On the Road Again

Friday, August 16 Cy brought the RV to our house after working on a few last minute projects to get The Phoenix (which is what I named our RV) road ready. Summer was winding down, kids were back in school, so it was time for annual family trip! I was excited to load the bus, because this would be the first time I would be able to load and organize everything before setting off on a trip. In the past, we simply loaded everything in and stuck it somewhere well enough to get on the road, but not well enough to have order. Our new house is on a street where the RV can park for longer than an hour, so as we loaded, everything found a home. It was great to hit the road with everything in its place.

Saturday morning, Becky and I headed to Fayetteville with the girls. Ellie and Savannah spent the day with my mom while Becky and I attended a Bible Study Fellowship leaders’ summit to prepare for our upcoming fall study. The guys spent the day finalizing packing and buttoning up the RVs, then headed to Fayetteville to meet us. Once we joined the men, we got the girls settled into their seats and headed north.

Our last two big summer RV trips had vague destinations from the start. Our first trip we were hoping for Acadia National Park, but since we had never gone in an RV before, we really didn’t know where we would end up. Last summer, we were aiming for Yellowstone. This year, we really couldn’t decide where to go. We had talked about Canada – Thunder Bay or Banff (those are on opposite sides of Canada), we had talked about Glacier National Park, and we had even talked about Yosemite National Park. We figured we have the most fun when we just make the trip up as we go, so off we went. We did know that our first “destination” was Kansas City for cheap diesel, so that’s the direction we headed.

The first day of RVing always takes longer than you think it will. Everything needs to be checked over, everything has to get settled, and you have to get in the right mindset. So, we only ended up making it a few hours, but we were on our way. We had just started to get the girls ready for bed when we realized our generator wouldn’t start, which meant we couldn’t use the air conditioning. The generator won’t run if our diesel gets under 1/4 tank, so we had to go get a little diesel before we could go to bed. Luckily, when you’re boon docking in a Walmart parking lot, diesel isn’t far away.

The next morning, after a breakfast of cream of wheat (special request by Ellie) we made our first grocery run, then headed to KC. We arrived at the cheap diesel, to discover a trickier than average gas station (for an RV that is). Cy and Wendell handled it like champs. The girls had lunch while the men fueled up the busses, and I took the car to Target to search down some items we couldn’t get at Walmart. All this multitasking allowed us to get back on the road quickly – only an hour or so after arriving! (Everything with an RV trip is slower than you think it will be.) Then we continued north.

Cy and I decided we should probably figure out some more of a plan. So we laid the options on the table. We didn’t really know much about Glacier National Park or Thunder Bay. Cy’s parents had been to Thunder Bay a few times to see a beautiful waterfall and enjoyed those trips. I’ve always wanted to go to Glacier. Cy talked about adding a trip to Banff onto Glacier since we would be up there anyway. But we just couldn’t decide. Finally, we decided to stay north and shoot for Thunder Bay. We figured it would be cooler up there than it has been in Fort Smith and after a day or two there we could still head west if we wanted, or we could venture further into Canada, or head to the upper peninsula of Michigan. So toward Canada we went, with the second leg of our journey still to be decided. We spent the rest of the day driving. The girls entertained themselves with singing, reading books, and talking to each other. We spent the night on the border of Iowa and Minnesota.

Since we had done a pretty big day of driving on Sunday, we figured we should give the girls a little more of a break on Monday. As we made our way through Minnesota, we made a few pit stops. First, was a trip to Cabella’s to look at some walkie talkies. The girls enjoyed seeing the fish in the giant aquarium and the various elk, deer, moose, and even an elephant on display in the store. Our next sop was to a big RV store so Cy could look for a few parts he wanted for the RV. The girls had a ball in the shopping cart that had a two-seater cozy coupe attached to the front. Later, we ended up back at Walmart to top off the diesel before the prices started going up closer to Canada. We spent the night at another Walmart just outside of Duluth.

Tuesday we woke up and ran into Walmart one more time. Then we headed on toward Duluth. We enjoyed a scenic view of the city as we ate sandwiches for lunch at a visitor’s center. Then we left the big city for the smaller highways along the north shore of Lake Superior. Lake Superior was gorgeous, and often it was difficult to remember it was a lake and not an ocean! We saw lots of industry along the lake and also many beautiful homes with scenic views. The further we got from Duluth, the quainter the towns felt and the more picturesque the sights were. We stopped along the way to try out Betty’s Pies. We figured they must be good because the parking lot was packed with cars and people standing in line waiting for their chance to order a slice. We got a blueberry pie to go so we could have it with dinner. We couldn’t park in Betty’s lot, but had found a pull off just across the street. We walked around where we had parked because the view was spectacular. The bluffs were gorgeous and the water was so clear. This day was really feeling like vacation!

We drove a little way down the road to Gooseberry Falls State Park. Wendell and Becky remember it was a nice walk to see pretty waterfalls, and that sounded fun to us! Ellie hiked on her own (holding hands most of the way) and Savannah happily rode in the baby backpack on Cy’s back. We first went up to a big bridge where we could see down to some of the waterfalls. Then we headed down the trail to the areas where you could stand below the waterfalls. Cy and Savannah immediately headed for the water. Ellie and I walked around the riverbed and Ellie felt some of the smaller streams of water coming off the side of the bluff. Then she got brave and went into the riverbed with Cy and Savannah. She was delighted to splash around in the water while wearing her rain boots. We let Ellie play and took some pictures, then headed along the trail further to see another fall.

After our hike, the day felt spent, so we headed back East a little to a camp grounds in Two Falls, MN. The camp grounds were neat because many of the sites had beautiful views of Lake Superior. We could see the lake from our window, which would be nice for early morning coffee time! Wendell hadn’t been feeling himself so saw a doctor while we got the RVs to their sites and set up. We had a pleasant dinner outside and then once the girls were in bed, Wendell and Becky came over for Blueberry pie. It was delicious! We just wished we had had some vanilla ice cream to go with it! I snagged the recipe while we were at Betty’s Pies, so I will try it out when we get home and see if I can do it justice.

Wild, Wild West

When we began dreaming of our vacation for this year, we decided we wanted an ultimate destination to be our only plan. Last year’s trip was similar. We wanted to go to Acadia National Park, and we just made up everything else along the way. This year’s ultimate destination was Yellowstone since Cy and I had never been. After Colorado Springs, we started making our way more deliberately to Yellowstone. We had a one-day detour into Denver for Cy to visit a customer, then off to Wyoming we went.

The drive through Wyoming put a whole new meaning to the phrase “big country!” The first several hours, the landscape was vast and very desolate. We could see for what felt like forever. When we crossed the Shoshone River and turned north, the views began to be mountainous. But the mountains had a distinct western feel to them and were very different than the ones in Colorado. We found ourselves making references to Longmire, Maverick and Tombstone as we gazed out the windows. Our first wildlife sightings were pronged horn antelope and mule deer running along the highway. One day, we ate a picnic lunch at Devil’s Canyon. It was an incredible sight to see. We learned that Native Americans used to drive bison into the canyon during hunts, which made sense to me because so much of the canyon’s depths looked extremely perilous and was filled with sharp rocks.

We had heard from a friend that we needed to stay in Cody, WY. So that was our next big destination. Because Cy and I like to be surprised along the way on our trips, we don’t do much research before heading to a destination – just enough to get us there and know a few basics. All we knew was that each night there was a fun reenactment of a classic gunfight downtown. When we arrived, we learned that Cody was the pinnacle of the West in the early 1900s. It was the home of Buffalo Bill and his big rodeo featuring Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull. We learned all kinds of interesting facts about Buffalo Bill’s venture in settling Cody when we toured the Buffalo Bill museum. The museum also featured a big gun collection, lots of artwork, and a natural history museum focusing on Yellowstone. The natural history museum was our favorite. It had lots of taxidermied animals that Ellie really liked seeing. It was fun to show her what a buffalo and elk looked like before we got into the park.

We went downtown one evening to see the gunfight. Cy and I were both really excited. We arrived just in time to watch! The cast did a great job and the storyline was cute. When the first shot rang out, Ellie started crying. We explained to her that it was pretend, but she just kept screaming. I walked a little way down the street with her so that her screaming wouldn’t interrupt everyone’s viewing experience, and so that the rest of the gunshots wouldn’t be so loud. I asked if she could be brave and she said, “yes, I be brave for Cookie. I be brave for Gigi.” She continued talking about other family members she could be brave for. She still cried when the characters “shot” at each other, but did better. At one point, two of the “bad guy” actors walked right next to us. I whispered to Ellie to say hi and she reluctantly waved, then yelled at them, “Don’t be scary!!”

After the show was over, we walked a few blocks and ate at a Mexican restaurant. Every night of the summer Cody puts on a big rodeo. The original plan had been to head to the rodeo after dinner, but we determined it would be too much for Ellie and Savannah. We did drive by just to check it out though. In true rodeo form, we saw a group of girls riding into the center of the arena on horseback dressed in red, white, and blue, and holding American flags.

Cody is on the outskirts of Yellowstone. So, we decided to drive the car into the park one day to figure out our next step. We did some research before setting out on our trip regarding Yellowstone. We knew it might be tough to find places to park the RV that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg, but would also get us close to the park (or in the park for that matter). National Parks’ websites are notoriously difficult to find good information about motorhomes. That combined with word of mouth, and we thought that we couldn’t drive a 40 foot RV through the park, let alone park it. So, this initial trip into Yellowstone was kind of like a scouting mission to get the lay of the land.

On our way, we stopped at the Buffalo Bill Dam and looked around. Cy loves dams and really enjoyed learning about its construction. We took some pictures and then headed toward Yellowstone. Once we arrived at the East Entrance, we discovered we could in fact bring the RV into the park. That was exciting! We drove into the park and quickly learned that the east side doesn’t have any amenities or attractions. That section of the park had burned in a wildfire in 2003, and it was still in a real phase of recovery. It was pretty, but in a toasted kind of way.

We arrived at Fishing Bridge and looked around in a store and the visitor’s center. A ranger showed us which RV parks could hold our RV, and gave us some tips on how to get a spot since you couldn’t reserve a spot and they typically filled up every day. We drove around a little, took in the lake, got ice cream and then decided to head back to our RV in Cody since it was a good two hours from the center of the park. Our scouting mission had been successful. We were confident that that night would be our last in Cody and that we would get some fun, full days in Yellowstone starting the very next day!

 

 

 

 

 

Go West, Young Man

About a year ago, Cy, Ellie, and I set off on a grand family adventure. We loaded up in a new-to-us RV and headed north. We visited Ohio, New York, and Maine among other states. We learned the hard way that August in New England isn’t boiling hot like it is in Arkansas. We hiked, Ellie began exclaiming, “BITE!” whenever she spotted ice cream, and made more memories than we can count.

Exactly one year and one baby later, we decided to do it all again. This time, though, we headed west. We left on a Wednesday evening and managed to make it almost to the border of Oklahoma and Kansas. We quickly learned that RV life with an infant and a toddler is a little different than RV life with just one non-mobile toddler. The biggest differences seem to revolve around Savannah’s nursing schedule and Ellie insisting that she should be driving the RV rather than Cy. We spent our first night in a truck stop. Other than adjusting to the noises our sleeping beauties make ALL NIGHT our first night was uneventful.

The next morning we got back on the road as quickly as we could. Cy had a customer to visit in Wichita. The girls and I stayed back at the RV and went grocery shopping while Cy was gone. Once he returned, we made our way across town and surprised my grandma with a visit. Her birthday is in just a few days, and she’ll be 97 years old. Ellie and Savannah are her only great-grandchildren, but she hadn’t gotten to meet them (or Cy) yet. She loved getting to watch Ellie run around, and held a napping Savannah. She told me stories of raising her children and I reminded her of my memories of her cooking and going on walks with me when I was little. We stayed for a few hours until it was time for her to go to dinner.

After seeing my grandma, we weren’t sure what our next step was. We drove back to the Sam’s parking lot where we had left the RV. As we pulled in, Cy noticed three Beaver RVs who had just arrived for the night. We’re a family of extroverts, so naturally we pulled up and started a conversation with the owners. Cy talked to the men about their motorhomes and I showed the girls off to the women. They were so friendly, which is something we have found to be true of most RVers. They told us they were heading into Sam’s for a pizza dinner, and we decided we would indulge as well. We had a few more groceries to pick up, and afterward, found the three men outside our RV checking it out. They exchanged information with Cy and they traded stories from past trips. Then, we decided to drive a few more hours before bed time. As we pulled out of the parking lot, Cy honked the air horn in farewell, and they returned the favor. To my delight, one of their air horns played a festive tune!

A few hours later, we pulled into our home away from home, aka a Walmart parking lot. The next morning, we loaded the girls up after breakfast and hit the road. Ellie has a love hate relationship with our drives. She loves that her car seat in installed in between the driver’s and passenger’s seats. She gets to see out of the giant windshield and hold our hands whenever she wants. Her backpack rides by her side, filled with books to read and a coloring book to draw in. We spend lots of time singing her favorite songs – currently her most requested songs are The Little Red Caboose and I’ve Got the Joy Down In My Heart. All of that makes her happy. But, she is a toddler, so she spends plenty of time crying and whining because she’s tired of the car seat. We spent a little while in Dodge City, KS, then headed west to Colorado, where we found another Walmart parking lot to stay in. Once we parked, Cy discovered the RV’s computer engine was having some trouble. Since we’re stress eaters and there was a Wendy’s in the same parking lot we were in, Cy went and picked up frosties for the two of us after we got the girls to bed. We got some sleep, but left early on Saturday morning to get the RV to a mechanic about an hour away. We rolled in at 8am, and finally had a fix by 5pm. It was a long day. None of us were happy. I’ll spare you the sordid details. Cy reminded me that you always have to factor in at least one breakdown on a cross-country trip. I laughed, and agreed. We stopped for the night in Colorado Springs, where we knew we’d get to have some fun!

Cy and I have both visited Colorado Springs before, so we decided we would skip most of the attractions and just drive up Pike’s Peak. Cy had previously been to the summit, but when I visited during college, I only got to go partway up due to the snowy weather. When we arrived at the entrance of the drive, the park ranger explained to us that Savannah was too young to go to the summit because her lungs aren’t quite developed enough to handle the thin air. She told us we could go up about 13,000ft though, so up we went. It was my first time to be above the tree line. The views were incredible! I had forgotten how treacherous the road up the mountain was. Though I loved the view, I was also very nervous about the sheer drop-offs! Cy loved my dramatic reactions, which even Ellie noticed. She started saying, “It’s ok mama! Mommy, you’re good! No sad Mama!”

We pulled over to take some photos to mark the occasion, and then went back down the mountain to one of the gift shops where Ellie got to get her wiggles out and explore. The remainder of our day was spent at our campsite – The Garden of the Gods RV Park – so the girls could nap and we could organize the RV. We went on some family walks and Cy grilled steaks for dinner. After the long, hard day before, it finally felt like vacation. We enjoyed our time at the campsite and started planning the next phase of our trip – northwest to Yellowstone!

 

Acadia National Park Part 1

When we set out from Arkansas in our RV I’m not sure if I truly believed we would make it to Maine. I half thought that we would spend a couple of days in the RV before realizing that I am not an RV girl and our trip would be ruined. But, we did it! We made it to Maine and I actually grew to like the RV! When we woke up in the Walmart parking lot in Augusta, we were both excited to hit the road and get to Acadia National Park. We drove about two hours until we found the cheapest diesel on our route. We pulled into the gas station behind another RV. We pulled up next to each other at the only diesel pump that would accommodate an RV and proceeded to begin the very long process of filling the tank.

Ellie and I went into the gas station to relieve our cabin fever, and when we returned, we found that Cy had struck up a conversation with our fellow RVer. I met his wife, and she introduced me to their kids. During the course of our conversation, we learned that they were Martins too, that their daughter’s name was Ellie, and that they were on a year-long RV trip as a family and their next stop was also Acadia! The guys traded RV war stories and us women swapped blog sites, and then parted ways as we headed to different campgrounds in the park.

The drive into Acadia was gorgeous. We went over several bridges with views of harbors, saw many fresh fish and lobster stands, and passed through a few quaint towns that looked like they belonged on a postcard. When we arrived at the check-in sight, we had a park ranger walk us through a map of the park and highlight some different places we should visit, hikes we should go on, and sights we should see. We pulled into our home for the next few days and got settled in.

The next morning we woke up at our usual time around 6:00. There was a rule at the campsite that nobody was allowed to run their generator until 8:00am, but no electricity hookups were offered. Our batteries were too dead to run the coffee pot, so Cy and I stared blankly at each other until 7:00 when we heard our neighbor turn their generator on. Cy jumped up and turned our generator on too, and hit the brew button on the coffee maker. We had just poured our first cups of coffee when there was a frustrated knocking on our door. Naturally, I bolted out of sight and hid while Cy dealt with the confrontation, since of the two of us he’s always the one in trouble. A ranger asked Cy if he knew about the acceptable hours to run a generator to which Cy gave a noncommittal answer. The ranger explained the rule in detail again, and Cy responded, “Should I turn it off then?” We really had no regrets though, because we finally had our coffee, which meant the day could actually begin.

As we sipped our coffee, we pulled out the map of the park and began to plan our day. We chose a couple of hikes we thought sounded fun and got ourselves ready. When we got to the trailhead, Cy loaded Ellie into the baby backpack, and somehow her forehead met the side of the car and she got her first large bruise. Looking back, this was clearly a sign about what was awaiting us over the course of the next few hours.

We headed up the trail, and I soon felt too short and too wimpy for the hike. The hike wasn’t a nice trail, it was a nice collection of rocks I had to balance on and climb up. The whole thing was straight up. I was carrying my nice camera around my neck, and had a water bottle in my hands. I quickly realized that water was going to be necessary throughout the hike, so I began to ration it. Cy and Ellie climbed ahead of me, and stopped to wait when I needed a break. Finally, we made it to the top. And it was WINDY! At the top of the mountain there was nothing to hold back the wind, or obstruct our view. We could see all around us, and the views of the harbor were to die for. It was definitely worth the treacherous hike to the top. We took some pictures and I caught my breath. We also met a woman who had a good map of the area. I had been planning on returning to the car the same way we had come up. But, this woman showed Cy that we could make the hike into a loop instead. She also assured us that it was a little tricky, but not that hard.

As we began the descent, we realized it was in full sun, and we stopped a couple to borrow some sunscreen for Ellie. I thought the hike had been difficult up until this point. But then we started the descent. Several times I just stopped and stared at the rocks I was supposed to climb down, not sure how I could possibly manage it. Cy was patient and encouraging the whole time, even when I was extra grouchy and anxious. My self esteem was thoroughly crushed when a group of 80 year olds climbed up a particularly treacherous part of the path with ease, but I found myself stuck and had to have Cy come help me. A couple of times, I tried to lie down on the rocks and tell Cy and Ellie to go on and I’d catch up in a few days. Thankfully, Cy never outright laughed at me, but continued to help me down. He did sneak a picture of me trying to climb down some rocks, and nobody but the two of us will ever see it, because it’s just too embarrassing. Finally, after approximately 5 days, we made it to level ground, and were able to walk the last couple of miles on a nice road.

We went back to the RV for lunch and quickly realized that my legs would mutiny if we went on another hike that day. So, instead we went on a little drive to explore the island. Ellie fell asleep, and in a victorious parenting moment, Cy and I transferred her into her stroller without waking her so that we could get out and see a historic lighthouse. After this excursion, we got back in the car and continued exploring the island. We saw a couple more quaint towns and marveled at what the shores looked like at low tide.

When we finished driving around that particular part of Acadia, we decided to go into town to buy a percolator so we could have coffee the next morning without breaking any rules. We got the percolator and a few other staples, and then pulled into a local ice cream place. This is when we discovered that in Maine, soft serve ice cream reigns supreme, and they refer to normal ice cream as “hard ice cream.” We ordered our ice cream cones, which turned out to be roughly the size of my head. We sat at a picnic table to enjoy our treats. Ellie sat in between us, and proudly practiced her latest vocabulary word, “Bite.” She would scoot over to Cy and say, “bite!” and he would give her a bite of ice cream. Then she would scoot over to me and shout, “bite!” and dig into mine. Back and forth, back and forth she went until everyone in the vicinity was laughing and we all had brain freezes.

Our first 24 hours in Acadia were everything we hoped they would be, and we couldn’t wait to see what else the national park had to offer!

 

Northeast and Onward!

We spent Friday evening and Saturday morning doing routine chores and getting ready to head out onto the road again. We pulled out of the campsite with Maine on our mind. It was about 11:00 and, as we were about to turn onto the main road, we realized Maine wasn’t the only thing on our minds. We also had visions of soft serve ice cream floating around – and so we did what everyone on vacation does – we had ice cream for second breakfast. We went back to Donnoley’s and discovered their Saturday flavor, which they make a surprise each week, was peanut butter and chocolate!

Our next stop was at Lake Champlain. We needed to catch a ride on a ferry to get across the lake. We paid our toll and then Cy drove the RV into its (very small) designated spot. When we got parked and as the ferry prepared ready to cross the lake, we noticed that the door to the RV was up against a wall. Cy wriggled his way out of the RV, I passed Ellie to him through the window, then squeezed out of the door myself. We walked to the railing and took it all in. The lake was gorgeous and Cy loved looking at all of the boats. We met some people who gave us travel tips for our time in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Once we made it across the lake, we drove for a few minutes, and then pulled over to have a picnic lunch in the RV. We drove the width of Vermont that afternoon, and then entered New Hampshire. Because of the mountainous terrain in New Hamphsire, there isn’t really an interstate that goes east to west in the state. Since we came into the northern part of the state, if we wanted to take an interstate toward Maine, we would have to go south almost the length of New Hampshire before cutting across east, and then back up. Instead, we decided to take smaller roads across the White Mountain National Forrest. We were hoping to make it about halfway across the state and find a grocery store parking lot to make camp in for the night.

Well. Let’s just say that the smaller roads in the mountains are home to very tiny towns. These tiny towns do not have parking lots that are friendly to 38 foot long RVs. And then, in our search for a place to park, we took a wrong turn. We drove for about 20 minutes before we finally found a place we could turn the RV around. While Cy unhooked the car from the tow dolly so that he could get the RV turned around, I prayed. Hard. Because we pulled over in what even Cy admitted wasn’t the friendliest spot he could have chosen. It was also getting dark on us and we had no cell service. Ellie enjoyed this whole process because she got to get out of the car seat and sit up front with me. She sang and reached for buttons and had a grand time, totally oblivious to the stress Cy and I were experiencing.

When we finally got turned around, we headed back in the right direction to the largest town we had encountered. It had a small grocery store with a parking lot that would fit about three Priuses. So that was out of the question. We tried to find their town center or square, hoping it had a larger parking lot. It consisted of an old, abandoned building, their historical society, and a church. Conveniently, it also boasted a large gravel offshoot next to the stop sign. We pulled onto the gravel, made a pot of macaroni, and went to bed.

The next morning, we got up and on the road in record time. We officially entered into the White Mountain National Forrest and put our rose colored glasses back on. Between the winding roads, the mountains, and the frequent Moose Crossing signs, we couldn’t help but enjoy the route. As we climbed higher and higher, we finally gained cell service again. Cy and I each had fantasy football drafts scheduled that day, so we were trying to figure out the times and where we could pull over. I know. Priorities.

As we got toward the top of the particularly mountainous stretch of road we were on, we came around a curve and discovered about a hundred cars parked along both sides of the road. Cy immediately pulled over because he just knew that there must be something scenic nearby that we wouldn’t want to miss out on. We strapped on our hiking boots, bundled up, and loaded Ellie into the backpack. We had stumbled upon a popular hiking destination. None of the trails were short enough for what Ellie (or I) could handle that day, plus it was cold and looked like the bottom might drop out of the clouds at any moment. So we just hiked a little portion of one of the main trails. It was beautiful! We took pictures, enjoyed the scenery, and encouraged a bunch of backpackers we passed.

As we headed back toward the RV it started sprinkling outside and had escalated into a rainstorm within 10 minutes of driving. We were thankful that the wipers on the RV worked, and not long after, crossed into Maine. At long last we had arrived in the state we had been hoping to reach since we set out! We spent an hour and a half or so at a McDonald’s so that Cy could participate in his two Fantasy Football drafts. Ellie was the apple of every elderly person’s eye that came into the building. They brought her a coloring sheet and crayons, and let her show off all of her cute tricks!

When we got back onto the road, we found the water plant that Cy needed to visit later that week for a business call. We ended our drive that day in Augusta and found a big Walmart parking lot to call home that night. It was pouring down rain, and we really needed to do a grocery run, but decided instead that we would splurge and have our weekly meal out of the RV. There was an Olive Garden right next to Walmart, so we dashed across the parking lot and enjoyed some Italian food. After our carb-loading session, we returned to the RV in time for me to do my Fantasy Football draft and then settle in for the night. As we fell asleep that night, we were giddy, partly because Cy and I had both secured Dak Prescott as our fantasy quarterbacks, but mostly because we knew that the next day we would arrive at Acadia National Park! How could life be any better?

Of Gnats & Men

We spent the bulk of the last week in upstate New York, and I know you’ve been dying to find out what Cy’s surprise destination for us was. I was too, but didn’t get to find out until the second day of our time in New York. The first evening, we stayed in a Walmart parking lot and woke up to a peaceful morning on Thursday. We’ve been helping Ellie practice standing up every day for several months, but Thursday morning was the first time we’ve seen great progress. She stood next to the couch without assistance and we jumped up and down and cheered like we did during the overtime win against Ole Miss 2 years ago. I’m not sure I can imagine what we’ll be like when she starts taking actual steps! Our elation was short lived though, because as soon as we pulled out of the parking lot, Cy looked over at me and said, “Uh oh. It’s not running right.”

So, Cy pulled into a different parking lot and started trying to deduce the source of the problem. Ellie and I grabbed the stroller and walked around in Barnes & Noble. After a couple of hours of troubleshooting, Cy decided that rather than spend the rest of the day in a parking lot, he would take the RV Cummins distributor to help him diagnose the problem. We cruised to the distributor at a swift 30 mph on the interstate. After only about an hour and $22 later, they had taken care of the fuel filter, and we rolled out of the dealer’s parking lot at full speed! As we were getting back onto the interstate Cy said, “You know…it’s not really a Martin vacation without some sort of mechanical issue.” We laughed, and headed north.

Our mechanical setback cost us several hours, so we couldn’t make it to our intended destination, and ended up taking a random exit when it was close to dinnertime. Cy found a spot for us for the night and we stopped at a country store on our way to the campgrounds. Their store looked approximately as stocked as the bread and milk aisles at a Wal-Mart in Arkansas before a snowstorm. We bought their only package of hot dogs and some ham and were on our way.

The KOA campground Cy had chosen was on an island on Lake Erie. We took the manmade road out to it and checked in. It was charming! We watched the sun set from shore and then headed back to the RV to have dinner. That was when we discovered the one downside to the cute KOA. Gnats. There were so many gnats, and try as we might we couldn’t manage to keep them all outside. Cy grabbed a can of cutter and attacked some of them, but survivors were still everywhere – landing in our food and buzzing around. On a scale of 0 to Exodus, it was closer to the latter.

The next morning before we left, we decided to take a family bike ride around the island. I should say, Cy decided, not we decided. You see I’ve only ridden on our tandem bike for the last few years. I have not attempted to ride an actual bike built for one since I was approximately 12. I tried a few weeks ago and promptly fell off, cut up my ankle, and asked Cy, “You’re not going to make me try again are you?” He did, and I wobbly made my way up and down the street once. I was really nervous to try again on an island in front of seasoned RVers. But Cy helped me work up my courage and we got to go on a sweet family bike ride around the island!

Then, we headed out to our secret destination. It ended up being Lake Saranac, NY. As we got close, Cy explained to me that when he was 16 years old, he drove all the way to Lake Saranac to work at a Younglife camp for a month. We found an RV campsite, got settled, and then we looked at the weather forecast. The low was 33°. We had not packed for freezing weather. The most we had were a couple of long-sleeve shirts and one pair of wool socks each. Luckily, the heaters in the RV worked and so we were toasty warm inside the RV. The next morning, we drove the little distance to the Younglife camp. The grounds were beautiful, and many of the buildings looked right onto the lake. I could see why Cy had wanted to revisit this particular camp. I was freezing cold, but the more we walked around, the more I warmed up. Cy relived memories as we walked around where he hadn’t been for 16 years. He told me stories about jumping into the lake after curfew and about being mentored by older staff – several specific conversations still shape him today.

After looking around the camp and taking some pictures, we headed into the actual town of Lake Saranac. We went into a little Pizza by the slice place to get some New York Pizza. For what it lacked in quality, it more than made up for in temperature. We puttered around in some outdoors shops and then started driving around. We stumbled upon the Olympic Training Center and the ski jump that they used in the 1980 Olympics. Cy and I couldn’t believe how tall the ski jump was. We parked across the street from it and just stared for a few minutes.

We had gotten a recommendation for an ice cream place that happened to be just a few minutes from our RV. We headed there and arrived to discover a line out the door. Donnelly’s Ice Cream is on the National Historic Register and still uses their original ice cream machine from 1950s. They only make one flavor a day and it changes each day. Cy and I each got a cone of their Strawberry swirled with vanilla. And then we couldn’t stop talking about how good it was. We understood why it was a local hot spot.

That evening, we decided to walk around the RV Park. We met a bunch of older people who were all there for the summer in their RVs. They were all friends and were having their “tribal council” which was more akin to a tailgate than an actual council. They called us over and we ate and talked while Ellie showed off all of her tricks. They told us that Lake Saranac was often the coldest town in the continental US, which made me feel better for being such a wimp about the cold.

I can say without a doubt that upstate New York is gorgeous. We saw lakes, beautiful trees, and mountains. Sometimes it reminded me of Arkansas. We wished it had been warmer so we could have rented a boat and gone out on the water. I guess we’ll just have to come back another time!

Cuyahoga Falls National Park And Stops Along The Way

Greetings from Syracuse, NY! We’re on day seven of our RV trip and we’re really starting to feel like pros. The first couple of days of our trip were slow going and we had a pretty substantial learning curve. For example, all of my various hair products tumbled out of the cabinets the first day we left and it took me about 24 hours to find my dry shampoo, because who knew you really do have to shut and lock all of the cabinets before you drive off? Another moment when we knew we were novices occurred when we flooded the gray water tank (that’s the non-disgusting water thankfully) and there was three inches of standing water in our shower that had to be bailed out with one of Ellie’s toy pails.

We made it to the west side of St. Louis Friday night and rolled into a Walmart parking lot. It was later than we had hoped when we got there, but luckily there was also a Raising Cane’s in the parking lot, so we got the RV situated and then enjoyed some tasty fried chicken for dinner. As we walked back to the RV, we saw there was an antique car show going on in this parking lot as well, so we wandered around looking at old Corvettes and various cars that looked like they came off of a Happy Days set. Ellie enjoyed hearing the engines and being out of the RV for a while before bed.

The next morning was very relaxed. We took our time and made blueberry pancakes and sausage. We finally hit the road around 11:00, hoping to make it to Ohio by the end of the day. The rest of the day we made our way across Illinois, Indiana, and into Ohio. I would like to take a moment to say that Illinois and Indiana have the worst roads I have ever experienced in my life. I would also like to take a moment and note that I am extremely thankful that Ellie takes her best car naps on rough roads. As we crossed into Ohio – and slightly better roads – we found a Walmart parking lot and made our camp for the night.

When I pictured our RV trip, I did not picture making Walmart parking lots my home away from home. I had grand visions of rolling into KOA camps and befriending new neighbors each night. These hypothetical neighbors would let Ellie pet their hypothetical dogs and we would trade funny RV anecdotes until it was time to call it a night. Maybe there were also late night s’mores and scrabble matches in my visions as well. Walmart parking lots don’t really allow for cute RV neighbors, unless you’ll settle for semi-trucker neighbors who don’t actually want to coo at your baby or tell funny stories. There are also no campfires or picnic tables in a Walmart parking lot. However, the Walmart parking lot is free, and it is impossible to ever not have all the ingredients for whatever recipe you want to make.

In our second Walmart parking lot home, I made chicken alfredo and tortellini for dinner. The fact that I successfully cooked a whole meal in our RV boosted my confidence in the potential of the rest of our trip. Sunday morning we loaded up and headed toward Cleveland. We decided to stay at a KOA camp (!) and met our RV neighbors who were from Kentucky, and had family in NWA. Ellie waved at their dogs. It was picturesque just like my visions had been, but involved more cigarette smoke than I had imagined. Our other neighbors who arrived later that evening looked to be a group of college students. We couldn’t quite figure them out though because when they arrived, they immediately brought out several varieties of potted plants and a large cage in which they had several pigeons and a pig. They also had a covered cage that we never managed to see inside. We asked no questions, but we did a lot of speculating on our own about the whole scenario.

At the recommendation of my friend who is an Ohio native, we spent Monday at Cuyahoga Falls National park. It was gorgeous, and because it was a Monday, there weren’t any crowds! We went on two hikes – one to a waterfall and one around some neat rock formations they called The Ledges. Cy graciously carried Ellie in the backpack for most of the hiking. She LOVES being carried in the backpack and she spent most of the hike singing and pointing at trees and dogs we passed. We took lots of pictures and thoroughly enjoyed being outdoors and carefree. We ate a picnic lunch by a lake and met some elderly men and women who were thoroughly entertained by Ellie trying to figure out how to eat a peanut butter sandwich without getting her mouth stuck shut. We also met a man with two giant dogs who knew Chinese commands. I said hello to the dogs in Chinese and their owner got really excited and started speaking to me in Chinese. I then had to explain to him that the extent of my knowledge when it comes to Chinese includes the phrases, “Hello” and “I love cats.” To say he was disappointed is an understatement.

Yesterday morning, we loaded everything up and hit the road. We’re technically on a “working vacation,” so we made a stop outside of Cleveland so that Cy could visit a customer. We grabbed a quick lunch at Chick-Fil-A because we were having withdrawal symptoms, and then headed northeast. We drove through the rest of Ohio, into Pennsylvania, and arrived in New York Naturally Taylor Swift made a cameo as we crossed the state line, which brightened the mood considering the long line at the tollbooth. I marveled at the fact that people were honking at each other while waiting in line at the tollbooth. Cy said, “We’re in New York babe!” I’ve never been anywhere we’re planning on going from here on out, so I’m enjoying all of the newness and seeing places I’ve only heard about. Cy has a plan for our next destination, but he’s decided to make it a surprise!