Cat in a Cooler and Why Public Libraries RULE!

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*we heart iowa*

As many of you may already know, I/Jaimi am a huge animal lover and have a history of rescuing animals (sometimes even those that really didn’t need to be rescued – oops!). An animal rescue opportunity presented itself once again in Iowa. We had just had lunch at a local favorite, The Irish Shanti, and enjoyed their famous “Gunder Burger”. We ended up chatting with the owner, Kevin, and he took us on tour of his property. On this tour, I heard a kitten crying from under the house porch. I located the poor little kitty and the rescue was ON! I requested a strip of bacon from Kevin and eventually coaxed the grey and white kitten out from under the porch. While the bacon got the kitty out from his hiding spot, he chose being pet and loved over eating the bacon. He was adorable!! With the scared little kitty in my arms I realized that I had no plan on what to do next. We were out in a very, very, very, small town (people joke that the Gunder Burger is bigger than the town itself – ha ha) which is in the middle of nowhere (except corn and soybean fields). Thankfully we keep a medium sized cooler in Smarty most of the time, so Bryan quickly emptied that and with a blanket on the bottom and the lid cracked just a bit – this cooler made for a sufficient travelling “crate” for the kitty (who by this time I had already named: Gunderburg). We stopped by a veterinarian office in the next town and were told that there was a Humane Society in Decatur (almost 30 miles away). Decatur was actually on our lists of places to visit in the area, so it all worked out perfectly. We then made our way quickly to the Humane Society of NE Iowa with a crying kitten in a cooler.

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Jaimi and Gunderburg anxiously awaiting his test results. Look at how cute he is!!

The folks there were so nice and after we explained our extremely odd situation (hi – we live in an RV, we already have 2 cats, we’re only visiting, etc. etc.) they said they could take the kitty as long as he didn’t test positive for FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus). They did a blood test immediately and then we had to wait for 15 minutes for the results. We were told that if he tested positive and we couldn’t keep him that he would have to be put down. GOOD GRIEF! I got to hold the little guy for those stressful 15 minutes and between my bursts of crying – he and I snuggled and he was the cutest little love bug EVER. Thankfully he tested negative. PHEW! It was set, Gunderburg was to go to a foster home until he reaches 4 months or so, get neutered, receive his vaccinations, and be up for adoption in the next few months. This was an incredibly emotional day for me – but I was happy that it ended with this sweet little kitty in a safe place where he’ll be taken care of and hopefully find his forever home soon!! We made a donation and if you’d like to as well – please follow this link.

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A great message and souvenir.

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While I’m certain I understood the value of public libraries before this trip, it’s been on this adventure that we have grown to REALLY, truly appreciate them. For us, they have served many purposes: reliable clean restrooms and drinking fountains, simply a cool and quiet place to sit down, a place to charge our phone and/or laptop, free internet/wi-fi, access to printers and computers, information on the local community, and surprisingly – interesting museums, historic exhibits, art installations, and even in Kansas City – a rooftop garden! And all of this is free (or a few cents to print a few pages). It’s easy to discount libraries as outdated establishments – but they’re really so much more! We have visited a number of them across the US and are always greeted by kind and helpful staff members. Each one we’ve been in has been filled with people young and old. I hope this doesn’t sound too hokey – but when you next visit a new town, I highly suggest you include a visit to the local public library as part of your sightseeing. You might be surprised with what it holds (almost always more than just dusty bookshelves!) and if you haven’t been to the one in your own town for a while – do it! They always have a little donation box somewhere on the counter and we always throw in a buck or two – another suggestion if you feel so inclined.

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The coolest entry to a parking garage.

 

What we’ve been up to (where we stayed and what we did):

Cabela’s Outfitters — Green Bay, WI

  • Stayed just down the street from Lambeau Field where the Green Bay Packer’s play football.

Manitowoc County Expo Center — Manitowoc, WI

This town may sound familiar, this is the area made popular by Steven Avery/Making a Murderer

  • Attended a parade in the town of Valders (pop. 934) – they handed out cheese and milk. Only in Wisconsin…
  • Enjoyed the local fare (mainly dairy and beer)
  • Did a tour at the Kohler factory (really interesting and fantastic tour!) and went swimming in Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, no pics from the Kohler tour as cameras weren’t allowed.
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The lovely beach on Lake Michigan
  • Explored Downtown Manitowoc

Green Valley Campground — Baraboo, WI

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  • Visited the Mustard Museum in Middleton, WI
  • Explored downtown Madison: Capitol building, The Terrace waterfront at the University, and scenic park/drive. *Bonus – super 80’s looking courthouse, wtf?!
  • Went hiking at Devils’ Lake and tubing down the Wisconsin River with our friend Trina (not pictured because we’re terrible at getting pictures w/ the people we visit – ugh!)

Gateway Park Campground — Monona Iowa

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This campground was at the entrance to this town . It was a bit odd – but we had the place to ourselves and it was $10 a night w/ electricity. WOOT!
  • Walked through Monona’s Butterfly Garden & Trails
  • Visited Driftless Area Education And Visitors Center, Effigy Mounds National Monument, and Pikes Peak State Park
  • Wolfed down the famous Gunder Burger at The Irish Shanti in Gunder, IA and also rescued a cat. Celebrated the rescue with beers at Pulpit Rock Brewing Co. in Decatur, IA

Stayed with family at Candle River Farm — Fairbank, Iowa

  • Visited and explored the area with: Susi, Wayne, Amy, Bill, Molly, and Clint. We got to visit Bryan’s grandpa’s family farm/hometown and visit Amish country
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Wayner, the Queen of Iowa/Susi, Jaimi, & Bryan
  • Experienced the towns of Elkader, Strawberry Point, and Arlington (for Bachelor Nation fans – this is where former Bachelor Chris Soules proposed to Whitney!!), and drove through Backbone State Park

Winnebago Visitor Center — Forest City, Iowa

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Free campsites for Winnebago guests = awesome!
  • Did the Winnebago Factory Tour
  • Experienced what we could of the eclipse. We weren’t in the path of totality and it was very cloudy all day. We noticed it got darker, lights came on, and we heard crickets. Thankfully, we had internet and watched NASA’s coverage.
  • We were stranded for a few days waiting on a Merlin part and doing our own bedroom slide motor replacement. NOTE: This Winnebago bedroom slide motor replacement was a little tricky to get out and expensive to buy the replacement. But putting it back in was pretty easy. This would have easily cost $500 if not more in labor and we would have waited weeks if not months to get on Winnebago’s service schedule. With the most basic of tools almost anyone can do this job on their own with another set of hands. We plan on writing up a “how to” on this job – but in the meantime, write us if you want any information on what we did.
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Bryan and his assistant.
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This here is a broken slide motor. Its replacement was $1200 – ugh. The upside, we installed it ourselves in less than 45 minutes.
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Gemma keeping an eye on the repairs.
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It’s just how we do things around here, okay….

Dallas County Fairgrounds Campground — Adel, IA

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A lightning storm passed through while camping in Adel, IA – Bryan caught it on video:

  • Visited with Bryan’s cousins: Anna, Abby, and Nick in downtown Des Moines. Again, epic fail in not getting a single picture of us and the cousins (when will we learn?)
  • Did a beautiful ride on Iowa’s Raccoon River Valley Trail into the town of Redfield
  • Explored downtown Des Moines more: Walked almost 2 miles through its Skywalk (Essentially hamster tunnels that weave through many of the downtown buildings – so you never have to be outside or on a sidewalk. Mostly intended for the winters, we assume, but quite nice on a hot and humid day in the summer! Plus it was cool and a bit creepy to do it on a Sunday when the place was EMPTY!)

 

Longview Campground – Lee’s Summit, MO

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Day visit to Kansas City:

  • Scenic drive above the city
  • Arabia Steamboat Museum. This boat, full of merchandise destined for general stores throughout Iowa and yonder, sunk in the 1860s. The goods were well preserved in the mud until unearthed in the 1990s. They still have tons of goods to go through and clean – these are currently frozen in blocks of ice to stay preserved. One of the best museums I’ve ever visited!
  • Beers and tacos at The Blue Line – Kansas City’s Hockey Bar
  • Took in the views on the 30th floor of KC’s City Hall
  • Enjoyed artwork, old bank vaults, and a rooftop garden at the KC Public Library
  • Happy houred on John’s Big Deck in downtown KC
  • Took in awesome views of the Missouri River at the river observation tower and heritage trail

Uncle Ronnie’s front yard — Pineville, MO

  • Visited with Jaimi’s Uncle Ronnie and his cat Miss Kitty and dog Freckles
  • Kayaked the Elk River
  • Explored downtown Bentonville, AR
    • Visited the Walton 5 & Dime (Walmart founder’s museum) and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

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  • Did a brief tour of Jaimi’s grandparents’ hometowns (Garrison and Nichols family tour)

And, as always, meow-ello from Schnabbies and Gemma:

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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!