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Everybody loves to see the vintage trailers, especially the polished ones. So every year at the International Rally one of the most popular events is the Vintage Open House, where all the "vintage folks" open their trailers to anyone who cares to come in and look around.
This is always a superb opportunity for photography, but I have to admit that the wilting heat (97 degrees) and humidity and gnats definitely put a damper on my efforts. I spent a lot of time hiding inside the air conditioned trailers.
But one thing that made it worth coming out into the heat was Vince and Lonnie's jambalaya, which they had started cooking early in the morning and were serving to all visitors. You never go hungry when you're camping with them.
This evening thunderstorms circled the fairgrounds and lit up the sky for hours without giving us any rain. It made for dramatic lighting over the field of silver trailers, and a nice show. The breezes that came with them kept the gnats down, too.
Wandering around the vintage area late this evening, I found a group of people watching "RV" on an outside screen, and the group below yakking it up about the events of the day. Everyone seemed to be in a great mood ... happy to be here, happy to have a cool evening, happy about the way things turned out today.
It is hard to see how people are managing to thrive in this climate without air conditioning, but some are, including our very durable friends the Fabers. This is much tougher than southern Arizona at 105 degrees.
Last night several of us guys were talking until nearly 11:30 under the awning at Colin's, swatting at gnats and constantly sipping at cold drinks. Sitting there in the light of a single bulb, watching small beads of sweat coming down the faces of my friends, I suddenly had a moment where I imagined we were all British officers in colonial Africa, passing an evening at the Club by telling outrageous stories on the patio, and wondering secretly when we would all be back home. That's when I knew it was time to get to bed.
A perennial part of every International Rally is a display of new Airstream trailers. The closest dealer(s) bring a bunch of their inventory over for anyone to drop by and check out. It's free, no pressure, and a great way to compare floorplans and interiors.
This year about two dozen trailers and motorhomes are on display, but unfortunately they are parked outside in the relentless heat and humidity. With that in mind, we decided to make our visit early in the day. Even in the relative cool of the morning, we didn't exactly have to fight a crowd. I suspect there will be quite a few more people dropping in over the weekend, however.
The President and the Chairman of Airstream were both there, completely available to anyone who wanted to talk, so it was a superb opportunity for anyone interested in the product to get a personal tour. We snagged them for a while to talk about what we were seeing.
As I reported from the dealer meeting a few weeks ago, the trend in trailers is smaller and lighter. The popular floorplans are the 25FB (front bedroom/rear door), the similar 27FB, and the 19-foot Bambi. A few intermediate sizes are also looking good in the 2008 line. We checked them all out before the heat became too much, and then retreated into one of the air conditioned buildings.
Later we had a meeting I have been looking forward to all week. We're going to introduce a new advertising section of the magazine solely for Airstream Parks. We brought together as many of the Airstream Park representatives as we could, explained the super discount offer, and got a great positive response. It looks like this section will be a Go (as in, "The Fit Is Go!") If you represent an Airstream Park and didn't know about this, get in touch with us ASAP so you can participate.
Vincent ladles up the spaghetti sauce
In yesterday's blog I mentioned that we'd been invited by the Dixie Campers to join them for dinner, but I mistakenly said Saturday night instead of Friday night. Fortunately my head was re-attached this morning and I got the date straightened out in time to join them. After all, the most important element of an International Rally is socializing.
Susan, Adam, Leo, Suzanne, Colin, and Rich
Alas, the gnats came after us in wave after wave, and for some reason they were less intimidated by the bug spray today than they were last night. The little winged annoyances were landing in our spaghetti sauce (sampling?), in our ears, our eyes, and industriously forming small clouds around us. They seem to love the heat, and it was very hot and very humid. Adam, Susan, Brett and I lasted only about an hour before surrendering and retreating back to the cool bug-free interior of the motorhome for the rest of the evening. It's a shame because we didn't get to spend much time with Vince, Lonnie, and the rest of the Dixie Campers tonight. We will have come up with a battle plan so that we can survive the Vintage Open House (11 to 3) on Saturday.
During today's speeches from the Airstream head honchos, a company called "Tom's Shoes" was introduced. Tom's is a recently created company that makes a simple, "earth-friendly" shoes. For each pair of shoes sold, the company donates another pair to a child in need -- and there are surprising number of people in the world without shoes.
Tom's first "shoe drop" donated 10,000 shoes in Argentina, and Blake says they will donate 50,000 shoes this year. Airstream donated the use of a trailer to allow the Tom's staff to roam the US and sell shoes, and so today Blake Mycoskie and some other folks from Tom's were here at the rally to promote a limited edition "Airstream" shoe ($48.00).
The rest of today's rally events are a mystery to me. I missed everything. Brett and I spent the entire day in meetings, and we'll do the same tomorrow. Just as the rally is gearing up, our playtime is over. But in the evening we were able to break away to visit the folks in the vintage section -- where the real fun is. We found our friend Shari Davis (1st vice president of the Vintage Club), Leo Garvey, Colin Hyde, Pete Daniels, and a few other folks, plus I got to meet Dave Morrison for the first time. He's a new freelancer for the magazine, so it was great to put a face to the name after a few months of working together.
We even managed to score an invitation to dinner with the Dixie Campers for Saturday night. One meal of their cooking will make up for a day of meetings, I'm sure. Even with a full schedule of work we'll manage to get some good times out of the next few days.
The days are getting fuller ...
We started off today with the Vintage Parade. It's a tradition at the International Rally for the vintage club trailers to all arrive together. They go through a lot of trouble to make this happen, including staging all the trailers the night before at an off-site location. The parade only takes a few minutes but it's a proud moment for all the owners and great to watch.
Being a vintage Airstream owner myself, I knew a lot of people in the parade. Above are our friends from Arizona, Ken and Petey, arriving in their 1955 GMC truck and 1964 Airstream Bambi II.
Today was our last chance for a roadtrip to Atlanta, so we hopped in the Fit and headed north. Brett and I met with Wendy and Bill at a pizza place off I-85 called the Pie Bar. The pizza's very good, but the real attraction for me was the unique architecture of the building. It's a round building with glazed blue brick and terrazzo floors, which was formerly the Trust Company of Georgia.
We also took in the World of Coca-Cola, which is now located in a much larger building (since May 2007) and also costs a lot more. It's $15 now ... but hey, they have a Epcot-center type ride in there. And they still give you all the soda you can drink, which in my case isn't anywhere near $15 worth.
Last night we went out to try to capture some views of the trailers under the moonlight and sodium lamps. It was an interesting photographic exercise that would be easier without insects in the air. I'm still looking for that perfect night shot. We'll try again soon, but we'll have to be careful. Walking around with cameras trying to shoot trailers at night, we could easily be confused with window peepers ...
The sort of business I am in often seems to have nothing to do with publishing. In fact, most of a typical work day is spent doing things other than editing articles and working with freelancers. I seem to spend a lot of time managing relationships, both business and personal, to grease the wheels of the magazine's operations.
This isn't what I expected to be doing when I started this business, but it is critical. A publisher is in one sense a social butterfly, a political gadabout, and the willing recipient of gossip and gladhanding in the cause of getting the story. Being a small businessman, I'm also on the hunt for bargains, constantly seeking people with new ideas, and trying to listen to the winds of change.
This isn't the sort of work one can do effectively sitting at a desk. Once in a while you have to get out and talk to the customer, and meet with the politicians. So I have begun making the rounds of social and political events that are the core of every major rally.
But if this all sounds lofty and prestigious, rest assured I experience the same humble moments as our hundreds of aluminum-clad neighbors. The day began with the unsubtle rumble of the pump-out truck sucking sewage from a row of trailers at 7:30 a.m. By happenstance, they chose to park the truck directly outside this motorhome as the job was done. Not exactly as romantic as being awoken by the chirping birds in a state park somewhere.
Ah well. Time to get up and get to work. Each day typically starts with a series of emails and phone calls, clearing up leftover issues and setting the stage for the days ahead. Then we head out to meet with potential new advertisers and sniff around for possible photo opps or stories for future magazines.
Brett and I had lunch with a very interesting group: Fred and Renee (representing the club's Communications Liaison), Leo Garvey (representing the "Save Wally" organization), and Paul Waddell (the president of our home unit, Washington DC). There are some incredibly bright and capable people in this club and I always get a kick out of hearing what they have to say.
In Perry's two-block restored colonial downtown, there is a real barbershop. Real barbershops are getting hard to find, and when I see one I always go in for a haircut. Not only do I usually get a good haircut, but I get a piece of Americana to see and experience first-hand. The best ones are like the one in Perry, where even the furnishings take you back a few years and put you at ease.
The fellow who cut my hair has been in business in Perry for 57 years. That's experience you can count on. I told him, "Just cut it. I will trust your judgement." Brave? Foolish? Well, I got a nice (short) haircut for $12 and I don't regret anything about it. That's a lot more than I can say after visiting many of the haircut chains.
Whlie at the Vintage happy hour today I got a call from some friends we met in Idaho last summer. We haven't been in touch since then, but they saved my number and called today to say they were coming up to Vermont this week. I put them in touch with Eleanor and they arranged a big meeting for Thursday at the lake.
This sort of thing absolutely delights both me and Eleanor. Making long-distance friends is a perk of the lifestyle, we think. I even like the fact that they spontaneously got in touch while they were driving through Connecticut. Sure, it might not have worked out, but the chance that it could made it worthwhile. I think they were flattered that we remembered them, and we were flattered that they got in touch after a year.
Speaking of which, a few other close friends have showed up. A couple of days ago I talked to Adam and Susan -- they'll be here later this week. This morning I talked to Wendy and Bill and we'll see them tomorrow. At the happy hour I was pleasantly surprised to see Vince and Lonnie from New Orleans, plus Herb and Sidra, Colin and Susanne (who we just saw last week in New York), and so many other friends that I can't name them all. It is so energizing to see all these people and have them all want to give a hug and hear your news ... I am lucky indeed to have made a job for myself that includes such wonderful people. At times like this, I say "business is good."
It looks like over a hundred Airstreams arrived today. The "silvery tapeworm" of Airstreams began to snake down the access road to the Fairgrounds as the parkers worked to get them settled. The vendors opened up their stores, and registration officially began as well. This rally is getting under way.
The long row of registration
We spent most of the day running into people and catching up. Imagine Brett and I riding around the fairgrounds on our bicycles and getting stopped every few hundred feet by a cry of "Hey guys!" Each stop meant ten minutes of conversation ("Where are Eleanor and Emma?" "How's the magazine?" "Where are you parked?" "Have you seen my new trailer?" etc.) but it was all fun.
Every day there is a chance of thunderstorms. In the afternoon today we had a threatening sky and high winds, but no rain. Still, the steady wind was enough to deflect Brett's flagpoles far enough that they touched the front of the motorhome, which was his trigger to take in the awnings and flags. A fast moving thunderstorm would easily destroy awnings all over the fairgrounds. Today it just lowered the temperature to about 80 and made the evening air rather pleasant.
In the interest of discovering the "real" central Georgia, we did some research online. Local food is always a priority for me, so I searched for something authentic and well-respected. I found Fincher's Barbecue in Macon, about 30 minutes north of here. FIncher's has been in the same old neighborhood in Macon for about seventy years.
Ordering take-out at Fincher's
It looks like a delapidated drive-in restaurant (which it is), and the neighborhood isn't great, but the food is legendary. While waiting for our order to come up, we talked to a fellow who said his mother used to come here, and he had such great childhood memories that whenever he was in the Macon area he stopped in for dinner. That's exactly the kind of story that I read on the Internet that brought us here.
Tonight Fincher's was serving only take-out, so we loaded up with two pounds of barbecue, some cole slaw, and Brunswick stew (a local variation on barbecue). All of this came back with us to the motorhome and we served it up with bread for late dinner with Colin Hyde. Now I'm happier -- we have put a little knowledge of the area in our brains, and a delicious sampling in our stomachs. To me, this sort of event is what really kicks off the rally.
We've been researching things to do in the central Georgia area since my blog of last night. Denese Lee, a friend from South Carolina who is here at the rally with her husband David, read the blog and took issue with my statement that there was little excitement in Perry. She recommended the local Museum of Aviation, which is located about 20 miles away at Warner-Robins Air Force Base.
Fred checks out a warbird
Funny coincidence, since I got Denese's email about an hour after we had spent most of the day at exactly that place, with Fred and Renee. The museum is very good, with dozens of aircraft and other excellent exhibits. The fact that it's completely free is a huge bonus.
F-15 "Strike Eagle" and Stearman PT-17 Kaydet
The exhibits include five buildings full of aircraft (including a SR-71 and B-1B bomber), several acres of aircraft outdoors, a theater, and exhibits on the Flying Tigers, Art of Flight, WW II, Korean War, General Robert Lee Scott, Jr. (a native son of Georgia and military hero), and several other topics. For aviation and military history buffs, this museum is well worth the small detour off I-75.
We stopped off for lunch at an "all you can eat pizza buffet", a sort of restaurant I've never encountered before. I snapped a quick shot of the lunchroom before sitting down and later discovered that someone was checking me out as I did it. Sometimes that happens. It's always fun to find these little surprises when I'm reviewing photos on the laptop later.
Back at the rally grounds, not much seems to happen in the searing heat, but once the sun begins to set, people appear in groups near the Airstreams for the evening happy hours. This is a rally tradition that won't stop despite a few gnats and high humidity. Things are slowly gearing up for the bulk arrival of the rest of the Airstreams, which should begin on Tuesday and Wednesday. The quiet period of the rally is about to end.
We are now officially set up at the WBCCI International Rally in Perry GA. Despite being nearly a week early, we are probably about the five-hundredth Airstream to arrive.
I have to assume with all the new people reading this blog that many of you don't know how this particular event works. The club that runs this large Airstream rally has been in existence for fifty years as a volunteer organization, and this means that things are run a bit differently than at commercially-sponsored events.
A commercial rally would hire professionals to do most of the tasks, including the mammoth job of setting up facilities for 1,000 or more trailers and their occupants (water, sewer, electricity, parking, food, etc). These tasks would be done with the intent of making a profit, so efficiency and speed would be paramount. Since the club is dependent entirely on the efforts of volunteers, it takes longer. People start arriving at the rally site weeks in advance to set up, hobnob with their friends, have meetings and dozens of other things.
So even though Brett and I arrived on Friday June 22, which is five days before the official opening date, we are relative latecomers. There were already hundreds of Airstreams here, and most of them seem to have arrived two weeks ago.
Parked in the bullpen
This morning at 8 a.m. the parking committee members knocked on our door and informed us they were ready to escort us from the bullpen (holding area) to our permanent parking spot. This was a drive of about 1000 feet, and we could have easily parked ourselves, but in a rally this large there are procedures and traditions, and being parked officially is one of the most sacrosanct.
Being in advance of the official schedule, there wasn't much to do today. The Airstream store has opened to sell parts and trinkets and overstock bargains, the service guys are running around doing their thing, and some meetings were held (internal politics of the club), but otherwise it was a day for people to visit their neighbors and catch up on things since last year's rally.
After exploring the grounds -- which are very nice when the wind is blowing and the gnats are discouraged -- we took the Fit into town and checked out Perry's two-block "restored Colonial downtown". There's not much there but it's quaint and there's a restaurant we might try later. Lunch was at "My Sister's Cafe", which was virtually deserted at 1:30 despite a pretty good lunch buffet for $7.50.
For a small town Perry seems to be very into tourism, and so there are a disproportionate number of motels, chain restaurants, and traveler's services compared to the apparent population. We found all the requisite services of the full-time traveler: Post Office, ATM, groceries, auto service, laundromat and of course the ubiquitous Wal-Mart. In short, it is an extremely convenient place to be, if not an exciting one. We may not be overwhelmed with thrills but we will never be short of the practicalities.
I have never come this early to an International Rally before, so for me this is an odd experience. Riding around among the maze of Airstreams, I wonder, "What are they all doing here? Why do they come so early? Don't they get bored waiting for the rally to start?"
I interviewed a few briefly to see, and generally they say that they come to help set up and that they like being among all their friends for a few weeks. But most people have hardly any work to do. So many volunteer that the axiom, "Many hands make light work" applies. All you need to do to get early parking is raise your hand to do the simplest task, like setting up tables for an hour or two, and you automatically become one of those privileged to come a week or two early.
For the people here, coming early is not a boring obligation but the central focus of the event. Once the schedule actually begins, it's almost anti-climactic. But I am looking forward to the friends who have not yet arrived, because that's when the fun will really crank up. If you are looking for us at the rally, we're parked in Green section 1, row 1, moho ##5501. Drop by and say hello!
"The Fit is Go" is Honda's slogan for their new very small car, the Fit. I bought one this morning in Florida, and then drove it 350 miles from Florida to Perry, GA.
The purchase of the Fit is a reflection of our changing lifestyle. Buying a house was one significant step away from the full-timing life that we've lived for the past two years, and with the house came the need for a second car. The Nissan Armada has been great for towing the Airstream, but even when not towing it gets a horrific 15-18 MPG, and I'm not going to pump $80 worth of gas into it every few days just for toodling around town.
So the Fit is the answer. It's a zippy little thing that costs very little to own and feed. It should be ideal for those times when we are stationary. I like tight handling and light cars, and the Fit is very fun to drive. I am finding that buying an economy car is not an uncommon reaction among former full-timers. Most recently, when Brian and Leigh came off the road a couple of months ago, they swapped their Ford F-150 for a Toyota Prius, and are now reveling in the joy of 50 MPG.
Rich takes delivery of the Fit, beside Brett's motorhome
Once we had the car, I followed Brett's big twinkie of a motorhome up I-75 all the way to Perry. We pulled in around 4:30 to the "bullpen" here at the Georgia National Fairground. The bullpen is a waiting area for people who arrive after the usual parking times. Normally you get no amenities in the bullpen, but this year a full hookup is offered, so it's just as comfortable here as it will be in our final parking space. We'll be directed there first thing in the morning.
The Georgia National Fairground is a fairly nice spot, as big fairgrounds go. Having attended many large rallies over the past few years, I've become rather experienced with fairgrounds. This one is neatly mowed and divided by several small man-made "lakes" (really ponds).
But as nice as the setting seems, the gnats are horrible right now. The moment we stepped out of the vehicles we were swarmed with them, flying an inch from our faces, in our eyes and ears. They don't seem to bite, but they are expert at annoying. They are relentless and numerous, especially during the heat of the day, and we haven't yet figured out how to beat them other than to hide in the motorhome.
This does not bode well for daily activities at the rally. Perhaps a change of weather will discourage them. I hope so, because I'll be here for two weeks. It'll be a long rally with those guys around.
Once the rally is over, I'll take the Fit north and eventually end up in Vermont again. There will be a few stops along the way, but I'll try to keep them short. This is the longest I've been separated from Emma since she was born, and it feels very awkward to be separated as much as we have been lately.
If you haven't checked the blog's companion Flickr album lately, you'll find lots of new photos uploaded in the past few weeks. This morning I uploaded photos from our speed run across America, and there is also a Grand Canyon album.
Every time I fly I seem to find myself thinking I'd rather be in my Airstream. Today they confiscated my bottle of water at the security checkpoint, but I got an "atta boy" from the screener who searched my bag because I had all my travel-size toiletries in the TSA-proscribed clear plastic bag. When flying, one has to be grateful for the little things.
The reason for going against preference and flying is the annual WBCCI International Rally -- the big Airstream event. This year it is being held in Perry, GA, which is known primarily for its giant fairground that can accommodate thousands of RVs, and several hundred with full hookups. In Georgia, in July, the demand for 30-amp electricity to run air conditioners becomes paramount.
Just having completed that massive drive from Las Vegas to Vermont, I don't feel like a whole lot of driving for a while, and (strangely enough) Eleanor and Emma preferred to stay in the cool weather of Vermont visiting family rather than sitting in a reportedly sugar-ant-infested fairground in Georgia. But I have actual business to do at the rally, so here I am awaiting an Airbus A320 to pick me up at JFK.
It will be an interesting two weeks. Lots of things happen at these rally, and the best things aren't on the program. I've got meetings scheduled, of course, but I also came loaded for bear with all my photo equipment, including tripod. The plan is to capture some good Airstream images and especially a few night shots. I'll also hopefully bag a few articles for upcoming issues of the magazine.
First things first. This next flying bus will take me to Tampa where I'll be picked up by a vintage Argosy motorhome (for newbies, an Argosy is a 1970s Airstream brand, which looks just like a painted Airstream trailer). That's better than a limo -- bigger fridge and more space to stretch out. These Airstream things are handy in all sorts of ways.
It has been a challenge to update the blog since the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Not only has cellular Internet service been absent or unreliable, but the relentless pace of driving nine hours a day has completely obliviated the enjoyment and adventure we usually get from traveling.
No longer, however. We are back in New England for the summer, and there will be no more spine-compressing, gas-and-go travel for a while. Well, not until July, but I'll get to that issue later.
Our stay in De Tour, MI with the good doctor and his wife was extended out of sheer laziness. I needed to catch up on sleep and our hosts were making it far too easy to stay. Eleanor paid her way by giving Lynn a cooking demonstration on Saturday afternoon and making another dessert too (something with chocolate sauce, banana, pound cake ... who knows, but it was good).
So it was Sunday morning before we finally swatted away the mosquitoes, hitched up, and headed north to Canada. Regrettably the trip through upper Ontario from Sault Ste. Marie and eastward along Rt 17 was less interesting than I had hoped. The country is mostly flat, with small hills, and there's not a lot that captured our attention. I was hoping for a series of interesting local features: farmer's markets, bakeries, crafts, cultural museums, piney lodges, general stores, short scenic hikes, etc. Mostly what we saw were the routine roadside and rural emblems of commerce: farm implement dealers, gas stations, motels, and the ubiquitous Tim Horton's. As result, we stopped only for gas.
Gas turned out to be its own potential adventure. Many gas stations along Rt 17 do not have "Pay at the pump", which we have come to regard in the US as a virtual right of citizenship. Instead, the upper Ontario stations offer an anachronism: full service. A real human being comes out and pumps your gas -- something usually seen only in the two US states where pumping your own gas is still illegal (Oregon and New Jersey).
We discovered the dark side of "full service": no service. Since we were driving on a Sunday afternoon, many stations were closed. Towing a trailer, one does not have a lot of miles in the tank between 1/4 full and Empty -- and the fuel stations ("gas bars" locally) along Rt 17 are occasionally spaced rather widely.
It finally came to a point where we had our choice made for us. If the next station didn't have gas, we would have to park there overnight until it opened. The prospect didn't bother us much; we've slept in weirder places. But as it turned out, not only was there an attendant on duty, but he was happy to spend a couple of minutes comparing US and Canadian candy bars with us. (Consensus: Canadian candy bars are way better.) We came out of there with 80 liters of gas and an interesting chocolate-peanut-caramel crunchy thing called a Cadbury Wunderbar.
Along the eastern end of Rt 17, north of New York state, the scenery turns more to exposed granite outcrops and tall trees, so it starts to feel a bit like the Adirondacks. We stopped at an Irving truck stop for dinner and then relocated to a nearly deserted Wal-Mart for a very quiet night, before making the final few hours past Ottawa and across the border once again.
US Customs are always unpredictable, but with a few simple preparations you shouldn't have any trouble getting across the border with a trailer. I get asked about this a lot, so we have an article slated for the Fall 2007 Airstream Life on exactly that topic.
In New York we stopped in at GSM Vehicles, where Colin Hyde and Suzanne Brown are leading the team that is building Matthew McConaughey's custom Airstream. That's another thing we are documenting in the magazine, so I took some pictures for the next issue and interviewed Colin about the latest details going into the trailer. (Congas, a digeridoo, and solar panels, among other things.) We'll have those pics and a description in the Fall magazine also.
Colin and Suzanne invited us to their house for courtesy parking, so we delayed our arrival in Vermont by one day and spent the evening in their driveway, near their 30-foot 1950s Airstream Sovereign.
And now, after a short trip across Lake Champlain on the ferry, here we are, parked under the cedar trees in Vermont. Whew!
This stop is indeed a detour for us, about 50 miles out of our route to Sault Ste. Marie, but well worth it. The relentless driving has taken a toll on us and we need a break before the final legs through Ontario.
Our friends Dr. C and Lynn, who we last saw in Tucson, have provided us a haven. The Airstream is parked next to their little log home near the shore of Lake Huron, getting its own rest, and it looks like it belongs there. Since the courtesy parking spot provides full hookup, it could just stay there a while.
We're tempted. Despite stories of mosquitoes and black flies, it's really pleasant here. De Tour is almost the end of the road going east on the UP (there's a ferry to Drummond Island that allows you to get a little further east). As a result, there's no through traffic here, very few people (population 420), no crime, no roadside litter, and it's very quiet.
Our hosts took us out for dinner up by Raber Bay, at one of the few restaurants in the area. The local specialty is whitefish, whether fried, broiled, or blackened, so we tried that (and yes, it's good). This is one of those areas where the same "summer people" come up every year, and so when you walk in the door everyone looks up from their table to see who it is.
There are small signs of a very wealthy set of people beginning to change this small town. Dr. C took us on a tour of vintage Airstreams sitting in backyards all over town, and in the course of that we saw a few McMansions popping up too. The most peculiar had to be this house project still in progress: the aft end of a freighter, cut off and dragged to shore. It looks awful right now, but clearly whoever is building this has deep pockets.
Back at the cabin Eleanor made crepes with fresh berries and cream for all of us, and by about 10 p.m. we more or less collapsed into the Airstream. For the second day in a row I slept nine hours. Is it the long driving days or the peaceful surroundings? Either way, this is the kind of place I can really relax in. Surrounded by cedar trees, birds chirping, the lazy buzz of bees going by, a log cabin outside my window, and it's Saturday ...
Our approximate Google Earth location
"Anywhere there are miners, you'll find pasties," said the lady at Joe's Pasty Shop in Ironwood, MI. The last time we saw pasties for sale we were in Oxford, England in the mid-1990s. Apparently the tradition of making these baked meat-and-potato meals started with miners in Cornwall, England. Since the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is loaded with iron mines, the tradition spread here.
And now you can find pasties in virtually every town along the Upper Peninsula. We made a spontaneous stop at Joe's new location along US Rt 2 and bought two fresh hot traditional pasties for lunch, and a few more frozen ones for dinner.
They were superb. One traditional pasty (which is a thin crust stuffed with diced potatoes, onions, and shredded beef) was enough for Eleanor and I to split for lunch. Sorry there's no picture of it, but it was so delicious we ate it before the thought even occurred to take out the camera.
By the way, pasty rhymes with "nasty", not "tasty", which is really unfair since these things are just terrific. The ones we got at Joe's are even better than the ones from Oxford -- and in saying this I apologize to the nice people in Oxford who sold us nice pasties back in 1995.
All along the northern shore of the UP you can find pasty shops, and this inspired the idea of a "pasty tour". It would be probably the most fattening trip you could take (other than a cheesecake tour) but probably also one of the most delicious.
Last night's stop: Straits State Park within sight of the "Mighty Mac" (the Mackinac Bridge). Next stop is the end-of-the-road village of DeTour Township. The town is really a detour, but I think in recent history the name has been tarted up to seem more exotic with the capital "T".
This has been a different sort of trek for us. Normally to cross the country the distance of Las Vegas to Vermont we'd take about one to three months. This time we are doing it in nine days. That's beyond whirlwind. I am reminded of tourists from Europe who come to the United States expecting to see the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, and the Golden Gate Bridge in one spectacular 14-day tour package.
Sure, you can do it, but it helps to own a jet. Since we don't, our compromise has been to break up the drive with lengthy stops each day. Yesterday's stop was at Pipestone National Monument, in a quiet part of Minnesota.
The falls at Pipestone National Monument
Pipestone is one of those lesser-known national park sites that you have to detour off the highway to visit, and thus is not heavily visited. But it is a fascinating glimpse into a bit of native American history and there's a really nice short hike through the Pipestone quarries. The park also had the advantage of taking us off I-90 and into the rural heartland of Minnesota, which turned out to be a scenic and pleasant way to go.
It certainly improved upon I-90, which was frequently bumpy and amazingly dull. Driving along it I had the constant sense that we were missing things. The grasslands went from shortgrass to mixed to tallgrass as we headed east, the lakes began to appear more frequently, and then suddenly we were in the humidity of Minnesota and everywhere it was green and mowed. But what of the grasslands we streamed through? We'll have to see them next time. I have a feeling there are great stories there.
Historical graffiti at Pipestone National Monument
Eleanor and I are having trouble adapting to the humidity. "It's only 80 degrees!" we say, "Why does it feel so hot?" Back in the southwest it doesn't even feel warm until the low 90s. We're used to not feeling sweaty. We've lost our northern acclimations.
The drive has been mammoth. Normally I don't bother to do much research along our proposed routes and this time I've been bitten for it. We usually plan a light travel day of no more than three hours, so there's plenty of time to explore along the way. On this trek, our driving days have run 8-10 hours, which is punishing if you want to stop a few times.
Also, we didn't research our stops in advance. We're so experienced at finding places to stay that we usually just wing it. Our feeling is that we'll always have a place to sleep (the Airstream behind us), so our only problem is finding a place to park -- and parking is easy. This has proved true but it has been the height of challenge for us to find a spot at 10 p.m. or later while remaining calm and not snapping at each other.
Last night we passed up a couple of truck stops in hopes of a quieter spot, and ended up at Amnicon Falls State Park in northern Wisconsin east of Duluth. This seemed like a great idea except that all the sites were tough back-ins (sized mostly for tent campers and small RVs) and it was pitch black, and there was no cell phone service (hence no blog last night), and we were tired.
So there we were, trying to back a 53-foot rig into a space only about 12 feet wide from a single-lane road with a 90-degree bend, a steep ditch to one side, and batteries failing in one of Eleanor's two flashlights. To avoid bothering other campers, we did it entirely with hand signals and whispers. Try that sometime. It is a testament to our long experience on the road, and perhaps the strength of our marriage, that we survived this and still slept the same bed when it was finally over.
We are posting this from a roadside stop east of Ironwood Michigan, somewhere near Lake Superior. Phone service is getting spotty and frankly I had to stop at a motel to snag wifi to post this. We are headed up to a remote park of the Upper Peninsula to visit with Dr C and it's questionable whether we'll be able to get online again. Then our route takes us into Ontario for at least a day, where my Verizon Internet card doesn't work either, so if the blog disappears for a couple of days, that's why. We'll be back.
Well, you just go offline for a day and look how things pile up. It's not the easiest thing to juggle work and travel, especially when you've got to cover 2000 miles in a week. In fact, I'm realizing it's pretty much impossible.
We've been starting as early as possible to get from place to place, but these western states are huge and it takes all day to cover just one of them. At stops I've been jumping into the trailer to check email and take care of the most urgent issues, and then catching up in the evening on the rest. But Monday, being Monday, struck with a vengeance and so after a nice visit to Scottsbluff National Monument, I blew the rest of the day in the Airstream (in the parking lot) dealing with business issues, while the temperature soared to about 100 degrees.
Scottsbluff, by the way, is an underappreciated national monument in a quiet part of Nebraska. It's a major intersection of several historic trails, including the Oregon Trail, California Trail, Mormon Pioneer Trail, and the Pony Express route. A shuttle bus can take you to the top of the bluff and there's an easy hike down with superb views.
By the time we were ready to move again, it was so late in the afternoon that we could drive only a relatively short distance, to Custer State Park in the heart of the Black Hills of South Dakota. The Black Hills are another great destination that deserve much more time than we gave them. Heck, just Custer State Park is worth a week. The park is huge, with numerous campgrounds, a lodge, and many other features. But our whirlwind travel schedule this week allowed us only to take a sip before heading out.
One particular feature of Custer State Park is the wildlife. Like its western cousin Yellowstone, Custer has a population of elk and buffalo, which appear everywhere.
This morning we took a marvelous route from Custer to nearby Mt Rushmore. Route 16A connects the two sites, and it's a circuitous, narrow, shoulderless road with three single-lane tunnels. This road will test your trailer towing skills, let me tell you. If you are not extremely confident in your abilities, take Route 79 instead.
My favorite spot was the third tunnel. Following procedure, we honked our horn several times before entering, since it is a single lane (12 feet 4 inches tall, and 10 feet 6 inches wide, enough for a wide-body Airstream with a safety margin of one foot on each side). As we came out, we found ourselves windshield-to-windshield with a tour bus. The bus was in the left lane so that it could swing wide enough to make a 70-degree turn into the tunnel. We ended up taking the left lane at about 2 MPH to squeeze between the tour bus and a rock wall.
Mt Rushmore ... yes, it looks just like the photos. The park is free but there's a mandatory $8 parking fee, which is not covered by national parks passes. Looking at a big granite mountain with faces on it is, for me, something of limited interest. But the park service has done a nice job leveraging the sculpture into a history lesson about the presidents.
The less said about driving I-90 in South Dakota, the better. I rarely confess to boredom, but must admit that this road rivals I-80 in Nebraska and I-55 in Mississippi for sheer tedium. No wonder so many people stop at Wall Drug. We stopped at Wall, SD, but we didn't go to the famous tourist trap. Instead we parked on the street beside the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands Visitor Center and checked it out for a future trip. Ah! to be able to pause and explore the grasslands slowly. I'd like to spot the prairie chicken.
But not this trip. That seems to be our mantra now. We have to skip all the good stuff in the name of mileage. We are way behind on the schedule, but I managed to re-arrange some things that were scheduled for next week to give us a little more time. Still, we need to move on and thus with great reluctance we drove right past the Badlands National Park and the 40-mile scenic drive it offers.
It is raining now, a hard thunderstorm rain with frequent flashes of lightning. This is the first heavy rain we have seen in months, having been in the desert most of the winter. I find I don't miss the rain. On our aluminum roof it is loud, but we are comfortable and safe inside with all our conveniences, including a movie for tonight ("Keeping Mum"). The torrential rain compelled us to stop sooner than we planned, so we are in the parking lot at Cabela's in Mitchell, SD with a few other RVs. Perhaps before we leave we'll get a chance to visit Cabela's and the famous Corn Palace.
We are cruising right along, unfortunately at the speed of the average American vacation: 65 MPH. If I ever claim to have "seen it all" in America, please remind me that we passed about fifty sights, towns, overlooks, forests, parks, and festivals today -- all of which I would have liked to have stopped and explored.
We tried to start off slowly, with a cruise through Provo Canyon near Salt Lake City. This little detour takes you through a spectacular canyon drive, and past Bridal Veil Falls. We stopped in for breakfast in the Airstream and a short hike to the falls.
At the base of the falls is an abandoned aerial tramway. This must have been a spectacular ride when it was running, because the tram line runs steeply up the cliffs to a little observation station about 1000 feet above. We did an article in the Spring 2007 issue of Airstream Life on aerial trams all over the country, and I would have liked to have included this one, but it's only an abandoned wreck now.
We did a little math and realized that unless we stepped up the pace, we would have no chance of getting to Vermont by Saturday. In fact, we'll probably be a couple of days late. So we hightailed it through Wyoming all day, stopping only for gas and a slice of highway trivia called Little America.
Little America is almost the Wyoming equivalent of South of the Border, or Wall Drug, or The Thing? or any other number of famous highway stops. It's a hotel, truck stop, restaurant, and gift shop spread out over several acres alongside the highway. Their billboards are relentless along I-80, extolling "31 inch TVs in every room!", "24 hour restaurant", "24 hour mechanic", etc. We ignored most of them, but they got us with the last billboard: "50-cent cones!" How can you say no to a 50-cent vanilla/chocolate swirl soft-serve ice cream in a cone?
I don't care what anyone says, Wyoming is an absolutely beautiful state, and even the drive along I-80 is fascinating and constantly changing -- even without ice cream. I've driven it twice and enjoyed it both times. This state is loaded with diversity, from Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, to the fossil beds, to the oil fields, and then to the green piney mountains between Laramie and Cheyenne. We'd like to spend more time in Wyoming on a future trip.
We were tempted to spend the night in Cheyenne. Not only will there be an article in the Fall 2007 Airstream Life about a famous Airstream owner who happens to live in Cheyenne (and whom I'd like to meet in person), but there's also a Sierra Trading Post outlet there. We're going to buy a family tent for use this fall and winter and Sierra Trading Post might have been a good spot to shop for one. Too bad the outlet was closed early today (Sunday). They even have RV parking, so I can recommend it as a convenient stop right off I-80 in Wyoming.
Tonight we are in a municipal park not far from the state line, in Kimball, Nebraska. According to "Don Wright's Guide to Free Campgrounds (Western Edition)" this park allows free overnight RV parking. The cops have cruised by once already and didn't show any interest in us, so I think we're all set for tonight. This park is notable for one thing: it contains a decommissioned Titan Missile standing up on end in one corner of the park. Free parking and a genuine Cold War artifact -- beats the heck out of the usual campground.
Our Google Earth location.
Las Vegas is behind us now, along with the craziness of the Strip and all the hubbub of the business we had to do there. Finally, Eleanor and I are off on our own for a week, cruising America as we head east for the summer.
This is the first time we've been on the road without our daughter for over two years. It's a strange feeling. I keep wanting to look in the mirror and see her in her car seat, but for once the seat is empty and there's just the two of us on the highway. No longer Mom & Dad, we are once again Rich and Eleanor.
So our avowed purpose along the way is to enjoy all those little pleasures that are often denied to parents on the road: fast starts in the morning, long quiet stretches in the car, movies with ratings above PG in the evening, uninterrupted adult conversation, and naps.
Yes, naps. I used to have a perfected technique for power-napping just a few minutes at a time, but with an active child around I rarely get to exercise it. When the car stops, she wants to get out and run around, and there's no chance for Dad to take a quick snooze even though we have a rolling bedroom in tow.
Ah, but now the opportunity arises. The past week in Las Vegas has been hectic and frankly we haven't gotten as much sleep as we would like. So today we celebrated the end of the week with brunch (with Brett and our friend Kelly) at Caesar's, then hitched up the Airstream and towed it about 200 miles north into Utah ... and then we took a nap.
It turns out that having an Airstream trailer behind you is the perfect arrangement for naps. Late in the afternoon when the conversation dried up, my eyes got weary, and Eleanor's head was dipping toward her chest, we pulled over into a truck stop somewhere in southern Utah and climbed into our extremely inviting foam bed.
You wouldn't think a truck stop was the perfect place for a nap, but it can be. This particular spot was surrounded by magnificent mountain ranges, and the sun was just beginning to cast a golden glow all around. There were only a few trucks in the lot, and we were able to find a quiet corner. Being up around 5,000 feet, the air had cooled from the mid-90s of Las Vegas to a comfortable upper 70s. We turned on the vent fan for a soothing backround hum and gentle breeze, cracked a few windows to let in the fresh air from the surround meadows, and settled in for 90 minutes.
This may not seem like much, but this was a perfect, sublime, experience for us. No one there to wake us, no schedule to keep, just a spur-of-the-moment choice to lie down and enjoy the familiar peace of home ... somewhere in Utah.
After the nap, refreshed but still sleepy, we cracked open a Starbucks frappucino, poured it over ice from the freezer, and picked up the trail again along I-15. Having crossed a time zone, we find ourselves reporting to you from somewhere near Provo UT well past 11 p.m. local time. For a day in the car, it has been very nice and I'm looking forward to another schedule-less day on Sunday.
We got to spend some time with the new 2008 Airstream models today. Part of my job is to review the new models as they come out. Well, actually that's not true, but I make it part of my job anyway, because it's a lot of fun.
The word in the RV industry is that customers want smaller and lighter RVs. Higher fuel prices, a decline in the popularity of big SUVs, and a broadening interest among people who never owned an RV before all are pointing to trailers that are easier to tow and can be pulled without buying a massive truck.
So Airstream has come out with an aggressive new line of short, sweet, little rigs that are destined to be hits. Two years ago when we walked through the new model introduction, half the trailers on the floor were 30 feet and longer. Heavy, option-laden models were already on the way out, but they remained a significant part of sales. This year, only two examples out of about two dozen units on the floor were over 30 feet long. The rest were shorter and lighter.
A very interesting new product that will be in dealer showrooms this summer is the Safari Sport. Coming out in two lengths, 17 and 22 feet, these little cuties are redesigned completely for much lighter weight and lower cost. How light? Well, the empty weight of the 17 foot model is about 2,800 lbs, which is the lightest trailer in that length that Airstream has sold since 1981! It's so light that even fully loaded it can be pulled by a minivan.
We'll have a full review of the Safari Sport, with plenty of pictures, in the upcoming Fall 2007 issue of Airstream Life magazine. If you subscribe you'll get that issue in August, and it will also be in Books-a-Million stores and other book stores, starting in late August.
Another trailer model that is getting a lot of attention is the "DWR Airstream", which is basically an International CCD 16-footer with a makeover by Design Within Reach. DWR is the largest seller of modern design furnishings in the US. They're actually selling this little toy (at $49k) through their catalog, and the word is that quite a few have been pre-sold already. Most of these jewels will probably end up as guest houses and pool houses rather than traveling.
All of these new models are being driven by a startling statistic. 27% of Airstream buyers last year were first-time buyers. That means they never owned an RV of any type before. Yet they went straight to one of the most premium brands available. That's absolutely unprecedented. It means a lot of excited new owners who want a different type of product (more exciting, higher quality, more design-focused), and it means owners who will change the face of RV'ing as it has been traditionally pictured. I call them the "new quarter".
So, because we publish a magazine that speaks to those people, we got some very nice praise for Airstream Life during the meeting. The Airstream people love the magazine, and so do the dealers. They know Airstream Life is a real anomaly in the RV and publishing worlds. No other RV manufacturer has an independent magazine about their product. There's no other magazine like it.
I know I'm tooting my own horn, but we really do combine travel, history, people, and destinations in a totally unique way. I think that unusual mix both mystifies people who can't pigeonhole it in to a single category, and delights our readers. People who read the magazine tend to be eclectic and interested in a lot of things, and so it's fun for me to meet them and become friends with many of them.
I'm hoping that when we show up in more bookstores (such as Borders, Barnes & Noble, and others) this fall, we'll be able to introduce the magazine to the "new quarter" -- that much broader audience of people who never thought they'd own a travel trailer and then found themselves buying an Airstream. If you're one of those people, welcome! I hope we see you on the road soon.
We met up with our Airstreamer/poker playing friend Brian this afternoon for lunch at Caesar's Palace and a tour of the World Series of Poker, going on this week at the Rio.
The World Series of Poker (WSOP) is a lot more than just a tournament. It's about sixty tournaments, all going on under one roof. The big games are televised and can cost $10,000 to buy into, and on the other hand there are a lot of games that cost as little as $1,000 to enter. Pretty much any variation of poker you care to play can be found.
Tim "The Poker Shrink" and Brian at WSOP
Of course like any sport, poker has its share of superstars. There are plenty of pros, a few dozen sponsored players (from online gaming sites), and a handful of "legends". The nice thing is that the tournaments are fairly open and it's easy to meet the superstars up close and even talk with them. That makes it great for the fans.
The challenges of a tournament like this are many. To win, you've got to be a consistent player with endurance. They play for up to 12 hours each day, for several days. The pros have to put up with a lot of amateurs, until the amateurs get knocked out. And nobody is guaranteed to be successful, no matter how good a player they may be.
Brian is also the driving force behind ThePokerAtlas.com, a site where you can submit and read reviews of poker rooms all over the country. Poker has experienced a huge resurgence since 2002, and Brian's site has become increasingly popular.
Brett and I also took a walk through all the new (2008) Airstream models that are being introduced at the dealer meeting this week. I'll have photos of those tomorrow.
The unseasonably hot weather has broken. This morning we were able to stand outside the Airstream in the full sun and feel the soft breeze without melting into a puddle of human flesh. Overnight the Lake Mead RV Village has transformed from an oven to a garden spot. Suddenly I'm noticing the red flowers on the bushes, the ravens in the palm trees, and the blue-green water of Lake Mead seems much more tranquil.
Rich and Emma floating in Lake Mead, near Hoover Dam
But it's time to move on. We towed the Airstream into Las Vegas today to a staging area for a few days of business. This week Airstream introduces its new 2008 models to its dealers, and Brett & I will be there to represent the magazine. I love the fact that we come to the annual dealer meeting in an Airstream, living the life as much as possible every day.
The blog is about to undergo a temporary change. For about 10 days, we will be childless. Tomorrow Emma and my mother will fly off. Brett and I will have a brutal schedule of meetings in the next two days, and then on Saturday Eleanor and I will begin a cruise across the country to catch up with Emma in the east.
This sort of mode shifting often strikes people as "stressful" or confusing. We don't feel that way, perhaps because we are used to it. We have to adjust from family mode to business mode, from fast travel to slow, and from city to country, rather frequently. Life and diversity go hand-in-hand, so we expect this, and even embrace it.
Perhaps that's why we were both feeling the loss of the road lifestyle while we were parked in Tucson. Stability is one thing, but a static existence feels very artificial to us now. We are addicted to change and challenge. Travel junkies.
Eleanor was a bit sad for a moment in Grand Canyon because being there was so great, and it reminded her that our full-time travel is coming to an end soon. We are still trying to come to grips with what that will mean, and we are trying to find ways to keep the best aspects of the full-time lifestyle. If we figure it out, you'll be the first to know.
It seemed we were doomed again in our attempt to boat on Lake Mead. Last night the wind began to pick up, and by morning it was whipping a blast of hot air at us. This meant white-capped waves across the broad section of the lake, and a bumpy ride -- just like last year.
But Lake Mead has an abundance of sheltered little coves, formed by the crannies and canyons of what was once wind-sculpted desert. We made for those as quickly as possible, and found tranquil blue-green water surrounded by dark brown canyon walls, perfect for diving and swimming.
Who thought of putting a lake in a desert? It's a marvelous invention. There's nothing like jumping into cool blue water with a 110 degree dry breeze above. (But remember to apply the sunscreen early and often. We used SPF50 water-resistant sunscreen and still got a little red in spots.)
As we jumped from cove to cove, we spotted some wildlife. The best surprise was a small herd of about 18 pronghorns who had come down to the lake edge to drink. We were looking at them, thinking how strange it was to encounter these mountain animals alongside a lake, and likewise they were wondering what a boat was doing in their canyon. At another cove, we spotted herons nesting, and a duck that we could not identify, with unusual plumage.
The most startling sight was this crashed boat. Only a couple of hours earlier we had seen a family pulling a tube behind this boat. When we arrived, they had apparently been rescued but the boat and all of their possessions were left behind. Although the boat was completed destroyed, it looked like the accident was survivable. A reminder of the need for boating safety ...
The last stop of the day was back at Hoover Dam. There's a small cove just before the buoys that warn you not to get closer. In this cove there is an unofficial anchorage. I named it "Moocher's Cove" because of the ducks and large friendly fish that swam up to us looking for handouts. It was the idea spot to hang out and swim and snack for the last hour of the afternoon: calm, quiet, sunny, with delicious cool water.
This evening we have another guest in the Airstream. My mother has flown in from Vermont. That makes five people in here for the next two nights. This is the largest crowd we have ever had sleep over, and yet it feels very natural.
Tonight Emma and my mother are settling in on the converted dinette bed, Brett is in the back bedroom, and Eleanor and I are in our front queen bedroom. Emma is reading a bedtime story to my mother from the book she is writing, I'm up front blogging, Brett is in the shower, and Eleanor is preparing for bed. Being here together on the shores of Lake Mead with a balmy wind gently rocking the trailer seems to have made us all very comfortable. I think this will be a day we look back on for years and say, "That was a great day."
Yesterday Emma suggest we name the rental boat Titanic, but Brett pointed out that we would prefer a lucky name. It turned out to be an apt suggestion by Emma.
The day started off well. We got work under control and the boat ready by 11 a.m. and headed out to the Hoover Dam area. The water runs about 400 feet deep or more in Black Canyon, just up from the dam, and the water was a 80 degrees or so, which felt perfect when jumping off the boat in the 108 degree air.
Emma and Brett floating near Hoover Dam
A few miles northeast, we were exploring a cove when Brett noticed the boat wasn't performing as well as it should. He checked in the bilge and found it full of water. We were "taking on water", which is a polite way of saying we were sinking. Moreover, the bilge pump didn't work.
Fortunately a boat like this won't sink completely, but if we'd left it alone it would have eventually flooded the engine compartment and then it would have been a matter for the Coast Guard. We pulled the drain plugs, piled three of us in front to get the boat on plane (counteracting the weight of the water in the bilge), and zipped across Lake Mead back toward the marina.
We pulled the drain plugs so that when the boat was moving at speed, the water would drain out of the plugs. This worked, but once we were back at idle and docking we found water flowing back into the bilge very quickly.
Several calls to the boat rental company ensued. In the end, they came out to fix the boat, and when it couldn't be fixed on the spot, they took it away and brought us another one. By then, it was 5:30, and Leigh & Brian were coming over again for dinner.
We'll try again tomorrow. Unfortunately, the wind has picked up and it seems likely we'll have a bumpy ride tomorrow -- reminiscent of our attempt last year to ride jetskis on Lake Mead. It's still a beautiful lake, but I wish we'd have more luck with the weather.
If you've followed this blog for over a year, or read the archives, you may recall our last experience with Lake Mead. Brett and I rented jetskis on a windy day and were basically flogged by the lake until we crawled out of it, bruised and missing a few things.
This year we vowed to try again. We have rented a 22-foot jet boat so that Eleanor and Emma can join us. Brett flew in this morning and we picked up the boat in the afternoon. We'll take our first ride on the lake Monday morning.
Renting a boat is much harder than renting a car, renting a 28-foot box truck, or running for President of the United States. At least when running for President you don't have to sign half a dozen liability releases and watch a tedious 30-minute safety video. (But maybe that's not a bad idea -- it might cut down on the crop of publicity-seeking candidates.) We endured the process and at the end I think we basically agreed to buy the boat if we ding it.
That may be a small challenge. Lake Mead is down to its lowest level in 40 years. There are islands poking up that we didn't see last year, and some shallow areas are now dry. The low level is quite visible as a white "bathtub ring" on the rocks. The white is caused by minerals deposited on the rocks, not by bleaching as a lot of people guess.
Fortunately, the canyons are very deep and still run 300-400 feet. That's also where the nicest boating can be found, so we'll concentrate some time there and try to avoid the various submerged objects (ferries, airplanes, even an entire town) that Lake Mead normally covers. With some luck, our day on the lake will be much more successful than last year.
We've relocated to Lake Mead National Recreation Area, near Las Vegas, Nevada. This is the man-made lake formed by the building of the Hoover Dam. It's a big blue-green splash surrounded by the small jagged hills of Mojave Desert.
It's hot. Really hot. Today we hit 110 degrees by 2:00 pm, and it stayed above 100 most of the day. The air conditioner in the Airstream can't keep up. It runs continuously to keep the interior in the upper 80s. We've decided that after 105 it's not so much fun, but it is certainly novel.
I've been anticipating tonight for weeks. We had some special friends coming over for a barbecue. In the picture above (left to right) are Phil and Anita, Brian and Leigh, and Emma. Anita was formerly the personal assistant to a certain movie star whose trailer we are re-doing inside the pages of Airstream Life magazine. We became friends over the phone during the past year, and this is the first time we've been able to meet face-to-face.
The same is true of Leigh and Brian. They recently came off the road after 650 days full-timing in their 1963 Airstream Flying Cloud. Their blog was a daily "must read" for me over the past year, and we've been communicating via email during that time. Now that they've settled in Las Vegas, we had to meet up.
So we got our friends together for a single great night, and cooked dinner on the grill over charcoal in the 100-degree heat. It was fabulous. Grilled shrimp, steak, chicken, mushrooms, onions, plus salad by Leigh and tons of neat appetizers & desserts courtesy of Anita. And great times with the friends we've never met before.
This reminds me that it's not just the travel opportunities that make this full-timing life so appealing. It's also about the friends we make along the way. These folks, who we met strictly as a result of our involvement with Airstream, are some of the nicest people we can hope to meet, and we'll stay in touch even after we've moved east from Las Vegas.
Yesterday I mentioned the diverse architecture that can be found at the Grand Canyon's south rim. It's even more fascinating to me to know that most of it is the work of one woman, Mary Colter.
Mary Colter was a schoolteacher and apprentice architect from St Louis when she was first tapped to do interior design for the Fred Harvey Company. Around the turn of the century, she came to the Grand Canyon and designed the amazing Hopi House.
Hopi House was, and remains, a unique piece of architecture. Designed to reflect traditional structures of the Native Americans, it was actually constructed by Hopis and housed their artwork. Today it's still a gift shop, right across from the El Tovar hotel and just a few feet from a miraculous view at the canyon rim.
Mary Colter also designed Hermit's Rest, another fascinatingly unique structure about eight miles west of Hopi House. Like all her buildings, it seems to grow from the landscape, and it immediately invites you in to the cool shady overhands. A massive fireplace dominates half the space. It incorporates earth-sheltering, solar design, clerestory windows, and stone construction.
Mary Colter's story is more amazing when you consider the era in which she did her work. Despite being a woman at a time when women weren't expected to rise to power, she was the dominant force behind the Fred Harvey and Santa Fe Railway company's hotel building efforts for decades. She designed several magnificent structures at Grand Canyon, and all over the southwest, many of which are still in use today.
I bought a book published by the Grand Canyon Association about her work, and it is a fascinating look into the times and the architecture. It's called "Mary Colter: Builder Upon The Red Earth." It's available in the book stores here at Grand Canyon, but you may have to hunt for it if you want to buy it online or used.
After a full day of hiking we returned to the patio at Bright Angel Lodge to watch the condors again. We met up with a few new friends from yesterday (other photographers) and I got some better pictures. I've learned that to capture the condors you need a shutter speed above 1/500th at a minimum.
Today we are moving on. It is a shame to leave after only three nights, but the Grand Canyon will call us back next year. We are just getting to know this place a tiny bit, and I can see that to make our acquaintance better we will need many visits. Just the story of one person (Colter) who contributed to this park is enough to keep me occupied for a while; I can only imagine the thousands of other human stories here waiting to be heard.