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.

 

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

All the little things

If you’re looking for lots of travel excitement or Alumapalooza news, you might want to come back on Tuesday, because right now we’re still in the lead-up to the event. These last few days are dedicated to setting the stage (literally and figuratively) so that we’re ready to host 450 people for most of a week. It’s a lot of work.

APZ10 setting chairsAPZ10 parking trailer

Lisa and Beth were busy getting all the registration materials set up on Thursday, Matt and his parking crew were figuring out how to park early arrivals without losing them in soft clay starting on Friday, Brett has been everywhere with his walkie-talkie dealing with a thousand details, a bunch of us pitched in to set tables and chairs for 400 people, I have been working out hassles related to shipments for the new Airstream Life Pop-Up Store and checking on important little things back in Tucson, and Eleanor has been prepping for a lot of cooking. In addition to her two culinary seminars and Dirty Orange laundry duties, she also committed to making dinner for the Pop-Up Store staff (mostly Suzie and me) nightly.

APZ10 Super Terry water pump

Traditionally on the Sunday before Alumapalooza, Super Terry and I take care of a list of maintenance items on the Airstream. We do this mostly because Sunday is a relatively quiet day before the event gets going, and because it’s the first full day Super Terry can be on site. It might seem easier to just schedule a maintenance appointment with Airstream’s Service Center but as an organizer it’s a huge problem to lose my trailer for a day during the event, so I haven’t tried that since 2010.

APZ10 free toiletThis year my list was fairly benign: replace the toilet (for a leaking seal & general wear), flush the disc brake fluid, adjust one window, replace the water pump, replace a worn-out lift arm on a Fantastic Vent. Nothing major. As always, Super Terry is so competent that I was basically redundant, just there to answer questions and fetch things, and even with a trip to the hardware store it was all done in a couple of hours. The Airstream is back to 100% operational status, which is a relief since I’ll be logging some serious miles and a lot of nights in the next 90 days.

There has been a lot of noise on Facebook about the wet conditions here in Jackson Center. I can only assume people who are raising the issue have not been to Alumapalooza before. It’s usually wet in the weeks before the event, and thunderstorms are a near-daily occurrence. It seems that every year someone raises the alarm and starts a rumor that the event is going to be cancelled, or that everyone will get stuck in the mud. Trust me, we’ve never left an Airstream behind and we’ve never cancelled. It always works out.

In the first year of Alumapalooza it rained every day and by Saturday we’d had enough with the mud and damp, so we downloaded Jimi Hendrix playing his twisted version of the National Anthem during the rain at Woodstock, turned the speakers up to 11 and blasted the field in the early morning. It was a good “what the hell” moment, and it worked. People popped out of their trailers like gophers, looked for the source of the sound, and then generally gave us a big thumbs up. Half of them were probably at Woodstock originally, so they got it.

APZ10 Coleman happy hour

Of course the early arrivals see little of this. They are here to chill, and they are experts at it. By Saturday night little gatherings and happy hours were popping up all over the field. My friend Rhonda Coleman, who drove out from Oregon in her new Interstate motorhome, is a bit of a party animal and immediately hosted a mai tai party. Rhonda knows how to socialize, and everyone who knows her knows her Airstream is the first place to stop.

In a way, this is the best time to relax at Alumapalooza. Nothing’s happening right now. On Tuesday the factory will re-open and the roads will be flowing with trucks, tractors, and forklifts. The giant air-cleaning system for the wood shop will get fired up (and it runs two shifts so you’d better get used to the roar of it day and night). All the Airstreamers will be here and the local restaurants and stores will be maxed out. You won’t be able to go 50 feet without running into someone you know, or someone who wants to get to know you.

And the schedule! I spend a lot of time each winter working on the program. You can download a copy of the 2010 Survival Guide here. I try to keep it as full as possible. This year we have seminars, music, and workshops happening all day in two tents for five days, plus outdoor stuff like bike rides and Dutch Oven cooking. So once the event gets going, there’s little downtime. By Tuesday night I’ll be thinking fondly of this quiet period.

Landing at The Mothership … again!

At long last, I’m in Jackson Center, Ohio. After 2,000+ miles of driving and seven stops, I’m parked next to what Airstreamers call “The Mothership”, the factory where all Airstreams have been birthed since 1969.

This is a near-mythical place for Airstream fans. Located in the middle of soybean and corn farms and far from any significant population centers, it’s not a destination you’d seek out for any reason other than to visit Airstream. The factory is here because Wally Byam, the founder of Airstream, needed an east coast production facility and he got a deal on a disused WWII-era bazooka factory in the middle of nowhere (the place you’d probably want to locate a bazooka factory). Some of the old factory buildings are still here, still in use, but mostly Airstream has grown into a massive campus on both sides of the main street, and they are adding another 700,000 square feet right now.

The biggest reason to come here, in my biased opinion, is Alumapalooza, which Brett and I hold once a year in the week after Memorial Day. We’ve been doing it for ten years. It’s a 5-day camping event that lasts for 10 days (because most of the attendees show up early).

The other big reason is the factory tour. It’s an old-school tour where you walk right down the production line, meet the people who are building Airstreams, and get sawdust and aluminum shavings in your shoes. No “virtual tour” here, and no “Exit through the Gift Shop”.

Sonora KY overnight parking

Being here at last always make the tribulations of the long drive seem worth it, and this time there were plenty of tribulations. I spent the last night on the road next to a noisy highway in Sonora KY, woke at 3:10 a.m. and decided to hit the road around 5:45 to get an early start on what I expected would be a long day.

In four hours of driving I encountered rush-hour traffic in Cincinnati studded with commuters who clearly wanted to be crushed by 7 tons of Mercedes and Airstream, construction delays, and thunderstorms. Then I picked up Eleanor in Dayton and we began to do the mandatory errands (groceries, photocopies, various other supplies) that lead up to our final arrival at Airstream.

When we landed in the Terra Port and freed the Airstream from its harness, a dozen or more friends were already on hand and eager to say Hi. As I walk through the Service Center and around the campus I see dozens of familiar faces from Airstream, all smiling and welcoming us back. Each visit feels like a homecoming. Even the newbies are not strangers for long; Airstreamers are tremendously gregarious.

Alumapalooza is a big deal here. It’s a chance for Airstream employees to meet the people who buy their product, and there’s a lot of feedback that goes into product improvement. Relatively speaking our group of 450 is also a tidal wave of humanity for the tiny Village of Jackson Center (pop. 1500). The local restaurants like Heidi’s “Heidout” have to anticipate us.

Alumapalooza has been the only event held at the Airstream factory since 2010, when we started it up. Back then I didn’t think about how long we’d be doing it and I guess I never expected it to last this long, but a decade later here we are and the event is the biggest it has ever been. We’re expecting something like 225 Airstreams.

Alumapalooza 10 staff meeting

To pull off an event of this size is a big logistical challenge. We do it with a volunteer staff of just 22 people (having a meeting above) and some help from Airstream.  The trick is to have really good people. Most of our volunteers have been helping run the event for years and they are smart folks who hold (or held) positions of significant responsibility in their real life. Here they wear orange shirts and work hard in the Ohio humidity, hence the nickname “the Dirty Oranges”. They sweat, and sometimes melt like coconut butter in the heat, and for this they are the heroes of the event. We provide them with lots of cold water, clean shirts, and not much else, and yet they keep coming back.

For the next ten days the Dirty Oranges will be handling the bulk of the work. I’ll be like Marlon Perkins, back in the safety of the RV while others tackle the Komodo dragons. Once the event officially starts on Tuesday my job will mostly be to run the Airstream Life Pop-Up Store, host Happy Hour daily with Brett (the funnest part of my day), troubleshoot as needed, and do a few presentations. Eleanor is on tap to make dinner nightly for the Store staff, and she also does the Dirty Orange laundry, in addition to doing two fairly complex culinary presentations.

So we’ll all be busy. And it has begun …