Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Journey Is Half The Fun!

Riverboat Inn and Suites - Madison, Indiana
September 24, 2014

My favorite way to travel solo is to know that someone is meeting me at my destination.  I love being alone and am totally comfortable traveling alone, but I also thoroughly enjoy the gift of friendship and am happy when exploring new places with someone whose company just makes a good experience better!

Bill and I lived in Kentucky for six years during the early 80’s, so I know that state well, but Indiana was a completely different story and I was excited to drive through it on my way to meet Pam (Nomadic Newfies) at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and eager to spend my travel nights in places that would be cool to explore. 

My way of determining how to get where I’m going is to choose my route and then scan the immediate area around the halfway point for somewhere interesting to spend the night.  I prefer not to travel more than 300 miles so I have time after arrival AND the following morning to check out the place I’ve spent the night.  If nothing catches my attention as a viable place to spend the night, I will usually change my route! 

As soon as a tentative overnight stop is determined, I quickly look for lodging options.  I am comfortable and I am not afraid, but I am smart!  If nothing shows up on a local website or, I proceed cautiously.  Truthfully, I’ve never had a bad experience when staying alone in a new place.  I traveled so much during the later part of my career, it just became very comfortable.  I am grateful for that.  The only thing that Bill asks of me to make HIM comfortable is that I know where I am staying and have a confirmed reservation for that night before I leave home!  So far, this system has not let us down! 

As you well know, I don’t do interstates unless absolutely necessary!  One of my other quirks is that I love finding America’s highways and following them from beginning to end.  U.S.Highway 421 is one of those highways.  It runs 941 miles from Fort Fisher, North Carolina to Michigan City, Indiana.  I’ve traveled much of the NC, Tennessee and eastern KY portions, but once I saw that it ended in Indiana just east of where Pam and I were to meet, I built my journey around being able to travel US 421 from Frankfort, KY to its ending point.  Once that idea was settled, it became quickly apparent that Madison, Indiana would be my overnight stop.  Sitting on the banks of the Ohio River with a fabulously restored historic district and quick access to Indiana’s most visited State Park (Clifty Falls), spending a night here was a no-brainer!

 U.S. Highway 421 - Fort Fisher, NC to Michigan City, IN
One look at the lodging section of their tourism website had me settled on The Riverboat Inn and Suites for my destination.  I’d arrive in time to explore the town in the afternoon and evening with time to make a quick hike to Clifty Falls the following morning before heading north on Highway 421 to Michigan City.  It didn’t quite work out that way, but travel requires flexibility and in the end, the town of Madison captured my attention and took all my free time which just simply means a return to Clifty Falls will be in order.

The weather on my travel day could not have been more perfect.  Plans to meet a friend from college in central Kentucky did not work out so I motored my way through the familiar horse country of the Bluegrass state and picked up Highway 421 just north of Frankfort.  It was a gorgeous drive with little traffic that started out winding and curvy, but soon settled into a pleasant easy drive that eventually descended steeply to the banks of the Ohio River where I crossed and spotted my hotel in the distance. 

The Riverboat Inn and Suites is an old hotel which was purchased by a new owner and restored into a comfortable respite with huge porches overlooking the river complete with rocking chairs, firepits, picnic tables, etc.  It isn’t sure whether it’s a motel or an inn, but it made no difference to me!  I loved it!  In fact, I loved it so much, I parked myself on the porch and there I stayed quickly determining that I could forego the hike to Clifty Falls and spend the following morning exploring the historic district.  The city has built a fantastic riverwalk that runs the length of the city and that I could access from the hotel.  After resting and watching the almost constant traffic on the river, I took a long walk on the riverwalk only to return and spend the rest of the evening by one of those firepits watching the river change and the barges roll by.  What a peaceful evening it was.

View from the rocking chair outside my room!

 Sunset stroll along the Riverwalk

Up early the next morning, I made my way to the Visitor Center where I picked up a copy of the historic district walking tour and a walking tour of the Stained Glass Windows in the churches that I’d seen on their website.  I decided to do the Stained Glass Windows tour in its entirety and see what I could see of the historic district at the same time.  I walked for two hours in total fascination. Check out the link to the Stained Glass Windows.  My pictures just didn't do well at all.  

Madison is an amazing little town out in the middle of nowhere with a unique history that has capitalized on it perfectly.  I was enchanted and truly hope I can return another time.  I just didn’t get enough of Madison, Indiana and to my way of thinking, leaving somewhere wanting to return is the way is ought to be!

 Early morning view from my room!
 Cozy covered porches - the open door was to my room!

 Madison, IN
 Downtown Historic District

 Downtown Historic District
But leave I had to as I still had 265 miles of Highway 421 to drive and some fun places to see along the way.   After climbing the hill out of Madison, heading away from the Ohio River, the road flattened out and the driving was easy all the way into Michigan City.  As silly as it seems, I got quite a thrill from seeing the signpost indicating the end of Highway 421 knowing I’d been driving on it for two days!

 After reaching the end of Highway 421, I turned east and drove just a few miles. I was eager to find the cottage Pam and I would call “home” for the next four days  and get settled in. 

NEXT UP:  The Journey Home Can Be Just As Exciting!

Monday, October 20, 2014

At Home In Indiana Dunes

Sunrise From Our Cottage Deck - Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
First Morning - September 25, 2014

It had been almost one year since I had been able to enjoy a solo road trip.  Long time readers know how much I love traveling to new places, visiting friends and creating new adventures.  I’ve always been that way and am so grateful to have a spouse who travels with me when he can and encourages me to go on when he can’t.   After all, he is still working by choice so no whining is allowed when I choose to go without him!!  LOL!   But I obviously haven’t been able to travel solo or otherwise for the past year while he has been ill.

I can’t remember who had the idea first, but Pam (Nomadic Newfies) and I had discussed some future hiking trips when she was last here in April.  Her work schedule has stabilized with the hiring of someone new and the upcoming months will allow her more blocks of time for travel!  She mentioned some dates for a mid-way between us meet up that I couldn’t do, but we quickly found an alternate that would allow us four full days if I could agree to travel a bit further so she could drive to our destination after working that day.  Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was three hours from her home in Wisconsin and eight from mine in Tennessee.  No problem, I said and we quickly moved forward.

With an adventure scheduled, we went into research mode for things we could do and between the two of us, we found a cottage on the shore of Lake Michigan that looked great.  I couldn’t make a decision as to whether I wanted to make the eight hour trip in one day or break it up with a visit to some quaint little Indiana community.   Bill finally made it for me by saying he’d rather I split it up than do it all in one day.   Yes, I know eight hours doesn’t seem all that daunting, but remember you are looking at the queen of the backroads.  I don’t do interstates (BOORRING……) unless absolutely necessary so an eight hour trip for me can easily become ten or eleven hours.  I’ll write about my discoveries getting to and from Indiana Dunes in separate posts, but for the remainder of this one, enjoy my ramblings about our days there.  It was fabulous!

Pam has written several posts detailing many of the things we did and I will link to those.  She writes in a fun way and is a far better photographer than I.  You’ll enjoy reading about our exploits!

We were very compatible and found a wide variety of things to do.  We also did some things separately.  That meant a great deal to me that our friendship had passed the test where it was ok to say, “no I don’t want to do that – you go ahead.” And that was perfectly acceptable. 

 View from our dining room table!

We were there to see Indiana Dunes and the surrounding area, to hike and to get to know each other better.  I think we accomplished all three goals!

There are no words..........LOL!

Our cottage, which we rented through was excellent, but not perfect.  Its location, directly on the shore of Lake Michigan, more than made up for any shortfall.  Indiana Dunes' unique location on the southern tip of Lake Michigan provided us the amazing opportunity of seeing both the sunrise and the sunset plus a view of the Chicago skyline off in the distance to the west. 

 Our house was just to the left.  This was our beach access stairway!

What was my favorite part of the trip?  Hard to say, but I think it would be the wide variety of things we found to do.  We hiked (of course!), visited some cool little villages, walked on the beach, enjoyed some local community parks and gardens, took in some museums, indulged my fascination with trains and train stations, walked the dunes, learned a lot of local history and along the way, became really good friends!  And yes, there were some cupcakes consumed!

 We made new friends! Chesterton's most famous son.
(Orville Redenbacher in case you don't recognize him)

Here is the link to Pam's first post.  If interested, just keep reading her subsequent posts and you'll have a really good snapshot of what our trip was like.  She captured it beautifully!  If you don't read her blog regularly, I highly recommend it.  She takes beautiful pictures and has a great love for the outdoors!

It was a wonderful trip.   Planning for the next one is well underway!

 Sunset at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
September, 2014

Next Up: The Journey is Half the Fun!
(Hopefully on Thursday)

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Rock House

The Rock House - GSMNP
October 6, 2014

There is so much hidden treasure in these mountains I call home.  I had the opportunity to discover one of those last week during a hike with my good friends Gene and Judi! 

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there are 900 miles of “official” trails.  Many of those trails are along old roadbeds which once led to homesteads, businesses and entire communities which ceased to exist once the land was designated for national park use.  Remnants from this earlier life are easily found along the trails, but to find some really special ones, you have to dig deeply and discover the hundreds of miles of paths, roadbeds, animal trails, etc. that are no longer “official,” meaning no longer maintained.  These special places are not found on current maps, so to go there, one needs to become acquainted with someone who knows how to get there. That might be a Park Ranger, it might be a Hiking Club leader, it might be a descendant of someone who once lived here or it might just be someone who knows one of the above!

I’ve heard about The Rock House since shortly after I began considering myself a serious hiker, but had no idea how to get to it and didn’t know anyone who did.  I’d heard rumors and a couple of years ago a friend and I tried to find it, but didn’t succeed.  I now know what we did wrong!  Several months ago, Gene and Judi heard of a local hiking club that were going to The Rock House on one of their excursions, so they signed up to go.  And we’d been trying to find a time to get me there ever since!  I am happy to say that has finally happened.  It isn’t an incredibly long hike (six miles round trip) or a difficult hike, but it is on mostly unmaintained trail and at certain times of year, has a creek crossing that can turn you around just short of your goal!

Seeing The Rock House was everything I’d imagined it would be.  I’ve seen lots of old chimneys, foundations, cabins, relics, rusted out automobiles, etc., but never anything quite like this.  It was much larger than I had assumed and just incredible to come upon this structure out in the backcountry. 

   Kitchen Implements on Mantle - The Rock House, GSMNP
October 6, 2014

Oddly enough, no one is 100% sure exactly what The Rock House actually was.  There is much speculation and if you have any interest, this link explains much better than I could.  Truthfully, I’m not certain it matters all that much to me exactly what it was.  What mattered to me was how well preserved the structure was and how obvious it was that people had made their home there.  Not to mention the fact that I’d finally seen something I’d anticipated for years and it more than lived up to expectations.

Inside The Rock House - GSMNP
October 6, 2014

Unfortunately, we stayed at The Rock House a little too long and failed to notice the storm clouds building in the sky or the distant rumble of thunder.  We got thoroughly drenched on our return trip, but thankfully, are well-prepared hikers and had everything we needed to stay safe.  It was worth it!!

Next goal is to visit the two sites in the National Park where there have been plane crashes and see the pieces that remain many years later!   Again, you’ll not find these locations on any map.  Someone who knows what they are doing has to take you there.  Doesn’t that sound like an adventure?

What was your most recent discovery that you had to depend on someone else to help you find?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Friendships Cemented

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
September 15, 2014

It may seem a total contradiction at this point since I am blogging so infrequently, but the friendships that I have made and continue to make through this blog are such an inspiration to me.  I was reflecting over the list of bloggers I have had the good fortune to meet in person and am so grateful to say that I’ve enjoyed every single meeting.  There is not a single one of them that I would not be happy to spend extended time with.  It was exactly four years ago right now that Tish (who no longer blogs, but with whom I am still in touch with via Facebook) and I met for a bike ride near her home.  She was the first blogger I met in person.  That bike ride turned into almost a week of fun and fellowship.  It became a friendship cemented.  And simply whetted my appetite for more.

In September, I was able to meet another blogger with whom I’ve been blog friends for some time.  Ironically, Betsy, who blogs at Betsy from Tennessee, lives only 60 miles from me, but she and her husband stay on the go and we’d just never managed to get together.  I regret that now because we had an amazing lunch and afternoon of non-stop conversation that ended on her wonderfully serene back porch.  Besides living in the same state, we have much in common and she was a constant support to me during Bill’s illness despite the fact that we’d never met in person!  We are already planning our next meeting.  It is a friendship cemented!

Sharon and Betsy - September 4, 2014

Last week, I spent a week at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore with my friend Pam, who blogs at NomadicNewfies.  This was our fourth meeting, but we were obviously convinced that we would be able to spend four days together and still be friends.  We rented a cottage on Lake Michigan and Pam drove down from her home in Wisconsin while I drove up from my home in Tennessee and we spent four delightful days together exploring an area of the country I’d never visited.  We found out that a mid-westerner by birth and southern girl by birth got along really well in close quarters and could find much common ground.  This was my first time away from Bill since his illness and Pam was incredibly patient with our lengthy phone conversations each evening and my most likely annoying constant fretting about whether or not he was o.k. and eating enough!!  She will be down in my mountains in a couple of weeks and we already have another trip planned for November.  A friendship cemented!

 Sharon and Pam - September, 2014

I spent today hiking with yet another friend I met through this blog.  I first met Judi (who no longer blogs) and her husband, Gene, in October of 2011.   At that time, they were living full time in their RV and I was envious of that lifestyle!  To my delight, the next year, they decided they were ready to settle down in a regular home (after full time RVing for nine years) and purchased a condo less than 20 miles from where I live.  Since then, we have hiked many miles together and become wonderful friends.  A friendship cemented!

Old Sugarlands Trail - GSMNP
October 6, 2014

There are so many others with whom I didn’t have nearly enough time.  I only hope that someday we might have a chance to meet again. 

And then there are so many of you whom I haven’t yet met, but will do everything I can to make that happen.  Your stories are fascinating, your lives which might seem boring to you, are interesting to me because I seem to always find that yes, we might be different, but in the ways that matter, we are often much the same! 

I have so many things to write about that are happening in my life, but for some reason, this is what was on my heart tonight.  I am blessed with an abundance of sweet friendships that anchor me and hold me accountable.  I believe we are called to live in relationship with one another carrying each other through the good times and the bad.  I learned this past winter that one can never have too many friends and friendships can be cemented through an amazing variety of ways!  What an adventure we experience in this thing called life!

View from our cottage at Indiana Dunes
September 24, 2014
(much more to come about this trip)