Big 10 County – Part 2


Upon leaving Ohio we continued north into Michigan heading towards Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, but made a brief stop in Dearborn just outside of Detroit for lunch (another shout out to Mike P for the rec!). Fun fact: Dearborn is home to the largest Arab community in the US. After a fantastic lunch of Middle Eastern food (our favorite was the sujuk) and baklava for dessert, we drove a bit closer to our next destination and found a quiet campground to spend the night. The highlight of this stop was that we successfully started our first fire of the trip (in the nice fire pit provided at the camp site, but with a pile of wet wood).

The next morning we continued on our way to Sleeping Bear Dunes, which is along the coast of Lake Michigan near the top of the Michigan mitten. Our first reaction upon reaching our destination was just how bizarre it was to see so much sand, especially sand dunes, in Michigan.

Emily picked out the hike (as usual) and we started our trek across the dunes to the lake shore. Even at the beginning of what was labeled as a ‘moderate’ hike, trekking through the sand was difficult. Every time we approached the top of a dune, we foolishly allowed ourselves to believe “this has to be the last one” time after time until about the 5th one. Eventually we did make it over the final dune to arrive at the shoreline.

The wind was crazy, the waves were rough, and the water was cold, so not great for swimming or lounging on the beach. We did take a second to reach down and touch the water, just to say we touched Lake Michigan, and then retreated behind a small dune just off the shore to eat our lunch. Despite our best efforts we failed miserably at keeping sand out of our food. Crunchy hummus isn’t that bad I guess.

Following the dunes we made a pit stop up the coast for a quick out-and-back hike to Pyramid Point. Not a typical shoreline, the “beach” is more like a cliff that drops over 250 feet down to the water’s edge. A sign read “Don’t risk injury… or the 2 hours” to get back up; but we did witness a father-daughter team make the climb in about twenty minutes. With that said, we were tired and decided to stay up top and take in the view from there.

After a day of hiking we headed south to the Huron-Manistee National Forest to find somewhere to camp. US National Forest land is open to “dispersed camping” which, in summary, means you can camp for free with no hookups, as long as you follow the rules laid out by the the US Forestry Service (USFS). The USFS actually has some pretty good PDF maps with numbered roads you can download, so between that and Google maps you can at least target an area to park and set up camp (and hope someone isn’t already parked there). Most of the roads aren’t paved and some are in better shape than others. We picked a road, and were able to find a quiet area in a turn off just before the road looked a little too risky for the RAV to handle. Nothing fancy, but private and (best of all) it cost us $0.

The next morning we continued driving north towards the Upper Peninsula at the recommendation of several friends. (Side note: One week ago we had no plans to be in Michigan at all during this trip, yet here we are.) We parked in Mackinaw City to catch a ferry to Mackinac Island, which is a small island in Lake Huron near the bridge that connects mainland Michigan to the Upper Peninsula (also known as the UP, we learned).

The ferry ride was a quick 15 minutes. The island hasn’t allowed motor vehicles since 1898 so everyone is on foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriage. The main street is full of tourists, shops, and especially fudge shops. After walking around and getting as many free samples of fudge as we could, we found a cafe for lunch and to mooch WiFi. For the rest of the afternoon we hung out along the water and ate more fudge.

After taking the ferry back to the mainland we hopped back in the RAV, drove across the Mackinac Bridge, and headed to Hiawatha National Forest to find a camp site for the night. Using another USFS map, we targeted a small road that seemed to be close to Lake Huron. As we made our way from one unmarked dirt road to another, the trees cleared as we reached the shoreline. We could not have found a better spot. We parked 20 feet from the water’s edge and spent a while taking in the view, in awe that some place like this was available for us to spend the night, for free. We cooked a delicious meal (ramen) and settled in for the night.

The next morning we spent some time on our private beach and then packed up to head to our next camp site, which would put us closer to the following day’s hike. Before we left we saw an AWESOME bald eagle perched in the tallest tree surrounding our clearing. It sat there for about an hour before taking off.

We headed west to Hiawatha National Forest. We found a spot to camp about 45 minutes from Pictures Rocks National Lakeshore on the coast of Lake Superior, where we planned to hike the following day. We heard from a Michigan couple we met roaming around in their RV that the hike we planned on doing was popular and cars often parked miles down the road once the parking lot filled up. Surprising, given that it’s a pretty remote spot to get to, but we took their advice to go early.

Up at 6ish and out the door by 7, we reached the trail head in plenty of time to avoid any crowds set off on the 11 mile loop of Mosquito Falls and Chapel Falls along Lake Superior. The wind and waves below were intense, and with each heavy gust we were buffeted with sand. The views from the bluffs were incredible.

Years of water and wind cut smooth caverns and holes into the stone, and continue to do so. With each new stretch of trail came more wind and more incredible views. It was well worth the hike out there. The biggest take away of the day though, was the shear force of the water. You could hear and feel the water slamming against the bluffs below while walking along the trail above. It was really something to experience and something I won’t forget. As Emily said about half way through the hike to the back of my head (to herself mostly) “Who knew? Michigan”.

Tired and sore, we drove west to Marquette and settled down in an Airbnb for our first non-RAV night since we left PA.

Wisconson next…

– Mike

Big 10 Country – Part 1


As we made our way down Park Ave, there she was in all her glory. Beaver Stadium. The Beav. It made me long for fall days of past where the grass lots were filled with vehicles and people in anticipation of the day’s football game. Alas, amidst the current social climate, the lots were empty. And, of course, it was a Tuesday, but you get the point.

We made our way to State College to spend an evening with my brother Jack and his girlfriend Lydia before really, officially, starting our journey living in the RAV. For those of you who have not met him, Jack is a strikingly handsome fellow, so it’s obvious what Lydia sees in him.

Thanks to Zac and Olivia from Birds of Passage for this and dozens of other fantastic wedding photos |

The two of them live in a great house just north of the Penn State campus tucked in one of the many small State College neighborhoods. Frankly, Emily and I were jealous with their accommodations as we recalled the various group houses and apartments we’d inhabited during our time on campus (note: separately; we met in DC). I suppose you can treat yourself to nicer accommodations when living in State College post graduation. Jack and Lydia also have two cats that, as cats go, are pretty great.

After a quick tour of their new place, we spent some time catching up and had a great evening eating pizza and stromboli, watching the Flyer’s grab an OT winner, and sitting around their new fire pit. Proud of both of these two for all of their hard work and ambition and can’t wait to see what’s next.

The next morning Emily and I stopped downtown to grab a few new PSU sweatshirts and McLanahan’s subs. We couldn’t head into Ohio and Michigan without properly representing our university, could we? New gear in hand, we rounded out our trip with a stop at the world famous (well maybe not, but it’s fantastic) Berkey Creamery. This was supposed to be our “lunch” but we soon discovered that scoops were not an option due to the pandemic, so we were forced to get personal pints.

While not quite 1 year to the day, this stop also served as a wedding anniversary of sorts. At our wedding we each enjoyed a healthy portion of Bittersweet Mint and Death by Chocolate ice cream from this very same creamery instead of a cake, and tradition insisted that we share some of that wedding dessert a year following our vows. Bellies full, our time time to really get on the road was upon us. Next stop – Cuyahoga Valley National Park.


The drive from State College to Cuyahoga was relatively uneventful and we arrived in the early afternoon for a quick hike before parking for the night. We did a loop around the Stanford House to Brandywine Falls trail, which started next to this super cool old barn.

An easy hike in terms of terrain and elevation, we wound our way through the woods until the path opened up to a 60 ft tall waterfall, which made for some great photos. We snapped a few for posterity’s sake and returned to the car as the evening settled in around us.

We arrived at our campground a bit later than anticipated. Nothing fancy about this stop but it offered clean bathrooms, water, and showers (which had surprisingly great hot water and water pressure) which is all we could ask for to end a long day. One of our neighbors generously offered us a mason jar of his homemade apple pie moonshine, which we politely declined, and then later regretted. Next time, we’ll say yes.

This was our first night sleeping in the RAV and honestly it went pretty well. Our platform transformation from ‘drive’ to ‘sleep’ was seamless and the camping stove we brought worked perfectly to prepare our delicious meal of sausage, peppers, and onions. After dinner we cleaned up camp and settled in for the night.

The next morning we packed up to continue driving west and north. With Pennsylvania and Ohio behind us, our tour of Big 10 country continues in Michigan in the coming days, which we’re tracking on this map. Until next time…

– Mike

And We’re Off

With our last day of work behind us, we spent our first weekend back in Brackney, PA with Emily’s parents. As usual there was plenty of great food and conversation, as well as some pitch action, a regular game at the Wychocks (Beams beat the Wychocks this time).

We helped out Joe (Emily’s dad) who was working on yet another new project, this time a concrete foundation to rebuild his custom-made pizza oven down by the pond. We weren’t around to see the finished product, but the foundation came out great.

We also got to play with our new toy, a drone. We thought it would be cool to have a drone to get some cool shots during our tip around the states, and figured we could test it out at Emily’s parents place. After a few test flights, we learned the drone is relatively easy to operate, but also easy to get disoriented. After a few successful laps around the garden and even over the pond, the last flight ended with the drone 35+ feet in the air in one of the many pine trees on the property. Oops.

Thankfully, Joe is an expert tree climber and made light work of the evergreen tree that had caught our drone. Thanks Joe!

With the drone safely retrieved and ready for field duty we left Brackney and returned to DC to move out of our apartment. Big thanks to Joe and Vickie for the thoughtful care package complete with rain ponchos, car air fresheners, and plenty of road trip snacks.

Back in DC, moving out of our two bedroom apartment was relatively painless. We sold and donated whatever we could, and moved the rest into a storage unit. We lived in that apartment (which was our first place together) for 3 years, so it was strange to see it empty again. Shout out to Brian and Alexandra who made moving everything into storage significantly better than it would have been with just the two of us. With that said, we both agreed our next move would be done by paid professionals.

Storage unit filled and apartment cleaned, we were finally ready to hit the road. We filled the RAV with all of the necessities (or at least based on our research and best guess) and our backpacks filled with our clothes for the entire trip, we headed to our first stop in Downingtown, PA to see Mike’s family before we officially set off.

In Downingtown we were able to see all of Mike’s siblings and significant others, our niece and nephew, and my parents. We spent some time just relaxing and brought the drone out to fine tune our skills. Most importantly, we successfully kept it out of the trees with the help of my nephew Orion. We’ve mastered taking off and landing, but are still working on a smooth flight (it’s harder than it looks).

Saturday was spent hanging out together and enjoying a fantastic meal of fajitas and margaritas, a Patti Beam specialty, before departing to our next stop on Sunday. Thanks to Mom and Dad (Mike and Patti) for the full bellies, custom insulated RAV window shades, and plenty of custom-made face masks for our trip.

With visits to our families under our belt, we finally departed for our first official stop on the trip; Delta, PA to visit our good friend Mike. Mike has a fantastic cabin on the Susquehanna river and we gladly accept an invitation any time he offers. As an added bonus, for the first time in the past several years when we’ve visited, the weather cooperated and provided a perfect evening for our first day on the road.

Next stop: State College, PA to visit Jack and Lydia.

– Mike

RAV4 Build Out – The Sleeping Platform

[Edit after writing this: it’s long-ish. Sorry not sorry.]

We’d been planning for a long time to start this trip in South America or Southeast Asia, but with this lovely 2020 pandemic that didn’t look feasible (at least to start our trip). Instead, we decided we’d travel in the US to start until we knew where we could go safely, and that we’d be allowed to cross the border.

To that end, our budget was not built for North America (let alone the US) so we had to get creative. After talking with some friends who decided to travel the states and work remotely this summer out of their car (also a RAV coincidentally, thanks for the idea goes to Ian and Brittany [and Pepper, elegantly pictured on their platform below]!) we thought this might be a solution for us.

At that point, we immediately jumped into online research mode to figure out where to start. Some examples that we saw had the platform low to the ground with minimal storage underneath, but we knew that wouldn’t work for us. Some had the platform as single piece (of plywood), whereas others had the platform built in sections. Some had the frame supports running front-to-back, others had them running laterally.

After much online research about building out SUVs with sleeping platforms (mostly YouTube videos), and over-analyzing the amount of space we needed (including the exact dimensions of the cooler we planned to buy so, you know, we could leave enough clearance underneath) we settled on a design. Our platform would include (3) sections with a single central section that was fixed to a frame and (2) sections attached via piano hinge. The back section would typically stay down but on a hinge and not fixed to the frame (to allow easier access to storage below), and the front section would typically stay folded back onto the top of the middle section, but fold out to full length with the front seats slid forward to sleep.

With a relatively loose plan in mind, we moved forward to the build phase during our week of remote work in Emily’s hometown of Binghamton, NY.

Joe (Emily’s dad) has just about every tool you could imagine, and a truck large enough to transport a full sheet of plywood, so it was a no brainer. Not to mention our basement apartment in DC doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a build like this.

We took some measurements of the car (with the back seats completely removed) to determine just how much clear space the RAV’s interior really offered; all tolled we can just about squeeze a full mattress in. From there, we headed to the hardware store to get our material. A key decision for our build was to use 2x3s for the frame in lieu of a typical 2×4. We felt this would give us an extra inch of space without sacrificing too much structure. For the platform we settled on 3/4” plywood, which would provide added support with only negligible added weight (as compared to 1/2”).

As you can see, Emily’s initial sketch for the platform itself had our plywood “notched” around the wheel wells in the back. This would have taken away some valuable space for us and created a less-than-flat platform for the mattress (4” foam, thanks Sanzi). Once we factored in the clear space we wanted beneath the plywood (15.5”, to accommodate a 15” tall cooler), however, we realized that the bottom of our frame would actually be above the wheel wells. This allowed us to use a full 48” sheet of plywood without cutting it or notching it at all.

The frame itself was sized based on the clear space available when the front seats are in the “driving” position; driver seat all the way back with seat reclined just barely, for when I’m driving, and passenger seat nearly-but-not-all-the-way back with slightly more incline, for a more comfortable position for the co-pilot.

Anyway, the next step was to actually start building; we began with the rear frame. This section was sized primarily to fit the cooler which had to be accessible via the hinged rear hatch. Part of the equation here was to make sure the hatch could open enough to remove the cooler (and/or open the cooler lid). We also wanted to maximize space here since it would be easy to access with the trunk open.

We built the frame with the 2x3s stood on end (rather than flat, like we saw in some videos) with the legs attached beneath the frame, which we felt still gave us plenty of clear space for storage. Everything felt stable so we were able to forgo a central leg to further maximum free storage space underneath.

Next came the central, stationary portion of the frame. This is the only portion of the frame where the plywood platform is actually fastened down to the frame. We doubled up the 2x3s on end (front and back) of the center portion, to provide some extra stability for each piano hinge (more on that later). The storage space beneath this section is accessible when opening the rear doors.

Oh yeah the photo above reminded me that we replaced the original head unit, a sweet 2005 model radio setup complete with with CD player and cassette deck. The cassette-to-aux converter that we had rarely worked and kicked back some terrible feedback, so we figured it was time.

Back to the frame. One other item worth noting is that we added some small “L” brackets where each leg met the frame, for a bit of added stability.

With the central and back frames built, we were able to put the plywood on top of the frame. We started with the stationary central section, and then installed the piano hinge and back section. It worked like a dream.

Also shown in the video above is the front-most section, also on a piano hinge. This portion stays folded back on top of the central section, and can only open with the front seats are pushed all the way forward (and leaned forward). There are some 2x3s installed on the underside of the plywood, to provide some added rigidity. This section actually sits on a loose frame, which is placed just behind the seats and is secured in place with a small drop pin down through the top, into the frame.

With the frame and plywood installed, we covered the plywood with outdoor carpet to get a nice finished look and a little extra cushion. The finished product works exactly how we had hoped, and there’s actually a decent amount of room in there. Once we add a foam mattress, some sheets, and pillows, it’ll be just like home.

One other finishing touch – we added two tie-downs on the rear legs that anchor the frame down to hooks in the floor of the trunk. This was a safety feature we borrowed from another YouTube video. Although the frame fits pretty snug in the car, if we ever get in an accident these seemed like a good idea to keep the frame from flying up.

And so that’s it, that’s the sleeping platform. We’re currently sourcing all the things we need (double sleeping bag, camping stove, portable clothes washing tub, etc. etc. etc.).

We’ll post again soon, maybe.

– Mike