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Saturday, June 29, 2013



The summer tour continued as we crossed Michigan's Mackinaw Straits, the four-mile gap where one Great Lake pours into another. Our campsite looked out onto the bridge we had just crossed and the boats taking tourists to Mackinac Island (pronounced "Mackinaw"). 
    If you haven't heard of it, the island is a rock three-miles wide emerging from Lake Huron. A fifteen- minute boat ride took us out to this place that time forgot.   Similar to Venice, cars, trucks, and trolleys are not allowed.  It's been that way forever. I felt like a nineteenth century spectator watching lumber, appliances, and people being delivered by horse-drawn vehicles. 

 Here is one that time forgot.

 To get around, you rent a bike, a horse, or walk.
 If you can't do any of these there are peppy rolling chairs.  
 The well-healed stay at the Grand Hotel.

  If you have reservations, this elegant carriage will meet your yacht.  After six, men must were suit & tie.  

   We walked the place for hours enjoying the scenery,
 well-preserved old homes, 

and this huge sculpture of Gerald Ford's head.  
   If they had a dozen of these side-by-side,  our country could have its own Easter Island.
Despite the presence of The  Presidential Noggin, the island is known as a romantic getaway.  My parents went there in '53.
   The time-travel movie, "Somewhere in Time" was shot on this pine-laden patch in the 70's.  "Going back" for the crew must have been easy.
   Mackinac Island hasn't changed much since 1895.  Let's hope it never does. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


  The Grove guy with Gerald Ford, the President from Michigan known for his large, golden head.

      Most folks don't have air conditioners in Michigan.  Here, near the end of June, we can still see our breath some mornings ( we woke up to 58 degrees yesterday).  After passing through Hell (last blog) we set our sights for Charlevoix, a tourists town on Lake Michigan.  Friends were vacationing there and invited us to visit. 
  "Belvedere" is a gated community with no gate.   It's obvious whether you belong or not. Only white clothes (and white people) are allowed on the tennis courts.  They haven't allowed dogs since 1879.  We tried disguising Pi as a young Persian girl.  Unfortunately, Persians haven't been allowed since 1879 either.   
      They do allow televisions and we watched the Heat win the Big Game a few days ago. 
"Princess Room" , Charlevoix

  Outside I saw this '66 GTO.   It was just like the one I had borrowed from the friend I was visiting when I was eighteen.  The stick shift befuddled me so much I collided with a limousine.  What seemed like a nightmare then seems almost funny today. 

The next morning we looped over to  Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park on the Leelanau Peninsula. 

   With its 400-foot piles of sand fronting multiple, beautiful beaches, many consider it one of the prettiest places in the country.
Folks from the mid-west flock here in the summer like southerners do to the Smokies. 
     As you can see above, the Lake Michigan beaches look a lot like Miami's.  Waves lap up on to sugar-sand but the pristine water is fresh.  Tourist t-shirts brag about how it contains no salt or sharks. The down side is the darn stuff is cold, almost arctic, much too frigid to swim in.  Up to the ankles for five seconds was enough for us.  

In a village within the national park, Nephew Matt set us up to canoe the Crystal River.  He and his wife, Katie, have three businesses in Glen Arbor.  They can put you in a kayak, on a bike, or sell you a case of local wine.  Business is booming. Three blocks away, the Cherry Republic store will sell you every cherry-related product imaginable. We opted for hot pie a-la-mode. Twice a week they sponsor pit-spitting competitions.

 Besides cherries, Michigan is famous for its blueberries, apples, and apricots.  In Leland, we bought smoked whitefish in the historic "Fishtown" district.   


A farmer sold us these delicious eggs.  

Each color represents a different type of chicken.

We could stay at Sleeping Bear for a long time.  Campsites are just $12. Follow the woodsy bike path north to get a $2 ice cream cone. 
 Go south and you come upon the Glen Haven ghost town. There are no residents in this former lakeside community.  Park employees come in to run the general store, boat museum, and blacksmith shop.
    I could have spend all day watching retired teacher, Phillip Hike, turning metal rods into useful s
hapes.   Mixing iron and fire he made us a beautiful wall hook.  Afterwards he rubbed it with beeswax to keep it from rusting.

    Inside the Glen Haven Maritime Museum

 Three miles south is the village of Empire.  I have gone there for Friendly Burgers (Joe's Friendly Tavern) for thirty years.  Joe's son, Tom Wiesen, served us lunch. When he's not tending bar he's growing apples nearby.

       They say Lower Michigan is like a fat hand with Detroit at the base of the thumb.  Now Francesca and I will leave the tip of the pinky, step off the middle finger, and venture into the U.P. (upper peninsula).  They say it is cooler and wilder, just right for two born-to-be-wild wanderers.


Monday, June 24, 2013


        Kentucky's Mammoth Caves National Park has the world's longest collection of caves.  Over 400 miles of dark, cool, passageways swirl around below like a metropolis for giant ants. 
    Park guide, Jerry Bransford, took our group down winding steps until we were 250-feet underground. Ranger Jerry is the fifth generation in his family to serve as a cave guide.  Mat Bransford, a slave, got the family business going in 1839.   It is mind-blowing to wander these labyrinths carved by water and lit by lamps.
     We were told that a doctor believed the constant 54 degree temperature would be good for people suffering from tuberculosis.  He set ups a hospital in the 1850's (you can see the remains) and un-miraculously, his patients got worse.  He too died from the consumptive disease six years later.  
    When we returned to the surface we met a young steamfitter who spends his free time under the earth.  "I like to explore new passageways.  Some of them are so narrow I can't turn my head when I crawl", he told us.   What's fun for him would be a nightmare for me.
Southern Magnolia   

    The next day we were zipping out of southern heat and into the Ohio cool.  We had a brief stop at Neal Armstrong Space Museum in his hometown, Wampakoneta.   I couldn't stop thinking about the words he spoke as he took the first step onto the moon, how he'd be accused of screwing them up, and how, forty years later, new technology proved he had got it right. ( he really did say, "That's one step for a man…").
    I sat in a mock-up of Armstrong's Gemini space capsule.  There was barely enough room to turn you head in that as well.
[ Related note:  If you are one of the twelve people who have not seen the space station commander singing David Bowie's "Space Oddity" while floating in space,  google it it now]


We finally reached the land of summer coolness, Michigan.   A road sign warned, "Prison area.  DO NOT pick up hitch hikers!".

    We were still looking for strangers in striped clothing when we arrived in Ann Arbor.  Friends took us to one of their favorite places for dinner, "Zingerman's".  The colorful roadhouse to totally entertaining.  Their menu features all kinds of things including a wide variety of grits.  If you want to spice them up there are over 600 different sets of salt & pepper shakers displayed on the walls.
    Our waitress said many have been donated by people who had beat their addictions to collecting these tiny, tabletop treasures.  
   The eatery has many special programs including "Camp Bacon".  Go there and you'll learn 26 different ways to chow down on a pig.


 After dinner we headed to a state park, twenty miles north, to camp.  Apparently neither of our GPS's had heard of the place.   They led us to a dog park in a town called "Pinkney".    At ten pm the place was dead.  A 7-11 clerk told us he we might be able to get to the park by taking a left at the next light.   When we did, we saw a sign that said, "This way to Hell".  It was late, we were tired, so we figured, "What the hell, we'll see if they have camping".
   Ten minutes later we were passing through Hell, Michigan, and the road soon led to our park.   

   Having been where few dare to go, I can report it was not that hot but the mosquitoes?  Hellish!


Sunday, June 23, 2013


     Our summer adventure continued with a long drive north to Atlanta.  We visited my niece and her husband.  Six months ago they went to a wedding in Scotland and returned  -a little later than planned-  with this beautiful baby. "Afton" is named after a Scottish river.
    Nashville came next.  Francesca's nephew and his girlfriend are pursuing advanced degrees there.  The city is called "The Athens of the South" because of its many universities and its life-size replica of the Parthenon. Of course, music is the big thing and we bicycled down Music Row. 

Francesca, the Grove guy, Ivo, Minoo and the Music City Center

Live country music blared out of the bars as did the smell of stale beer and urine.
  We opted for a concert in Riverfront Park.

Its crazy that Coconut Grove can't have something like this.
 Maybe, working together, we can make our hometown's waterfront as special as Nashville's.  

East Nashville is like the Grove used to be. 

The houses have age, color, and character.

Monday, June 17, 2013


Hang gliding   
This year's Tour of America began last Friday. We made our first stop at Wallaby Ranch. 
  Just west of Orlando, it is one of the premiere hang gliding schools in the country.

The 500-acre facility is fantastic, a summer camp for adults that's open year-round.   While most folks go for the flying, they also have hiking, biking, and a pool-with-a-view.  If that's not enough there are climbing walls, beach volleyball, almost every other fun thing imaginable.


Hungry?  Chow down in the dining hall.

 Francesca opted for a quiet place to read.

Getting in some practice

     We had stopped by to drop off a painting that the owner, Malcolm Jones, had purchased. 

   He is not only a connoisseur of fine art but an exceptional pilot.  The Tampa-native has taken over 30,000 people for tandem flights in his gliders.  His safety record is perfect.
    For a little more than the price of admission to Disney World (ten miles east), you can be towed up by a little Dragonfly plane until you are one with the clouds. Malcolm will be next to you to take care of everything. 
Photo   He has been doing this for nearly forty years.   In 2012 a woman celebrated her 100th birthday with Malcolm-in-the-Sky (see this and everything else on their beautiful website, 

      A half-mile up, the Dragonfly's cable is released and the two of you are as free as a bird.   It's one of the coolest things that you will ever do.

People come here from all over the world for the great flying.  When I brushed my teeth in the community bathroom, this tube of Russian toothpaste was looking up at me.

 When Francesca brushed hers, this curious tree frog was staring at her.

We were invited to stay for the night.  We parked the camper between the tree house

and the landing strip.  

 In the morning we were awaken by our barking dog.  She didn't like balloons floating through the sky.
  That's annoying as it gets at Wallaby Ranch.