June – December 2016: I’ll get back to our regular travel posts with the next one (don’t worry – there will be plenty of pics and travel things in here!), but we’ve been pretty quiet on the blog and I thought I should tell you why. And for our fellow or wanna-be full-time travelling friends, I’m going to give you some important tips on how NOT to wear yourselves out visiting family and friends!
Some of the blog silence has been because I (Jeanette) went back to work last January and I’m just having trouble carving out time to write here. I used to have the luxury of being able to sit down and write a whole post in one go, but I’m just going to have to adapt my style and write in shorter bursts. But the biggest reason is that we have been mostly visiting friends or family for the last 8 months (!) and honestly, that never should have happened. You know how it is when you’re visiting family: you’re always on the go trying to squeeze in a visit with everyone, you adapt to their meal schedule and even adapt your meals themselves to suit. It can be very nice, but it’s also a little exhausting. For us, even if we have our house in the driveway or nearby it is still very much that way and we’ve been wearing ourselves out. Think of the last time you spent a week or two with your family, and then imagine that trip lasting 8 months. Yup.
Our first year as full-timers was a whirlwind of visiting friends as we traveled across the country, re-connecting with RV friends that we hadn’t seen in years, and getting ourselves to and from our Alaskan summer. Honestly, connecting with our friends and family has been one of the best things about going full-time. We’re no longer restricted by having just 2 weeks of vacation a year and since our house has wheels, we can park it and work wherever we have cell signal. This has given us the very precious gift of visiting people we hadn’t seen in years or even decades and allowing us to get good long visits in with them. But that first whirlwind year meant we were overdue for a visit to both our families, so we hatched a plan to do an eastward loop and visit them all, ending back in the Keys to see all the friends we left there. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and we intended to sprinkle ample camping and exploring time between household visits. Here’s where the mistake and the lesson comes in: don’t go into a family visit without a schedule! We love our families and they love us (at least we think they still do…), and so they will always think of good reasons that you should stay just a little longer. Before you know it, the 3 weeks you’d planned to spend have turned into 2 months, and now you have to rush off to make the next scheduled visit. Ack! We will definitely set a schedule and stick to it next time!
What all did we do and see? Well, we somewhat reluctantly left Utah and headed for Wisconsin and most of Eric’s family. We did spend a few days here & there at campgrounds, but for the most part we were driveway mooch-docking. Mooch-docking is wonderful because it offers spontaneous visiting time and it’s so easy to help out, coordinate and schedule things. And boy did we have a lot of things to take care of! We had RV projects that were a million times easier to do with a garage and a workbench and, in exchange, we helped out with all manner of yard, household, gardening, and computer chores for various family members (Brad you still owe Eric for getting Valerie’s new computer up and working haha!). In addition to chores & quality time with the ‘rents, we finally got to meet Kait & Joe of We’re the Russos in person, go for a sunset sail on Lake Michigan with Kevin, Keri & kids, get some quality visits in with Eric’s 101-year-old grandma (hi Edna!), celebrated the 4th of July with the Alsten clan, visited some great bars and pubs, had scrumptious homemade wood-fired pizza at Dave’s, ate delicious cheese curds, ate oh-so-delicious veggies right from Ron & Karen’s garden, made a pilgrimage to Lambeau Field, took Eddy Beer to meet his giant inflatable cousin, had a wonderful weekend with Brad, Jude,and their fantastic boys, and even took a tent camping overnight to do some off-roading. We had intended to take some personal time to re-explore Door County and, in fact, did stay at a campground just inside the Door, but we were mostly exhausted at that point and behind on work and so we mostly just stayed there and spent some quality time riding bikes and sitting around in our pajamas. The time in Wisconsin was really great, but we did indeed end up spending double the time we had loosely allocated for the visit: we were there for 2 months. Whew!
We left Wisconsin and headed north to the legendary Upper Peninsula (the UP) of Michigan. We spent nearly a month relaxing in the UP and heading back down through lower Michigan. Along the way we had a fun off-road day with Denny and Veronica, the RV Outlawz, explored a near-deserted Lake Superior shoreline, went to the fabulous Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, ate a pasty (pronounced past-e), looked for agates, Petoskey stones and fossils, unexpectedly bumped into Monay & Tom vacationing from the Keys (nomadic serendipity), watched ships go through the Soo Locks, played some putt-putt golf, visited beautiful Tahquamenon Falls, got sand in our eyes at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, let Eddy Beer dip his feathers in 2 more Great Lakes (Superior and Huron), spent a few idyllic days along the burbling Sturgeon River, and visited The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, where Eric got to help put a model T together. The UP is beautiful and we’ll head back there at some point. It was a much-needed dose of calm green quiet. And as an added bonus (?), we both now know the lyrics to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by heart.
The next stop in the whirlwind was a visit to my dear friend Julia and her beautiful family just outside Philadelphia, PA. Along the way we paused for a few days at Maumee Bay State Park in Ohio so that Eddy could cross off Lake Erie and where we enjoyed the heck out of biking on their wonderful bike paths, and we spent a few days in Maryland on the Potomac at Fort Frederic State Park where we got some great rides in on the C&O Towpath. As you might expect, camping is scarce in the metropolitan Philadelphia area, We had already asked all our friends and nobody had a suggestion that was anywhere close to downtown. Enter nomadic serendipity once again: while searching for campgrounds, Eric saw a tiny link for the Campus Park & Ride, right in downtown. We ended up spending the week there and while it’s not very scenic, you can hop on their shuttle buses to access the City bus system to get you anywhere. It was pretty darned convenient and every staff member we met was super nice and helpful. The views of downtown lights at night weren’t too bad either! We would definitely stay there again. In addition to spending lots of time with Julia and family, we explored the Italian Market with them, went downtown to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, had a cheese steak “wit whiz” and visited the really cool Magic Gardens. It was a wonderful visit.
From Philly we drove straight to my brother & sister-in-law’s new house in Virginia. We spent a lovely 2 weeks there visiting old haunts in nearby Charlottesville, taking a day trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah National Park, visiting a few Blue Ridge breweries, and just enjoying spending time with them. Our timing was perfect and we even got to attend their housewarming party, which allowed me to catch up with a bunch more dear friends at once. Perfect!
Then off to Buggs Island Lake for my 35th (gasp!) high school reunion. It was great to be back in my childhood stompin’ grounds and to visit with childhood friends. Our county was very rural and schools were small, so I literally went through all 12 years of school with some of them. It was so much fun reconnecting and remembering with them all! Fall color even contributed to the party by creeping into the landscape at the lake. [And no, we weren’t drunk in that picture!]
And I promise this long post is reaching its conclusion very soon! After the reunion we headed to my family’s home for what we thought would be a 3-week visit. It morphed into a 2-month stay which involved me unexpectedly cleaning out the attic and older portions of the ancestral home. My dad’s family has been living in this exact house since 1812, so I uncovered all sorts of treasures from my parents, grandparents, great- and great-great-grandparents. It was dusty, hard work that involved numerous trips to the dump, boxing up treasures for other family members, several trips to donate at the thrift store, and getting a truck-full of items off to auction. Along the way I found Victorian clothing, my dad’s childhood teddy bear and blocks, a Civil War saddle, and portraits of my ancestors. My aunt still lives in the house and shared some stories that I’d never heard, and I learned a lot more about my parents as “people” and not just in their roles as my mom & dad. It was an unexpected gift in the midst of a lot of very hard labor. While the clean-out was going on we also managed to cut several cords of wood for my aunt, Eric installed our new lithium-ion batteries and took care of a few more RV projects, we visited all the other family members and shared a lot of fun meals (and Thanksgiving), I drove back to spend more time with my high-school besties, we ate some of the best North Carolina barbecue you will ever find, and my brother drove down for another short visit. Sadly, I also attended a funeral which reminded me of how precious each day is. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, and it just reinforced that our decision to travel now was the right one.
We left Virginia mentally frazzled and, for me, exhausted and sick with a sinus infection from all of the dust. We had a few weeks to rest and enjoy Christmas before we landed in the Keys and started the whirlwind all over, but that can wait for another post!