Merry Christmas from Don’t Make Me Turn This Van Around

For the second year in a row we’ve decided not to print one of those ubiquitous Christmas card collages and mail it out to the 100 or so dear friends and family whose correct addresses we still have. No one in our family really likes writing addresses, keeping the list, and licking envelopes. Yeah, I know we can pay Shutterfly to do all the work, but if you are a regular reader, you know I’m a penny pincher. And everyone on our Christmas list is probably on Facebook and has seen all the photos already.

Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy all the beautiful cards we receive. I am genuinely impressed by the time and thought that everyone puts into it. Which is precisely why I can no longer pretend to be one of those people. I can’t have random sampling of our acquaintances (wedding guests from 14 years ago) live their lives under the false pretense that we maintain an accurate database of addresses for this singular purpose, while other equally valued friends receive nothing because we never bothered to get their home address. Therefore, no one is on the list.

So instead of a Christmas card, I decided to update this blog for the first time in 6 months.

In the Spirit of Christmas laziness, without telling you everything about our summer travels, here’s a quick summary of our summer. It’s like that Johnny Cash song “I’ve Been Everywhere”: Georgia (farm stand), South Carolina (Monica stung by a wasp), North Carolina (Jason Isbell concert,), Poughkeepsie (sketchy), Hudson Valley (hiking), Culinary Institute (famous chef), New Palz (hippies), Rhinebeck, Woodstock, Catskills—then I got COVID.

We’ve been everywhere, man, we’ve been everywhere.

Back to South Carolina (generator trouble), Smoky Mountains (chased by elk), Manhattan (Phantom of the Opera), and back home again. We’ve been everywhere, man…

It was a good summer.

Here’s a little photo recap of the adventures of our fortunate family:

This summer we had high gas prices to consider as we planned our route. We stocked up on gas cards at Publix ($40 for a $50 card) and set out with a plan to explore a tight radius of the Hudson Valley. On our way we stopped at Grandpa’s house. At 85, he proved you’re never too old to grow your first mustache.

Another way to watch the budget is to camp for free. I don’t like to pay for a campsite when all we’re doing is sleeping there and leaving the next morning. WalMarts and Cracker Barrels are almost always welcoming. In the summer, with the generator running and the AC humming, the surroundings aren’t much of an issue. Taking the back roads, we stumbled on a great farm shop in Georgia.

Santee, South Carolina offered Fort Watson and a commemoration of one of the more puzzling historic evens we’ve encountered, in which the British relaxed, drinking tea, while Revolutionaries built a tower to shoot down upon them. It was a battle worthy of Monty Python. Out on a run, Monica got stung by something that turned her leg into a red hot mess.

In North Carolina we went to Koka Booth Amphitheatre with some friends to see Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Sheryl Crow, and Waxahatchee (that’s their front woman Katie Crutchfield, after she asked to have her picture taken with me). Note the ice on Monica’s leg.

Making our way north, we stopped at the always reliable Cherry Hill Park outside of DC, home to the best combination of swimming/splash pad/laundry. When we arrived in the Hudson Valley, we were drawn to the opportunity to walk across the Hudson River on a converted railroad bridge. Monica picked up a brochure that encouraged adventurous visitors (that’s us!) to “Walk the Loop” by going through Poughkeepsie and back over the river on a different bridge. We might not be Lewis and Clark, but we may possibly be the first tourists to take them up on this suggestion. Walking through Poughkeepsie offers visitors the opportunity to see what a town looks like when IBM and every other industry closes up shop. Pedestrians on the second bridge are warned not to loiter, lest they be attacked by peregrine falcons.

The Hudson Valley packs a lot into a small area. There are incredible hiking trails, chilly swimming holes, and charming towns connected by two-lane roads (all named Route 9).

There’s probably a blog or two where I’ve spoken negatively about KOA, but that was back when we were sleeping in a tent. The KOA in Newburgh made perfect home base for exploring and our kids made lots of friends. We took a tour of Westpoint and appreciated the discipline and order of the historic military academy, and then visited New Paltz, a town whose main industries are tie-dyed shirts, incense and the world’s largest vegan hackeysack factory.

Fun fact, the Mohonk Mountain House property (rooms starting at $700 per night) is accessible only to registered guests… unless you hike there. Fun fact #2, only guests of the hotel may enter the facility… unless you really really want a cup of coffee and slip in unnoticed.

While visiting the CIA, the Culinary Institute of America, we tried to explain to the kids that it wasn’t just the school that our friends Jonathan and Sharon went to; famous chefs like the late Anthony Bourdain went there. Then we told the story of how we once saw Bourdain’s friend Eric Rippert on a bicycle in Central Park. The moment we mentioned Chef Rippert, who walks through the courtyard? Yep. He asked to have his picture taken with us.

Hyde Park, NY, is most famous for being the home of FDR. We just didn’t realize that his neighbors were so fancy that they didn’t even vote for him. The river is lined with mansions and “cottages” that became two large and costly to maintain for families with a half dozen estates to manage.

Here’s a contrast: The Mills-Norrie Mansion vs. Eleanor Roosevelt’s home, which later was just some dude’s apartment home and craft-space before the National Parks took it over.

We don’t dine out much when we travel. It’s expensive and, particularly post-pandemic, not always good. But we found a great restaurant called Terrapin in an old church in Rhinebeck. There was no terrapin on the menu. We get the sense we can come back to the Hudson Valley again and again and find new things. We toured another Vanderbilt Mansion (in hopes that after 10 tours we get to stay a night for free). And then we cruised over to Woodstock where a sprawling outdoor coffee shop had me looking at real estate listings.

We only stopped in Woodstock long enough to learn the bookstore was all out of books about the healing powers of crystals. We were off to the Catskills, and what we hoped would be some cooler weather. We found a campsite at a state park up in a little valley that we might call a “holler” further south. It was still warm, so we cooled off in the stream. But that night was sticky, and we couldn’t run our AC in this campground. Then I woke up in the middle of the night with a 101 degree fever. A COVID test took about 5 seconds to show positive.

For me, COVID was a constant up and down fever and fatigue. With a couple of Tylenol I almost felt ok, but once it wore off I needed a nap. And nap I did. We retreated to the KOA for a couple of days, although I barely remember that. Soon, Monica and our son tested positive, and we had to cancel plans to see the Fourth of July Fireworks at the Statue of Liberty. We headed south and stopped each evening when we found a Cracker Barrel. We vowed to return.

In our next post, we finish what we started…

You’re enjoying the FIFTH year of “Don’t Make Me Turn This Van Around.” This blog is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. In 2016, after series of major medical issues, Jon was diagnosed with a serious genetic condition called Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. With life completely altered, they developed a road-trip habit. Reach Jon at Monica is a non-profit consultant, grant writer, marathoner, baker, tour guide, and prolific bath taker. Also, don’t forget to follow our Instagram feed for stuff that doesn’t make the blog. Finally, check our the online tours of St. Petersburg that Monica does for I Love The Burg.

2 thoughts on “Merry Christmas from Don’t Make Me Turn This Van Around

  1. Hey You guys, I gotta tell you I love, love, love reading about all your adventures! So interesting being a history buff and the joy of knowing what great memories you are making with your children! You must know what a great gift you are living and giving each other..much love, Momma McDole.


  2. “Christmas laziness” ………I absolutely love how you are summarizing your summer 6 months after it took place. The pictures of you guys are great as well. The only thing I find “objectionable” is Tom making like he’s “Giselle with legs for days” but I digress.

    All kidding aside, it sounds like you and Monica had a great summer so thanks for sharing it with us. We hope you guys are doing well.

    Liked by 1 person

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