Six Months in Reflection

Hints of spring are in the air in Greenville, South Carolina after what has been a rough winter for just about everyone in the country.  Trees are budding and bright sunny days aren’t paired with frigid temperatures, making it possible to open up the windows and let fresh air into our humble abode.  We are itching to explore, if not in our travel trailer, at least by car to discover more trails to hike, roads to bike, and outdoor venues to enjoy music, food and drink.

Since being on the road we have winterized the trailer, found a place to live, and gone back to work.  To be honest, I have not been motivated to write for quite some time.  However, this weekend marks six months since leaving our travel trailer and it seems an appropriate amount of time to reflect on how our lives have changed with this move.  There are plenty of things we missed while we were on the road, and conversely things we have missed since being off the road.  

The joys of stationary life

While traveling around the country has some amazing perks, there are just some things I could never get used to, and it made me thankful for a lot of the things I took for granted beforehand.

Space to move around (and privacy)

      We knew adjusting to a roughly 200 square foot space from our 3 bed, 2 bath house would be challenging.  Having cabinets over our bed and right next to the bed meant many smacked heads, bumped knee, and other awkward or painful situations.  Sidling around the bed to get out or having to climb up in to the bed was also trying.  However, knowing there was an end in sight made it more bearable during the rough times and it was a compromise worth making for the opportunity afforded us.

      We are now in an apartment around 1200 square feet with 18-foot ceilings, which is a dramatic change.  Having space above and around our bed is dreamy, and being on the 4th floor means we can also open our windows and still have some semblance of privacy.  We are looking forward to having a house again to call our own, but are grateful to be where we are, with room to move around freely, and definitely do not take it for granted.

      In the travel trailer, we frequently had little to no privacy without pulling all the blinds, which was sometimes a pain.  I love letting in the light, but also love not feeling watched, so it was a tough balance.  And I love to exercise, so having to do my HIT, yoga, and strength training outside in public was a humbling and sometimes humiliating experience that I never really got used to.  I am so ecstatic to have a room to exercise in our apartment, have access to all my weights, and the luxury of not having to worry about the weather if I want to burn some calories.

      Reliable internet

        One frequent question people asked during and after our travels was “are you working from the road?”  The answer was no, and one of the biggest reasons why was because of internet access.  Despite all of the gadgets, phone plans, and efforts to research internet reliability in the campgrounds we stayed before booking, internet was always spotty, at best.  That made the idea of working from the road impossible for our professions, because we could never guarantee we could be online when it was necessary.  In the end, this was fortunate for us, as we then fully immersed ourselves in our travels without the distraction and encumbrance of work.  However, I am so, so happy to have reliable internet service now. 😃

        More refrigerator space

          Although I prided myself in my abilities to Tetris all of our groceries into our tiny refrigerator and pantry after each shopping trip, it is such a luxury to have both a full-sized refrigerator and freezer.  Our tiny freezer forced us to change some of our eating habits (less frozen meals or snacks), but also was quite unreliable.  It would frost and decrease the available space despite two defrosting sessions, and would curiously freeze in one section yet not the one right next to it.  So, we never knew if our water would actually form ice cubes, or if what we intended to stay frozen (like ice cream) would stay that way.  Ah the luxuries of modern living.

          Having an expanded wardrobe

            Being on the road with limited cabinet space meant cutting the wardrobe down A LOT!  I did try to get rid of clothing before we left, and put the rest in vacuum packed bags, but was nervous how they would keep in storage and whether I would still be excited to see those clothes 14 months later.  And yes, for the most part, I was pretty happy to see the rest of my wardrobe. 😂 

            Wearing the same things more frequently and sharing public washers that were often not in great shape meant our clothes were pretty shabby by the time our trip was done. I didn’t want to look at most of those clothes for a long time and did in fact throw quite a few clothes out, because they were rather disgusting and tattered.  I don’t throw out clothes that much, but this felt like a necessary exception.  However, I have not expanded my wardrobe much since our arrival, aside from two outfits for job interviews, so I have retained a more frugal lifestyle.

            A house on wheels has some drawbacks

            One of the biggest drawbacks to traveling in a house on wheels is that you never have a solid foundation.  This is fine in most situations, except when there is bad weather.  Having dealt with tornado watches and high winds, the precarious nature of our housing situation caused many sleepless nights when the trailer was rocking and I wasn’t sure how bad it was going to get.  If not that, other weather events like snow weighting down our rooftop, cold snaps that could potentially freeze our plumbing, excess heat maxing out the capacity of our AC or thunderstorms accompanied by lightning and massive rainfall (and thus some water leaks) brought their own set of challenges.  

            Furthermore, because we rented out our house back in Portland, we didn’t have a back up plan if something were to happen to our rig.  So, every moving day was stressful for us.  Would this be the day we get into a bad accident?  Would something break on the journey that could strand us or cause other catastrophic damage?  I think if we had a place to come back to, moving days would not have been such nail biters.  Lesson learned!

            Now that we have a solid foundation, weather events are more fun to observe from our living room, or to hear pattering down on our rooftop.  It can even be relaxing listening to a big storm roll through, lulling me to sleep at night.  What a difference!  Plus, now that we have permanent plumbing again, we no longer have the onerous tasks of dumping tanks and worrying about our water supply.  Having run out of water in the middle of a shower, or having the gray tank overflow in the middle of a shower is NO FUN!  I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with that anymore. 😃

            Longing for the road

            While there are some sacrifices you have to make in comfort when traveling, going back to “normal life” can leave one thinking that those sacrifices aren’t so bad after all.  There is so much to see and do, and people to meet, that at times I long for those experiences again.

            Discovering the natural world

              Almost immediately after we moved into the travel trailer near Mt. Hood, I was enamored by the trail systems nearby, and concurrently Matt introduced me to my new favorite app: seek, which identifies just about every kind of natural life you can find.  It slowed me down a bit in my hiking excursions, but opened up a whole new way of learning about my surroundings.  I looked at plants, fungi, insects and other wildlife like I never had before.  It was a fascinating experience for me and made every move around the country an exciting endeavor to discover more species.  

              Getting out in nature has always been important to Matt and I, so being able to hike, walk, and bike around so many different geographical areas was such a treat.  I came to appreciate both how similar these environments were while also cherishing the unique features each place had to offer.  Not getting to regularly explore such a broad spectrum of places is definitely something we miss, but I hope I never get over my awe and wonder of the the natural spaces nearby.

              New, and yet the same

                In addition to our love of nature, seeing the melange of architecture, cuisine, personal style, and listening to variations in music, accents and expressions made life interesting.  Matt and I share a curiosity and admiration for the creativity, history, and cultural influences that make our country so unique from place to place.  We are so different in our experiences, yet similar in our human nature to socialize, help each other, and want to share with others what makes us happy.  The exchange of culture, cuisine, and history is often joyful and enriching.

                One aspect of travel that surprised us the most was how similar many of the places were, lending a sense of familiarity.  For better or for worse, chains or franchises have homogenized our nation, which has its positives (grocery store chains with our favorite products), but also takes away some of the character.  By and large, we found that people were friendly and inviting wherever we went, smaller communities especially.  There was a pride in regional history and traditions carried through the ages, and an enthusiasm for sharing with us “out of towners.”

                We did love the differences that make each part of the country special in its own right.  The Pacific Northwest has awe-inspiring mountain ranges, and endless variety in flora and fauna that caters to its farm-to-table restaurant scene, and weather suitable for world-class wine and beer.  California is generally a sunnier version of the Pacific Northwest, with a laid back nature the farther north and east you went, and a frenzied lifestyle as you neared any large, coastal cities.  The Southwest is expansive (I include West Texas here), with gorgeous open landscapes, including incredibly diverse and curious desert life that thrives despite the harsh conditions.  

                The midwest reflects changes from the west, with less public land, despite more wide open, windswept plains, and a generally quieter setting compared to the coasts.  The South has friendly, welcoming folks, plenty of BBQ, and other decadent foods to enjoy.  And the northeast is more compact, with more seafood offerings, and slightly more aloof folks, though there were certainly exceptions.  As you travel around the Great Lakes, we found plenty of sleepy little towns with charm and stunning sunsets on what looked like seemingly endless waters.  If you have an open mind when you travel, you can find the beauty and joy each region has to offer.

                Chasing the sun

                  When the weather is bad, you can always move…well, within reason.  You’re not always going to have great weather, but you can change plans, or head toward the sunnier regions of the country like so many snowbirds do in the wintertime.  We loved following the spring up the eastern seaboard and enjoyed great weather for most of our trip.  It is an amazing perk to traveling around the country.

                  Now that we are tied to a single place, we have to settle into the weather patterns, and that means “surviving” the darker, colder days of winter and the hotter, more humid summers.  Winter has always been tough on morale, but having a consistent place to exercise helps see me through it. The excitement of knowing there are warm, sunny days ahead motivates me to keep going despite the cold, dreary days remaining until spring is here in earnest.

                  Meeting amazing people across the country (to visit again later)

                    I was surprised at how many wonderful people we met on our journey, and so quickly!  Our first longer stay outside of Oregon was up near Glacier National Park in Montana, where we met an amazing family, and have continued to stay in touch with to this day.  Our next longer stay in Wyoming meant another friendship with a couple from Colorado dealing with their own unexpected adventure.  Later in our journey we met a group of folks in North Carolina on our last night in town that kept us laughing at their antics and were absolutely delightful.  And finally, we had a chance encounter with another couple in Savannah on three different occasions, that led to a reunion when we traveled near Portland, Maine. 

                    If it wasn’t making new friends, we had time to visit with old friends and family along the way, which punctuated our journey with happy gatherings, hugs, laughs, and smiles, usually over a drink or a nice meal.  And if we weren’t able to see folks along the way, we were able to share our story with others and in turn reconnect virtually with the exchange of stories.  Finally, friends of friends were connected, and shared with us their experiences living in the places we were visiting.  I am thankful both to those people that shared contacts with us, and to those folks that were willing to meet us based on a brief introduction from mutual friends.  

                    We have made long-term connections in North and South Carolina through these encounters as well, and are glad to have met so many open-minded people, willing to invite us in and feel welcome.  This is not to say we haven’t met great people since moving to Greenville.  We have!  One great aspect to living in a large complex is there have been many social events, and we have made several new friends.  Overall, I am grateful to have wonderful people in my life spread across the US that I can visit and vice versa.  

                    Not working

                      Finally, one of the obvious perks we enjoyed on the road was not working.  We knew this could only be temporary as we would eventually need to make money again; but boy was it nice to take a break.  We really enjoyed our surroundings, getting to know the areas we were visiting and not being bogged down with a 9-5 with unpredictable internet access that created more stress and more obstacles to reaching our goal: finding a new place to live.  

                      Now that we are both fully ensconced in the day-to-day grind of our jobs, it does make me long for the road, our more carefree explorations, and not having to worry about deadlines. Yes, it’s nice to have an income again and not worry as much about money, but there are certainly plusses to taking a break as well.  Ah, if only we could afford not to work. 😉 In the end, we feel so fortunate to have had this time to take a break and really enjoy our travels while we were young and able enough to handle the rigors of this kind of lifestyle.  It truly was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we have no regrets.  

                      Cooking on the Road: Tenth Edition

                      This is my last edition of cooking on the road! 😮 My tenth edition features a lot of farro, though it was not planned that way.  I am cooking all of the time, but not all dishes look so pretty and come together so well.  Regardless, I hope these recipes have inspired you to try some new recipes, new foods, and new resources.  Keep experimenting and having fun. 😋

                      Kale farro salad with carrots and avocado

                      This salad makes a light meal or side dish and incorporates so many of my favorite foods.  The herbaceous dressing is a knock out, though I cut it in half for this dish and it was still plenty.  I could not find green garlic, so just one large garlic clove chopped and put in the food processor worked just fine.  I used about half a clam shell of tarragon, stripped off the stems, and about 1 cup of parsley, also stripped from its stems.  For the olive oil and vinegar, I cut the portions way down, using just a few tablespoons of sherry vinegar, about 1/4 cup of olive oil, and only 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Blend it together and decide for yourself if it needs more of one ingredient or another.  As luck would have it, my tweaks worked out perfectly for our tastebuds.

                      For the kale, I opted to slice it up into smaller strips to make it easier to eat.  When cooking the farro, the recipe doesn’t specify, but I used 2 cups of water and 2 pinches of salt.  It took about 25 minutes to cook, and I didn’t need to drain any liquid off when I was done.  Instead, I dumped it right into the bowl with the kale and carrots, which slightly wilted the greens, and added the dressing, mixing it all together.  

                      To plate, I added half a perfectly ripe California avocado to each and sprinkled some toasted walnuts on top.  The recipe doesn’t call for walnuts, but I had them on hand, and they add a bit more crunch to the dish.  This was a wonderful salad bursting with flavor, packed with nutrients, and it satisfied our hunger. 😋

                      Mussels in coconut curry broth

                      When we arrived at the Acadia Seashore campground, the two that manage everything are Pete and Sue, who are really nice people. 😍 Pete mentioned to us that during low tide, you can go out and pull mussels from underneath the seaweed and boil them up.  Free mussels?!?  Matt decided he had to try this, so he got to work one afternoon picking nearly 3 dozen, cleaning them up and then saying “I figured you would find a way to use these.” 😂

                      I put them on ice in the refrigerator and rustled up this broth recipe, which reminded me of the broth we enjoyed at The Trappe Door in Greenville, SC.   All we had to pick up were a bottle of white wine, a can of coconut milk and a small loaf of crusty bread to sop up that delicious broth. 😋 Matt knocked the mussels against each other to ensure we didn’t get any hollow sounding ones full of sand and tossed those.  The broth was quick and easy to pull together, and soon we had 30 mussels steaming and boiling away.

                      We only ended up with 1 mussel that didn’t open, the rest were nice and tender, and the broth was so delicious, with both creamy and tangy notes coming through.  If you get your hands on a bunch of fresh mussels, give this recipe a try and let me know how you like it.

                      Farro with chorizo, feta and dill

                      One of our favorite whole grains is farro.  It reminds me of barley with it’s subtly chewy texture, but with a nuttier taste, and it’s incredibly versatile.  I had some dill left over from another dish, and love using this fresh herb when I can.  Couple these with the spicy pop of flavor from chorizo and some tangy feta, and you have yourself a really tasty farro dish.  

                      Be sure to cook your farro al dente as you will finish cooking it off once it’s combined with the chorizo, shallots, and broth.  I have had a difficult time finding single ribs of celery on the road…most grocery stores make you buy an entire celery plant. We do not have room to store this, and much of it ends up going to waste.  No bueno. 👎 Yes, I have cut up and froze celery in the past, but it gets freezer burned and nasty (especially our crappy freezer).  Instead, I have some celery seed on hand for the flavor element, and added about 1/4 teaspoon to this meal.  

                      Cooking the farro can take time, whether you cook it on the stovetop or in an instant pot.  Otherwise, this recipe comes together quickly and has a simple ingredient list.  We loved how it turned out and think you will too. 😍

                      Corn, tomato and salmon salad

                      This summer dish took a bit of prep work, but it got two thumbs up from Matt. 👍👍 And of course, I had to do things a little differently than the recipe suggested, grilling corn and salmon instead of boiling and poaching. 😉 I read an article on what type of grilling method created the best corn on the cob, and adopted it for this recipe, adding butter, salt, pepper, and za’atar spice to the corn underneath the husks before putting the corn on the grill.  I similarly spiced the salmon, replacing butter with olive oil.  

                      For the dressing, I reduced the olive oil to 3 tablespoons, the za’atar to just 1 teaspoon, and 1/4 teaspoon for the salt since I had already generously salted and added za’atar to the corn and salmon.  I also added a dash of red wine vinegar to round out the flavors.  Finally, instead of fresh red onion, I replaced it with pickled onion, which added a brightness to the salad’s flavor profile.  I cut the corn from the cob, broke the salmon apart into large chunks and added both ingredients to the tomatoes, onion and dressing. The char on the fish brought some umami to the table and we loved the balance of sweet, sour, and varying textures. 😋

                      Dill-crusted pork tenderloin with farro, pea, and tomato salad

                      If you sense a theme yet, I swear it was an accident.  The fact that three of the five recipes have farro as the base is simply because we enjoy this versatile grain. 👍 The only change I made to this farro recipe was using dried dill weed instead of fresh dill so I didn’t have to buy another clam shell of dill and have half of it go to waste.  

                      This time I cooked the farro in the instant pot for 15 minutes with a 3:1 ratio of water to grains, and drained off excess water.  Whether you use 2 or 3 cups of water depends on whether you intend to drain off any excess liquid afterward or want to retain any flavors cooked into the farro.  We got our pork from a local butcher called Revival Butchery, and will definitely go back.  The pork turned out nice and tender, and the herbaceous, dilly flavor was complemented by the blistered tomatoes, tangy feta, and zesty dressing on the farro.  

                      Once we get settled, I want to share more cooking and baking projects, but since I will no longer be cooking on the road, I’ll have to come up with a new edition. 😉 I hope you have enjoyed my adventures in cooking and that it has encouraged you to think beyond camp cooking when you travel across the country.  Happy trails and bon appetit! 😘 

                      And our final destination is…

                      …Greenville, South Carolina! 😮 Some of you may be saying “Really?  Greenville?  Why there?,” where others might be less surprised.  But before I got into how we ended up making this decision, I have to share a little more about the journey to get there.  Between Kansan City and Greenville we made two stops, one just west of St. Louis, Missouri and the other on the east side of Nashville, Tennessee. Both spots were lovely in their own way.  We also ran into quite a bit of storm activity, which made for some white knuckle driving days. 😬

                      Dr. Edmund A Babler Memorial State Park

                      We had a fairly uneventful first day of travel from Kansas City to the Dr. Edmund A Babler Memorial State Park in Wildwood, Missouri.  We arrived on a Monday, so the campground was quiet, and we had an easy spot to back into, with a nice view of the woods behind us from our kitchen window, and a beautiful view of the sky from our patio area.

                      Our stay was only for one night, but we did walk around and checked out the shower and bathroom facilities, which were really clean, especially for a state park.  We also saw playground equipment for the kiddos on the way back.  I wish we were staying a little longer because they have a decent number of trails, but the stormy weather prevented us from venturing out. If we travel back this way, we will have to stop for a few days to enjoy this park.

                      Nashville East/Lebanon KOA

                      Our next day of travel the storms kicked up a bit more.  In fact, at one point we stopped underneath an overpass because the wind was whipping and it was raining so much that we couldn’t see hardly anything in front of us.  Thankfully, this passed quickly, the storms thereafter were less worrying, and by the time we got to the Nashville East/Lebanon KOA, the sun was shining brightly.  However, about 30 minutes after we arrived another thunderstorm hit us hard! ⛈ 😬

                      This KOA has really friendly staff, and even though it was right next to a freeway, I was surprised how little traffic noise you could hear.  They have shower and bathroom facilities both next to the office and in a centralized area in the campground.  The centralized campground location also has coin op laundry, with six washers and six dryers, $2/load.  The bathrooms and showers looked clean and well kept.  This is another location I would return to if we were to travel back to the Nashville area.


                      Even though we were only in the Nashville area for a night, I really wanted to check it out and have dinner since I had never been.  We didn’t go to downtown Nashville, but instead went to East Nashville to a restaurant called Lyra that serves Mediterranean style food.  When looking for restaurants, East Nashville popped up on a lot on “Best Places to Eat” lists, so it seems to be a part of town that is up and coming.  

                      We LOVED our food choices.  Everything we ate and drank was superb, and I would definitely go back.  One of our favorite dishess is muhammara, a roasted red pepper dip, so we had to get that.  The pistachio whipped feta was served with refreshing cucumber slices.  The seared halloumi salad was also well balanced between the saltiness from the cheese, pepperiness of the arugula, nuttiness of the candied walnuts, and brightness from the apple and vinegar.


                      Their fish kibbeh reminded me of hush puppies, but they didn’t have a lot of flavor, to be honest.  The last dish was a flaky filo (phyllo) pastry filled with spiced lamb that rounded out the meal perfectly. 👍 The only issue we had was that it was really loud in there.  The ceilings were opened up to the rafters and they don’t have anything in there to absorb sound, so it doesn’t take long for you to have to shout across the table just to hear each other. 😂 If it isn’t storming, I recommend sitting outside instead, and will definitely do that if we go back. 

                      Final Day of Travel

                      Mother Nature had it in for us on our final haul from Nashville to Greenville.  We had experienced storms the day before that were pretty wild, but thankfully they didn’t last that long.  This day the storms were constant for 2/3 of our travel day.  Storms in the east are no joke, so if you haven’t been through these summer soakers, here is a little bit of what it’s like:

                      First, you start to see this ominous, heavy gray cover of clouds ahead, and you know the storm is almost upon you.  Next leaves start floating in front of you, followed by a thrust of wind pushing through right before the rain hits you and you’re covered in a sheet of water.  It’s as if you are being watered by a soaker hose, and soon there is rain swirling all around and you cannot see more than 20 feet ahead.  Occasionally, the sky is punctuated by a bolt of lightning, followed by the low drumming of rolling thunder above you.  And then it’s over.  Repeat this at least a dozen times and you are exhausted by the successive adrenaline rushes that inevitably come with each passing storm.

                      At times you come across sections in between where the asphalt is dry, the sun is shining, and it’s as if the whole episode was merely a figment of your imagination.  Only the patterns of green, yellow, orange and red on the radar can confirm that you are not hallucinating.  It’s not exactly what I had in mind for our last day on the road, but it certainly made me grateful that it was the final push before we could heave a sigh of relief and take a beat before our next chapter begins.

                      Photo by on

                      So why Greenville, you may ask?

                      We visited Greenville back in March of this year, and it was our first destination we were seriously considering as a potential new home.  I was able to connect with friends of friends who lived in the area, having moved from both the west and east coasts, getting their impressions of what it was like to live here and asking why they decided to stay.  Between these experiences and our general feel for the area, we left with a really positive feeling.

                      The mayor has revitalized the downtown by transforming an area with waterfalls that used to be covered by a freeway into a large park, called Falls Park.  They are also in the process of finishing another public space next to the Reedy River called Unity Park, which honors the fact that this used to be a park for black children during a time when parks were segregated and acknowledges the sordid history of this land’s degradation over time.  These notable parks and several more are strung together by the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a 22-mile greenway that stretches from Travelers Rest through Greenville and is slated for continued expansion.

                      Between the bike- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, the mild climate in the winter, and access to the Blue Ridge mountains, former pro cyclist George Hincapie has attracted several pro cyclists to this area and it has resulted in a burgeoning cyclist community for people of all levels.  And with the mountains nearby, there is ample hiking and camping, and numerous lakes and rivers give provide plenty of water activities as well.  As such, this is a great place to experience outdoor life.

                      Greenville is a growing area, with the city of Greenville being approximately 75,000 people, and the metro area has a population of around 500,000.  There are several colleges and universities, plenty of job opportunities, and it is centrally located, being in the “Charlanta” (Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia) corridor.  Greenville is also just an hour from Asheville, North Carolina, and about four hours to the Atlantic coast, where you can visit notable places like Charleston, South Carolina or Savannah, Georgia.  

                      If this isn’t enough of a reason to move here, they have a great food scene, you can experience their southern hospitality, and the locals have made us feel welcome.  When visiting other areas, we noticed they weren’t as enthusiastic about people moving into the area from different parts of the country and felt more contention from the locals with the changes taking place.  The people of Greenville have been so nice and have made it easy for us to ease into the area without feeling like we weren’t wanted here.  That is never a great feeling when trying to start over somewhere new.  Last but not least, there is plenty of sunshine here! ☀️ Coming from Portland, Oregon where there is only 144 days of sun per year on average, we wanted to live somewhere with at least the national average of 205 days of sun, and Greenville has 220 days of sun.  So if you’re tired of the gray, come on down and soak in the rays! 😃

                      Downtown Greenville from the Lazy Goat on the Reedy

                      Only time will tell if Greenville will be our forever place, but for now we feel good about the decision we made and are excited to settle in, get off the road and make this place our home.  This does mean that I won’t be posting as frequently on my blog since we won’t be traveling as much; however, I will post occasionally with updates on places near here that we explore and like for leisure activities and dining experiences.  

                      I hope you have enjoyed hearing about our adventures and perhaps have earmarked a few new places to explore yourself.  We have been so fortunate to meet new people along the way, including Scott, Tali, and their awesome boys, Mike and Carrie, and Beth and Roy, all whom we hope to keep in touch with and see again.  You helped make our adventures memorable and we are so glad we met you all. 😍 Stay tuned for one more edition of cooking on the road and thank you for following us on our journey across America.  We appreciate you and wish you happy travels. 💗

                      Family Visits: Summer Edition

                      When visiting family, we are usually in town during the Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday season, so it was a nice change of pace to visit in the heart of summer and enjoy more time outside. And we did take advantage of those warm summer nights and nice sunny days whenever thunderstorms weren’t imminent.  

                      Visiting My Family

                      After getting set up in my parent’s yard, we gave them a tour of the RV, caught up on the back patio, and had a lovely feast for dinner.  That night, we had our first of many campfires during our stay, which turned out to be a lot of fun!  It’s great to get away from our screens, and instead stare into the bright, flickering fire as it spits sparks, and trying to avoid getting enveloped in smoke. 🔥 

                      The next day was really stormy, but thankfully Jackie brought a puzzle.  My nieces were interested at first as we all put together the border, but then it got a lot tougher, so it was down to the adults. 😂 Six hours later, we had a finished product!  Woohoo!  It has been ages since most of us have put a puzzle together, so it was a fun way to spend a stormy afternoon.

                      That night, we added to our campfire experience when we started talking about music.  I began playing tunes on my phone, taking requests as all of the different generations talked about some of their favorite songs.  Soon Matt brought out the portable speaker and I played DJ, keeping track of who requested what, and making sure everyone got to hear something they liked.  It was a lot of fun, and a great way to share music from across the ages. 🎶

                      That Sunday we played games with my nieces Gwen and Corde, and later my niece Corde showed us her little dirt bike.  I saw both Matt and Cordelia take it for a spin around the yard.  However, my brother, Jackie, and my nieces had to say their goodbyes and head back to the Twin Cities.  I always enjoy seeing my brother and my nieces and getting to know Jackie was a bonus. 😃 Soon after their departure, more folks came by, including my aunt Debra and uncle Jose as well as Uncle Chester (not really my uncle…that’s what we have always called him growing up). We all caught up around the campfire, trying to avoid the smoke. My mom and I seemed to get the worst of it. 😶‍🌫️ 😂 

                      Matt riding Cordelia’s dirt bike
                      Cordelia riding her bike

                      For the last day, I wanted to take a hike on the trails surrounding my parent’s property.  There are a combination of old logging roads and snowmobile/4-wheeler trails, so I did a 5+ mile loop, taking my hiking buddy Ruger with me.  It was hot and buggy, and Ruger kept trying to cool down in the puddles, but it otherwise was great to see all of the flora bursting along the roadside and butterflies fluttering by, while having the whole trail to ourselves.

                      Finally, Mom and Dad really wanted to take us fishing, so we headed out to Trelipe Lake to test our luck.  We got out on the water and across the lake, started getting our fishing poles out and realized we left the bait back in the truck. 😩 Oh well!  We sprinted across the lake, got the worms, and headed out yet again.  It was a bright, sunny day, but the fish weren’t biting that much.  In the end, we caught seven fish between the four of us and decided to call it a day.  

                      I’m glad we were able to fit in one more visit before we ended our big tour around the country.  Thanks Mom and Dad for hosting us and keeping us entertained with dinners, campfires, fishing and more during our stay. 💗 Next up, we have two days of travel to get from Northern Minnesota to Kansas City to see Matt’s parents.

                      My parent’s beautiful backyard and vegetable gardens

                      Visiting Matt’s Family

                      After a few long days of travel, we settled into our new spot in Kansas City for a bit.  After getting our rig set up, we headed over to see Matt’s parents and have dinner together.  This day was a big deal for us, because it was the first time we were seeing his parents since his father had an accident last December.  Though we have kept in touch regularly over the phone, it was more reassuring to see them in person and know that both his mom and dad were doing ok despite the adjustments they have had to make since then.

                      One thing I always enjoy when seeing Matt’s parents, his sister and her family, and his grandmother is that we share meals, hugs, stories and laughs every time we gather.  It’s always low-key, relaxing, and I always leave with love in my heart for my new extended family, but also feel loved in return. 💞 On one occasion, my mother- and sister-in-law, Debbie and Beth, as well as Beth’s grown children Will and Addy and I went on a little lunch outing and perused the shops.  It’s always fun to see people get excited about new clothes, and discover new places at the same time. 

                      Aside from family visits, I was doing my best to stay active.  For those of you who know me, I can’t sit still, and am always trying to get some exercise.  We had no room in our RV park, but I found a clean, covered place about 3/4 mile down the road: the Merriam Marketplace, a space that hosts a Saturday farmer’s market next door to Werner Park, and is otherwise vacant.  I made it a habit to walk down there nearly every day, which was a great routine and a wonderful way to start my mornings. 🧘🏻

                      Matt also found a variety of greenways for us to frequent on our bikes.  First, we biked along the Indian Creek Greenway and later on during our stay we biked along the Tomahawk Creek Greenway.  Both had their positives and negatives.  The northernmost part of the Indian Creek trail is more confusing, so we got turned around a lot.  However, it is mostly flat, and is well connected and marked the farther south you go.  When we connected with the Olathe trails, it was especially nice.  The views were beautiful, the trail quality was top notch and we also were fortunate to see a couple of fawns next to the creek. 

                      The Tomahawk Creek trails are easier to follow, there are a lot of great views as well, but the trails are steeper, so be prepared to work a little bit more. We biked by a golf course that was closed down, seeing one of the sidewalks succumb to the creek below, and later on saw a section with a bunch of “Health Beat” workout equipment alongside the pathway.  It’s nice that they have equipment available to use, but I have honestly never seen anyone using it. 😂 We went by another active golf course and a farmstead, and saw an impressive snake as well.  It was a great experience, and we were so happy to get out and explore during our visit. 🚴‍♀️

                      With our travels coming to a close very soon, we were so grateful to have another opportunity to see our family.  And with big changes afoot for us both, it was also a nice time to take a beat, embrace these moments with our loved ones, and prepare for the next phase of our journey together.  We appreciate the time we have been able to spend with our friends and family, the new friends we have made on the road, and the enthusiasm you, our readers, have shared with us as we ventured near and far.  It is bittersweet to see it come to a close, but thanks to this blog we have great memories to look back on whenever we want 😍 Thank you for following along, and stay tuned as I reveal where we decided to move to and call home. 🏡 

                      Long Hauls to Visit Family

                      After Ohio, we only had family visits left, so we planned back to back travel days to make this happen.  As such, this post is mostly campground reviews for anyone traveling through the midwestern states of Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas.  However, we did throw in a cheese shop and a reunion with some of my family members along the way. 😃

                      Elkhart/Middlebury KOA, Indiana

                      Located just south of Interstate 80, we stayed overnight at the Elkhart/Middlebury KOA in Middlebury, Indiana.  This KOA has lots of pull through sites, which we had, and the sites are fairly level and open.  The central hub is around the office, with the shower and laundry facilities and a pool right next door.  The showers looked ok, and the laundry had ample washers and dryers.  Washers are $3 per load, and $1 per 32 minutes of drying time is what was listed on the machine; however, I didn’t use these facilities during our stay.

                      The grounds are quite nice though, with lots of different children’s activity centers, a beach volleyball court, disc golf, a fishing pond and several trails with lots of bunnies on them.  The trails are mostly shaded, but remember to bring your bug spray.  For a short stay, I recommend this place.

                      Small rant about the greater Chicago area roads

                      Your roads are TERRIBLE!!!  We tried to avoid the downtown Chicago area, so we decided to take interstates 94, 294, and 290 around the city and reconnect with interstate 90.  This turned out to be a bad idea, because all of these roads were under construction when we drove through.  Their construction zones are some of the most confusing we have seen, taking five lanes and partitioning them off into two grouping of two lanes, and one single lane that can exit.  So, if you end up in the wrong grouping, there is no way for you to get over and make your exit.  It was a traumatic experience and we were amazed we made it out of there unscathed.  Our recommendation if you are traveling around Chicago: steer clear and use roads farther out from Chicago.  It’s not worth the potential heart attack. 🤬👎

                      Madison Campground, Wisconsin

                      For our next stopover, we stayed in Wisconsin, northeast of Madison off of interstate 90 at the Madison Campground in De Forest.  Because it was right next to the freeway, you can hear quite a lot of traffic from the grounds.  But, the nice part about this park is the sites are laid out is in a semi-circle format, so all but 10 sites are pull through.  There is a pool, playground, office, store, laundry and bathroom facilities, which are all centrally located.  The laundry facilities looked nice and clean, though I didn’t use them, but I did use the showers.  They had music playing in the women’s bathroom, and though the facilities were clean, they removed the part on the showerhead that disperses the water, so all you get is a thick stream of water.  It also took forever for the water to warm up, so it wasn’t a very pleasant experience.  For a brief stay, I recommend this place, but it may not be that peaceful for a longer stay.

                      While there, we walked next door to Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet, which has a massive selection of Wisconsin-made cheeses, meats, and other dry goods to choose from.  We bought a morel mushroom and leek jack cheese as well as a smoked pheasant summer sausage for my parents.  For ourselves, we also got a summer sausage, a garlic and dill cheddar, a 10-year old sharp cheddar, and a smoked gouda.  You can sample before you buy, and we loved everything we tried.  The gouda was especially good. 😋 They even had an 18-year cheddar. 😮 If you are camping or driving nearby, I highly recommend stopping in. 👍

                      William O’Brien State Park, Minnesota

                      Our final stop before seeing my parents was just north of Stillwater, Minnesota at the William O’Brien State Park.  There are a lot of trails and two campgrounds to choose from: Savannah and Riverway.  We camped in Riverway, which was shaded with centralized bathroom and shower facilities that looked really nice.  The one annoyance was that our reservation didn’t include the cost to enter the state park, so we had to pay an additional $7 fee since we didn’t already have a state park pass. 😡 No bueno, Minnesota.  It was our most expensive state park stays, and not something we have experienced anywhere else in the country.  

                      However, we did get out for a walk on the Riverside Trail along the St. Croix River that loops around to Lake Alice.  Sadly, Lake Alice is full of algae right now, but there is a day use area on the south end of the lake with volleyball, horseshoes, a picnic area and lake access.  I enjoyed some of the beautiful flowers, including the amazingly fragrant wild bergamot, which is a bee balm.  If you don’t mind the extra expense and enjoy getting out on trails, this is a quiet campground with clean facilities.

                      We chose this campground because it was close to my great aunt Ruth and uncle Sheldon.  When we first considered doing this year-long journey, they were one of our first calls, because they have been on the road ever since I was was about 14 years old. 😮 They sold their house, bought an RV, and have traveled all over, often volunteering with Habitat For Humanity, and visiting with family and friends.  They have provided us with a wealth of knowledge, and we are forever grateful to them for all of their advice. 💗

                      Even though we were traveling near each other, our timing was always off, so we had not managed to sync up until now.  They stay near Forest Park, MN every summer, so I knew that at least this meet up would work out.  Ruth suggested the Brookside Bar and Grill, about five minutes from the William O’Brien State Park.  This restaurant has several brews on tap and specializes in pizza in addition to your classic bar fare.  We mostly enjoyed catching up with Ruth and Sheldon, sharing our adventures and future plans with each other, with the hopes that when we settle down after our travels, we will get a chance to reconnect once again.  

                      Little Wall Lake Park, Iowa

                      The overnight stop between our family visits in Minnesota and Kansas City was at a county park called Little Wall Lake Park in Jewell, Iowa, about 20 miles north of Ames.  We had a pull through site with a lake view near the park entrance. Walking around the grounds, I saw two playgrounds, both of which appeared to be recent additions or possibly improvements on older play equipment.  I also found a trail on the north side of the park, but was immediately attacked by some of the most vicious mosquitos of my travels thus far, so I got out of there in a hurry.

                      There are 106 sites, 3 cabins, centralized showers, bathrooms, garbage and dump facilities, and you can either prepay online or pay at a kiosk near the office if the staff is not on site when you arrive.  The lake has several access points, and the park was clean and well maintained.  The road noise can be heard if you are sitting outside, but didn’t bother us in our trailer. If you like water activities, this would be a nice place to relax and unwind.  Just bring your bug spray.

                      Walnut Grove RV Park, Kansas

                      Though technically not part of our lang hauls, I decided to throw in our stay at the Walnut Grove RV Park just south of Kansas City, Kansas.  Last time we visited Matt’s family, we stayed at Crow’s Creek Campground, a Clay County campground in Smithville, Missouri.  However, we decided to try a different place so we could be closer to Matt’s parents this time around.  

                      Unfortunately, our stay here was one of the worst of our travels. ☹️ To be fair, the person managing the park’s affairs on site was very friendly, their centralized bathroom and laundry was clean, and we saw several spacious, updated sites with fire rings, picnic tables, and hanging plants.  We did not get one of these sites.  Instead, they stuck us in what could arguably be considered the worst site in the park.  It was incredibly cramped, between two full-time residents, with no amenities, and was difficult to get into in the first place.  

                      To make things worse, our neighbor to one side had two vehicles, two motorcycles, two mini bikes, two four-wheelers, and two dogs crammed into their site. Though they seemed like nice people, there was a lot of noise from their comings and goings, starting at 5:30am every day. We never saw the residents on the other side of us, and think something died underneath their trailer, because it smelled like a rotting animal outside.  We experienced electrical brown outs during most of our stay as well.  The electrical hook up had a 50 amp breaker set up with a 30 amp plug, all of which did not look to be to code, and we were concerned it would do damage to our air conditioning compressor because it couldn’t handle the electrical loads it should have been capable of.

                      Had we been placed in one of the sites closer to the front of the RV park, I believe we would have had a wholly different experience.  Instead, we were disappointed that they would put us in one of the crappiest sites in their park, and suggest that you call ahead to make sure you know you will be in a newer site if you stay here.  We will not be returning to this park.

                      That does it for this leg of our journey.  I hope you found these reviews helpful and wish you the best of luck in your travels.  I look forward to sharing more about our family visits.  Until then, happy travels! 

                      Ohio: The Buckeye State

                      Continuing through the midwest, we had another opportunity to visit with friends from Portland, our former neighbors Peggy and Chris who moved to Ohio in late 2020.  When we last saw them and said our good-byes, we were just starting to plan this year-long adventure and vowed to visit them along the way if we indeed made it happen.  Well, we did and we did! 😉

                      We enjoyed our time in Upstate New York, but were looking forward to getting off their rough roads. Though we had a reprieve as we cut through western Pennsylvania, Ohio’s roads had their own challenges. Many of them are also pretty beat up, and the transitions between highways was often confusing and required quick action with both left and right exits happening almost as soon as we entered a new highway. This was further complicated by the fact that road construction was ubiquitous on nearly every road, and involved even more detours, lane shifts and barriers that left us scrambling at times to get to our final destinations.  

                      West Branch State Park

                      Peggy and Chris live near Akron, so we chose to stay at a state park just east of Akron in Ravenna called West Branch State Park.  The check-in was brief and we were on our way to our site.  Well, we happened to pick one of the tightest, smallest, muddiest sites. 😂 Yes, it rained a lot during our stay, but it was still one of the muddiest sites I saw.  It was oh so ironic that we had JUST cleaned our RV prior to our arrival at a truck wash.  C’est la vie. 🤷🏻‍♀️

                      As for amenities, there is a general store at the campground entrance, four centrally located clean and spacious shower houses with restrooms and laundry, and other forms of outdoor entertainment, including a playground, sand volleyball and basketball courts along the main park road.  They have trails, but were fairly mucky as well.  We saw a challenging disc golf course, some neat fungi, and caught a few nice views of the reservoir before hustling back just in time to avoid a hefty downpour.  If you can investigate the campground ahead of time, maybe you will have better luck than us at getting a more spacious and less muddy site.

                      More friendly visiting

                      Peggy and Chris were our neighbors in Portland, Oregon for roughly five of the years we were there, before we both decided it was time to move on.  Per usual, as soon as we arrived at their house, we got to talking and I forgot to take any pictures, but it was so fun to see where they landed, meet Peggy’s sister, and hear about their most recent adventures flying to Ireland and back.  They were not immune to the chaos you may have heard about on the news with misplaced and damaged baggage, but hopefully everything gets straightened out soon. 🤞 Peggy and Chris always put on a great feast, so the food was lovely and the company even more so.  We both hope that once we get settled we can meet up again. ❤️

                      Chris and Peggy on their beautiful property – Photo courtesy of Peggy

                      Rock and Roll Music Hall of Fame

                      Visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio is a unique museum experience, in part because as you walk up to this pyramid-shaped building with big, bold letters out front, you are hit with the sound of loud music.  Yes, it’s a music hall of fame, and yet I wasn’t expecting it since most museums are places where it’s quiet and everyone speaks in hushed voices.  Note that you will need to buy tickets online in advance to enter.

                      We started downstairs on floor zero.  As you walk into a dark hall, you are introduced to a lot of the early influencers in rock and roll, including Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Howlin’ Wolf, Billie Holiday, Pete Seeger, and Nat King Cole, just to name a few.  The genres contributing to what we know as rock and roll today run the gamut from R&B, soul, blues, gospel and jazz to folk, bluegrass and country music styles.  And the evolution of this music over time includes punk, funk, metal, grunge, rap and electronic music as well. 

                      As you continue to wind through the halls, you will see large displays with artists’ instruments, clothing or stage costumes, sheet music and photos.  Currently, there is a section dedicated to the work of photojournalist Baron Wolman, who was a famous contributor to Rolling Stone.  There are videos playing everywhere, talking about how rock and roll incites people’s passions, excitement and even fear.  With all of the sound clips and videos, it’s loud, with music pumping in all directions, and standing in certain spots it’s an overwhelming cacophony. 🎶

                      Presently, there is an Elvis exhibit, which is timed well with the release of the recent Elvis movie, and another display on the Beatles done in tandem with the Get Back documentary that came out in 2021.  They also have big displays on artists such as Hendrix, Joplin, Petty and the Rolling Stones. As you walk through the halls you can see how musicians have influenced fashion throughout history, including more recent artists like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Billie Eilish, and Lada Gaga.  The basement floor contains the brunt of what you will see…it is the base of the pyramid, after all. 😂

                      The first floor, where you enter the museum, has a food court and gift shop.  On the second floor is a “garage” where you can play instruments and perform in a sound studio.  We saw people noodling on instruments or getting together in the studio to play songs.  It was a lot of chaotic noise most of the time with everyone doing their own thing. 😵‍💫 

                      The third floor presents plaques for those inducted into the hall of fame since it began, a list of current nominees, a suggestion area for future nominees, and a section in memoriam for the recently deceased, even including the recent death of Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins. 😔 The fourth floor has a Pink Floyd’s The Wall display of tour replicas and the Foster Theater, which shows various Rock Hall film series.  There was a long line to get in the theater, so we didn’t spend a lot of time here.  

                      The fifth floor (the Legends of Rock) was the least impressive to me, because all I saw were more mementos, and I didn’t see anything special compared to the base floor (floor 0).  Finally, the sixth floor is dedicated to four legendary guitarists, including Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, Eddie Van Halen, Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, and Quicksilver’s John Cipollina.  The displays showed their original gear set up (guitars, amps, pedals, etc.), and they had video clips from all four of them talking through their signature styles.  I liked this floor the best because it was calm and pointed, with each video playing in succession. 

                      After walking through the whole place, I can see why people become members to visit time and again.  It’s a LOT to see!  I was so exhausted after just a few hours. 😝 Though it was really crowded, loud and in your face in a lot of sections, with raucous sounds coming at you from all directions, it touches on so many musicians that are intertwined with my memories, bringing back flashes from my past and a vast array of emotions that have molded me into the person I am today.  Without music, I would be a wholly different human.  If you love music like we do, this place will bring you joy and moments to reminisce in your own memories. 💗

                      And we are off again, this time to Minnesota to see my family.  In between, we had some long hauls across the midwest, which I will share in my next post.  We didn’t stay long at each stop, so I will only have reviews on the campgrounds we stayed in each night.  Until then, stay cool everyone! 😎

                      Upstate New York

                      I wasn’t really certain what to expect when we drove through Upstate New York, but in a lot of ways it reminded me of where I grew up in northern Minnesota, with similar plant life, lots of lakes, and lots of mosquitos. 😝 In Minnesota, I got to visit the headwaters of the Mississippi River and Lake Superior, one of the five great lakes.  Similarly in New York, now I had the opportunity to see both Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, two of the other Great Lakes.  

                      Considered part of the Rust Belt due to the decline in its manufacturing industry, Upstate New York has a lot of rural land filled with forests, lakes, and mountains, most notably the Finger Lakes, Niagara Falls, the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains, all which contribute to the state’s tourism industry.  Beyond tourism, agriculture is another strong industry in the area, including vineyards, which we saw quite a few of near the Finger Lakes. 

                      Moreau State Park

                      Our first stop was Moreau State Park, just south of the Hudson River and just north of Albany, the state capitol of New York.  We came in on a rather rainy, dreary day, but still managed to get out for a few hikes on our free day during the two nights we were there.  Upon arrival, we were a little concerned whether we would fit with so many trees close to the road as we drove around our camp loop, but thankfully we had a very spacious and level site, so setup took hardly any time at all.  Our site was C55.  While we were there, the spongy (aka gypsy) moths were EVERYWHERE, but other than a minor annoyance they are harmless.  

                      Across Moreau Lake is a large picnic and children’s play area, which we saw as we hiked around the smaller portion of Moreau Lake, and then continued around Mud Pond before circling back using this GPS trail guide.  We saw a deer and a great blue heron during our walk, and enjoyed the solitude.  I then opted to do one more hike to Moreau Lake Overlook using this  route, which starts near the park entrance.  It is fairly steep toward the top of the climb and there are a few rocky sections, but the views at the top are a nice reward.

                      Our stay here was just two nights, but we made the most of it and recommend this campground for dry camping (no hook ups).  They did have a dump station between Loops C and D along the main camp road, which were fully functional.  And I did check out their bathrooms and shower facilities, which seemed spacious and clean, though the showers are push button, which are a bit of a pain.  For a state campground, I recommend this place.

                      Selkirk Shores State Park

                      Next up, we drove across Upstate New York to Selkirk Shore State Park, which sits alongside Lake Ontario, about 45 minutes north of Syracuse.  There are four camping loops, two restroom and shower buildings, 30 cabins for rent, two boat launches, a swimming area, picnic areas, playgrounds and several trails.  

                      I wandered the trails on several occasions, and only saw two other people, because the mosquitos are vicious here; however, if you have proper attire and bug spray, it is a place you can find some quietude and explore the flora and fauna of the area.  I used the shower facilities, which were ok.  They weren’t the cleanest, but there was plenty of hot water.  We camped in Loop A, and found this to be one of the more raucous campgrounds of our travels, but folks did abide by the quiet hours.

                      On one night a friends of ours we met while living in Portland, Oregon visited with us.  Alison grew up nearby, and happened to be staying with her folks while we were camping here, so we got together for a meal and a campfire, catching up on each other’s adventures.  We also got to hang with her sweet dog Okie and watch fireflies twinkling in the dark night sky.  All in all, it was a decent stay and fun times were had.  If you want a quieter experience, I recommend the nearby cabins for rent.

                      Finger Lakes

                      Though not right next door, we were about 1 1/2-2 hours from the Finger Lakes, which are 11 long, narrow lakes in the Uplands.  First, we went to Skaneateles (pronounced “skinny-atlas”), which has a small lakeside community on the north end of the lake.  There is a centralized parking lot, so we took advantage of this and walked over to GOOD eats and sips for a couple of healthy lunch bowls.  They also offer bagels, coffee, tea, smoothies and other drinks.  Afterward, we took a walk along the lakeshore, peeking into a few shops here and there before driving back.  

                      On another occasion we drove to Watkins Glen State Park on the south side of Seneca Lake, one of the largest of the Finger Lakes.  Along the drive we saw several vineyards and a few breweries on the west side of the lake, and had beautiful views of the farmland across the way on the east side as well which made for a scenic journey.  However, we should have done our due diligence, because it was 10 degrees hotter at Watkins Glen than our campground. 🥵 

                      We tried to stay in the shade and enjoy the waterfalls wherever possible. There are 19 waterfalls in all, and there is a lot of infrastructure built alongside Glen Creek, with stairs seemingly everywhere giving you several routes to choose from.  On the south side of the creek is a campground as well, but we didn’t see it during our visit.  We liked the beautiful landscape carved into the ravine blanketed in dabbled sunlight, and I found it to be fairly relaxing despite being a bit crowded at times.

                      On our way back to our camp site, we stopped at Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse, a popular BBQ restaurant chain in New York.  Though it was really busy, we managed to get a booth in about 15-20 minutes and get a couple of refreshing brews to cool off from the heat of the day.  This place has an extensive menu, and everything we tried was awesome. 👍 We had fried green tomatoes as a starter, Matt had brisket and pork with mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and cornbread on the side, and I had their Dirty South bowl, which had a little bit of everything in it.  Thanks again Beth and Roy for the recommendation! 😍

                      A friendly visit & Fort Ontario

                      Part of the impetus for camping here was visiting one of Matt’s friends, a former colleague from Salesforce who grew up in Oswego.  Jake returned to the area earlier this year, and was happy to give us a tour of his hometown and take us to Fort Ontario where he used to work as a teenager.   This star-shaped fort was built by the British, where it was meant to defend the east side of Lake Ontario from the French during the French and Indian War.  It was occupied through World War II and today is open to the public.  In addition to a demonstration of what it took to fire a musket, there were several artifacts in one of the barracks, underground casemates, and officer’s quarters to explore.  

                      We had fun relaxing in Jake’s backyard, meeting his family, playing with his son, and sharing dinner together on another hot, summer day in July.  Matt and Jake talked shop, we learned what it was like to grow up in Oswego, and took a walk through the neighborhood before saying our goodbyes and getting ready to move onward to our final New York destination.

                      Westfield/Lake Erie KOA

                      We only spent two nights here, but found this KOA to be tidy, the staff welcoming, and the amenities aplenty.  The bathroom and shower facilities were very clean, there is a creek and fishing pond access next to vineyards, an on-site food cart, a pool and a playground.  Though it was right off of the freeway, the road noise wasn’t that bad, and right across the street is Ottaway Park, where you can watch the sunset over Lake Erie.  I went over here a few times to work out underneath their park pavilion, and saw several joggers and dog walkers out for their morning exercise. If you’re looking for a nice place to stay southwest of Rochester, I recommend this KOA.

                      Niagara Falls

                      One of the reasons we decided to stay near Lake Erie was to visit Niagara Falls, the famed waterfalls along the US and Canadian border.  And, we FINALLY had an opportunity to go to Canada. 😂 We had been thwarted early on in our travels when we attempted to cross into Canada from Montana because we couldn’t get a COVID test to meet their requirements within a 500 mile radius of us.  Thankfully, the border crossing requirements have eased somewhat.

                      You will need to register with ArriveCAN, and must also be prepared to enter a bunch of information.  Once you create your account, you will need the following handy:

                      • Passports
                      • Vaccination cards (have pictures ready to upload)
                      • Dates of travel
                      • Border crossing location, date and approximate time
                      • Reason for travel
                      • Address(es) of your destination(s)
                      • Your contact information

                      If you are not vaccinated, you will need a negative molecular COVID test result within 72 hours of your border crossing in hand, and it is no longer free.  In the US, we found the cost was around $130 per person. 😮 It was not fully clear to me whether you have the same requirement traveling back to the US, but COVID tests can be upwards of $300 in Canada, so do your research beforehand.  As a fail safe, we knew we could just stay on the US side and still visit Niagara Falls, but we knew the views of the Horseshoe Falls, the largest of all the waterfalls, were better on the Canadian side.  Thankfully, our border crossing was uneventful.

                      After grabbing a quick lunch, we parked near the falls and walked along the waterfront, watching large boats of poncho-clad tourists prepare to get drenched as they headed into Horseshoe Falls.  It was definitely crowded with tourists, but thankfully the waterfront walkways are really wide.  Across the way you can see the American Falls, with tourists on walkways also covered in ponchos, trying to get as close to the spray coming off of the falls as possible.  

                      Overall, we covered about 4 miles round-trip, stopping for a quick refreshment at the Table Rock Patio as we observed a couple in wedding garb getting photographed below.  Though we could have gotten some park passes to do more activities, we were only there for the day, and were already overwhelmed enough by the level of tourists.  However, if you have family and are looking for things to do, these combination passes give you a sense of what your options are.

                      It was another really hot day, so we were pretty tired and had a long drive back.  Albeit a brief stay, it was fun to see the falls, feel the mist tickle our skin as the wind gusts pushed the spray from Horeshoe Falls our way, and sit in awe of the sheer power of this incredible body of water.  However, we were also back on the road the next day as we left New York and traveled to Ohio and needed to ready ourselves from another long travel day.  Au revoir Canada and New York!  We will come visit again someday. 👏  

                      Celebrating Our Independence in Vermont

                      As we left the coast of Maine, we reached a turning point in our adventures, and started to near the end of our time on the road.  From here, we traveled west for the first time in months, moving into the mountainous regions of Vermont known as the Green Mountains, which are part of the Appalachian chain.  The fourth of July weekend was upon us, and we made sure to secure reservations back in early February since campgrounds tend to book up fast both on  weekends and holidays.  

                      Mountain View Campground, Morrisville, VT

                      We decided to spend our fourth of July at Mountain View Campground, located about 20 minutes north of Stowe, Vermont in the heart of the mountains.  The staff were really friendly, the main office had a well stocked general store, and there were lots of amenities on site.  The amenities included two pools (one heated and one not), a spa, mini golf, horseshoes, playground equipment, river access for tubing, and more.  The laundry, bathroom and shower facilities were all very clean as well, and we took advantage of them during our stay. The only issue was cell and WiFi service.  Being in the mountains, there simply isn’t anything you can do about it, so prepare to disconnect. 🙃

                      Mount Mansfield

                      The tallest mountain peak in Vermont is Mount Mansfield, with an elevation of 4,395 feet.  I was determined to hike this peak despite many hiker comments saying it was very difficult.  I didn’t let that deter me on Old Rag Mountain in Virginia, and I wasn’t going to let it stop me here. 😉 The biggest challenge with hiking Mount Mansfield, like Old Rag, is that you have to clamor over boulders as you get closer to the top, and the entire hike, no matter which direction you come from, is incredibly steep.  After doing quite a bit of research, I decided to hike up Sunset Ridge Trail, one of the more well traveled trails.  The other popular route is Long Trail, which passes through several peaks and can be used for multi-day through hikes.

                      After Matt dropped me off at the trailhead, I registered at the office, paid my $4 fee, and began to hike up the mountain.  I decided  to make a game day decision whether I would come back on Sunset or Long Trail for my return trip down the mountain.  Like Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, most of the trail was rock, and I had many stairs to climb for the first mile or so before tackling a combination of slab and boulder sections.  Around the 2-mile mark you finally reach the tree line and can finally see the valley below.  However, I still had a mile of clamoring left and a constant gradient to contend with.

                      At around 1/4 mile remaining, you meet up with the Long Trail for the final push to the peak, which turned out to be the easiest part of the whole hike. 😂 I was fortunate that it was a clear, sunny day, and though still windy, it was mild compared to most people’s accounts.  From the top, I soaked in the expansive views of the other mountains, the town of Stowe nestled below us, and Lake Champlain on the horizon while I ate lunch and applied another layer of sunscreen.  By the way, make sure you have sunscreen, a wind breaker, and plenty of water and food for this hike.

                      After talking with a few folks along my way up Sunset and hearing how wet Long Trail was, I decided Sunset would be the safest choice to go back down, despite some tricky boulder areas.  Even though I felt trepidation heading into the boulder section, the hike back down turned out to be a lot easier than I envisioned, and I made it back safe and sound.  My total round trip was about 5.7 miles, with 2,478 of elevation gain and total hiking time was just over 3 hours.  I was tired, but satisfied and reveled in the beauty of my surroundings.  Though there are a few sections where you need to be careful and deliberate about your footing, even as a person who is afraid of heights, I felt safe doing this hike and recommend it for those looking for a challenge with some rewarding views at the top. 

                      Stowe, Vermont

                      Stowe is very cute town south of our campsite that we visited on a few occasions.  It was pretty packed with people during the holiday weekend, so parking was difficult, but we lucked out by finding a free open lot. We picked up a few sandwiches at Cafe on Main, and perused the wares downstairs at the Stowe Mercantile while we waited for our order.  This shop had so many fun items, that I was very tempted to get a few things, but alas space in our trailer is always an issue for us.  Another time, perhaps.

                      While I was hiking up Mount Mansfield, Matt returned to Stowe to check out the shops and had lunch at their farmer’s market.  After he retrieved me from the trailhead, we went back one more time to have a celebratory beer and a few appetizers at Doc Ponds.  They have a wonderful selection of beers on tap, and the food was also excellent.  Their calamari was unique because it wasn’t fried, but instead served in a smoky broth with breadcrumbs on top, and it was the best calamari I’ve ever had.  I also ate their braised greens, which had a spicy broth, and indulged in some mac and cheese.  Everything we had was superb and I would love to return here if we head up through Stowe again. 👍

                      Burlington, Vermont

                      Burlington is the largest city in Vermont at approximately 45,000 people, yet it is the least-populated “biggest city” in any state in the country.  This college town is nestled next to Lake Champlain, often referred to as “The Sixth Great Lake,” and lies between the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Adirondacks of New York, offering stunning mountain views along the shoreline.

                      We wanted to take advantage of this beautiful backdrop by heading to the downtown Waterfront Park for a bike ride along the 9-mile greenway, courtesy of none other than Bernie Sanders while he was mayor of this fair city. It was a hot, sunny day, so residents were taking advantage at the waterfront by swimming, boating, or heading to the parks.  Our bike ride was a bit chaotic at first, dodging walkers, bikers, skateboarders, and others using seemingly every creative form of transportation one could get away with on the greenway.  

                      Thankfully, the crowds eased as we headed north, and our trip culminated in a unique ride on the Island Line Trail that takes you along the Lake Champlain Causeway, a strip of land that juts out for 3 miles into Lake Champlain.  There is a gap in the causeway to allow boats through, so if you want to continue your journey across the lake you can take the Local Motion Bike Ferry to the other side.  They even have a little food stand to enjoy while you wait.  This causeway has its own array of trees and plant life, and affords picturesque views in every direction, so I highly recommend it if you are visiting the area. 🚴‍♀️

                      Afterward, we were definitely hungry, so we walked up to the Church Street Marketplace, a 4-block pedestrian mall, for a bite to eat.  This mall is very similar to the one we saw in Charlottesville, VA, and is a wonderful feature to encourage more community-oriented spaces that are pedestrian-friendly in the city center.  I wish more cities would incorporate this idea, because heavy car traffic can discourage residents from heading into any downtown area.  

                      We settled on an Italian place called Pascolo Ristorante on their outdoor patio along the pedestrian walkway, which gave us ample opportunity to people watch and soak in our surroundings.  I wanted something refreshing to start, so I ordered an arugula salad, followed by fagioli rigatoni, while Matt decided upon their pesto rosso gnocchi.  It was all delicious and satisfying, but we couldn’t resist saving room for dessert, so we could get some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, which originated in Burlington. 🍦

                      Vermont is a beautiful state, and provided a nice reprieve during the busy holiday weekend.  Our trip is beginning to wind down from here on out as we travel through Upstate New York, continuing westward.  For the remainder of our journey, we are grateful we have the opportunity to catch up with friends and family along the way.  Though it is nice to explore new places and meet new people, it is always so wonderful to reunite with those dear to us. ❤️ 

                      The Great State of Maine

                      After traveling through so many parts of Maine, we couldn’t help but love the unique features of this wonderful state.  Though it may not be surprising that Maine produces 90% of America’s lobster supply 🦞, I found it surprising that they produce 99% of the nation’s blueberries 🫐 and 90% of our country’s toothpick supply. 😮 It is home to the nation’s first incorporated city (York), is the most northeastern state in the US, the least densely populated state east of the Mississippi River, and contains the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.  

                      Maine is home to the only national park in New England: Acadia National Park, which in turn is home to Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Atlantic shoreline.  And though over 80% of Maine’s land is forested or unclaimed, only 5.7% of its land is public.  This was surprising, considering there seemed to be so many parks for us to visit.  In fact, 94% of residents in Portland, the state’s most populous city, are within walking distance of a public park.  Compared to its other New England neighbors, it is not as pedestrian- and bike-friendly.  

                      Kittery, Maine

                      Politically speaking, Maine is one of only two states in the nation that uses Ranked Choice Voting for all of its elections, the other state being Alaska.  This is in line with the state’s more independent nature and tendency to vote for third party candidates more than any other state.  In recent history, a majority of Maine’s electoral votes have gone toward Democratic presidential nominations.  However, it is one of only two states, the other being Nebraska, that splits its electoral votes based on different parameters, and has had electoral votes go toward more conservative presidential candidates as well.  Finally, the state’s moderate nature is represented in congress more than most other US states.  

                      Education-wise, Maine’s K-12 education is top 12 in the nation, based on enrollment, graduation rate, test scores and college readiness (ACT and SAT scores).  Though the state has above average public and private university costs, they are still one of the most affordable states for secondary education in the northeast.  After school, what is the viability of getting a job locally?  Maine’s unemployment rate is below the national average, and it is known primarily for agricultural, forestry and tourism, but has only a handful of corporate headquarters located in the state.

                      Sullivan, Maine

                      Maine is a mixed bag when it comes to other quality of life factors.  It has the 12th highest cost of living (COL) in the nation, with cost of housing being the principal reason why.  With lower than average median income, it may be more difficult to sustain oneself here.  And while access to healthcare is fairly average, healthcare spending per capita is the highest in the nation.  But on the flip side, Maine has the lowest crime rate in the US.  

                      Finally, climate is definitely something to pay attention to.  Similar to other northeastern states, summers can be hot and humid and winters can be very cold and snowy, though both seasonal effects are more mild along the coastline.  It may seem that coastal living would be ideal here, but geologists call it the “drowned coast” with rising sea levels taking over formerly habitable areas.  And with warming ocean temperatures, there is a risk that lobster will move farther north into Canada, which could have a massive impact on the state’s fishing industry.

                      These aren’t the only elements to consider, but depending on which stage of life you are in, they may have an impact on your decision to move into or out of the great state of Maine.  We truly loved visiting and definitely want to come back.  If you haven’t been or are thinking about visiting or relocating to Maine, I hope these insights are helpful as you make your move.

                      Northern Maine

                      We couldn’t spend every day wandering the Acadia National Park (ANP), because the traffic and crowds would have driven us insane! 🤪 Staying farther away from ANP turned out to be a nice move and we took advantage of it by seeing more of the surrounding areas.

                      Acadia Seashore Camping and Cabins

                      When looking for a place to camp, there were some obvious choices closer to Bar Harbor, but the prices were really high, the pickings were slim, and we knew it would be crazy crowded.  As such, we found this hidden gem called Acadia Seashore Camping and Cabins in Sullivan, ME.  Pete and Sue run this place and are some of the sweetest people. 😍 They love giving you suggestions for things to see and do, restaurant recommendations, and make you feel really welcome.  Pete even mentioned that at low tide you can go down to the shoreline and harvest mussels for free!  We took advantage of this and had a delicious meal. 😋

                      Most of the sites are wide open and spacious, located down below the office along the shoreline of the Mt Desert Narrows where there are incredible views of Cadillac Mountain and the fishing boats on the bay. They have Adirondack chairs set up to watch the wildlife and this bay is fairly active.  While we were there, we saw seals and bald eagles getting their fill on a school of fish. 🐟

                      There is a central bathhouse with bathrooms, showers with natural lights streaming in, and a sink outside for cleaning dishes.  Closer to the office is a laundry “hut” with two washers and two dryers.  They are household units, so you pay for them at the office, $6 per wash and dry cycle.  It’s on the expensive side, but if you need more drying time, you don’t have to pay extra, which is nice.  Pete and Sue keep the grounds and facilities in tip top shape, and it was peaceful down by the shoreline.  This is one of our favorite parks from our trip, so consider them if you are coming to visit Acadia National Park.  👍

                      Bar Harbor

                      Bar Harbor, just north of the main section of Acadia National Park, called Mount Desert Island, it a cute little town of around 5500 residents, albeit very crowded during the height of tourism season.  Parking can be tricky, but we managed to find something every time we visited, even with our big galoot of a truck.  

                      For incredible views of the bay, definitely walk over to Agamont Park and take a seat on the grassy hillside.  Since the weather was pretty warm while we were there, we couldn’t resist swinging by one of their many ice cream shops in town.  Jordan Pond Ice Cream & Fudge is located catty corner from Agamont Park and has many flavors to consider.

                      Boat Tour

                      If you would prefer to get out on the bay instead of just admiring it from the shore, there are several boat cruises that leave Bar Harbor as well.  We chose Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company’s Sunset Cruise, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  Because it was unseasonably warm in Bar Harbor, getting out on the bay helped us cool off.  Had the temperatures been closer to average, it would have been a lot more freezing cold out there! 🥶

                      Acadia National Park was the first American national park formed east of the Mississippi River by acquiring private lands donated to the public with the efforts of local conservationists attempting to protect this area from development and preserve the wildlife and scenery for everyone to enjoy.   That being said, the boat cruise narrator shared details on the history of the area, especially concerning a lot of the vacation “cottages” that dot the shoreline of the bay that remain private, including their rental prices and famous owners. 😂

                      After skirting the shoreline south of Bar Harbor, we headed farther out into Frenchman Bay to see Egg Rock Lighthouse up close and personal.  This lighthouse is still in operation, but now its only permanent residents are the birds and seals.  We went to see the Winter Harbor Light as well, which is now privately owned.  Apparently, this lighthouse was originally sold to a private owner for about $550, but the last owner paid $1.25 million! 😲 That’s quite a rate of inflation…. The sunset was indeed gorgeous to witness out on the bay, and just as we started to get a little chilly we were back at the docks.  It was a lovely experience, and I would recommend this particular tour company.

                      Havana Restaurant

                      We went out to eat once in Bar Harbor at Havana, which has Latin-inspired food.  This place is very popular, so be sure to make a reservation.  Since it was a hot day, we started with some cool, refreshing items: oysters and gazpacho.  For the main course, I had their paella and Matt selected the halibut.  My paella was so delicious, but I managed to stop myself from eating the whole thing and saved half for later.  Matt’s halibut was cooked perfectly, some of the best fish he has had in a long time. It’s a little on the spendy side, but worth it if you want an A+ dining experience.  👍

                      Catherine Hill Winery

                      Catherine Hill Winery is 30 minutes northeast of our campsite at Acadia Seashore, and it was a nice adventure away from the national park to explore the surrounding area.  The current owners, Walt and Deb, move to Maine from Pennsylvania and bought this winery.  Most of their grapes are shipped from California and fermented using natural processes in Maine, so the wines are organic and vegan (see the about page). 

                      The tasting was fun, in part due to Deb’s engaging personality and ability to put you at ease and enjoy the tasting as a casual and relaxing experience.  Then, Matt and I selected single glasses of wine to sip outside in their comfy rocking chairs in this quiet, serene space.  We bought a few bottles for later. I think you too would have fun visiting their tasting room, and find something you’d like as they have a wide variety of offerings.

                      Fort Knox and Penobscot Narrows Observatory

                      South of Bangor, Maine is an area called Prospect, that has two points of interest that were recommended to us: Fort Knox and Penobscot Narrows Observatory.  For nonresident adults, the cost to visit both places is $9 per person, and you can access both upon entering the parking area.  

                      We went over to the Penobscot Narrows Observatory first, which is both a cable bridge AND an observatory in one.  There are only four bridge observatories in the world, the others being in China, Slovakia and Thailand.  This observatory is the tallest in the world open to the public and provides 360 degree views from 42 stories above ground.  We went on a windy but clear and sunny day, so had unrestricted views of the higher mountains and hillsides around Maine.

                      Afterward, we walked the grounds of Fort Knox, not to be confused with the fort by the same name in Kentucky.  This Fort Knox is on the Penobscot River, was built entirely of granite, and was built in response to defeats at the hands of the British in both the American Revolution and the War of 1812.  It also motivated residents to obtain their own statehood since Massachusetts had failed to protect the region.  In addition to an extensive network of tunnels, quarters, and underground storage, there are two batteries along the shoreline and a shot furnace to heat cannonballs and shoot at ships to immediately set them on fire.  

                      Despite all of the efforts to build this fort, it never saw battle and was never fully armed.  Finally, in the early 1900’s the federal government sold the fort and the 125 acres it occupied to Maine for just $2,121!  What a deal!  Soon afterward, it was converted to a state historic site and is still open to the public today, having been adopted by a nonprofit group called the Friends of Fort Knox.  Since it was hot that day, we reveled walking the dark corridors to cool off, but I imagine it would be a very cold and miserable place during winter. 🥶

                      The Hichborn

                      To cap off our visit to the Penobscot River region, we went south to Stockton Springs to eat dinner at The Hichborn.  Beth and Roy, our friends from Portland, Maine, had recommended this place based on an article they read.  Located in a historic house, the capacity is only 30 people, and reservations are required since they serve a predetermined seven-course meal that changes every few weeks.  However, it is worth it!

                      The food was all so delicious, and I even ate things I normally wouldn’t like, including mushrooms, beets, and blue cheese. 😲 That night the courses included: 

                      • an amuse bouche (single bite) of whipped mushroom on a handmade herb cracker 
                      • oysters on the half shell with a mignonette
                      • radishes and snap peas on beet whipped feta
                      • Maine scallops
                      • halibut rigatoni with asparagus and smoked ricotta
                      • a palette cleansing rhubarb sorbet
                      • NY strip with root vegetables
                      • a cheese plate with handmade crackers
                      • chocolate crémaux (crème anglaise), strawberries and white chocolate ice cream   

                      That sounds like a lot, but it was perfectly proportioned, so I felt satisfied and not too full.  The mushroom bite must have been mixed with a soft cheese, because it wasn’t that intensely flavored.  The earthiness of the beets was also tempered by the feta.  Halibut rigatoni was definitely unique, but also worked surprisingly well.  Rhubarb is one of my favorites, so I of course loved that bite.  The blue cheese was still a little too funky for me, but I liked the rest of it.  And the dessert was such a perfect close to the dinner with a burst of strawberry to temper the richness from the chocolate elements. 

                      We learned that chef Kirk Linder moved from Portland, Oregon to Maine after going on his own traveling adventures in a Westfalia van, so we had a few things to talk about when we met him that evening.  It’s fantastic that he and his partner, chef Charlie Zorich, cater to a small group of guests, providing seasonal farm to table creations that support local farmers and artisans, but also reduce waste and promote a more sustainable food supply.  It was one of our more expensive meals so far, but the experience was priceless.

                      If you haven’t seen Maine, put it on your bucket list.  It is where those from northeastern states travel to for leisure, and there is a reason why.  It’s not heavily populated, has incredible views, access to nature, and provides the benefits of what both land and sea have to offer.  Come see why Maine is called vacationland.