South Falls at Silver Falls State Park

South Falls at Silver Falls State Park
South Falls at Silver Falls State Park

Sunday, October 2, 2022

09-11-2022 and 09-12-2022 Respite in Vermont on Lake Champlain

Sue and Mo kayaking Otter Creek

It is hard to describe the feeling of freedom that accompanied our drive out of New Jersey.  When we left early on Sunday morning, both of us felt a bit of apprehension.  As I may have mentioned previously, sometimes navigation conversations can get a bit testy, especially when things are complicated in an unknown area.

Our destination for the next two days was my long-time friend Jeanne (mentioned often in this blog) and Alan’s lovely home on the eastern shores of Lake Champlain near the village of Vergennes. 

Map of our route leaving New Jersey

We were happy that we didn’t have to get anywhere near New York City on the route north that we chose, and within an hour or so, we had escaped the mixed-up confusion of bridges, onramps and offramps, freeways, interstates, and toll roads for the beautiful open vistas of the Catskill Mountains in New York.

Map of our route from New Jersey to Vermont

Have I mentioned that we have come to love the toll roads?  They are fast, usually with good pavement, and often much less crowded than other options, and worth every penny.  Although there were a few times on our routes in New England that we had no clue what we were paying to drive these mostly lovely roads, and simply did it anyway.  It just takes a bit of maneuvering to be sure to get the right lane with a green x that also accepts cash.  One time we missed it and flew right through the EZPass lane.  We are still awaiting our bill-by-mail for that one and so far not a word.  I suppose it will show up eventually.

Driving through the Catskills in New York State

We were accompanied on our beautiful drive through the Catskills by soft rain, cloudy skies, and blessed green open space. We planned a route that took us east into Vermont near Ticonderoga.  It was a good thing I called Alan to check in and give them a time of arrival.  Our chosen route required a ferry crossing that would take a long time, cost a bunch of money, and worst of all RV’s aren’t allowed on that ferry!  Alan talked us through another route to the lake house and in no time we crossed into Vermont, thrilling at the verdant countryside dotted with small farmhouses and miles and miles of green.  It was so beautiful it took my breath away.  The last time I visited this part of Vermont in 2014, the fields were already plowed and the trees were almost through with their fall colors.

A gorgeous example of a farm in Vermont

We were a short half an hour from Vergennes when Mo said she couldn’t drive another mile.  I was completely wiped out as well, and we looked at each other and pulled over to the side of the road by an old abandoned house to rest.  It is the first time in 15 years of motorhome traveling that neither of us could drive.  We were completely exhausted. I called Jeanne and Alan and said we would be a bit later than expected. I crawled into the back and napped on the bed with Mattie while Mo curled up in the dinette and fell immediately asleep.  Ten days in New York City had completely wiped us out. 

Jeanne and Alan's welcoming house on Lake Champlain

I think we rested about an hour before continuing our final short meandering leg to Jeanne and Alan’s house.  They were waiting with hugs, open arms, and help with setting up the MoHo near their garage.  We had blessed quiet, dark nights, and power.  Alan gave us a tour of the lake house, which has 3 or 4 guest rooms, a bunch of bathrooms, and tons of room, offering a room of our choice.  However, with a new motorhome of their own, Alan especially understands the desire to sleep in one’s own space and said he wouldn’t be the least bit offended if we chose to stay in the MoHo instead of the house.

Jeanne relaxing with a perfect martini

My feet up in a lounge chair enjoying the lake view

After settling in, Mo and I walked out to the chairs at the lakeside while Alan brought out some excellent cocktails.  Alan was cooking our dinner, which turned out to be what he called “lake food”, probably the best burger I have had in a very long time. 

Alan showing us his plates lined up for burgers

Jeanne has visited us in Grants Pass, but I haven't seen Alan since their wedding back in 2014.  Alan is Jeanne’s Prince Charming, and she is the love of his life.  They are so much fun to be around, and we were thrilled to have the next several days in their company. None of us are night owls, so it was easy to retire early to the MoHo for the best sleep either of us had in many days

Jeanne leading the way down to Lake Champlain on Otter Creek

The next morning was a treat I had dreamed of ever since I visited Jeanne at the Lake House in 2014.  We planned to kayak part of Lake Champlain and Otter Creek.  It was a thrill to wake up to brilliant sunshine that morning knowing that the temperatures were just right for our paddle.

Mo and Jeanne on Lake Champlain

Jeanne decided that she would paddle across the lake from their place and meet us near the boat launch on Otter Creek, not far as the crow flies, but about half an hour from the house by way of the meandering roads around Vergennes and the creek.  Jeanne and Alan have a dock, but the lake edge is very rocky by their place and there is no way I can enter and exit my kayak from the dock as I did back in 2014 when I kayaked this route with Jeanne on a chilly fall morning.  Hence the official boat ramp and an easy launch for us.

A crowned night heron on Otter Creek

We left around ten, with plenty of time to meet Jeanne.  Once Mo and I arrived at the ramp, and began to unload the boats, we realized we had made a stupid mistake.  We had locked the kayaks for our stay in NYC and had stored the keys in the MoHo.  Oops.  We were in the Tracker and the boats were securely locked to the top of the car.  I called Jeanne and luckily her phone worked out on the water, and she said she would wait for us.  We drove the half hour back to the MoHo to get the keys and another half hour back to the car where Jeanne was patiently waiting on the shore at the launch on Otter Creek reading a book.

Two ospreys at the edge of Otter Creek

By the time we got on the water, it was almost noon.  No matter.  It was a perfectly gorgeous day and the paddle was magnificent.  We kayaked downstream with Jeanne to the lake where she continued back to their place.  Mo and I then paddled upstream in the gentle current as far as what is known as the Otter Creek Dugway.

Mo enjoying some slow water on Otter Creek

There is some history around this artificial channel between Otter Creek and Fields Bay to the south.  Alan shared the story with us about Benedict Arnold being crafty enough to understand that the British couldn’t take their huge unwieldy war boats up Otter Creek and he built some kind of smaller boat that was simply a platform with guns that could navigate the creek.  He and his men went upstream and the British knew Arnold and his men would have to eventually return to the lake for supplies and simply waited.  As the legend goes, under cover of night, his men dug the dugway overnight, and slipped out under cover of darkness to assault the British from behind, thus winning one of the great battles of the Revolutionary War.

Sue and Mo emerging from Otter Creek to Lake Champlain

Of course, there is much discussion about this story, with some attributing the dugway to some guy named Commodore Thomas Macdonough Jr., a U.S. naval officer who, in September 1814, defeated the British at the Battle of Plattsburgh. No matter, either way, it is a great story, and I loved that we found the Dugway on our way upstream before returning to the launch site.  It was an easy exit for me, with pleasant water and a nice smooth bottom for me to roll out of my boat.

Aerial View of Otter Creek with the Dugway marked in red

We went back to the house where Alan told us, “Cocktails at 5, what is your pleasure?” What a great host!  In addition to more delightful cocktails, including his favorite Manhattan with some kind of fancy Italian cherries, and a martini for Jeanne, once again Alan planned to cook dinner for us. 

Alan takes us out on Lake Champlain in his fishing boat

But first, Alan wanted to take us out in the boat to show us some of the high points of the beautiful lake on which they lived.

Alan the Skipper
Mattie the Watcher
The Adirondack High Peaks in New York from Lake Champlain

I didn’t know that Lake Champlain was more than 150 miles long, and was pivotal in the history of the Revolutionary War.  Jeanne opted to relax at home while Alan took us out on the lake.  The air was nearly still and the water was calm as glass.  Alan said he had rarely seen it this beautiful this time of year.  Usually, it is much colder.

Mattie went with us for her first real boat ride.  She is used to the kayaks, but the look on her face as Alan picked up speed on the water was priceless.  I could almost hear her thinking, “what in the world is happening here??”

Amazing rock formations on the cliffs on the New York side of Lake Champlain

The views were spectacular, and Alan stopped at several points on the water to tell us stories of the lake, the marinas, the nearby Adirondack Mountains, and the geology.  It was a great ride and I so loved the stops and Alan’s wonderful explanations of the surrounding area.  

Alan telling the story of Benedict Arnold and the Otter Creek Dugway

It shows what kind of man Alan is.  As Jeanne says, he is as comfortable in a tux as overalls, on a tractor as on an airplane, and he can race as fast across the lake as any guy, but also knows how to slow down and share the beauty of the place with us.  It was a spectacular late afternoon.

Cecil and Tei enjoying the lakefront with Jeanne

In the meantime, Jeanne’s lifetime friend Tei and her husband Cecil called and said they would love to come by and visit while we were there.  They live about 40 miles away, and I met Tei and Cecil at Jeanne’s wedding.  It was great fun when they showed up, saying they wouldn’t stay for dinner, but bearing gifts of spicy peanut noodles and fresh local Vermont corn on the cob.  

Jeanne set a lovely table for our supper

Alan convinced them to stay and we had another truly amazing supper featuring Alan’s signature grilled chicken, Jeanne’s roasted peppers and onions, and a yummy salad. Another perfect meal!  This was getting to be a habit that would be repeated again when we traveled south to the main house near Dorset, Vermont. 

The lake bed and dock at Jeanne and Alan's lake house

But there was one more night of blessed darkness there at the lake, where I could see the Milky Way above us and listen only to the crickets as we fell asleep.  Jeanne and Alan and their wonderful lake home was a lovely respite after our frenetic days in New York City.  It couldn't have been more perfect.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

09-10-2022 Our Final Day in New York City

Writing about this last day in New York City is a bit of an afterthought considering how incredible the previous two days were for us.  It was still a good day, with a Broadway Show, a visit to the last iconic feature in New York City that we were to enjoy, and a farewell dinner with the group.

This day for me is a bit of a blur, actually, and it was so even on the day I was in the middle of it.  I knew it was our last day, and as usual, when I am at the end of a trip, my mind is moving forward to the next one in spite of my conscious attempt to stay in the moment. 

We had a late morning again, departing the park at 12:30 in order to be at the doors of the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater on West 45th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue.  So yes, it was ON Broadway only a couple of blocks from actual Broadway Ave.  The theater was beautiful, and the show has been incredibly popular this season in New York City.  

The reviews are stellar, with some reviews as high as 9. One called it a “big bearhug of a musical” and I thought that description fit the show perfectly. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 98 percent ”Tomatometer”.  Of the many shows playing on Broadway while we were in the City, I think both shows chosen by our leader were great choices.

Especially at this time of year, it would be popular, since the true story began on September 11, 2001, celebrating the kindness of the people of the town of Gander, Newfoundland, a town of about 9,000 people.  This tiny town, with no warning, suddenly found itself providing emergency food and shelter to 7,000 airline passengers stranded there for days when their planes couldn’t land after 9/11.

The show is a highly energetic, funny, and rambunctious musical.  The story moved quickly, the music was fun, and the stars were great singers. Mo and I enjoyed it thoroughly, although at the beginning we wondered a bit what we were getting into.  By the end, I was no more dry-eyed than most of the folks in the theater.  It can be a bit of a tear-jerker.

Once again, after the show, we meandered around in the bus through Times Square on our way to the highlight of the day, a visit to the observatory at the top of the Empire State Building.  

So many times, as we rode through the Square, our various guides would talk about the infamous “Naked Cowboy”.  There are also naked girls adorned with little more than paint, which you can see behind the cowboy.  He really isn’t naked but he still is a bit of a story in the Square.  As someone said, “He can’t sing, he can’t dance, he can’t play the guitar very well, and he isn’t that great looking, but he sure has made a name for himself.”  Can’t believe I managed to get a photo of him.

What can I say about the Empire State Building that hasn’t been said a thousand times by thousands of people?  A surprise actually, was the beauty of the building which opened in the midst of the Great Depression on May 1, 1931, 91 years ago.  King Kong was released in 1933, featuring the iconic building, with hopes that it might increase greater exposure during a time when the country wasn’t inclined to be happy about much, even a spectacular building that at that time was the tallest in the world.

The lower floors of the building are filled with exhibits detailing the long history of how it was built, how King Kong was filmed and the effect it had on the American people.  There were scale models of most of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, and displays explaining the complexities of elevator design that made these buildings possible.

The ride to the top was nearly instantaneous, and I never felt a thing.  Once outside on the top floor, however, we did notice that when trying to focus our cameras for a photo, the image kept moving slightly.  The swaying of the building was only barely noticeable, but most of us felt it.  After all, it is 1,454 feet tall at the tip, and we were on the 86th of 102 floors. 

We spent as much time as we were allowed outdoors at the Observatory, walking round and round viewing the city in each direction.  I thought it was especially nice that this last great view of New York was after we had come to know the City even a little bit.  Each of us laughed and pointed at some of the sights we had seen during the previous 9 days.  I found Little Island, and everyone wanted to know where the RV Park was over on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. 

I got out my phone to check google maps for the location of Brooklyn and Long Island, and to try to figure out the route of our dinner cruise two nights previous.  The weather was perfect.  Unlike our visit to the Top of the Rock, we had clear skies and great weather for viewing New York City from her most well-known landmark, even more so than the World Trade Center building which is so much taller.

We descended to the bus for one last trip through the city, ending up at a fairly new restaurant in Times Square.  Our Farewell Dinner with the group was held at the Yard House, a trendy venue with the “best variety of beer, great food, and classic rock music”.  The hosts took us up to the second floor where we were served a great variety of appetizers, with soft drinks included.  We did have to buy our own beer, but there were more than 100 taps to choose from, including a few from Newport Oregon Rogue Brewery.

The sad part of the entire experience is that it was so very crowded and so incredibly loud that sitting through the more than two hours we spent getting our meal was a kind of torture.  Mo had some very interesting tacos, called “Volcano Tacos”, that were delicious in spite of being in a very strange melted cheese-coated tortilla.  Of course, after two hours of appetizers and noise, by the time the food came, we couldn’t eat it and most everyone gave up and took the included dessert in to-go containers.

Sadly, there are a few people in any group who are very loud, very constant talkers, and for us, that got a bit wearing as well.  Especially on this final night when we were tired and pretty much done with our New York City Tour.  I actually surreptitiously plugged my ears for a while just to get a bit of relief.

On the bus ride home, Terry and Owen thank everyone for coming and asked each person what they thought of the trip.  Each person in turn sang high praises for the hosts, the venue, and the rally in general.  I was tired.  I said a few words, but nothing even close to what I actually felt and thought.  I was dang tired and didn’t want to talk anymore!!

It was after 11 when we got back to the park.  Mo and I knew that we had 300 miles to drive the next day to get to our friend’s home on Lake Champlain in Vermont.  There was a lot of talk about a “continental” breakfast and a hook-up goodbye visit with the group, and I told Terry that we would be leaving early and I wanted to say our goodbyes now.  She laughed me off.

The next morning, without a second thought, Mo and I packed up the rig and the dog and our tired bodies and were out of the park by 7 AM.  We did miss the goodbye breakfast, and later when I saw all the photos, I didn’t mind.  

Val, from Florida was a lot of fun.  An independent woman traveling alone.

Mo and I were definitely ready to be on our own again.  Being social like this for almost two weeks was the hardest part of the rally. There were a few people we met who we enjoyed, but no one that I can imagine we will keep in touch with in the future. 

Our New York Rally with Adventure Caravans was a complete success, a trip of a lifetime, one we will treasure, and something we will never need to repeat.  Vermont, here we come.

Friday, September 30, 2022

09-09-2022 The Icons of New York City and Our Country

This was a day we looked forward to very much.  At first, understanding the plans made by our fearless leaders regarding how the day was to work was a bit difficult.  It was what they called a "ride-share" day.  What that meant was that folks who had a "toad" were to share rides with those who didn't in order to get to the location of the ferry building where one could embark to both Ellis Island and Liberty Island. 

Our park was on the east side of the canal, with the ferry building on the west side of the canal, but it required a bit of a drive of a couple of miles to get from one side to the other.  Another option was to walk to the little Liberty Marina ferry to get across the canal, but that fare wasn't included in the AVC trip.  However, parking at Liberty State Park for the ferry was included, as was the fare for both ferries to the islands and back home.  Owen distributed ferry tickets for all three ferry rides to each member of the group. Although, we had to present a parking ticket for reimbursement to Owen if we drove there in our own car.  Clear as mud?  Now, looking back, it makes perfect sense, but until we actually completed the day, it seemed very confusing.

We had no room in the back of the Tracker to take anyone anywhere, so embarked on our day on our own.  It was a bit of a relief after so many days of riding the bus and doing things with a big bunch of people.  With Mattie settled in after her mid-morning walk, and pleasant temperatures to look forward to, we began our private adventure.

One thing that surprised us a bit was the information Owen gave us about visiting Ellis Island.  He said there wasn't much to see there unless you cared to do some research about relatives that may have been processed through that entry to the United States for immigrants.  In reality, we found so much more that was worth seeing.

The parking lot for the ferry was huge, with much walking required even from the handicapped zone.  There was another huge lot much closer, but it was for 2-hour parking only.  We definitely intended to stay more than two hours on the islands. In the photo above, you can see the main terminal for the Liberty Park ferries with the skyscrapers of Jersey City in the background.

Liberty State Park is the official jump-off point for both islands, which are all actually in the state of New Jersey.  No matter, there is no doubt nothing more iconic of New York City than views of the Statue of Liberty. There is considerable security required for boarding the ferries, including valid identification and passing through the airport-style security gates.

Once on the small ferry, with a short climb to the top deck, the 15-minute ride offers gorgeous views of the Manhattan skyline. The approach to Ellis Island can bring a few goosebumps as you imagine immigrants seeing this view for the first time, apprehensive and possibly terrified of what lies ahead for them.

The main building on Ellis Island that housed the great hall where immigrants were processed is an impressive building from any angle.  We entered the great hall, marveled at the vast ceilings and began to explore. 

Funny side note:  Mo and I searched our DNA and Ancestry records for possible immigrants in our family history that may have passed through Ellis Island, not understanding that the Island only operated for a short period of time.  We learned that only one possible cousin of Mo's may have come through this room, a Mary Oukrop in 1913.  For both of us, as far back as we can go in our heritage, most everyone was born in the US long before Ellis Island was even a thought.  Many of my ancestors were born in Virginia in the mid-1600s.  That puts us on a par with those folks who came over on the Mayflower.

The first inspection station opened in 1892 and was destroyed by fire in 1897.  The second station opened in 1900 and housed facilities for medical quarantines and processing immigrants.  After 1924, however, Ellis Island was used primarily as a detention center for migrants. After the immigration station's closure, the buildings languished for several years until they were partially reopened in 1976.  The main building and adjacent structures were completely renovated in 1990.

We wandered through the many side galleries that flanked the main Registry room, reading the story of the thousands of immigrants who passed through these doors.

Without getting political here, I can only say that what impressed me more than anything else was how incredibly similar the issues we face as a country and the difficulties faced by immigrants were then as they are now.

The photo above made me laugh out loud.  Is that woman checking her cell phone in 1901?

We walked room after room with magnificent wall-sized enlargements of life in the early 1900s in the various nooks and crannies of the big cities, especially New York City, where penniless immigrants attempted to create a life and a home.

We saw newspaper cartoons from that same era that could have easily come from a current newspaper in the United States.

We saw huge ads, where the United States Government begged immigrants to come here to fill the huge gap in workers for the rapidly developing industrial revolution.  

We saw more ads where the government touted the wonders of the Promised Lands of North Dakota and California for migrants in need of high-paying jobs.

We entered the theater to watch a wonderful movie about the creation of Ellis Island and the history of its evolution over the decades to what it has come to represent.  The entire experience made me even more anxious to have the time to read my new book, Exodus, about the migration of humanity throughout the world and throughout history.  What we are experiencing now is certainly nothing new.

To say both Mo and I were strongly impacted by the images and history at Ellis Island would be an understatement.  It was a small delight to meet a young woman sitting on the bench waiting for the ferry with us.  Her family was from Senegal, and she now lived in Paris and was traveling the US on her own for a few days.  I wish I had taken her photo, but we both shook hands as we parted and wished each other well.

Once back on the ferry, it was only another short 15-minute ride to Liberty Island, where the Statue of Liberty resides.  I was so thrilled to have such a gorgeous day with brilliant blue skies as a backdrop to the green copper plates that are the skin of Lady Liberty.

It isn't possible to enter the stairways to the pedestal without an extra paid ticket, which was not part of our package and required registration in advance. Instead, we walked around the base of the statue, which we learned was once Fort Wood.  I will not even begin to attempt to recreate so much that has been written about the history of how this great statue came to our country, but for an excellent (and long) detailed article with a ton of information, click here

The main thing I learned was that the statue was placed on a pedestal that stands on the star-shaped foundation of Fort Wood.  Somehow I never knew a thing about that before this visit.  We also learned that the skin of the statue is composed of hammered plates of copper that are the approximate thickness of two pennies overlapping to cover the wooden foundation.  I also learned that she was not always green.  

When first erected she was a brilliant copper, but over time the copper has oxidized to the beautiful green color that we associate with the statue today.  It would be harmful to remove the oxidation to "clean" the statue as that would expose it to the harsh elements of wind and pollution that would cause it to deteriorate more quickly.

Much of the walking on this day wore me to a nubbin, and I asked Mo if we could forego visiting the interior of the museum.  I decided that we could find out anything we needed to know by searching around on the internet without compromising my wobbly legs that were threatening to dump me unceremoniously into a bush somewhere.

We boarded the return ferry toward the ferry terminal at Liberty Park and made the long walk back to the parking spot.  We just happened to run into Val, a fellow traveler with our group, from Florida, who had also come over to the island on her own.  Owen had told her, "Just find a ride with someone to get back, or you can go to the Canal Ferry and I will reimburse you".  Val asked us for a ride, but when we explained how full our car was, I am sure she thought we were waffling.  We had an idea, I would take Val back to the park and then come back for Mo.  When Val saw how full our Tracker was, she laughed out loud.  "I thought you were making excuses", she said.  It was a simple solution, with only a few minutes for each trip.  Val invited us for margaritas, her favorite drink but Mo declined.  I am a margarita lover, and of course, I wandered over to her rig after we got home for some fun conversation and a very tasty cocktail!

I think Lady Liberty was as tired of walking and standing as I was after this day.