Category Archives: Michigan

Michigan 2018 Wrap-up

Almost as fast as it began, our late summer in Michigan has come to an end.  The last few weeks were a flurry of activity, work, and fun!  Check it out:

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My sister Judy and brother-in-law Dale came to visit.  They went on a hike with us to Pyramid Point and checked out the maritime museums at Sleeping Bear.  We finished up the day with dinner at Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor.  It sure was good to see them!

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We also had a visit from my cousin Sue and her hubby John.  Its always fun to hang out with these two!  We caught a sunset with them at the Lake Michigan Overlook and a late dinner at Cherry Republic.

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Diana’s cousin Nancy and her husband David also stopped by, as did Nancy’s brothers Jerry and Reed.  After that, we saw our friends John and Julie, and then Diana’s cousins Evelyn, Linda and Brenda were in town.  We also were able to see our friends Camilla, Lane, Patti, Rod, Mary, George and Grace again.  Hope I didn’t miss anyone!

While at the National Lakeshore, we were encouraged to visit as much of the park as possible.  By doing so, we were able to give accurate information to our guests in the visitor center.  While out checking Good Harbor Beach, Diana spotted this cloud pattern, which is pretty typical over the peninsula.

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All that water makes for a dynamic sky.  🙂

The end of the season saw our maritime museum receive a fresh coat of paint.

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It was a tedious project, as there was lead paint that had to be removed. They really did a nice job!

We also were able to take a tour of Glen Haven with our supervisor, Marie.

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Here she is explaining the construction of the Sleeping Bear Inn.  The hotel was built in 1857, and the park is hoping to have it restored and put back into use.  Marie is a wealth of knowledge and a joy to be around.  🙂

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And here is one of the longtime residents, Leonard Thoreson, filling visitors in on the area history.  His parents owned one of the farms that is now part of the Port Oneida Rural Historic District.  Leonard can be seen riding his bike through the park just about daily.  The white plate on the front of his bike says “91”, which refers to is age.  What a treasure.

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One really fun thing we did was to work at the big relief map at the visitor center.  Here’s Diana explaining the park’s features to our guests.  It’s neat to learn about people’s interests, and match them up with what the park has to offer. People were really appreciative of our efforts.

Soon it was time to leave.

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We didn’t get a photo of Judy and Paul or of Bob and MaryJo, but we did get one of Rick and Debbie!  We sure enjoyed sharing our little campground with all these folks!

From Leelanau, we headed to Grand Rapids for a week.  While there, we were able to buzz down to Indiana to see my aunt and uncle again.  Both are doing well.  We also took care of annual physicals and such, finishing up the week in Kalamazoo for Western Michigan University’s homecoming.

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The weather wasn’t the greatest, but the rain held off for the game.  Western beat Eastern Michigan 27-24, so that added to the fun!

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We had quite the crew, first and second generation Broncos!  Brian and Sarah (olive and black shirts in the center) are getting married in a few weeks, and circumstance doesn’t allow for the group to attend, so….

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…we held a Bronco wedding!  Sarah was the Broncette and Brian was the Bronco.

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Brian’s brother Eric was the ring bearer, and he had us in stitches.   We had a reception, cake, dancing…you name it, we did it.  Diana and I even won the anniversary dance for a change! The entire event was way beyond what any of us thought it would be.  Man, we have fun when we get together!

From there, we headed to southeast Michigan to see Diana’s family.

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From left, our nephew Jared, Diana’s sister Cheryl, Dan and Becky (our niece), Diana’s brother-in-law Doug, Diana and I.  We had a great time catching up with everyone!

From there, we visited Diana’s uncle Bob and cousin Debbie.  While we were there, we camped in Diana’s hometown, Ortonville…just across the street from where we were married 36 years ago.  It was fun to be back there.  🙂

This morning, we headed south out of Michigan.  We are keeping a close eye on Hurricane Michael, as it is crossing our path to Florida.  It will be long gone by the time we get to Georgia, but we don’t know what sort of damage we are going to find.  The next few days should be interesting.

Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

Shipwrecks and Lifesaving on the Manitou Passage

One of the consistent statements we hear from visitors to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is that Lake Michigan’s Manitou Passage looks like the Caribbean.  When the sun shines on these crystal clear waters, the deep blue and turquoise colors are breathtaking.

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Peaceful scenes such as the 1000 foot freighter American Spirit steaming past the North Manitou Shoal Lighthouse in the distance are common here in Leelanau County.  Looking at this, it’s difficult to imagine the fury the lake can unleash…often within a matter of minutes.  Many a mariner has been caught unaware in these waters, and their ships have been wrecked near these shores.

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This chart shows the ideal route that ships aim for as a dotted line.  By going this direction a vessel can shave 60 miles off of their trip between Mackinac and Chicago, as opposed to going west of the islands.  This archipelago can also act as protection from strong westerly winds.  During a fierce gale in 1913, the steamer Illinois found refuge in South Manitou Island’s crescent-shaped harbor by nosing into the beach and keeping the engines running forward for 50 continuous hours.  It was at that point that the wind subsided enough for a crewman to go ashore and secure the ship to a large tree, so they could power down the ship.

Back in late 1800’s and early 1900’s, there weren’t any decent roads in northern Michigan and the lakes were considered a highway.  It wasn’t unusual for 100 vessels to be in the Manitou Passage on a given day, as it was also a major fueling station.  Wood was the fuel of choice back then for steamships, and these shores had plenty of it.  All of that traffic, combined with the occasional storm, brought about many shipwrecks. Over 100 vessels were known to have run aground, with many of them being refloated and saved.

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Over 50 were left in place to be dismantled by the power of Lake Michigan’s waves.

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One such ship was the Walter L. Frost, which ran aground along South Manitou Island’s shore in 1903.  It wasn’t too many years until nothing remained above the lake’s surface.

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In 1960, the Liberian freighter Francisco Morazan grounded on South Manitou Island after losing power, running over the subsurface remains of the Frost (blue arrow) in the process.

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Today, the remains of the Morazan are a visible reminder of just how brutal this lake can be to a ship….

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…and a flyover will reveal many of the other wrecks in the passage.

We had an excellent example of the moodiness of Lake Michigan this past week.

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This is a photo of the 620 foot long Mississagi, heading south through the fog towards Muskegon on Thursday.

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On the ship’s return northward on Friday, it was met with 50 + MPH gusts coming from the northwest.  As a reference, this photo was taken on the east side of the Manitou Islands, so the ship was not experiencing the high waves that were occurring out in the open lake on the west side.

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But look what the captain did once he was past Leland and North Manitou Island.  With the full brunt of the gale hitting them broadside, he choose to turn the bow northwestward and head across the lake to calmer waters along the Upper Peninsula shore.  Once there, he turned northeastward and headed towards the Straits of Mackinac.  As he passed Mackinac Island, he witnessed the only shipping casualty of that day’s storm. The tug and barge Defiance/Ashtabula had run aground.  Once the gale subsided, that ship was able to be freed from the clay bottom with little damage.  The storm was strong enough to not only close the Mackinac Bridge to high profile vehicles but also the Soo Locks.  That rarely happens.

Nowadays, rescues are performed by the Coast Guard with helicopters and enclosed motor lifeboats.  Back when the Illinois sought shelter in South Manitou Harbor in 1913, the U.S. Life Saving Service (USLSS) had other equipment at their disposal.

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For the wrecks that were farther than 500 yards from shore, the USLSS would use an open surfboat to rescue stranded sailors.  The Sleeping Bear Point Life Saving Station performed 5% of their rescues in this manner.  But since most wrecks occurred along the shore, a beach apparatus was employed to bring the crew to safety.

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That consisted of several lines, a breeches buoy, and a cannon (called a Lyle Gun) to fire the initial line over the ship.  The breeches buoy was nothing more than a pair of pants (britches) attached to a life ring.  What this apparatus amounted to was similar to a modern day zip line.

Here at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, we perform a daily demonstration (summer months only) of the beach apparatus using young volunteers from the audience as surfmen.  This program is called Heroes of the Storm.

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Here is Captain Diana with her crew, Raggedy Ann and Andy, calling for help from her stranded ship.  A simulated Lyle Gun fires a projectile with a line out to the ship, which allows the captain to drag out the heavier rescue lines.

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Here is Captain Jim on another occasion sending Ann towards the shore in the breeches buoy.

A special treat occurs on Thursdays, right after the Heroes program.  That is the day an actual Lyle Gun is fired.  This cannon is the only gun invented by the U.S. Army to save lives instead of take them.

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An 18-pound projectile, similar to the one I am holding here, is loaded into the Lyle gun.  A 200-yard long shot line is tied to the end of it.  That is fired out into Sleeping Bear Bay each week.  Once the line is hauled back in, it is hung along the station’s picket fence to dry.  Once dried out, it is the park volunteer’s job to ‘fake’ the line into what is called the faking box.

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Here is Diana winding the rope around the faking box pegs.

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And here we are with 200 yards of faked rope.  There is a lid that is put over this afterwards. Once at the beach, the whole thing is turned over and the rope is slid off the pegs and into the lid.  Hopefully it doesn’t tangle when they fire the gun!  Let’s find out in this slo-mo video.  This took place the day we faked the rope:

Lyle Gun video: CLICK HERE

So there you have it.  That brought a smile to our faces!

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Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

 

The Finest Hours

“You have to go out; you don’t have to come back” 

Unofficial Coast Guard motto

 

September 8, 2018

A few months back, you may recall that we stopped into the Old Harbor Lifesaving Station while we were visiting the Cape Cod National Seashore.  One of the reasons for that visit was to see how a tour of a maritime museum is conducted.  Our tour guide, a National Park Service volunteer named David, inspired us with his ability to portray what life in the U.S. Life Saving Service was like.  While we were there, he gave us a tip to go see a famous Coast Guard boat that was docked in Rock Harbor, some 30 miles to the south.  It was the subject of a movie called The Finest Hours.

This turned out to be a case where history stared us right in the face and we didn’t catch it.

The next day, we set off to explore Cape Cod’s elbow, first visiting Chatham, and then Rock Harbor.  At Chatham, we parked in front of the Coast Guard station and lighthouse. This complex overlooks the Chatham Bars, a series of sandbars that extend out into the ocean.

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We were a bit more focused on this shack constructed along the shore, but we did note how far out the waves were breaking on the ever-changing sand bars.  Shortly after taking this photo, a driving rain came in off of the ocean, so we failed to photograph the station and lighthouse.  Instead, we headed up to Rock Harbor to see the boat that David had mentioned.  Once at the dock, we were greeted by this sign:

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Still not familiar with the story or the film The Finest Hours, we descended to the lower dock to examine the boat.

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Obviously well restored and impressive to look at, the CG-36500 was tied up with little explanation to it’s storied past, short of the fact that it was a gold medal boat that had saved 32 men.  Not knowing much about Coast Guard history, we focused on how impeccable this boat was and not much else.

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The fittings on the craft were impressive.  Still, we were somewhat more interested in the U.S. Life Saving Service on this trip than the Coast Guard, so this small beauty’s story didn’t fully grab our attention.  We left the dock with the intention to see the movie and to research the boat’s story.  One thing led to another, and that didn’t happen.

Fast forward to our boat museum in the former Glen Haven Canning Company building at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.   When we started our stint as volunteers here at the beginning of August, it was hard not to notice the largest boat in the museum as being similar to the CG-36500 we saw in Massachusetts back in May.

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Turns out it was not only similar, but built from the same blueprint.  Our boat, the CG-36527, had been stationed at Duluth, Minnesota.

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Both crafts, along with the 128 sister TRS 36-foot motor lifeboats, were built by hand at the Curtis Bay Yard in Maryland.

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Not being in the water, it appeared much larger than it’s fleetmate out on Cape Cod.  The boat is self-bailing, self-righting, 10 tons and its motor will run upside down.  Solid as a stone and virtually unsinkable.  It is rated to carry a crew of four and up to twelve survivors.

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The ‘pudding’ bumper on the front is a work of art.  Visitors comment that it resembles a mustache.

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Standing on an easel by the front of the craft, this poster is displayed.

There’s that movie we failed to see…

So we watched the movie, then read the book of the same title.  The story goes like this:  A ferocious winter storm off the coast of Cape Cod in February of 1952 caught two World War II era tankers in its grip.  Both ships split in two between their bows and sterns.  The Fort Mercer was able to get a distress call off, and the Coast Guard sent most of their boats to assist in rescuing that ship’s crew.  The Pendleton wasn’t able to get an SOS off before it broke up, and it wasn’t until they were noticed on radar that the Chatham stationmaster Daniel Cluff went into action.  He ordered Boatswain’s Mate Bernie Webber to gather three other men and head out in the CG-36500 to see if there were any survivors.  Doing so meant they had to cross the dangerous Chatham Bars that we mentioned earlier.  Those sandbars have been known to rip boats to pieces in mild seas, and the waves that afternoon were upwards of 60 feet high!  Most of the locals considered it impossible.

“You have to go out; you don’t have to come back.”

Crossing the bar meant timing the waves, gunning the throttle on the upside and switching to full reverse throttle down the backside…so as to keep from driving the bow into the sand.  The ship’s compass was ripped loose and lost overboard almost immediately and the windshield was shattered.  Miraculously, they made it past the bars, but they were now running purely on Webber’s knowledge of the currents and the winds.  They somehow found the stern of the Pendleton, which was still afloat.  On deck were 33 men, anxious to get off.  (It was discovered later that the bow section had partially sank, killing the captain and crew that were in it.)

Remember, the CG-36500 is rated to carry a crew of four and up to twelve survivors.

Suddenly, a Jacob’s ladder was thrown over Pendleton’s stern and the men started down.  Webber brought the little lifeboat in close to get each man, backing away in between to keep from smashing into the tanker’s side.  Men were packed into the survivor’s cabin and onto every available space on deck.  The only man that didn’t make it was Tiny Myers, the ship’s 300 pound cook.  He fell into the sea and a wave threw the lifeboat into him, killing him.  Once everyone was on board, Webber pointed the CG-36500 back towards shore, hoping to beach it somewhere.  The tide had risen and they were able to cross the bars rather quickly.  As luck would have it, they ended up at the mouth of Chatham Harbor and were able to come directly into the dock with their soaked and freezing survivors.

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All four crew members were awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal for their efforts.  They tested CG-36500’s limits, which in turn performed beyond its intended purpose for them.  The mission is considered to be the Coast Guard’s greatest small boat rescue ever.  The craft continued to serve until it was decommissioned in 1968.  It was donated to the Cape Cod National Seashore with the intention that it would be displayed in a museum.  Funds never materialized, and the boat was left to rot in a storage yard, totally exposed to the elements.  The Orleans Historical Society acquired it in 1981 and restored it to the operational beauty it is today.

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In 2002, the crew was reassembled for the 50th anniversary of the rescue, and they were able to take the CG-36500 out for a tour of the harbor with Webber at the helm..  That would have been a sight to see. Clockwise from the front:  Andy Fitzgerald, Richard Livesey, Charles Bridges (Pendleton crewmember who later joined the Coast Guard), Ervin Maske and Bernie Webber.

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If you find yourself on Cape Cod, be sure to stop in Rock Harbor and view this wonderful piece of history.  Maybe rent the movie or read the book. Or if you find one of the 15 or so remaining 36 footers that grace our nation’s maritime museums, take a moment to imagine that night in 1952 when the Coast Guard witnessed their finest hours.

Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Sleeping Bear 2018

July 29 – August 14, 2018

We are happy to be back in Leelanau County, Michigan for the months of August and September.  We will be volunteering for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.   As we did for Oregon State Parks, we will be working as Interpretive Volunteers throughout the park.  Our duties include working in the two maritime locations, the visitor center, and as narrators on bus tours of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

Campsite

As compensation, we are given a campsite at D.H. Day Campground.

We came in a few days early and camped at Leelanau Sands Casino, just north of Suttons Bay.  In order to stay there, we had to sign up for a Players Club card.  First time cardholders are given $10 in free slot play.

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I had a pretty lucky night.  The machine I was playing started going wild!  The guy next to me was laughing, as he thought I was doing pretty good for a 30 cent bet.  When I informed him I was playing on the casino’s money, his jaw hit the floor.  By the time we walked out, I was over $180 in winnings.  Not bad for someone who doesn’t frequent casinos!

Before we headed to Sleeping Bear, our friends Linda and Steven came and stayed next to us at Leelanau Sands.

Linda and Steven

We all went to Patti and Lane’s house for dinner, along with Rod and Mary.  We also went out to eat a few times and checked out Peterson Park.

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We love the view from up there, as it’s possible to see four islands on a clear day.

We also went kayaking on Little Traverse Lake with Lane and Patti.  Here they are heading back out after we had to get ready to go back to our camp.

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Pretty soon, it was our first day on the job….which also happened to be out 36th anniversary!

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Here we are in the Cannery, which is a fruit processing plant turned boat museum.

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The boat I am sitting in front of is identical to the one from the movie, The Finest Hours.  It is self-righting, self-bailing, practically unsinkable and the diesel engine will run upside down.

The other maritime location is the 1902 lifesaving station.  The boathouse is said to be the most completely equipped station in the United States.

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Here I am letting one our visitors feel how heavy the Lyle gun projectile is.  That particular gun would shoot a line over a disabled ship in order to establish a lifesaving zipline, then called a breeches buoy.  The Lyle gun was the only cannon ever developed to save lives, instead of taking them.

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We also have two open surfboats on display.

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And every afternoon, the park puts on a program called Heroes of the Storm, a reenactment of how a Lyle gun rescue works.  Seven children are pulled out of the crowd to serve as surfmen.  The sailors they save from the ‘ship’ are Raggedy Ann and Andy.  It’s really fun.  🙂

And on Thursdays, the park fires off a real Lyle gun.  It is a sight to see!

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The initial blast…

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…pushing out the flame and the projectile.

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As the projectile gets dragged by the shot line coming out of the blue box, it turns around and heads out over the water….

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…eventually landing 200 yards out, dragging the shot line behind it.  The surfmen back in the day could launch the projectile up to 600 yards.

We also worked at the Port Oneida Fair, which is a celebration of the early 20th Century rural culture. Living history activities were held at several of the historic farms, as well as the school house, that are a part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

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Diana worked at the washtub station, teaching children how to do laundry.

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When the local TV station started filming, we  decided to watch the news that night.  Not only was she on there…

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…so was I, teaching kids how to run a corn sheller.  🙂

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One gentleman was even teaching youngsters how to play a hammer dulcimer.

Blacksmith Shop

And who is that in the Blacksmith shop?  Well that is Diana, providing lunch relief for the blacksmith and keeping the fire going, while explaining the role of the blacksmith in the town of Glen Haven.  🙂

Northport

We also were visited by our friends Jodee and Bill!  Here we are at Music in the Park in Northport.

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We also checked out Sleeping Bear and the Old Mission Peninsula with them….

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…and their sweet fluffy dog Tessa.  🙂

Our last night with them, we managed to get tickets for The Accidentals.  We have been following this trio for several years now.  Their latest album Odyssey has been played in our CD players from Oregon to Florida to Maine and back to Michigan.

The Accidentals

Diana and I have seen them perform twice in the past at outside venues, but it was great to see and hear them inside an auditorium.   The four of us were blown away, hooting and hollering throughout the show.  If you ever have the opportunity to see them, don’t miss it.

Well, that gives you an idea of what we’ve been up to the past few weeks.  Stay tuned for our next post as we continue to find new adventures to share with you.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

Photographs and Memories

July 6 – 28, 2018

“Photographs and memories
Christmas cards you sent to me
All that I have are these
To remember you”

Jim Croce

Sometimes our lives move so fast, we forget to look back and see where we’ve been.  And while our 4 month rambling trip from Florida to Michigan was anything but quick, we had a tendency to focus on the road ahead to our next destination.  That all changed when we left Cooperstown, NY.  It was about then that our plans completely turned to Jello.  We knew we had several people we wanted to visit in Michigan and Indiana, but nothing spoke to us as what route to take or what order to do it in.  We had several options to choose from.  Day by day, the next stopping point was chosen, but the overall route continued to elude us.  What we didn’t realize was that a single event was going to end up choosing our path for us.  And once we were here, it turned out that each location held a period of reflection for us, filled with boxes of photographs and memories.

Our first stop beyond Cooperstown was Seneca Lake, NY.

Rig at White Springs Winery

We had wanted to spend some time at one of the several Harvest Hosts locations that our friends Linda and Steven (The Chouters) had stayed at last year.  We chose this dandy spot at White Springs Winery, just south of Geneva.

Jim at White Springs Winery

It was a great place to not only share a bottle of Pinot Grigio, but to enjoy a fabulous view!  Our original plans had us staying at two separate wineries, but we opted to move further down the road after a two night stay.

From that point, we had to decide whether to route through Canada or the United States.  We chose the latter, as we were thinking we would want to visit my aunt and uncle in Indiana first.  We spent a few nights at Westfield, NY on the southern shore of Lake Erie.

Barcelona Lighthouse

This charming little community is home to the Barcelona Lighthouse, which was built in 1829.  It has the distinction as being the first lighthouse to be lit using natural gas.  A concrete dome was built over a spring a half mile away to trap escaping gases, and a pipe was laid between the two structures.  Pretty fancy technology for the early 1800’s.  We also discovered that the area is a major grape-growing region, and was home to Welch’s near the end of the 19th century.

It was at this location that our route became clearer.  Diana received a call that her aunt wasn’t doing well.  We’ve always been close to Aunt Marion and Uncle Bob, so we made tracks for Flint, Michigan without haste.  We stopped at Cabela’s in Dundee, Michigan for the night, close to 300 miles from our starting point that morning.

Cabelas Dundee display

If there is one thing that Cabela’s does well, it’s how they showcase the mounts in each store.  The displays in this 225,000 square foot location are spectacular.  Instead of one musk ox, they show an entire herd of them facing off against a pack of wolves.

By the time we reached Flint the next day, Aunt Marion had passed.  We were fortunate to get a camping spot at the Flushing Moose Lodge just a few miles from Bob and Marion’s home, which ended up working very well for us.  We spent the next days with family, sorting through photographs and remembering happier times.

Bob and Marion

Here is a photo of Bob and Marion, looking their usual dapper selves.  🙂  They were quite a duo.  Marion was Diana’s mother’s sister.

During our stay, we took the opportunity to drive by Diana’s childhood home and to visit the cemetery where her parents are buried.  On the way back to Flushing, we drove by the house where Diana’s mother grew up in Goodrich.  This also was the spot where Uncle Bob met Aunt Marion over 70 years ago.  The current owners were outside, so Diana mentioned to them that her grandparents used to live there.  They graciously invited us in!

Diana at Grandma's house

Needless to say, Diana was overjoyed to be able to show me the home.  Many memories were shared, and several of the owners questions were answered as to how the house used to be. The woodwork on the stairs to the basement survived several remodels.

After the funeral, we headed north to visit my sister Judy and brother-in-law Dale in Harrison, Michigan.  We attended a benefit concert for the local library and visited the local veteran’s museum that Dale helps out with.

Grandpa Belisle

One of the displays was of Judy’s and my paternal grandfather, a veteran of World War I.  He was a Canadian citizen at the time, fighting as a U.S. Army soldier.

Jim paddleboarding

While we were there, I even had the opportunity to try out Judy and Dale’s paddle board.  I never fell off, but I sure felt it the next day!  🙂  Judy and I also pulled out a box of family photos, as I was looking for a particular photograph.  I never found it, but I did come upon this gem:

GG Schmitt

This is my Great Grandpa and Great Grandma Schmitt.  He’s the one who built Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, among other things.  This photograph is probably from the 1870’s.  We are only three generations apart, despite the many years.  Do you think we look a bit like each other?

From Harrison, we headed south towards Indiana.  We stopped along the way at the Moose Lodge in Otsego, just north of Kalamazoo.  We used that as a base to travel down to see my aunt and uncle.  We also went to dinner with our friends Mike and Cindy, and then the next night with Paul and Sheryl.

Vennix's and us

We completely forgot to get a photo with Paul and Sheryl, but here we are with Mike and Cindy.  There was lots of catching up on what we’ve all been doing.  Two great evenings with two sets of wonderful friends.  🙂

And in Indiana, we were able to catch up with Uncle Ed and Aunt Marge, two of my mom’s siblings.  Uncle Ed wasn’t feeling the best, so we didn’t pester him with a photo.  While we were at Aunt Marge’s, we took a look through her photos to see if I could find the family photo I was looking for.  No luck again, but I did find these beauties:

Grandpa and me

Here I am with my maternal grandfather in 1976.  He was 92 and I was 18 at the time.  For the record, I loved Detroit back then and I still do today.

Grandma and Grandpa K

And here are my maternal grandparents, just before World War II.  Grandma is the daughter of the Schmitts in the earlier photo.

Mom and siblings

And here is my mom with my aunt and uncles.  Uncle Ed is in front, with (left to right) John, Mom, Marge and Fritz behind him.  All three boys would soon be in the war and Aunt Marge in the convent.

Aunt Marge and me

And that is where she is today, as sharp as ever at 94 years young.  It was great to be able to spend time with her and Uncle Ed.  🙂

We’ve spent the past few days taking care of doctor and dentist visits, and the general things we like to take care of around Grand Rapids.  We visited my parents’ graves and even found my buddy Richie’s crypt in a mausoleum in the same cemetery.  That kind of knocked the stuffing out of us for a bit.  You might recall him from our post, Reflections in the Rear View Mirror.

So after a bit of a pause while sorting through old photographs and memories, we are ready to move forward and make some new ones.  This week we head north to Leelanau to start a new adventure for us.  Be sure to stay tuned for our next post, as we describe what that entails.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

 

March Wrap-up and Spring Plans

The month of March has ended up being extremely busy for us, as we finished up our ‘to-do‘ list, socialized, and planned our spring and summer travels.  We started out the month with a day trip to Lakeland to watch our friend’s (Jim and Sue) son play baseball.

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Jake pitches for Fontbonne University, and their team was playing at the Central Florida Invitational Tournament. I played catch with him back in 2012 when he was only about 12 years old. Catching his fastball gave me a swollen and numb index finger on my left hand for a long time afterwards. My mitt would crack when the ball hit it; unfortunately, my finger probably cracked also. 🙂 As a college freshman, his pitching arm has only improved since that time.

We also were invited by our new friends Nick and Betty to join in on their weekly lunch get-togethers with other folks in the park.

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From right: Jerry, Linda, Betty, Nick, Ron, Nancy, Diana and me.

 

Here we are at our favorite pizza joint, Oceanside Pizza.  Over the course of time, we got to know several people in the park, which has been really fun!  During one of the meals, I discovered that Nick used to work for the same company in Louisville as our friend and fellow fulltime RVer Bill Murray  Small world.

Our ‘to do’ list is whittled down to a few small items, but not before a couple of things were tacked onto it.  Edsel 2, our new Escape, had an issue to where the clutches in the rear wheels weren’t releasing when we cornered, so our local dealer (Kelly Ford) took care of that.  They found that there was a technical service bulletin issued by Ford for the problem.  We can’t say enough about how great our experience was with Derek, our service adviser.  We also had our RV air conditioner quit on us the other morning, so we have a mobile tech coming tomorrow to replace that.  The general consensus in the park is that we did well by getting 11 years out of our current unit, especially since we exposed it to salt air the past three winters.

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We also were able to attend this years St. Patrick’s Day potluck in our park.  You may recall that we skipped it last year, as I had found out our good friend and my long time colleague Richie had passed the night before.  I wrote a post about it called Reflections in the Rear View Mirror.  Although we miss Richie, we were able to enjoy this year’s party.  After everyone ate, someone broke out their karaoke machine and we all ended up making a day of it!

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Here’s Bonnie and Ted taking their turn.  A few drinks later, I even joined in!  🙂

Our time this year in Melbourne Beach is quickly coming to a close.

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It will be just a few more sunrises and sunsets before we head out on our next adventure. Where will that take us?  Our plans are to head up the East Coast to arrive in Maine by the beginning of June, and then back over to Michigan for a bit.  The trip from here to Michigan is spread over a four month period, so we have a lot planned along the way.  Be sure to stay tuned for that, as well as our new work camping position in Michigan for the months of August and September.  Our plans are to come back to Florida next winter.  As always, we would love to meet up with you, should our paths converge. Feel free to contact us privately at explorvistas@gmail.com, if you would like to try for a get together. Until next time, safe travels!

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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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

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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Click here to listen to Michigan and Again by The Accidentals, free with your Amazon Prime membership.  Find anything else imaginable through our exploRVistas Amazon link by searching from that same page!
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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

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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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!