Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Presidential Museum and National Park in the Beautiful Virginia Countryside

So there we were in Staunton, Virginia (pronounced stan-tən) for two nights – which translates to “not-much-time” so we are going to be very busy and on the move.  Why Staunton?  Two real attractions that lured us in – the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum and Shenandoah National Park (the latter of which definitely needs more time to see but that will have to wait for next year).

But what we also found was a great German restaurant a mile from the campground, a huge cheese store, awesome hiking, waterfalls, and some great fall color.  So maybe you might want to pay a visit to this part of the Virginia countryside next time you are passing through?

The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum was not on our “official list” of Presidential Libraries and Museums and this puzzled us.  After all, he was “officially a President” wasn't he? Why the discrepancy?  Well, historically, all presidential papers were considered the personal property of the president so documents often went with out-going presidents and were scattered or destroyed.

In 1939 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pledged his personal and presidential papers to the federal government; as well as, part of his estate at Hyde Park, New York with the intention of creating a library and museum.  Roosevelt felt that Presidential papers were an important part of history and our national heritage that should be accessible to the public.  And because President Hoover created the National Archives and Records Administration, documents had a central place to be stored.  It was 16 years before another presidential library opened—this time under the provisions of the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 legislation which established a system of privately erected and federally maintained libraries.  You may be surprised to learn that it wasn't until the Presidential Records Act of 1978 which mandated Presidential records that document the constitutional, statutory, and ceremonial duties of the President are the property of the United States Government.

Thomas Woodrow Wilson was elected the 28th President of the United States in 1913.  He ran on the platform that America would remain neutral in the European conflict that was World War I.  But shortly into his second term he asked Congress to declare war when German submarine warfare threatened America.  He wanted to make the world “safe for democracy.”   Wilson grew up the son of a Presbyterian Minister who grew up in the south and would go on to become President of Princeton University, Governor of New Jersey, brokered peace to end WWI, establish the League of Nations, pass a child labor act, created the Federal Reserve, and lobbied for civil rights and women's suffrage.


The Presidential Library and Museum complex was built next to Wilson’s birthplace which is available for viewing on a guided tour.  A short orientation film provides an overview of his life and is a great segway into the museum and house tour.  The small museum includes artifacts throughout his life and political career and is very well done.     


With just half a day to see Shenandoah National Park this was truly going to be a “drive-thru” visit.  Lucky for us one of the parks biggest attractions is the famed “Skyline Drive.”  Skyline Drive is 105-miles of scenic byway that takes you along the crest of the northern Blue Ridge Mountains.  The park was established in 1935 at a time when motorcars had become an ever popular means of travel.  The road would become a favorite of American tourists seeking adventure.  Skyline Drive is more than a road, it is a destination.  There are 75 scenic overlooks, more than 500 miles of hiking trails, and a scattering of lodges, campgrounds, eateries, gift shops, and visitor centers. 

Time was not on our side so driving the entire length was out of the question.  But we did find time to hike to a waterfall – a perfect way to cool off and immerse ourselves in the fall colors.  Maybe next year Shenandoah NP will garner more of our attention – it certainly is a beautiful park.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Heading South

It certainly was hard to pull ourselves away from Maine especially since our last stop was a winery.  But, the need to head south was pulling us down the road.  There was an overnight at a Wal-Mart in Fish Kill, New York and then it was on to Baltimore for a quick visit with my sister and her family.  (Let me just stop and mention how much we like this Wal-Mart stop, how safe we feel, and convenient it is.  Plus, there is a Sam’s Club for you members who want to stock up.  We did, with steaks!)

We weren’t in town long enough to blink (sorry about that family) but we made the most of our time.  While my sister's kids were in school and her husband was away on business, we kidnapped her for a nice fall hike in the nearby Patapsco Valley State Park followed by a tavern lunch and beer.  Of course, dogs were invited and Spirit and Zoe (the adorable Beagle) had a great time sniffing the fall air and swimming in the cold stream (o.k., that was just Spirit).

Zoe found her way into something that was happy to stick to her.  Burrs!


The next day it was a movie, diner with the family, followed by an all-too-soon departure.  Baltimore is always on our north-south east coast route and great times are always had.  We love being with family and thanks for everything.  

Those kids aren't smiling because we are leaving, are they?

Monday, October 20, 2014

RV’ing in a Vineyard

    Picking grapes at a winery

That is just another box of awesome experiences while RV’ing that we can now check.

When I saw that Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery (in Union, Maine) was looking for volunteers to help pick grapes during their 10th Annual Harvest Festival, it was a no-brainer that we would be there.  Savage Oaks is part of Harvest Hosts, a program that allows RV’ers to stay overnight at wineries, farms, museums and other participating properties for a night.  While it is customary to just stay one night at Harvest Hosts sites, I asked if we could stay two so we could help with the picking and enjoy the festival without having to dash out in the evening.  They nicely obliged and we had a blast. 


Savage Oakes started in 2002 with a block of cold-hearty wine grape vines (as in down to minus 25 cold) and has been expanding ever since.  The vineyard has grown to four acres representing ten grape varieties.  This family-owned and operated winery produces 1,200 cases a year of 13 different wines.  And wait, this working farm also produces beef, pigs, and blueberries.


We pulled in late afternoon and were warmly greeted by the co-owner and winemaker Elmer Savage and his black lab Quincy.  After Elmer showed us where to park the rig, he invited us to take a walk back to the vineyard, see the herd of Belted Galloway cows, and enjoy the beautiful property set in the Maine countryside.  Looking at grapes hanging on a vine is nice but tasting the fermented grapes in the bottle is even better.  So off to the tasting room we went.


The adorable tasting room is inviting and a quick “hello” by Sandra (Elmer’s sister) makes you feel welcome.  Sandra nicely explained the history of the farm, the grape varietals, and  poured some wine.  We had a great time, sincerely appreciated her time and hospitality, and walked back to the RV with three bottles of wine ready to watch the sunset over the autumn hillside.   


Grape picking started at 9 a.m.  After a quick lesson from Holly Oakes (Elmer’s wife and co-owner) we grabbed some clippers, a lug (the yellow container the grapes are placed in) and off we went to pick the Cayuga grapes that would soon turn into St. George’s White.  Picking grapes was not terribly hard but making sure that you didn’t leave any grapes behind was difficult as some bunches tend to hide behind leaves and become intertwined between branches.  And what better helper for picking grapes than Quincy the lab.  He made sure we were doing our job and gladly ate any grapes that fell to the ground.


The day got even better when lunch and a case of wine was presented on the picnic table as a thank you for our work.  As we ate and sipped wine, Elmer and Holly graciously chatted about pruning techniques, growing conditions, and wine making in Maine.  After all, they are the largest wine producer in the state.

Back at the barn, it was time to start processing the picked grapes.  If the image of Lucy and …stomping on them comes to mind you are not alone.  But Elmer didn’t instruct us to take our shoes off, instead he passed the bunches through a slick machine that de-stems and crushes the grapes.  Next, the crushed grapes got a little hand mixing and the grapes were ready for the press.  The crushed grapes are pumped into a stainless steel drum that begins turning, tumbling, and eventually squeezes the grapes and discharges the liquid.  We all got samples of the raw juice (which tasted pretty good to us) before moving into the vat where the juice will ferment on its way to becoming wine.

This experience was sooooo much fun.  The field we parked in was perfectly quiet, had a beautiful view, and a great place for Spirit to run.  Thanks so much to Holly, Elmer, Sandra, and Quincy for their hospitality.  Can’t wait for the 11th Annual Harvest Festival.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Maritime History and Maine Charm

One of the places we wanted to take my parents was to the little coastal towns of Castine and Brooklin – two charming quintessential Maine towns that have a rich maritime history in shipbuilding and seamanship.  Brooklin actually won the title of the “Wooden Boat Building Capital of the United States.”  My dad's love for sailing had me convinced this days adventure was going to be right up his alley. 

First, we stopped in Castine for a look around.  Downtown Castine is charming and very picturesque (as we had been told by numerous people and expected it).  Castine is home to the Maine Maritime Academy - a public, co-educational college specializing in engineering, management, science, and transportation established in 1941.  The academy is located throughout the downtown and co-mingles with historic buildings, shops, and galleries.  It’s no wonder this institution is located in Maine given this state’s serious ties to all things marine. 

The first class started with 29 cadets193 but a rapid increase was soon to happen as World War II required a steadfast build-up of the U.S. Merchant Marines with a critical need for trained deck and engineering officers.  The Academy rose to the challenge graduating its first class in 1943 and producing more than 300 officers who served at sea during the war.  Today, students go on to serve in the Merchant Marines, the Armed Forces and private industry.  The success of the college and its programs gained Maine Maritime Academy the accolade of being #1 Best Public College on Money magazine’s Best Colleges list released in August, 2014.

The centerpiece of the academy is found down on the waterfront where the maritime emphasis of this school is apparent when you stare at the assortment of ships docked at the harbor.  These training vessels range in size and function.  The Training Ship State of Maine is the flagship training vessel and is a towering and impressive feature at 500 feet and 16,000 tons.  Of particular historical interest is the schooner Bowdoin.  Built in 1921 in East Boothbay, Maine this ship was designed for Arctic exploration and has made 28 trips above the Arctic circle, the first of which was under the direction of Donald B. MacMillan, the famous Arctic explorer.   The academy solidifies the link between the towns' seafaring past with its prosperous future while still keeping its charm.

Downtown Castine is charming.  Many of the old buildings have been lovingly restored and 207turned into restaurants, boutiques, and galleries.  We got a great history lesson from a woman in the town book store which prompted us to venture over to Castine Historical Society to learn more about the town.  Castine is one of the oldest communities in North America having been occupied continuously since the early 1600’s.  Signs of Castine’s deep history are ever present with forts, missions, churches, and other structures.


Castine certainly lived up to our expectations but now it was time to move on to Brooklin and check out some wooden boats.  Any lover of wooden boats is sure to have heard of WoodenBoat Magazine and School.  Here boat enthusiasts are in their element.   The 64-acre salt water campus lies perfectly perched over the bay offering an array of courses in boat building, sailing, woodworking, navigation, nautical crafts and much more – nearly 70 different courses in all.  The campus is inviting and homey attracting students from all over the world for their expertise in wooden boats.


The town of Brooklin can easily be missed with the blink of an eye.  As we were not in a hurry, we slowed down and decided to pull over for a bite to eat and a look in a couple of shops.  Talking to local shop owners is always a good way to get information on the town and what there is to see.  We ventured into Betsy’s Sunflower Store (a great boutique with items for the kitchen, garden, home, and more)  and got a great tip about another boat yard down the road – the Brooklin Boat Yard.  Betsy told us to go to the boat yard, ask for Pam, and tell her we were interested in a tour.  So we did.  Pam  called one of the carpenters to show us around and we got an incredible personalized tour.  Gotta love small Maine towns!  They were building a custom sailing boat, over 75 feet in length with an estimated $5-10 million dollar price tag.  The ship has phenomenal details with natural wood showing throughout the interior and a complex array of window panes to create unique natural lighting patterns.  (I did not take any pictures inside of the boat for privacy reasons.)


We had a great time with my parents and were sorry the time together went so fast.  Hopefully, they will meet up with us somewhere else down the road.