A Taste of Vermont

We were excited to spend more time in Vermont, especially since there was the promise of ice cream. 🙂 So we crossed that beautiful bridge, this time with the Airstream in tow, and headed further north on Lake Champlain to Grand Isle State Park. I picked this park because another full-time blogger (watsonswander.com) mentioned a cool bike ride in her post about the area, but we’ll get to that.

Grand Isle turned out to be a nice park, kinda like Keuka Lake. We had a big grassy site.


You could bike or walk down to the lake area.


And the grounds were well maintained. They even planted flower gardens.


We were just outside of Burlington, and with all the small towns there would have been plenty to keep us busy for a week or more, but we only had a few days here and with rain in the forecast we had to make sure we got in that special ride.

This bike path is on a causeway that goes several miles right out into the lake. The causeway, built of large chunks of marble, originally was for trains, but now is a gravel bike path. There is one small section that used to have a swing bridge in the rail days for boats to pass through. Now it is crossed via a bike ferry. Yep, a ferry just for bikes! Of course it only goes about 200 feet, but it’s still cool.


We set off mid morning and timed it just right. Several cars pulled in after us filling the small lot. As we swatted at the mosquitos we got our gear set and headed off downhill through the trees, spotting a snake a little too late (he looked like he’d been run over before us) and came out of the woods onto the causeway. At least the bugs were gone, but now we had to contend with a strong headwind. It was only a short distance to the ferry.



After crossing, we continued on the causeway, fighting the wind and loose gravel. You are right out in the the lake for several miles with beautiful views. On the other side we were once again in the woods but came out at a city park. It was a good spot to rest a bit and enjoy the small schoolhouse.

Our plan was to follow the path into north Burlington and eat lunch. Leaving the park we headed in the direction we saw another biker take, but it turned out to be a spur and not the way through. That little detour added a few miles (and a hill) to our trek. Consulting the map we found the correct way, through a neighborhood, to reconnect with the path.

By now we were getting tired and hungry. The bike map showed a couple of locations with food. The nearest turned out to be a boat shack selling chips and candy bars. Not the lunch we envisioned. With a detour in the trail ahead our option was to ride several more miles to the next food or turn back. We turned back for the little park, stopping to eat the snacks that luckily I had packed. Then we retraced our path, back onto the causeway.



This time the wind was at our backs so the going was much easier and soon we were at the ferry dock. With one last final push back up the hill to the parking area we loaded our bikes and headed back to camp to find food.

No wonder we were pooped–17 miles with no lunch! At least I earned a star for my longest bike ride and got in some exercise before our next stop.

We had a short drive to Little River State Park, but the last bit had us wondering if we’d make it. The good quality gravel road suddenly turned into a rutted narrow mess veering up a hill. It looked like you could keep going straight through a gate and we thought perhaps that was the way, but a park worker out tracking a bear assured us we needed to head up the hill. (Note, Chuck saw the bear pass about 5 feet from our window one morning.)


This was true forest camping on a very hilly site above a reservoir. Since our site was so gloomy and dark we headed out each day. Chuck got to hating the bumpy dirt road. The sun could barely make it through the trees to offer any light (thank goodness we have good batteries!). Again we were reminded this is not our kind of camping, but we were here for other reasons. Ice cream! We planned this stop solely to make a visit to Ben and Jerry’s in Waterbury.

We were surprised to find it is also the home of Green Mountain Coffee which has a beautiful location shared with the Visitor’s Center in the old train station. Next door was a park filled with lots of folks out walking in the noontime sun. It was a nice spot to relax, but we were on a mission.

Ben and Jerry’s is a huge tourist draw, and they seem to have it down. We pulled in and were directed to open parking spots by teenage attendants in tie-dye shirts. As we walked into the tour building we had only moments to wait before the next tour. The tour guide has his spiel down so well he seemed like a robot.

Basically the $4 tour walks you up some stairs to watch an entertaining 7 minute movie highlighting B&J history, then into a viewing gallery where tv monitors play another short clip about the ice cream making process as you peer at the equipment below, and back down the stairs into the tasting room where you get a mini scoop of whatever ice cream they are featuring that day. For us it was AmeriCone Dream.


My advice: skip the tour and read the very informative panels next to the patio that tell the same story. Then spend your $4 on ice cream at the on-site scoop shop where they’ll let you taste as many flavors as you want and “not even get mad” according to the girl directing folks at the front of the line. I couldn’t bring myself to try more than two even with her assurances. 🙂


B&J are know for the large chunks of add-ins, the reason being that Jerry, or was it Ben, couldn’t taste the flavors so they kept making the chunks bigger until he could. Their top seller the last several years is Half Baked, a mixture of chocolate and vanilla ice creams with chocolate chip cookie dough and brownie chunks.


I loved the graveyard where they have tombstones for all the retired flavors! I spent a good while reading all the funny epitaphs and wondering about some of the stranger concoctions. Note: they have RV parking so no excuses for not stopping. 😉

So what do you do after you’ve had huge scoops of ice cream? Go cheese tasting of course! Not far up the road was a Cabot outlet. Cabot is kinda like the Tillamook of the east. There is a big creamery where you can see the cheese making process, but this was just a tasting room/store.


They must have had 30 different kinds of cheddar cheese for you to taste and I think I tried nearly all of them. We found a couple of favorites to buy. Next door was a Lake Champlain chocolate shop. We walked through, but after all that ice cream and cheese my tummy said enough so we passed.

One day we drove to Montpelier and toured the capitol building. The strange thing is that you can see the dome from the outside, but there is no rotunda on the inside. That shiny dome is just for looks. The downtown area seemed busy, in fact this whole area of Vermont seemed vibrant but pastoral.


Vermont was the first state to outlaw slavery and is proud of it’s part in the civil war. It is a state of small landowners, many of whom got their start farming Merino sheep. They cut down the evergreen trees for grazing land, made good money selling the wool to the British, and built the lovely brick farmhouses you see dotting the countryside. Then the British stole some Merino sheep, took them to Australia, and undercut the price. So Vermonters turned to the dairy business which of course led to yummy ice cream. In place of the evergreens deciduous trees grew covering the hillsides with the lovely fall color and giving us maple syrup.


Speaking of syrup, just outside of town we stopped at a Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks. (Have you figured out yet that we basically ate our way through this place?) It’s worth it just to see the funny proprietor, Burr Morse, in a short video about the process and view his fanciful stump carvings.

One interesting fact is that darker maple syrup is not boiled longer, it’s from later in the 4-6 week season. Sap runs in early spring when it’s freezing at night and just above freezing during the day. They use tubing, not buckets, nowadays to gather the syrup which is put through reverse osmosis then boiled down.

And they don’t plant maple trees because it takes 40-50 years before maples produce sap for syrup so you just have to be lucky enough to have them on your land. We tasted the four different shades of syrup, each more intense in flavor than the next. According to Morse, use lighter syrup for pouring on your pancakes and the darker stuff in recipes to provide more maple flavor.

It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup!

Another day we drove to nearby Stowe. It was not all that impressive, mostly a tourist area with restaurants, shops and nearby winter skiing. It was spread out into several sections but there was a nice bike path linking the areas and I wished we had brought our bikes. We walked through a few shops and then went to Alchemist Brewing. They had a cool modern building. Tastings were free so Chuck tried a couple of beers while I was mesmerized by the canning machine. The weird names, like Heady Topper and Focal Banger, were fun.


On the way back we stopped at Cider Hollow Cider Mill. As we pulled up we saw everyone sitting around eating bags of cider donuts so of course we had to try some. The building was mostly a retail store with all sorts of local canned jams, sauces, and other delicacies in addition to the usual souvenirs. Way in back we found them pressing apples into cider and tasted the yummy results. Chuck liked the cider donuts and I liked the maple taffy. I know, it seems the only reason we are in Vermont is to eat everything in sight! 🙂


Of course on our last day we had to make a return visit to B&J. You’ll find flavors here that you can’t get in stores. This time Chuck tried the Maple Walnut which is only available at this location in a nod to Vermont maple syrup. I tasted their new almond milk based flavor, which was good, but opted for Triple Carmel Chunk. Good thing we’re leaving Vermont. I don’t think we can handle any more tastings!

Next we head out of the woods to the coast of Maine. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the ocean!


Crown Point NY

For most of the country Memorial Day marks the start of the summer season and time for enjoying the outdoors. But in Seattle summer doesn’t really start until after the 4th of July. In fact you’re almost always guaranteed rain for the 4th and often into the first half of July. There are even years when it seems to rain regularly all summer long. In our short-lived tenting days we’d make a reservation for a campground in August and even then we often had rainy, cool weather which is what led us to trailer camping in the first place.


Somehow, I thought it would be different in the Northeast. I thought we’d have more sunny spring weather and June would get hot. Well, not this spring. It’s been especially wet, we’re talking flood warning wet, and we’re sick of it. And to make matters worse Seattle has been having beautiful warm weather. Guess that’s what we get for being so smug in our lovely southwest winter sunshine while they were freezing away up there. 🙂


After rain turned our campsite at Keuka Lake into a puddle, and rain kept us inside at the Adirondacks, we were treated to more rain (2 inches in 24 hours after an already wet few days) and another flooded campsite at Crown Point. We were thankful this site had a gravel pad that was slightly elevated, but even the pad was one giant puddle. At least it did finally stop raining and eventually dry out.


Our campground, Crown Point State Park, was near the southern end of Lake Champlain. The lake runs 120 miles along the New York/Vermont border. Crown Point sits on the New York side with beautiful views of the bridge.


After a very wet day in the trailer we decided to get out. Our destination Middlebury, a small college town on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain. Over the scenic bridge and along the country roads we drove. We were barely into Vermont, but already we felt a difference with New York. I’m not sure how to explain it, but somehow it seemed friendlier. Folks smiled more and seemed more accepting and relaxed.


Our first stop was the farmer’s market and we were not disappointed. Unlike some markets we’ve been to this one had actual farmers with lovely looking produce, baked goods (the bread table smelled wonderful!) and a few crafts. There was a steady stream of customers, but selection was still good at 10:30 and the musician was actually pretty good. As a bonus it was Red, White and Blue day meaning free berry shortcake!

Next up we walked through the quaint town enjoying the stone buildings and made our way to the river. This spot has been a quarry and hub of industry because of the power the rushing water provided. Today it’s a scenic park.

We decided we needed food, so even though it was looking like rain, we headed away from our parked truck to a restaurant on the river. As soon as we got inside the rain started pouring down. Funny, the name of the place was Storm Cafe. The food was fabulous. I had the most amazing BLT made with local ingredients. The rain wasn’t letting up so finally we just went for it and headed back to the car with no coats or umbrellas and got soaked. At least it wasn’t cold rain!

Lunch at the aptly named Storm Cafe.

Across the street from our campsite was Crown Point Historic park with the remnants of two old forts. First the French occupied this site and then the British. We finally got some sunny weather so we rode our bikes over and had a fun time poking around and reading all the information plaques.

We also walked across the bridge and took our picture while we stood in separate states. Notice I picked the friendly Vermont side. 🙂

There was a cool monument in the campground and one day we found the door open so we climbed the circular staircase to the observation area at the top.

For the 4th of July we headed back into Vermont to the town of Bristol. I just love a small town parade and this one was awesome!

Another day I drove into Vergennes, VT and walked around the small town. The Vergennes Laundry, which is actually a wood-fired bakery, is not to be missed. Their cardamon rolls were amazing and Chuck loved their coffee. It’s from Tandem Roasters in Portland Maine which we’ll have to check out when we’re there.

So far we’re liking Vermont. We’ve got another week here so let’s hope the weather continues to improve!

The Adirondacks

We’d heard of the Adirondacks. The picture in our minds was filled with cabins, folks sitting on huge porches in Adirondack chairs, kids swimming in lakes and mountain views. Of course in our minds it was sunny too, but our late June visit didn’t quite match up.

Yes, that’s a down vest I’m wearing over my fleece.
A storm brewing over the lake.

The area was rainy, green, filled with trees and, like most of the northeast, it reminded us of the northwest. If the weather had been a bit nicer we would have rented kayaks and got out on the water, but the wind and rain kept us inside much of the time. That’s ok, I’m not sure I really wanted to venture into the very brown water. It looked like tea which is kinda what it is. All the leaves and pine needles soaking in the water turn it brown.

This was one of the more open sites at Fish Creek Pond State Park.

On one of the nicer days we went to The Wild Center, a sort of science center about the Adirondacks. They recently opened a new area where you walk up into the different levels of the canopy so we did that before it started raining.


It wasn’t exactly what we expected. We thought we would be walking above the canopy of the forest looking down into it but it was more looking out into the forest. The interactive exhibits along the way were pretty good though and I liked bouncing on the bridge.

Inside they had displays about the glaciers that formed this area and creatures that lived in the waters, including lots of fish and otters.

These little painted turtle freeze solid in the winter and thaw back out in the spring. Weird but true!

That fuzzy looking thing is a real live porcupine.

All the kids seemed to be enjoying the place and even though it was kinda interesting, I’m not sure it was worth the $20/person admission. Seemed a bit steep but we’re finding most things cost more out east.

The daily campground entertainment. 

Back at our campsite we snuggled inside, watched tv, and took a bike ride around the lake when the weather cleared a bit. This is the first campground that had an ice truck. It drove along ringing a bell out the window and campers would come running. The driver hopped out of the truck to get ice for you or the girl riding in the trailer served up snow cones and ice cream. It was kinda a pain because the camp road is only wide enough for one vehicle (even though it’s two way) and they held up traffic a lot, but ice cream right at your site is pretty sweet!

Not a bad view.

Even with ice cream right at your site, Adirondack camping didn’t impress us. If it had been warm and sunny we might have felt different, but our short, four day stay only reminded us that we crave sunshine and open views. Somehow camping in the woods is not our thing anymore. Bad news since I think we have more of it coming our way in Vermont and Maine. We’re just hoping the weather improves!

Finger Lakes

We left Niagara Falls on a Sunday so we got caught in the line up for the dump. Note to self: check out on Mondays or Tuesdays or… From Niagara we headed for the Finger Lakes. Trying to avoid tolls (common on the interstates out east), our GPS wound us up and down hills on bumpy backroads criss-crossing the countryside. It was scenic for me, but for Chuck it was not so much fun.


Still it was sunny when we arrived at Keuka Lake State Park to find a nicely maintained campground on the hillside above the lake. Again we had to park on the grass (what’s with that here in the Northeast?) but there seemed to be a bit of gravel underneath on one side so we aimed for that. We set up and sat down to enjoy the sunshine in our large private site. It was a good thing because when the rain moved in the next day the rest of our campsite quickly became a puddle and we weren’t sitting outside anymore. 😦

On one of the nicer days we headed for Watkins Glen about 40 minutes away. This natural gorge has 19 waterfalls along the 1.5 mile trail. It was beautiful and I kinda wished we could go back and walk it all again another day.

The area is known for wine tasting and with over 200 wineries in the Finger Lakes region trying to decide where to go was daunting. I read a couple of wine trail brochures and a Fodor’s article and settled on a few of the wineries on nearby Seneca Lake.


Our first stop at Anthony Road was disappointing. The grounds were beautiful, there was even an old Airstream behind the barn, but the place felt sterile. They had a small gallery and a beautiful porch overlooking the lake but it was so quiet in the tasting room that sound echoed in the building.


There was no friendly welcome but still we bellied up to the nearly empty tasting bar and plunked down our $5 (different from wineries we’ve been to in other places everywhere here charges $5 for a tasting flight which sometimes you get to chose and sometimes you don’t). The gal behind the counter offered little chatter beyond the description of the wines, even when we tried to strike up a friendly conversation. She’d pour one wine, give us the rehearsed spiel about it’s characteristics then turn her back to stare out at the lake. Oh well, they did at least have a decent Pinot Gris.

Hard to see, but there is a cool silver hawk at the top right of the rusty tree.


The next stop was a much smaller winery, not on the official “tasting trail” (with over 200 wineries in this region only some pay to be in the tasting trail brochures). Here we were greeted warmly, and as we tasted our wines, we had a friendly chat about our travels. I think Red Tail Ridge probably ended up being our favorite stop.

All the wineries had cool metalwork like this gate at Fox Run.

Our third stop was another major winery but this one was friendlier than our first. At Fox Run we discovered a new wine called Arctic Run. How could we resist the blue bottle? This region is know for it’s Dry Rieslings and while they were ok most of them weren’t what we wanted, but this blended white table wine said it went well with guacamole and chips. Wow that’s right up our alley!


By now we were both kinda tasted out, but stopped at Three Brothers since they had a brewery as well. This place was interesting just for the decor. We opted not to taste but instead bought an IPA and some root beer to take home with us which both turned out to be pretty good.

The Finger Lakes area has a large population of Amish and Mennonite families. We saw several horse and buggies clopping along the side of the road. One day I stopped at Oak Hill Bulk Foods, a Mennonite store to marvel at the huge selection of items packed in little bags. From hundreds of candies to flours, pudding mix, oats, pretzels, nuts, pasta, spices and more, they had it all. But the most amazing thing were hidden in little white bags near the register–fry pies! Oh man, these things were amazing!


I opted for cherry with cream cheese and black raspberry. When I got back and we ate them we couldn’t believe how delicious they were. They took us back to those Hostess pies of our youth, only so much better! Needless to say we made another stop to get more before we left town and I’m actually thinking of going back later in the summer. It just might be feasible since we need to return to Ohio for some warranty work the first of September. Hmm, if I route it right… 🙂


Chuck had some decent weather to try out his new toy and got a great shot of our solar installation. Should be fun to get some arial shots of the places we visit.


Next we head to the Adirondacks and then to south Lake Champlain for the 4th of July. Then we have a week in Vermont with a visit to Ben and Jerry’s before heading to the coast of Maine and up to Acadia for our next National Park.

Niagara Falls

Ten years ago when we came to Ohio with our daughters we drove up to Niagara Falls. On that trip I got to ride the Maid of the Mist boat that goes into the spray of the falls, but Chuck didn’t so a return trip was in order.

Our huge grassy site.

Our base for the week was Four Mile Creek Campsite, our first New York State Park. It’s a huge park and a mixed bag as far as campsites go. We opted for the quieter “tent” loop with no electric hookups and it worked out well since our solar gives us all the power we need. Plus even on the weekend our loop never filled all the way but the hook-up side of the campground was crowded and noisy.

The viewing areas near Horseshoe Falls.

We picked a good day for the falls. It was warm and muggy so the spray felt good plus it wasn’t very crowded. We had no trouble finding parking in the lot near the Cave of the Winds entrance and as a bonus it was a free parking day for some reason.

Looking down at Cave of the Winds, a series of boardwalks that take you into the spray.
American Falls with the observation tower in the background.

We enjoyed the view as we walked along peering over the edge at the top of Horseshoe Falls and then American Falls. It’s a bit hard to see from the top but we were there to ride the Maid of the Mist so knew we’d get a better view from down below. We bought tickets, took in the windy view from the observation tower, descended the elevator and walked out just as the boat was unloading. By the time we had our complimentary blue ponchos in hand it was nearly time to load.

Yep, that’s Toronto across the river.

We scoped out the boat’s path from the top so knew we wanted to be in the front or on the left (port) side to get the best view.

American Falls from below.

As soon as we got underway we struggled to don our ponchos in the wind created by the falls, but were soon glad we had them.


The water roared down from Horseshoe falls, spraying us in a torrential, wind swept downpour and we delighted in it. Our captain kept us steadily in the spray for a good 5-10 minutes before turning back to the dock.

A Maid of the Mist boat heading into the spray.

Thanks to the ponchos we weren’t too wet, but we soon fixed that by heading up the observation stairs next to American Falls.


We climbed these stairs up the side of America Falls and that’s when we really got wet!

There is no better view of the falls than from the boat so I’d highly recommend it, but if you can’t do that at least buy a ticket for the observation tower.

View from the observation tower. 

If you plan to visit the falls note that the boats on the Canadian side are much larger (meaning they pack on more people) and don’t go quite as close to the falls so I’d stick to the American boat.

We planned to go back and see the falls lit up at night and watch the fireworks, but with the off and on rainy weather and the fact that the fireworks show lasts only 8 minutes we never did make it. Something for next time. 🙂

Amazing that they’ve been running boats into the mist for over 150 years.

There wasn’t a lot to see right at our campground. We took several bike rides through the loops and there were some spots with views of Lake Ontario. We went to several nearby parks on the Niagara River but didn’t find anything as spectacular as the falls.

Power Plant on the American side. There’s one on the Canadian side too.
The mighty Niagara River, all that water pouring over the falls has to go somewhere…
Outdoor sculpture at Artpark State Park.

Add in laundry, grocery shopping and a trip to the outlet mall and that pretty much rounds out our week in this corner of New York. I’ll leave you with pics of a cool Airstream we saw parked at Niagara Falls. The whole thing was covered in a vinyl wrap promoting Austin, TX. We’ll get there someday.


More of Ohio

After all the activity at Alumapalooza we needed a little time to recharge. Chuck found the perfect spot on the shores of Lake Erie at Maumee Bay Campground.


Bunnies sniffing our fire pit.

This large park was peaceful and green, just what we needed. The sites had a semi-manicured garden sort of feel and there are lots of birds to watch. There was even a small laundry room on site so we were able to catch up.

Can’t escape laundry!

We enjoyed a ride on one of the many bike trails out to views of the lake, but mostly we just relaxed and killed the tiny black ants that had found a path inside (our first invasion since we hit the road). Luckily there were just a few.

Before the weekend got underway we headed out to Stow, Ohio where a small city campground had first-come first-serve sites. There are no campgrounds at Cuyahoga Valley National Park and this was the closest option, plus at just $11 for electric hook-ups the price couldn’t be beat. It was a bit like camping in a city park, you know the kind with baseball fields and basketball courts, but served the purpose.

There was no site post, but a neighbor assured us it was a site.

It was hard to tell exactly where the sites were because there were no defined parking pads, just a big grassy field dotted with trees and power posts randomly placed down the middle. Luckily one of the regulars helped us figure out the boundaries of the huge sites. It felt weird to drive right on the grass and park, but later when the park supervisor came through to collect our fee he said we were good. Even with the weird “camping next to a baseball field behind a neighborhood” vibe, it was convenient to Cuyahoga.

We made two trips into the park and we kept wondering how this got to be a national park. Most of it looked like many of the city parks in Seattle, with trees and greenery and a bike path next to the river. We could have been on the bike path back in Bothell—it looked exactly the same. I’m guessing that folks who aren’t from Seattle probably have a better appreciation for this park, but we did find a few cool things.


Many folks take a train ride through the park, but we didn’t figure you would see anything different than the scenery we saw driving through so skipped it. We wished they had an option to ride a canal boat through the locks, that would have been cool! But I think much of the passageway is no longer deep enough for boat travel although if you had your own kayak you could float sections of it.

This section of the canal is pretty shallow now.

We started our visit at the Boston Store Visitor Center. This restored 1836 building focuses on the craft of building canal boats which became a big industry in the area.

The boats were 14 feet wide and up to 80 feet long. They had to be able to float in just four feet of water. Some boats were for carrying goods and others for carrying passengers but all were pulled by teams of mules who walked along the towpath on the sides of the canal. Boats often carried an extra set of mules. Sometimes whole families lived on the boats and parents would tie young children with rope to the center of the boat so they couldn’t fall overboard.


After that we walked the boardwalk to Brandywine Falls but skipped the loop trail as there really was nothing to see.


Brandywine Falls

Then we headed over to the Ledges Trail and walked 1.5 miles of the trail and while the rock ledge formations were kinda cool, the trail made us think of Seattle.

I think we had a tree just like that in our backyard, except it wasn’t on a rock ledge.
Gotta love the pants tucked into socks look. A sign warned it was an especially bad year for ticks.
Looks a lot like the northwest!
A ranger told us we’d have a view of the whole southern section of the park. Just looks like treetops to me 🙂

On our last day we drove the scenic gorge Parkway and walked out to Bridal Veil Falls. After all the flat farmland in the midwest I’m not sure why we weren’t more excited to be in the trees, but after all our years in the Northwest I think we just yearn for a different kind of scenery.

Bridal Veil Falls

After that we headed to the another visitor’s center.


This one told the history of the canal system. I think this was the most interesting part of the park. Both Jefferson and Washington were proponents of building a national canal system back in the late 1700s and by 1840 there were over 3000 miles of canals in the US linking New York to New Orleans. The Ohio & Erie Canal (not to be confused with the Erie Canal in NY) opened in 1827 between Cleveland on Lake Erie and Akron. When finally finished in 1932 it was 308 miles long, with 146 locks and a rise of 1206 feet and connected to the Ohio River.

The canal became a major transportation artery for goods heading out of and into Ohio. On the outbound trip boats mostly carried farm products and raw goods like timber and coal and on the inbound trip they carried manufactured goods like nails and cloth. Before this everything had to be carted by horse and wagon, so most folks grew or made what they needed. The canal system led to a national economy. The canal system was short lived though. By the 1860s railroads were prominent and became the favored mode of transport. One interesting fact, President James Garfield was a canal boat worker as a teenager, driving the mules that pulled barges along the canal.

Since we were there on Saturday we got to see one of the original, hand-operated locks in action.

Step 1: close the gates on the higher side (imagine a boat in there).
Step 2: Open the wickets (little doors underwater) to let water through.
Step 3: Once the water level goes down open the gates to let the boat through then close them.
Step 4: Open the wickets on the other gate to fill the lock with water back up to the level of the canal.

I don’t think Cuyahoga will make the list of our favorite parks. It seems like a great  regional park. Supporting that is the fact that by far most of its visitors are locals who come to bike or jog along the river towpath, hike in the woods, or mountain bike (they had an impressive mtb trail system in the Gorge Parkway area). Still I was excited to put sticker number 11 on the map. Only 48 more parks to go!



Jackson Center of the Universe

Imagine 135 Airstreams gathered amidst the hustle and bustle of the working Airstream factory. Throw in some BBQs, seminars, factory tours, music, happy hour prize drawings and you have Alumapalooza, a fun filled week of all things Airstream. Held every year at the mothership in Jackson Center, Ohio (this was the 8th one) this rally is one of the biggies for Airstream owners and it’s been on our bucket list for a while. We weren’t sure what to expect, but ended up having a great time.

Are we there yet? Getting close…
Definitely close…

We arrived Saturday of Memorial Day weekend for the “early bird” parking. This not only meant we didn’t have to fight the Memorial Day camping crowds, but it positioned us near the front of the field and gave us some time to settle in before the event began.

Soon that field will be covered with Airstreams!

The organizers have this thing down. You are directed into your spot by volunteers who line up the shiny trailers in perfect rows, and while the field was a bit muddy we had no problems since our spot was level and slightly elevated. Our neighbors weren’t so lucky as their leveling blocks kept sinking into the mud. They said a few years ago it was so muddy they had to get tractors to pull the trailers out of the field at the end of the week. While we were treated to some heavy thunderstorms on Saturday and Sunday nights, for the most part we had beautiful, albeit windy, weather the whole week and didn’t have that problem. Thanks goodness!

On Sunday we drove to nearby Dayton to visit the Dayton Aviation Historical Park. This site recounts the early days of Orville and Wilbur Wright in some of the very places where they worked, including one their bike shops (their shop had five different locations over time and one is preserved here). It was fascinating, especially since we plan to visit Kitty Hawk in the fall.

I loved the fact that they got their mechanical aptitude from their mother who invented toys for her children and things to help with the housework. Having attended college, unusual for a women of her time, she encouraged the boys in their intellectual interests and fostered an environment where their curiosity led to investigation. Later, this served them well as they would request information from the government on aeronautics and used models to test ideas for their airplane. The museum showed how important their bike building and repair were to their eventual success in flying too. Many of the parts on their airplane were modified bicycle parts.

Back in Jackson Center trailers kept arriving. By Tuesday, the official arrival day,  the field was full. It was fun to see all that shiny metal and we took walks through the field eyeing all the different models.

Lots of shiny trailers reflecting the setting sun!
An older model polished into a shiny beauty!
If we had a motorhome it would have to be one of these, just like the Astronauts used!

As with any of these social events we are always a little apprehensive at first, feeling like the outsiders. Since we’re mostly home bodies it takes a bit to put ourselves out there, but with fellow Airstreamers there’s a quick ease that develops. After all you both have an affinity for these shiny things on wheels. The conversation usually starts with the details of your trailers (model, length, year), moves onto places to go in your trailer and just keeps flowing from there. It seems there’s no shortage of conversation once you get going.

We enjoyed meeting Bruce and Denise, fellow full timers.

Each day there were several seminars. We attended sessions on proper hitching, changing a tire, tips on riveting from Airstream technicians (with an Airstream you will eventually have to rivet something—we’ve had a few rivets pop out), taking a trip to Alaska, maintaining your Zipdee awning, and so much more. Lots of good information that we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. Plus we made several trips to the Airstream store and came away with a few new shirts. 🙂

Listening to the President of Airstream at happy hour one night.
After 11 months on the road we had a few ideas to share at the manager’s product feedback session.
Pilgrim performed at Open Mic night. They were part of Airstream’s Endless Caravan, traveling in an Airstream for 3 months giving free backyard concerts.

Daily happy hours meant door prizes, and we won one of the big ones, a free Zip Dee chair. Turned out that wasn’t the only luck we had during our week. The absolute highlight of our week was a private factory tour we won in a silent auction benefitting the local food bank. We toured the factory 10 years ago with our daughters on a trip to Ohio, and went on the regular tour early in the week, but this was a whole different experience.

On the regular factory tour we had over 60 people with us.

It was phenominal. As Chuck says, we were both grinning ear to ear for the entire 3+ hours. Marion Slater, Director of Manufacturing graciously donated his time to take us on this comprehensive tour. He told us stories and answered our questions and let us peek in places the regular tour doesn’t go. Not once did he check the time or look at his phone. We were blown away by his graciousness with his time as well as his knowledge, pride in their product, and relationship with the production team.

Private tour so much better!

Marion explained each step in the process. They begin with a chassis, add axles, wheels, water tanks, wrap the belly, and top it with a layer of Reflectix insulation (like shiny bubble wrap). At the same time another team is working on the body. A CNC machine routes the aluminum side panels which are tack riveted to the ribs and fit onto the plywood subfloor. Along with the end pieces these form a shell which is hoisted up and set on top of the chassis assembly. From there all the exterior pieces are attached, lights, vents, etc. and a team buck rivets every panel, one guy on the outside pushing the rivets in and another on the inside holding a metal buck tool which flattens the inside of the rivet. Marion let me step inside to see them in action. They can’t see or hear each other so they have to know how to work in sync and have a system of taps to communicate.

Once the outside shell is complete it is tested in a spray booth to make sure there are no leaks. Only 5 people in the company can clear a trailer to move past the water test, the 3 water test technicians, Marion, and another Director.

Yes, every single Airstream goes through this water test.

Next is when the inside magic begins. Wiring is run, insulation made from recycled cotton goes in, the inside aluminum walls are riveted in place, flooring is laid down, furniture is scribed and fit into place, and appliances are installed. It’s a lot of work and they do it all. From making their own cabinets to sewing the curtains. It takes 4 days from start to finish and they make about 85 units a week. With the increased popularity of Airstreams in the last few years they expanded the factory and now employ over 800. We were really impressed with the quality (from the water test to the multiple QC checks on the line, and the final check at the end) and the fact that these trailers are still handmade. There are some machines to help, but no robotic arms or conveyor belts.

One of those machines is in the original building where they have been making Airstreams since 1952. This machine forms aluminum sheets into the curved end panels that give Airstreams their rounded look. Amazingly it’s the exact same machine they’ve been using since 1952 and it’s still operated by feel, no fancy electronics here.

This one machine forms every curved end panel on every Airstream trailer.

We saw the Interstate (Class B van) production line and learned that they import Mercedes vans with all the top of the line safety and comfort features, including a stereo they rip out just to keep the wiring harness.


The tour was quite thorough and after over 3 hours we ended up in the offices, which hide right above the production floor, and were surprised with an Airstream goodie bag. It was a great day and made the perfect early birthday present for Chuck!

“To place the great wide world at your doorstep for you who yearn to travel with the comforts of home…” -Wally Byam  Sounds like he was talking about us!
We never stopped grinning!

All in all it was a great week. We learned a lot, made new friends, enjoyed great weather, and had a good time. Kudos to R & B events who put forth a well organized event!

The sun sets on Alumapalooza 8.

Next up for us is a short drive north to Cuyahoga National Park.