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.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Navigating the 2020 Tampa RV Supershow

We just finished up five days enjoying the RV super show in Tampa and, whew, what a time we had.  This is the self-acclaimed largest RV show in the country and is a great place to spend time if you are an RV enthusiast or wannabe.  RV’s fill the Florida State Fairgrounds and are tightly packed together for maximum viewing and ease of slipping into one unit and into the one next to it.  You will find pop-ups and Prevost, Airstream and Aliners, park models to truck campers and everything in between. 

Once you are done looking at all of the RVs head into the huge exhibit halls that are filled with vendors exhibiting the latest accessories and gadgets.  There are the necessities like light bulbs and water filters, the bizarre, like portable hot tubs and massaging chairs, and the fun, like electric bikes.  Speaking of vendors, now is the time we give our RVing friends Pat and Debbie a plug.  They were invited by Camping World to sell their PotHeadz® steam diverter (for Instant Pots) at the show and had a great time.  For you Instant Pot users, this is a must-have item that will protect you and your cabinets from hot steam.  Check their invention out on Amazon or follow their PotHeadz® Facebookpage.  You will also find booths representing campgrounds and RV parks across the country trying to entice you to visit.  As if that is not enough, there are free seminars, evening entertainment, food vendors, and morning socials with free coffee and donuts.  The seminars are a way to get new updates, and information about maintenance on your coach as well as travel information destinations. 

This show can be overwhelming and exhausting!  If you are a serious buyer this is a great place to look at RVs without having to drive from one dealer to the next racking up lots of miles and forgetting what you saw.  Here you can compare different brands, models, floorplans, and color options right next to each other.  Beware: having so many units to view can be distracting.  If your time at the show is short, keep in mind what you want, need and your price range.  We love to look at the $1 million+ coaches but don’t really need to spend much time discussing our favorite floorplan and colors because we are not calling one of those home at those prices.  It's still fun to look.

Past years when we visited the show we stayed in hotels or Air B and B’s but this year we camped at the fairgrounds with the Entegra Owners Coach Association as part of a rally.  This was a great way to meet and talk to other owners at the nightly happy hours and dinners.  The added bonus for us was that Entegra had service technicians present that would perform minor repairs for free. 

Camping at the fairgrounds means you are tightly packed in with a 30 amp connection but the advantage is that you are within walking distance to the show.  It was nice to walk around the show for a few hours, come back home and have lunch and cool off in the AC before heading back in the afternoon.  We definitely liked staying in our RV on the grounds and since we were there from Tuesday thru Sunday we could take our time looking around and revisiting those units we liked.  Attending the show during the week is the best way to avoid the hordes of people and families that descend on the show Saturday and Sunday.  During the week you will also find that it is easier to interact with manufacturer reps and salespeople so you can get all of your questions answered.  Weekends get so busy that you typically have to wait in line just to get inside an RV and then you may find yourself in there with ten other people which makes it hard to see how comfortable the couch is and check out cabinet space, etc.   

After nine years of living full-time in an RV we still love the lifestyle and these big shows generate a lot of excitement and energy for us.  We love seeing the new products and how this industry has changed over the years.  It’s also a great way for us to connect with old friends and meet new people that share a love for RVing.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Exploring Beautiful Southern Vermont

Along the western border of southern Vermont is the scenic Stone Valley Byway (Route 30) that traverses through fertile pastures, pristine lakes, and historic villages.  This byway certainly comes alive in the fall when towering trees glowing in hues of yellow and red stand in contrast to the green pastures.  The byway got its name from the marble and slate quarries that dot the land and helped shape much of the development in the area.  These sites remain important today both as active quarries providing economic resources in the area and as historic and recreational sites.

A campground in Dorset served as our base for exploring the area.  Dorset was chartered in 1761 and shortly thereafter the first marble quarry opened, which is thought to be the first such commercial operation in the country.  Over the next century and a half over 16 million cubic feet of marble were removed.  The remnants of those quarries are still visible today and serve as popular swimming holes and those up in the hills are fascinating places to hike.  The town of Dorset is tiny, barely one square block but packs a lot of Vermont charm.  The Village of Dorset is included in the National Register of Historic Places due to its outstanding and well-preserved colonial architecture.  The Dorset Inn is Vermont’s oldest continuously operating inn and with its picturesque charm draws many to the area.  Across the street is another staple the Dorset Union Store (in operation since 1816) which is where locals come to pick up a cup of hot coffee and a newspaper and where tourists gawk at Vermont-made treats and discover their freshly made baked goods and homemade ice cream.  Head next door to the 3 Pears Gallery which has two floors of original art pieces, handcrafted gifts, glass, pottery, and jewelry.  Another great store is the H.N. Williams General Store where centuries old wooden floors creak and shelves are filled with necessities like work gloves and dungarees, interesting curios, and food items.

Across the street from our RV Park was JK Adams, a kitchen supply store that has been hand making high-quality, wooden cutting boards, entertaining and kitchen storage products since 1945.  As you wind through the store you come to an upstairs viewing deck overlooking the factory.  Here you listen to the buzzing of band saws and smell sawdust as rough cut wood is turned into beautiful cutting boards, utensils and home décor.  On Sundays in the winter time, the quiet factory becomes the setting for the Dorset Farmers Market where you shop a myriad of vendors scattered among saws and stacks of wood products.   

Just north of Dorset, we discovered The Merck Forest and Farmland Center.  This was a great place for us to hike and soak in more of the majestic fall Vermont scenery.  The Center is a nonprofit educational organization on a mission to inspire curiosity, love and responsibility toward our natural and working lands.  The property consists of 3,162 acres which includes a managed forest, maple sugaring operation and a 62-acre farm open to the public for exploring.  The center is funded with income from the sale of sustainable forest products, maple syrup, lease payments, and cabin rentals which allows access by the public to remain free.    

The neighboring town of Manchester is known for its shopping with plenty of stores to drop your dough, but the reason we came to the town was to visit the American Museum of Fly Fishing.  The museum promotes stewardship of the history, traditions, and practices of the sport of fly fishing and promotes the conservation of its waters.  As a repository for the fly fishing sport, their collection includes 22,000 flies, 1,200 reels, 1,400 rods and some 700 artistic prints and paintings.  If the museum inspires you to cast a fly into a river then you are in luck because right next door is headquarters to Orvis and their flagship store where you can get all your fly fishing gear and apparel.

Also in Manchester is the Southern Vermont Art Center that was established in 1922 and is a regional hub of cultural, educational and creative expression.  The center sits on a hilltop surrounded by 100 acres of land at the foothills of the Taconic Mountains.  Here you will find art, sculpture, and performances that evoke thought and inspire creativity.  Admission to the museum is free and when you are done exploring the galleries, take some time to roam the grounds with beautiful sculptures and hiking trails.
What is a trip to Vermont without visiting a covered bridge?  These historic landmarks were built for function but their iconic structures conjure up a fond nostalgia and represent a beautiful part of our past.   Vermont is home to more than 100 covered bridges, boasting more covered bridges per square mile than any other U.S state.  The bridges date back to 1820 but most were constructed during the mid and late 19th Century.  Tucked down a quiet road in the town of Arlington is the Chiselville Bridge which spans the Roaring Branch.  Built in 1870 the bridge is also known as the “High Bridge” for surviving a major flood but its most famous for the sign declaring there is a “One Dollar Fine for Driving Faster than a Walk on This Bridge.”  Basically, slow down and enjoy a piece of the past.

After our visit to the covered bridge we stopped in at the nearby Sugar Shack.  Not only do they make pure Vermont maple syrup and an assortment of hand-picked products from Vermont but they have an exhibit about the famed illustrator Norman Rockwell.  Rockwell was a resident of Arlington, Vermont from 1939-1953 and the Sugar Shack has an exhibit that focuses on Rockwell’s work during the time he lived there.  His use of over 200 local people as models that were featured on some of his most famous covers and illustrations.   Rockwell was noted for his paintings of everyday people and situations that represented life in small towns in America.   The exhibit is free, but be warned, you may fall prey to the homemade maple candies, cider donuts, and other baked goods.

Our three days in Dorset were pretty busy.  Fall is a beautiful time to visit Vermont as the autumn colors illuminate the countryside.  Whether it is shopping, history, and being out in nature, there is a lot to enjoy along the Stone Valley Byway and in southern Vermont. 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

A Little Exploring in Quechee, Vermont

Quechee is a little Vermont town with a deep gorge that draws lots of visitors.  The Quechee Gorge is a 165 feet deep chasm that cuts through the earth to form the deepest gorge in Vermont which is affectionately known as “Vermont’s Little Grand Canyon.”  And, you can really emphasize "little" when comparing it to the Grand Canyon.  Quechee Gorge is one of Vermont’s biggest tourist attractions – not to be outdone by Ben and Jerry's of course.  You can enjoy views of the gorge from a bridge that serves as an overlook or by taking a short hike to the bottom where you will marvel at the deep narrow gorge and can wade in the Ottauquechee River which bisects this 13,000-year old gorge.  Both perspectives are beautiful. 

As this is a big tourist attraction (with over 200,000 annual visitors), you can imagine how busy this spot can be.  Tour buses routinely drop off their load and there is a gift shop and snack shack next to the bridge overlook.  Just down the road a bit is Quechee Gorge Village which is a collection of shops offering Vermont-made fare.  There are toys, maple syrup, distilled spirits, jewelry, candles, alpaca clothes, and our favorite, Cabot Cheese.  Stop in here to try some amazing cheddar cheese that comes in fun flavors like “everything bagel,” “Tuscan,” and “Hot Buffalo Wing.”  The sample bar is extensive and we were full when we left, but being the cheese lover that I am, I still loaded up on a few pounds of cheese. 

East of Quechee is the cute little town of Woodstock.  It’s clear from this pretty little town why lots of people make a stop on the fall tour of Vermont.   Quaint streets are lined with historic buildings covered in fall decorations of pumpkins, mums, and cornstalks.  We saw the sign for Vermont Flannel and had to go in because it was cold and flannel seemed like a great idea. 

For a beautiful walk in the woods head to the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park – Vermont’s only National Park and the only one in the county to tell the story of conservation history and how land stewardship has evolved in America.  The forest represents one of the oldest continuously managed woodlands in the country so you marvel at centuries-old hemlocks, beech and sugar maples.  There are twenty miles of trails and carriage roads that make for pleasant walks which have you enveloped by brilliant autumn colors.  There is lots more to do in the park other than just hike the forests.  You may want to start your visit at the Carriage Barn Visitor Center where exhibits and a film explain more about the history and management of the park.  There are guided walking tours of the historic 1805 mansion and gardens owned by the Marsh family.  The Billings Farm and Museum is a working dairy farm and rural life museum where sustainable agriculture is in practice.  

When visiting Vermont, you have to go to a maple farm?  We took a short drive north of town to the Sugarbush Farm which not only makes maple syrup but cheese as well.  The farm has educational exhibits of the maple syrup making process, farm animals, a short nature trail through the maple forest and free samples of their cheese and different grades of syrups.  We pulled up right after a tour bus unloaded which made for a quite busy place that we were not expecting. 

If you are a baker, you will want to plan on spending some time at King Arthur Flour.  Their flagship campus in Norwhich (just north of Quechee) is amazing.  I thought I might just buy some “00” flour for making pasta and maybe pick up some pastry bags but we were blown away at what goes on here.  Come hungry because their onsite bakery and café is where you will want to eat.  A viewing hall lets you watch the bakers assemble breads, pastries, deserts, and other mouth-watering items for sale.  You also can take a peek through the window to see what is going on in one of their many baking classes.  They have an extensive list of classes for professionals, home cooks, and kids which last for a few hours to a few days.  Here you can perfect the baguette, create the perfect crème puff, master the meat pie, or learn about the flatbreads of India.  The gift shop at the flagship store is great with an overload of baking supplies, gadgets, cookbooks, mixes, and yes, flour. 

Vermont in the fall is certainly spectacular and the quaint little towns are nice to wander through.  We loved the diversity of things to do in this area and found ourselves pretty busy for the three days we were here. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Amazing Fall Beauty in the Rangeley Lakes Region, Maine

We absolutely love Maine in the Fall and there is nothing harder than leaving when autumn leaves are in their glory and sunny days permeate the chilly imminence of winter.  And some of the most dramatic color is inland around Maine’s lakes.  Last Fall, we spent our final days in Maine at Moosehead Lake with our friends Debbie and Pat and were blown away by the colors and awesome vistas (here is a link to that blog post).  The only thing that disappointed us was that we did not see a moose (which was not a problem for our friends who saw plenty).  This Fall, we spent a glorious week in the Rangeley Lakes Region where the leaves were amazingly beautiful and high mountain passes provided unlimited and unbelievable views.  The scenery and array of autumn colors in this rustic area blew us away.   Sorry, but the pictures do not do justice to what we witnessed.

The Rangeley Lakes Region has long been recognized for its pristine wilderness and outdoor adventure opportunities.  The area was originally settled by frontiersmen in 1815.  Hundreds of lakes, ponds, and rivers filled with record-sized and abundant supplies of fish garnered this an angler’s paradise.  Sporting camps sprung up with guides offering the guarantee of trophy fish and wildlife that filled the waters and inhabited the pristine forests.  Today, the largest town in the region, Rangeley, has a year round population of approximately 1,500 people which swells to almost 10,000 during the popular summer tourist season.  Summer visitors are followed by Fall leaf peepers and hunters who then fade away allowing room for  skiers and snowmobilers who come to relish in the white powdery covered mountains and forests. 

Maine has 17 million acres of forested lands covering 90% of the state making it the most forested state in the country.  That statistic is one of the reasons why Fall leaf peeping is so spectacular in Maine, especially Rangeley, where forests are ablaze with dynamic colors.  One of the best ways to enjoy all of the views is on the Rangeley Lakes Scenic Byway, a 35.6-mile National Scenic Byway that meanders through the mountains and lakes dotted with wildlife viewing opportunities in over 40,000 acres of conserved public lands and quaint villages.  As you traverse the Byway you are treated to amazing lake views and expansive colors brought to you by Mother Nature.  Rangeley Lake is just one of the 112 interconnected lakes and ponds scattered throughout the region - all of which make up the spectacular views.  The Byway takes you to the Height of Land pull-off which is considered by many as being the most spectacular overlook in New England.  Once you’ve been here and see the expansive view, you will understand why.   Unfortunately, we visited on an overcast day but the view was still wonderful.

If you want to spend more time enveloped by the tall trees speckled with beautiful autumn leaves, take a hike.  There are ample hiking opportunities in this area ranging from long and challenging miles along the Appalachian Trail to short family-friendly hikes ending at pretty waterfalls.  One day, we opted for a short pleasant hike in Rangeley State Park where we enjoyed the beautiful Fall colors flanking Rangeley Lake as Spirit happily frolicked in the cold lake waters.  The next day, it was over to Bald Mountain for a hike that came highly recommended - especially on clear days.  The trail is not very long and starts off gently but as you approach the summit it becomes steep and rocky.  Your final quest is a short staircase up the fire tower where you are rewarded with 360° views of the lakes and mountains.  The views make this bit of effort well worth it and awe-inspiring.

We stayed at Oquossoc Campground (a public campground) about ten miles north of the town of Rangeley adjacent to Cupsuptic Lake.  The town of Oquossoc (a Native American name for “landing place”) is tiny but lured us back daily.  The grocery store is as much a gathering place for locals to brag about their recent catch or hunt as it is a place to get groceries.  They have quite an extensive array of sandwiches, pizzas, and other prepared items and there are always people sitting on the picnic tables out front leading us to believe the food is good.  We opted to eat dinner at the Portage Tap House where they serve eclectic American fare inspired by the region, with a kick of the south.  The space is inviting and modern with an open kitchen, large bar, and appropriate décor for the area like canoes acting as chandeliers and lots of wood accents flanking the floor to ceiling windows.  The food was delicious and the beer selection extensive. 

Oquossoc is home to the Outdoor Heritage Museum which celebrates the areas deep outdoor sporting history and unique natural resources through exhibits, films, and artifacts.  The museum was named “Best Sporting Museum in New England” by Yankee Magazine and is a draw for all who visit the area.  The $5 entrance fee was money well spent as I enjoyed strolling around this museum especially learning more about such legendary angling figures like Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby (who was the first registered Maine Guide and die-hard proponent of outdoor recreation) and Carrie Stevens (the inventor of the Grey Ghost Streamer fly and many other flies that garnered national and international acclaim).  Highlights of the museum include a fully intact circa 1910 rustic cabin, an exhibit sharing the 1956 fishing trip of President Dwight Eisenhower, the famous Rangeley Boat, and much more interesting memorabilia. 

One sunny day, we set out to the north to check out Quill Hill and Sugarloaf Ski Area to soak in some more of the natural beauty that was consuming us.  The thirty-minute drive to Sugarloaf was spectacular and reinforced our happiness for deciding to leave coastal Maine and come inland.  It was a beautiful Fall day in the 60’s and sunny which was perfect for a walk so we stopped at the Narrow Gauge Pathway which has miles of walking and biking trails.  Sugarloaf was having a “welcome back” weekend with free chair lift rides and lots of outdoor activities and was a little too busy for our tastes so we didn't stay a long time.

On our way home we stopped at Quill Hill which is the only mountain in Maine that you can drive to the peak and witness the 360° views that will leave you in awe.  Forested mountains and hillside are ablaze with color as they descend into tranquil lakes and ponds.  Quill Hill is privately owned by a man who decided to build a road to the top of the 2,848 feet hill and open it to the public so everyone could enjoy the view for a mere $5 donation (per carload).  This is the best picnic spot with a view.  There are plenty of picnic tables and grills for you to use and the day we were there people were nicely serving free food.   We don't know why they were doing that but visitors seemed to be appreciative and enjoy a bite to eat.

As spectacular and fulfilling as our visit to the Rangeley Lakes Region, there was one thing missing … a moose sighting.  This year we would not be skunked again.  On our way home from Quill Hill Betsy spotted a moose and her calf.  We watched them for a few minutes before they casually walked back into the woods.  Our trip to Rangeley was just awesome and we couldn’t have timed it any better for peak fall color.  It was hard to leave but our campground was closing for the season so we decided to move on to Vermont to see what that had to offer.   Stay tuned to see how beautiful Vermont is in the Fall.