The Family

The Family
Airstream Weekend Warriors

Troutstream Travels

Troutstream Travels
The Troutstream In The Wild

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pure Michigan Again

Ludington State Park
Ludington, Michigan

     It was the last weekend in September and my kids finally had a three day weekend off from school. This mini break happened to coincide with my birthday. As a consequence, the kids skipped a weekend of soccer games and crew for something much more valuable. They were able to enjoy an early fall trip to the Lake Michigan coast and an opportunity to just be kids. With all of the pressures of school and the demands placed on them, they need some down time. I would be hard pressed to find a better place to relax within a short drive from home than western Michigan. Ludington is less than seven hours away and the weather forecast was looking good. We hit the road after work and Lucy's soccer game. Our destination for Thursday evening was the Cracker Barrel in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I recommend the RV parking spot under the tree. It is so choice.

    After a large breakfast for the kids we were off to Ludington State Park. Shortly after our arrival in Ludington, we spied a food truck with an S.S. Badger Steamship shaped smoker. Well we just had to stop for that. I am a sucker for a good food truck. The S.S. Badger is the pride of Ludington. It is the last coal burning steamship and ferries passengers across Lake Michigan daily.

     I have written about Ludington State Park so many times that I will try to refrain from the same old descriptions. This was our sixth trip to this park in as many years. If you count Sleeping Bear Dunes, Hoffmaster State Park and other western Michigan destinations, we are well into the teens. Suffice it to say the Ludington is about simple pleasures.

I spent some quality time with Maggie.

When she wasn't following the big kids around or fishing with Ethan, Lucy enjoyed doodling at the picnic table.

We spent some quality time telling stories and laughing by the fire. Jack chose to hang with the adults on this trip.

We hiked through the forest and dunes to the Big Sable Lighthouse.

     I cannot take enough photographs of the fog signal building. The white tower with the red roof is contrasted by the blue sky, aquamarine water, golden sand and green grasses.

The views from lighthouse were particularly inspiring after a long hike on Saturday morning.

Jack is growing at an alarming rate. He can now carry Lucy on his shoulders when she runs out of gas on a hike.

I spent my birthday hanging out with my family and friends. We had six kids in our group. They all loved getting out on the water in kayaks. The water was perfect on a hot September afternoon. The refreshing water was perfect for an afternoon dip.

Lucy loves rowing her own mini kayak

Jack and I on Lost Lake

They also have these really nice sunsets here over Lake Michigan.

   After a few nights away we made our way south. We finally visited the charming town of Saugatuck, Michigan. This gorgeous town on the Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan is the most charming coastal town we have ever visited. It is full of great architecture, fantastic restaurants and beautiful scenery. It is apparently a gay mecca and a destination for weekenders from Chicago. We will definitely be returning to this town. The camping options are limited and a bit far away so we may have to rent a house. Why did I wait so long to visit?

    We also were treated to yet another brief visit from Sam and Jess Curren along with their three children on this trip. The Currens are a full time family traveling in an Airstream. They have a blog called Currently Wandering and are also active on Instagram. We will be spending much more time together in the coming weeks as they move south.

    After our  return trip, I sat on my back porch and watched the lunar eclipse with a cold beer in my hand. The large trees behind my house framed the supermoon perfectly as it transitioned from bright white to blood red. Jack and I took turns looking at the moon through the binoculars. He is fourteen now. This is a point in his life where many kids push their parents away. Jack sat next to me and reflected on our trip and commented on how nice it was to get away this weekend. He is beginning to mature and appreciate the time we have together. I cherish my time with him and am grateful that he still enjoys the Airstream adventures. Being together as a family is what it is all about. That is the best birthday present of all.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Profiles In Stupidity

Davidson River Campground
Home Of The Brain Trust
Brevard, North Carolina

Slide Rock Where Some Of The Rangers Must Have Bumped Their Head

     Last night I sat in my backyard and enjoyed a perfect August evening. The weather in Ohio has been unseasonably cool and very pleasant. The kids were in bed. A new school year was underway with all of the time commitments and responsibilities that my family must adjust to. I was simply taking a brief moment to absorb my surroundings. It can be difficult for me to slow down and calm my mind with such a busy schedule. The cicadas and the tree frogs were composing a rather loud symphony of sound. A few fireflies were pulsing in the thick stand of trees on the north side of my property.

    I  settled into my lounge chair and scanned the sky for comet dust entering the Earth's atmosphere at 130,000 miles per hour. The Perseid meteor shower is something I usually enjoy while camping in my Airstream. Since school now begins in early August, I am forced to view the show from home. Sometimes you must unplug and just enjoy the environment around you wherever you are. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I watched the Swift-Tuttle Comet debris streak across the sky. What a great way to steal a moment of serenity at home after a long day at the office.

    My mind turned to travel and all of the positive experiences we have had over the years. Then another thought crept into my mind. I began to think about that one negative camping experience we had this season. Isn't it funny how one bad experience can supersede so many positive ones? I probably should have just let those negative thoughts go in a flash like that last meteor across the sky. I should have just enjoyed the peace and beauty that surrounded once I took the time to find it. However, I concluded that sharing a negative experience might be enlightening or at least entertaining to someone.

     It is a rare moment when I make the effort to write a negative post. I like to think of myself as patient and polite but both of those attributes have a limit. I reached that limit on a recent trip to the Davidson River Campground in North Carolina. I have never dealt with more incompetent and clueless staffers at a campground. I do not have a problem with those that are unsophisticated or mentally challenged. I am well versed in dealing with that. What I truly despise are individuals that apply rules without understanding the reasoning behind them. Boy did my family get a big dose of that.

     I planned a trip to Davidson River Campground to celebrate my father's 75th birthday. My brother and sister were joining me to camp for two nights at this forest service campground that came highly recommended. I really wanted to love this mountain biking and fly fishing mecca. This was our experience with the campground staff.

     I worked late on a Friday night in July and drove six hours with my family to overnight at the Wal-Mart in Brevard, North Carolina. We woke up early and drove to the campground around 8:00 AM to check and see if our site was available. I reserved a group site and I thought perhaps it could have been unoccupied the night before. My first contact was with a ranger or volunteer named Mr. Bass. We got along famously with our fishy names and all. He told me that the site was still occupied but that I could call him throughout the morning for a status check. I felt that was above and beyond the call of duty. If nothing else, the check out time was at 1:00. I thanked him and we drove off to explore the trails at nearby Dupont Forest State Park. Periodically, I would phone Mr. Bass and he kept checking and telling me that the site was still occupied. Finally, at about 12:00, Mr. Bass informed me that an electric site had come open. I told him we would come over after lunch to see if it would work for us. I was concerned about switching sites since we had such a large party.

    We arrived at the campground sometime before 1:00 and I parked beyond the entrance gate and went up to inquire about the availability of my reserved site and also see if I could take a look at the electric site that had become available. This time I was not dealing with Mr. Bass. I was dealing with a polite women in her sixties who was probably a volunteer ranger. This is where it started to go off the rails. First, the ranger told me that my site was not available. Fine. I asked about the electric site Mr. Bass mentioned. She replied that there were a few sites available. I asked if there was an electric site that could accommodate our large party. She checked and said that it would not accommodate 11 people. Then I asked if I could see where the electric site was on the map to determine if it was close enough to add a second site. She then informed me that sites can only be booked online. I told her that reserving a second site was not a problem because I happen to have a smartphone on me. She then told me that online reservations had to made three days in advance. Wow. This conversation was not going well. It is important to note that I have been very polite throughout this entire conversation.

Just behind this sign was the scene of the crime

    I made a comment about how it is strange that a U.S. Forest Service campground would not take walk-ins without a reservation. That would mean that they are just leaving money on the table and not meeting the demand. She just shrugged. Apparently, it would be impossible for me to book a second site even it was available. Well I decided to let that one go and asked if I could go see the campsite I had reserved. She told me I could go on foot but I could not drive my vehicle into the campground. No problemo muchacha.

    My son Ethan and I proceeded to walk to our reserved loop and to my surprise and amusement our campsite was empty and clean. We jogged back to the guard station and I informed her that my site was unoccupied. At this point, traffic was backing up and she was getting a bit flustered. There were two other rangers working with her at the time. She had already completed all of my paperwork including parking passes for my brother and sister as well as day passes for my father. She told me we could check in momentarily but had to attend to the new arrivals. I waited patiently while she checked in the next camper in line.

Yep. That is our site and it looks pretty empty
    She then proceeded to deal with the second arrival. They did not have reservations and she told them that this was their lucky day because they had one electric site left. You can imagine my surprise as this was the same woman who told me I needed an online reservation fifteen minutes ago. I was over that issue and just wanted to check into my site. Ethan was still standing next to me looking at me like he was wondering how much I would put up with.

    After she began to check in the third arrival since I had returned, I reminded her that I was waiting. She told me someone had to go check the site. I had a picture of it on my smartphone but apparently they had to follow policy so one of the other clowns jumped in a golf cart to check it out. He returned and gave the all clear. I then told the ranger that we were ready to go. She told me I would have to wait in my car.

      It was at that moment of time when someone like me who is polite to a fault lost his cool. I reminded her that I have already checked in and that she has already filled out my paperwork. I also told her that my campsite was unoccupied. Then I asked her what event I should wait for in my truck since it is parked past the guard station entrance. Should I just wait until someone gets me? Should I let you check in people all day who have arrived after me? What has to happen for me to get to my site? She just stared at me frozen. That was it for me. I told her I don't know how I am supposed to politely respond to someone who clearly does not understand what was going on. There was a crowd of amused onlookers but my intent was not to embarrass her or myself but to simply check in. She told me I would have to talk with her supervisor. I told her that might be the best option at this point.

     Her supervisor was just another guy standing there who in all fairness seemed like his synapses were firing at a normal rate. I explained the situation to him and he was very apologetic. He asked me if she knew that others were arriving. I replied by saying I have no idea what she knows but I have my doubts. I told her about the others and the fact that my brother would be arriving late a night. She made parking passes for them so I should assume she knows about the other members of my party. I also listed the number of people and cars on the online reservation. The supervisor just smiled and shrugged. After completing my check-in he provided me with a survey. I looked at him with a stare that must have conveyed "are you serious?" I informed him that it would be best if I just tossed the survey in the garbage for fear of being put on a terror watch list for criticizing an employee/volunteer at a federal campground. He told me to be nice and sent me on my way with a smile.

    The campground was lovely but our negative dealings with the staff had just begun. My brother worked Saturday and drove down from Centerville, Ohio. He was set to arrive late at night. I spoke to my brother around 10:00 PM when he was an hour away. My dad left for his hotel short after the call and the guard station was still manned. I went to bed and woke up at around 3AM. I looked out the rear window of my Airstream and saw no sign of my brother. I managed to call him although the signal was very weak and he informed me that they turned him away at the gate around 11:30. There was a guard there but they would not let him in. He tried to call me but my phone never rang. It took him another hour to find a hotel. I was livid and upset that I fell asleep and they did not let him in. Unbelievable.

    I wish that was the end of my problems at this campground. We stayed Sunday night as well and like most campgrounds, the place cleared out Sunday afternoon. Since we had four cars when my dad hung with us, my brother-in-law parked at the empty campsite across from us. The rangers came around in their golf cart in the afternoon and he asked them if he needed to move his car. They told him that would not be necessary since the site was unoccupied. We all went out to dinner at the Sierra Nevada brewery and arrived back at the campground a few hours later. Just as we arrived, two rangers came darting over to us in the golf cart demanding to know who parked in that spot. My brother-in-law calmly explained that he was told he could park there. At this point, we were in the wrong so the obvious solution would be for him to simply move his car. Instead, the rangers wanted to rub his face in it. They questioned whether anyone told him he could park there. They also asked him if he had read the two notes that were left on his car. Incidentally, both were placed on his car while we were at dinner.

     My fear was that we had prevented someone from being able to reserve a spot even though I was told by an idiot ranger/volunteer that they do not allow walk-ins. That was not the case and no one else was slated to arrive. At this point, I unloaded on the staff at Davidson River Campground for the second time in as many days and I was not at all nice. I told them that the bottom line is that the car needs to be moved and we will do so posthaste. I don't think they understood that word. I also told them that I have never seen a more screwed up staff in my six years of Airstream camping. I used a different and decidedly stronger word and that ignited the situation a bit. My sister stepped in to try to calm things down. I told them that they should just leave and that their sister was probably keeping a bed warm for them. That one went over their heads as well. That wasn't nice or mature. However, neither was the treatment of my family by the Davidson River Campground staff. As lovely as the area is, I will not return to that campground. I don't think they will miss me. As the French say, Adios Muchacha! Or something like that.

    Peace and Love,



Friday, July 31, 2015

Troutstream and The City

Liberty Harbor RV Park and Marina
Jersey City, New Jersey

     And now for something completely different. The Trout family likes to travel with or without the Airstream. This year has taken us to a number of bigger cities including Los Angeles, Boston and Washington D.C. It is rather unusual to visit a large metropolitan area with the Airstream but that is just what we did at the end of our summer trip. Liberty Harbor RV Park and Marina is located in Jersey City, New Jersey in the shadows of Lower Manhattan and close to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It is basically a parking lot with hookups but the location cannot be beat for exploring the New York metro area.

     There is no debate that a hotel or an apartment rental is the best way to see a big city. Bringing an RV to New York is not without challenges. I decided to cross the Hudson well north of the city in Newburgh to avoid the tolls and traffic. The George Washington bridge toll for the Airstream is over forty dollars. Yikes. We arrived on a Friday after rush hour to avoid big backups. I towed for a couple of miles between barricades with very little room for error. I don't get stressed out easily when towing but this had my nerves fried. I certainly have earned my urban Airstream towing merit badge on this trip.

     When you think of Jersey City, chance are that your thoughts are not pleasant. Our experience was that this is a dynamic area in the midst of a positive rebirth. The views from this area of Lower Manhattan are nothing short of incredible. There is construction of high end condos all around the marina where we stayed. Even the older parts look vibrant. There is a large Filipino population in Jersey City so Melizza was able to get a taste of home at some local restaurants.

    The Liberty Harbor RV park is located adjacent to a marina. It was well managed and served our purposes. On weekdays, you can take the ferry from the harbor over to the Wall Street area during commuter hours. We visited on the weekend and simply walked five blocks to catch the subway. It takes you as far as 33rd street before requiring a transfer. You can also take a train into the new World Trade Center station. We used the train whenever we went into the city. It was clean, safe and convenient. Here are a few shots of the area.

This photo shows old Jersey City with the rough bars like the Golden Cicada next to gleaming new condos to the right. 

     On this trip, we did not really have an agenda except to explore some of the areas we skip over. We wanted to visit Hoboken and Brooklyn primarily. We have been to Manhattan many times and wanted to see something a bit different. However, the kids definitely wanted to get some Manhattan time. In typical Trout fashion, I walked my kids to death. There is not city on Earth like New York and even the tourist highlights are remarkable. Jack just wanted Shake Shack so we headed from the Macy's Store toward Times Square. The kids wanted to hit all of the familiar midtown landmarks like Rockefeller Center and Fifth Avenue. No matter how many times we visit, New York always delights with its energy. 

The revamped Plaza

  Meanwhile back in New Jersey, Maggie waited patiently for our return. She has visited Boston and D.C. with us this year in dog friendly hotels. Unlike Boston, dogs are not allowed on mass transit in New York. I made it up to her by taking her on long walks through Liberty State Park. This park is a short five minute walk from Liberty Harbor RV and is the best argument for staying here. It is a large park at over 1200 acres. The park is located along Upper New York Bay with great city and Statue of Liberty views from a unique perspective.

     Here are a few pictures from Liberty State Park. It is hard not to feel a sense of pride gazing upon Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty in the shadows of the Freedom Tower. This is truly a land of opportunity evidenced by those who have come here in the past for a better life and those who are still trying to make it here.

Ellis Island
The empty skies 9/11 Memorial. I love this shot of Melizza riding her bike.

    We also visited Hoboken, New Jersey with its fantastic view of Manhattan. Our primary purpose was to check out Carlo's Bakery from the Cake Boss show. We picked up some sweet treats and had a little picnic along the Hoboken waterfront.

     On Saturday we headed for Brooklyn. After a heated argument with a lady who did not appreciate my son accidentally bumping into her, we got on the wrong train and ended up at Ground Zero. To my kids dismay we walked across Lower Manhattan and over the Brooklyn Bridge instead of taking the train. No matter how many times I walk that bridge, I just cannot get over those views.

    After our crossing into DUMBO, we caught a cab that planted us in the heart of Williamsburg. We just wandered aimlessly and had an incredible meal at Zona Rosa. We are visiting Mexico City in the Spring and I hope the food is as good in the DF as it is in Brooklyn. The kitchen was also in a vintage aluminum trailer. Well played Brooklyn. We also happened upon the Momofuku Milk Bar. If you have never been to a David Chang restaurant, you are missing out. The Milk Bar is really about desserts. They have a Cereal Milk Ice Cream cup that is so damn good that it defies logic. They have captured the flavor of the bottom of a cereal bowl and mixed it with ice cream and toasted Corn Flakes. It should not be this good but it is genius.

Dad, what is Tinder?

     We eventually made it back to Manhattan and I walked the kids from Union Square down through Little Italy to Chinatown. On the way, the kids loved perusing the shops. If you cannot find something you like in New York City, you have no interests. We picked up some school clothes, hit the Strand Book Store and marched the kids southward. Despite persistent protests, Melizza and I took the kids all the way down to Bowery Street to the Great New York Noodletown. This is a no frills Chinese restaurant that never changes. Melizza and I sneak this one in every time we are in the city. The roasted pork, steamed vegetables, shrimp noodles, fried shrimp and duck have been part of our New York experience long before we had children. I wouldn't change a thing including the impersonal service. That place is a gem.

I can still carry him but his pride eventually took over. He is 11.

     We eventually made our way back to Jersey City and hitched up to leave. Right as I was backing my Sequoia up, I notice a nail sticking out of my tire. This was around 6:30 on a Saturday night. Luckily we called AAA and the put my full size spare on. The kids slept in the Airstream in central Pennsylvania on Saturday night next to a giant Toyota tire on the floor. When traveling with three kids and a dog, flexibility is important. It was another grand adventure for us and I wouldn't change a moment. Now we must return home and prepare for the new school year.