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This is a story about a “highway” that is more like a paved horse trail. The road meanders between and through spectacular granite formations. Spruce and pine forests surround it. Colorful aspen and birch trees, in season, peek through the evergreen forest. This is about a 14-mile drive that will remain indelibly lodged in our travel memories.

But this is getting to a cherry sundae before a sumptuous meal. As an entree, we should start our journey at Custer State Park situated in the iconic Black Hills of South Dakota. The park, situated at the southwest corner of the state, is a 71,000-acre home to abundant wildlife such as buffalo, elk, white-tailed deer, not-so-wild donkeys (more on this later), prairie dogs and more. It is not uncommon, as we experienced, to be stuck in a traffic jam caused by a herd of buffalo crossing the road.

Black Hills country, heading towards Custer State Park’s Wildlife Loop

We took the scenic Wildlife Loop Road, 18 miles of road in open grasslands where we sighted at least three herds of bison, two of which were of the close encounters type.

“Look! They are crossing the road!”

Just as Joanne was hitting the brakes, I took my camera out hoping to record the event and hopefully get a shot before they moved on. Well, I could have taken a thousand images before they finally gave us a breach large enough for our motorhome to safely proceed. By the third encounter further in the loop, we were seasoned veterans. The excitement of the first crossing having already dissipated. It remains, however, a spectacular sight.

The Custer State Park Wildlife Loop and its residents leisurely crossing the road

Once passed the loop’s visitor center (a recently renovated stone and wood beam structure worth the visit), we came to a stop at a place where wild donkeys roam freely. Sadly, these donkeys are more domesticated than your real wild variety, as guided tourist vans include this stop on their daily routes and feed the animals. We are not certain this is the best way to care for these so-called “wild” animals as they seem totally dependent on humans for their food.

Got anything to eat?

The loop road takes us to highway 87 where we turned north to start the journey on the Needles Hwy. This road, planned by the state’s Governor Peter Norbeck nearly 100 years ago, was completed in 1922. Not quite knowing what to expect, we started our journey from the south, heading northwest towards Sylvan Lake. There are warnings about the size of vehicles that can safely make it through the few tunnels along the road. Do not underestimate these warnings. as those tunnels are very narrow and of low clearance.

Granite “needles” peering through the fog and mist

This side trip was almost a non-starter because rain and fog had rolled in early that morning. But explorers we are, so we ignored the weather and threw caution to the wind and moved on bravely. Our traveling companions preceded us, slicing through the mist and fog to the point where we could barely see the distinctive Unity taillights ahead.

Twisting our way uphill

What strikes you at first as you proceed along the road is the feeling that you are in someone’s driveway. The narrow pavement is well maintained and there are no dividing lines. There is no shoulder to speak of on either side of the road, so meeting another large vehicle demands careful execution on both parts, notwithstanding the poor driving conditions. Then we arrived at our first major challenge of the day.

Iron Creek Tunnel

The Iron Creek Tunnel is 9’0 feet wide and 11’4″ feet tall. Our Unity’s width is 7′ 10,5″ and a height of 10′ 6″. Easy peasy.

A tight fit but easier than the next tunnel up the road

We stopped the vehicles and marveled at the workmanship involved in blasting a hole in such a massive granite wall. Either Governor Norbeck had foreseen that our Unity would fit nicely into the opening 100 years later, or LTV designers got it just right. Either way, we were thankful to be able to safely proceed through the tunnel and resume our journey towards what would become one of the most challenging driving feats we had ever encountered. The Needles Eye Tunnel.

Arriving at the Needles Eye Tunnel

The Needles highway was named after the granite structures that stand like needles. Although not of the same geological composition, they reminded us of the rock structures at Chiricahua National Monument.The needles took on an eerie ghost-like silhouette as we continued the climb along a winding track, craning our heads to peek at the needles through the fog and rain, slowing down to a crawl as the Sprinter’s gears downshifted and bravely powered its way uphill, en route for the next highlight of our trip.

Needles Eye Tunnel

The tunnel is 8’4″ wide and 11’4″ tall. Easy peasy? Hmmm, not so sure about that one… “This is barely larger and taller than our motorhome,” I said hesitantly.

“Who measured this tunnel?” someone asked. “I don’t know, I replied, but one thing I am certain of is that our side mirrors will need to be folded in”. Our traveling companions who (gamely) chose to go first, tucked in both side mirrors, turned on their headlights, and valiantly inched themselves into the tunnel. Sparks did not fly! We were impressed, albeit wavering a little bit as our turn was up.

Thanks to our friend Joanne Chenail-Trépanier for this video of the crossing.

Needles Eye Tunnel crossing in an LTV Unity IB - YouTube

We both managed to conquer the Needles Eye Tunnel unscathed. It is only after congratulatory high fives that one of us looked up and said: “Hey there’s the Needle’s Eye!”

Happy group posing at the Needles Eye (top right)

We wondered how many people cross the tunnel and continue on without seeing the whole reason why they are there in the first place.

The road at this point descends towards Sylvan Lake where we would eventually take Hwy 89 and 385 for a visit at the Crazy Horse Memorial.

Sylvan Lake

The fog lifted just in time for this shot then reappeared moments later

This would be our last stop along the highway because the next tunnel was too low for our motorhome. As we arrived, the lake was shrouded in a veil of fog. We could barely distinguish the shoreline or any of the beautiful features that contour the lake. Nevertheless, as we walked the path towards the water we met with two fishermen silently casting their lines into the fog. You could only just see their silhouette from a few feet away. But as luck happens to those who wait, the fog slowly started to rise, lifting its veil from the beautiful features around us. I approached one of the men as he was tending to his fishing rod and asked him if I could make a portrait of him as he cast away, resulting in a beautiful image in a dramatic setting. It was a perfect bookend for a dream-like journey.

This fisherman hadn’t caught anything yet but gladly posed for the portrait

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Just west of Odessa, Texas, we discovered the amazing Monahans Sandhills State Park, a majestic 3,840 acres of wind-sculptured living sand dunes some which soar up to 70 feet high.

While this State Park is of a substantial size, it represents only a small part of a huge dune filet that extends westward from about 200 miles south of Monahans Sandhills and then north into New Mexico. Monahans Sandhills is set in one of the areas where the dunes are living which mean that they are still active and being constantly shaped by wind and rain.

Climbing up and over the sand hills is a unique opportunity to experience an extreme aspect of nature. The dunes consist of almost pure quartz grains that form dune types that include coppice, wind-shadow, Ankle, Barchan, and parabolic. No idea what these terms mean, but walking in the dunes is an incredible experience no matter what they are called.

Although the huge sand dunes would make you think you are in the middle of a desert, the Monahans Sandhills are surprisingly not a desert; they are a part of a semi-arid ecosystem with an average rainfall of about 12 inches (300 mm) and characterized by the presence of both groundwater and relatively nutrient-poor windblown sand. Despite the sterility of the landscape, various rodents are relatively common, and there are several packs of Sandhills coyotes that feed upon them.

Because this is a unique location, the local forms of recreation are equally unique at the Monahans Sandhills They include sand boarding, sand football, sand surfing, and sand tobogganing. Other active pursuits include hiking, picnicking, horseback riding, bird, and wildlife watching from the interpretive center windows, which overlook watering stations. For sand adventurers, sand toboggans and surfing disks can be rented at park headquarters. I don’t think long-term camping would work out too well for tender vehicle finishes but a short stay was certainly invigorating.

Monahans Sandhills State Park has 26 well-maintained campsites served with water and electricity and completely surrounded by sand dunes. There are also a day use area with covered picnic tables and grills on the edge of the tallest dunes, a visitors center, a group dining hall, a quarter mile interpretive trail, dump station, showers and bathroom facilities, and a small park store. The excellent Dunagan Visitor Center. features hands-on exhibits of the cultural and natural history of the Sandhills, including Dune Dynamics, Permian Basin Heritage, and Wildlife Habitat. Scenic windows offer spectacular viewing of birds and other wildlife as they come to food and water.

Monahans Sandhills State Park is a strange and exotic camping location that offers a camping experience that will not soon be forgotten.

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The Southwest LTV Roadrunners RV Club met for its annual meeting and rally January 28–30, 2018, at Pechanga RV Resort located in Temecula, California. Before I lose you completely, let me give you a few details and statistics about our annual event.

The SW LTV Roadrunners RV Club covers a tristate region comprised of California, Nevada, and Arizona. We had an impressive attendance of 54 LTV rigs and 101 chapter members. Wow! Each state was represented, plus a few special folks from Oregon, Florida, South Carolina, Alaska, and British Columbia.

Fifty-four rigs of various LTV designs rolled into their sites on January 28th. Kirk and I had never attended a rally of this size, and we watched in amazement as the Pechanga RV Resort filled up with LTV vehicles as far as the eye could see. Each new arrival brought old and new friends to the meeting. What an impressive sight! A fabulous potluck was arranged for Sunday night, giving everyone a chance to catch up and swap stories. Great food + great friends = an even greater time.

Monday afternoon we got down to business. Aileen and George Ormsby were honored for their service as Chapter Head for seven years with a beautiful orchid plant and a gift card. They were very instrumental in getting our chapter up and going. They will be missed. Many good stories were shared about past trips, and I know a few tears were shed in the telling of the tales. They are an awesome couple. Hats off to them and all their hard work.

Our new Chapter Head, Dennis Thorig, and his Executive Board were introduced and approved by the members. We approved our first-ever chapter bylaws and discussed how to build up our general fund account. Rally sites for 2018 were shared, which include Chula Vista, Pismo Beach, and our EPIC Alaska trip.

Once the formal meeting was completed, we had a few breakout sessions. Leonard (aka Biker Dude) hosted a Tech Q&A. Several pertinent LTV topics were covered, and good information was shared. I know this was very helpful to all of us.

Dennis met with the Alaska travelers, bringing us up to date on the trip preparations. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, with 22 LTV vehicles making the trek. We will cover approximately 5,887 miles, have 34 stops along the way, and will spend 62 days on the road. What a great job Dennis and his Executive Board have done arranging for this trip! Mega kudos to all! I know we will share more information on this adventure once the trip starts, so stay tuned.

I don’t want you to think this rally was all business. We are a fun-loving group; just take a look at some of the rally’s activities! Leonard led a group of hardy bicyclers on a challenging ride through the Temecula countryside. Several members tried their luck at the Pechanga Casino, toured the Old Town area, or made day trips to other close-by venues. We topped off Monday with another delicious potluck and a special surprise! Who knew our treasurer/secretary, Alan Girdlestone, was a “Las Vegas” caliber performer? Alan entertained us with karaoke versions of our favorite tunes. But, wait, it got better as the night progressed. Deborah Milliron joined Alan for several awe-inspiring duets. What talent they both have. We were so lucky that they shared it with us. We even had a floor show when Sweet Caroline was sung. What a fun night.

Tuesday the members were treated to a facility tour and wine tasting at the Wiens Family Wine Cellars. What a beautiful setting. Of course, Kirk and I sampled the various wines and found a few new favorites to bring home. Thanks so much to Susie and George Wiens for setting this up for us. When we returned back Pechanga, everyone had been so generous with their potluck dishes we had enough for an impromptu “leftover” dinner. One more night of fun!

Several brave (or crazy) members got up in the wee hours of the morning Wednesday to watch the total lunar eclipse and the Red Moon. Temecula provided clear skies for a perfect viewing experience. What a way to wrap up the rally!

Sadly, we had to bring the rally to a close. Kirk and I left with great memories, more new friends than we can remember, and a promise to see everyone in Chula Vista.

Kim Kearl
SW LTV Roadrunners RV Club

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Taking A Ride On Ontario’s Superior, Wild Side

Last time we met, we finished the first leg of a 1,500-plus-mile drive around the world’s largest lake, Superior. We drove our Leisure Unity from the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to just south of the border at Grand Portage, Minnesota. Now it’s Canada’s turn.

We’ll head to the lake’s less-populous side, the stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway running from historic Thunder Bay, where 18th-century fur traders opened Western Canada and the U.S. to Europeans, to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, at Superior’s eastern terminus, site of the world’s busiest locks, and the bridge back to Michigan.

And we’ll discover some of what makes this side of the lake great, from a reconstructed voyageur fort and its importance as a water highway then and now, to its home for some of Canada’s most famous artists and of course, lakeside beauty.

A few tips: Once you cross the border, you won’t be wandering much off Highway 17.That’s the Trans-Canada, which bends and weaves east to west along Superior and around the glacier-exposed, rocky-topped hills, the basement of North America that have been dated to more than four billion years old. You’ll pass through some of the most remote lands on the continent near major cities. There are only a few major routes leading off it, especially going north. What you will find there ranges from history to scenic views, to fishing and kayaking opportunities, and great lakefront campsites that will bring you back for closer, longer, looks.

One of several lakes, overlooking near Grand Portage National Monument at the U.S.-Canada border south of Thunder Bay, Ont.

Grand Portage to Ontario

Just before the Ontario border, Minnesota’s Grand Portage National Monument is worth a visit. It was once the center of the 17th-century voyageur and Ojibwe fur trade, located on a strategic portage between rivers and lakes that allowed exploration and exploitation of much of the now-western U.S. and Canada. It was the center for furs exported via Lake Superior to the east and Europe, spearheaded by the North West Company and its more well-known but lesser rival, the Hudson’s Bay Company. Exhibits in the Great Hall visitor center detail its importance before it moved to our next stop, Old Fort William, in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The trappers proved so efficient, they just about wiped out the continent’s beaver, which fortunately are doing just fine now.

After an easy border crossing with our cats Muka and Sadie, who remembered to bring their necessary vaccination papers, we headed to the Thunder Bay’s historic Old Fort William. Things quiet down at this reconstructed 1800s trading post after Labor Day. The re-enactors and First Nations Ojibwe who tell the fort’s story are gone for the season, but you can still go through the fort, and take part in activities like we did, a nighttime astronomy program, and stay at its few campsites with water, electric and showers in a trailer in an open space near the headquarters.

Kakabeka Falls, known as the Niagara of the North, near Old Fort William Provincial Park in Thunder Bay, Ont., also features a campground.

After we paid for our campsite, we drove west only a few miles to Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park to see what’s nicknamed the Niagara of The North. The 130-foot falls and river are also part of the historic voyageurs route that Fort William was built to serve. The rock walls here contain fossils dating to 1.6 billion years ago. You’re on the western edge of the Canadian Shield, the geological core of North America. The park also has 160 nice wooded campsites near the falls in three units. Riverside sites do not have power.

We picked staying at Fort William, however, mainly for the astronomy event presented by park interpreters the night we arrived. They’d hoped for a repeat of the Northern Lights (which were visible the night prior) but unfortunately, they didn’t re-appear. There are other events throughout the year at the fort including living history exhibits prior to Labor Day, also celebrated in Canada.

Sleeping Giant

I hiked a bit in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park years ago but never camped. Our first view this time of this granite promontory of the Sibley Peninsula resembling a, well, sleeping giant, was from the Fort William Indian Nation Pow Wow Grounds high above Thunder Bay.

Atop Mount McKay…

…home of an annual powwow…

We saw its clear outline again at the Highway 17 rest stop dedicated to Terry Fox, a cancer victim who was running across Canada to raise money for research, only to stop near here shortly before his death in 1981 after completing more than 3,300 miles.

…and soaring birds, both real and carved, on the precipice overlook

Slip off Highway 17 into Sleeping Giant to stay at one of 200 campsites on Marie Louise Lake, about half with electric. There are 49 miles of hiking trails, but we drove to two spots, one at the end of the park’s only paved road to Silver Islet, site of a former famous silver mine. The next day, we headed up the 5-1/2-mile (9K) gravel road that ends atop the giant itself at the Thunder Bay Lookout.

A duck skims the surface of Marie Louise Lake, with the Sleeping Giant in the distance…

Hiking one of the park’s miles (or kilometers) of the trail, leading to…

lake vistas like this

The last quarter-mile or so, you’re driving on bare rock, the base of North America, before getting to a wide section with a wooden fence on the right that only resembles a parking area.

Rock climbing the last quarter mile to Sleeping Giant Overlook…

is rewarded with a stunning overlook

A path leads onto a metal platform, where you’re rewarded with a spectacular, soaring perch beyond the sides of the giant with nothing but air beneath you, as the lake waves run ashore a hundred feet of so below your feet. It’s an experience you won’t find anywhere else in the park and definitely worth the slow trip.

If you’ve brought your mountain bike, there’s also a great seven-mile (12K) bike trail in the park around Marie Louise Lake’s west side, and other hiking trails where you’ll meet back-country campers heading into 40 trailside sites.

Rainbow Falls Provincial Park, Rossport

I visited Rossport, about two hours east of the giant, once before, and it charmed me. The entire town consists of less than a dozen B&Bs and other businesses on an island-protected harbor sometimes called the Peggy’s Cove of the North. Canada’s most famous artists, the Group of Seven, drew upon the area for many of their landscapes. If you’ve brought your kayaks, this is a great, protected area to explore the shoreline at this 18th century voyageur stop and former fishing village. Or, rent from Superior Outfitters and take a guided float, or see it aboard a fishing charter or an island tour boat here.

Serendipity Gardens restaurant, in Rossport a great spot for dinner only a few minutes from Rainbow Falls Provincial Park.

Lakefront campsite at Rainbow Falls Provincial Park, near Rossport.

We treated ourselves to my birthday dinner at Serendipity Gardens on a hill looking over the harbor, a great spot for two reasons. It features both indoor and garden dining, and it was just down the road from our campsite at Rainbow Falls Provincial Park. You’ve got a choice of two separate campgrounds there, and we chose the Rossport unit because it again is on Lake Superior. Electric is available at 23 of 36 sites. Before dinner, we arrived in time to grab a site across from the water and explored the park’s beach and rock outcroppings, and it’s falls too, a few miles east on Hwy. 17.

Rainbow Falls and Whitesand River.

Park information advises it is a strenuous walk down a wooden staircase along the falls, but it wasn’t hard for us and led to great views of the cataract, the river chasm and a bit of Whitesand Lake. We turned around at the bridge over the Whitesand River, a brook trout stream, instead of continuing to another Lake Superior overlook.

Pancake, Anyone?

We could have extended our trip a few days to stay at Pukaskwa National Park, or 600-square-mile (1,550 sq. kilometer) Lake Superior Provincial Park, where you can walk along a rocky trail while hanging onto a cable next to the lake to view ancient pictographs at Agawa Rock that can be seen only when Superior is calm. But instead we just stopped for a look there and drove Highway 17 as it wends its way through the glacier-carved valleys and rock-topped hills to Pancake Bay Provincial Park, on picturesque Batchawana Bay.

We arrived in late afternoon, chose a non-electrified beach view site—there are multiple cost point sites here, depending on campsite location and services, including “preferred,” on the lake with electricity; expect to see this at more U.S. parks in the future—we headed across the camp road with our chairs and dipped our toes first into the warm sandy beach, then the lake, to enjoy the day’s last rays.

Our campsite at Pancake Bay…

Steps away from the beach…

…where Denise dips toes into Superior

From here, you can just make out the U.S. shoreline in Michigan. Peer across the lake from here, where about 17 or so miles into Superior, also lies the ore freighter Edmund Fitzgerald, which went down in a November storm with all hands in 1975. There’s also a trail to a lake lookout here.

Soo to Soo

When we left the next day, we were only 60 or so miles from Sault Ste Marie, Ont., on the banks of the St. Mary’s River and Soo Locks, the world’s busiest lock system.

You can take a guided trip into the rapids from the Canadian side after what some term North America’s best and most publicly accessible Atlantic salmon fly fishing if the water levels allow. Or head across the International Bridge to historic Soo, Michigan, from where, among other things, sprang the inspiration for Longfellow’s epic poem, Song of Hiawatha. On this side of the river, take a boat tour through both Canadian and American locks, see ships entering and leaving up close from the U.S. side, or visit a retired Great Lakes freighter, and have a great dinner at spots like The Antlers in town. Just don’t judge it by its “up north bar” exterior. Try the dessert poutine, a different take on that French-Canadian national side dish.

Our trip’s beginning, and end, at the Mackinac Bridge in St. Ignace, Michigan.

From here, you can head west a bit to towns like Brimley, with its state park and casino campgrounds, or farther west. Or, turn south, like we did, on I-75. That’s one of the best parts of this tour. There are so many choices, you can do it again to see what you missed on your first visit. Ready to go back with us?

When You Go

Canadian provincial parks do not take reservations after Labor (spelled Labour in Canada) Day, so get to your chosen park earlier in the day, then sightsee. Most parks provide water taps to fill fresh water tanks, as most do not have on-site water. The Lake Superior Circle Tour Guide presents a good overview of trip highlights, but is not a complete, “turn here, go there” guidebook. Consult the Internet version for various points of interest as well. We found a day-by-day itinerary we prepared a good guide.

Canada prices are higher, but as of this writing, the U.S. funds exchange rate is still a favorable 25 percent. There was no problem finding non-biofuel diesel anywhere. Don’t forget your passport/proper ID, as well as any pet vaccine records as needed. See any other restrictions on U.S. and Canadian Customs websites.

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Here we are in Saratoga Springs NY, having left Carlisle PA at 7:50 a.m. Not as good as yesterday, but not so bad either. We’d like to arrive early afternoon, so that’s why we wanted an early start.

“Beside the Appalachian Trail”, the sign read at the exit, which accounted for the young men with backpacks we saw on the road. I guess they came down for supplies, before finding their way back up through the woods. We were also fifteen miles from Gettysburg and we all know what happened there. Which brings me to Miss Bliss, my grammar school social studies teacher. She was rough and ready, but a grand teacher of American history, which is why I revere the Gettysburg address. If you weren’t a lover of America before Miss Bliss, you surely were under her tutelage.

We’re heading, as you know, for grandson Jerry’s college graduation.

Oops! Traffic jam starting in Harrisburg PA. Too bad I don’t knit. I’d have a sweater done by now. Turns into just a short delay, and give me time to reminisce about our time together in Philadelphia PA, the year we were married. I had already graduated while Allie was in the service, so after our wedding and honeymoon, we went to the University of Pennsylvania for him to finish his degree interrupted by WWII. We had an apartment, a postwar special, which was half of a bay window in an old building. We had a bathroom with a sink (the only one in the house), and a living room with a bed, a stove and a refrigerator. It wasn’t much, but we were young and happy to be enjoying each other far away from families.

The graduation at Skidmore was a powerful and beautiful day with gorgeous crisp New York weather, but just a bit on the chilly side for this Floridian. We had to arrive early because the crush for good seating for Oprah was on, but our son Bill and daughter-in-law Martha had arranged for tickets, so we sat in the last row in the middle of an outdoor theater with the sun at our backs for part of the four-hour ceremony.

Oprah was terrific. She had the audience in the palm of her lovely hands, easy to see and easy to hear on two huge TV screens in the auditorium. Her message: be true to the essence of you. Hear your passion. Accept your role in this world. Follow your instincts and your intentions. Don’t get caught up in the rules or regulations others would have you follow. Take a chance. Find out who you are and be you. Be the best you can be and give back. Success is sure to follow. She didn’t say, but I think she also meant that happiness in reaching the goals you set for yourself will also follow.

She also urged us to practice gratefulness. She does it in a diary, mentioning a few things each day she is grateful for. But no diary or journal needed, you can just stop a moment, make yourself peaceful, and think gratefully. She was inspirational for old and young and received a real ovation at the end. She also received an honorary Doctorate, looking thrilled in spite of all the many honors she has received in her lifetime.

Saratoga Springs is a lovely college town, filled with lots of stores and boutiques, cantinas and bars, and the younger set here (excluding the great-grandparents) went dancing after dinner last night. There it is, our last graduation, as our great-grandkids are just little ones. But we’ve loved them all, and would just like to tell you that at one point Oprah asked us all to close our eyes, breathe deeply, and mention just one thing we are grateful for. Without question, mine was “family”.

Our grandchildren

It’s over. Funny how the days are long when you’re waiting for an important event, and then when it finally arrives, the days fly by in an instant. It was wonderful, including dinner at a charming restaurant where Beth, our waitress, adopted the whole unruly clan including friends of Jerry’s and our family. Now we’re packed and Allie has already loaded the RV so that on our last trip down to the lobby it will be just us as we go with the family to enjoy a goodbye brunch.

We leave Saratoga with another wonderful family memory, only this time it’s not ours, but Hattie’s. The restaurant, Hattie’s Chicken Shack, is a tribute to its founder, Hattie, with its New Orleans vibe, great Southern food, and waitstaff and cooks, all of whom are related to Hattie. The table was soon filled with samples of Southern Fried chicken, shrimp and grits, bowls of cornbread, biscuits, and beignets, each more scrumptious than the other. People ordered their own meals and then everyone passed everything around, almost as if Hattie herself were there directing traffic. It was great fun and a wonderful goodbye to a weekend of love.

We are approaching our destination,Shokan, New York, and Sally Mae is not giving us enough information to decide which country lane to take to the “farm”, “compound”, “camp” which our friends have bought. Allie gets out to ask directions (a new habit adopted in his old age, since there was a time he’d just keep going and looking”, and we are directed properly. It’s a lovely 17-acre camp (my preferred word) with a wonderful old farmhouse, a soaring art studio for woodworking (Ben) and painting (Carol), and a marvelous, lofty, airy, sun-drenched yurt. What’s a yurt? I asked the question and found out it comes from the Mongolian culture, was originally made of fabrics and other flexible materials, and was carried from place to place by the nomads.

Wrap it up and take it away. This yurt is permanent, and it’s gorgeous. Carol had ideas for painting, fixing, and remodeling, things she is really good at, and this should be spectacular within a year. In the meantime, it’s marvelous as is.

We enjoyed an outdoor fire at the campfire with congratulations to David who built a beautiful tepee-style fire a la Camp Caribou and Bill; we were thrilled with the heat as we enjoyed some nibbles and drinks. Then for dinner, enhanced by greens freshly picked from the garden, and early bed. It’s cold in them thar hills, folks, and bed sounded like the best way to the warmth that I could think of.

I have to tell you about how city mice enjoy life as country mice. While we were cozying around the campfire, David was flying a drone, which was taking pictures of us, the grounds, and the outlying districts where there are Howard’s favorite activities, fishing, hiking, and biking. Once indoors, he protected the pix the drone had taken onto the large TV screen in the living room, while we called on Alexa, the technological lady in a tube on the counter, to play Frank Sinatra for Allie and to tell jokes for the four-year-old nephew. “Alexa, tell me a joke,” said Ollie, and Alexa obeyed. Ollie also entertained us with pictures from his cellphone, which he handled much better than I handle mine. Since we have an Ollie in our family, too, it was double the fun seeing this little one. It was a wonderful day in a wonderful place.

As we were leaving the mountains (the foothills thereof), I took stock of the places a person living in the woods could go for sustenance and discovered there was really nothing missing that anyone could want. I found lumber, a gym, a farm store, slate, auto repair, police, churches, a motel, a bakery a dinner, a library, a gas station, a laundromat, a theater playhouse, and should you be really hungry and nothing is open wild turkeys.

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VanLife - YouTube

The last time I wrote you was from our maiden voyage in Toots (our 2017 Serenity). We had been working hard to launch our new yoga/wellness/functional movement website and all was full of love and butterflies.  Now I write you with different news. I write you with feelings of fear and some anxiety.

The reason for these two distinct feelings? We have made the move. We have moved out of our home in Victoria, BC and into Full-Time Van Life (FTVL).

Firstly, I will address the fear. Let’s get it straight, right?

The fear has nothing to do with Toots!  I am more in love with our LTV than ever and know that moving in was the right choice. Kaitlin and I fit this life better than we could have hoped. We travel to film and teach FUNctional Yoga for our new website, and love to visit the ones we love all over North America. Sounds perfect right? Yes and no. Now that we have made the commitment, I see the societal norms we have been entrenched in being challenged. The reaction from friends and family range from “Yes! this is perfect for you guys!” all the way to “Whoa….really How is that going to work?” Do we try to hold onto the former, although the latter makes you think no?

The “How to make it work” statement brings on the fear. It brings on some doubt that maybe we can’t make it work. That maybe it was a mistake, or we aren’t hippy enough to fully embrace the lifestyle. I am working on nipping it in the bud before it can fully gain steam and turn into action. I have to remind myself (usually during a morning meditation) that we have chosen this, and we are giving it a try. I feel so grateful for that.

Using those thoughts immediately resets me back to being both giddy and excited. Which seems to be my default these days. We have the utmost freedom and have been actively working to build our lives out this way. This is not a mistake or a coincidence, I chose this life that I am living and that feels amazing. It’s really not scary at all. The fear is not mine.

Drone Notes From The Road - YouTube

Now to the anxiety.  The A word.  That lingering feeling where something is not quite right. Those things that are all wrong or mistakes that have been made. It sits differently than fear; it sits in my gut. Little nausea, mixed with a little bit of gas, is the best way I can describe it. When I get a chance to look at it, I see that the fear and anxiety are not separate. They are basically the same feeling, showing up in different ways and being sparked by slightly different worldly factors.

Anxiety seems to come from within, it seems to stem from my own thoughts (and essentially made up problems).

“Where do my shoes fit in the RV? Why are the cupboards so full? Am I doing this wrong? I’m probably doing this wrong. I am most likely going to fail at FTVL. I am most likely going to fail in my new career. My marriage is probably on the rocks. The government is falling apart, my investments are going to crumble and we are running out of water.”

The ball can keep going until all I want to do is sit in a ball on my Serenity’s corner coach bed and wait for it all to fall apart around me. Sounds silly, no? It’s not. The outcomes may not be real, but the feelings are. They are warranted and reassured by the news and the people around me. Again, I have to see it for what it is, take a quick stock of the gratefulness I have for the life I am building and see where I can stop wasting energy. The precious energy I have needs to be directed to myself and my new found life, not the ‘problems’ I have found. If I see the barriers, how will I ever be able to see the opportunities and openings and wonderful and amazing things around me?

I see this FTVL as a blessing. It’s winter in Canada and we are adapting. Albeit, we are on Vancouver Island, so our Canadian winter is not a true Canadian Winter. Our furnace runs, but not all that often and we won’t see much snow. “Canadian Winter Lite” I’ll call it.  I know we have made a great choice, both in our LTV and FTVL. Our possessions fit wonderfully and we are ready for some locational freedom. We are driving it down Baja California this December & January on a bit of a tour. We teach a yoga retreat in Sayulita Mexico in January, so we have decided to drive our home there this year! How amazing of a sentence is that!? I plan to keep our Journal going and keep the Love Notes From the Road flowing as we settle into Toots and find our groove.

One thing that there is no room for in Toots is any feelings other than gratefulness, peace, love, excitement, amazement, and awe. This world is filled with beauty and we plan to soak it up as we tour! I wish you all the best and I would love to hear some note from the road! -Ben

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Disclaimer: Boondocking, or the art of finding free places to park an RV without hookups, can be addictive. You have been warned!

When we bought our RV, we had dreams of being parked in the wilderness with no one around and waking to spectacular sunrises with no other sound but singing birds and the coffee brewing. After a couple of years and many months on the road, we realized this dream was possible. We got hooked on the boondocking lifestyle. Some may call it “Off the grid”, “Dry camping”, “Dispersed Camping” or “Wild Camping” but the idea is the same…it is about heading out there in the wild and having fun camping… for free.

There is something liberating about finding a place to park for the night or even for a few days for free, especially if you find a spot like this!

So the question is how do we find these places? Travelers like to share their stories and if we are lucky, some will disclose their secret locations with us only if we promise not to tell anyone! Who wants to return to their favorite location only to find it is full of fellow RVers? Maybe we won’t be that lucky so where can we get that precious information?

Where can we find free overnight parking?

To us, the real question is: Where can we park safely overnight for free? Safety is the number one issue for Joanne and I. Although we feel relatively safe in a Wal-Mart parking lot (convenient but this is the last resort choice) we would not feel comfortable parking on a city street or in a city park without feeling safe about it. We would be on the lookout for either a police or security presence or other RVs parked there as well. Otherwise, we would choose another location.

We use a few tools to help us with our quest.

Harvest Hosts has been a very useful resource for us. This is a membership-based service where you can stay overnight (for one night) at host locations such as wineries, farms, and museums. You must call ahead to make arrangements (and arrive during business hours) and it is normal etiquette to thank the host by making a purchase at their place of business. There are hundreds of hosts scattered in the US and Canada and you are likely to find one on your itinerary. We have made wonderful discoveries this way. Furthermore, we have always felt safe at every place we stayed.

Nice and quiet at a southern Arizona winery.

A little fun under the stars at the same winery location.

We love staying at Harvest Host wineries. This time we are in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Boondockerswelcome is another membership-based service, but this time you are staying on a fellow RVer’s property. In this case, a little more planning is required because you must contact the potential host through a secure messaging system, which sends an email to the potential host. We have found that it is best to contact hosts a few days or even a week ahead of time to get a response. Many hosts are travelers like us and may not have access to emails. This has been more difficult to manage because we are often the type to decide on a destination as we go. But once we got a positive response back, it has always been a memorable experience. We enjoy visiting cities and like to be parked near the action, and this has been an excellent option, assuming there were hosts in the area. You may consider leaving a small token gift to your host, especially if a full hookup was offered. Have a look at the “resources” tab on the website for other very useful links. The next tip happens to be on that resources page.

Frugal-RV-Travel is a sister site to the “boondockerswelcome” website. We have saved hundreds of dollars in camping costs by using their guides to boondocking locations. If you are traveling to Arizona, Southern Utah, Southern Texas, New Mexico, or California (2 guides), you will find (very) detailed directions to some spectacular locations such as this:

Free and low-cost campgrounds is a guidebook to free or under $12 campgrounds. Although we have had less success with this guide, we often use it as a reference and it has provided us with directions to nice free sites. We have found some of the information in our 2014 edition to be out of date. Some GPS coordinates took us down a long dirt road at a private residence, not at all what we expected, or in another case, the coordinates were for the middle of a lake! Also, some campsites were closed for business. Now we cross-reference the information from the guide with Allstays, an indispensable camping app for mobile devices. If you do not have this application, get it now.

The guide took us to this abandoned campground converted to a dispersed camping site and managed by the state of Arizona.

Bureau of Land Management also known as BLMs manage public land mostly in the western US states. There are some campgrounds managed by the BLM that are fee based ($10-$15 usually) but there are many dispersed camping sites that are free of cost. Those can be discovered by visiting a BLM office, the BLM website, and some visitor centers offer information. In addition, the “Allstays” app can display BLM sites, and other online sources too. In many cases you will need a permit to stay at a dispersed campsite, which is available at BLM offices. The permit is free, but you will need to list names of the people in your party, vehicle information, the area where you will be parking and the length of your stay.

Some other useful apps like Campendium and Ultimate Campgrounds are regularly updated with free locations. Another useful resource is the community-driven freecampsites.net.

Camping on public land near Natural Bridges National Monument.

Other places where to boondock

When in a bind, we sometimes have to resort to parking on asphalt, most often at a store or other business that usually allows for this practice. Make sure you ask for permission because some cities have bylaws that restrict overnight parking. By calling the non-emergency police line at the local town, you will know whether it is legal or not. You may even get some tips on where to park legally and safely for the night.

This time we’re at a New Mexico winery

Here are few of the spots popular with travelers (again – if in doubt, ask for permission):

  • Marinas
  • City Parks
  • Wal-Mart
  • Cabela’s
  • Outdoor World (Bass Pro Shop)
  • Truck stops
  • Some local rest stops
  • Churches

Have you ever gone camping in the wild? This is what we love to do and it gets better if you also have friends with you. For us, it is the ultimate thing in camping not only because of the money we save, but because it fulfills the inner explorers in both of us.

Do you have other ways to discover boondocking sites? Let us know in the comments below.

Taking a stroll at an Ontario winery where we parked overnight

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Circling World’s Largest Freshwater Lake, From Soo to Shining Soo

It’s been sung about, and wept over, from the time the Ojibwa were its only sailors to the present. It’s immortalized in poems as the world’s largest sweet sea. It’s sent sailors into rapture at her beauty, and unimaginable terror only hours later, and some even to their deaths aboard the 6,000 ships that lie beneath the waves of this, the world’s largest lake, Lake Superior.

While the lake may be treacherous at times, a trip around it on land is one of the easiest, most beautiful and varied drives you’ll ever point your LTV towards, on The Lake Superior Circle Tour. On Labor Day weekend, 2017 we turned our 2015.5 Unity MB north from our base near Roscommon, Michigan, to see what we could see along this lake that’s so big, at 350 miles long and 160 wide, some say should be re-classified as a freshwater sea.

It was a 1,100-mile, 10-day adventure taking us to national parks on both sides, and on hikes along rocky shorelines still strewn in spots with the wooden skeletons of century-old shipwrecks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.). It took us down paths to lighthouse beaches so deep with wave-smoothed pebbles we sank ankle-deep in them, to rivers that in spring and fall see spawning trout and salmon, and too out-of-the-way campsites feet from the beach near brook trout streams.

We spent hours stargazing at another campground at the western end minutes from the lake’s largest Canadian port, and drove atop the shoulders of a giant, then gazed into the water from a charming restaurant in a former fishing village.

Our trip took us along Canada’s coast-to-coast Trans-Canada Highway and waterfall parks, with almost always, Lake Superior as our companion out our right side.

One doesn’t need to begin circling Superior anywhere because there is no official beginning. You just need to start, and September is a great time to do it. Campsites are more available at Ontario provincial parks before they close in October, as are their stateside counterparts. And the weather is usually still good.

Now, because this is such a big trip, we’re breaking it into two parts: The U.S. side, then the Canadian side. Here’s the first.


We headed across the Mackinac Bridge about two hours north of Roscommon and turned our Unity’s tires onto the back of U.S. 2 before grabbing the next-to-last site at the U.S. Forest Service Brevort Lake Campground, which juts into that big lake, prime water for walleye, bass and panfish.

We’d hoped to get on Lake at another forest service campground just to the west, but it had filled. It was still Labor Day weekend, remember. Next time.

It was a short drive the next day, past historic general stores like that at Hog Island, where we bought this trip’s first tastes of two U.P. food traditions, smoked whitefish and beef pasties (more on those later), and the beautiful Lake Michigan beachfront arcing along U.S. 2 heading west.

Hog Island General Store along Michigan’s U.S. 2 near Naubinway.

Find pasties, souvenirs, and more, including…

…a U.P. tradition, smoked whitefish.

We then turned north on M-77 (the “M” designates a state highway) for a brief stop at the Seney National Wildlife Refuge, one of the largest east of the Mississippi, created by the Depression-era CCC. A great visitor center introduces you to the importance of this and other national refuges for migratory and other birds, which fill with ducks, raptors, and others each spring and fall. Some 211 species have been seen here. If you have a tow a car, drive the seven-mile scenic route, or park your Leisure and hop aboard a small tour bus to ride along past eagle nests, ponds of migrating waterfowl, and other critters.

Now, drive toward your first encounter with Superior at Grand Marais, the eastern gateway to the Pictured Rocks, America’s first national lakeshore. The town is replete with a brewpub, small store, and great lighthouse harbor views.

From there, turn west to enter the lakeshore. Tip: Head in early, especially in summer. All three of the lakeshore’s drive-in campgrounds are first-come, first, serve.

If you miss out, there are Michigan State Forest campgrounds nearby as well as a couple of private campgrounds. The night prior, you may even want to stage between the once-notorious lumber town of Seney and Grand Marais at the East Branch of the Fox River state forest campground, where on a trip after returning from World War I, a young Ernest Hemingway stayed and drew inspiration for one of his most famous short stories, Big Two-Hearted River. And, uh, if you find a red Contigo water bottle there….uh well, let’s just say, please contact Denise.

Hurricane River campground.

If you’ve planned right, you’ll arrive like we did and can choose a site at Hurricane River, or a bit west at Twelve Mile Beach campgrounds.

Hurricane River mouth a short walk from our campsite.

Hurricane has two units, one on the lakefront and the other, “upper” campground, in the treed ridge above. From our “lower” site, we strolled the beach, wading with others in the Hurricane as it gurgled into Lake Superior in the late afternoon light.Come here later in fall and you may see spawning salmon or “coaster” brook trout at the mouth.

Skeletons of the Superior shipwreck below Au Sable Light, right.

The next morning, we hiked the shoreline trail, which also is part of the 4,600-mile North Country Trail, to the Au Sable Light. Don’t miss following the small signs directing you on detours to the rocky beach below, where remnants of wooden ships wrecked here during storms still litter the shore. The lighthouse area also has great views of the Grand Sable Dunes, five square miles of sand bluff diving into Lake Superior to the east. A great sight in the morning light.

Grand Sable Dunes, and Au Sable Light, below right.

Because of the day prior we knew we needed that campsite, we then backtracked a few miles to Grand Sable Dunes overlook that we had passed by the day before, a sweeping vista of sand to the east, and the lighthouse we’d just visited, to the west. If you’re up to it, make the steep walk to the water’s edge, but prepare for a climb-two-feet-and-slide-one effort coming back up.
You’ve now got a choice when coming from the park into Munising, about 15 miles west. Camp at the Munising Tourist Park on the lake, and the next day board the Pictured Rocks Cruises for two-hour close-up views of these multi-colored sandstone cliffs, pillars and arched formations formed by water, wind and time that are the reason it became a national lakeshore. They leave daily mid-May through mid-October. Or, drive to the most accessible spot, Miner’s Castle overlook, and then head west like we did, through Marquette, the U.P’s largest city.

Miner’s Castle Overlook.

Regardless, somewhere along the way, you’ll have to try that Yooper national dish, the pasty. Brought to the peninsula by Cornish miners, it’s a crusted meat pie with a root vegetable combo, but always traditionally including rutabaga. Some of the best are made in the Marquette area, and two to try to include Lawry’s and Jean Kay’s. The other North Country delicacy is smoked whitefish, and Thill’s Fish comes highly recommended by locals we know.

We could have headed from there into the historic Keweenaw Peninsula, which we’d visited many times before, and its national historical park to stay along the lake at F. J. McClain State Park. But chose to head farther west to overnight at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, west of Ontonagon, delaying long enough to stop at the Sturgeon River Canyon Falls and gorge, one of nearly 300 falls in the U.P.

Another gem on Superior,“The Porkies,” Michigan’s largest state park at 58,000 acres, offers three park campgrounds two of them rustic. Union Bay, at the park’s east end, with electricity, flush toilets a dump station and showers on Superior, was our choice. Most sites are in partial shade, with some butting against the rocky shore. Our visit began after a thunderstorm, then a calm moonlit night, followed by a glimpse of what Superior can whip into in a matter of hours, a full-blown gale.

Moonrise over calm Superior, followed the next morning….

…by a full-blown gale.

See the park and, if you’ve timed it right, a spectacular fall color show, best on the drive to the Lake of The Clouds overlook, and at the cliff-side overlooks the road’s end. You’ll be looking at the most extensive stand of virgin hardwoods in America west of the Adirondacks, home to everything from gray wolves and black bears to eagles, and possibly a cougar or two.

Lake of the Clouds overlooks, Porcupine Mountains State Park.

Alone sugar maple along the Carp River leading to Lake of the Clouds heralds the start of fall color season at the Porkies.

Waterfall on the Black River National Scenic Byway.

Now head back and turn southwest on S. Boundary Road to link up with other spots to visit, including the old Nonesuch copper mine, Copper Peak sky flying complex—it’s ski jumping on steroids—and waterfalls on the park’s west flank, especially on the Black River and its National Scenic Byway, which eventually flows into Superior at a beautiful 40-site national forest campground, semi-rustic, with flush toilets. The park includes a picturesque pedestrian suspension bridge across the river.


Washburn, WI city campground, 12 miles from the Apostle Islands cruises.

No trip along Superior’s Wisconsin coast is complete without a boat tour of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, 21 rocky cliff-faced islands off the New England-style town of Bayfield.
To stage, we stayed 12 miles south in Washburn, WI, at the city’s lakefront Memorial Park Campground, making it an easy trip the next morning.

Some of the wind and water-carved sandstone of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, seen from cruise boats, right.

Apostle Islands Cruises boats leave Bayfield multiple times daily and depending on the tour, you’ll see wind- and water-formed cliffs, caves, pinnacles and other formations similar to those at Michigan’s Pictured Rocks, described by onboard narration. There is plenty of free, city-provided, RV parking near city hall down the street. Just ask at the office.

Superior sunset at tiny Herbster, Wisconsin, along scenic Hwy. 13.

Following our four-hour tour, we continued north and west on  Hwy. 13, the Wisconsin Lake Superior Scenic Byway, to an out-of-the-way community campground at Herbster, WI. We grabbed a spot with a Superior sunset view across from the beach. It more than makes up for its simple facilities of two one-stall showers, dump station, water and electric hookups with the location.

Minnesota: Highway 61, Visited

Minnesota’s Superior shoreline holds some of the best lake views of the U.S. side. Swing through the port city of Duluth and take Highway 61, sprinkled with signs denoting it as the road made famous by Bob Dylan’s song, Highway 61 Revisited. It’s also a designated scenic route, and it’s easy to see why, with lots of opportunities to stop for beautiful lake views that may include a passing ship heading towards the grain and ore terminals at Duluth.

It’s a 47-mile trip from Duluth to one of the western lake’s most scenic and historic spots, Split Rock Lighthouse.Called one of the most photographed lights in the U.S., it’s easy to see why. Perched on a volcanic outcropping 130 feet above the..

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As new owners of our gently used 2015.5 Unity MB, it was an easy decision to attend our first-ever Leisure Travelers Club Chapter Rally. We expected to meet a group of like-minded people, exchange ideas, and check out other rigs. We didn’t expect, however, to meet a famous couple within the LTV family, or realize a rarely used appliance we left at home was on nearly everyone’s “must have” list in their LTV kitchens. Best of all, we discovered some of the yummiest ice cream in the state, made right nearby. Will we go again? Absolutely!

Since we live in Michigan, we joined the Heartland LTVers Chapter (now the Leisurely Great Lakers Chapter), which includes owners from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. Headed by co-chairs Paula Allen and Cristi Swauger, they have held three rallies so far: fall, 2016; and spring and fall, 2017. The Kal-Haven Outpost Campground, near South Haven, Michigan, provided the venue for this Sept. 21-24 rally, with 10 LTVs and their owners in attendance.

(L-R) Back row: Denise and Bill Semion, Becky and Roy Brown, Cristi and Sam Swauger, Johnnie and Mila Johnson, Roy and Paula Allen, Anne and Frank Meier, and Pam and Mike Orth. Front Row: Steve Zoller, Mary Nelson, and Andy and Ann Dudler. Missing from photo: Romaine Broughton

Meet the owners, and why they attend local rallies:

Cristi and Sam Swauger, of Dayton, Ohio, with their 2016 LTV Unity MB “Waverly” come for the people and the stories. “A local rally is much more informal, lots of conversations and less structure,” says Sam. They went to Winkler in 2016 and 2017, and have attended all three local chapter rallies. Waverly is the street Sam grew up on.

Rod and Paula Allen, of Huron, Ohio, with their 2015.5 LTV Unity MB “no name.” They’ve been to the Winkler rally twice, and all three local rallies, and also attend Jeep Jamborees. They like meeting people “from everywhere.”

First-time attendees Frank and Ann Meier, of Lexington, Michigan, decided to come so they could meet people with the same rig and learn from them. After owning three diesel pushers, they downsized to a 2017 LTV Unity Twin Bed, naming it “Junior.”

Romaine Broughton, of Shumway, Illinois, traveling alone since 2002 when her husband passed within the first year after they bought a new 30’ rig. She downsized in Marc 2016, to “My Playhouse,” her 2014 LTV Freedom SS. She’s been to two Dixie rallies, and all three Heartland rallies. “I learn how to use it, and get some new tips all the time. When my husband died, I thought ‘I can sure drive it five more years’…I’ve been going by myself since then.”

Newbies Mike and Pam Orth, of Clinton Twp, Michigan, with “RV,” their 2017 LTV Unity Twin Bed bought January 2017. Recently retired, this was their second rally. “We want to get more information on maintenance, the whole shebang,” said Mike. “I’d like to go to Winkler if we can get on the list, to get information, learn technical upgrades, different ideas.”

Johnnie Johnson and Mike Orth

Johnnie and Mila Johnson, of Chicago, Illinois, with their 2016 LTV Unity Corner Bed named “J. Runner II.” They returned to this, their second local rally, for the camaraderie as well as being around owners with more experience on the road. “I really admire her independence, traveling alone and she handles that rig like a teenager,” Johnnie said of Romaine. “I said to myself, ‘Wow I hope I can get to that point. I can do this, this can be a lifestyle for us.’”

Becky and Roy Brown, of Highland, Michigan in their 2012 LTV Unity Island Bed “U-Nice.” “We like the way everyone shares and helps each other, plus seeing how everyone modifies their rigs,” said Becky, who along with Roy, also attended the spring rally.

Mary Nelson and Steve Zoller, of Cincinnati, Ohio in their 2015 LTV Serenity “Beagle 2.0.” They attended the Winkler rally primarily for the technical seminars and came to their first local rally last fall. Steve posts regularly on technical topics on Facebook, and prides in the technical knowledge he has gleaned researching social media outlets, Google and YouTube. He headed up our nightly “tech talks.”

Ann and Andy Dudler, from Iowa City, Iowa, in “The Pugmobile,” their 2017 LTV Unity MB. Ann heads up the Heartland LTVers Travel Club chapter (formerly Leisurely Great Lakers), covering Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri. They have attended several local rallies along with Winkler to glean ideas for their chapter’s first rally coming up in June 2018. They like meeting people, listening to their stories, and seeing how others personalize their rigs. “I hope more people take the initiative to register their unit and become involved,” said Ann. Traveling with pugs Chorgia and Chalala, they were attending a “Pug Jam” after this rally.

And us, Bill and Denise Semion, with homes in South Lyon and Roscommon, Michigan, victims of “two-foot fever,” healed when upgraded this spring from a 20-foot Sprinter to “Wanda-er” our LTV Unity MB dream.

Each day, early risers practiced yoga, hiked nearby trails or gathered around the fire for a cup-a-Joe and conversation. Later, some bicycled the nearby shady Kal-Haven Trail State Park, while others explored the area including South Haven, a Lake Michigan beach town just five miles away, or stayed at camp to chat.

Afternoon chat.

Pam and Mike Orth, followed by Sam and Cristi Swauger, ride the Kal-Haven Trail State Park.

After our first morning bicycle ride, Bill and I ate lunch at camp and then headed for the lake and an ice cream treat; South Haven did not disappoint. The Lake Michigan water provided the relief we needed in the 90-degree heat, and my phone directed us to nearby Sherman’s Dairy Bar for ice cream. Once we arrived, and took a quick look at their menu, we knew what we wanted: one Tour of Sherman’s please, a dish of six golf-ball sized scoops of some of the tastiest flavors we had ever had, just right to share between two ice cream lovers. We knew we would return the next day and revealed our newly-found treasure back at camp.

“Tour of Sherman’s” lets you pick six flavors of creamy ice cream at this South Haven landmark.

Evenings, we gathered for dinner: LTV rally funds provided our main dishes (thank you, LTV), with everyone else bringing a side dish or dessert to share. Although we heard stories of five different baked bean dishes served at a previous rally, we seemed do all right with a good variety of salads, veggies and desserts.

Dinnertime at the Kal-Haven Outpost.

A campfire and “tech talk” followed the dinners. Thursday night’s topic centered on system upgrades (sway bars, bump stops and shocks/struts); Friday night focused on leveling and chassis maintenance. Saturday night’s discussion morphed from favorite trips to goofs and gaffs, like driving away before bringing in the slide and forgetting various items at the last stop. Offenders shall remain nameless. Lesson learned seemed to be: Always review your checklist before you drive off, even if you only stopped for lunch. (We call it “airplane check” when we make sure all cupboards and drawers are locked in place.)

During our conversations at the rally, I realized that Sam Swauger wrote the winning story in the 2017 LTV Calendar Photo Contest, “LTV, Elvis & Wedding Bells!” His blog of how he and Cristi flew out of Dayton, Ohio to Vegas on Leap Day, February 29, 2016, purchased and picked up their LTV, and they were married by Elvis by day’s end, was incredible to hear from our local LTV celebrities first-hand.

The Instant Pot, a multi-use appliance.

How to cook on the road and favorite dishes were also a frequent topic; nearly everyone chimed in on how they use their Instant Pot to cook soup, pulled pork, hard-boiled eggs and more. After I asked what is an Instant Pot, and this multi-use appliance was explained to me, I recalled have one at home collecting dust. Maybe we will rethink that one!

Saturday afternoon, Bill and I, along with Becky and Roy, headed for South Haven for a swim, followed by daily visit to Sherman’s. As we were finishing our treats, most of our LTV group came in for one last end-of-summer scoop. Later that day, the guys got together to watch and help Bill change out our propane grill to a quick-connect coupler to hook up directly to our RV, and most of us took a tour of Johnnie and Mila’s showcase vehicle boasting Johnnie’s personalized touches, including custom exterior paint, chrome exhaust tip, and custom grill and dashboard. They even bring an outdoor kitchen sink and a motorcycle among the items stashed in their tow garage.

Johnnie and Mila Johnson, Romaine Broughton, and Cristi and Sam Swauger get ready to dive into their treats at Sherman’s Dairy Bar.

“J.Runner II,” with its custom paint.

According to co-chair Paula Allen, the Leisurely Great Lakers LTV Chapter has 41 member units, with about one-quarter in attendance at this event. Bill and I hope to meet other members at future rallies and will be watching the LTV website to see if we can fit any other local rallies into our travels. In the meantime, check the LTV website to join a Travelers Club, and see you at a rally!

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The 2017 Annual Photo Contest recently came to a close. With hundreds of amazing entries, picking the following 14 photos was no easy task. 13 of these were voted in as the favorites by Leisure Travel Vans employees, whereas the remaining winning entry was selected as the top online vote.

A huge thank you to all of the LTV owners who participated in this year’s contest! Stay tuned to our social media channels to see many of your entries featured throughout the year.

2017 Staff Pick: Claude Angers – Raptor Lake, New Mexico, USA. Boondocking at sunset with friends at Raptor Lake near White Sands National Monument.

2017 Online Vote: Darren Stone – Columbia Icefeld, Jasper, Alberta, Canada. 

2017 Best Story: Guy Owen. Here Comes The Sun, Little Darling. Read the Story.

Francis Kang – Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, USA. 

Robert & Judy Schumacher – Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California, USA. Parked on the Avenue of the Giants, the world-famous 31-mile scenic drive that is by far the most outstanding display of these giant trees. It is at Humboldt Redwoods State Park which has the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world.

Ann Patterson – Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA. 

Bruce Shippelt – Waterpocket Canyon Trail, Utah, USA. Deep in the Utah Canyon Touring.

Carla Floyd – Mahalasville, Indiana, USA. Boon docking in Southern Indiana.

Ken Jones – Lone Pine, California, USA. Taken with early sunrise light at the foot of Mt. Whitney.

Darryl Miller – Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA. Who would have thought we would get six inches of snow in September in Yellowstone National Park.

Koon-Ming Loo – Alberton, Prince Edward Island, Canada. An overnight storm left a serene pool, reflecting upon life overlooking a glorious sunrise.

Bruce Harris – Lake Memphremagog, Vermont, USA. Prouty Beach Campground is on a bike trail that runs 5 miles to the Canadian border along the shores of Lake Memphremagog.

Romi Boon Burrow – Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona, USA. From this impressive RV site, at The Lost Dutchman State Park, we arrived at the “Golden Hour” to watch the warm setting sun alter the colors of Superstition Mountain.

Patricia Albert – Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Michigan, USA. Driving in our 2017 Unity MB through Sleeping Bear Dunes scenic drive.

Rob Clark – Blanket Creek Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada. New LTV, New Campsite.

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