Michigan’s Upper Peninsula: The time when our plan to not-plan bit us in the ass

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Our view of Lake Huron from our first stop in the UP. 

For the most part, we do very little advance planning for this trip. While we have been working from a loose idea of the route we wanted to take throughout the US – actual stops, where we camp, what we do has been a bit more spontaneous. Florida is one of our proudest examples of this working out. Everywhere we had read that you must book your RV spots in Florida months and months ahead for winter and early spring because it’s so busy/crowded. We spent the entire month of March in Florida, we made a camping reservation ONCE for a single night. This was at a campground near Cape Canaveral when we attempted to watch a SpaceX launch. Unfortunately, the launch date got changed a 100 times, we couldn’t cancel our super expensive and crappy camping reservation – so we had to stay there anyway with no launch. We made the best of it though (swimming, cruise ship watching, day drinking, etc.). Not having reservations gives us a lot of freedom to go where the wind takes us. It also can be stress inducing. Overall though, it’s really been the best for us.

The northern part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) has been the exception to this rule. I first learned about the UP from a co-worker in the last few months prior to leaving. I did a quick Google search, saw amazing pictures of orange, sandy, cliffs coming out of a crystal aqua colored lake, forests for days, people kayaking and hiking, and quickly added it to our list of potential stops. As we got closer to Michigan, we did a quick campground search to get an idea of camping options and confirmed that there were TONS of places. It wasn’t until we were already in the UP happily enjoying our stay at the best low-key, rustic, family fishing camp near St. Ignace that I started reading a bit more that the campgrounds up near Pictured Rocks (northern UP) were typically packed during summer. I also read and we experienced that UP forests are notoriously mucky and BUGGY. This meant that our typical backwoods, forest, boondocking type spot would be more risky and probably not an option. The last thing we want is to get stuck out in the woods somewhere and have to figure a way to get towed out. But knowing that there were so many campgrounds up that way, we still felt like something would work out like it mostly has for us this past year on the road. We were so wrong. We spent an entire afternoon, evening, and the next morning driving back and forth through this area looking for any available campsite. NOTHING. NADA. NOT A SINGLE ONE. Oh and I forgot to mention, it was pouring rain (flash flood warnings) and intense thunder and lightning. And by the way, absolutely NO CELL SERVICE. NO DATA. It was getting dark, we were tired and hungry, and desperately wanted to stop driving in this weather. Thankfully we got a tip from a local about a Snowmobile parking lot in the National Park area where we could likely get away with staying the night. Even more fortunate, it was just a few miles down the road. We were there in no time, tucked Merlin and Smarty in the back behind some trees (to keep us less visible from the main road) and settled in for the night.

Feeling a bit defeated by the northern UP, we came close to giving up on this area all together, leaving, and driving straight to Wisconsin. Thankfully though, another casino came to our rescue! The Kewadin Casinos here in the UP are amazing. We have benefited from them several times already: free dump and water fill in St. Ignace, free several night stay (w/ FREE 20-amp power) in Manistique, and now 2 free nights with 30-amp power in the land of no available campsites! It may not be everyone’s dream to camp in a casino parking lot, but they have come in quite handy for us and it’s also a lot of fun to have penny slots and a bar right outside your door.

So what about my fantastic dreams of a summer in the UP full of kayaking alongside those gorgeous cliffs, doing backstrokes in Lake Superior, and hiking every trail I could find??? Uh, not so much. What those beautiful pictures failed to share with me and what I didn’t learn because we don’t plan-ahead is that Lake Superior is f**king HUGE – like ocean big. I mean I kind of knew this because it is a Great Lake and all – but what I didn’t account for is that kayaking in a body of water like this is at an entirely other level from what I’m used to or have ever done. There are very strong recommendations that you use only sea kayaks, wear a wetsuit, and have mad-skills. This type of kayaking isn’t for beginner/novices like me and usually you need to do it with a guide (this means shelling out the big bucks which we aren’t in the position to do). Plus that charming storm I told you about made water conditions even worse – kayaking and swimming were not to be. While we did do a little bit of hiking, the mosquito situation here is FIERCE. Like it’s so bad that they call the mosquito this area’s official “bird”.  And even though there is not a single available campsite to be found, and the area is pretty packed with tourists, many of the trails we attempted were super overgrown with a lot of nasty plants that we didn’t want to tangle with. So my hiking dreams didn’t come together either.  Even with the camping, hiking, swimming, and kayaking fails that I mentioned, we did get to enjoy some parts of this area. Pictured Rocks and Lake Superior are INCREDIBLE. We did an awesome short beach walk along the lake and between the crazy pretty rocks while picking and snacking on wild blueberries growing on the side of the path and had the trail completely to ourselves! We found a lake access area off the beaten path and had lunch at Grand Sable Lake totally alone. These were fun and made us really glad we came all the way up the UP. Plus they make bomb-ass pasties here and we really can’t get enough of them.

Does this mean that we’re going to change our ways and start planning more? Nope, absolutely not. Except, of course, if we ever come back to the UP.

PS: We have given this some thought and think we may have figured it out. We were able to find ample spots in a full Florida because we are open to non-traditional camping spots – we’ll camp off grid, we’ll rough it. The folks that flock to Florida for winter and spring generally aren’t the “roughing-it” type. They want the posh, fancy camp resorts, with full hookups, amenities, and close proximity to Disney World. This meant that the rougher spots were free for the taking and taking we did!

Northern Michigan, on the other hand, is harsh and wild – especially the UP! The folks up here are rugged – they live through some of the most severe winters one can experience. Roughing it is their way of life. Mud, muck, bugs, and rain is simply what they do. They’re outdoorsy. And, I bet this explains why every campground is filled, no matter how rustic or primitive – no matter how crappy the weather. Michiganers know how to camp and they do it in great numbers.

What we were up to in Michigan:

Wayne County Fairgrounds – Belleville, MI

Day trips to Ann Arbor, Royal Oak, & Detroit

Rose Valley Winery – Rose City, MI

Sampled crazy-good wine

Reddman’s Sleepy Hollow Campground, St. Ignace, MI (UP)

Day trip to downtown St. Ignace, Techquaninom Falls, & Sault St. Marie

 

 

Enjoyed camping virtually alone just steps from Lake Huron

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Do you see how light it is? It’s after 9pm and it’s hardly dusk. HUGE perk to being this far north – it stayed light until at least 10pm. LOVED THIS!

Savored our first pair of UP pasties at a long-time local spot, Lehto’s

Kewadin Casino – Manistique, MI (UP)

Did our laundry and had a few beers at the dive bar next door (for the WIN!)

Walked the boardwalk and saw a lighthouse

Seney National Wildlife Refuge – Seney, MI

On our way further north into the UP, we did an afternoon stop here

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Snowmobile Parking Lot, Munising, MI (UP)

Recovered from a stressful few hours of campground hunting in a nasty storm

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Thank you Snowmobile parking lot! Us heading out to continue the (unsuccessful) campground hunt.

Kewadin Casino – Christmas, MI (UP)

Explored some parts of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

 

 

Walmart – Escanaba, MI

Waited out heavy rain most of the day and left later in the evening. Made it to the Walmart parking lot right when the sky opened up again and it poured! We were so grateful to have made it there safely.

(Canal) Locks of Love from NY & OH

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While it’s a little late (better late than never, though), we have an official theme song for this wild adventure of ours. This song was introduced to us by awesome camping neighbors we met in Stow, OH – Dan and Wendy and it’s totally perfect: “I’ve Been Everywhere”. It’s been done by a number of people, but Johnny Cash’s version is pretty fantastic. Check it out!

 Now that we’re halfway through July, the reality of this wild adventure coming to a close is hitting us hard. We just passed the year mark of when we gave up our apartment in Los Angeles and began living in Merlin! Thinking back to that time fills our heads with crazy yet fond memories.

 A few of our recent stops have helped us in prioritizing the items on our checklist for what we want/need in our next hometown. Since we hit the Appalachian Mountains, we’ve been so taken with the all-encompassing GREEN, mountains, rivers, and lakes. Moving west from New Hampshire we’ve continued to encounter lush, green land, with so many interesting and unique hiking and biking paths!! In our continued time in these kinds of places, we have realized the possibility exists for having a couple acres of land, a small house, and access to all of these things we love.

 We have really enjoyed our time across middle / upstate NY and the Great Lakes regions of NY and Ohio. This area has so much of what we’ve been looking for and then some. Whether we end up here at some point or not, it has definitely helped us identify the features and characteristics of a place that are important to us.

 Here is the brief update on stops for this portion of the adventure:

 We experienced our worst drive day weather yet! The Berkshires on the way to Albany, NY sure gave us a walloping thunderstorm. WOW! Merlin and Smarty were pelted with quarter inch hail and rocked by really nasty winds that were keeping leaves floating in the air. Luckily this all passed quickly and Merlin and crew rolled slowly and safely along, no damage done.

Thompson Lake Campground / Thacher State Park – Voorheesville, NY

In Albany, we had a meet-up with a great college friend and roommate Maura, and finally got to meet her husband and son! Plus we stayed in a beautiful NY state park.

Abbot Farms – Baldwinsville, NY

Another Harvest Host win with the great folks at Abbot Farms. We picked strawberries and bought some of their own farm raised beef! They also have great ice cream that happened to come from Maine!

Wayne County Fairgrounds – Palmyra, NY

From a home base at Wayne County Fairgrounds in Palmyra, NY we enjoyed riding our bikes along the Erie Canal tow path now converted to a bike path that spans 200 miles! Also, visited the Finger Lakes regions – it was beautiful.

Seneca Niagara Casino – Niagara Falls, NY

We stayed in a casino parking lot walking distance from Niagara Falls. The falls are amazing – like really incredible. The area around the falls on both the US and Canada sides is straight up nasty. The absolute worst tourist crap hole we’ve seen. Hated it. Our suggestion if you ever want to see the falls, stay far from this area and just drive in for the afternoon or take a tour bus.

A day trip from here was to Lockport. This was another town right on the Canal that has preserved some of the old locks and it was fun to see them in action.

Silver Springs Campground – Stow, OH

Our NEW favorite spot so far = Stow, OH! We loved this area so much that we extended our stay. We camped here longer than any other campground (9 nights). We were right on one of the most epic bike paths we’ve come across and less than 10 miles to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. With places to swim, 100s of miles of bike paths, hiking trails up the wazoo, and Cleveland just 35 minutes away – this place was for the win!

White Star Campground – Gibsonburg, OH

This was our final stop in Ohio but I’m certain we’ll be back. We had the campground to ourselves and a beautiful swimming quarry just across the street. From here we visited Cedar Point amusement park. The rides at this place were off the charts insane. We were walking through the gates at 10am on the dot when they opened and crossing those same gates again 13 hours later when they were kicking us out. It was one of our priciest excursions yet – but worth every single penny. If you like roller coasters and are ever within 100 miles of this place, I cannot recommend this park enough. We had a blast!! Plus it’s right on Lake Erie – providing great views and cool breezes. We were also able to visit Perrysburg, the hometown of our dear friend Keith G.

Meow-hi from Gemma and Schnabbies

NH: Family, Maintenance, and More!

Overdue Maintenance

Another safe driveway to work in allowed us the chance to tackle some long overdue maintenance projects on Merlin. This is certainly the less glorious, less spoken about, part of life on the road. Project number one was to wash the exterior of Merlin. This would mark the first time we’ve done this since purchase over a year ago. We were quickly reminded that these RVs are large vehicles when we climbed up on the roof 12 and a half feet off the ground. Luckily hand washing a large flat surface wasn’t terrible, and the fiberglass roof and walls washed up pretty nicely.

Project two was to re-caulk the aluminum channel that connects the roof to the sidewall. After doing some research we found that this is somewhat of a known issue on Winnebago fiberglass roofs and probably others as well. The adhesive in this channel is supposed to be checked every 6 months! Our roof had definitely pulled away from the adhesive and aluminum channel and the remaining adhesive appeared to be very old. This area was full of dirt and was even growing moss in some areas! We took the time to scrape it all out and clean the channel with Q-tips and rubbing alcohol. After letting the entire area dry we applied the new sealant. This was a tedious job and it was a bit scary hanging over the edge of the roof. It sure looks better than when we started, but we’ll have to see how this holds up over the next few months.

By project three we were less enthusiastic about more hard work, but we trudged on to polishing. After the first side was done we wanted to be done. We pressed on and after more elbow grease and a few days of time we did manage to finish all the exterior surfaces including the roof. The result was a nice sheen and the removal of some of the scratches we had added to Merlin.

On top of these larger tasks we also did our regular oil change, some small repairs of things we broke during our adventures including our radio antenna, an upper front marker light, and interior cleanup. This work was not fun to be sure, but we now feel a sense of relief knowing it has been done, and Merlin is sealed up well for now.

NH – Not all work! family friends and the beach too.

We did have fun lined up for our stay as well. Our first weekend began with the camping trip mentioned in the previous post. After the chores were done, or perhaps more as a relief and procrastination between chores, we got to visit friends and family around New Hampshire. We also had many great pool days with the niece, nephew, and fam. Thankfully the pool hit 80 and the weather was mostly cooperative. Other favorite pastimes included shoveling ice cream and fried seafood into our faces. Grammy’s cookies, Grampy’s meatloaf, Moe’s subs, Roland’s subs and lobster rolls round out our normal musts for our seacoast New Hampshire visits.

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Bayley’s Campground in Old Orchard Beach: Our rig next to aunt and uncle’s trailer across from mom and dad’s Class A. So awesome!
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Wallis Sands, Rye, NH

No Sleep till Brooklyn (and an update on the composting toilet)!

Hello from Bryan’s parent’s front yard in New Hampshire and happy June! We just arrived a week ago and will be spending a good chunk of the month here. As for our plans: there has already been a family camping trip, some day trips on the agenda, Merlin and Smarty projects to be done, and simply happy to have some down time and visit with family and friends. May was one busy and crazy month for us and included driving Merlin on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive, hiking on the Appalachian Trail, staying in Shenandoah National Park, visiting Gettysburg, and driving to and camping in Brooklyn, NY! In addition, we got to visit more family (Bob, Mikey, Kelly, Kevin, Conner, and Dez), meet up with old friends (John, Erin, Kate, Gregg), and make new friends (including: Gil, Adam, Paul, Erin, Sabine, Peter, Sweet D, Sara, Lemhi, Hobbs, and Mike).

May in Merlin

Blue Ridge Parkway / staying at Peaks of Otter:

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Skyline Drive / Shenandoah NP / staying at Loft Mountain:

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This is what our campground looked like for 2.5 days – ugh.
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Blurry pic, but this was the laundry room at the camp store in Shenandoah. Met several AT hikers here. The cold, rainy, cloudy, days were perfect for catching up on laundry and we were able to drink beers too.
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Beautiful sunset when the fog moved on.

Areas in and around Chambersburg and Gettysburg, PA / stayed at Cracker Barrel, Adams County Winery, Hauser Winery, & Walmart 

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Just happened across this snake on our way back to the Gettysburg Visitor Center – he had to be 5 feet long – eeeek!

Hershey, PA / stayed at The Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey:

Pottstown, PA / stayed with Boondocking Welcome hosts:

Clinton, NJ / stayed at Spruce Run Recreation Area / visited family and friends in Philadelphia and New Hope

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Merlin chilling in Jersey.

New York City, NY / stayed at Floyd Bennett Field NP / visited friends, did a ferry ride, Coney Island, Financial District, WTC memorial, Battery Park, Central Park, West Village, Upper East Side, and Times Square (for a total of 2 minutes and it was 2 minutes too many)

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Driving on a bridge into NYC at 3:30am in the rain!
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1st stop – chili dogs!
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None of us were big fans of Times Square – yuckville. Just a big, crowded commercial – bleck!

Danbury, Connecticut / stayed with Boondocking Welcome hosts / visited a friend, went to a Bridgeport Bluefish baseball game

As some of you might recall, we installed a composting toilet in Merlin back in January. For a better understanding of a composting toilet, check this out: http://www.gonewiththewynns.com/composting-toilet We bought our unit back last summer and fully intended on having it installed before we started this crazy adventure. However, because we had SO many projects to get done, we simply ran out of time, energy, patience, you name it and never got to it prior to departure.

We have now been living with and using this compositing toilet for exactly 5 months and thought we’d share our experience. We really like it! And NO it doesn’t smell. It really doesn’t, I promise. Most people would assume that dealing with the solids (#2) would be the worst part, but it’s actually the liquids (#1) that are the most unpleasant aspect of it all. There’s never really any odor coming from the toilet when in use, but when it comes time to dump the pee/liquids containers – that’s when you have to smell the funk. We have two liquid containers. It takes 1-2 days to fill one of these, depending on how often we’re using our toilet in Merlin. You obviously NEVER want the liquids container to overflow, so we have to keep an eye on things and swap them out once it’s close to becoming full. Typically we’re staying at a campground that at the very least has a porta-potty, so we’re almost always able to dump our liquids containers where we camp. Sometimes, though, we’re off-grid or staying at a non-traditional camping spot (e.g., a parking lot, a host’s house, a winery) and we have to get creative on where we can dump our pee. So far, we’ve used bathrooms at gas stations and public parks – it hasn’t been an issue.

Now onto the solids! Every 3-4 weeks we fill the toilet with fresh composting medium. There are a few options, but we use coco coir (https://www.amazon.com/Natures-Footprint-Coir-Block-5kg/dp/B004W8D4N6). We bought a big dried block of the stuff in January and will use the last of it the next time we put in fresh – so one block has lasted close to 6 months. It’s $23 for the whole block and has worked out to about $4 a month for the medium. This comes dried, so to prepare it for the toilet I mix it with water to get it to a slightly moist, soil like consistency. When it comes time to dump the used medium (every 3-4 weeks), we move the entire toilet outside (just requires two nuts), take off the top portion that contains the toilet seat, and dump the contents into a plastic storage bin. Again, this is when you’d expect it to be gross and smelly, but that has not been the case. While we do wipe down the exterior of the toilet and clean the toilet seat portion, we don’t clean the inside where the medium and solids hang out as you don’t want to disrupt the natural flora, etc. that is facilitating the breaking down of the waste. We then put in the fresh medium, reassemble the toilet, return the whole unit to the bathroom, and proceed as usual. I have timed this process and it takes roughly 30 minutes from start to finish.

Most folks take the used medium/solids and throw it away immediately. We didn’t want to do it this way because depending on the last time you used the toilet, this could mean that you would be dumping pretty fresh solids and that just didn’t seem right to us. So we have 2 plastic storage containers. We dump our used medium in one of these and allow it to stay in there for at least a month to complete the composting/breaking down. Once it’s reached a month or so, we dump it in a composting bag and then toss it in the trash. In theory, we could dump this soil around a tree in the woods somewhere because by this time it’s pretty much dirt. But there are various laws and restrictions depending on where you are, so we have not done this as of yet.

Yes, having a composting toilet puts you more up close and personal with your “dirty” business. And I admit, this may not be for everyone. But having used a regular RV toilet and dealing with the black tank and associated dumping for over 5 months, I definitely prefer the compositing toilet. Plus, the freedom that we get by having the compositing toilet is essential for the style of camping we’re doing. We do not need to waste one single drop of our fresh water for our toilet or waste. Our black tank now serves as a back-up grey tank – essentially doubling our grey water capacity. We now can use every bit of our fresh water (for cooking, cleaning, and showers) and have a place for it all to go. So far we have been able to go about 2 weeks off grid and this has been without too much effort. I know if we were more careful with usage, we could go longer. Having this toilet has saved us time and money! We don’t have to pay for dumps as often as before, we can boondock as often as we’d like, we can avoid more expensive campgrounds/campsites, we only need to dump every 2 weeks, etc. Plus environmentally, this is a bit better. When we dump a single liquids container, that’s 1-2 days of pee for two people. If we’re dumping this in a toilet, it’s just one flush opposed to the 20+ flushes it would have been with a regular toilet and so much wasted water. Unfortunately, because we’re on the road – we are not able to fully see through the composting part of our solids. But I do like that when we dispose of our composting medium, the solids have fully broken down, are in a composting bag, and are essentially dirt.

If anyone is interested in videos, more information, or whatever else about our composting toilet experience – just let us know.

And as always, let’s check in with Gemma and Schnabbies (we are celebrating these gals’ Foundiversary June 14th – 4 years!!!):

NC & TN along with some thoughts from the road

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FOMO, forget about it! FOMO (fear of missing out) is a common feeling for most of us and has been a regular concern on this trip. Every day we’re passing by so many cool, interesting, pretty, historic, etc. places and/or things to do – but if we tried to see and do it all, we’d still be in California right now! Over these months we’ve had to teach ourselves to get over our FOMO. We try to choose quality over quantity (to a degree) and pick a few things from the many many options to visit or experience. What has been the best is when we camp in one place for 3-4 days, do a few day trips in Smarty and then hang at camp one day. It doesn’t always work out this way – but this is normally our goal. Budget, our schedule, weather, etc. also need to be taken into account and these all can screw with that ideal plan.
Before setting out on this journey, we had talked about staying at places for 1-2 weeks at a time. While this would have been great for a number of the places we’ve been, it’s just not possible with the loose route through the US that we have laid out for this one year. I know this probably sounds stupid, but the US is a lot bigger than we thought! We try to keep our drive days at or around 150 miles and we rarely do drive days back to back. I’m sure 150 miles doesn’t seem like much, but when you factor in the time it takes in breaking down camp, getting Merlin road ready, hooking up Smarty, and then actually driving at a speed that is both safe and comfortable – that 150 miles can take most of the day. Plus we avoid driving at night and since the cats hideout during the drive, driving for anything over 6-8 hours would royally suck for them.

While planning this trip over the past few years, Bryan and I both developed so many expectations – both conscious and subconscious. Now 9+ months into our adventure, the reality of this trip has exceeded our expectations in most areas, fallen terribly short in others, and has sometimes left us scratching our heads. We had really expected that this trip would allow us an unbelievable amount of free time to read books, exercise, go for long walks, and do a lot of nothing. And before you all start screaming at the screen, YES – I know that this entire trip is essentially ALL “free time” – we’re not working for an entire year. This is definitely true, but while we do have a bit more of those chill, relax, do nothing days than we did before – this lifestyle and a trip like this takes so much more work, planning, and research than we could have ever imagined. As I was explaining to a friend recently in an email, just about every single move we make on this trip requires a ton of planning! So far, we’ve driven almost 10,000 miles – so that’s a lot of moves and SO MUCH PLANNING. Even something as simple as getting gas takes planning. Not all gas stations can accommodate our rig with Smarty in tow – they may not have the height clearance or the area of the gas station is too tight to get in and out. You don’t realize how comfortable you get in your hometown where driving to the market or to dinner doesn’t take any thought – you get in the car and POOF you’re there. We no longer have that familiarity and anything that we need or want to do takes a lot of effort. I’m in no way complaining about our current position – believe me, but this just wasn’t something that we had fully understood before taking off. Even the fun stuff – figuring out what excursion to do, where to go, what to see, etc. – just the planning of this alone could take up all the time we have in that particular place. If there aren’t obvious places to see (e.g., Yellowstone National Park), we will do some brief Googling to find a few popular and not so popular destinations, try to get suggestions along the way from locals or other travelers, and then head out and see where the wind takes us. Even the cities and stops we pick to stay in are normally established just a few days in advance and sometimes just minutes before we start Merlin’s engine (no joke, we just decided between two different states with a coin toss before we hit the road, ha ha!).

For me personally, one of my biggest expectations that I wasn’t even aware I had made was that I would experience less of some of the most undesirable sides to myself (stress, anxiety, melancholy, moodiness). I think I have wrongly assumed for a long time that these were all due to my environment (hectic city life, work demands and pressure, etc.). But very soon into this trip these continued to crop up and it was a hard reality check to realize that even on this trip of a lifetime with all this time to spend with Bryan, my kitties, nature – these still show themselves more often than I’d like.

One big motive for taking this trip was to finally get to spend more time together. For those of you that know us, you know that for Bryan’s 10 years in Los Angeles and for the duration of our relationship Bryan’s work schedule has been hard with regular long days, late nights, and weekend work. We’ve been together for 9 years and have a pretty solid relationship. We laugh way more than we argue and are a really fantastic team. Going into this we hoped that this would all stay true and even get better with all this new time together. I am happy to report that we’re doing really good after being together non-stop, 24/7 for 9 months! Yes, the stresses of this trip can give us moments of some harsh words or frustration with each other, but overall we’re happy. We still spend most of our time cracking each other up, working hard together to keep things going, and truly enjoying this adventure.

Stops/Stays/Visits

Dunn, NC: Stayed at a Walmart. This town was all about god and we got to watch a carnival being set up right next to us in the Walmart parking lot – fun!

Raleigh, NC: We stayed at the NC state fairgrounds near the horse complex. Pretty decent campground with full-hookups for $30 a night. Here we visited several local parks (NC has the BEST state parks we’ve been to so far!) including: Umstead park, Lake Johnson, Old Mill. Got to watch a few events of a horse show, visit with our friend Jeanny (from LA who just moved to NC in the summer), explore downtown Raleigh a bit, and check out the local modern art museum (Jeanny works there).

Lake Norman State Park, NC: Great hikes, pretty lake, we walked out to an island and saw a mama goose on her nest, visited a few cute towns: Davidson, Cornelius, met cool folks: Case, Laurie, and Dasha, and had beers at Ass Clown Brewery.

Curtis Creek Campground, NC: Stayed at an amazing National Forest campground for $5 a day – yes, five dollars a day! From here did a hike from hell that took us up to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) (ended up being over 12 miles and almost 8 hours, eek!), did a drive on the BRP, and spent an afternoon in Asheville.

Buffalo Wild Wings, Asheville, NC: Spent the afternoon/evening and stayed the night in the parking lot. We got to watch the Bruins play the Senators and lose – falling out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Fun time, cool people, good beer and food, but sad game.

Cable Cove, NC: Another National Forest campground – but this one was $10 a day. Drove 318 curves over 11 miles on the Tail of the Dragon, visited 2 different sides of the Great Smoky Mountains, drove the Foothills Parkway,  and had a beer in Bryson city, at Mountain Layers brewery.

Knoxville, TN: Stayed at a “campground” in a parking lot on the UT campus near the soccer stadium and softball fields ($30 a day), visited Bryan’s cousins: Ashley and Geoffrey, had wonderful spirits and cocktails at Knox Whiskey Works (thanks Ashley!!), visited our 3rd stop on the Manhattan Project tour in Oakridge, TN, explored downtown Knoxville, and did some hiking at Ijams Nature Center.

Kingsport, TN: Stayed at a Cracker Barrel overnight after a Harvest Host stay fell through (big bummer!).

Stone Mountain State Park, NC: Our favorite state park! Beautiful campground, plenty of sun for our solar panels, lots of hiking right from the campground. The park’s claim is Stone Mountain – a huge granite dome popping out of the forest with views for days. We stayed in the no hook-up loop and it was $15 a night during the week and $17 a night on the weekends (not including the state park fee of $3 a day, whack!). On the coldest, rainiest day we did another drive on the BRP – we cannot get enough of that road!

And, of course, the kitties:

Some really cool creatures and flowers we’ve encountered recently:

Snakes, Savannah, & a Parking Garage

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After having spent well over a month in Florida, it felt so strange to finally leave! It had been so hot that last week, that we were desperate to go north looking for a little taste of the winter/spring weather that we had been avoiding. We found though, that it was still pretty damn hot in Georgia. Our first stop here was in Georgia’s southeast and found an incredible camping spot out in the absolute sticks! I decided to do a video so you guys can get a better sense of what some of these boondocking sites look like.

These areas are typically designated for hunting activities and as I mentioned in the video – there were a couple of hunts going on while we were camping there. Because of this, we rarely feel comfortable doing much exploring, hiking, or biking in these areas. So while we get to camp in these beautiful forests – we don’t normally get to see more than our camp area and the drive in 😦 We regularly hear gun shots off in the distance and this makes a casual hike off-limits.

On our first day trip, we headed into the town of Brunswick. It had a cute little downtown area – but it was completely shuttered (so it goes on a Sunday in the south). This city is right on the water, so we headed down to the marina area to see what we could find. We came across this huge, beautiful, boat. They had a sign outfront welcoming folks in and offering up freshly baked items for sale. It seemed odd, but with really nothing else to do – we climbed aboard. Turns out this boat (and bakery) is owned and operated by what some internet sources say is a cult. LOL! They were nice enough and the cinnamon roll we bought was delicious. Plus they made no attempt to bring us into their cult, so all was well. With a Boston Bruins game ready to start, we found a bar & grill outside of the downtown area where we could grab some grub and watch the game! On top of watching the game (we won!), we also met a ton of locals who were so awesome (James, Karen, Carol, Ben, Lacey, Tora, Heather, etc.). This turned into a great Sunday-Funday!!

For the remainder of our days here, we visited Jekyll Island, did laundry, explored another campground on the river nearby, worked on a Merlin project, had a visit with a snake in the bathroom (SCARY!!!), and rode out an insane night of severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings (up all night – glued to the radio, with bags packed, kitty carrier out, ready to run to the cinderblock bathhouse across the camp at the 1st sign of a tornando).

What a difference a day makes! We woke up out in the boonies camping miles away from any form of civilization and wrapped up that same day sitting on a rooftop bar in Savannah drinking cocktails! This trip is so crazy – in case it wasn’t already obvious. We could have “camped” in Savannah’s visitor center parking lot – but we had heard that it could get really tight and crowded and since we had another option through Harvest Host – we went for that instead. However, after checking out that parking lot – we would definitely stay there if we were here again. We LOVED Savannah and getting to stay in the heart of the city would have been ideal! We camped at a flea market about 12 miles outside of town. It was an interesting place and had hook-up options for a low price, so it worked out overall. Savannah is awesome! It’s really small, so we were able to see a good chunk of it with several hours of walking around over two days. You can take your drinks to go and walk around with cocktail in hand – this was also fantastic! The city is full of beautiful green space squares, history, and gorgeous architecture. It was definitely a busy tourist time, but if you walked just one block from a popular area you could escape the hordes and be on a beautiful, peaceful street. Down on the waterfront was the worst though – crowds and crowds of tourists and the crappy shops that cater to those folks. We escaped from this area pretty quickly and found a nice little Scottish pub to rest our feet and have lunch. Savannah is definitely a place we’d like to visit again and could be a fun and interesting place to live for a short while.

 

Next stop was Charleston, South Carolina. This time we jumped at the chance to urban “camp” by parking/staying in the parking garage adjacent to the Charleston visitor center. This was an experience! First off, parking garages and RVs don’t usually go well together. So the thought of first having to navigate Merlin with Smarty in tow through the narrow and cramped little streets of Charleston and then pulling our beast into a parking garage was nothing short of terrifying! But all my fretting was for nothing – the whole event went off without a hitch! We were pulled in, setup, and living the parking garage dream in no time!

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After a quick lunch, we were off to explore the city right outside Merlin’s door! We walked through the city, down to the waterfront, and back up to our home, the parking garage. Similar to Savannah, Charleston is rich in history and beautiful architecture. That evening we decided to head over to a Riverdogs baseball game (Charleston’s minor-leauge team). The stadium was right on the water and made for a super fun night out! Plus it was “bring your dog night” so the place was overun with the cutest doggies and it was $1 beer and $1 hot dog night too – wooo hoooo! To top it off, we met some new friends (several from Redondo Beach, CA) and even got a ride home (saving us from having to leave the game early to catch the last free bus).

We spent our next day in Charleston taking full advantage of the city’s free bus system! We visited the Fort Sumter interpretive center (location of the first Civil War battle) and learned a lot about Charleston’s history. While we were taking a snack break at a park nearby we met an AWESOME gal Stef who is taking a 3 month bike ride up the east coast with her dog Murf. These two were so fun to talk to and we wish them the BEST on their journey. You can follow them here: http://www.4pawsandabicycle.com. It was so great having Merlin/home so close – we were able to stop in a few times a day to grab lunch, a snack, freshen up, or just take a break. This afternoon, we walked around our friend Becca’s alma mater, College of Charleston. This was a amazingly beautiful campus! At happy hour that evening, we made more new friends: Andrea and Ray. They are from PA but work as tour guides and spend a lot of time in this area with their tour groups. They were so kind and secretly paid for our happy hour snacks! If you guys are reading this, thank you so much!! We wrapped up our night at a local dive bar (thanks for the recommendation Becca) and hung out with a Charleston local, John. We were not lacking for friends in Charleston and this made our time here a lot more fun!