Pittsburgh logistics

GAP sample mapAfter arriving in Vermont with the Airstream, I figured life would get less complicated and I’d be free of the logistical challenges that accompany organizing a major event and a traveling store. I was right, for a while. But now it’s time to start thinking about the next steps of this summer, because it’s going to get tricky soon.

The big challenge of the day is the bike ride from Pittsburgh PA to Washington DC in early September. I’m meeting Bert Gildart, and our friends Adam and Susan, and the four of us will take ten days to ride 333 miles together, then shuttle together back to the starting point.

Those of you who are longtime readers of Airstream Life might recognize Bert as a regular contributor to the magazine. He has been writing destination articles illustrated with his own beautiful photography for Airstream Life for 15 years.

The logistics of a trip like this are complicated enough (gear, accommodations, weather) but I’ve got an extra detail to figure out because I’m showing up with an Airstream. I’ve got to find a safe place to stash the Airstream and tow vehicle for 11-12 days, then get myself, Bert, and our two bikes to the start point in downtown Pittsburgh. You’d think this would be easy—just get a campground—but there are no campgrounds close to the city, and finding transportation that will work for us has proved difficult.

This is a high priority adventure. Bert and I have been talking about doing this ride for years, and I think Bert’s experience will eventually become another article for Airstream Life. So I’m making a rare call-out on the blog: Is there anyone in the Pittsburgh area who can suggest solutions (or best of all, offer courtesy parking)?

New York State Parks

When I get to New York on my big cross-country trips, I have to revise some expectations. For example, I have to forget what I paid for diesel fuel everywhere else and just grit my teeth at the considerably higher New York prices. But the really interesting change is the state parks. They are more abundant than in most other states and, for an RV traveler, sometimes a bit challenging.

The abundance is the part I like. As I travel through the center of the state along I-90 (NYS Thruway) there is a smorgasbord of great little state parks spread out along my path, and once I reach the Adirondack Park there are numerous smaller Dept of Conservation (DEC) parks tucked into the green woods and alongside lakes.

I’m always tempted to stay at every one that I can squeeze the Airstream into. That would mean spending weeks crossing the state, which would be impractical, so instead I pick one or two each trip through and hope that eventually I’ll have seen them all. So far: Darien Lakes, Letchworth, Hamlin Beach, Cayuga Lake, Delta Lake, Verona Beach, Fish Creek Pond, Mills-Norrie, Thompsons Lake, Watkins Glen, Point Comfort, and Eagle Point. There are dozens more, although many in the Adirondack region are tent-only.

The trick with many of these parks, especially upstate, is that they are old-school and hence have narrow roads and tight access for longer rigs. Verona Beach was a good example. I had to make an impossible 90-degree turn into the campsite from a single-lane road. If trees had been closer to the road there would be no way to get the Airstream in that site, but fortunately there was enough open grass that I could cut the corner.

Getting into a site like that is always a bit stressful but also gratifying once parked. “Ah,” I can say to myself, “Stand and tremble in awe at my magnificent Airstream backing skills!” It’s even better when there are onlookers who were wondering if the trailer would jackknife or hit a stump. The key is to completely ignore them as you are parking, and then step out of the truck with a bit of a swagger, so that all of the weekend campers can marvel at the skills of a full-time Airstreamer. At least, that’s what I tell myself is happening whenever I survive one of those episodes.

Eagle Point campground Pottersville NY Airstream1

But even the skills honed by camping in literally hundreds of different campsites can still be tested. On the next night I decided to try Eagle Point Campground in Pottersville NY. This DEC campground is perched atop a rise above Schroon Lake, and it is a lovely place that clearly was designed with tenters in mind, not 30-foot Airstream trailers. Most of the sites are un-level, irregularly shaped, and have impossible approach angles for anything larger than a pop-up trailer. Merely towing through the campground was an interesting test of skill to avoid the trees and rocks that lurked at every squiggle along the way.

There are a few spots designated for 30 and even 40 foot rigs but I think that is more of a theory than a guarantee. I took site #16, which can sort of be accessed as a pull-through by much shorter trailers, but for a 30-footer there’s no way. Once I had the Airstream pulled in enough to clear the very narrow road and a big tree, the car was trapped by a fence and another tree. Even squeezing forward as far as possible, the back of the Airstream was less than a foot from the root-strewn single-lane trail (I have trouble calling it a “road”). Thus I could not unhitch without the aid of a helicopter.

But I got it in, and it looked like a good possibility that I’d be able to get it back out in the morning as long as I was very careful, so I dug out every leveling block I had and made a pair of mountains to raise the right side of the trailer to approximately level. In this case, “approximately” means that full glasses of water would not spontaneously slide off the counter, but in all other respects it was going to be a rather slanted night.

Eagle Point campground Pottersville NY Airstream2

Ah, but so worth it. It is worth the risk (or a detour) to me in order to mingle with beauty for a night and wake up inspired for future adventures—although it would have been better if I was able to stay for more than one night.

From that stay to my final destination in Vermont was a short and uneventful trip through stunningly beautiful countryside. I’ve driven these roads many times before but when the Vermont summer is peaking there’s no beating it: vistas of gorgeous Adirondack and Green Mountains, deep blue Lake Champlain dotted with sailboats, fields mowed or planted, farm stands open … the air itself seems to carry a hint of a marvelous & active summer developing.

I’ll be in Vermont for five weeks, until it’s time to go to the International Rally in Virginia. It’s time for boat rides and bike rides, hiking and wakeboarding, creemees, cookouts, concerts on the grass, fireworks and farmer’s markets. Summer has begun!

What’s over the next hill?

Yesterday and today have been full of mixed emotions for me. Being at Alumapalooza temporarily brought me back to a routine that has been part of my life for a decade, and for a while it felt like nothing had changed. I did many of the same things, met many of my old friends, visited places I’ve been to dozens of times. But all along I’ve known that it was the last time for many things, and it’s time to look forward to what’s next.

Lagrange Airstream 2019-06

This is part of a tumultuous change that started for me when Emma turned 18. For the first time in 13 years there was Airstream travel without Emma. That changed a lot of things, as I documented in the blog last summer. Now everything is changing. It is the last Alumapalooza for me, at least as an organizer. This may be the last time I drive these roads and decompress (in the spot pictured above) with dear friends in early June. This year may be the last that I can be sure I will spend the whole summer in Vermont. I do not know what exactly the year 2020 will hold, but I am sure it will be very different.

For many people change is unsettling. They find comfort in routine and stability. I like a little routine but too much is dull and even scary to me. I suppose it might be considered a bit of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) but I always want to know “what’s next?” In that way I share a philosophy with Wally Byam, the founder of Airstream, who wrote:

Don’t stop. Keep right on going. Hitch up your trailer and go to Canada or down to Old Mexico. Head for Europe, if you can afford it, or go to the Mardi Gras. Go someplace you’ve heard about, where you can fish or hunt or collect rocks or just look up at the sky. Find out what’s at the end of some country road. Go see what’s over the next hill, and the one after that, and the one after that.

I think of change and exploration as necessary for growth. If you own an Airstream you might share that philosophy. But the necessity of change is easy to acknowledge, and difficult to execute. To get there sometimes you have to prune away tradition and past commitments to make space for what’s yet to come—even when you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.

So when people ask me (as several people have in the past few days) “What do you plan to do with your free time now that you’re not doing Alumapalooza?” I don’t have a ready answer. The pat answer is that I plan to do more writing, but of exactly what I don’t know. I plan to do more traveling, but exactly where I cannot say. Perhaps north, perhaps south, or around the world. Some travel will be with the Airstream, and some without. One must simply take a step at a time and see what happens. I think the unknown factor is the exciting part.

Verona Beach State Park

Today’s travel has brought me from the Cleveland area to Verona Beach State Park in upstate New York. The drive itself was uninteresting but I am at least one step closer to a new set of adventures. I’m taking one night here, and another night in the Adirondacks tomorrow. After that, Vermont for a few weeks, and then we’ll see what happens next.


Visiting America’s National Parks—lecture and book

I’m putting distance between myself and Jackson Center now, heading toward new and exciting adventures. At the moment the Airstream is parked near Cleveland at the home of the same dear friends who have offered post-palooza decompression services for ten years. Eleanor will be flying back to Tucson tomorrow and that will end our time in the Airstream together. I’m continuing on to upstate New York and Vermont for a few weeks.

I was able to obtain video of the talk I gave during Alumapalooza on “America’s National Parks.” The talk is nearly an hour long even though I was talking quickly. If you have the time to kill you can find it on YouTube here.

APZ10 Rich National Parks talk

Upon reviewing the video I was mortified to see how difficult conditions are for presenters at Alumapalooza. We are on the grounds of a working factory, so the audio is occasionally marred by the sounds of trucks going past the tent and beeping sounds from the factory. Dogs are always in the tent and often they will bark their opinions, and this time somebody brought a bird to the presentation which you can hear squawking a few times. At one point somebody cut through the tent and walked right in front of the camera. When it rains hard the noise on the tent can be deafening.

In addition to all the audio challenges, the slides tend to be washed out by the bright light (we can’t get the tent dark enough without also trapping in heat and humidity). Alumapalooza is a tough venue. I should have a talk with the bums who organized this.

And in this presentation I was talking way too fast for anyone not born in the northeast USA to understand, and saying “ummm” far too much. So fair warning: it’s amateur hour in this video. I’m going to have to up my game if I want to get tapped for a TED Talk …  (just kidding)

If my lecture didn’t put you to sleep and you want more inspiration for travels to national parks, check out my new book “EXPLORE: Enjoying America’s National Parks With Your RV” on the Airstream Life Store (free shipping) and on Amazon.com. Do me a favor and post a review if you have a copy. Thanks!

The home stretch

For me, there are several key stages to Alumapalooza. Because it’s nearly a two-week endurance trial, it’s helpful to break it up with milestones. First is the pre-event stage, where all the staff are organizing, I’m collecting shipments, and Super Terry comes to do trailer maintenance.

Then there’s the “Hump Day” milestone, which is Wednesday of the event. By then, all the attendees have arrived, registration is done, and we’ve managed to sort out the parking of 200+ rigs. This year parking was the toughest job because of all the rain that softened the ground before we got here. On Hump Day everyone starts to relax and suddenly all the little quibbles & questions that were pervasive on Tuesday magically vanish.

APZ10 Eleanor Brett culinary seminar
Brett and Eleanor prepping for her second culinary demonstration, “Small Plates, Big Finish”.
APZ10 Eleanor culinary seminar
We auctioned off rights to eat what Eleanor made in her culinary demo (for charity). JJ and Sandy Johnjulio, and Dave and Anne-Marie McKeever enjoyed 7 courses with wine pairings.

And the final milestone is today, Saturday, when all of the seminars are done and there’s not much to think about except the Swap Meet and a day of entertainment. This year we have three musical acts performing and one mentalist/magician, plus a car show, a police K-9 demo, and catered dinner. So this is a definite day to chill, even for those who are working in orange shirts. This is the home stretch.

APZ10 Airstream Life pop-up store staff
Rich, Suzie, and friend guarding the Airstream Life Pop-Up Store.
APZ10 pop-up store
A few of the items in the Airstream Life Pop-Up Store. Wood sink cover/cutting boards were a popular item.
APZ10 Airstream Supply Company
Airstream announced its new online store, “Airstream Supply Company”

For me, this is a particularly significant “home stretch”, because it’s my last one. I’ve organized Alumapalooza for ten years. I’ve also run two Vintage Trailer Jams in NY, two Palm Springs Modernism Week Vintage Trailer Shows, two Tucson Modernism Week Vintage Trailer Shows, four Alumafandangos (CO, OR, CA), three Alumafiestas (AZ), and three Alumaflamingos (FL). That’s 26 major events in 12 years.

So it may not be a surprise to you that I’m stepping back from organizing more events. I need to switch to a new path before I become a bobble-head. I’ve got other things that I want to do, new projects (like books to write) and new adventures, in different places. I want to sit in the gazebo in the early morning and listen to the birds cooing, and let my brain wander for a few months. Having a little time off over next winter—when I would normally be organizing the next Palooza—will make that possible.

Don’t worry about Alumapalooza. Brett is going to carry on the tradition, with other people helping him. I’ll still have some input and offer help where I can but it won’t be my event in the future. Airstream Life magazine will continue to be an official sponsor, and we may have another pop-up store next year (I’m not sure yet). If I’m at Alumapalooza 11, you might even see me on stage with Brett at Happy Hour doing our usual goofball routine.

I’m glad to be wrapping up on a high note. This year was challenging because of weather but in all other ways a huge success. At 220+ rigs it was easily the largest event we’ve ever run. Everyone seems to be having a great time (as always) and already they are eagerly signing up for next year. It’s a great feeling to have originated Alumapalooza with Brett ten years ago, to have worked with him in close partnership to make it a cornerstone of the Airstream community, and to leave it in his extremely capable hands to continue for the future. I couldn’t ask for a better outcome.

APZ10 sunset window view