Project Vintage Thunder

The latest on Project Vintage Thunder, by Airstream Life magazine. Sponsored by George M Sutton RV, Reese hitch, Dometic USA, PPG Paint, Axis Products, GSM Vehicles, and Zip-Dee. Vintage Thunder is an "honest" RV refurbishment and travelogue. We tell you what really happens ...

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Exploring Bailey Island

It's another beautiful day on Bailey Island.

Yesterday I wrote about how -- on the upcoming Tour -- we plan to stop in a single location for a couple of weeks, and explore the local area. We're actually already doing that. Our stop in Bailey Island has been extended to three weeks, so there's plenty of time to check out the local scene.

On Tuesday we walked a large chunk of the island. Long walks are an antidote to car travel. Only on a walk can you see a community in real up-close-and-personal detail, while working out the kinks of too much time spent sitting. We picked a shoreline street and checked out the architecture of fifty houses lined along the western waterfront.

Eventually, our walk took us to Cook's Lobster House, a local institution that was made famous by the 1998-99 series of VISA commercials. They were one of those places where "'d better bring your VISA card -- because they don't take American Express!" Even though the location of Cook's was not revealed in the TV commercials, people sought the place out.

Cook's does deserve its reputation. The seafood is delicious and abundant, and nearly every table in the place has a view of the water. But they aren't kidding when they say "Bring your VISA card," because it's hard to get out of there under $30 per person. If I hadn't brought my VISA card I think I would still be there washing the dishes.

From the north and east tables of Cook's one can see the cribstone bridge which links Bailey Island to Orr's Island. Made of 10,000 tons of granite blocks, it is the only cribstone bridge in the world. The cribbing allows the tides to flow easily through the bridge, which is nice for the tide but not so great for traffic. I'm guessing it was either too expensive or impractical to get longer pieces of granite, because the bridge is extremely narrow. If you are towing a trailer or driving a motorhome over this bridge and you encounter a truck coming in the opposite direction, you'll need to stop or at least slow down to a crawl to ensure you don't bump each other. In some places this would be regarded as a one-lane bridge.

Over the Labor Day weekend I took the opportunity to check out some of Bailey Island's undersea life. The waters of Maine are famously cold, so a wetsuit is a good idea. I pack a 3mm shorty, along with fins, snorkel, and mask, wherever I go. Right now the water is about at its warmest for the season, which means mid-60s. When it's wavy, the temperature drops into the upper 50s.

So snorkeling here is something you do only if you are highly motivated. Having grown up along the murky waters of Lake Champlain, where visibility rarely exceeds 10 feet, I personally love seeing undersea creatures in clear salt water -- even if that water is so cold I can't stay in for more than 15 minutes. Floating along the rocky ledges that form tide pools at low tide, I spotted blue starfish, dozens of multi-colored crabs, little brown striped fish, periwinkles, hermit crabs, and a multitude of gorgeous plants swaying in the waves like tiny palm trees.

Is this Airstreaming? Yes, it is ...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Hints of the NEXT Tour!

Many of you know that the travels of Project Vintage Thunder are nearly over, at least as documented in this blog. The new owner of our Argosy 24 will take delivery in October when we are in Jackson Center, but that doesn't mean the end of our travels.

Starting in October, we will be embarking on a new travel experience, this time in a 2006 Airstream Safari 30. We plan to be on the road for six months or more, crossing the United States from border to border. There will be blog entries and essays, and some other little surprises that will be revealed in October when the new website is up.

The experience will be quite a bit different. With Vintage Thunder we've mostly traveled rapidly from rally to rally, fixing and replacing things on the trailer in between trips. On the new tour, we'll have a factory-fresh trailer to play with, so our focus will be upgrading and personalizing the "stock" design to meet our needs. In this way, I hope you'll get ideas of what you might like to do with your trailer, whether modern or vintage.

We'll also travel differently. One of the goals of this trip will be to see America in a way that is only possible when you travel by Airstream. Instead of rally-hopping, we'll settle into local communities and spend 2-3 weeks in each location, exploring the area in a series of day trips. Then we'll report back to you on the best experiences.

We're not retirees, so we don't have unlimited time, and we do have plenty of obligations (work and family). So a second goal will be to document how people with real-world obligations can still enjoy the adventure of Airstreaming, even if you only have a short bit of time. We'll talk about the big and small pleasures of travel, as well as the problems we've faced and how we've overcome them.

And a third important goal is to show non-Airstreamers -- people who might now be traveling in a white box RV, or who are tired of airplanes & hotels, or who are "just dreaming" -- that they can do it too. There really is an aspect of traveling that is unique to Airstream owners.

Finally, there's a importance of adventure. All too often RV travel (as depicted by the RV industry) has all the excitement of a night at the Howard Johnson's: homogenized experiences provided by "destination RV parks" that are basically cookie-cutter motels without rooms. The result is that we end up traveling to "see something different" or to "get away from it all", but the swimming pool, the McDonald's, the campsite, and the gift shop are all the same.

To really experience America, one has to be prepared to take a few small risks. To meet someone unusual and new, you must take the risk of chatting with a bizarre local who offends you. To enjoy a strange new local food, you must occasionally risk tasting something bitter or slimy. To learn something about Native American culture, you might have to risk a rock-strewn hike down a canyon. To hear the animals at night, you might have to turn off your generator and sweat a little bit.

Adventure is not something you can generally get while following the safest, easiest, and most heavily-trodden path. That's why we won't be attending many rallies on this tour. Rallies are pleasant experiences in their own right, but also they're mostly the same. The ones we do attend will hopefully offer at least a bit of local flair.

On the next Tour, we'll seek out the little adventures and experiences that define each place we visit, and bring them all to you for your consideration. And just as importantly, we hope that you'll bring us ideas of great places to stop too. The new Tour website will have a place where you can write back, and even talk with other folks who are following the blog.

There will be further announcements here about the Tour and our plans shortly. In the meantime, if you have suggestions of any type, put a comment on this blog, or use the "Contact Us" form at