Monthly Archives: July 2019

Avalanche Preserve, Boyne City, MI

001As we travel, we often find these little hidden gems. Avalanche Preserve is a former (tiny) ski slope that was later developed into a city park. The park offers separate trails for biking and hiking (which I prefer), and a disc golf course.

Neither the hiking or biking trails are super-long (just a few miles), but the hilly terrain offers a nice little workout. While Jeff hit his trails, I ventured onto the hiking trail, which was touted as being 2.2 miles but ended up to be more like 2.7. No biggie. The hiking trail winds in and around the bike trail, then merges with the disk golf course. Eventually the trail leads you up to the top of the hill, to a beautiful overlook. If you just want to see the overlook, you can take two hundred something stairs to get to the same place!

After we completed a lap on our respective trails, Jeff and I hit the front nine of the disc golf course. If you don’t know what that is, it’s essentially Frisbee golf. We purchased a set of “official” discs a couple of years ago (before we started fulltime RV-ing), but have only pulled them out a couple of times. You start off from a “tee” spot and fling your disc toward an elevated metal basket (the “hole”). Some of the holes are quite long (400 yards or more), with challenging obstacles like a forest and hills! I’m really not very good at it, but it is fun to hack around. It’s not like I’m keeping score!

We like these little parks as a way to get outside in nature and get some healthy exercise. And best of all, it’s free!


Petoskey RV Park

046We’ve been here a couple of weeks now, almost halfway through our stay. I thought I’d give a shout out to the RV park we’re staying in, which is QUITE nice! (I’ll do a traditional campground review later.)

This park is part of the Sun Communities group of parks, which we have had good experience with. The first one we stayed at was The Vines in Paso Robles California, one of the nicest parks I had (have) ever seen! That was the one with the chandelier in the bathhouse! This one isn’t quite as glamorous as all that, but it is definitely upscale. Orange City RV Park , that we stayed at earlier this year in Florida, was also a Sun Communities resort, but it was older and not nearly as fancy as the other two.

058First, the sites are nice and big, with level concrete pads. The interior roads are wide, easy for a big rig to maneuver around. The park is beautifully landscaped with ponds, waterfalls, flowerbeds, tidy RV pads, and two rows of  pastel colored, one-bedroom cabins for rent. Very scenic.

One of the best features is the clubhouse – it is gorgeous! Surrounding the large common room is a card room, billiards room, and small theater. The beautiful locker rooms are equipped with showers and sauna. Outside, of course, there is a pool, hot tub, putting greens, tennis court, and horseshoe court. It’s like staying in a very nice country club. I’m really getting spoiled by the showers, some of the nicer ones we’ve seen on our travels.

One of the best perks is the free continental breakfast, served daily in the clubhouse main room. They offer coffee, orange juice, donuts, bagels, granola bars, fresh fruit, yoghurt, and cereal. Pretty sweet!

All of the reviews and information I read indicated this was a nice place to spend a few weeks, and it hasn’t disappointed! It’s a great place to park it, for a few weeks.



Frequently Asked Question: How Do You Plan Your Itinerary?

Banner-825x510In our travels and discussions with folks, one of the things we often get asked is: How do you decide where to go? It’s actually quite a process!

We have two overarching goals:  follow nice weather and see cool stuff. Like most snowbirds, we aim to head north in the spring, explore the northerly sections of the US in the summertime, and swing back south as winter approaches to stay out of ice and snow as much as possible. We joke about following 70 degrees, which is a great goal, but not always easy to do! This means that each year we’re crafting a “loop” which takes us north around and through various scenic spots and back south to a winter-over spot in either Florida or Arizona. We typically stay in one place the longest over winter, waiting for nice weather to arrive at points north.

Going into this fulltime RV life, we already had developed a fairly extensive bucket list of things we want to see and do. This includes National Parks, cultural and historical sites, mountain biking areas, favorite vacation spots, and areas where we can visit family and friends. For example, in our first year of full timing we completed a West Coast loop, focusing on visiting National Parks and mountain biking areas. (You can see a summary of our past itineraries by clicking on the “Our Travels” tab at the top of the page).

So, the first thing we do is to pick a general route  — do we want to loop through the East, West, or somewhere in the middle? We’ll pull out our personal bucket lists, research “best things to do” in the States we’ll travel through, and highlight areas of interest.

Then, we use the Allstays app to identify campgrounds in and around each area of interest. We check reviews on TripAdvisor and Campground Review web sites and look at the aerial photographs on Google Earth. We’re too big to stay just anywhere, so we are very particular to check big-rig friendliness: Are the roads wide? Are the sites level? Do they have 50 amp electrical hookup? Is it easy to get in and out? Not too many trees? We will venture farther away from our point of interest in order to stay at a campground with good reviews and big-rig-friendly, open sites.

Once we have our areas and campgrounds identified, we decide how long we’d like to stay in each area, depending on how much there is to do. Because it’s a lot of effort to move this beast, we generally stay no less than 1 week and may stay up to a month at any given location. We have found that we enjoy ourselves more when we take our time at each place, moving less frequently. We then chain the campgrounds together into a rough route with desired time frames. We typically plan a route that departs our winter spot around April 1 and returns south by late October to mid-November.

THEN, we start booking campgrounds. The need for advance booking varies wildly depending on the campground. Some campgrounds don’t open their booking window until January of that year. Some campgrounds can be booked almost at the last minute. Some campgrounds fill up more than a year in advance! Because we’re big, and like to stay longer than a few days, we try to book a year ahead – especially around holidays. We can always adjust later, if needed. You do have to watch for campground cancellation fees, however, that can be hefty if it’s done at the last minute.

Completing route planning initially takes several days of research to rough out the year’s schedule. Making the actual campground reservations requires several months of follow-up, depending on their booking windows. Sometimes we have to adjust our route around campground availability. I keep track of everything on a spreadsheet, including deposits paid and site notes.

We always have a rough idea of what we want to do a year or two out. The first year was West Coast. This year is a Midwest loop and next year will be the Northeast. The year after that will be West Coast again, hitting areas we missed the first time along with some favorite locations. After that who knows?? It’s nice to have a plan, although we’re never locked in. We can always change it up as we go along, and we certainly have done that!

And that’s how we do it!


Cycling Petoskey: Little Traverse Wheelway

016We are finding in our travels that many towns have embraced the concept of off street paths for biking and walking. It’s SO much safer and more pleasant to ride dedicated bicycle lanes, enjoying the sights and exercise. I hope the trend continues and expands!

The Little Traverse Wheelway passes literally across the street from our RV park. The street happens to be a busy highway, which is a bit of a pain to get across, but once on the other side we have full access to the paved path. The 26 mile “rail to trail” bike path extends from Charlevoix to Harbor Springs, and we are located just north of the middle. On the 4th of July we saddled up, crossed the busy road, and headed north toward Petoskey.

The trail followed along the road for a while, then ducked toward the shoreline through city parks and private lands. At this point we were on a bluff above the beach, but soon the trail descended to lake level as we approached Petoskey. Late-blooming lilacs scented the cool breeze. We took occasional breaks to walk the shore and search for Petoskey stones. We strolled out on the Petoskey harbor breakwater to the small light house at its tip. We watched as two youngsters dove from a passing boat to swim (race) to the breakwater while their parents docked the boat. We observed to make sure they made it OK (it seemed like a long way to me), but they handled the distance quite competently!

We cycled through Bayfront Park, which was surprisingly uncrowded on this 4th holiday. In South Florida, every park would be overflowing! The scenic lakefront park includes a waterfall flowing down the bluff which was popular on this warm day.

Continuing on past downtown Petoskey, we headed north toward Petoskey State Park. We didn’t reach the northern terminus, but flipped it around after reaching the 10 mile mark, to head back south. Near town, we happened across a carriage preparing to take a bride to her wedding. We called out our congratulations as we cycled by.

It was approaching lunch time (and it had gotten QUITE warm), so we stopped for a bite. A steep ramp / staircase from Bayfront park led up to the Petoskey downtown area. We had originally targeted a Thai place, but it was closed for the holiday, so instead opted for American cuisine at Chandler’s Restaurant. My cobb salad was delicious and Jeff’s 5 Dragons sandwich (their spin on a classic Reuben) was so huge, he packed half home. Cooled off, rehydrated and replete, we remounted our bikes and took a leisurely spin back home for a total of 20 miles.

Next time, we’ll head south and see what is happening in that direction!



National Cherry Festival

002After our stay in South Haven, we headed north to the lovely city of Petoskey, Michigan. I know I visited here as a child, but the details are hazy. I do remember the Petoskey stones, the unique fossil rocks collected by my grandmother and displayed in our backyard garden. We booked a month here, to enjoy the cool, clear Michigan air.

This area of Michigan is scenically beautiful — with long rolling emerald green hills, forests, and quaint lakeside towns. We’ve already taken several motorcycle rides, exploring the nearby towns of Charlevoix and Harbor Springs. Earlier this week, we saddled up and headed down to Traverse City, home to the National Cherry Festival, fortuitously happening during our stay.

I didn’t realize that so many cherries are grown here, but apparently Michigan is the largest producer of tart cherries in the US, to the tune of 227 million pounds per year! That’s a lot of cherry pie! Cool and rainy spring weather this year delayed the cherry onset by 2 to 3 weeks, but there were still plenty of cherries to be had at the festival.

Traverse City is a typical Michigan lakeside town, with a medium-sized downtown wrapped around a harbor. By South Florida standards the Festival wasn’t very large …. just a square of vendor tents and a “fair” area with carnival rides and food. But the air was cool, the sun was warm, and lots of free samples of cherry products were to be had. After browsing the fair and downtown, we found cherry salsa, cherry balsamic vinaigrette and cherryaki sauce in our possession. I also had to have a piece of fair-booth cherry pie because, well, you know. Jeff indulged in a root beer float instead. Sacrilege.

Leaving Traverse City, we headed up a small peninsula to Brys Winery. This area is located just above the 45th parallel, a latitude that is famous for being just right for vineyards. Lately, our winery visits have offered primarily fruity wines, which are not our favorites. But this winery stocked a surprisingly delicious 2016 estate Merlot – every bit as nice as some of the California wines we’ve enjoyed. A bottle that found its way into our now-laden motorcycle.

Cherry sauces and wine on board, we cruised back to our home base in Petoskey. Just another day on the road!


Throwback Thursday: Mt. Rainier National Park

Happy Fourth of July! A year ago we were exploring the delights of Washington State, including the gorgeous Mt. Rainier National Park. We only visited one day, but this is definitely on my list of places to visit again and stay longer. Enjoy this Throwback Thursday Post!

Mt. Rainier National Park was an unexpected delight. Perhaps it is because it reminds me so much of my beloved Smoky Mountains, at least until you round the corner and catch a glimpse of the white peak soaring above you! The park is spectacularly beautiful, with lush green forests, numerous streams and waterfalls, and tall craggy peaks. It was a visual feast.

We have found that Washington is frequently cloudy/drizzly, so we seized the one sunny forecasted day to make our 2 hour trek to the Park. Many visitors never see the Mt. Rainier peak, because it is so often cloud-shrouded. We never got a perfectly clear view, but we were able to see much of the mountain top through partly-cloudy skies.  As I pondered the peak, I thought this was likely how Mt. St. Helens looked before she blew her top.  Mt. Rainier is still very much an active volcano, with steam vents keeping edges of the mountain clear of snow even in the deepest winter. Mt. Rainier has even more destructive potential than Mt. St. Helens, due to the proximity of so much population within reach of the predicted lahars (mud flows). I sincerely hope I never see this one erupt.

14,411 foot high Mt. Rainier is the highest mountain in the Cascade range and boasts over 25 major glaciers. The Emmons Glacier has the largest area (4.3 square miles) and the Carbon Glacier has the lowest terminus altitude (3,600 feet) of all glaciers in the contiguous 48 states. I just think they look cool – when you can see them!

The park has many wonderful hiking trails, of which we barely scratched the surface. However, many of the beautiful features can be seen from the road or with a short hike. We hiked to gorgeous waterfalls and old growth trees. There’s even a hot springs area, that used to host a Victorian “health spa”. Some of the upper trails were still snow covered and inaccessible, so we’ll have to come back sometime in later summer when all of the trails are clear.

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park will always be first in my heart, but Mt Rainier may just be my new second favorite National Park. We will be back!


Campground Review: Sunny Brook RV Resort, South Haven, MI

011Campground Review Summary

  • Name: South Haven Sunny Brook RV Resort
  • Dates of stay: June 21-28, 2019
  • Location: 68300 CR 388, South Haven, MI 49090
  • Type of campground: Private / Ownership type
  • Cost: $60.13/night (with free night coupon)
  • Additional fees: none
  • Stay limit: none
  • Accepts mail / packages: yes
  • Cell reception: ATT adequate
  • Website:
  • Pros: Beautiful sites, nice amenities
  • Cons: pricey, not much to do in area

Full Review

South Haven Michigan wasn’t originally on our radar as a spot to visit, but we snagged a “pay for two nights get one night free” coupon at January’s Tampa RV Super Store. Since free is good, we booked an 8 night stay. We paid for 6 nights, got one free (their weekly rate) plus the one free coupon night. It still wasn’t cheap, averaging $60/night with the discounts! And that was for a basic lot, premium lots with lakeside or ravine view cost additional.

Sunny Brook RV resort is intended to be an ownership-type resort, with many of the sites individually-owned and customized. The resort seems to draw owners primarily from upper Illinois and lower Michigan that use the resort as a seasonal and weekend retreat. And it is a beautifully-maintained resort, with some of the prettiest site landscaping I’ve seen anywhere. RV’s are required to be 28 feet or longer, 10 years old or newer, with some sites restricted to Class A’s only.

Our site was a basic paved, back in site with full hook ups (50 amp electric, water, sewer). There appeared to be cable TV outlet installed, but it was sealed and not available to us. Our site was satellite friendly, and our dish locked on with no problem. The campground wifi was just OK, and we used our own wifi for the most part. Surprisingly (for such a high end resort), our RV pad was not level. In fact, most sites did not appear to be level! We were able to level our rig using front tire blocks, but saw other units with tires off the ground. Personally, I would never invest in a site lot with an un-level pad and can’t understand why it was designed this way.

Otherwise, the RV resort was delightful. There are two pool and clubhouse facilities – one main facility for everyone and one smaller facility restricted to owners only. The main facility was equipped with a huge clubhouse and lounge, library, fitness center, coin laundry, bath house, playground, pool and hot tub. Renters are permitted to use the coin laundry and bath house at the owners facility, just not their lounge and pool area. A tip: the showers at the owners side are larger and nicer than the main facility! The resort also includes a small lake with sandy beach, boat launch area for kayaks and such, and picnic tables. There are facilities for pickleball, basketball, shuffleboard, and horseshoes. It has something for everyone.

Activity-wise, the resort provides a lovely, free happy hour every Friday night with wine/beer and appetizers. It is understandably well-attended! The park also offers exercise classes and a few other activities which we did not sample. The park is family-friendly and I enjoyed seeing kids riding their bicycles and cavorting in the pool. During our late-June visit, the resort wasn’t fully occupied, and many RV’s appeared to be utilized only on the weekends.

The surrounding area, though, offered only limited activities. There is the Kal-Haven bicycle trail, as well as shopping/dining at South Haven and other nearby lake tourist towns. It was just a little too sleepy for us. I get the appeal of having a vacation-home base, but there needs to be more going on to keep our interest long term.

Bottom Line: Beautiful resort, although a bit pricey. Worth a short visit, but the area is too sleepy to hold our interest for long.

South Haven, Michigan

After spending over two weeks parking lot camping during our motorhome work performed at Entegra and Spartan, it was exciting to transition back to vacation travel mode! I have to say, though, the opportunity to meet other motorhome owners was an unexpected pleasure. We learned a LOT about our rig just by comparing notes and learning from others’ experiences. And we were able to ask questions of the folks that made our rig. We came away from the experience with a greater knowledge and appreciation for our coach – and met some great people along the way! We are now planning to loop back around this way at least every couple of years, just to keep our motorhome systems in top condition. It surely makes a difference to have work done by people who really know what they are doing!

South Haven wasn’t originally on our radar, but we picked up a free night’s stay at nearby Sunny Brook RV Resort during January’s Tampa RV Super Show. Since free is always good – and it was reasonably on our way north after our Spartan visit – we figured we’d check it out.  I booked an 8 night stay (at the buy 6 nights get one free weekly rate, plus our free day). The resort is quite nice and I’ll do my customary review later.

010.jpgSouth Haven is a charming little tourist town perched on the edge of Lake Michigan. The small downtown hosts shops, wine tasting rooms and restaurants with a view of the expansive lake and nearby light house. The Saturday Farmer’s market offered the usual variety of produce and sundries. There, I picked up a batch of prepared, fresh chicken tamales that re-heated (steamed) beautifully and were delicious! (It’s so hard to find good tamales) The nearby WalMart had the best price on milk that I’ve seen nationwide – $1.19 per gallon!  That’s almost cheaper than water! The South Haven area also offers the Kal Haven (mostly paved) bike trail that runs 34 miles between South Haven and Kalamazoo.

Up the coast were the small towns of Naugatuk and Holland, each with their distinctive features. Naugatuk wrapped around a bay front, while the larger town of Holland celebrates its Dutch heritage with Windmill Island and the nearby Dutch village. I vaguely remember going to Holland as child, but I DON’T remember shelling out cash to see the village. They’ve been turned into “attractions” with a $15 admission rate to see the reproduction village and shops. I passed. It was a bit disappointing, really.

In general, I thought the little downtown shops in this area were overpriced. We did some biking, Jeff played golf one day and we toured around on the motorcycle. We hit up the Farmers market and visited a local meat market to purchase local smoked whitefish and salmon. After that …. there wasn’t much to do. It’s a nice enough area, and prettily scenic, but just a bit too sleepy for us. We like places that have a bit more going on.

One of the great highlights of our stay though, was a visit by long time friends Dave and Carol. We met through our workplace back in Indiana, while in our early-twenties. We are exactly the same age, all born the same year. We each met our prospective spouses there and became close friends before circumstances pulled us in different directions. They went north to Michigan while we went south to Florida. We’ve thought of them many times, but hadn’t physically met for over 30 years. They drove over from their home about an hour away, and it was as though we’d never been apart. We grilled burgers, drank too much wine, and talked and laughed away the years. It was absolutely fantastic.


We have dubbed this year the “Friends and Family” loop, and that is proving to be very true — and very wonderful.



Spartan Service Experience

003After a couple of weeks getting our motorhome all spiffed up at the Entegra factory and S&S Paint, we headed northward to the Spartan Factory, birthplace of our motorhome’s chassis. The Spartan facility is located in Charlotte, Michigan. Please note that the correct pronunciation of this city is shar-LOTT, not SHAR-lot (emphasis on the second syllable, compliments of its French roots). We pronounced it incorrectly before being set straight by a Michigan native! Duly noted.

The Spartan service facility is ALWAYS busy … always.  Part of the reason for this is the Spartan Academy, a 5-day school for motorhome owners that is held weekly during much of the year. The class includes a thorough inspection of your rig and any needed repairs, which ties up much of the technician capacity. Class participants are given priority and other service appointments are scheduled around them. We tried to book almost a year in advance and were on the waiting list for months before an opening appeared for our desired dates.

The Spartan RV overnight parking facility is basic, but adequate. 50 amp hookup is available at every spot, and water was available onsite. As we were only there two nights, the electrical hookup alone was adequate for our needs, however, it is helpful to arrive with full freshwater tank and empty holding tanks! My only (minor) complaint was that the sites are not level. We didn’t put our slides out and just lived on a slant for a couple of nights. The folks in the class were given the “flattest” sites, but even they weren’t completely level. During our stay a dump station was under construction, which will greatly improve the site amenities as the nearest dump station is some distance away.


The customer lounge offered comfortable seating, free wifi and coffee, and restrooms. Although locked during off-hours, a card-key granting access to the lounge was available upon request. It would have been nice if they offered showers, but for a short stay that isn’t critical.


The service technicians were competent and efficient. We requested the annual/biennual service be completed which included changing out essentially all filters and fluids along with a complete chassis lube. They did a thorough inspection and found items needing repair, some of which were included under our 3 year chassis warranty. For example, we had noticed that our chassis air bags routinely leaked out almost completely within hours (overnight). Googling indicated that this may be normal, so we didn’t think too much about it. But, the tech found a leak in one of the connections (created by the installation of our toad air braking system) and fixed it. At our next stop, the air bags lost almost no inflation during our week’s stay! Who knew?

We had arrived early the day prior, so completed our paperwork in advance of our appointment day. The tech took our rig at 7:15 am, and by 5 pm everything was completed. Our wallet was more than $1900 lighter, but our rig was now repaired, maintained and fully functional. They aren’t cheap – but they are good.

Before leaving, we made another service appointment for September, 2020. We’ll be back!