Category Archives: Michigan

Further South in Michigan 

Who says you can’t go home?

Once we left Leelanau, we headed south and set up base camp in Byron Center to take care of our various doctors’ appointments.  When we arrived at Woodchip Campground, we experienced a bit of deja vu, as we were assigned the site next to the one where we wintered in 2014/2015.  With just one week scheduled to accomplish everything we had planned this go-around, we had our work cut out for us.  Still, we made sure we had time set aside to see friends and family and have some fun!

The first visit we made was to see my sister Judy and her husband Dale.  We failed to get a photo this year, but it was great to see them!

Here’s a photo of us from last year.  They took a cruise to Alaska in May and were fortunate enough to see Denali without clouds for almost their entire stay!  

Ok, so hang on…I’m going to my best to confuse the heck out of you on this one.  The next day we visited our friends Diane and Terry.  Diana taught with Diane, and Diane’s sister-in-law Diane.  Yes, Diane, Diane and Diana…and they were actually a team of three several years!  Anyway, Diane and Terry had a former German exchange student of theirs visiting while we were there.

We hadn’t seen Adrienne for several years, so it was definitely a nice surprise!

Later in the evening, Diane’s brother Bob and his wife Diane showed up with their triplets!

My goodness, these three are growing up!  From left to right is Allyson, Diana, Anthony, and Madelyn.  Anthony finally achieved his goal of growing taller than Diana!  So we failed to get a photo of either Diane….

…but we did get a photo of Terry giving Adrienne her first motorcycle ride!  It sure was good to see these friends!

The next morning, Diana had a mammogram appointment, which turned out great. We then buzzed out to Holland to get an adjustment from my long-time chiropractor.  If I could have him tag along on our travels, my back would be eternally grateful.  🙂 After that we headed to Detroit for a Tuesday appointment with my doctor at Henry Ford Health System.  This was a routine follow-up from my prostate surgery back in 2010.  On the way, we went to Flushing to see Diana’s Aunt Marion, Uncle Bob, and her cousin Debbie.  We really enjoyed visiting with them.  We then dropped south to Ortonville to visit the cemetery where Diana’s family is buried.  From there, we drove to Mt. Clemens and stayed the night at our niece Becky’s house.  Once again, we totally failed to get photos…arrrghh.  Becky and her hubby Dan were excellent hosts and made us a yummy dinner. Diana’s sister Cheryl also came over with our nephew Jared.  It was great to see everyone again!  Tuesday’s appointment went extremely well, and I’m happy to report that I’m coming up on 8 years cancer-free.  Yesssss! ☺️   We then drove back to Byron Center.

Sound like a full week?  Well, the week ain’t over yet folks….

Wednesday morning, we both had our annual physicals with our primary-care physician, then had our teeth cleaned at our dentist.  The physicals went well; the dentist, not so much.  It turns out we both needed crowns.  One of those resulted in us pushing our stay in Byron Center into the middle of the following week.  And just so we could say we had a happy hump-DAAAAY, I started my colonoscopy prep in the afternoon.  Oh joy.  After drinking a gallon of that horrible concoction, I was moved to use many bad words in my opinion of its maker. 

Thursday was my colonoscopy (my third) and all was well…except this is the second time in a row I’ve woken up halfway through.  Jeez…knock me out already, would ya?  Good part is, I’m good to go for another 5 years.

Friday was my appointment for my crown.  I was able to get a one-visit crown, which was a traumatic 3 hour long deal the last time I did it.  This time, while still 3 hours, was much better.  I asked for gas.  😉   

So by this time, you are probably thinking we are ready to drop, right?  Not.  We headed to Kalamazoo for WMU’s Homecoming!

From bottom left: Jim, Mike, Bill, Nina, Karen. Back row, from left: Billy, Cindy, Sue, Diana, Sheryl, Paul, Jim

We crashed at Mike and Cindy’s house for the weekend, even though they were going to Detroit on Saturday morning for a wedding.  Their son Brian and his girlfriend Sarah came over and took the role of surrogate hosts; oh, my…we knew the day would come that the kids would have to chaperone us!

Saturday came, and so did the rain and lightning.  It poured hard all day long, and the storms forced the postponement of the football game until Sunday.  

There was concern that the game would have to be played at a different location, as Waldo Stadium was completely flooded.  With a Herculean effort, more than a million gallons of water were pumped from the field in time to play Sunday afternoon.  Not sure how that affected folks downstream, though.  Anyway, most of us skipped the Sunday version of the game, as we needed to head out.  For us, that meant Byron Center again.

Monday we ran a bunch of errands.  One cool thing I want to highlight about that:  while we were at Camping World, I brought in a step I had purchased a while back.  One of the legs had broken on it, so I wanted to see what the warranty was.  The box didn’t say, but it did say that it was rated at 1000 pounds.

And seeing as we are Good Sam Life Members, Camping World was able to tell exactly when we bought it.  May of 2012.  Probably way out of warranty, but worth a call.  Stromberg Carlson requested a photo and a proof of purchase (which Camping World provided), so we zipped that all off to them.  Within an hour, they were sending us a new step!  That is great customer service that deserves to be mentioned.  And a big shout out to the Byron Center Camping World for their assistance!

On Tuesday, Diana went to lunch with her friend Colleen.  They grew up together in Ortonville, and she now lives in Rockford, just north of Grand Rapids.  I stayed home and caught up on a few projects and repairs.  Wednesday was Diana’s crown and we were ready to go.  We lifted our jacks Thursday morning and headed south towards warmer temperatures and more adventures.  Stay tuned to see what we come up with!

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Leelanau, 2017

There is just something about Leelanau County that keeps drawing us back.  Since we were coming back to Michigan for annual doctor appointments, we knew we would definitely want to make time for our beloved finger of land on northern Lake Michigan.

On September 24, we headed across the Mackinac Bridge, completing our quick trip across the Upper Peninsula.

It’s always a thrill to pull a 13 foot tall fifth wheel over this span…especially since the railing is only 3 feet high!  The Mackinac Bridge Authority limits loaded trucks to 20 mph for good reason, as the crosswinds can be formidable. As a result, I had a good 15 minutes to ‘enjoy’ my unobstructed view over the rail on the 5 mile crossing. 😉

We stopped by Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse to see how it was doing.  You may recall that my great-grandfather was the general contractor on the lighthouse and barn way back in 1892. I worked with Mackinac State Historic Parks for several years to get to light station reopened as a museum.  It’s great to see that the buildings are in fine shape.

The next day, we headed toward Leelenau.  When we drove through the intersection of Grandview and Division in Traverse City, we essentially completed our circle of the country we began last October 1st.  It was pretty overwhelming to reflect on the amazing experiences we’d had over that time period. It was also exciting to see what was new on the peninsula.

Our friends Rod and Mary had built a beautiful cottage just up the road from Wild Cherry Resort, so they invited us to use their RV pad.  They worked their tails off over the summer and have ended up with a dandy little slice of paradise!  We really appreciated being able to stay on their property.  We had piled up a ‘to-do’ list of items that needed attention on the rig, so I picked away at most of them.  It was there that our refrigerator door fell off, so that assumed the top item on my list.

We also stopped into Wild Cherry and saw Jim the owner, Paul, JoAnn, Skip and Rex.  Later in the week, I saw Rex’s wife Nellie in the grocery store.  Rex broke his leg earlier in the summer but is back mowing at the age of 93.  I snuck up alongside of her and said “Hey, Beautiful…how are you doing?”  She said “Well, hello!  I’m fine…it’s him that’s the problem!”…pointing to Rex back by the meat department.  😊

Rod also took us out sailing on Suttons Bay.  The breeze was stiff enough to allow us to sail with only the jib.

Mary and Diana were enjoying the wild ride!

On Saturday, September 30, we went to Leelanau UnCaged with Lane, Patti, Rod and Mary.  The event was a street fair in Northport which morphed into a park party with three bottles of wine and snacks from the town grocer. 😉   The six of us previously had gotten together for dinner at our place a couple of days before and also got together later in the week when Lane and Patti had us over to their place for dinner. It’s always a great time when we are together!

Later in the week, we went over to John and Julie’s new place on the southern end of the county.  John was one of my college suite mates and a fellow Zamboni driver.  He and Julie just built a really cool place that features beams and planks from a huge pine tree that grew where the house now sits.

After we hung out there for a bit, we headed to the village of Cedar for dinner.  Man, it’s great to be able to catch up with these two!

On Tuesday, Diana and Mary headed to Grand Rapids to do some shopping and to check out Meijer Gardens and some of the Artprize entries there.  I rode along with Rod to Traverse City where he was having his boat stored for the winter.  It was neat to see the process of pulling the vessel out of the water.

First thing they did was lift the mast from the boat, secure the rigging and then store it on a trailer with a multitude of other masts.

Then they had Rod pull the cruiser into slip and over the slings.

Up she goes…

…and loaded on the cradle.  Pretty cool name, seeing that Rod is a retired commercial airline pilot who took up sailing.  😎

It sure was great to get back to Leelanau for a few weeks and see everyone!  From here we head down to Grand Rapids for our doctor’s appointments and to see more friends and family.  Stay tuned to see what we come up with during our time there!

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Across the Top of Michigan  

Heading out of Duluth on Friday September 22, we made a beeline through Wisconsin to our home state of Michigan.  It had been almost an entire year since we left; the longest stretch either of us had ever been away.  Even though our point of entry was over 500 miles from the towns we grew up in, it felt like we were home. 😊

Looking at that big, blue Pure Michigan sign, I could only imagine Tim Allen describing the beauty of the Upper Peninsula in one of those iconic ads for the state.  Speaking of which…we were surprised to have seen one on TV this summer while we were in Oregon!  As we headed through Ironwood, I popped in The Accidentals latest CD Odyssey, just to complete the Michigan experience.  😎

One thing we had noticed as we headed east across the country; the campgrounds were expensive for what we were getting.  This fact was especially true in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota…with prices over $40 a night in almost every instance.  That price is fine if we are looking at a beautiful view…but more often than not, we were next to a set of train tracks in a gravel lot.  Well, when we arrived in the U.P., we found a sweet little overnight spot with a price that was tough to beat.

© 2017 Google Maps

In the bustling town of Bruce Crossing, we pulled into Stannard Township RV Park.  Twelve pull through, first come – first served sites, 50 amp electric, water, dump station, restroom and shower house for $10 a night.  Now that’s more like it!  Though it is located on US-45, the highway is lightly traveled in that area…and the railroad had been turned into a trail.  Bruce Crossing has a couple of bars, a cafe, store, gas station, and is located close to several nice waterfalls.  We were through the area back in 2015 when we visited Bond Falls on our 33rd anniversary.  

The next day, we headed northeast to the town of L’Anse (pronounced LAHHnse) to meet up with our forever friend, Debbie!

Diana and Debbie were Girl Scouts together in Ortonville when they were growing up.  They know all the songs they learned back then and will gladly sing a duet, if asked!  Debbie lives in Houghton now, halfway up the Keewenaw Peninsula.  We met for breakfast, which she insisted on picking up the tab.  Thanks, Debbie!

From there, we headed down to Canyon Falls.  This is one place we had not seen yet, so we pulled in to check it out.  It doubles as a roadside rest area, so there was plenty of room for the RV.

Along the 1/4 mile trail to the falls, we saw this interesting clump of trees growing over this boulder.

There was a little bit of fall color starting to show along the way.

The largest falls were difficult to view, as there wasn’t a trail to see them from the front…only from above.  Still, they were very pretty!

After returning to our vehicles, we made the choice to head back into L’Ance to check out a campground a little northwest of there.  Our original plan was to drive 96 miles to Munising, but the day was so unseasonably warm, we wanted to go swimming in Lake Superior.  If there is ever a time to swim in this frigid body of water, late summer or early autumn would be it!

We scored a ginormous site at Ojibwa Recreation Area.  This site had 50 amp electric, but we needed to obtain water at the dump station.  This little slice of paradise cost us $19 a night and included our own personal sandy beach on L’Anse Bay.

We both stood thigh deep in the chilly water for a loooong time before going any deeper.  We eventually ended up diving in, hoping all the while that our hearts wouldn’t stop from the shock!  Those kids behind us were in and out of the lake all afternoon and evening…the water temperature didn’t faze them a bit. 😊

On Sunday, we made the decision to head directly to Mackinaw City, a trip of about 240 miles.  That’s about the upper limit we like to drive in a day, especially considering the route was mostly two lane roads.  Just west of Munising, we pulled into a roadside turnout to stretch our legs.

This is the view from our parking spot. There were several NO CAMPING signs, for good reason!  We rolled up our shorts and waded out as deep as we could.  Boy, did that feel good!

The crystal clear water and sandy bottom were really a nice break in the middle of a long driving day. 😊

Next up:  we cross the Mighty Mackinac Bridge and head towards Leelanau for a visit with friends.  Be sure to stay tuned!

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Reflections in the Rear View Mirror

If there is one constant in a fulltime RVer’s life, it has to be the D on the transmission indicator on our dashboards as we head out in the morning. The only time we put it in R to back up seems to be when we are parking our rigs at the end of the day. A scene from the movie Gumball Rally pops into my head where an Italian race car driver named Franco looks at the guy in the passenger seat and says “First rule of Italian driving…” as he reaches up and snaps off the rear view mirror and tosses it out of the car “…what’s behind you isn’t important”.  

And while Diana and I like to examine the history of the locations we visit, there is still that forward movement of wondering what’s over the next hill or around the next bend. Shift to D, turn on the radio and step on the gas. It’s right about that time when life taps you on the shoulder and reminds you that Franco’s statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

Part of our preparations to leave Florida and head west have been to take care of authenticating our mortality, so to speak.  In other words, preparing wills and similar paperwork.  Our home base is the Sunshine State, so this is the place to take care of that business.  Traipsing our caravan across the country in two separate vehicles places a greater need for such documentation, especially when one of us has 14,000 pounds following in close proximity.  Snapping that rear view mirror off would be ill-advised!  So we plowed through the perpetual paperwork (pardon the pun), moving forward with our feet on the gas…just wanting to get it completed.  On St. Patrick’s Day, we had a noon appointment to sign our wills and have them witnessed and notarized, so we went about our morning routine in preparation for the meeting.  That’s when I sat down in my recliner and checked my phone.  There was a text from my former coworker Barb that read, quite simply “Hey. Just wanted to make sure you heard about Richie.”  Well, considering Richie was one of the two people I kept in somewhat regular touch with from work (Kenny being the other) and it wasn’t him telling me what happened to himself, I knew this wasn’t going to be good. So I casually replied “No, what’s up?”, hoping to hear he won the lottery or something.  It was not to be.  A flurry of texts came in from Jeff, Stephen and Barb to tell me he had passed. From what has been told to me since, he had kissed his beloved wife Connie goodnight, took a few steps towards the bedroom and collapsed from a massive heart attack.  62 years old, planning on retiring and looking forward to having more time for golf.  Now don’t get me wrong…Dickey-boy had a lot of fun in his life.  In addition to golf, he loved NFL football and his Detroit Lions, along with classic rock music.  He knew several people in the music industry, played a little guitar, and was close friends with the members of Foghat.

Our VP, Joel, took this tongue-in-cheek photo of us, poking a little fun of the long-standing brothership we shared.  I proudly own that, as we worked side by side for 30 years and had each other’s backs.  He thought the world of Diana, and we indeed are both going to miss him.  The irony of finding out as we were about to sign our wills wasn’t lost on us, nor was the fact that the beach bar we toasted him at was playing classic rock instead of the usual trop-rock.

It dawned on me later that one of the songs playing was The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps.  Nice song selection, Richie…looks like you just picked up a DJ gig upstairs. 😉

Suddenly, I noticed I had eased off the gas and had slipped the shifter to N.   Instead of thinking about our upcoming trip, I found myself pondering the past.  We were fortunate enough to meet up for dinner with Bob and Pat from Michigan Traveler, and Bonnie and Fred from HappiLEE RVing this last weekend.  Bob and I both grew up in Allen Park, Michigan, and we spent a week together at Wild Cherry, so we have a lot of past in common.  Fred and Bonnie and us met at the RV-Dreams Rally and we’ve seen each a couple times other since, so we have a fair amount of history. Bob and Fred are both retired military, and the couples spend a fair amount of time at the US military FamCamps, so we thought it would be fun for them to meet.

It was good to pause and reflect a bit and catch up on everybody’s lives.  🙂

Just after that, we had some business we needed to take care of up in Green Cove Springs.  We saw that Linda and Steven, our friends we met at Amazon, were very close by.  We contacted them, and they invited us to join in on a lunch date in Jacksonville they had with Howard and Linda, founders of RV-Dreams.  It was those two who’s seminars at a Grand Rapids RV show in January of 2014 provided the final nudge to get us on the road.  With no firm plans to leave our jobs at that point, their presentations caused us to go home and crunch some numbers.  By March 21 of that year, I was retired, and Diana was done at work by July 1.

Our lunch turned into a wonderful two hour conversation on what this journey we are on means to all of us.  Not only was the future discussed, but the past was reflected upon.  I detected a few misty eyes on a couple of heartfelt points that were made.  We were so engrossed in what everyone was saying, we didn’t notice that the servers had turned up all the chairs at the surrounding tables and the restaurant had closed over a half hour earlier.  Yeah, it was that good.  What finally caught our attention was the silence during a pause in the dialogue. The music had stopped playing.  Oops…time to head down the road!

We spent the night in St Augustine and toured there with Steven and Linda the next day.  

They had not been there before, and they wanted to see Castillo de San Marcos, among other things.  

It was fun to experience St Augustine with them and look forward to all the plans we have for the future!

I called Kenny last night.  We reminisced and had some laughs, along with sharing what we are currently doing in our lives.  It was really good to hear his voice again. So while everyone I’ve interacted with over the past week are ready to shift into D to see what’s around the next bend in their lives, life itself provided us with a bit of a lesson that we ought not forget the images in the rear view mirror. 

Even though there is sadness mixed into the joy in our memories, we need to listen to the music of our youth and laugh at the silly pictures in our minds. As George Harrison sang “I look at the world and I notice it’s turning. Still my guitar gently weeps…”

Rock on, Richie…Rock on.

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Always in our hearts

Leelanau….a peninsula, a county, a state of mind.  It is a place we’ve written about extensively over the past couple of years. Not only has it been our landing for the past two summers, it has been a place we’ve known well for most of our lives.  A place of indescribable beauty, this finger of land has woven its way into our souls like no other could ever hope to.  We have traveled most of the United States and Canada as a couple and are confident in making that statement.  The friends we’ve made there share that sentiment and our love for the region.  It’s a place where people don’t lock their doors, as the only things stolen are the iconic M-22 highway signs…as visitors want to take a piece of the region home with them.  

With that being said, our goal has always been to return to the places we’ve traveled to and experience them more fully in our retirement.  We must move on for an extended period and begin our journey through North America. The difficulty in doing so is immeasurable, but comfort lives in the understanding that we’ve already found our eventual summer roost, and that we will most definitely be back in the future.

The past few weeks have been a flurry of activity for us.  Following the Harvest Stompede, our fellow RV-Dreams family members Bob and Kathrun stopped in at Wild Cherry for a few days on their journey westward from Nova Scotia. We met them at the rally we attended in Goshen, Indiana in September, 2014.  You may recall that we toured San Antonio with them earlier this year.

We pretty much ran the wheels off the Escape during the time they were here.  It’s always great seeing them!

We also made a quick trip to Kalamazoo to see our college friends and go to a Western Michigan University’s football game.  Our friends’ son, Billy, made the team as a walk-on this year, and while he has yet to see playing time, he has gained a wealth of life experiences being on the team. We are so proud of him for working so hard to reach his goal.

Western won over Georgia Southern 49-31 and extended their record to 4-0, having beat two Big 10 schools along the way.  They are now 5-0, having just beat their arch rival Central Michigan 49-10. Go Broncos!

After Kalamazoo, we stopped at my sister and brother-in-laws home on Long Lake near Harrison, Michigan.  

It’s always good seeing Judy and Dale!

Dale took Diana and I out with their ATV on the land they just bought near them. It was fun checking out the many two-tracks that run through the property.

When we got back to Leelanau, we had a house warming at Lane and Patti’s new home that they are building.

Our friends Camilla, Rod and Mary were there also.  The house is still under construction, but some of us are leaving…so the party couldn’t wait.

Patti and Lane had to open their gifts before the sun set, as the electrician still needed to hook up the lights!

On Wednesday, fellow RV-Dreamers Cori and Greg stopped by to meet us.  They were traveling through Michigan, so we invited them to the Wild Cherry potluck that was happening that evening.

We have been following Cori’s blog, The Restless Youngs…but this is the first time we had met them.  They are super people, and we enjoyed getting to know them!

On Friday, we hooked up and said our goodbyes to our friends at Wild Cherry.  

Paul and JoAnn gave us a thoughtful going away present, which was very sweet of them.  We want to extend a sincere thank you to Wild Cherry’s owners, Jim and Sandy, for their friendship and hospitality the past two years.  They are a sweet couple and we wish them well with the resort. We definitely plan on taking them up on their offer to return in the future!

So what’s next for us?  Well, we are stopping in Grand Rapids for a week to take care of health and hair appointments.  We are also dropping off a few things at the storage room.  We made a quick run to Indiana on Saturday to see my Aunt Marge and Uncle Ed, as it is going to be awhile before we get back this way. From Grand Rapids, we are headed to Campbellsville, Kentucky to work the peak season at Amazon.  We are looking forward to the challange!  From there, we are planning to return to Melbourne Beach for the winter, then it is a ‘jello plan’ to head west.  More about that as we get closer to that time period.  We are excited to see what the future brings, so we hope you stay tuned!

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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.