On Wednesday July 7 we departed for Kelley’s Island, Ohio in Lake Erie. As we headed out of town, I messaged Diana to ask about preferred routes through Cincinnati. She invited us over, but since we had lots of miles to cover and a ferry to catch, we felt like we'd better hit the road and see her at the rally. On route we passed through a small Ohio town with this amazing and very timely trompe l'oeil mural on Main Street. Sadly I don't remember the name of the town. Please let me know if you know it.
While choosing a camper, and after we’d ordered, I communicated with other Alto owners on the Safari Condo forum. Since it was in French, and Google translate only goes so far, I had floated the idea to Safari Condo about starting a Facebook page for enthusiasts. They seemed content with the corporate page they currently had, so I was thrilled when another English-speaking Alto enthusiast started one. (I guess that thing about asking for forgiveness later really works!) I was the third person to join the page, and only Alissa (the founder) and I were really active for a while so it was wonderful to have someone to talk to about all things Alto.
We now have more than 350 members with new requests to join coming in daily. As our numbers grew we began to chat about having a rally and based on our members locations, the Upper Midwest seemed to make sense. Diana and Len were kind enough to volunteer to organize our first rally for Kelleys Island.
Getting there required taking a ferry. This was Snug’s first time on a ferry and Nella’s first since a trip to the Outerbanks several years ago, so it was a fun adventure in and of itself. I don’t know if this was the first Alto on Kelleys Island, (Diana and Len may have been previously with their Alto) but it was the first some of the workers on our ferry had seen so it got a lot of attention.
|A nice young guy offered to take our photo when we were working on a selfie. He took several because I think he was |
expecting my hair to eventually behave in the wind. It did not!
We had decided that if we were going to all this trouble to get to an island, we’d stay a few days. Since we needed to be back in early August for school and work, we added a couple of days on the front end, making us the first Alto to arrive at the rally site.
|Our sweet waterfront site on Lake Erie.|
We had lucked into a great water-front site for the first two days. We had some serious rain and a fair bit of wind. We were snuggled inside and all of a sudden Nella said, “the pole is in the air!” referring to one of our awning poles. Barry and I climbed out to hold the poles down, and figure out if we could do something to anchor them more securely, but it quickly became clear that being lakefront on Lake Erie sometimes brings some brisk winds that were more than the awning could handle. Barry braved the storm and took it down, which thankfully was a fairly quick task.
In between massive rain showers, on Thursday, Nella, Barry and I biked to the Glacial Grooves, the beach, and the lighthouse.
A few others came on Thursday and Neil and Rachel, who had come from Kentucky to see our Alto weeks ago and who were vacationing in the area, decided to come just for the evening to get to meet more owners and see their Altos. Nella and I biked around to invite owners to come to our site to meet up that evening. It was a drizzly evening but we got the propane fire pit out and enjoyed chatting with our new friends on the shore of Lake Erie. Neil and Rachel had biked from the ferry, and she had an injured leg, so we offered to shuttle her back to the ferry while Barry rode her bike with Neil. This worked out well because it gave us a chance to hang out with them a little bit more (Nella and I with Rachel in the car, and Barry with Neil by bike) and let Barry get a lengthy ride in which he'd been wanting to do.
We had to move to a new site on Friday, which was a bit of a pain but had the benefit of bringing us nearer other rally participants. One of the really fun benefits of the Alto group is meeting people from around North America and Australia—folks we would very likely not have met otherwise, but who we have a surprising amount in common with. When chatting about this with Emily and Tony, Alto owners from Alaska, they pointed out that Alto owners are a pretty self-selecting group. Most camping trailers sold are huge. Clearly, not everyone wants a small trailer that can fit into state parks and go boondocking, but it turns out that the people who do are really cool! This is my first experience with meeting virtual friends in real life, and it really was wonderful and fun to put voices and three-dimensions with those I had only known online. (How else would I have learned for instance that Jim of Alto 80 fame has a very firm handshake and makes delicious pancakes? Or that Pete's special homebrew is named Beard Burner for a reason? Or that Emily is making a film for kids?) It was a bit surreal especially meeting Alissa and Karen in person, when we had been chatting online like old friends for months. Barry is not on Facebook and when I proposed attending the rally, he was willing but a little fearful of what being with 20+ Alto fanatics would be like. He was pleasantly surprised, and truly enjoyed meeting everyone. Nella was the only child among the group but everyone was very kind. She was especially drawn to those with canine companions so she sought out and struck up friendships with these folks and their pets right away.
Friday brought lots more Altos and Nella and I wanted to greet each one by bike so we were busy buzzing around the campground. Nella and I also fit in a trip to the beach with Emily, though we were disappointed that pets weren't allowed on the beach.
|Emily and Nella with Bip.|
|Nella, Zoe and Linda.|
Friday evening we had a gathering between our site and Diana and Len’s. Home brew by Len and Pete was on tap and lots of tasty hor d’oeuvres including salmon all the way from Alaska thanks to Emily and Tony, and fresh caught tuna from Paul and Christine.
Saturday started with a tour of Altos which was great fun. It was cool to see how everyone had outfitted theirs and what organizational tricks they’d developed for keeping things accessible. We came away with a lot of great ideas and a recommitment to bring less next time. We also got to see the fixed roof models for the first time and oohed and awed over their storage options and larger bathroom. Some folks even brought along gifts for each of us such as the delicious preserves Tanya made us, and the Otterbein's sugar cookies from Karen and Steve. Those things are seriously addictive!
|Steve and Karen outside their Alto.|
Saturday afternoon we headed back to the beach with Karen and Steve, and we also got some paddling in. That evening we had a potluck by the lake. Barry walked back to get something from our campsite and was attacked by a bird. The culprit was a red-winged blackbird. It happened four different times, and finally a long-time Kelleys Island camper told Barry the birds like to go for people in caps. You have been warned!
|Playing innocent. From|
|In attack mode. From https://www.audubon.org/|
Apart from the hostile birds, the lakeside pavilion was a beautiful serene setting. We hadn't had a good spot to hang our ENO hammock so we brought it along for the evening.
After eating and chatting, Mark L. organized us to have everyone share a favorite campground in their state. This was followed by firefly catching for a few of us, and a talk by Andy with Can Am on towing.
|Who knew towing could be so riveting? (The pun is for any airstream enthusiasts out there.)|
Next stop, The Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet, SD with a slight detour to London, Ontario.