Category Archives: Adventures

Pandemic Perspective — 2020 as a Full-timer

What a weird year this has been.

2020 started off so auspiciously too. We had a wonderful winter at Recreation Plantation, full of activities and meeting new friends. We even experienced a wonderful cruise in the Caribbean with my sister, never dreaming that cruising would be entirely shut down a month later. We had fully booked an exciting Northeast RV loop. Then just a couple of weeks before we were set to go — COVID.

Like everyone these days, we’ve had to be flexible. We typically do our trip planning a year or more in advance, primarily so we can be assured of getting our campground and site preference. But this year, we’ve had to make adjustments on the fly.

Some campground closed completely, for a time. Others opened up in a limited fashion, or for limited populations. Some States imposed quarantine requirements. We’ve had to recheck reservations as we traveled, to see whether we would be able to go there — or not.

So far, no campground actually cancelled on us, although we ended up cancelling several stops early in the nationwide COVID closure period, in order to hunker down at our Gatlinburg cabin. Once we started traveling again, we encountered a variety of situations. Some campgrounds didn’t allow anyone in the office at all, everything was done over the phone. Some campgrounds closed all amenities, including bath houses. Others opened limited amenities, such as outdoor facilities. We just never knew, one place to the next, what we would get. We were never in a situation that required us to quarantine, as much of the year we were traveling from and/or through areas with low COVID case rates.

So, for the most part, we were able to keep to our travel plan. But of course, the areas we visited were shut down to varying degrees. In the early days, almost nothing was open. We spent a lot of time walking around looking at the outside of closed buildings and shops! Eventually, gradually, States started to reopen and we rediscovered the joy of actually being served at a restaurant and shopping INSIDE real stores! It’s amazing how one’s perspective shifts when the things you used to do without a thought, are forbidden for a time.

Now, seven months into this pandemic, most areas have reopened to a significant degree. I no longer worry about campground cancellations or quarantine requirements. Many tourist attractions are open, albeit at a reduced capacity and with COVID precautions. Now, it’s a matter of assessing and managing our own personal risk as we travel about. Do we go to that stage show? Are we comfortable eating inside that restaurant? We look at the COVID prevalence in the area, the precautions they are taking, and decide accordingly.

So, here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly from this year so far.

The Bad: About half of the things that we USUALLY do on our travels were simply unavailable. Historical sites and museums closed, no theater, no concerts or festivals. No campground social mixers or planned activities. No night life. Limited shopping and dining. Limited social contact of any kind. That sucked.

The Good: At least we had a regular change of scenery! Most folks stuck at home didn’t have that luxury. And COVID didn’t close the outdoors, so we had hiking, biking, motorcycling options available. We were still able to see a new area of the country, and we can always go back and do the things we missed on another trip.

The Ugly: Politics and the upcoming presidential election … but I’m not going there!

We are eagerly awaiting the time when life will return to normal as we once knew it. When I don’t have to get a negative COVID test in order to feel comfortable visiting my aging parents. When we can go to a show, or a concert, or a wedding without worry.

In the meantime ….. we’ll need to be flexible.

Hangin’ in the Hometown, Take 2

And so, dear reader, you are caught up to date! After completing our Entegra Factory Service, we headed due south toward Anderson Indiana, my home town, for a two week visit. We were last in town with the bus about 18 months ago. We’ve experienced some briskly cool weather, and the leaves are turning bright hues of crimson, yellow and orange. It’s been years since I experienced an Indiana Fall. It evokes memories of Back-to-School elementary days, jumping in leaf piles, and changing classes at the Anderson University Campus. The bright clear blue skies of Indian Summer in Indiana are just beautiful.

Our main reason for being here is to spend quality time with family — and we certainly are doing that! We’ve been doing what we can in these COVID-tainted times — walking the lovely Mounds State Park, hitting balls at TopGolf, dining together, playing games, working puzzles, and just generally spending time together.

Considering our travels (and our recent visit to Cedar Point amusement park), I opted for a COVID test when I arrived here. It was a relatively painless experience, really. I booked an appointment online with a local CVS, provided the sample at the pharmacy drive-up window, and had my online results back within 48 hours. It was negative, as I expected, but it was reassuring nonetheless to have that status confirmed. I feel much more comfortable visiting my 89 year old parents knowing that I won’t risk carrying the disease to them. I am so very blessed to be able to visit my parents, living independently and well in their own home. I never forget for a minute how special that is.

Especially this year. So many have lost loved ones in the past months. My brother-in-law lost his (younger) brother very unexpectedly in late December. And Jeff’s Dad died in August. Long time readers of this blog may recall that we had to scramble to make arrangements for his Dad right before we left on this RV adventure, three years ago. He did well in his assisted living situation, but recurrent infections coupled with late stage dementia finally wore him down. He spent his last days at his daughter’s home and passed peacefully. A tough year, indeed.

So, we enjoy every moment we can manage to spend with our loved ones. And, on a lighter note, I am temporarily cat-sitting for my sister who is away at a wedding this weekend. We have gregarious Sophie, who cheerfully purr-rowss when I arrive and loves neck scritches. And then we have retiring Curie who wants to be around people, but only tolerates touching by Her Person (which is not me). Guess, if you will, who is who from the photos below.

We have a few more days here to enjoy family time, and then we’ll be heading on south and west, to Branson!

Entegra Factory Service, Take Two

Just as with the Spartan chassis service, we have learned (the hard way) that it is far, far better to have our rig serviced by those who built it. We had our original fabulous Entegra Factory service experience last May, and booked an appointment to come back far out we could (6 months in advance). The service is understandably popular and slots fill up quickly.

Our list wasn’t all that long really. The biggest issue (for me) was that the hot water in the shower wasn’t working right. Jeff had ordered and replaced the shower valve, but we still weren’t getting adequate hot water flow. It was likely that the hot water line was either blocked or crimped. And there were several other minor things, like, the driver seat footrest was inoperable. The trash drawer slide hardware was shedding ball bearings. The entry door tends to stick in cold weather. We asked them to tighten the bolts on one of the slide out motors that we couldn’t get to, and check/adjust the slides. Things like that. Just a week before our appointment, our super slide topper ripped away from the side of the coach. A timely failure, we added that to the list. The service shop was also going to do their usual comprehensive Annual Inspection Report (AIR) and let us know of anything they found. We were allotted three days in the shop to address all issues identified.

In these COVID days everything is a done bit differently, and our Entegra service experience was no exception. In the past, we stayed in our rig each night. Now, that wasn’t allowed. We arrived the night before our appointment and retrieved our name tag from the mailbox outside the service entrance. We checked into a nearby pet-friendly hotel (Hampton Inn) and moved in for a several day stay – Pumpkin and all. Going back to the rig, I disinfected every surface they were likely to contact (per their request) and left for the night. The next morning, we drove back and turned over the keys to the technician at 6:30 am. He pulled the bus into the shop, where it would stay until they were completed with all service items. We waited in our truck, and about 20 minutes later, Jeff was called into the service office to go over our list. By 7 am, we were free to go back to a leisurely (free) breakfast at the hotel while Entegra did their thing. The Entegra customer lounge was open and available during daytime hours, but we didn’t need to go there.

Our hotel experience was also a bit different than usual. During our stay, there was no housekeeping service, unless we specifically requested it. We elected not to have anyone enter our room, and simply waylaid the housekeeper for additional towels and consumable items. Masks were required except in our room and while eating at a table in the breakfast area. In a way, it was easier to stay in a hotel — we didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn every day to vacate the bus for service. Pumpkin wasn’t very happy at the change in venue, but he wasn’t happy to be trapped in a pet pen in the customer lounge either. Pumpkin just wasn’t going to be happy.

During our free time, we toured the Recreational Vehicle/Manufactured Home Hall of Fame in nearby Elkhart. It was fascinating to climb into some of the earliest recreational vehicles from the 1930’s and to see how the RV design esthetic reflected the tastes of the various eras. Interestingly to me, the layout of various recreational vehicles (tent campers, trailers, motor homes) really haven’t changed all that much. I mean, there’s only so many logical ways to lay out kitchen, bathroom, seating and beds. The museum also celebrated the manufactured home, and provided a modern example of one to tour. The place is an interesting visit, but only takes about an hour to go through everything. They could enhance the exhibits by providing more videos of old RV’s either in commercials or documentaries. I was also surprised that the “vendor hall” didn’t have more displays and the “new RV” hall had only a couple of new rigs to view.

We also wandered about the shops of quaint Shipshewana and dined at the famous Dutch Essenhaus. I do enjoy being in Amish country!

Back at Entegra, the tech completed their exhaustive AIR and found a few minor items that we weren’t even aware of. A deflector plate under the dash was misaligned, causing low heat flow to the drivers side of the cockpit. The passenger security light sensor was broken. Some rubber seals needed replacing, and aquahot lines needed to be sealed/insulated in one spot. The front door deadbolt was bent. Those items were added to the repair list.

We had figured on 3 days for repairs, but late on the 2nd day, we were told that our bus was nearly finished and just needed final cleaning. So, we thought we would get it back quickly (that day, even) and could get an early start the next morning. It turned out that our bus wasn’t actually returned until noon the next day, because our final touches got delayed. Our service writer could have managed our expectations a bit better, but that is a very minor quibble in what was otherwise a stellar service experience. Not only were all of our requested items completed, they also efficiently fixed the items they found within the time allotted. The interior was returned sparkling clean, nicer than when we gave it to them. And the best part was the bill — less than $200! Even though we are technically out of warranty, they simply fixed a lot of these minor issues for free. Entegra really treats their owners right. We love our bus.

In a couple of years …. we’ll be back!

Spartan Service, Take 2

We’ve learned (the hard way) that it’s best to have our rig serviced by the folks who made it. As a result, we’ve been arranging our travels so as to pass by Spartan and Entegra at least every couple of years for maintenance.

From Kalamazoo, we made the short jaunt to the Spartan factory service facility in Charlotte. This was our second time here, the first was about 18 months ago. We were so pleased with the process, we made an appointment on the spot for this date! Their service is so popular, booking a year out or more isn’t unusual.

Spartan builds the chassis for motorhome makers such as Entegra and Newmar. As we pulled into their facility, we joined a row of high end coaches. They have quite a nice area for overnight parking, including 50 amp electrical, a dump station, covered pavilion with gas grill and picnic tables, and a grassy area for dog walking. My only minor quibble is that many of the parking spaces are quite unlevel. Since the lot wasn’t full, we were able to pick a decently level place to park.

Bright and early the next morning (7 am!), the service tech came out to pull our baby into the shop. In these COVID days, the offices and customer lounge were completely closed to us. All conversations with our service writer were done entirely over the phone. We were given the option of waiting in our coach (inside the service bay), but we opted to take off to tour nearby Lansing.

To kill time, we grabbed breakfast and drove around the city. We stumbled across a park that accessed a beautiful river trail. We saw a couple of deer! I had a noon work conference call, so we found a local mall to explore. Jeff “malled” while I took the call in the truck. We wandered back toward Charlotte, and hung out back in the bus while our service tech finished up. By around 3 pm, everything was done!

Servicing our giant chassis ain’t cheap. They did a complete inspection (everything looked good), lubed the chassis, and changed all fluids and filters for a price tag of around $1800. It’s worth it, though, to have it all done properly. We’ve had hit or miss service in the past, and typical truck service shops don’t cover the same scope of preventative maintenance. Our tech even said that he could tell by looking that a coach had been serviced elsewhere! I have no doubt.

We stayed in the lot one more night before heading on. Before we left, we had already booked our next service appointment here. It pays to come back to the service experts.

Sandusky / Cedar Point

One of Sandusky’s great claims to fame is the Cedar Point Amusement Park. Widely touted at the best collection of roller coaster rides in the country, we put this place on our bucket list. Of course, all of this planning and research was done pre-COVID.

Arriving nearby, we planned our Cedar Point assault. Normally, we hit amusement parks early and hard, skipping quickly from ride to ride to get as much done as possible before the crowds trickle in around noon. THIS year, all of our normal tactics simply couldn’t work. First, the park is only open on weekends at this time of year, so going mid-week to avoid crowds isn’t possible. Second, the Fast Lane (line skipping) pass wasn’t available this year. We would have paid extra for that if we could. Thirdly, the park was only open from noon to 8 pm. No early bird getting the worm this time. We would just have to suck it up.

After reading bad reviews, we adjusted our expectations downward. Unfortunately, Cedar Point didn’t even meet our lowered expectations. We spent the entire day waiting in lines.

It wasn’t that the park was SO crowded, although it was weekend-busy. Part of the problem is that not all rides, attractions and food venues are open at all. Of the coasters that ARE open, the ride throughput is extremely slow, at maybe 30% of normal capacity, to facilitate social distancing. The ride cars are loaded half full (at most) and then shut down every 15 minutes or so for cleaning. That is all well and good to prevent contagion, but the darn lines just ….. don’t …… move ……

Here’s how our day went. We arrived a half hour early, skipped through the entrance easily and went to the far end of the park (at least a mile from the entrance!) to wait in the access pass line for the ride “Maverick”, Jeff’s #1 pick. For the top 4 rides, you had to wait in line to get an access pass, which would give you a 1 hour time window to enter the ride line — to wait again for the actual ride. After waiting for about 40 minutes, we acquired access passes for 1-2 pm. We scooted a half mile away to his #2 coaster, to pick up an access pass for THAT one, also 1-2 pm. Darn. That’s going to be tight.

Back to Maverick to wait for our 1 pm window. About 20 minutes before our time, the ride went down for a mechanical problem. No worries, I thought. Let’s run back to ride #2, use THAT pass, then hopefully get back here by 2 pm. Back to ride #2 and it’s down for a mechanical problem. OK, let’s ride another coaster while we’re waiting — the coaster across the way showed a 15 minute wait. Easy peasy. Except while in line, THAT ride went down for a mechanical problem and the 15 minute wait turned into 40+ minutes. After our 60 second ride, we checked on ride #2, still down. Half mile back to Maverick and it is working now, it is before 2 pm, so we got in line. Yay! Only to have Maverick go down with a mechanical problem again! 4.5 hours after arriving at the park, we finally rode Maverick. Ride #2 never even reopened that day. We gave up on coasters.

We had opted for a special bundle package which included entrance ticket, parking, and 3 “tastings” from their special Fall event menu. Essentially, the food part was free. So we turned our attention to getting our free tastings. Now, I’m used to Epcot Food and Wine festival which offers special tastings at food booths, separate from the normal food venues. Here, the “specials” were provided at the normal restaurants, which were already fewer than usual. So, you guessed it — long lines. Everywhere. For our 6 tastings, we went 5 different places which are flung out all over the park. Every time, we waited. And the food was hit or miss: the soups in a bread bowl was great and the special fries were decent, but the hot chocolate was watered down, the special burger was cold, and the funnel cake was overfried/crunchy. By the time we got the last food item, the park was closing.

In 8.5 hours, we rode exactly 2 coasters and got our 6 free tastings. We didn’t even have time to see any of the shows. Our entire day was spent walking and standing in line. I wouldn’t exactly call it a fail, but it was close. I’m sure in non-COVID times it’s a great time, but right now, it’s pretty much a disaster. The fall and Halloween decorations were nice, though.

Disney has spoiled me for anything less.

That was only one day of our stay here. We also took the ferry to Put-in-Bay on nearby South Bass Island. We rented a golf cart and drove it all over the cute little island. There are some neat little parks and trails, and a small but vibrant town section. On one of our nature hikes I saw my first giant puffball mushroom. They are unmistakable once you’ve seen then, and I understand they are edible. I thought about harvesting one, but that goes against my “leave no trace” principles! It was a fun day.

Next destination: Spartan factory service for our routine chassis maintenance.

Akron / Cleveland Serendipity

After our campground FAIL at Lake Rayston Pennsylvania, we found ourselves, unexpectedly, near Akron Ohio. Why Akron? Mostly because it was about halfway to our next scheduled stop in Sandusky, and neither of us had been there. We found last minute campground availability at a KOA, so that decided it.

Serendipity is the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. This area wasn’t on our radar — we had never planned to stay here — but it all worked out beautifully.

Did you know there is a National Park near Cleveland? Yeah, neither did I. It’s the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The Cuyahoga River was once one of the the most polluted in the US, it actually caught fire several times. The last time, in 1969, prompted the passage of environmental protection laws and the formation of the EPA in1970. Cleaned up now, the river is the centerpiece of the sprawling National Park. Many of the buildings in the park are COVID-closed, but we saw a pretty waterfall and hiked around mossy green sandstone ledges. There’s nothing super-spectacular here, but it offers a pleasant outing.

Akron was once known as the “rubber capital” of the US, and still hosts the global headquarters of the Goodyear company, founded by Frank Sieberling. The former home of the Sieberling family is the Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens (from the olde English for stone quarry). It was built in 1912-15 in the style of stately homes of the era, like the Biltmore. It isn’t as large as the Biltmore, but it has many of the same “modern” elements and features. It was built to be a family home and was used exclusively by the Goodyear family until the 1950’s. The heirs turned over the house, furnishings, decor and all, to the State to be a museum. As a result, it really does feel more like a home, like someone really lived there. The Biltmore is more impressive, but I would have liked to stay at the Stan Hywet. Another historical tidbit — the first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was held in the estate’s Gate Lodge in 1935.

Cleveland hosts a number of museums, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Expecting to be in and out there in a couple of hours, the extensive video clip displays held us transfixed for over four hours. It was an interesting counterpoint to the Country Music Hall of Fame that we toured in Nashville. It’s always fascinating to me to see how musical genres evolve from and influence each other — gospel, country, blues, jazz, and rock. When they get into grunge and rap though, they lose me. I like non-screamy music that has a melody and lyrics I understand. Call me old fashioned.

Nearby Canton is the home to the Football Hall of Fame. I’m not an uber football fan, but I’m always open to learning new stuff. Why Canton, you ask? I learned that was where the National Football League was founded. So there you go. I also found displays on the early days of football to be interesting — so much has changed with regard to uniform, protective devices, even the rules. Everything evolves, even football! The Super Bowl rings now, I think they’ve gotten out of hand. The first ones were reasonable and nicely done, I thought, but over time they have gotten progressively larger and more gaudy. 9 plus carats of diamonds on each ring? Is that really necessary? C’mon people, you can’t even wear it as a ring! It seems excessive to me, but what do I know.

All in all though, for an unplanned stop, Canton worked out quite well!

One sad thing happened during our stay here, though. Our second evening at the KOA, an ambulance showed up at the campsite next to us, the EMTs running into the 5th wheel. Then a police car. Then another fire department car, all with lights flashing. Curiously eavesdropping, I heard the dreaded letters: DOA. Seeing us watching, one of the KOA staffers dropped over and shared that, sadly, the lady next door had passed away, presumably from sudden heart failure. The couple had been staying at the campground while her husband was employed in the area. She was younger than I.

Just another reminder that we should live life to the fullest while we can, as it is sometimes cut all too short.

First Campground FAIL

After departing Lancaster County, we were slated to head to Lake Raystown resort, a lovely lakeside resort in western Pennsylvania. It offered lake activities, a show boat, a water park, and there was mountain biking in the vicinity. The only drawback was the the sites offered only water and electric (no sewer), but we could deal with that for a week, provided there were bath houses and a dump station. Jeff had booked a 50 amp, Premium Extra Large, Red Carpet site. Sounded great – what could go wrong?

The resort itself is out of the way, forcing us to traverse narrow, winding and hilly roads to get there. Fortunately, Jeff is an expert driver now and we arrived uneventfully at the guard station. We were handed our car tags and a map. Now usually the person in the office will give us explicit instructions on how to navigate to our site, where best to unhook our toad, etc. I had to ask for that information – and that was probably my first clue that, just perhaps, things may not go smoothly. We were given directions and suggested that we unhook on the road just in front of our campsite. OK, off we go.

Let me explain that this campground is Very Hilly. Campsites are terraced in rows up the hillside and the single lane, one way roads around the campsites is correspondingly hilly, We needed a flat spot to unhook. We proceeded according to directions and came to the place we were to turn — a narrow, hairpin turn that our big rig couldn’t possibly make without backing up, which you cannot do while towing. We bypassed our turn, eventually found a reasonable place to unhook, parked the bus along the side of the road, and drove the truck to our campsite to reconnoiter. Our site was plenty big enough, so fine. We went back, picked up the bus, drove back down and around again to the narrow turn, made it after pulling up and backing up, and drove on to our site, backing into the space. Success!

Uh, not so fast. Our assigned site was ridiculously unlevel. Like, several percent grade unlevel. Not only back to front sloped, also side to side sloped! They made a huge campsite by throwing a bunch of gravel on the hillside, but didn’t bother to level anything. We were camping down a hill. To approach level, we would have had to jack up the front about 3 FEET which wasn’t possible. So we hopped into the truck and went to the office to assess our options.

We had arrived on Labor Day, so the park was fairly empty on the Monday, but was fully booked for the upcoming weekend. They offered us a site that is normally closed after Labor Day, but said they could keep it open for another week. It was a big rig concrete pad site. Sold! We raced back up there to review the site and ….. the prior occupant hadn’t vacated yet (it was after 3 pm and check out was 11 am). He was nice, we politely asked him to vacate (but not rush), and he promptly did so. So a bit later, we headed over to the new location.

Did I mention this park was Very Hilly? The concrete pad was level, but the single lane road in front of the pad is not level. Jeff pulled up the motorhome, positioned himself, and began backing into the site. I always spot him because he has a number of blind spots, especially while backing. As he approached the pad, the rear end of the motorhome dipped lower and lower on the slope, until I frantically waved him off! Our Blue Ox tow bar was about to scrape due to the slope. He pulled back up, and we removed the tow bar accessory from the back to give us a few inches. Backed up again – no good. The road was too sloped for the bus to make it.

So Jeff thought he would flip the motorhome around and come at it from the other side. That involved much maneuvering and a long stretch of backing up, but finally he came at it from the other direction. Back, back, back, scraaaaaape — STOP STOP! The hitch scraped. He pulled up and tried yet a different angle. Back, back, back, scraaaaaape STOP STOP! This time the engine pipe scraped the pavement. There was just No Possible Way for us to physically get into this site.

Defeated, we drove the motorhome back to the original site, hopped into the truck and drove back to the office. By now it was after 5 pm and we had spent nearly 3 hours mucking around, trying to find a suitable site. The office stated they had no other options for us, but would give us a full refund. Since it was late and we had nowhere else to go, we asked to park in the original area for the night, and they agreed.

The electrical outlet was way, way at the back of the site, but by pulling out all 50 feet of our electrical cord we were able to at least plug in for the night and save running the generator. Fortunately, we had plenty of water on board and empty holding tanks, so no worries. We scrambled to find alternate last minute camping accommodations and was able to book a KOA near Cleveland.

The next morning, I had to hold the tea kettle while it was heating, because it kept sliding toward the front edge of the stove. Ridiculous slope.

So, this was our first complete campground fail. Their website sure sounded like it was big rig friendly, but it is NOT. The roads are narrow, with turns that are too sharp, and the campsite slope was unworkable for a rig of our length. Maybe they have other sites that are better, but I didn’t see any. It’s just as well — they didn’t have ANY full hook up sites (no sewer connections) and the shower houses were few, far apart, and not that nice. I don’t see how they could adequately service that many campsites with so few bath houses AND no sewer hookups.

On the plus side, it was a beautiful wooded setting. In the one night we were there, we saw a groundhog puttering around and several deer. If we had a boat and a small rig, it probably would have been great.

But, not for us.

Pennsylvania – Amish, Philly, and more

So far this year, my favorite area to visit has been Pennsylvania Amish country and its environs. As mentioned previously, I feel a certain kinship with the Amish sect as a result of my Plain upbringing. So, settling in for two weeks in their area felt very comfortable.

Our very first stop was the sweet town of Hershey. We stopped at the Hershey Chocolate World complex and took the historical trolley tour. I’m always interested in learning how successful people became successful. To me, Milton Hershey was particularly interesting not only because he became successful from nothing, but because he failed several times before becoming successful. By the time he started the business that would eventually spin off into the big Hershey chocolate company we know today, he was a three-time failure that no one would lend money to except his aunt (who mortgaged her house to give him start up capital). Hershey believed in helping workers in all aspects of their life, so built a model town, selling houses to his employees at cost. Times have changed, of course, but it must have been a remarkable place to work back then. Hershey and his wife couldn’t have children, so they founded a school for orphan boys, to provide them a home, an education and a trade. The school still exists today, although it is for needy boys AND girls, not just orphans. After losing his beloved wife, Hershey essentially gave his wealth to the Hershey Foundation, that continues to fund the school and other associated good works today. Just remarkable.

Back in Amish country, I happily took advantage of a free bus tour, provided by the campground. Our driver was a delightful Mennonite lady who was born of Amish parents (they became Mennonite when she was a child) and who also taught in an Amish school for a number of years. She proved to be an excellent tour guide as we drove the bucolic countryside, making a couple of shop-stops along the way.

I already knew quite a lot about the Amish culture and lifestyle, but a couple of things surprised me. For example, I didn’t know how much tobacco was still grown in the area. A labor-intensive endeavor to grow, pick and dry the tobacco leaves, it is nevertheless a significant cash crop for the area. Along with the usual cows, horses, sheep and goats, I was also surprised to view camels (for milk) and deer (farmed for venison). I had no idea the Amish were cultivating such exotic products. We traveled through several square miles of territory in which there was no electrical service – period. It had never been needed so electrical lines were never run there. And it is unlikely that any will ever be needed since the Amish tend to hold onto their farmland. Nearly 95% of children that are born Amish stay in the lifestyle, so the sect is constantly growing and seeking new land and new occupations. Just fascinating! We indulged in traditional Amish cooking and treats – pie, cake, cookies, kettle corn, and fresh pretzels! Yum!

We even took in a stage show — the first one for us in this COVID time. The show was at the Bird-in-Hand Theater, entitled “The Gut Life”. The theater limited attendance to half capacity (or less) and spaced the seats for each party so that everyone was suitably socially distanced. Masks were required, guests were dismissed after the show by rows, and there was no actor “meet and greet”. The show itself was a two person play. The premise was that this was an Amish married couple that had invited you (the audience) into their living room. They reminisced about their life, sharing about the Amish way of life. It was funny and entertaining and the music was well done. I do love live theater and it was so refreshing to be able to attend a show after all this time!

We also took a couple of day trips into nearby Philadelphia, to explore one of the oldest cities in America. Many landmarks, such as Independence Hall, are COVID-closed, but we could view them from the outside. We peered through glass at the Liberty Bell. We wandered around, drooling, at the Reading Terminal Market. We indulged in an authentic Philly cheesesteak sandwich. We were able to tour the Museum of the American Revolution, a well-laid out display that very logically explained the factors leading up to the War, and the sequence of events. It was the second best war museum I’ve seen (in my opinion), second only to the World War II museum in New Orleans.

Philadelphia is a grand old town, but it is looking tired and dirty. Homeless people are blatantly evident, and an entire tent city has been established in a park near the museum district. Attempts by officials to deal with these issues simply aren’t working. We felt safe enough during the day, but I’m not sure I’d want to wander around after dark. It’s a shame, really. By late afternoon, we headed back out to the clean and safe countryside.

Continuing with the historic theme, we visited the historic sites of Valley Forge and Gettysburg. Gettysburg was simply massive, with an enormous number of monuments. The visitor center movie, cyclorama and museum provided a historical perspective of the site before we took ourselves on the self-guided auto tour. The scene now is so peaceful, it’s difficult to imagine such a bloody battle taking place there. War is such a waste.

Our two weeks here just flew by! But all too soon, it was time to move on.

Lake George, NY

After spending time in the relative wilds of Acadia National Park, White Mountains of New Hampshire and Green Mountains of Vermont, emerging into the touristy busy-ness of Lake George was almost disorientating. Lake George (the town) located on the shores of Lake George (the lake), in the mountains of the Adirondacks, reminds me very much of Gatlinburg. It has outlet malls, a downtown strip of shops and eateries, and lots of touristy things to do.

The area is also rich in history, being the site of Fort William Henry which was active during the French and Indian war and also featured in the novel “The Last of The Mohicans”. The original fort existed only for 2 years – built in 1855 and burned down by the French in 1857, then rebuilt in the original footprint in the 1950s. A replica was also built in North Carolina as a set for the Last of the Mohicans movie. We toured the 1950s rebuilt version, complete with living history interpreters.

We bicycled to and through the town, and took a lake cruise with the Lake George Steamboat Company. Lake George was where the rich and famous of New York came to play and build expansive summer homes on the lakeside. We cruised by several of the remaining mansions and weaved through the surprising number of islands. Most of the islands are part of the New York park system, available for picnicking and camping.

Farther up in the Adirondack mountains lies the Ausible Chasm, a water-carved gorge. Boardwalks and suspension bridges allowed us to get up close and personal in the narrow chasm. In non-COVID years, an adventure ropes course and rafting would be available.

Still farther north, in the highest mountain section of the Adirondacks lies Lake Placid, home to two winter Olympic Games (1932, 1980). We visited the ski jump training center to watch young hopefuls train by jumping, spinning and flipping into a bubbling swimming pool. We also rode a cable car up to the top of the mountain, then took an elevator to the tip top of the 130 meter ski jump. We walked out onto the platform to peer down the view a jumper would see just before they committed to the deed. No Thank You!!

Lake George gave me a much-needed dose of civilization after weeks in the boonies. We were able to shop and dine, in a responsible and socially-distant manner. It felt good.

Next up …. Pennsylvania Amish country ….

New Hampshire and Vermont

Leaving Acadia National Park, we began our long slow westward trek toward our winter destination of Tucson. First stop – New Hampshire White Mountains.

The high point (literally) of the White Mountains is Mount Washington. There are three ways to ascend to the top — via train, road, or on foot (hiking). We lucked into a clear day and opted for the motor trail, a steep winding and narrow road to the peak. Signs posted at the fee station state “If you are afraid of heights, you may not enjoy this driving experience”! The lower section isn’t so bad, but the upper sections can be very narrow (especially for two-way traffic) and there are NO guardrails! I have to admit, there were sections that I hid my eyes, so it was a good thing that I wasn’t the driver!

The peak offers 360 degrees of spectacular views. Known for some of the most extreme weather on earth, we experienced it on a (relatively) warm and only slightly breezy day.

Also while in the area, we rented a Razor and went 4-wheeling (my first time). Although tooling around in the vehicle had its moments, and it was nice weather to be outdoors, it’s not a sport I could become passionate about. And at the end of the dusty day, we were absolutely filthy! I think we ended up throwing Jeff’s white technical shirt away after two washings couldn’t remove the dirt stains.

The White mountains offers abundant hiking, but I found hiking in the northeast to be uber steep, rocky, and generally Not Fun. Jeff took on an epic Franconia Ridge hike and declared it to be one of the most fabulous view hikes ever, but it was too strenuous for me to attempt at my current fitness level. Even he hobbled for three days afterward! Maybe one day, when I’m in better shape.

Moving on from the Whites, we headed into verdant Vermont farm country. A highlight there was a visit to a maple syrup farm. It was out of season to see the harvesting of course, but we could walk up to their sugar maple grove to view the network of tubing that is used (in conjunction with low vacuum) to extract the maximum maple sap with the minimum effort. Vermont requires maple syrup to be “graded” based upon color and taste: Golden, Amber, Dark and Very Dark. The sugar content is identical, but the color varies depending on the weather and time of year the sap is collected. We were able to sample and I found the taste was surprisingly different. The lightest (golden) only delicately tastes of maple, while the very dark tastes dense, almost vegetable-like. I like Amber and Dark the best for cooking and pancakes!

We rode the motorcycle around and over the Green Mountains and explored the local ski resort of Killington. Killington offered summertime downhill mountain biking which he took advantage of – twice!

After our short Vermont stay, we continued west and south into New York.