Summer Plans

March 20, 2019

by Steve

Living life on the road is a bit different from living in a house in a neighborhood. I think it's best described as "being always on vacation and always at home". Our winter time, however, is still quite different from our summer travels. We spent our first winter in Florida and stayed in a bunch of different locations, most of them for two weeks at a time, with a month-long stay in Cedar Key.

The past two winters, we have stayed in Tucson, Arizona, at a large park with tons of activities. We call it "summer camp for seniors," and we stay for four or five months. We have a lot of friends in the park now, and we're involved in a local church that we really like. So it seems pretty likely that we'll be back here for a few more winters.

Summertime, however, is our time to travel and see things. Here's where we went in the summer of 2018, primarily in the west, with about 12 weeks in Washington and Oregon, mainly on the coast.

After leaving Tucson, we were in 32 different locations. By the end of our summer travel time (end of October), it was starting to feel like just too many moves. Granted, we got to see a ton of cool places and wouldn't trade that for anything. But we started to think about ways to do a bit less of continuous travel, while still having interesting things to see and do. We decided to look into the possibility of a volunteer gig for the summer months, taking a couple of months in the spring and a couple of months in the fall to travel. 

When you start looking at volunteer gigs, you first need to decide whether to look at state/national parks or private parks. Working at a private park is more like having a job--and many of them pay a wage in addition to providing a free site. We're really not interested in working a regular job anymore, so it would have to be something special to get us interested. At state and national parks, there are lots of openings for campground hosts. These are the folks who help the rangers with a variety of tasks around the campground, often selling firewood but sometimes also cleaning toilets. This doesn't really appeal to us either.

But we did come across a request for volunteers that looked interesting. Grand Portage National Monument was in need of volunteers to be costumed interpreters at their living-history site. Grand Portage is in northern Minnesota, on Lake Superior, just south of the Canadian border. It has been a gathering place for Native Americans for centuries and was the location of a major fur-trading site in the late 1700s. The depot is at the junction of the riverways of Minnesota (where you could paddle all the way to Winnipeg) and the route of the sailing ships that crossed Lake Superior.

We applied, but as it was during the most recent government shutdown, we had to wait until that was resolved to hear whether we would be considered. Eventually we did hear that they were still interested in us (three other couples had been hired before the shutdown), and we interviewed by phone in early March. Soon after we found out that we were selected, and we began making plans to get to northern Minnesota by early May.

Jane has always had a strong interest in living-history sites. I have too, but can't really compete with her enthusiasm. The above picture is in Scotland. I'm thinking these might actually be a man's outfit...

Or she might appear to be working on an off-shore oil platform.

Or as John Knox...

We don't know yet what our costumes will be. We do know that we will have a variety of assignments, which can include working in the Great Hall, the kitchen, or the garden, or staffing the visitor center. We'll be on duty three days a week, giving us four days each week to explore the area. (Two of the four ferries that service Isle Royale National Park depart from Grand Portage, so we hope to have the opportunity to hike and backpack on Isle Royale.)

If you want to visit us there, here's some logistical info. We'll be there from May 13 to Labor Day. Our first two weeks are training weeks, with our real volunteer activities starting Memorial Day weekend. There's no campground at Grand Portage NM, and the nearest town is Grand Marais, about 35 miles south. There is an RV park at the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino in Grand Portage. We tend to forget just how big Lake Superior is; Grand Portage NM is located way up along the northwest side of the lake. It's over 600 miles from Chicago and around 800 from Grand Rapids, MI.

We'll have a bunch of studying to do to get up to speed on the history of the place and the cultures that interacted there, but we're still waiting for that shipment of books to arrive. Watch for updates as we learn more!

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