A Year On The Road – The Final Maps

Back in Orlando again, it’s time to tot up the final mileage and trace our entire route (in 2 maps) around the US. We reached West Glacier, Montana, at our furthest distance from Orlando at almost 2,700 miles away, albeit we reached there via a distinctly circuitous route that involved fully 12 states!

The first 7 months saw us take in by far the biggest ‘chunk’ of our year-long route, including side-trips into Colorado and Southern California by car, as well as parts of Northern Arizona and New Mexico

The “return journey” from there was also far from a straight line, taking in another 10 states before completing what was essentially a giant circle of the Midwest, the North, South West and Southern states. For much of the last 5 months we were close to the Gulf of Mexico before coming back into Florida via Pensacola and the Panhandle area, where we were definitely able to relax a bit (albeit keeping more than one eye on staying out of the way of some seriously stormy weather).

The final five months took us from the heart of New Mexico down to the far south-western corner of Texas, then right around the Gulf of Mexico via Galveston, New Orleans, Biloxi and Gulf Shores

So, with no further ado and a bit of a fanfare – “Ta RA!!!!!” – our final mileage comes to, wait for it…35,186 miles since we left home on May 14, 2023. In our RV, Fati, we traveled a total distance of 9,846 miles, while in our trusty little Ford Fiesta, Nippy, we added a whopping additional 25,840.

Somehow, we’re all still in one piece, albeit Fati has been in for several repairs and 2 full services, while Nippy is heading for a fourth service today and has needed new tires, windshield wipers and two air filters (!). Needless to say, we are immensely proud of our Ford-engined Winnebago RV, as well as our little Fiesta, and they both now deserve a good rest.

Finally back in Florida, we spent a quiet week in a beautiful little RV campground in Milton in the Panhandle before turning south for the last leg of the year-long trip

Will we have more travels to report anytime soon? The debate is now on at Chez Veness! We DO have a fair bit of work to catch up on first, but there is already talk of an East Coast RV tour, as well as a possible trip out West to the areas we missed this time, namely Washington, Oregon and Northern California, as well as more of Colorado.

So, stay tuned for further travel bulletins, and, if you have liked and enjoyed our blogs, please leave us a comment and be sure to check out our YouTube channel for a series of snapshot videos of the trip on this link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCP5dY0TcznDGkOY8BQUkpQg

Bye for now…!

A Year On The Road – The First Week; 1,289 miles, and counting

The first week of our grand “Year On The Road” adventure – and a LOT of miles!

Considering how far we’ve come in the initial phase of our great American road trip by RV, we thought it was worth highlighting our route, and how much ground we covered.

In reality, the first week of our ‘Year On The Road’ was effectively the “shakedown cruise,” the testing ground for our ability to actually drive this remarkable vehicle (that’s Indefatigable, or Fati for short, plus our tow vehicle or ‘toad’, Nippy).

Our initial route, through Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana, before arriving in Michigan

In all we covered 1,289 miles through the first seven days, traveling from our home base in Orlando to Lansing, Michigan. That’s a LOT of miles for an RV in such a short time, and we had some challenges along the way but, in general terms, Fati handled it with aplomb.

Our first target was to reach Michigan, to set up the second phase of our route, which will take us into the Northwest of the country, via Minnesota and the Dakotas. Realistically, we achieved our main target and have got the hang of the driving and setting up camp at each location.

Normally, regular RVers wouldn’t travel and set up camp every day, but we wanted to see if we could manage a tough schedule before moving on to Phase 2. We certainly have a few issues to deal with (including the lack of hot water!), and we’ve had to consult various RV authorities, including the excellent MyRVResource.com, but we’re happy that we’ve grasped some of the essential principles of RV travel, and we’re ready for more adventures in the weeks and months ahead!

Indefatigable

Pure Michigan

Michigan is cold. It’s cold for about five months of the year, it’s cold at night and in the morning for longer than that, and it gets cold snaps in May, like it has for the last three days. Michigan is also one of the most beautiful states you’ll ever visit.

Mackinaw Bridge, the “Mighty Mac”

“Pure Michigan” is one of the slogans for this nature-lover’s paradise, where four distinct seasons allow for everything from river tubing – affectionately called “rump bumping” – to skiing, snow shoeing, ice fishing, and snowmobiling. The state is crisscrossed by hiking trails through landscapes as varied as pine forests, sand dunes, and urban centers.

And it’s those heady, scented pine forests that take Susan straight back to her childhood (Michigan is her home state) and feel exotic to Simon, who marvels in the natural diversity of this massive country. When we hit the pine tree-lined stretches of Highway 127 and Interstate 75, the REAL adventure we’ve embarked upon began.

Michigan has fabulous rest stops all the way up to the Bridge, this one with a hike to a scenic overlook.

Yes, we’ve had some setbacks and hurdles along the way, and we’ve booked a mobile RV repair service for a week from now (showers and shampoos with boiled water are our new friend!). With help on the way, eventually, we spent yesterday and today exploring Mackinaw City at the upper tip of the “Mitten” (referring to Michigan’s hand shape) and St. Ignace, just across the mighty Mackinaw Bridge.

We had planned to “boondock” for a day or two, finding parking places without any hookups, according to our whim, but a serious cold snap with threats of temperatures that could reach freezing forced us into a campground with 50amp power so we could run our heater and keep the plumbing from freezing.

With that in mind, we found the beautiful Mackinaw Mill Creek Campground and a cozy spot with pine trees on three sides, just a short stroll from Lake Michigan.

Our home for two nights.

The downside was, it’s midge season. Those pesky, swarming, non-biting, gawd-awful bugs that absolutely invade every breath of air, especially along the shoreline. That cold snap and its gusty wind became our bug-busting friends, keeping these demons of the breezes to a low roar.

Those things that look like helicopters are midges. They’re tiny, but they’re hellish in swarms!

Mackinaw City is touristy, but in a charming, midwestern way. Lots of little gift shops, fudge shops, and, in the past, mom-and-pop places serving up the area’s iconic pasties (pastry-enclosed individual meat and potato pies the miner’s took with them into the mines for meals). But we’d have to go into St. Ignace to find those delicious treats – a must-do on Susan’s long must-do list – as only one pasty shop remains in Mackinaw City, and it was closed.


We spent yesterday watching the ferries go back and forth to Mackinaw Island (a place we know well, and decided not to visit this trip), taking a stroll along the main drag, and walking along a rocky beach with a view of the bridge.

This is actually looking back at the lower peninsula from St. Ignace, but it’s better than our rocky beach pics.

Today we crossed the bridge in our car, Nippy, with Susan doing a serious butt-clench the whole way, thinking about the comment our friend made (Hi, Janet!) about how the bridge was recently hit by a crane.

The butt-clench gets tighter when you have to drive over those grates.

Once safely on land again, we headed to Lehto’s Pasties to pick up lunch (beef, potato, and rutabaga ((swede in the UK)) for purist Susan, chicken and vegetables for sacrilegious Simon), then headed to the waterside for a view of Mackinaw Island and the ferries. A&W Root Beer and Michigan’s own Vernor’s Ginger Ale were our drinks of choice, and it was a truly picture-perfect experience. Just what we’d been hoping for.

After lunch we poodled around, looking for roadside stops where we could walk down to the water. At every turn, we found more and more gorgeous vistas. If not for the winters, we could move here.

Beauty, everywhere.

The toilet seal was still leaking when we got back to Fati, and there’s no hot water unless we boil it, but we do love this life when we’re out exploring, and Michigan’s natural and human-made wonders lifted our spirits immensely.

Next…Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula!

It’s Buc, Buc, Buc-ees!

One of the reasons to take a road trip in the USA is for its gas stations. Yes, seriously. You can find some of the most, well, American experiences at these refueling outposts along the main highways. And, if you think you’ve seen them all, you haven’t seen Buc-ees.

We’d arrived at northern Alabama, close to Athens, and turned off I-65 at the sight of this vast, mirage-like complex of buildings that seemed to stretch towards the horizon. Not only is it, jointly, the largest gas station on Earth – with a mind-boggling 120 (yes, one hundred and twenty!) fuel pumps, it has a gigantic supermarket attached to them, as well as a dog park, huge car wash and enough parking space for half of Alabama.

In short, Buc-ees is a cultural phenomenon, drawings fans from all over the south and south-east (especially Texas, where this remarkable brand originated in 1982) for its mix of the cute, kitsch and collectible. You want great barbecue? They got it. Candy? Jerky? Fudge? Got them, too, in multiple triplicate. There are coffee stations, soda fountains, bakery items and ice creams galore, along with thousands of plush Buc-ees (he’s actually a beaver) and other types of themed merchandise, from T-shirts to jewelry. It’s totally bewildering.

Buc-ees’ other claim to fame is they have the cleanest restrooms on the Interstate, and Susan can confirm that, yes, they are as clean as a whistle. Spotless and shiny, in fact. Another trademark is their Beaver Nuggets, crispy corn nuggets that have various types of coating, including white cheddar and sea-salted caramel. Sure, it’s a cheap and cheerful approach, but that is its charm (along with a general level of cleanliness that would put many hospitals in the shade), and it is utterly captivating. We’ll keep an eye out for more Buc-meister outlets as we go.

Oh, and the barbecue was delicious.

If that was today’s lunch, we finished up at our latest Harvest Hosts discovery, another overnight stop, this time in northern Tennessee, just past Nashville (no Grand Ol’ Opry for us on this trip, sadly). However, Sumner Crest Winery more than made up for missing out on the Tennessee musical icon. This little gem in Portland, Tennessee, features a truly darling wine bar and cafe, with local wines, their own chicken salads and pimento cheese (our tip: try the one with candied jalapenos!), and both indoor and outdoor dining and sampling.

You can try their wines by the glass, flights or bottle, and some of their creative fruit wines and slushies are absolutely sipping sensations. The interior Chandelier Room would be great for a special occasion, and their gift shop was another dazzling collection of cute trinkets and souvenirs, with plenty to interest most wine-drinkers.

Tonight, we are hitched up to one of the winery’s three electrical posts, putting us in pole position for the road to Kentucky and Indiana tomorrow. It was a good day. A Buckin good day, you could say.

Day Two of A Year On the Road: Georgi-ahhhh & Alabam-aaaarggh!

How the day started: waking up in an empty farm field with all the RV windows and the door open. Our Harvest Host location was the Von Glahn Farms family business in Baconton, Georgia. Pure rural bliss.

Breakfast included beautiful picked-fresh blueberries, and blueberry honey. Truly delish.

How the day continued: stopping to help a (very) slow turtle cross a busy road before he got crushed. And Simon copped for a broadside of turtle pee for his troubles. And that’s a sentence we NEVER thought we would write.

Later on: A truly excellent drive through rural Georgia on Highway 82, avoiding the usual I-75 route north so we could A) Avoid Atlanta and it’s bad traffic, and 2) So we could dodge the mountainous part of the highway through Tennessee and Kentucky. The scenery was wonderful and the route easy to drive.

How it finished up: Alabama did not impress us. At all. Instead of avoiding the traffic of Atlanta, we hit road construction south of Montgomery, and heavy traffic in Birmingham. Instead of missing the mountains of Kentucky, we hit the potholes of I-65, and it felt like an ongoing earthquake until we were finally able to get off the highway for an RV campground (Carson Village in the Birmingham suburb of Pinson). We also got cut up and cut off about a zillion times by Birmingham commuter traffic as we tried to navigate by GPS. Not a happy experience, and we won’t be back in a hurry, if at all.

Neither photo even hints at the gruesome nature of the road surfaces we encountered, and even now, having stopped at the RV park, we can still feel the shocks and shakes in our back teeth.

Tomorrow we head north for Tennessee and a potential Harvest Host brewery in the town of Franklin. Turtles not invited.

And we’re off and running…!

How we ended up in a field on a pecan farm in Georgia.

One day down, another 364 to go….

So, after a frantic day’s packing on Saturday, we left nice and early on Sunday at, er, 11:30am. Well, we had a few more tire issues, and, by the time we had everything sorted out (and Simon stopped swearing), it was about an hour and a half later than planned.

We don’t have specific daily targets for the first 5 days, as the object is just to get up to Michigan by next weekend for Susan’s mom’s memorial at their Okemos home. Our dear Kathy Prelesnik died in April 2020, and we hadn’t managed to get back there for a whole heap of reasons until summer 2022, and then Susan’s step-dad Gene took a major turn for the worse and he passed away last September.

In truth that was the final catalyst for our Big Trip, a kind of “it’s-now-or-never” moment. Anyway, that’s the background, and we are ‘winging it’ to start with, just heading north and seeing where we end up at the end of the day.

Today, that was Georgia, with Valdosta soon left in our rear-view mirror, and then Tifton, where we turned left aiming for Alabama. As a member of the Harvest Hosts system – where various businesses offer overnight stays to RVers – we started checking for any opportunities in this part of the state, and lo! and beold, we found ourselves in an open field, all on our own in a pecan farm.

It makes for a great start to our Year On The Road, and we can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

And here are the happy crew (all together now, “Me and you and a dog named Boo…..”)