Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Lucky Few

Linda and I have been traveling for more than four years as I write. In many ways, it feels like a lifetime. I can barely remember what it was like to live in a house and go to a regular job every day. If and when the day comes where we will have to give it all up, it'll probably be one of the most difficult transitions I'll ever make.

I've had some amazing opportunities to photograph this beautiful country since we began our great adventure. I never lose sight of how lucky I am to be able to immerse myself in nature, free from the stresses of an ordinary life. Before I became a photographer, I was a cinematographer, working with my partner Glenn to produce documentaries, music videos and short films. I have recently returned to shooting video and wanted to create something meaningful, something that would highlight this amazing life. The resulting film called "An Uncluttered World" has resonated with many people, most notably fulltimers and some even featured it on their own blogs.

In the film, I refer to the lucky few and I think all of us who are living on the road fit that description. I hope you enjoy it, click below to watch.

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Friday, September 21, 2018

Making a Beeline Out West

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Remember a couple of posts ago when I said we would do Wisconsin justice after our visit to Chicago?

Yeah. Scratch that.

We left Chicago and headed north toward Milwaukee. Our dear friend Jo Wishnie has sent us a ton of great suggestions of places to visit, and we really had every intention of stopping there. First, though, we stopped at Cummins to spend an overnight and get an oil change for Scoopy. We were in and out by 9:30 the next morning, so we rolled into Milwaukee and right out the other side and drove straight on to Sheboygan.

There were three things plotting against a stay in Milwaukee. First, the smoke from western fires were reaching the Great Lakes and it was hard to tell the sky from the water, it was that hazy. Second, the state fair had just finished up and they had not yet opened the campground to the general public, so really, not a lot of affordable places to stay. And third, after a non-stop week in Chicago, we were exhausted.

The Bold Look of Kohler

We settled into the Sheboygan Elks Lodge with only two things on our agenda over the next three days other than relaxing. First, we wanted to find a fishmonger and get more whitefish, and two, I wanted to go visit the Kohler factories and Design Center.

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The entrance to all things Kohler in Sheboygan.

Truthfully, Kohler was the main reason we were even in Sheboygan. I am a big fan. When we built our house in 2003, we had several bathrooms to kit out. I spent a lot of time searching for just the right fixtures and I loved Kohler products the very best of all. We ended up on a three-hour tour of the factories, which was great. Unfortunately there were no photos were allowed. The best part, though, was the Design Center. I love me some fixtures!

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The master bathroom of our lake house brimming with Kohler fixtures.

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Kohler was the first to come out with colors! That square tub? We had that one in our master.

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Steven made a new friend but she wasn’t very chatty.

Having moseyed about at a leisurely pace (for us) on Highway 2 and around Lake Michigan, we were now on a mission to go west and get to Cody, WY. When I am in "lemming" mode (go until we reach our destination or fall off a cliff, whichever comes first) it is difficult for me to slow down and stay in the moment. But I knew Steven would appreciate a slower pace and perhaps a photo op or two, so I researched Roadside America along I-90 and planned our stops accordingly. This was right up his alley, the weirder, the creepier, the better.

We are (in) Sparta!

No, not the ancient Greek city in the Peloponnese, rather, the Walmart parking lot in Sparta, Wisconsin. Here we experienced the second worst storm we'd seen on the road, the first being in North Dakota. But fortunately we awoke to blue skies, which meant Steven could venture out to visit F.A.S.T. - the Fiberglass Statue Mold Yard. This is essentially a “graveyard” of used molds for fiberglass statues and falls firmly into the category of curiosity of the creepy kind. I know, exciting, right? The information available warns of wasps and sharp edges, so I declined to accompany him, although I admit Bob's Big Boy was tempting. He loved it, though, so that's all that matters.

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Our camping spot at Walmart in Sparta.

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The mold yard in Sparta. It was kinda like walking through a cemetery.

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This display of Gibson guitars was pretty cool.

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The mold for Bob’s Big Boy!

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There was definitely a high creep factor at the F.A.S.T. mold yard…right up Steven’s alley!

In The Valley of the Jolly (Ho! Ho! Ho!) Green Giant

Who doesn't remember the Jolly Green Giant and Sprout? We found them in Blue Earth, MN, our next stop. Blue Earth is one of the few small towns we've seen in our travels that is flourishing. At least, it appears that way. We saw no business for sale on Main street, none closed and boarded up. Folks were out and about shopping, visiting, eating in the restaurants. I guess it's good to be a company town, and even though Green Giant has changed hands several times, its identity remains squarely in Blue Earth. Having Winnebago Industries close by doesn't hurt either.

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The Jolly Green Giant looking pretty epic just after sunrise.

We stayed three nights at the county fairgrounds at the edge of town, $20 for full hook ups. You can't beat that! And as luck would have it, the fairgrounds is where the 60' tall Jolly Green Giant resides. Although he is made of fiberglass and hails from Sparta, it was a competitor who created him, not F.A.S.T.  Apparently gigantic fiberglass things are big in Sparta, no pun intended. Throughout Blue Earth, there were also "painted Sprouts" on display. You remember Sprout, right? The Jolly Green Giant's little sidekick? There were some pretty cute ones around town and we enjoyed searching them out. Our time in the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant was very relaxing, a good mix of rest, chores and exploring.

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The Jolly Green Giant and Blue Earth Locker where we stocked up on some yummy sausages.

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Sprouts popped up all over town. It was fun finding them all.

So Corny

We left Blue Earth and made our way to Mitchell, SD, Home of the Corn Palace. This was a return trip for us and we stayed at the same place - Camp Cabela's. Last time we stayed here we made our very first visit ever to the Cabela's store, and we remember being so overwhelmed by the merchandise (so much camo!) and vast selections, we didn't stay for long. This time we were like old hands, making our way from one familiar area to another. I guess if you take advantage of their generous parking policies, you're bound to buy something eventually. Steven got a couple of shirts but I think we're still ahead in the camping cost category.

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Cabela’s always has awesome displays!

We stayed just one night in Mitchell. Try as we might to summon the interest to visit the Corn Palace, we just couldn’t. So once again, we drove by it and then left town without visiting.  We did, however, enjoy some freaking awesome Mexican food, which I had been avoiding after a not-so-pleasant experience in Duluth.

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We only managed a drive-by shooting of the Corn Palace.

Gleaming Dignity

Two years ago at this same time of year we were making our way from Cody to Campbellsville, KY for our first stint at Amazon. We drove by a stunning, gleaming statue, and I hollered, "what was that???" but didn't stop to see it. We were kind of caught off-guard, so we just kept going. We weren't going to make the same mistake this time. Her name is Dignity and she's a 50-foot high stainless steel sculpture of an Indigenous woman in Plains-style dress holding a billowing, blue star quilt. She was created by the South Dakota artist laureate Dale Lamphere and sits on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River near Chamberlain, South Dakota. When we saw her during our drive-by, she had just been installed and, wow, what an grand impression she made!

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Dignity is a truly magnificent sculpture.

On a sunny day, Dignity gleams, but she's still beautiful no matter the weather. We are so glad we made this stop a priority. The bluff where she sits is actually at a rest stop on I-90, and there is a visitors center there as well. Do not miss this stop if you pass by!

Rapid Elks

There is one other thing we passed by that piqued Steven's interest as we traveled along I-90. 1880 Town, a western-themed tourist site that boasts movie sets from "Dances with Wolves". We saw it in 2016, too, and as per usual, we just rolled on by. This time was no different, as we continued to the Elks Lodge in Rapid City. This is a very popular lodge and they only have ten sites. Getting in means arriving early so there would be no stopping at the 1880 Town. We got the second to the last site available and the last one was nearly unusable. Yet, we sat and watched a 40 ft. motorhome back right in and set up. I like to think I'm pretty good at getting into tight places with Scoopy, but that guy had some skills!

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For lunch on the way to Rapid City, we had some corn by a cornfield.

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Our spot at the Rapid City Elks Lodge.

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Out of nowhere came a brief hail storm while we were in Rapid City. Thankfully, there was no damage.

I took the opportunity to get a cut and color and I have to say that, since I've been on the road, I've had my best cuts in Duluth and Rapid City. Crazy, huh? You just never know, although I will say the one thing both these shops had in common is that they are Aveda stylists. It's tempting to say "you get what you pay for", but my third best cut was at a Supercuts in Tucson. It's a crapshoot, really.

Even though it required backtracking 110 miles, Steven got up early one morning and made the trip to 1880 Town. It is a touristy place, to be sure, but for him, it presented the opportunity to photograph a series rather than a single subject. He explains it here.

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Scenes from around 1880 Town.

That's WY

Our final stop before Cody was Deer Park Campground in Buffalo, WY. I wish I had something exciting to write about, but our stay in Buffalo was filled with chores. Sometimes that's kind of relaxing, in that it's a productive stay, but not the kind of place where we're running around seeing things. That can be exhausting. We knew we'd be boondocking once we got to Cody, so we needed to get completely caught up on laundry and cleaning. We literally left the campground once and that was to eat breakfast at a little café downtown.

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Our campsite at Deer Park Campground. Very relaxing!

So that's it! Our trip west from Chicago was 1,200 miles over 15 days. To me, that's a pretty good mosey.  Steven got to photograph some stuff and we didn't fall off a cliff!

Up Next:  Cody!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Chicago!

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In our four years on the road, we have visited many of the major cities in the US, the most recent being New York and Boston in 2017. Chicago has always been high on our list and this year, we finally had a chance to visit this great city.

One of the big challenges about visiting a city of this size is where to park our 38 foot home. Usually, we consider somewhere far enough away that it won't break the bank and is also near public transport. But we learned from fellow fulltime travelers Jason and Nikki Wynn that there is a truck marshalling yard just behind the McCormick Place Event Center that allows RVs to boondock for a reasonable fee. It was a little nerve wracking figuring out how to get to this place because there is a lot of conflicting information on the Web, but it wound up being pretty straightforward. To avoid as much traffic as possible, we decided "in on a Sunday, out on a Sunday".

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On the way into the city.  The traffic was moderate and easy to navigate.

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Our “campsite” at the marshalling yard. Pretty awesome, right?

Once Scoopy is situated, our usual mode of transport when we go anywhere is by car. We don't really take taxis and we only rarely rent bikes. In fact, New York City was the one and only time we took to riding around on two wheels. Chicago has a similar setup called Divvy and they make it incredibly simple using a phone app to find a bike and prepay so you can just grab and go. We were both eager to give it a try.

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A Divvy depot and one of the bikes we used to get around town.

The day we arrived in Chicago was baking hot. Travel days tend to be just that so we don't plan to do anything else except relax when we arrive. On our first full day in Chicago, we got going pretty early and rented a couple of Divvy bikes. All was going well until about five seconds after we hopped on. Dark clouds had moved in and the rain cascaded from the heavens. It was like that on and off for most of the day but we managed to get as far as Navy Pier anyway and enjoyed the sights. We also visited the popular Cloud Gate, otherwise known as The Bean. We thought to ourselves, biking will be a great way to get around the city. But as it turned out, that was the first and last time we rented bikes :) Why? Well, we got lazy, opted for Lyft and never looked back.

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The views from Navy Pier, although foggy, were still dramatic.

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Cloud Gate lets you feel like you are on drugs without being on drugs.

From then on, anytime we wanted to go out exploring, we fired up our Lyft app and a car arrived mere feet from Scoopy and whisked us off. We chose to ditch the bike idea because temperatures were mostly in the upper eighties and nineties. No fun arriving where you're going dripping with sweat.

Chicago has a character and personality that is completely its own. To me, it's prettier than New York, mainly because of the Riverwalk. But there's also an abundance of arts and the city houses many museums, galleries and music venues.

We've figured out over time that the smartest approach to visiting a big city is to do a couple of worthwhile tours to get our bearings. Early on, we went on one of the river boat tours and, I have to say, it was absolutely worth the time and money we spent. You can really appreciate the amazing architecture better than driving around and, besides, the streets in Chicago are legendary for creating confusion and many an out-of-towner has gotten completely lost in their midst.

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The boat tour was the best way to see the spectacular architecture of Chicago.

The the next day we did a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. While I enjoyed this tour, I found the guide to be a little flat and, for 2 1/2 hours, that can have an influence on your experience. A bonus with the bus tour was that it included an additional evening excursion absolutely free! Linda passed but I really enjoyed seeing the city at night. This time the tour guide was really terrific.

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Having fun on the daytime bus tour!

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A whole different perspective on the city on the evening tour.

Of course we couldn't leave Chicago without trying one of their famous deep dish pizzas. We went to Giordano’s after our bus tour. We were starving when we arrived and, to our horror, we were told it would take 45 minutes to be ready. We got a couple of appetizers and a few glasses of wine to keep us entertained in the meantime :) The pizza was really good but I think Linda and I prefer the thinner crust pizzas.

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Deep dish at Giordano’s and wood-fired at Eataly’s!

I think the biggest appeal of Chicago for me personally was having access to the art museum. Linda stayed at home while I got a dose of the arts. It's such an amazing museum, I could have spent a week there. Towards the end of the week, we went to Grant Park to see the Grant Park Orchestra play. Holy cow, it was such a joy to see the lights come on in the surrounding buildings while the music of Prokofiev played. It reminded me that, even in the midst of a busy city with the constant sound of distant sirens, the most delicate of musical notes can overpower it all.

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Inside the Art Institute of Chicago.

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Listening the the orchestra at the Grant Park Pavilion.

The week flew by and I managed a couple of solo days and together we visited one of the local farmers markets and went to see the latest Mission:Impossible (highly recommended, by the way). I could have stayed for at least another week. As much as we love the energy and excitement of cities of this scale, we were still happy to move on be away from it all.

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So many things to shoot in Chicago. I felt like I wore out a pair of shoes in the week we were there.

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We just had a yummy breakfast here at one of the farmers markets.

Still, it was a photographer's dream to be in a city with such architectural wonders. As well as shooting an abundance of photographs, I put together a short film with the highlights of our visit. You can view it here:

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Up next: Making a beeline west!