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Orlando Bingles’ 2011 Summer Road Trip – Day 17

by on Aug.29, 2011, under Richard Bingle Family

Alyssa had asked that we not “drive in the van all day” on her birthday so the plan was to spend the day somewhere we couldn’t drive a motor vehicle at all – Mackinac Island.

After Alyssa finished opening her presents, we took the the Star Line Ferry over to the island first thing in the morning. Unbeknownst to the girls, Karen and I had thought that instead of simply touring the island by foot, we would do something we’d never done before – take a self-guided ride in a horse-drawn carriage!

So, naturally we started out on foot, making our way a few blocks from the ferry landing to Jack’s Livery. After filling out a short form, paying for the first hour up-front, getting directions (on both the route and how to drive), and being introduced to Donna, we were off on our ride.


The route we’d chosen took us along the very western edge of the island, giving us a great view of the lake. With (virtually) no motor vehicles allowed on the island the only traffic we had to worry about was pedestrians, bicycles, horses, and other horse drawn conveyances (buggies, carriages, and wagons), all of which were present in abundance!

After reaching the northern most part of our route, we turned south along the center of the island to head back to the livery. This took us up hill (which Donna really didn’t like) and through the woods. At one point Donna had decided she needed a break and we had a hard time convincing her to start moving again. As we made our way back towards the livery we passed by the island’s airport where a private jet was taking off. Donna really didn’t like that and we enjoyed a short fast trot as she got out of the area.

Too soon (although almost a full hour longer than the hour we’d already paid for) we were back at the livery where we got a quick picture of us with Donna. Then it was off to lunch of some burgers and fries from Fred’s Burger Joint, a small little place right by the ferry docks.

Our ride had only shown us part of the island, so we decided to make the 1.5 mile walk (each way) to view Arch Rock. Our walk took us along the eastern edge of the island this time. It was kind of odd to be walking down basically the middle of the road and only having to worry about passing bicycles (I don’t remember seeing a single horse on that road once we left “town”) running us down. There was a bit of a climb up some stairs to the viewing platform. There was a road about 4/5ths of the way up which is where the horse-drawn wagons of tourists would stop for about ten minutes on their island tour to make the short walk up to Arch Rock.


After taking some pictures from the top we made our way back down and then a little further along the road so that we could get some pictures from below as well before walking back to town.

We had a bit of shopping to do before we left the island – fudge! Mackinac Island is known for its fudge. There are over a dozen fudge shops within a four block section of Main Street, including several stores from the same company, some of those literally across the street from each other! In addition to these fudge shops (most of which featured candy makers mixing and/or cooling fudge on large marble tables) many of the other souvenir shops sold fudge as well. Of course, every shop claimed that their fudge was tastier than the others or that their multi-pound deal was somehow better. Some of the shops even offered small samples of their fudge and we sampled many, but the clerks and candy makers at the JoAnne’s Fudge were the most helpful and generous in their samples, their fudge tasted the best (at least to us), and they had a huge assortment of flavors so we ended up getting a 1.5 pounds of fudge (.3 pound slices in 5 different flavors). One of the clerks overheard one of the girls say something to Alyssa about her birthday and was kind enough to give Alyssa a truffle as a special birthday treat.

With our fudge in hand it was time to head back to the mainland. Alyssa relented in her “no driving” wish and we made the four hour or so drive to Grand Rapids where we would be spending the next several days. We did make a very important stop before getting to Karen’s parents house – the Krispy Kreme shop near Calvin to pick up the “best dinner ever”, a dozen donuts, to help celebrate Alyssa’s birthday.

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Orlando Bingles’ 2011 Summer Road Trip – Day 16

by on Aug.28, 2011, under Richard Bingle Family

On the road again… again.

Day 16 found us driving again. A lot.

Our GPS, KareKare, had told us as we left the Bristol Renaissance Faire the night before that the shorter route to our next stop, Mackinaw City, MI was actually quicker if we went south around Lake Michigan, but we had promptly dismissed that notion to instead drive up along the western edge of the lake through Wisconsin and through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I think it was a good decision!

The landscape in the UP is beautiful, with lush green forests. Our route also took us right along the edge of Lake Michigan at times and we stopped a couple of times for pictures. Especially once we got within sight of Mighty Mac, the Mackinac Bridge that connects the two peninsulas of Michigan. The bridge had been featured on an episode of Dirty Jobs so it was familiar even though we’d never been there before. We of course took a bunch of pictures.


After checking into our room (which had a view of the bridge and our destination for the next day, Mackinac Island), we went out for pizza and did some fudge shopping (but no buying yet).

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Orlando Bingles’ 2011 Summer Road Trip – Day 15

by on Aug.27, 2011, under Richard Bingle Family

Bristol, baby! But not Bristol Motor Speedway like last last time, this time it was the Bristol Renaissance Faire near the Illinois/Wisconsin border.

We’ve been to the Bristol Ren Faire several times over the years and as one of the largest Ren Faires in the country, it has always been fun. As we always do when we go to a Ren Faire, we wore matching tie-dye t-shirts (since none of us have any period correct garb) which always gets us a mixture of compliments and comments from attendees and performers alike.

We saw several acts that we’d seen and enjoyed in the past including Dirk and Guido and MooNie the Magnif’Cent and the joust. Sure, their acts haven’t really changed that much over the years, but it’s still fun. Add to that the elaborate period and fantasy costumes, the music, the fake accents, the food, people calling you “m’Lord”, and the beautiful weather – how can you go wrong? They even take Master Card and Lady Visa!

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Orlando Bingles’ 2011 Summer Road Trip – Day 13 & 14

by on Aug.26, 2011, under Richard Bingle Family

One thing that Orlando isn’t lacking in is water parks. We’ve got Wet’n Wild, Aquatica, Blizzard Beach, and Typhoon Lagoon. All “world class” water parks. Yet we felt somehow compelled to spend our two days at the Wisconsin Dells at water parks. Although while originally planning out the trip I thought we might spend part of our visit at a go-kart park or maybe ride one of the famous Wisconsin Dells Ducks by the time we started nailing down our itinerary the plan had morphed into spending about a day and a half at what is billed to be America’s largest water park, Noah’s Ark. But our plans suddenly changed when we started calling around for a room as we approached the Dells as we found a pretty good deal at one hotel that included free admission to Los Rios at a nearby resort. We’d get to play at two parks!

Like Pigeon Forge, The Wisconsin Dells seemed like a copy of Orlando/Kissimee’s I-Drive and 192 areas, complete with attractions like Ripley’s Believe it or Not and tons of themed mini-golf courses and the countless t-shirt shops. It was the second time on the trip that made us wonder why we’d driven all that way…

After spending an entire day on Day 13 at Noah’s Ark trying pretty much every slide that was open, we spent another four hours or so that evening at the indoor Los Rios water park, completely wearing ourselves out! While much smaller than Noah’s Ark, Los Rios still offered plenty of fun. While it felt like we had to climb hundreds of stairs up to the top of the slides after each ride, the girls insist it was actually closer to 90 stairs total to the top.

Day 14 found us back at Noah’s Ark and Los Rios to ride some of the slides a few more times until our leaving to drive back down to St. Charles, IL to visit Don for the evening (Linda was in Hawaii).

You can’t visit the Chicago area without having at least one meal at Portillos so after a brief stop to pick up Don we headed straight to Portillos for some Italian Beef sandwiches. Then we spent the rest of the evening playing air hockey on Don and Linda’s arcade quality table. When things started winding down, the girls fell asleep petting Mauka and Makai. I’m not sure if the girls or the dogs enjoyed that more!

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Orlando Bingles’ 2011 Summer Road Trip – Day 12

by on Aug.24, 2011, under Richard Bingle Family

Day 12 started with Belinda feeding us a great breakfast and visiting with Belinda, Mike, Tiffany, and Adie (complete of course with pictures). While sweet, our visit was short as we had adventure (and lots more driving) scheduled for the day.

The adventure was a visit to the Gateway to the West at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, commonly referred to as The Arch.


We spent several hours there taking tons of what we considered “artistic” pictures. We also spent probably about an hour in the observation area at the top of the arch, partly to wait for the shadow of the arch to fall in a straight line along the legs of the arch for another “artistic” picture.

And then it was back to the van and back on the road. Destination: The Wisconsin Dells!

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Orlando Bingles’ 2011 Summer Road Trip – Day 11

by on Aug.23, 2011, under Richard Bingle Family

Day 11 of the trip we got up really early as we had quite a bit of driving to do as we would be heading first to Mammoth Cave for a 4.5 hour tour through the cave only offered once a day (which meant we had to be on time) and then to the suburbs of Saint Louis to visit Belinda and Mike.

The girls slept for a good part of the drive to Mammoth Cave. We happened to be driving over a pass in the mountains right near dawn and it was a very pretty view. At times we were above the low hanging fog down in the valleys and at other times deep within the fog. There was one particular place we wished we had stopped at for some pictures or video, but by the time we realized that would have been the best place to do so we were many miles past.

The other “eventful” part of the drive to Mammoth occurred when the four lane highway we were traveling straight west at the time suddenly ended. We cruised through a traffic light at speed, saw a sign that said “pavement ends 1000 feet” and promptly dropped several inches off the end of the nicely paved highway onto an older road. We were pretty confused as we could see the remains of the former highway straight ahead of us beyond a low fence. We stopped for directions and found out that our maps and KareKare were both out of date and didn’t show that the road had been rerouted a few years earlier. We were soon back on our way and arrived with plenty of time before our tour was to depart.

I’d been to Mammoth Cave with Dad when I was little and had memories of a long walk through the enormous (they called it “Mammoth” for a good reason!) cave. Karen and the girls and I had stopped at the cave on the way back to Florida during one of our drives up north when the girls were little but had only taken a brief “intro” tour. Today was to be different – 4 miles!

After gathering at the visitors’ center, we were taken by bus to one of the many entrances to the cave and began our journey. We saw a few bats at the entrance, but didn’t really see any more “wildlife” inside the cave until one of the several stops we made where one of our guides showed us a huge cave cricket that he’d plucked from the wall as we walked past. When he placed it back on the wall we spotted another one on the wall just a few feet away from where he had just placed the other. Now that we knew what to look for we spotted several more during the rest of our tour.

I had remembered eating in the “Snowball Cafeteria” during my visit to the cave when I was little and was looking forward to sharing it with the girls. While the snowball shaped formations on the ceiling were like I remembered, somehow this chamber (which serves as a rest stop along the tour) was much smaller than I remembered. As we had eaten shortly before the tour, we didn’t have anything there but did take plenty of pictures.


The hike through the cave was definitely tiring. Lots of elevation changes, some sloped and some stairs (some of which were very steep). A couple of the passages (usually on the stairs) were either very narrow or had some pretty low overhangs, so you definitely had to exercise plenty of caution.

A couple of the special tours offered at Mammoth Cave are the lantern tours. Well, as it turned out there was a lengthy section of the Grand Avenue section that was having some issue with the lights and our group of about 75 people were therefore “forced” (for no additional charge!) to use 10 or so lanterns to light our way for over a mile of the tour. I acted quickly and grabbed one of the lanterns for us. It was pretty neat (and surprisingly bright) to tour the cave that way!


The tour ends with “Frozen Niagara” which is a section of the cave filled with beautiful flow stone, stalagmites (growing up from the floor), stalactites (growing down from the ceiling), and columns.

Upon exiting the cave we took the buses back to the visitors’ center where we walked over some bio-security mats that are designed to help slow the spread of White-Nose Syndrome which is a fungal disease affecting bats, and then took a short walk (about a quarter mile each way) to see the “Historic Entrance” which is where we had visited when the kids were little.

The rest of the day was devoted to the same thing that had consumed the start of our day – driving. We made it to Belinda and Mike’s (really nice!) house around 9:00 p.m. and had a nice visit before heading to bed.

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Orlando Bingles’ 2011 Summer Road Trip – Day 9 & 10

by on Aug.22, 2011, under Richard Bingle Family


Our last two days at the cabin were spent pretty much the same way our first two full days were spent – boardgames, foosball, and playing in the water. We even held our own 1v1 and 2v2 foosball tournaments (with every possible combination of teams), complete with the ball flying clear across the room on occasion. We realized that while we had taken lots of pictures down at the lake and some of inside the cabin, we really hadn’t taken any pictures of the outside of the cabin, so Amber walked down the hill and took a bunch of pictures.


We also started packing up as we would be leaving very early in the morning on Day 12 so that we could get to Mammoth Cave in time for the tour that we had booked.

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Orlando Bingles’ 2011 Summer Road Trip – Day 8

by on Aug.20, 2011, under Richard Bingle Family

We spent most of Day 8 of our trip tubing on Douglas Lake. While we would have preferred something a little sportier with more speed, the only affordable boat we could find to rent was a somewhat underpowered pontoon boat, but that didn’t stop us from having a blast.


We drove the van to a nearby marina where we rented the boat and then took the boat back to the cabin we were staying at to pick up the tube and some drinks. It would have been a bit easier if our dock had still been floating instead of sitting at an odd angle on the shore due to the receding lake, but we managed. We headed out of the cove on which our cabin was located back out into the open area of the main lake and got the tube all set up to tow.


We started out with the three girls on the tube and they quickly got comfortable and were soon sitting up and showing off by not holding on. While the boat lacked power, it was still possible to send one or more of the girls sailing off into the water through abrupt changes in speed and direction of the boat.


We spent the next several hours taking turns on the tube. Since Ashley had gotten her driver’s license over the summer even she took a turn driving the boat. We stopped briefly back at the marina once during the day to fill up on fuel and then headed right back out onto the lake, searching for every wave and wake we could find, or creating and crossing our own wake.


On our eventual return to the cabin we were pretty worn out so we played a game and went to bed a little early.

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Orlando Bingles’ 2011 Summer Road Trip – Day 6 & 7

by on Aug.18, 2011, under Richard Bingle Family

The next two days of our trip were spent primarily playing boardgames and foosball in the cabin and playing in the waters of Douglas Lake and in general just relaxing.


We had brought several boardgames along on the trip including Alhambra and Pit, but Ticket to Ride probably got the most plays of them all. While the picnic table styled benches weren’t the most comfortable, we did have a nice view out the large windows while we were playing.

The basement of the cabin sported both a smallish pool table and a nice foosball table, but the foosball table saw a whole lot more action than the pool table. There is something satisfying about spinning the foosball handles as fast as possible and the sound of the ball ricocheting off of the walls and the ding as someone scores a goal.

Lake-wise, our time was spent floating on and jumping from a large towable tube that we’d bought for the trip. Karen spent most of her time paddling around in a small blow-up boat that we had last used on Lake Mead. Since the GoPro‘s case makes it waterproof we took a lot of video and stills of us in and on the water.

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Orlando Bingles’ 2011 Summer Road Trip – Day 5

by on Aug.17, 2011, under Richard Bingle Family

Just like white-water rafting, horseback riding has become a staple of our recent summer trips. After checking out of our hotel in Pigeon Forge, we headed to Townsend, TN on the northern edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Davy Crockett Riding Stables. Ashley rode Jewel-Eye, Amber rode Sunny, Alyssa rode Fancy, Karen rode Buster, and I rode Gypsy (although two-thirds of the way through the guide had Karen and me switch horses because Gypsy was getting tired).


The trails took us up and down hills, through dense woods, and along small hidden hay fields nestled in secluded clearings amidst the trees. Karen had a little trouble keeping Buster from wanting to snack on everything we passed. She’s just too nice to the horses and doesn’t discourage them from munching on things when they get the chance.


At one point early in our ride we circled back by the barn to pick up a halter for the horse that a little girl in our larger group was riding (it was even munchier than Buster) and all of the horses thought “We’re done!” and wanted to go back into the barn. It took a little convincing to get them to move again.

The girls enjoyed the chance to go a bit faster than we had on any of our previous trips as all of the horses seemed to take turns trotting down one of the hills that we went down.

After horseback riding (and lunch) it was time to drive to the cabin on Lake Douglas which was to be our base of operations for the next several days. The road to the cabin was even narrower and twistier than the roads we’d been on so far, but we finally arrived at our destination. The cabin was nice, but the water level in the lake had gone down about 6 feet in the previous several weeks and the dock we’d made sure was floating when we’d rented the cabin was now firmly on the ground and at a precarious 30 degree angle making it basically unusable for much of anything. As we were tired from horseback riding, hiking the day before, and moving our stuff into the cabin, we decided to take it easy and mostly relaxed the first evening. We did try fishing for a little while near dusk but the only bites we got were of the mosquito variety. We ended up playing some board games and some foosball and calling it a night.

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