Sunset House at Christmas

Sunset House at Christmas
Sunset House at Christmas

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

09-21 to 09-26-2022 1200 Miles of Driving and Visiting Crossing the Midwest

This part of our trip was a fast-moving blur of driving, driving, driving, sleeping a night, and driving some more.  In between all that driving, we have some great memories of wonderful visits with family and friends.  I know there is much to see in this part of the country, but we were pretty much done with seeing and doing and were focused on visiting the people that we rarely get to see in our life out west.

The interstate in Pennsylvania

Crossing Pennsylvania was a rainy blur.  The last time we visited Pennsylvania in 2010 we discovered beautiful visitor centers and the fabulous Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.  It was raining then too, but we took more time to meander and enjoy ourselves.  This time we didn’t meander.  We Drove.  We crossed the entire state of Pennsylvania in one day, landing on the night of the 21st in the Youngstown Air Reserve Family Camp on the eastern border of Ohio.

We landed in the late afternoon, in time to park and go for a walk before I cooked supper.  Homemade burgers and mac salad were perfect after our long driving day.  The family camp was a sweet little surprise.  Small and quiet, with only 15 sites or so, we settled into our site, which had a problem with the water and sewer hookup with a giant construction hole beside our hookup pedestal.  We were fine without either, knowing that the next night we would have access to both on the other side of Ohio. The camp was very clean but we never managed to check out the bathrooms and the laundry.  The $15 charge for the site was perfectly reasonable and Jason the camp host was delightful and very helpful. He took our payment over the phone since we were arriving after the office closed and made sure we knew how to get into the park after hours.

Youngstown Air Reserve Family Camp Ohio

Our routine on these travel-focused days is fairly straightforward.  Up at daylight, one walks the dog while the other makes a light breakfast and coffee.  Plan to be on the road by 8 most of the time, working in concert with each other and doing the routine jobs of prepping the MoHo for travel.  I am best in the morning so most of the time I take the first shift driving, usually clocking in 2 or 3 hours before Mo takes over. On a long day, I might take over again after she drives for a few hours, but usually, it is just one driving shift for each of us. 

Interstate in Ohio

When we land, Mo does the outside hookup part while I level, put out the slide, and move all our stuff around inside for another night.  I cook a simple dinner of some sort and if we have internet we check mail, messages, and money.  We plan our route for the next day, estimating our remaining fuel and deciding where we need to fill up based on proximity to the route we are traveling and current fuel prices.  One of us takes the dog for a walk and then we settle in to watch another episode or two of Homeland, the old TV show that kept us fully entertained on the entire trip. To bed with some reading and up the next morning to do it all over again.

Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?!!  It was the reality of getting across parts of the country that we decided weren’t on our list of must-do’s for this trip. I think we were somewhere in Ohio when I took this photo of Mo driving and the main thing I noticed at the time was that the “green tunnel” of trees began to have a few openings and views of some open space.

The green tunnel opens up in Ohio

The next morning, the 22nd, we did it all over again crossing the entire state of Ohio to Dayton.  Mo has a family of long-time friends that once lived in California but are now residents of this part of Ohio.  Don and Millie Hunsaker knew Mo when she was a young teacher getting her master's degree in Fresno California.  They have been close friends for all those years and we were saddened when Millie passed away last year.  It was important to see Don.  Two of Don and Millie’s daughters visited us last summer in Oregon, but Don isn’t traveling much now.  Visiting Don was a priority.

Wright Patterson AFB Family Camp

We made reservations at the beautiful Wright-Patterson AFB Family Camp for two nights, in order to have plenty of time for seeing all the family.  Wright-Patterson is on the list of top Military FamCamps we have visited.  The sites are roomy and the grounds are beautiful.  There was a beautiful grassy dog park near our site, a spotless laundry room where I had a chance to catch up on laundry, and long, hot, wonderful showers in roomy clean stalls without slippery floors.  What more could a camper ask for?

Dog park at Wright Patterson AFB Family Camp

Mo and I took turns walking Mattie and simply enjoying the quiet and the lovely space.  We had a sweet guy as a neighbor, who seemed quite lonely who came over to ask us if we would sell our motorhome to him.  He had owned a Dynamax but let it go after his wife died and regretted it.  He was still adjusting to traveling alone in a small camper van. He was soft-spoken and kind and gave us his card to be sure that if we ever sold our rig we would call him first. It is one of the perks of traveling when you cross paths with people you might never talk to any other way.

On Friday after catching up on laundry, showers, and general relaxation, we went over to Don’s to visit.  The girls and their families came later in the day to cook a big dinner for everyone.  Stephanie plays piano and gave us a demonstration, and I got to play the lovely baby grand as well. 

Mo with the Hunsaker Family

There was lots of laughter and of course, many photos were taken to attempt to get everyone to smile at the camera at the same time.  One of the grandkids held a photo of precious Millie to be sure that she was part of the gathering. It was a sweet visit if a bit poignant. 

Don and Mo

I am not sure we will get to see Don again since the distance between Oregon and Ohio is a long way and some of us are in our 80s.

After our luxurious two-night stay, on Saturday morning we woke early to once again get on the road to reach our next destination before supper.  Mo has a niece living in East Peoria, Illinois.  We get to see Angie, her guy Dave, and the girls, Ashli, Samantha, and Jessi more often than we do the Hunsakers since they often travel to Oregon to visit family.  Still, it was nice to have a chance to visit the family in their home territory.

Millpoint Pond RV Park

Millpoint Pond RV Park was near Angie’s home and she came over for a visit that evening.  She brought pizza for all of us, including her daughter Ashli with her guy Evan who also came for the visit.  As is often the case with teenagers, the other daughters had other commitments so couldn’t come. We celebrated with a campfire and marshmallows and more laughs about family memories and stories. 

Angie and the huge marshmallow

The first time I ever had one of these giant marshmallows was with Angie’s mom Nancy, and I wanted a photo of her daughter trying to eat one.  The kids were great fun too with lots of jokes and funny comments about life in general for young people living in Illinois. 

Ashli and Evan

Ashli and Evan bought a sweet little house and have a very cute dog and being on social media a lot give us a chance to watch all their fun antics.  Date night and dog photos are especially fun.  Angie is a runner, and social media gives us a chance to see her runs and her obstacle course Spartan races that entail doing stuff that I thought only military recruits had to do in Basic Training. 

Millpoint RV Park was a sweet little surprise, right along the Illinois River which is called Peoria Lake in that area.  The host was an interesting guy, and the park seemed a bit strange at first, but it was a delightful stop for us and a perfect place for a visit and a campfire.

The next morning we were up early once again, with our usual routine of being on the road by 8.  Our destination for the night was the Wisconsin State Fair RV Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  We found the park by searching for something as close as possible to Mo’s cousin Leah who lives in Milwaukee.  Mo wasn’t sure of the last time she saw Leah, but they think it was when Leah and her mother (Mo’s Aunt Pearl) visited when Mo lived in Rocky Point, Oregon several years ago.  Aunt Pearl is now gone, but I looked forward to meeting Leah in person since we have been Facebook buddies for some time now.

We crossed the state of Illinois and entered Wisconsin, once again missing the state sign as Google Girl said “Welcome to Wisconsin”.  Nice to know she is always on the job.

Crossing Wisconsin

When we arrived at the State Fairgrounds we were a bit aghast at the park.  Our site was in a gravel parking lot across the street from the main park.  It was not the least bit level, and with our touchy levelers not working properly, we had to use blocks to get us even somewhat level.  Mo discovered the problem with the levelers the previous day when they stopped working as we were setting up at Millpoint.  Somehow the motherboard had come loose under the rig and the wiring was no longer working properly.  That problem remained with us for the rest of the trip.  It is amazing how many RV parks cannot manage to create a level campsite.

Lynette, Mo, and Leah visiting in the MoHo

After we settled in, Leah and her younger sister Lynette arrived for a sweet little visit in the MoHo.  That worked best for them rather than the four of us attempting a visit at Leah’s home or in a restaurant somewhere.  It was great seeing them, and I especially enjoyed meeting Leah in person.  Leah and Mo had many fun stories about family history.  A special story of the birth of Mo’s mother in the homestead country of North Dakota was amazing.  The best part of the story is that Leah retold it exactly the way Mo had been told the story.  Unlike some family stories, this one was right on, word for word.  It had something to do with an epic snowstorm and Mo’s mother Mae being born in the blizzard.  Sheesh!

We had spent so many nights in quiet dark campgrounds that it was a bit disconcerting to have the bright fairground lights all around us.  In addition, the street was right next to us and car lights shined in our front windows all night long.  Add the sounds of sirens to all that and we were glad the MoHo is fairly soundproof and that our shades can keep out most of the light. I cannot believe I never got a photo of our asphalt parking lot.  The utility post was behind us, through a chain link fence with a hole in it. Mo had to walk half-way around the lot to get behind the rig where I fished the water and electric cords to her through the fence.

We had only planned to stay in Milwaukee one night, but after picking up travel brochures at the campground office I realized that we were in a rather amazing city and thought about readjusting our plans so that we could explore it a bit. Part of the reason we needed to rethink our travel plans was that after talking with my daughter Deanna, I realized that my planning hadn’t included the fact that my great-grandkids would be back in school when we arrived in Washington State.  We needed to slow down and figure out where we could spend 4 extra nights to arrive on the right day to see the kids.  It was sometime in the middle of the night when I woke up Mo and said, “Let’s extend our stay on this steep spot of pavement and spend a day exploring Milwaukee”.  She loved the idea, and as soon as the office opened in the morning I added another night to our reservation.  It wasn’t a problem and we didn’t have to move our site, although we might not have minded having a bit more level spot.

This was one of the best decisions of our trip.  That extra day in Milwaukee gave us a chance to visit a truly amazing city with a fascinating history.  I had no idea Milwaukee was so beautiful, with gorgeous neighborhoods lining the shores of gorgeous Lake Michigan.  I somehow thought it was an industrial city without much to see.  I had no clue that there were homes along Lake Michigan that rivaled any we saw in some of the finer neighborhoods on the east coast.

We started the morning with a “real” breakfast, in a “real” restaurant.  I picked the Mad Rooster from an internet search for breakfast without a clue that we were choosing one of the most well-known, most popular breakfast restaurants in Milwaukee.  The restaurant was fascinating, with amazing murals of farms and chickens, and an extensive menu that made choosing what to have a difficult one. 

I especially wanted the greek yogurt made from organic milk with honey, but I also wanted chicken fried steak and fried red potatoes and onions and so much more, including fresh squeezed orange juice and fancy breakfast cocktails.  Oh my.  I finally decided on a fancy frittata filled with all sorts of goodies and a side of that amazing yogurt and of course fresh orange juice.  Yummy!  Between the two of us, we had leftover breakfasts for two more days with all the good food.

We did learn later in the day from the park camp hosts that the wait at the Mad Rooster was often more than 2 hours, even on a weekday.  I was glad that we decided to go just before their opening time of 7am and were one of the first customers in the restaurant.

Much like we did when planning our day in Portland, Maine, we decided to see the beaches and the lighthouse before exploring the city.  We were in no rush, and had no absolute requirements for the day except seeing something new and something of what the city of Milwaukee was all about.

Lake Michigan Shoreline from Atwater Park

We were surprised to discover that our campground was only seven short miles via freeway from downtown, and downtown was very close to the beautiful shoreline of Lake Michigan.  With a bit of circling about, we found the road leading to Bradford Beach.  On the way, circling around through various curvy roads, we found a beautiful neighborhood park with an available parking space.

Sculpture Stillwater II at Atwater Park

Our exploratory walk took us to Atwater Beach, past a beautiful neighborhood sculpture, and along a boulevard line with magnificent homes.  Once again, we wondered who might live in these homes?  Industrial kingpins? Beer magnates?  After all, Milwaukee is famous for being the home of the greatest beer-making in the US.  Or maybe investors. 

Typical mansion on North Lake Drive, Milwaukee

We saw many houses in the process of renovation, wondering if perhaps they were being bought up by foreign investors and then turned into vacation rentals.  It seems that is happening everywhere.  Why else would so many of these gorgeous mansions be up for sale and being renovated?

North Point Lighthouse

After wandering the streets for a bit, we returned to the car, winding back around narrow little roads that led us in some circles before dumping us out one more time at a perfect parking place.  We were right in front of the pathway leading to the North Point Light Station.

Mo and I got a lot of laughs out of the “selfie” mirror behind the lighthouse.  How do you take a selfie in a mirror anyway??

When we got out of the car, we met a lovely woman who appeared to be a local and asked her about what we might want to see in Milwaukee.  After listening to our plans, she concurred except for one historic neighborhood we had planned to visit. Then ensued an interesting conversation about crime in the city and how sad it is that the gangs had taken over so much of the area in that particular part of town.  I must say, the part of the city we saw was gorgeous, and clean and I saw no evidence of anything that indicated there were anything but happy, friendly, nice people everywhere we went.

The lighthouse was interesting, with an interesting history.  It seems they added a newer structure to life the existing structure an additional 74 feet to create a 154-foot tall lighthouse with a light visible more than 10 miles distant.  The lighthouse was only open for tours on certain weekends at certain times, so we missed a chance to visit the museum and the interior of the lighthouse.

Bradford Beach Park on Lake Michigan Milwaukee

We then returned toward the water and found a parking spot along the roadway near Bradford Beach.  Leashes were required, but Mattie still loved running in the sand and did her normal running wildly in circles until she looked at us, panting and worn out.

We gave Mattie a rest while we drove to the old brewery district. Since 1844, Pabst has built iconic brands of beer with deep ties to America’s heritage. We decided that it was worth the time to explore more than 170 years of brewing history right there in Milwaukee  As we drove through the district, jingles from old tv beer commercials kept going through my head. 

Once parked in the district, we marveled at the huge historic buildings, once part of the huge Pabst Brewery complex, now converted to offices and condominiums.  Searching in vain for the Pabst Brewery where we thought to get a tour, we could only find something called “Best Place” offering tours and brewery history.  Once inside the building, we learned that the original brewery no longer existed, but the “best place” was in an original building that housed the offices of Pabst himself in the turret above us.

We declined the hour-long tour, especially with many steps to climb, and instead settled for sharing a $3.00 PBR which we shared while watching a revolving slide show of some of the history of the brewery and some great old ads. 

The beer was delicious!  From the west coast “craft beer” world, it was fun tasting an old-fashioned beer that tasted just like beer.  I had never thought of Pabst Blue Ribbon, much less PBRs as something to seek out, but now I think differently. I did later learn, however, that PBR is now brewed by Miller/Coors in Milwaukee, and that beer brewing is a very complex maze of overlapping companies. In case you would enjoy going down an internet rabbit hole, here is a link to 11 things to know about Pabst Blue Ribbon.  This will lead you to many more links and a LOT more information about one of the greatest stories of American brewing history in our country.

We ended our day with the highly-rated Lakefront Brewery, where we navigated the trendy crowd and strange ordering system to have a beer, some french fries, and fried cheese curds, definitely a Milwaukee thing. 

The cheese curds were actually delicious.  I have had the squeaky things in the past and have not been a fan, but put a crispy coating on anything and fry it and it is great.  They were even good cold as leftovers! The fancy craft beer, however, couldn’t hold a candle to that $3. PBR we shared earlier in the afternoon.

We returned to our campsite, tired and happy, and ready to continue west.  Our visiting portion of the cross-country trip was over for the next ten days until we once again returned to the Pacific Northwest.

Monday, October 24, 2022

09-20-20022 Massachusetts to New York, Four States in a Day to West Point

Round Pond at West Point Military Family Camp

It only took five hours for us to cross four states today.  Being from the west, where it can take two or more days to cross just one state, this was a new experience.  It flew by in a blur.  We left early because we had wanted to be sure that we arrived at Round Pond, the Military Family Camp at West Point, in time for our 3 PM tour of the historic academy.

258 miles from Massachusetts to West Point, New York

When I first began planning our cross-country trip I had aspirations to actually camp in every single state that we traversed.  Time constraints made this impractical, and I had to back off a bit and decide that if we at least traveled through each state, maybe stopping at a park or buying fuel, it would qualify for a visit with the MoHo.

It was Mo’s turn to drive, and with great cell reception, I entertained us by reading out loud about the states through which we were traveling.  I read a bit about Massachusetts, and as we entered Rhode Island along the northern part of the state, I started hunting around on the internet for interesting facts about the state.  I didn’t even have time to read the entire Wiki article about Rhode Island.  We were in and out of the state in less than 22 minutes.  I didn’t even get to take a photo of the state entrance sign as Google Girl said calmly, “Welcome to Rhode Island”.

Somehow between attempting to read a bit about the state and navigating for Mo I didn’t manage to get a single photo of the state of Rhode Island during our 22-minute journey.

Our only previous experience with our smallest state was on our cruise to New England in 2011. Looking back, our day in Newport RI might have been the best day of the cruise. 

We spent a day in Newport, completely aghast at the huge mansions and gorgeous views along the Cliff Walk. 

Such wealth!! And such history as well.  I found it interesting that while RI is the smallest state in area, it is only the 7th least populated state in the country with more than a million people, most of them surrounding the capital city of Providence.  All I know about Providence is what I remember from a favorite TV show from many years ago called Providence.  The opening credits showed a beautiful city that I thought I might like to visit someday.

I barely had time to read this interesting tidbit before we were greeted by Google Girl once again letting us know that we were leaving Rhode Island.  “Welcome to Connecticut”.  Another sign missed as I finished reading this sentence:  “Rhode Island was unique among the Thirteen British Colonies for being founded by a refugee, Roger Williams, who fled religious persecution from the Massachusetts Bay Colony to establish a haven for religious liberty. He founded Providence in 1636 on land purchased from local tribes, creating the first settlement in North America with an explicitly secular government.”

I found it interesting that the Pilgrims came to North America to escape religious persecution and yet so many colonists had to relocate to other places to escape the religious persecution of the Pilgrims. It was a theme that repeated itself as we traveled and I searched for information about some of the original thirteen colonies we saw.

Our route through Connecticut was sometimes narrow and winding

In Connecticut, I had a bit more time to read in-depth about the state, and both of us were enthralled with the Revolutionary War history of the state as well as the great contributions Connecticut made to the industrial development of our nation.  It is the state with the highest per capita income, although the disparity between income in the northern part of the state is very high compared to the southern coastal portions and the capital city of Hartford. 

We got a kick out of traveling the freeway through Hartford, thanks to the lack of a roundabout interstate. 

On all sides of us were huge buildings with all those names we know so well in the banking and insurance industry.  Aetna, The Hartford, and many other familiar names.  No wonder Connecticut has the highest per capita income of any state.  I am sure there is much to see in the state, but we didn’t have time to dawdle.

When I made a reservation for Round Pond, the West Point Military Family Camp, I learned that the camp isn’t actually on the academy grounds.  Reading the website for information on the camp, I learned about the bus tours available to see the campus.  I was glad I read about these tours in advance because same-day tours aren’t available.  When ordering our tickets we had to upload our passports, driver’s license numbers, and photos in addition to Mo’s retired military ID to be cleared in advance for the tour.  We also were told the tour begins exactly at 3PM, with arrival suggested half an hour early.  Ok then…no dawdling in Rhode Island or Connecticut!

With an easy day of travel on good interstates and no traffic, we pulled into camp at 1:30 in the afternoon. 

Plenty of time to get set up, make an attempt to get at least somewhat level, and hook up the power. 

There was no water available at the campsite.  We took Mattie for a walk to burn off some energy while enjoying the gorgeous weather.

The campground was beautiful, especially this time of year when most of the tourists were gone. 

The lake was open for kayaking but the swimming beach was closed.  We settled in and enjoyed the views.  One thing to mention is that the road from the highway to the camp is VERY steep and VERY curvy.  I am glad we read about this ahead of time and made sure that we unhooked the Tracker from the MoHo before we attempted the climb.  Even with a short rig, it would have been a challenge with the car hooked up. 

We arrived early at the WestPoint Visitor Center for our tour

I thought it would be nice to explore it a bit, but the gift shop was closed and there wasn’t much to see inside.  A guide suggested we take 15 minutes to check out the West Point Museum, pictured above, but that seemed a bit silly.  What could we see in 15 minutes?

Our tour was conducted by “West Point Tours” in a somewhat dated school bus and much of the tour was simply driving through the base after we entered the security gates.  It wasn’t easy getting photos or remembering the details that our guide was explaining.  The one thing I remember is her trying to be “cute” saying, “Please do not approach, touch, or attempt to feed the cadets”.  Mo and I were not impressed with our guide.  She seemed bored by the whole thing and then would say really dumb things trying to be entertaining.  She wasn’t.

We did see a few cadets running along the road.

We did learn that the facility was properly called the United States Military Academy at West Point.  After riding through the winding roads of the academy we finally got off the bus for a short visit to the Cadet Chapel. 

We enjoyed the great view of the main living and dining quarters of the cadets from the porch of the Chapel

Dedicated in 1910 and constructed of native granite, the architecture combines the techniques and shapes of Gothic with the massiveness of medieval fortresses. This architectural theme is seen in other buildings throughout West Point.

The great Sanctuary Window, inscribed with the words of the motto of the Academy, "Duty, Honor, Country," was beautiful in the afternoon light.  We also enjoyed sitting in the first pew where silver plates engraved with the signatures of previous Academy Superintendents are located, including Generals MacArthur, Taylor, and Westmoreland.


The organ key desk pictured above was impressive

There is a total of 874 speaking stops controlling 23,236 pipes. The impressive four-manual key desk is possibly the world's largest "horseshoe" console. We didn’t get to hear the organ, but later I did find a video on YouTube to get an idea of what more than 23,000 pipes might sound like.

During our time at the Chapel, our guide talked about some of the details of cadet life at the Academy.  Rather than attempting to repeat all that she said, I will link to this discussion of the “West Point Experience”.  The culture of West Point is complex and interesting, and I have a different concept of what it might be like to attend the Academy after visiting and learning about some of the details of being a student in that elite school.

Leaving the chapel, we continued through the Academy grounds to the second and only other stop on the tour.  Parking near the Battle Monument, we walked to the edge of a cliff overlooking the Hudson River.  There our guide gave us a reasonably thorough rundown of the history of the Academy.  There is much written about this, but what I took away from this discussion was that George Washington was the founder of the Academy, with visions of a Civil Engineering School that he believed was necessary for the United States to thrive.

I took the following paragraph from the West Point website since my ability to write about this complex history is limited without plagiarizing from websites.   

“The United States Military Academy was established in 1802, but West Point had a major role in our nation’s history during the American Revolution. Both the American patriots and the British realized the strategic importance of the prominent plateau on the west bank of the Hudson River. General George Washington considered West Point to be the most important strategic location in America and in 1778 selected Taddeus Kosciuszko, a Polish engineer, to design the fortifications for West Point. Washington later transferred his headquarters near West Point in 1779. American Continental Line soldiers constructed forts, gun batteries, and redoubts and installed a 65-ton iron chain across the Hudson to block British invasions along the river. Fortress West Point was never captured by the British, despite Major General Benedict Arnold’s treasonous attempt to turn over the garrison to the British in 1780. Today, West Point is the oldest continuously occupied regular army post in the United States.”

 

This interactive map was helpful for me to get a more clear picture of the grounds and the areas that we visited. 

The Battle Monument was impressive, allegedly the largest granite monolith in the world.

The Parade Grounds were impressive as well, surrounded by statues of famous military figures in US history.

The tour lasted just over an hour, and Mo and I both decided that we were glad we did it, but not sure it was really worth the $19.00 per person fee.  It might have been a bit better with a more skilled tour guide. 

By the time we returned to our campsite we were ready to settle in for the evening with a campfire and a movie.  It had been a long day with lots of driving and we were ready to settle in to prepare for the next day of driving. Our “touring” portion of the trip would now evolve into the “visiting” part of our cross-country trip. The next days of the trip were routed to visit people living in the Midwest that we don’t often see. 

We were treated to a bald eagle flying over Round Pond on our last day in New York