is awaiting restoration. The windows were recently replaced, thereby stabilizing the building.

The lack of a ceiling upstairs allowed us to see this interesting twist in the chimney, which made it possible to exit the roof without disrupting the rafters.

From the lighthouse, we headed back to the boat and headed off to North Manitou Island.

Just a couple of kids out for a boat ride.  :)

As was the case at our previous stop, North Manitou Island’s dock is near the lifesaving station.

The unique thing about this location is that it is the only remaining station to have buildings that were used from the beginning of the Lifesaving Service through the Coast Guard.  This boathouse is the only remaining example that used the original 1854 standardized plans, and it was built that same year.

The 1877 Lifesaving Station was a combination crew quarters and boathouse.  It was later converted to quarters and a storehouse by the Manitou Island Association, and then to a dormitory by the National Park Service.

As was the case on South Manitou, North started out in the lumbering business selling cordwood to passing steamers.  When the trees were exhausted, the Manitou Island Association formed, which farmed the land.  A large barn from the farming era still exists to the north of the village near the dock.

A unique feature on North Manitou is Cottage Row.  There are 10 parcels that were owned by successful Chicago business owners who vacationed  here in the summer months.  The cottages on these lots were built between 1893 and 1924.

This cottage, the Monte Carlo, was designed by a 26 year old Frank Lloyd Wright when he was employed at the Sullivan firm in Chicago.  It was built in 1894.

Also built that year was the Trude-Fiske cottage.  It remained in the family until 1979.

The Wing Cottage was also built in 1894 and was owned by several families over the years.  Note the fieldstone foundation.

The Riggs-Londergan Cottage was built in 1924.  The Manitou Island Association purchased it in 1958.

This is the Katie Shepard Hotel, which is currently being restored by Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear volunteers.  It was built in 1895.  Although plans aren’t firm, the thought is that visitors will be able to use it as an alternative to tent camping, similar to a hostel.

There are a few other cottages, including one that was ordered out of the Sears catalogue.  Diana found it interesting that, of all the places these wealthy city dwellers could have chosen to spend their summers, they decided on an island in northern Lake Michigan without electricity or running water.

From North Manitou, we headed back to the mainland to the dock at Fishtown.

Camilla took one of her famous selfies to document our safe return!  What a great day with friends!

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Port Oneida Fair

In the mid 19th century, northern Europeons began settling into the area between what is now known as Pyramid Point and Glen Arbor, along the shores of Sleeping Bear Bay. Thomas Kelderhouse, the owner of several cargo ships on Lake Michigan, realized the potential of the area’s timber during a stopover on South Manitou Island. He made a deal with a local landowner on the mainland, Carsten Burfiend, where Kelderhouse would build a dock if Burfiend would donate the property adjacent to it. The resulting port was named after the one of the first ships to arrive, the S.S. Oneida.

Over time, the land was cleared of it’s timber and farmed.  The sandy soil wasn’t the best for crops, but the longer growing season along Lake Michigan helped sustain the community for a time.  Eventually, most of the buildings were abandoned.  When the National Park Service first acquired Port Oneida in the 1970’s, the policy was to remove the buildings and let nature retake the land. Fortunately, the funds weren’t available at that time to remove the structures.  Eventually that policy was changed, after the public realized that the county roads were going to be removed also….thereby eliminating access to the area beaches.  As a result of it’s time in limbo, Port Oneida is one of the largest examples of a pre-modern rural community in the United States.  The buildings are now being preserved, as is the history of those early settlers.

Each August, the National Park Service partners with the nonprofit Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear for the Port Oneida Fair.  The event showcases rural life as it would have been in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. This year’s fair was held over two days, up from the usual one day event.  Admission is free, although a park pass is required to be on the grounds.

Spread over five seperate farms, there were many different demonstrations as to how things were done in the past.  Above, a man rides in a horse drawn buggy across a field at the Dechow farm.

Oxen in their yolks, ready to do some work in the fields!

A young boy using a shaving horse and a spoke shave to shape a piece of wood.

This woman was demonstrating the art of spinning wool.  She was really good at it.  :)

This display from the Empire Area Museum had two hand-cranked phonographs; the one on the right was an Edison.  A far cry from listening to music on your iPhone. 😀

There were several bicycles on display.  This one was actually a predecessor to the high wheeler.

We found this oil-burning headlight to be interesting.  Note the red lens on the left side.  The right side is green, just like a boat would have.

This little McCormick-Deering gasoline engine was chugging along.  It was connected to a water pump.  They had several examples of old engines, one of which was powering a Maytag washing machine.

A pair of beautiful draft horses.  The front one is a Belgian and the one behind is a Percheron.

Just across M-22 from the Dechow farm is the Olsen farm.

This home is the showcase of Port Oneida.  It doubles as an information center for the historic district.

This gentleman was playing a hammer dulcimer.  To me, they are one of the prettiest sounding musical instruments ever made.

This man was explaining the uses of the flax plant.  In his hand was a by-product of the processing of flax, called tow fibers.  This was timely for us, as Diana had just mentioned earlier this week that she wondered where the term ‘tow head’ came from for blondes.  Well, he explained that the term came from the similarity of the color of the fibers to blonde hair.  He also told us that the fibers were used to make rope, hence the term ‘tow rope’….and towing your car, and so on.  Pretty cool.  :)

The woman with him was spinning tow.  Both of them were wearing clothes made from tow.  Sorry about the angle of the photo: that’s a fiber spindle, not a flute.  :)

From the Olsen farm, we continued down the road to the Burfiend Barn.

Outside the barn, children and adult volunteers were making wooden barn pegs. They drove the wood through cylindrical tubes with wooden mallets.  Each new peg drove the last one out of the tube.

Inside the barn, the string band Carter Creek was putting on a show.  We really enjoyed listening to them, especially when they played an old favorite of ours…John Prine’s ‘Paradise’.

We really enjoyed our day at the Port Oneida Fair.  If you are ever visiting Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore the second Saturday in August, be sure to save the afternoon for this event.

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Alligator Hill 

A year ago on August 2, a powerful storm packing winds in excess of 100 miles-an-hour rolled off of Lake Michigan and took dead aim at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Fortunately, no one was killed and very few people were injured. While there were dozens of homes and businesses damaged, the majority of the devistation was to the canopy of trees in the area.  A prime example of that is Alligator Hill.

Named for its resemblance to a resting alligator, this rise of thickly-forested land lies within the boundaries of the national lakeshore.  A series of hiking and cross-country skiing trails, totaling over 7 miles, traverse the length of the hill.  The winds from the storm raked along the ridge, funneling into the ravines on either side and laying 150 year old trees into piles exceeding 10 feet in height.  The trail system was closed following the storm and was only recently reopened to hiking.  After our friends Lane and Patti hiked it, we decided to go check it out on our anniversary this last Saturday, August 6th.

As the map at the trailhead suggested, we snapped a photo to take the map with us.  It’s nice that these signs are clear enough to be able to read on a smartphone.  The NPS really does a good job at Sleeping Bear, and we appreciate it.  Our route for the day would take us to Islands Lookout and Big Glen Lookout.  Including a side trip to view additional storm damage, we totaled 4.7 miles.

Once on the trail, we were greeted by the cool canopy of trees that made up the majority of the path, prior to last August.  Having not hiked here before, we aren’t sure if the two-track appearance of the trail existed before the storm.  A lot of equipment had to come through this area to reopen the upper portions of the route.

Before long, we started to see some of the downed trees.  There was no doubt that this was the result of straight-line winds, as these giants were all dropped in an easterly direction.

After a short stretch of blown out forest, we returned to the canopy  of trees.  It was there that we came upon one of the best views we’ve ever seen at Sleeping Bear…the Islands Lookout.

Look at that water.  One of the hikers at the overlook commented that it reminded him of the Carribean. We never get tired of looking at these waters, and this particular viewpoint really puts it all in perspective.  Off in the distance is South Manitou Island to the left and North Manitou Island to the right.

Continuing around to the right, you are able to see just how wide the vista is here.  Looking with the naked eye, I spotted something on the horizon between the islands.  I zoomed my camera in as best I could, but I still couldn’t tell what I was seeing until I got home.

It was a fairly large Great Lakes freighter steaming north towards the Straits of Mackinac!

Leaving the viewpoint, we headed towards Big Glen Lookout.

This is the ‘spine of the alligator’, so to speak.  This area was hit hard, as you are able to see.  Still, it was interesting to see how other plant life was coming up from the forest floor.

Common Mullein were sprouting up everywhere!  

Again, we entered an area of forested canopy before we arrived at our next viewpoint. 

Big Glen Lookout overlooks what is considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, Big Glen Lake.  Almost perfectly round and surrounded by high hills, the lake doesn’t have a lot of big waves, making it a boater’s paradise.

Heading back towards the trailhead, we took the path that runs below the ridge on the south side.  This is the area that the storm hit first.

It looked like a war zone.  The National Park Service is contemplating what to do with the timber.  One school of thought is to leave it natural while the other is to remove it to lessen the extreme fire danger.  Either way, it was an amazing thing to see!

These trees were shattered.  It was interesting to see how the core of the tree seperated from the rest.  We saw several examples of this.

We can’t imagine what it would have been like to have been on the trail that day, as there was nowhere to hide.  It’s humbling to think of the power the storm was packing.

It wasn’t too long before we were back at the trailhead and our vehicle.  What would have normally been a nice hike to a couple of great viewpoints has become a lesson in the tremendous forces that nature unleashes from time to time.  We are really glad we did this hike and we recommend it to anyone visiting Sleeping Bear.

Concert at the Dune Climb

If there is one iconic image of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, it would probably have to be the Dune Climb.  For those who have not been to Sleeping Bear, the Dune Climb is the place where visitors are allowed to crawl up the sand dune and run or tumble back down.  Viewers of the sitcom ‘Home Improvement’ may remember the episode when Tim the Toolman Taylor and his family came running down the dune on a family vacation.  It’s great fun, especially for children.  :)

Once every summer for the past 18 years, the National Park Service and the Glen Arbor Art Association turn the sand hill and park below it into a concert venue, as part of the association’s Manitou Music Festival.  This year’s free concert featured an eclectic folk-Americana group out of Chicago, of all places, called the Way Down Wanderers.  While they were true to traditional bluegrass with their choice of instruments, their style was much more diverse…ranging from Merle Haggard to their own pop/folk-infused songs.  They had a lot of energy and put on a spirited show.  We were their with several friends, and with a delicious spread of food and drink, we settled in for an evening of entertainment, people watching and conversation.  I pulled out the Nikon and turned the lens loose on the crowd for a plethora of candid photos.  Enjoy!

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Partway through the show, Diana checked her Facebook account, as one of our college friends was in the area and she wanted to see if he was at the event.  He wasn’t, but she did notice that our friend Camilla had posted that she was there.  She had ridden her bike from D.H. Day campground, where she was spending the weekend.  

I spotted her high up on the dune…without any wine.  Diana dispatched me with a Solo cup of Pinot Grigio.  Remember, I said children like climbing the dune..hoo-boy, tough climb!  I did an end-around, came up behind her and said “it sucks when you forget your wine.” After a hug, she headed down the hill with me and joined us!

She took one of her famous selfies before the end of the show.  :)

It was another great evening in Leelanau with friends and the folks who are spending their summer up here in the northwest lower peninsula of Michigan.  Stay tuned for more fun!

The Blue Angels from a Different Perspective

As stated in our last post, the Blue Angels were in Traverse City to kick off the National Cherry Festival.  This was their first appearance since they lost one of their pilots in a crash back in April.  We’ve been catching occasional glimpses of them over the campground recently. Earlier in the week, they screamed up behind us while we were biking the Leelanau Trail with Diana’s cousin Nancy and her husband David, causing me to duck out of instinct!

Parallel to all of this, our friends Rod and Mary were in the process of settling into their new-to-them Ericson 30 plus sailing sloop.  After navigating it from its previous home port of Boyne City and getting a feel for what-went-where, they invited us out for a day of sailing, along with our mutual friends Lane and Patti.  Our plan was to journey from their slip in Suttons Bay to the south end of the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay to view the Blue Angels air show.  Diana’s and my actual sailing experience at the helm has consisted of piloting a Sunfish around Fife Lake, so we knew the concept of tacking and jibing.  I’ve helped raise the sails on large schooners before in Maine, but that’s about it with a multi-sail vessel.  No doubt, this was going to be a treat!

For perspective, our trip was going to take us from Suttons Bay (denoted with the green bubble), around Stony Point and south to Traverse City (red bubble) and back.  Round trip distance was around 40 miles.

Mary pulled the bow line, jumped on board and we were off!

Rod motored us out of the harbor and out across Suttons Bay.  A former career captain for a major airline, he has the calm demeanor needed to handle a larger craft like this.  He has had other smaller sailboats in his youth, but this is new territory for him.  Lane and I crewed for him, with both of us being newbies.  Rod provided clear instruction to his mates and we learned quickly.  The only casualty of the day came early on, as a wind gust caught the bill of the captain’s favorite Gulfstream hat and sent it over the stern.  Davey Jones is sporting a new cap.  :(

There wasn’t much wind to be found in Suttons Bay, so we motored out around Stony Point.  Rod commented that his two cylinder 16 horsepower diesel sounded like the African Queen.  It definitely chugged right along!

Here’s Lane scanning the shoreline behind us after tending to the forward sail, known as a jib.

Before too long, we had wind in the sails and we were cruising south.

Diana, being the Girl Scout she is, came prepared with an additional hat.  Rod gladly made use of it.

Patti and Lane were drinking in the view also.  :)   We started out with a fickle wind, but the breeze picked up as the day progressed.

As we passed Bowers Harbor, we saw several planes and jets doing acrobatics over Traverse City.  Following that, the Blue Angels’ C-130 transport nicknamed Fat Albert took to the stage.

This giant plane made several tight turns and climbs, passing just above the water in several cases.  On its last pass southward across the water, it made a steep climb over Traverse City and the five Blue Angels jets came screaming northward underneath it.  One had to temporarily drop out of formation with an unknown issue, but the other four continued on.  They looped off to the west and headed up to the top of Grand Traverse Bay, then blazed southward past us!

They were really moving!

Here’s what a 20 mile long smoke trail looks like at water level.  :)

It’s amazing to see them fly so close together!

Before long, the fifth plane rejoined them and they were really putting on a show!

This is one of my favorites.  Nothing like a supersonic game of chicken.  :)

As the show wound down, a wave of watercraft headed northward past us, kicking up an unpredictable chop.  Patti had headed below deck to retrieve a bottle of dry reisling to toast the day and christen the vessel. She stood in the hatchway with an open bottle as we came about and didn’t spill a drop…a testament to her sea legs and the craft’s stability!

On our way back north, we passed the topsail schooner Manitou, which was also under full sail.  The wind had swung around to the north, so we had to tack and jibe all the way back.  Fortunately, the bay is wide and over 300 feet deep, so we were able to complete the trip with just a couple of manuvers. 

We pulled back into Suttons Bay just before sunset, all of us a bit tuckered out.  :)

We helped Rod and Mary stow the main sail, then headed back to the campground to let their dog out for them.  We all had a marvelous time and really learned a lot!  Thank you for the wonderful day, Rod and Mary!

It’s Festival Season!

The weather has warmed in Northwest Michigan, the tourists are rolling in and the cherry trees are taking on a definite red hue.  That can only mean one thing: festival season is upon us!  With the relatively short season at the 45th parallel, the next few months are going to be jammed full of activities.

On Saturday, Diana and I went to the Traverse City Wine and Art Festival with our friends Patti and Lane.  Earlier this month, on the day I was having our frame welded, Diana worked at the Leelanau Vintners Association to help them get ready for the event.  Our friend Camilla works there and needed assistance on decorations.  Diana also was able to enlist Patti and Lane to help. In exchange, we received tickets for the festival!

Here is the trio with a sampling of their handiwork.  It took them a fair amount of time to wrap each bottle in twine. They did a really nice job!

Each ticket got us a stemless wine glass, eight tasting tokens and a food ticket.  Additional tasting tokens and food tickets were available for purchase.

Here Patti is showing off her food choice.  Looks yummy!  

Each winery from the Leelanau Vintner’s Association had their own booth set up on the perimeter of the grounds.  There were also several local artists, along with a stage featuring four music acts.  We tasted several different wines, skipping some of the wineries that are close to our campground, as we get to them often enough.  After that, we took a special Chardonnay tour.  This was led by Jay Briggs, winemaker at 45 North Winery.

Jay took us to several different booths to sample different Chardonnay offerings.  Along the way, each winemaker explained their process, the types of barrels used to age the wine and so on.  It’s amazing the work that goes into making wine, and no two batches are ever the same.  While Leelanau is prime real estate for growing grapes…that’s why there are 26 wineries here…the dynamic weather on the peninsula can make or break a crop.

Another thing that is evident is how these folks all work together.  They share their ideas and are all friends with each other.  There aren’t many industries who can boast that sort of business model.🙂

Another thing they do is the saberage ceremony, led again this year by Lee Lutes, winemaker from Black Star Farms.  He opens a bottle of Champagne with a saber, striking it on the neck of the bottle.

I was lucky enough to photograph the top of the bottle as it came off the end of the saber.  :)

After that, Camilla gathered us all for a selfie.  :)

The day was a lot of fun, and darned if we didn’t close the place down!

As an added bonus, our tickets included free tastings for the next week at the wineries.  That’s quite a bonus!  So on Tuesday afternoon, we went with Patti and Lane to three wineries near us.

First up was French Valley.  They are located on Suttons Bay, which is on the eastern side of the Leelanau Peninsula.  We sampled five of their wines and decided that we would be back to enjoy a bottle along with one of their wood-fired pizzas.

They have an outstanding view from their lawn.

Next up was Leelanau Cellars.

Their tasting room is a few miles north on Omena Bay.  Again, we sampled five wines and ended up buying a bottle from them.

They are in the same building as one of our favorite restaurants called Knot Just a Bar.  We’ve often commented that Omena Bay looks like it could be along the coast of Maine…but this is part of the Great Lakes, so no salt and no sharks.🙂

Our last stop was farther north in the middle of the peninsula at Green Bird Organic Cellars and Farm.

Patti took this photo of their vineyard.  One of the owners explained to us how they purchased the 67 acre organic farm from the previous owner, Good Neighbor Organic.  He and his business partner changed the name and are raising their families on the land with their wives.  There is also a distillery on the property, owned by another friend.  Quite a bit is happening with these ambitious folks.

Here we are with one of the owners Ben, on the right and Bill, the owner of the distillery.  These people are passionate about what they are doing.  We sampled several of their products, including some of Bill’s rum.  We purchased a bottle of Green Bird’s pear cider.  That visit capped off a really great afternoon with our friends Patti and Lane!

Our tasting tickets are good through this coming weekend, so we hope to get back out and sample a few more of the peninsula’s offerings.  This weekend starts the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, so things will be extremely busy.

The Blue Angels are in town, putting on their first show since they lost one of their pilots in a crash earlier this year.  One of the planes was practicing over the campground yesterday doing barrel rolls and inside loops.  We are anticipating seeing more of them today.

It’s been a great start to a busy festival season in Leelanau, and we are really looking forward to the next few months.  If you are in the area, stop in and join the fun!

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A Solid Foundation

When Diana and I were fifth wheel shopping in 2011, we decided on a used mid-range unit that was affordable and fairly well built.  We felt that we could move to a bigger rig and truck at a later date, but we really liked the layout of the Colorado.  We had toured it at an RV show back in 2007 and immediately felt at home in it.

Our rig came with a 10″ I-beam frame and a Morryde shear spring equalizer between our 5400 pound rated leaf springs and axles.  We purposely travel light, as we know the trailer’s limits.  But RVs being subject to the constant pounding of the road, things are bound to give out now and then.  The key is to notice the warning signs before they become a disaster.  Lucky for us, Diana has a keen eye.  I was showing her something on the slide room  mechanism and she said “What is that rust on the frame from?”  We have a powder coated frame that is pretty much free of rust.  Yet there it was…a thin horizontal line of rust about one inch up from the spring mount.  I scratched at it with my fingernail and revealed this:

Well, by golly…THAT’S not good.  It turns out that we had three spots cracked in that fashion, and all were directly under the point where the cross beams were welded to the inside of the I-beam. I went into research mode and discovered that Lippert (the frame manufacturer) is well aware of this problem and has a recommended fix.  When a trailer with dual axles makes a turn, one axle is forced to one side of the trailer and the second axle is forced to the opposite side.  Those forces are transmitted upward into the frame through the springs and spring mounts.  The first thing to prevent that flexing motion are the bottoms of the crossbeams, and that’s where the cracks occurred.  A boxed frame eliminates that flexing, as there are two pieces of vertical steel instead of one.  Those frames are found on much more expensive trailers; something we prefer not to invest in at this time.

I discussed Lippert’s suggested repair with Terry at Ace Welding in Traverse City, and he agreed that it would indeed take care of the issue.  After removing the protective underbelly from the rig, Diana and I took it in to have the work done. 

The recommended solution addresses the problem from both sides of the frame.  On the outside, an angled piece of steel is welded over the frame, as seen below.

That piece re-establishes the integrity of the I-beam.  Note that Ace skip-welded, so as to not compromise the original beam with a continuous weld.  Lippert called for one long weld, and most welders will tell you that’s not a good idea.

The other part of the fix is what prevents it from happening again:

Ace ran three 2″ square tubes across the trailer, one between each leaf spring mount.  They also put in triangular gussets extending up onto the I-beam frame and down onto each spring mount as far as possible.  Kudos to Pat at Ace for the excellent welding job.  To boot, he had us in and out in one day!  :)

While we were there, Pat showed me a travel trailer he was working on.  Instead of a true I-beam like we have on our Colorado, it had a 6″ assembled I-beam, made by welding three pieces of metal together in the shape of an “I”.  There were very few cross supports, and there were NONE near the wheels.  The frame had twisted to a point that the axles weren’t in alignment anymore.  He was doing the same sort of repair as he was doing on ours, so I knew from the start that he knew his stuff.  

When we returned to the campground, I nosed around beneath several different rigs to see if I saw the same issues.  The ones I looked at were different brands than ours, and Lippert had welded an additional piece on an angle to the I-beam at the spring mount.  Here is a photo of a 2005 Montana fifth wheel in our storage area:

There are several other brands of fifth wheels near us with the same setup.  While this piece of steel protects the I-beam from flexing, it really doesn’t protect the spring mount itself from twisting.  The square tube and triangular gussets that are now on our Colorado will take care of that.  If you are looking at your own trailer for signs of cracking, make sure the spring mounts are in good shape.  We also have an additional piece of “C” channel welded into each of our spring mounts (compare the last two photos) which offers some additional support at that point. I also noticed the heavy amount of rust on this unit. It appears it wasn’t powder-coated, or it spent time near salt water. 

Also, while I had the underbelly removed, I noticed that the manufacturer had run the trailer wiring loosely through the crossbeams:


That orange cable is our main power cable, and it had been rubbing on the top edge of a piece of angle iron.  It had not worn through, but it could have eventually.  I taped it and then bundled wires together with zip ties.  I also cut pieces of foam pipe insulation to fit over the angle iron.

When we returned home from Ace, I painted the steel with a Rustoleum primer, followed by a Rustoleum automotive grade paint.  I then reinstalled the underbelly.  The piece between the wheels hadn’t come out intact, so I purchased some plastic wall panels from the local home center to fashion new panels for that area.

I caulked and bolted those in, and I used expandable foam around the larger gaps near the spring mounts.  Total cost of the project, with welding, panels, foam and caulk:  less than $800.  Hopefully, we should be good to go for several more years.

As I stated earlier, we made a conscious decision to get a mid level fifth wheel as our first fulltiming unit. We still are confident that we made a good choice for us, as we have a decent rig for a fraction of the cost of an upper end RV.  Who knows what direction we will move in the future, but for now…we are happy campers!

Rolling Forward Through the Past

Sometimes a wonderful resource is born from misfortune.

In 1901, the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad  completed a spur from Traverse City to Northport, Michigan under the name Traverse City, Leelanau and Manistique Rail Road.  As part of the line, they also established a rail car ferry from Northport to Manistique in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Prior to that in 1874, they completed a rail spur from Traverse City back to their main north-south line (Cincinnati, Ohio to Mackinaw City, Michigan) at the tiny village of Walton, Michigan, later renamed Walton Junction.  That 1874 line began the immigration boom that Traverse City still sees to this day.  Diana and I had passed through Walton Junction for years on our way to her parent’s cottage on Fife Lake, never realizing that the name was derived from the meeting of theses two rail lines.

Competing with the already-established Ann Arbor Railroad for freight across the lake, it was quickly discovered that the ferry service wasn’t going to be profitable, so it was discontinued in 1908.  Freight and passenger service continued on through several different companies until 1975.  In 1989, the Leelanau Scenic Railway was established on the line, running to Suttons Bay until 1995, at which time the right-of-way was abandoned and the tracks were torn up.  All that was left of the railroad was the graded land, several bridges, and a handful of depot buildings.

The depot in Suttons Bay as it appeared in 1920…

…and repurposed as a law office today.

Meanwhile in Traverse City, the Traverse Area Recreational Trail had been built along an east/west rail corridor that ran through town.  With the success of that route, the Leelanau Trails Association purchased the 17 mile Leelanau Scenic Railway corridor from Traverse City to Suttons Bay….and work began on what was to become the Leelanau Trail. Asphalt paving was completed in 2013, and the pathway was designated as part of U.S. Bicycle Route 35.

Where trains struggled to get through the snow in winter…

…cross country ski trail groomers now run in the cold weather.

Where the passenger cars used to make their way northward…

…we now find ourselves riding along their former route, 115 years after the railroad was built.

Pedaling the Leelanau Trail (seen above in red) has become one of our favorite pastimes.  We started riding it in earnest last fall when we purchased our TerraTrikes.  Several wineries are located a short distance from the trail, so there isn’t a shortage of places to visit.  :)    The scenery along the route is amazing.

During the spring, the cherry blossoms carpet the hillsides.

Here is Diana photographing a bank full of Forget-Me-Nots.

These little beauties were the theme we chose for her mom’s funeral guest book; as a result, seeing these made this day pretty darn special.  :)

We enjoy seeing this draft horse and donkey along the way…

…as well as this huge cow that keeps them company.  :)

While many of the railroads of northern Michigan were not able to sustain their businesses, the efforts of the railroad workers are being reused through the development of these trails.  We consider ourselves fortunate to be located so close to the Leelanau Trail this srummer, and we look forward to many more rides along this historical pathway before we leave this fall.

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