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.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Rockland – Maine’s Arts Capital and So Much More

Rockland, Maine sits on scenic coastal Route 1 half-way between Portland and Bar Harbor and is usually overlooked by those dashing up to Acadia National Park.  It is one of those places where you can hike up a granite mountain, spin your head around 360 degrees, and see crystal lakes, a stunning coastline, and enchanting islands off in the distance. After just a few hours getting acquainted with Rockland, you will wish you had more time getting to know this town. Spend a summer in this area and you will fall in love, as we did last summer.

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What makes Rockland unique from other Maine coastal towns is that it is steered by year-round residents.  When the summer ends and fall leaves lose their splendor tourists stop coming but supportive residents are there to ensure that theaters, galleries, restaurants, and stores have patrons.  Rockland used to be known as a stinky fishing town but that all changed with a downtown revitalization that transformed ugly storefronts into appealing shops, a renovated theater, renowned art galleries, hip restaurants, and craft breweries.

Rockland deservingly garnered the title the “Art’s Capital of Maine” because of two amazing museums – the Farnsworth Art Museum and the Center for Maine Contemporary Art – and numerous galleries filled with works by artists who flock to the area finding inspiration in the mid-coast's beauty.  The best way to enjoy all these artsy places is during the “First Friday Art Walk” when the museums are free, galleries stay open at night, music fills the air, and the warm summer air blankets you as you peruse artistic creations.

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Some of the most famous artists who frequented the area were the powerhouse family of the N.C., Andrew, and James Wyeth who became known as “America’s first art family.”  Maine’s landscape, people, and wildlife were the subjects of their artistic styles which differ amongst the generations and are on display in The Wyeth Center at the Farnsworth.  Even if you are just lukewarm on art museums, this one really is worth seeing ... especially on free Fridays.

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But, there is so much more to do in downtown Rockland than just art.  Probably the number one tourist activity in Rockland is to walk out the craggy rock breakwater to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse.  This .8 - mile long walk to 20180526_093903the light is a great way to stretch your legs, bask in the sun, and smell the salt ocean air. If your trip out the breakwater sparks your interest in learning more about lighthouses, then head over to the Maine Lighthouse Museum or satisfy your nautical interests at the Sail, Power, and Steam Museum.

To learn more about the area's amazing and diverse natural environment visit the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.  This is a great place to learn about the area's wildlife and the islands that are home to thousands of bird species and marine mammals through film and exhibits.  Some of the islands are home to puffins – those colorful little seabirds whose antics captivate us.  To learn more about puffins, the Audubon Society opened the Project Puffin Visitor Center downtown. Here you can view puffins and other seabirds in real time video and learn about the success and challenges faced by Audubon and its conservation partners to restore and protect the seabirds on Maine islands and beaches.   And fall more in love with these uniquely beautiful birds.

Now comes the point in this post where we need to talk about food and drinks.  The “lobstah club” at the Brass Compass CafĂ© is famous as it lured Bobby Flay to town for a “Throw Down” – which he lost to the restaurant’s owner so that tells you how good it is.  The Atlantic Baking Company is one of my favorites because of their array of delectable European-style pastries, fresh bread, warm cookies, and more baked deliciousness.  Wasses is a hot dog stand we discovered years ago and keep going back to for that delicious snap of a dog cradled in a soft pillowy bun. For fine dining, you can’t beat the farm to table execution at Primo eloquently run by a James Beard Award – winning chef. We prefer to eat upstairs at Primo where the atmosphere is more casual and you do not need a reservation, but no matter where you sit, you will not be disappointed in this restaurant.  A sweet addition to downtown is the Bixby & Company Chocolate – a family-owned and operated business whose mission is to “make chocolate confections that are clean and natural, with a conscience.”  Bixby touts their “beans to bar” approach of hand-made chocolates and invites you to their visitor center where you will learn how chocolate is made from the cocoa beans and enjoy samples of their products.  If you want to sample a part of Maine’s extensive craft beer industry, then stop at Rock Harbor Brewing Company for a cold draught that may be accompanied by live music and free bacon.  Yes, they had the genius idea to replace salty pretzels with salty bacon as the perfect accompaniment to beer.

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But when it comes to eating in Maine nothing comes to mind more than lobster.  This famous red crustacean is celebrated at the annual Maine Lobster Festival.  Rockland's population swells from 7,200 people to 75,000 every August when the town is a buzz with everything lobster.  Tents go up, huge lobster pots are lit, lobsters by the truck load (as in semis) are brought in, and a queen is crowned for this four-day event.  Our friends Steve and Dara were in town and game to partake in the party with us where we stuffed ourselves on lobster-flavored potato chips and everything else seafood.

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We would not be doing Rocklands’ food scene justice if we did not mention a couple of great markets.  First off, the weekly farmers market is a pleasant mix of music, fresh baked pizza, dazzling flowers, assorted produce, soaps, and other hand-made goods.  Jess’s Market was our summer go-to place for picking up live lobster (we like to cook them ourselves) and fresh local cod.  Not to mention the fact that Jess’s has a pretty good beer and wine selection. Not in the mood for seafood?  No problem, stop at Wiggin’s Meat Market – Butcher for some delicious cuts of meat that had the best steaks we had all summer.   Maine Street Markets is a foodie paradise that has artisan and specialty foods, smoothie & juice bar, salad cafe, full-service deli, hot food bar, homemade soups, grab & go foods, and fine wines & craft beers.

Rockland took a summer for us to really get to know and will definitely remain on our list of places to go back to.  Stick around for the next post because we will enlighten you with more on midcoast Maine and the neighboring towns that we called home last summer. 

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Monday, December 3, 2018

Work Camping … At a Maine Winery!

The term “work camping” often leaves people with the idea of working at a campground while living on-site where your campsite is free in return for the hours you work or collect a paycheck.  But work camping is more than that and actually refers to anyone who lives in an RV while working in any capacity - not just at a campground.  Over the years, we have found many different work camping opportunities.  Work camping allows us to earn some cash, defer camping costs, meet new people and form long-standing relationships, and learn new skills.  Last summer I worked at a winery which was filled with wine, music, food, and great people.  It was a new and wonderful experience.

Many people ask how we find our jobs (which we have written about in a previous blog post).  Some of our favorite sites are Workers On Wheels, Volunteer.gov, and Workamper News.  But finding this job was different and somewhat by happen stance.  Back in 2014 we stopped at Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery (a Harvest Host location) to spend the night and volunteer for their fall grape harvest.  We had a blast!  Like many Harvest Host sites, we parked in a beautiful, quiet place where we enjoyed a good bottle of wine and had a restful nights sleep.  The next day Betsy and I picked grapes for a few hours, enjoyed a picnic lunch (accompanied by their estate wine) in the vineyard, and spent the day watching the beginnings of wine making as grapes were crushed, de-stemmed, and pressed.

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Last winter I contacted Savage Oakes to see if they would be hiring a part-time person for the summer (which I saw on their Facebook page the previous year).  Luck was in my favor.  They were hiring someone and agreed to hire me part-time.  I was pretty jazzed about this new opportunity because it meant working in a field I knew nothing about.  While I am pretty skilled at opening a bottle of wine and know a little about wine, I was eager to learn more.  There are so many benefits of work camping and learning something new is one of them.  Savage Oakes did not provide an RV spot for us but did pay a salary for all hours worked.  We found a great campground about twenty-five minutes away where we payed a seasonal rate and enjoyed the quiet campground with a great river view. 

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Savage Oakes is a small family-owned and run business.  The property has been in the owner's family for many generations and a big red barn proudly displays a sign with its origin of 1792. The historic farm has changed from traditional uses of livestock and hay to wine grapes and solar panels.  The owners, Holly and Elmer, first planted cold-climate grape vines in 2002 and now have a vineyard with ten grape varietals spanning three and a half acres. Everything regarding their wine is done on-site and growing the grapes is the first step.  Don’t look for cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay here, those grapes would never make it in Maine’s harsh cold climate.  Instead, varieties like Marquette, Cayuga, Marachel Foch, Leon Millot and more make up the contents of your wine glass.  And being Savage Oakes is also a farm in Maine means blueberries are in the mix as well.

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So what does working at a small winery entail?  Luckily for me … everything!  That’s my kind of job because I like to keep busy and do lots of different things.  Every aspect of wine production – from grape growing and harvesting to bottling and labeling – is done on-site at Savage Oakes.  There were days when I would work in the vineyard pruning the vines, afternoons pouring wine in the tasting room, tending to the garden, cooking and setting up tents for music concerts, bottling and labeling wine, and of course picking grapes.

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Over the past few years, Savage Oakes has become known for more than just being a winery on the Maine Wine Trail.  They have put together a pretty well-known lineup of musical artists like Melissa Etheridge, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Lyle Lovett, Indigo Girls, Chris Isaak and more.  The little town of Union, Maine (population 2,200) nearly doubles when 2,000 people show up for an outdoor concert where music radiates off the wild blueberry fields, the chickens scurry inside the barn, and the belted Galloway cows seem intrigued by sound checks.  Tents are filled with the smells of food, Maine beer and wine are flowing, and artists sing before beautiful Maine sunsets in open air stages.  The venue is awesome and smaller crowds make for a much more intimate setting with performers mingling into the crowd and concertgoers being invited up on stage. 

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In early October the harvest was over, grapes were safely aging in their tanks and barrels, and our campground was closing for the season so it was time to start packing up the RV and figuring out our exit strategy from Maine.  It was definitely hard to say goodbye to such great people that I worked with and others we met during the summer but our nomadic lives had to get back underway.  Leaving was especially hard because we developed a love for the area.  Once again, this was another rewarding work camping experience.
















Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Ideal RV Lengths for Staying in Publicly-owned Campgrounds?

This question comes up over and over and over.  Let us preface this post by saying it is long overdue as we have heard this question quite frequently during our eight-year tenure on the road - and, there are many opinions.  There are many advantages associated with camping in public campgrounds which appeal to many RVers, including ourselves.

So you have decided you want to spend a lot of time camping in publicly-owned parks (including state, federal, county, and city) and are basing your RV buying decision on that.  Many people are under the impression that they should buy smaller RVs because “big rigs” will not fit in those campgrounds. 

Here is an example.  A month ago I was talking to a man who owned a 36’ travel trailer and the discussion about camping in county, state, and federal campgrounds came up.  He confidently declared that we could never fit our 45’ motorhome into those campgrounds because of our size.

       He said, “I can’t even fit mine in, so your big thing would never fit.”

      “That’s not necessarily the case.” I said. “In fact, we spend our winter in a state park in Florida where we volunteer. Seventy-five percent of the sites in the park will fit a big rig.  And those sites that won’t are being upgraded so they can accommodate size and power requirements of RV's that are 45’.”

       “Well, Florida state parks are the exception!” he exclaimed.

I stopped the debate right there because he was obviously uninformed as to the diversity of publicly-owned parks that can accommodate large RVs.  (And besides, it was four o’clock on a travel day and I really wanted to go inside and get a cold beer.)

The point is that all public campgrounds are different regarding the size of RVs that they can accommodate.  We hear lots of people say not to buy over 36’ because you will never fit in public campgrounds.  Listen up, THERE IS NOT ONE ACROSS-THE-BOARD RULE FOR SIZE.  Whether it is 34’, 36’, 40’ or anything else, it all depends on the individual campground.  If you are looking for a magical number, there is not one.

We have camped in national parks, state parks, national forests, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer parks, Bureau of Land Management, county parks, and city parks in our 40 and 45-foot RVs.  Do we fit in all sites in all parks?  No (which is true for some private parks as well).  Many older parks have not been upgraded since RVs have swelled to their now mega size and high energy demands.  In some states like California it is very hard to find sites long enough for big rigs – but we have found some that could accommodate our 40’ motorhome.

Here is some proof for you non-believers – (L to R) a beautiful ocean view campsite at a California State Park, our spacious campsite at a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers site in Idaho, and a gorgeous National Forest in Minnesota. 

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Another problem we have encountered is that some parks give a maximum size RV length but when you look at the campsite description the pad length may well fit your RV and vehicle.  What gives?  Google Earth and satellite images are your friend.  I often go online and literally measure the pad length of a site and determine if we can fit.  I check out the roads, trees, and other obstacles to see if they are navigable in our coach.  And I evaluate what other RVs are in the park and see if any big rigs are there.  Have we camped in places with a “maximum size” less than our length?  Yes, but  that is because I have done some investigating and are confident we can fit.  Another factor to consider for big rig owners is that parks may only have a small percentage of sites that accommodate big rigs so you may have to book early, especially during popular camping times. 

Don’t just buy based on length because even big rigs can fit into public campgrounds – consider the many other factors you want in an RV and buy what works for you.  Size usually translates to space and money.  Things to consider when buying are: are you comfortable in a smaller space, how much storage do you need, a smaller RV may mean small tank sizes, and do you want certain amenities (i.e., washer/dryer, dishwasher, king-sized bed) that may require a larger RV?  If you are like us, and want the inside space, amenities, and storage that only come in larger RVs, then you may be sacrificing camping in some wonderful places. 

So where does this information leave you?   Hopefully, you understand that one size does not fit all.  If you have a larger size RV, you may need to do some homework about a particular campground before planning a trip.  It is best to read campground reviews, follow people that have big rigs and see where they camp, check out the campground on Google Earth, and ask in social media.  Our 45’ RV does limit us at times, but there are so many wonderful publicly-owned campgrounds that we have camped in that we don’t feel like we are missing out on a great camping experience because of our size. 

Here is proof:

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So that’s our opinion on RV size in public campgrounds.   Ask five different people, and you will get five different answers.  You just have to figure out what size is right for you based on what you want in an RV and where you want to camp. 

Note:  For a detailed analysis of National Park campground RV size limits check out this post by Camper Report. 



















Thursday, November 8, 2018

Venturing Inland to Maine’s Moosehead Lake

There are a few times in your travels when you find someplace you never want to leave.  It’s the kind of place where you pull in and it just feels right.  Soon, you are at the registration desk extending your stay…and again…and again.  When you finally do pull away from that dreamy place you are hit with a huge wind of sadness and unconsciously let out a big sigh of discontent before vowing to return someday. 

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The Birches Resort in Rockwood, Maine was for us that slice of paradise described above.  Our friends Debbie and Pat found the place and were our camping buddies for the week which made our stay all the more enjoyable.  The Birches is perched on Moosehead Lake about 30 minutes north of Greenville in the area collectively called the Maine Highlands.  Greenville is a pretty small town (we’re talking population 1,600) with a few restaurants, a fly fishing shop, a great grocery/outdoor/camping/clothing store and a scattering of interesting attractions (namely a flying moose and 1914 passenger ship offering lake excursions).  The Maine Highlands is known for its outdoor activities and attracts enthusiasts from all over the state and country.  So as much as you may want to sit around The Birches and relax in an Adirondack chair overlooking the lake you will be lured with all there is to do – mountain biking, wilderness Jeep safaris, fly fishing school, kayaking and canoeing, float plane adventures, white water rafting, hunting, snowmobiling, and much more. 

The Birches has a magnificent historic lodge dating back to the 1930’s that is warm and comforting.  The air is filled with smells of wood burning fires, fresh coffee, and salty bacon and sounds of crackling fireplaces, distant quacking waterfowl, and stories from the past.  The sunrises are magnificent, the food comforting, the people genuine, and the atmosphere rustically relaxing.  There are only a handful of campsites (for RV’s and tents) and a bunch of cabins all with great views.  Don’t be expecting to have all your creature comforts of television, wifi, and phone service because they are nonexistent or sketchy at your site.  However, the lodge provides all those services where you can enjoy them by the fire or at the bar.  There is also a full-service restaurant serving three meals a day with delicious comfort food like Thanksgiving turkey dinner, slow roasted prime rib, and French onion soup.

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Our visit coincided with that magical time of the year when chlorophyll has drained from the leaves leaving the eye captivated with the most mesmerizing collage of reds, yellows, and oranges it has ever seen.  There are no pictures, among the hundreds I took, that could do the peak fall colors surrounding Moosehead Lake justice.  Unfortunately, rain dominated the weather forecast during our visit so we had to make the best of the sun when it shown.   When we heard the sun might emerge for part of the day, we decided to take the ferry over to Mt. Kineo for a hike around the island where the mountain top delivered spectacular views of Maine’s fall splendor.  With dogs and lunch in tow we enjoyed a beautiful day of water, woods, wonderful scenery shared with great friends. Mt. Kineo is an 800 foot mountain comprised of rhyolite a material used by the Native Americans to make tools and arrowheads.  Mt. Kineo also attracted notable outdoorsmen like Henry David Thoreau and Theodore Roosevelt. It is no wonder people have been attracted to this area for so long.

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Just down the road from the ferry is one of the area’s most popular attraction – a flying moose.  Legend has it that a 20181009_140553young Native American boy befriended a dying orphaned moose calf.  The boy nursed the calf back to health and they became inseparable friends.  One day the boy and moose were returning from a long expedition in the high country when the mighty Manosak River was raging and a landslide swept them into the turbulent waters.  They were quickly approaching the Devil Waterfalls when just in time the boy grabbed the moose’s antlers and climbed on his back.  The boy pleaded to the spirits of the forest to help them.  The spirits remembered the act of kindness the boy showed to the young moose when he was near death and granted them the power to safely float above the water and descend safely.  Two witnesses said that the moose’s decent was as if it had wings.

In downtown Greenville you will find the Moosehead Marine Museum which delves into the area’s past reminiscing about the logging industry, sporting camps, aviation, and the historic cruise boat the Katahdin. The Katahdin has graced Moosehead Lake since 1914 when the steam ship carried passengers and goods across Moosehead Lake. Today, she has been lovingly restored and her updated diesel engines offer regularly scheduled narrated cruises on the lake.  The three-cruise is a leisurely and informative way to experience the lake.  The boat has two levels with indoor and outdoor seating and plenty of lap blankets for when the weather turns chilly, a cafe, and great views.  We could not have picked a prettier time of the year to be there. Just too bad the skies were grey.

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You may think that Moosehead Lake was named so because of all the moose hanging around. But not true. The Lake got its name from its shape. When Moosehead Lake is viewed from Mount Kineo (on its east-central shore) it supposedly resembles the head of a moose or a crouching moose. On the subject of moose. Yes, there are plenty in the area. In fact, we donned blaze orange on our hikes in the woods because moose hunting season was in full swing. While Betsy and I never saw a moose Pat and Debbie saw a handful during their excursions in the area, including calves.

Just down from the Birches is the Kennebec River which is known for its amazing fishery. The Kennebec’s headwaters are Moosehead Lake which flows some 150 miles to the Atlantic Ocean. I spent my fair share of hours wading the river and casting into the pools and riffles despite the cold and dreary weather. For me, just being in the water with a fly rod was success enough. Of course, landing a beautiful spawning male brook trout would have made things a little more exciting.

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It is always hard for us to leave the Maine coast but this year we carved out time to visit Moosehead Lake and were sure glad we did.  We were all truly sad to leave the Birches and the Moosehead Lake Region. Of all the years we have been coming to Maine this was our first experience there and truly a great one.  Especially, since we got to share it with our friends Pat and Debbie and their black lab, Beau.  So now you know about one of our favorite camping spots.  Shh, don’t tell anyone!  (And P.S. The Birches does have workcampers!)

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