Point Comfort campground, Piseco NY

I’ve noticed that when we are traveling, hardly any day is truly uneventful.  Even the fairly dull days have changes of scenery, new discoveries, or at least problems to solve.  This sort of constant input to the senses is something that I think we all start to miss when we are house bound for too long.

Today is a good example.  Our drive along the New York State Thruway (I-90) was designed by road engineers to be just interesting enough to keep the drivers from falling asleep.  Gentle curves through the green countryside remind us that there is some small skill required to keep the rig on the road.  The Thruway rest areas are all about the same, and unless you escape via a toll booth, there is nowhere else to go.

But as always, the experience you get depends on what you bring to the table.  We made a minor event out of the first Thruway stop because it meant Eleanor could go to the Tim Horton’s there and get the coffee she likes.  It also meant, of course, that we could all try a donut—as if we didn’t still have eight massive Amish maple creme donuts inside the Airstream.

I played other mental games along the long concrete strip of I-90, such as “find the cheap diesel fuel,” “spot the distracted driver,” and a perennial favorite, “outguess Garminita.”  Eventually we exited I-90 near Rome NY (not quite where Garminita wanted us to) and began the wandering trek up Rt 8 that leads into the green paradise of the Adirondack State Park.

This park covers a considerable portion of what New Yawkers like to call “upstate.”  I believe it is the largest state park in the USA, but unlike most others it encompasses numerous small villages.  It is more like a patchwork than a solid green square.  Inside, the roads wind and roll through lush greenery, vacation cabins are everywhere, and you can capture the spirit of northeast outdoorsmanship just by standing beneath the trees and inhaling the fresh air.

I like the little visual cues of the Adirondacks, like the yellow-on-brown road signs and the brown painted “parkitecture” of every campground.  In recent years when making this drive, Eleanor and I have always made a point of parking the Airstream in one of the pull-outs beside a burbling river (and there are many such spots).  We take a little walk to the water, then have lunch and maybe a nap in the Airstream—a fine way to get refreshed for a few hours more drive time.

This time we’ve opted to spend the night next to a little lake named Piseco, just a few miles south of the village of Speculator.  There are lots of public campgrounds here, perhaps not well recognized by the traveling public but very much appreciated by the locals and those in the know.  We’ve chosen Point Comfort campground, found about a mile down a narrow paved road off Rt 8, right on the shore of the lake.

Today, a Friday, we rolled in with no reservation but found this beautiful shady spot on the water nearly deserted.  The friendly camp host said only four sites were taken out of 76, so we had our pick.  Later this month, she said, the campground will fill on weekends but amazingly right now with the gorgeous weather hardly anyone is here.  There are no hookups and the dump station is a mile down the road at another campground, but who cares?  It’s peaceful and quiet and we’ve got a million dollar view of the water.

This park has no cellular service at all, which is great because it means we are forced to just relax in place.  (I am writing the blog on Friday but will post on Saturday when we are back online.)  For a writer, it’s nice to be completely isolated and free of Internet temptations once in a while.  For anyone, it’s a chance to read, talk, plan (for tomorrow’s stops and next week’s motorcycle tour), walk, play, and let the pine-scented air in the windows.  Those the sorts of things we’ve been doing tonight in and around the Airstream.  Uneventful?  Not at all!

Western NY

Decompression mission completed, we left Lou & Larry’s courtesy parking this morning.  After a lengthy round of goodbyes with everyone, we rolled off to I-90 from Cleveland to western PA and eventually to western NY near Jamestown.

Our new mission was to find the fabled “Forbidden” Amish Donuts that I mentioned in a previous blog. It wasn’t hard.  Garminita found the house far out in the countryside of Conewango Valley, a rural town along New York’s “Amish Trail“.  A hand-lettered sign saying “Baked Goods” was the only advertisement, but we knew instantly that this was the place.

The driveway was a major challenge.  I wasn’t about to pass this one by just because our 53 feet of towing rig couldn’t possibly fit.  There was no shoulder on the road either, but when you’ve driven many miles out of your way and have been anticipating creamy maple donuts the size of a softball, it’s amazing what can be done with an Airstream trailer.  We pulled in, turned around (badly scaring an Amish sheep in the process) in my patented 5-point turnaround maneuver, and aimed the Airstream toward the road, partially blocking the driveway and completing obscuring the three little parking spaces the Miller family had provided for their customers.

No matter.  Mr Miller came out and helped with the final back-in, and there were no other customers.  We stepped into the little shack that serves as their shop, and gazed adoringly at simple wood shelves laden with all types of pies, cookies, loaves of bread, cinnamon buns, and other treats.  Although a sign says “No photos,” the amiable Mr Miller allowed me to shoot a couple of the shelves (“as long as you don’t have me in it,”) for our records.

The real problem here is choosing what not to buy, since everything looks good—and the prices are a bargain.  We chose a half-dozen molasses cookies at $1.50, a jar of hot pepper relish, and a dozen donuts.  Our total was $14.50.  The maple donuts were not stocked, but on request he whistled to a family member and they labored in the kitchen unseen for a few minutes to custom-glaze and fill the dozen donuts for us, while we chatted about our travels and the spectacular spring weather to our Amish host.

Now, each of these donuts are absolutely enormous, kind of like a Cinnabon size but much better for being entirely homemade and local.  One of them is a meal.  We hauled the Airstream out of the driveway, waving to two members of the Miller family as we went, and sought out a roadside stop so that we could properly devour one each.

We found a NY State Fishing Access point on tiny Lake Flavia where nobody was fishing, pulled the Airstream in, and got into the donuts.  I really thought I would eat two of them, but one was definitely as much as I could eat—and I love maple cream donuts.  They’re that huge.

Getting out of that part of western NY state required a fair amount of 90-degree turns from one country lane to another, and much bouncing of the Airstream.  There was some re-packing needed at the next rest stop but it was all worth it.  We still have nine huge donuts left.

Tonight we are overnighting at Darien Lakes State Park, just east of Buffalo.  Being Thursday, there was no problem getting a site without a reservation.  While in the campground office we picked a spot that we’ve used before, but when we got down to the site it was flanked by two families who were nursing smoking “campfires” [Minor Rant: I wish campers would learn how to make fires rather than just smoke signals] and screaming children, and so decided to choose a site further away.  We’ll only be here one night and the weather is so fine that we want the windows open this evening.

This is a beautiful open site next to a grassy lawn that is just begging for a game of frisbee or whiffleball.  Too bad we don’t have a team.   We’ll just have to admire the view and walk around a little to get over four hours of towing.

Tomorrow our plan is to take I-90 east to the Adirondacks.  The only stop planned is Tim Horton’s to get some coffee, which means we have plenty of time for side trips if we think of anything we want to do.  Or we can just pause by the roadside and eat three more mammoth donuts …

Planning for ‘fandango

I would like to claim that we are still in the post-palooza recovery, and that’s the reason we must remain parked in Lou & Larry’s driveway, but in reality I think that the recovery was complete last night.  Now we are just hanging around because it is easy and fun to be here at the all-inclusive Northeastern Ohio Airstream Commune & Hotel California.  Lou & Larry have rolled out the red carpet for us every year since 2006.  As they say, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

Living here is like having an extended family, composed entirely of Airstreamers.  There are three other Airstreams lounging here in the two driveways, and we all meet up daily for a group dinner inside the house.  Last night Eleanor brought over peanut noodles, and a bowl full of honeydew melon & blueberries with mint/lime sauce (both dishes using recipes she demonstrated at Alumapalooza), Loren grilled sausages with onions & peppers, Shinim made delicious Korean appetizers and cellophane noodles with beef, sKY made an avocado & yogurt dip in her Vitamix blender, and Lou & Larry supplied all the condiments, bread, and cheese.  Eclectic and fun.

At 8:30 we headed over to Loren’s house across the street to try out the Wii game “Rock Band.”  I’d never played it before.  They have the full setup: two guitars, keyboard, microphone, and drum kit, so we could all play at once.  I started on drums but was pathetic, so I switched to bass guitar.  Mike and Loren were expert on keys, while slaDE and I struggled by on the guitars, but eventually we all got the hang of it and it was hilarious fun.  Eleanor and Emma showed up later and joined in, singing and playing drums. My favorite time was when Eleanor and I did a duet of “Space Oddity” (David Bowie) while I played bass.  They nicknamed me “Bouncy.”  Whatever.  It felt like the old days in high school, only it sounded a lot better.  Loren says this has to be our official post-‘palooza decompression program from now.

Today the plan was to drive up to Cleveland to visit the West Side Market, but unfortunately a repair intervened.  It seems like something always needs tweaking when we come to Lou & Larry’s, which is actually fine because Larry always knows exactly where to go to buy a part or get something fixed.  This time it was one of the propane tanks, which began hissing out gas when I turned it on.  There’s a rubber gasket inside the valve that somehow got mangled and wasn’t able to seat correctly.  We hauled it down to the local propane supplier to get the entire OPD valve replaced (replacement parts aren’t available) and it will be ready this afternoon.

I suppose we could have still headed to Cleveland but I really need to get more work done.  I spent the entire day Tuesday locked up in the Airstream, catching up on various things that were neglected over the past two weeks of traveling and ‘paloozing.  The Fall 2012 issue needs a week of my attention and with travel plans I don’t really have a week of time available, so justifying another day away is difficult.  We’ve also got to get on the Alumafandango tasks, which are innumerable and complex.

Brett had a mishap yesterday on the road; the U-joint on the Argosy motorhome’s driveline broke, which caused the driveshaft to drop and flail around causing secondary damage.  After a AAA tow, he and Lisa are now stuck in East Overshoe (somewhere in Tennessee) with a pair of mechanics named Cletus (both of them) whose primary tools seem to be hammers.  Parts availability is poor, to say the least.  Cletus and Cletus banged away at his motorhome until 1 a.m. last night and at this point he’s hoping that he can get a hack repair that will get them home so that the entire thing can be disassembled and fixed correctly later at twice the cost.

I’m sympathetic, but on the other hand Brett’s conundrum is great for business.  To distract himself from the saws, hammers, and blowtorches underneath his feet, he has been working on ‘fandango stuff.  We’ve had a good call about the tasks ahead, and we are starting to come to grips with all the issues.  So far we’ve covered the basics of volunteers, apparel, transportation, seminars, equipment rental, meals, contests, and entertainment, and we’ve confirmed Lodge Logic (cookware) will be coming in as a sponsor.  If Brett is stuck in Tennessee for a few days we’ll get this thing nailed down in no time!

That’s probably not going to be the case, however.  We both have miles to go and much to do.  He’ll get on the road today most likely, and we will be heading out shortly as well.  Last night Eleanor and I worked out our routing for next few days, which is pretty straightforward (I-90 thru OH, PA, NY, then Adirondacks and on to VT).

We are going to mix up the usual route with a few stops, including a long-anticipated taste of Forbidden Amish Donuts. We will depart on Thursday and plan to arrive in Vermont on Saturday, which for those of you who are curious, is back to our usual rate of 150-250 miles per day.  We will try to avoid ending up in East Overshoe like Brett.

Post ‘palooza

(photo courtesy of Nick Martines)

I’ve been working on this event for a year, and now it is finally over.  Sunday morning was wonderful. I awoke around 7 with beautiful sunlight streaming in the windows and crisp air outside, and just lay in bed basking in the knowledge that I didn’t have to get up and start running around.  Emma had a sleepover at her friend Katherine’s trailer, so Eleanor and I were alone to enjoy the quiet after the storm of Alumapalooza.

By around 8:30 we were still lounging around the Airstream with all the shades drawn. I was working on the blog and Eleanor was also at her computer, when we heard an assertive knock at the door.  I figured it was one of the Alumapalooza team, finally deciding we’d enjoyed enough laziness, and being in a good mood I decided to have a little joke.  Before I opened the door I said loudly, “Eleanor, can you untie me so I can open the door?”  Equally loudly, Eleanor said, “No, I like having you tied up and I’m not done with you yet!”  I paused a moment and then said, “Aha, the oil you smeared on me is letting me slip out of the ropes!”  and I opened the door to see … nobody there.

About fifty feet away I spotted a lady heading away from us rapidly, and I called out, “Were you looking for me?” She walked back and explained she had wanted to invite me to see the work her husband had done on the interior of their trailer.  I was really not in the mood to get out of my pajamas and go see a trailer, plus it was time to go assist with the teardown of all the Alumapalooza stage stuff, so I said, “I’m sorry, this isn’t a good time for me right now,” and she agreed to email me a few pictures instead.  It wasn’t until I had closed the door again that I realized our playful dialogue had been heard by the wrong person.  That probably explains her apparent discomfort when talking to me.

Oh well.  If you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t come to Alumapalooza, because we do like to avoid seriousness whenever possible.  I think she was not permanently traumatized by it.  I got dressed and went out to help with striking the set, which took a few hours (in between goodbyes and congratulations).  By noon, the field was 90% cleared of Airstreams and tents, and most of the volunteer staff were on their way home.  We hitched up and towed over to the Terra Port.

A few people were still hanging around, including Brett & Lisa in the Argosy motorhome, Alex & Charon, sKY & slaDE, Elly C, and Kite-Flyin’ Joe.  We spent the afternoon cleaning up and getting back in the mode of “normal” Airstream life, which meant laundry, washing the mud off shoes and mats, fixing the leaky sink in the bathroom, and re-arranging our stuff for the next phase of travel. I really wanted to go somewhere for dinner just to have a change of scene, since I had hardly been off Airstream property in a week, so we ended up in Lima OH with Brett, Lisa, Alex, and Charon that night.  We had a fairly mediocre dining experience but I was still glad to get out of town for a couple of hours.

The talk lately has been a combination of Alumapalooza review and Alumafandango (Denver) planning.  Already I’ve received a few emails from people with their suggestions on how we can improve the event, and we’ve all talked about new ideas and ways to make our jobs more manageable.  Most of the new ideas will be tested at Alumafandango in August, including an all-new cooking competition that we will announce in a couple of weeks.

On Monday morning we all finally got to visit the Airstream company store like regular people.  It was blissfully uncrowded, with only a few service customers hanging around.  I bought an LED lamp, a tube of caulk, and some replacement latches.  I’m gearing up for our winter-time Airstream renovation.  Brett went into town to make his final payoffs (we buy services and products locally in Jackson Center whenever possible), and then we had our post-event debrief with the Airstream managers.  This year there was little to discuss since the event went so well, but we have a few procedural improvements for next year and we are hoping that some re-seeding and drainage improvements will be made to the field as well.

By 2 p.m. we were off, heading northeast toward the Cleveland area, where we have landed in “the best campground in northeast Ohio,” AKA Lou & Larry’s driveway.  Three other Airstreams are here as well, making it a sort of mini-rally, and Al & Shinim (Team Doxie) dropped in, and Loren & Mike.  Most of us sat around the campfire in the back yard last night telling funny travel stories until 10.

I think even the people who weren’t working at Alumapalooza appreciate the chance to decompress before re-entering the “real world”.  I know I do.  Lots of work lies ahead for ‘fandango, the Fall 2012 issue of Airstream Life, and several other projects.   But I can’t complain—my job is making fun and that’s not so bad.

Alumapalooza, Days 4 & 5

Wow, I was so busy yesterday that I didn’t realize I’d forgotten to write the blog until today!  It has been that kind of week.  So I’ll summarize some of the events of Friday and Saturday … if I can remember it all.

Friday was our rain day, at least in the morning.  We had to cancel the Open House and the Kid’s Swim party, but Dutch Oven cooking worked out just fine under the Main Tent.  Seven of us baked Chocolate Cobblers with Matt Hackney’s help, and about fifty people showed up to eat them.  I was favorably impressed—mine came out very well and it was really good, and so were all the others.

The Backup Derby came off as planned, on asphalt near the Service Center.  This was the event where teams of two are challenged to back up a single-axle U-Haul trailer through a course of orange cones.  “The Stig” showed up to run the course first, and set a time of 1:34, which wasn’t really great.  He later explained that he’d practiced in a different tow vehicle, but I think he was just making excuses.

The best time was handily set by Ed Emerick, who completely blew away the competition at 0:41.  We couldn’t believe it, so we had him run it again and the next time he parked it square in the finish box, earning at 10 second bonus, so his second time was just 0:39!  He won a pair of Zip-Dee chairs with the Alumapalooza logo silk-screened on them.

Andy Thomson did his towing talk again, and this year he had a nice Ford Taurus SHO (with 6-cylinder twin turbo) rigged up with a new Airstream International CCD 23.  I took it out for a spin, as did many others, and it drove like a dream.  No exaggerating, this was the best towing combination I’ve ever driven.  Very impressive.

Jim Webb did his Zip-Dee seminar on our awning, which is nice because it means it gets an annual maintenance by the pros.  They adjusted the spring tension, cleaned the arms, and lubricated it.  Thanks, guys!

At Happy Hour we gave away a ton of great stuff again, including a Mega Hitch Lock, more Zip-Dee chairs, some silver jewelry by Kristiana, the new book “Airstream” by Tom Schabarum, some Lodge enamel cookware, cookbooks, free nights at campgrounds, YogaFlight sessions, Tarot card readings by Alex, one-of-a-kind Airstream decals made by Kirk, etc.  Overall this week we gave away probably over 150 different prizes.

Hymn for Her, our Friday night musical act, was apparently a big hit.  I missed much of it but the reviews were great.   Their style of music is unusual, hard to categorize, and great fun.

Saturday dawned bright and dry, so everyone was in a fine mood to enjoy the last day.  We had a mellow schedule offering morning yoga, a 5K run in town, or a breakfast at the local Methodist church.  At 9 a.m. we had our Swap Meet, which was a huge success.  Quite a lot of goodies got traded.  I bought a never-installed NuTone food center from David Winick, which we will install in our Safari this year. (We already have all the appliances to go with it.)

At 10 a.m. the action kicked up a notch with the Rivet Masters contest, which was won by sKY and slaDE (our yoga instructors).  They had 16 completed rivets in one minute, all of them perfect, which was amazing since last year they scored zero and came in last place.  Talk about a comeback!  There was also a three way tie for second place between teams Doxie (last year’s winners), Pounders, and Buck Masters, all with 14 good rivets.

Eleanor’s “Aluminum Chef” demo came off well in the afternoon.  She made salmon and risotto, and the recipes are posted on the Alumaplooza website.  Brett and I were on stage as before, with Brett acting as sous chef and me doing color commentary.  Four couples were selected to come up and eat the meal, and they all raved about it.

After that, Charon and Alex came on stage to swallow swords, breathe fire, and were as brilliant as always.  We last enjoyed their show at the Vintage Trailer Jam in 2008.

This time they finished with a very unusual act in which Alex was vacuum-packed in a plastic bag.  Charon kept the vacuum running until we all donated enough money to the hat, then she let him free.  The money, which amounted to $420, will be used to buy seven annual passes to the community pool, for children of Airstream employees.

After that, it was more door prizes at Happy Hour, and the big act: The Trailer Park Troubadours, and at about 11 p.m. it was all over.

I am very appreciative to all the people who came up to me and said they were having a fabulous time.  Over and over I heard from people how this was the best event they’d ever attended, or sometimes, the first event.  People told me they respected how much work it was to put on something like Alumapalooza (and it is!) and that kind of recognition really helps us keep going.  It’s a tremendous job that takes a full year to organize, and a week of intense stress to manage, but we all love it and everyone on the team has been talking about how they want to do it again in 2013.  So we will—and we’ll make sure that next year, it’s even better.  See you there.