Traveling to the Iowa shop this weekend? There’s a lot going on when you get here! Here’s a rundown of some fun happenings in our little LeClaire that we don’t want you to miss.
First up: There are eagles here, and we have the best spot in the country to view them!
The bald eagle was chosen as our national bird in 1782 as a symbol of strength and longevity. Seeing one for the first time is unforgettable, not just because of what it represents but also because of its size. (We’re talking about a 3-foot tall bird, y’all!) Right now, eagles, with their incredible eight-foot wingspans, are flying above LeClaire at speeds of 75 miles an hour. They are looking for places to build new nests and to return to their existing ones along the Mississippi River, nests that can measure anywhere from five to nine feet wide and tip the scales at two tons! They’re easy to spot – just look for trees bowed from the top by all the weight. Eagles prefer to remain close to water–that’s what makes nests high above the Mississippi so ideal.
When they aren’t nesting, they can be seen near LeClaire’s Lock and Dam No. 14, where water flow is interrupted and allows wintering eagles to scoop fish right out of the river. Mike has even reported picking up fish heads in his backyard, dinner leftovers dropped by eagles from flying overhead!
LeClaire has such a reputation for eagle-watching that photographers from all over the country head to the river town for the opportunity to snap the perfect photo, and now you have the chance to join them!
Here’s some advice for safely observing these magnificent creatures.
If you’d like to get the best photo, we recommend viewing them after 12 pm.
To beat the larger crowds, get out during the weekdays vs the weekends.
Layer it up! Iowa has been experiencing negative temperatures this season. Pick up a pack of those handy activated hand warmers!
You don’t need fancy equipment for bird watching! Binoculars or the naked eye will serve you well.
Can’t believe we have to say this one, but DO NOT try to chase the eagles! No close up photo for Instagram is worth the consequences.
If you’d prefer to observe with a pro, come to the LeClaire Civic Center at 2 pm on January 14th for Bald Eagle Day where local wildlife photographer Burt Gearhart will take you to Lock & Dam No. 14 to view and photograph the eagles!
All that bird watching is going work up your appetite for something hot. Swap out those binoculars for a fork and follow us to a party on downtown Main Steet for “Taste of LeClaire.”
To help combat cabin fever that sets in during this season, select businesses all around the Quad City area are offering coupons and specials–inviting locals to come out and stretch their legs and “Be a Tourist in Your Own Backyard.” LeClaire is set to host its own FREE event on January 14th from 1-4pm called “Taste of LeClaire”. There will be food and beverage samples from various shops and specials at several restaurants and bars! Grab details for the Bald Eagle Day and Taste of LeClaire HERE.
We’ll have the heat on for ya! Safe travels and we’ll see y’all when you get here!
It’s no secret that Mike has a thing for motorcycles — especially the antique ones. That same shared appreciation brought him and musician/producer Butch Walker together six years ago, taking rides down the historic highways and no-name back roads of America.
Butch inherited his love of vintage from his dad, Butch Walker Sr., an antique collector who matched Mike’s passion for history.
“Knowing his dad and I had a lot in common,” says Mike “Butch arranged us to have dinner together. We spent the evening swapping stories of our favorite finds and the ones we still hoped to discover. Right away, I felt connected to him.”
If it was that easy to connect with Butch Sr. over one dinner, you can imagine the unbreakable bond developed over the years between him and his son. Especially after all those miles logged together on a tour bus with fast food, stinky socks, and zero personal space.
Back when Butch just started playing shows, Butch Sr. would travel with the band to their gigs and even run their merch table. He was very popular with the fans — a real working groupie.
“Those late nights spent together sitting on a hotel floor counting merch money and talking about the show that night over cheap whiskey, are some of my favorite memories with him.”
As Butch’s career grew to nationwide tours playing sold-out shows for rock-loving fans, his favorite part of every show was busting out his flip phone and calling his dad from stage.
“No matter where in the country we were playing, I would call and wake him up so he could talk to the crowd. I’d say ‘Dad, whatcha doing, you awake?’ then hold the microphone up the speaker and he’d always answer with, ‘I’m mowing the grass! What do you think I’m doing?’ Every crowd I played for got to have that moment with he and I. It was so special every time.”
It’s really something special to see a man pause in the middle of a high energy rock show amongst leather, tattoos, and string-breaking guitar solos, to make a sentimental call to his dad. Here’s what that looks like.
It was a complete shock in 2013 when Butch’s dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was immediately hospitalized. After only being diagnosed 24 hours prior, 71-year-old Butch Sr. lost his battle without even a chance to fight.
“I held his hand, closed my eyes, he closed his, and he was gone,” says Butch. “That’s the thing about pancreatic cancer. It doesn’t give you a chance to reconcile with it, it doesn’t let you make plans, or let you prepare for the ending. It sneaks up on you and gives you no warning until it’s too late. It’s the most reclusive and elusive killer in this inhuman family of diseases.”
After the sudden passing of his dad, Butch decided he wanted to help others battling pancreatic cancer. Named after his dad’s favorite season in the north Georgia mountains, he founded The Autumn Leaves Project. A free resource for families and individuals living with this illness to help alleviate the financial stress of the day-to-day fight with cancer. They believe it’s the little things like gas cards, nutritional meals, and personal care that make a world of difference during that difficult time.
“It can be financially crippling when a two-person income home becomes one after a diagnosis,” says Butch. “No one should have to make a decision whether to feed their families or put gas in the car to go to an appointment. We exist to eliminate that barrier.”
Earlier this year, Johnny Depp, Alice Cooper, Brad Whitford, Joe Perry and more came together thanks to Nathan Fawley of Duesenberg Guitars for the Annual Imperial Ball Charity Concert where Autumn Leaves was chosen to be one of the beneficiaries to receive a portion of the ticket sales. Most recently, Butch played a sold out benefit show for the Autumn Leaves Project in Topanga Canyon, CA inside a Shakespeare theater in the middle of the woods.
“Friends came out to perform late into the night and kept the energy up by snacking on dad’s cherished pickled green tomatoes,” shares Butch. “We had a beautiful experience out there. It was incredible to see people gravitate towards something so negative in such a positive light. I could feel dad there making sure everything went off without a hitch.”
Thanks to the passion of all involved, Autumn Leaves raised double what they expected that night.
Not only did Butch Sr. support his own family, he perpetually gave back and looked out for all those around him. Now, Autumn Leaves partners with like-minded organizations, some with personal experiences driving them, to amplify their outreach for aid as another way to honor his generous heart.
The biker and music communities have given an outpour of support through fundraisers and donations. The founders of Rock and Rides for the Cure based out of Yardley, Pennsylvania ride to help raise awareness about pancreatic cancer. After losing a brother to the disease and seeing how it can affect a family financially, they pick a patient to receive all their proceeds for the year.
Pants Off Racing is another organization Autumn Leaves partners with. These high energy, sports enthusiasts connect patients with resources to meet various needs and really form personal relationships with patients. They’ve even been known to deliver Christmas trees!
Autumn Leaves has also teamed up with Hattie Jane’s Creamery in downtown Columbia, Tennessee on a custom ice cream flavor–it’s vegan, black charcoal and topped with 23-carat gold flecks as a nod to Butch’s latest Stay Gold album title. During December 2017, a portion of every scoop goes to Autumn Leaves so don’t be afraid to make it a double!
HOW TO DONATE
Donating to Autumn Leaves means directly providing relief to those fighting against this dreadful disease. All proceeds go right into the pockets of patients and their families who need help getting through the daily struggle.
“It feels good to make a difference on an independent level,” says Butch. “When you focus on the humanity of it and its immediate impact, instead of strictly financial, you feel good about contributing.”
Because Mike and Butch have been friends for a long time, this holiday season Mike wants to help give back to the cause inspired by a man he greatly respected.
Catie Curtis’s most unforgettable childhood memory was exploring the Saco, Maine dump with her father, Phil Curtis, during the 1970s. To anyone else, this sounds more like punishment than paradise, but from her perspective, it was the greatest treasure hunt ever.
Show of hands: How many other picker-raised children are out there?
“We’d take regular trips to the town dump not because we were poor, but because dad appreciated the value of things and encouraged us to do the same,” says Catie. “He created the most magical childhood for our family, using discarded junk and its unique history as his props. Dad hated seeing things that have a certain charm, personality, or history thrown away.” (Reminds us of the story of how Mike used to dig in the trash as a kid.)
Nothing about that remembrance has changed for Phil, now 79. Seven days a week you can find him in his flannel and jeans, cruising around town, headed to an auction or a sale, looking for something that captures his attention. It could be anything from a piece of art to a gym floor (and we’ll get that in just a minute). His salvage reputation put him on the fast track to being the local catch-all of the town, and it became common knowledge in Saco that whatever you needed, you could find it in Phil’s place.
Phil would never have guessed that Catie would grow up to be a musician and that her best-known and most-loved song, Dad’s Yard, would be inspired by those childhood adventures in the town dump and her treasure hunting days sifting through piles in her father’s backyard.
The first time she ever performed Dad’s Yard was at Phil’s retirement party after more than 30 years as a high school math teacher. Needless to say, the entire room connected to the song because they too knew the humor and truth behind its lyrics.
“I remember so clearly singing it at the party,” says Catie, “and the way I felt looking at him after all those years spent spelunking through history with him. That song was the beginning of my career. I’ve toured for 35 years and Dad’s Yard is still the most requested song. I know people connect with it so strongly because they’ll come up to me and say how the song reminds them of their father, husband, even themselves. It hits a chord with people.”
“I remember sitting there with tears of humor and honor,” says Phil. “I guess I do have more apple ladders and antique hardware than the average guy.”
Ask Phil how he became a picker and he’ll tell you that while he was always a curious child, his appreciation for “junk” came shortly after marrying his college sweetheart, Catharine.
“When we bought our first apartment, the only thing we could afford to decorate it with was antique furniture,” he recounts. “During that time, I met a few collectors who taught me to appreciate the dovetailing and the marks under the drawers. I began thinking about all the other ways we could furnish a home for ourselves through salvaged and unique pieces and from then on, I was hooked for life. Bless my wife– she never fought me on it during the 56 years we had together.”
Over the years Phil built a reputation in the community for being able to match the person with the pick. His collection is well stocked with pieces that have a story. All you gotta do is take a walk through his backyard and his barn and then take a few minutes to tell him yours.
And speaking of barns, even his barn was a pick! Found in Woodstock, Maine, it belonged to a casket manufacturer who was about to level it. Phil rescued the barn and transferred it piece by piece 70 miles south to Saco where it now lives in his backyard, filled to the gills with treasures.
Inside are two floors of just about anything you can think up. During Phil’s early days as a high school baseball coach, the switch from wood to metal bats began. Drawn to the old equipment by their nostalgic value, Phil collected and held on to a lot of those wooden ones made locally by the R.G. Johnson Company. You can also find a selection of chairs suspended from the ceiling, dusty books, vintage tools, oil cans, salvaged architectural material and much more.
Speaking of salvaged material…let’s talk about that gym floor we mentioned earlier.
Phil had pulled out an old section of the gym floor from the Thornton Academy High School (where he taught and later retired from). He stored it for years thinking it would have a purpose someday, and it definitely did.
“It’s now our bathroom floor,” boasts Phil. “Pretty proud of the free throw line placement in front of the toilet if I may say so.”
The Academy provided that pick but was also the recipient of Phil’s largesse. Once while on a pick, he found two dump trucks’ worth of beveled glass from a business that went under. He donated the glass to the school where it was used to build trophy case shelves.
“There’s a certain serendipity that occurs with picking,” explains Phil. “You don’t ask to find anything in particular, things just have a divine way of finding you.”
“The main connection I think people have with the song, is the way Dad doesn’t want give up on an object finding a home or helping his community,” says Catie. “There isn’t a single piece on the property that he couldn’t tell you the story of, and he lives to educate others on where everything came from, its use, and how you can use it today.”
Such goes the true mission of the American picker. Who else grew up with a picker parent? Tell us about them in the comments below.
“And that’s the fun of it, it’s that mystery In all these things bearing other people’s history You can look at this stuff, wonder where it’s been You can pick it up and you can use it again” — Catie Curtis lyrics from Dad’s Yard
Remember how much fun we had playing in treehouses as kids? In our minds, a treehouse was more than just a clubhouse or an escape from a room shared with an annoying sibling. It was our own little hideout where we could create our own world and play how we wanted.
As grown-ups, it’s tough to live without those magical places we had as children. That stops today!
We’ve put together a group of treehouses that will transport you back to that feeling of wonder, and, like us, these treehouses have grown up. Some are rustic escapes to an off-the-grid experience, while others offer luxuries like running water, a spiral staircase, a master suite and a sauna!
Get an eye-level view of the beautiful colors of fall from a whole new perspective, or at least one you haven’t had in a while… here are six of our favorite treehouses, located all around the country, and all available to rent at as little as $95 a night!
Treehouse in the Shire — $95 per night
Location: Conway, New Hampshire
The Tree: There’s no better place to observe the colors of fall than in New England, or, more specifically, from this treehouse in New Hampshire. The Shire is a cozy escape resting on 200+ acres and should only be reserved by folks looking to truly disconnect. (We’re talking zero wifi, electric, or running water.) Never taken a bucket bath before? You won’t be able to say that after your stay! Town is only 20 minutes away in case you need extra batteries or another bag of mallows. Don’t forget to bring your bike because the Kangamaguas Highway, the quietest stretch of road in New England, is right down the road!
The Tree: This yurt-style treehouse looks like it grew out of the old stump it lives on! Overlooking a peaceful pond in the Washington woods, The Stump House is a quiet retreat with your basic amenities: running water, electricity, and — we’re not making this up — a sauna. Cook your meals in the seasonal outdoor kitchen and enjoy a nice outdoor shower after exploring the 9-acre property.Fill up a cooler and get out here!
The Tree: The most appealing part of this treehouse is that while you rest your head on a full-sized mattress in the loft, you can look up through the clear roof and feel totally connected with the nature around you. The treehouse is full of salvaged windows which perfectly frame the changing leaves outside. You’re sure to feel like you’re in a nest! Now that we’ve hooked you, you should know that this treehouse is totally off-the-grid, no electricity, and no wifi. Completely worth it.
The Tree: Can’t you see yourself reading a book or enjoying coffee on that balcony?Perch in this tree, and you’ll have more than 200 acres of wilderness to explore as well as access to the Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah Park, and a few wineries. After a long day of exploring, enjoy a spring-fed shower out back. There are battery-operated lights throughout and a gas stove for cooking your favorite camping meal. This treehouse also comes with its own four-legged welcome committee: three Anatolian Shepherd dogs! Sign us up!
The Tree: You will by no means being “roughing it” here. Nestled on seven acres of private woods, this double-decker, 500 sq feet treehouse includes two custom Douglas fir spiral staircases, a full kitchen, and a master suite. This treetop canopy castle rests at the gateway of Glacier National Park, is minutes from the slopes of Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort, and close to the no-power town of Polebridge. Utopia in the trees…
The Tree: What’s better than one treehouse? TWO. Decked out with a fireplace, chandeliers and antique furnishings, it also has access to a 40-acre farm. This luxury treehouse has romantic accents throughout and was designed by Seth Bolt of the band Needtobreathe, who grew up on the farm. They grow seasonal vegetables that are 100% organic. For $50 a person they’ll even deliver dinner to your tree! The ultimate honeymoon in a tree.
Filming American Pickers keeps Mike pretty busy these days, but it’s collaborating with guys like Timothy and AC that allow him to still share his passion for bicycles and old buildings.
It’s a cold, rainy Tuesday morning in Columbia, Tennessee, about 40 minutes south of Nashville, as three bike shop owners — Mike Wolfe, Timothy Wakefield, and AC Howell — walk into the Trek Bicycle Shop on Main Street in the town square. This isn’t the first time the three have met, but it’s the confluence of three generations and 160 years of bike shop ownership and love.
Columbia, with a population of fewer than 38,000, is a town Mike has long admired for its historic Main Street and preserved buildings, particularly the 1857 brick two-story they’re about to walk into.
It’s a bicycle shop now, but it originally housed different wheels, operating as a wagon and plow business, still advertised by the gigantic faded painting on the huge brick wall outside. In 1973, while working at the local military academy, AC bought the building and opened The Wheel, the first bike shop in Columbia. He ran it as a hobby and side business and over the last 45 years it’s become a community treasure. Now it’s the thread that ties AC to Mike and Timothy.
The first thing to understand is that AC began his bicycle business at a pivotal time in Columbia’s commercial history.
HOW AC STARTED THE WHEEL
“Everyone was leaving the square and taking their businesses to the mall,” says AC. “I was the chairman of the historical zoning commission here in Columbia, so it was my job to maintain the integrity of any downtown restoration projects in order to preserve our local gems. As long as I had something to do with it, I wasn’t going to give up on this building or the community because what existed and still exists here is one-of-a-kind.”
From offering payment plans to customers who needed bikes repaired so they could get to their jobs to hiring local boys in need of work, AC was integral to keeping Columbia moving along on two wheels.
“Many of the boys stayed with me until they went off to college,” says AC. “Now they walk in as dads with their own kids to pick out a bike. Even the head of the Columbia Water Department started working in my shop when he was a young man!”
AC still continued to give back to the community. Each year at Christmas, he would donate 30 or 40 used bikes to the local church group that cleaned them up, put bows on them and delivered them to folks who could use them. His generosity helped provide transportation and enjoyment to people in town who otherwise may never have had a bike.
By 2016, AC was ready to retire but unsure what that would mean for the shop that had become so much a part of the town. It was an opportune moment for Mike — the historian, preservationist, and bike enthusiast — a chance to become part of the active Main Street of the small town he had long admired.
HANDING OFF THE BUSINESS
“One day Mike wandered into the shop and asked me if I was really interested in selling the building,” says AC. “At that point, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sell or not, but eventually I told him I would sell it on one condition: the bike shop had to stay.”
After kicking the idea around for a year, Mike called AC and the deal was made.
“I had been in the bike business since 1988,” says Mike. “I eventually opened a bike shop in an 1860s building in the historic district of Davenport, Iowa. Even after I closed that shop in 2000, I never lost my passion for bikes. To this day, I can’t walk past a shop without stopping, which is how I met AC. Learning the history of his building and the legacy of his business made me eager to be part of its story.”
Soon after the handshake deal with AC was concluded, Mike got to work on renovations and meeting with Trek bike reps. It was about then that Mike realized his eyes may have been bigger than his stomach.
“I was ready to go waist deep into this, ” explains Mike. “But after laying out all my projects and budgeting my time between LeClaire, Nashville, filming American Pickers, and my family, I quickly realized I couldn’t give the proper attention to the bike shop. During a meeting with a Trek rep, I asked if they knew anyone who’d want to run the shop. It was really important for me to find the right person to take over for AC. That’s when they sent me Tim and his wife from Alabama. He instantly fell in love with Columbia, and I trusted his experience and passion to successfully steer AC’s legacy in the right direction.”
How does AC feel about how everything turned out?
“Timothy knows what’s he’s doing. The only advice I passed on to him when he opened was to be sure to take care of the customers. That was the way I operated and it always served me well.”
As it stands now, AC sold the building to Mike, and the bike business to Timothy. They are now three generations of bicycle passion existing in one historic building.
Timothy and his wife manage three bike shops. The other two are in Alabama and were both built from scratch. When they became the new owners of The Wheel (now called Trek Bicycle Shop), they were excited about the beautiful historic building that houses their new business.
“My wife is an interior designer so you can picture the glee on her face when we first walked into the large mid-1800s building with tall windows, tin ceilings, and aged wooden floors,” says Timothy.
While their two Alabama shops were busy servicing college students’ bikes as well as the bicycle needs of a city of more than 100,000 people, they were up for the challenge of impressing a small town that grew up with AC.
“This location was special because people had been coming to The Wheel for more than 40 years,” says Tim. “There was certainly a reputation to live up to. I’ve had so many returning customers walk in and share stories with me of how they got their first bike here with AC. We’re looking forward to creating lasting memories like that with the community for years to come.”
REINVENTING THE WHEEL
Inside the 160-year-old building, Tim is selling state-of-the-art bikes and accessories from Trek, a one-family lineage business out of Wisconsin that makes more bikes in America than any other bike retailer in the country. The family business itself is almost as old as The Wheel!
The town’s reliance on bikes for daily transportation may have altered since the 1970s, but what’s unchanged is the fact that the town’s kids are still learning a trade at the shop. Currently, Timothy has five young people under his wing, learning bike maintenance and customer service.
“A common occurrence is having customers who purchased parts online come in for help installing them,” says Timothy.
“That’s how I met my wife!” interjects Mike. “Jodi came into my shop looking for help installing her pedals!”
“You see?” says Timothy. “Now Mike could’ve shunned her away because she didn’t buy those pedals from him. You have to embrace it instead, because the end result is to get folks to walk in the door, like your future wife! Proof that you shouldn’t go to bars to meet someone, you should go hangout your local bike shop instead!
Trek Bicycle Shop will work on any bike you bring in because the end goal is to keep people riding them.
“This is more than a retail business, it’s a trade,” explains Mike. “Like a butcher, baker, tailor, people who specialize in what they do, so does a bike shop owner. With any trade nowadays, navigating social media and online sales it can be difficult to capture someones attention. Trek is great shop because you can come over and physically touch a bike you’re interested in. That might sound weird, but imagine everything you buy online that you can’t do that with. This is a major purchase for people. It’s a lifestyle”
Being a small business, Timothy understands the importance small town living. That’s why he actively holds community events to support other small businesses. Like partnering with Muletown, the local coffee house, for a Coffee Cruise every Saturday. It’s a family-friendly 30-minute bike ride along the riverwalk and that ends with coffee and breakfast at Muletown.
“There are little girls on tricycles, high schoolers on mountain bikes, and their parents. It’s awesome to see a parade of bike-riding onto Main Street and through the square,” explains Timothy.
“We want to let everyone know that it doesn’t matter how nice your bike is, how many miles you ride a day, or even if you haven’t been on a bike since Bush was in office. We just want to help folks get out and ride!” says Timothy.
As a way to serve tourists and even the people who may not be interested in buying a bike, Timothy and his local crew offer rentals at the shop. They’ll hook you up with the proper gear and transport your bikes to the best place in town to ride, the Chickasaw Trace.
HOW TO RENT A BIKE
People come from all over the state to explore the Trace. What’s better, it’s only a 10-minute ride from the shop. And there’s no better time to be on two wheels than autumn – with leaves crunching under your tires and brisk air in your face.
Located on 300 acres, the Trace offers 8.5 miles of mountain bike trails suitable for all ages and skill levels. Weave around giant cedar trees and along the Duck River and Knob Creek tributary. Bring the dogs and the family and enjoy a well-deserved picnic along the bank after your ride . . . maybe even a refreshing dip in the river if the spirits moves you.
There are trails to explore and rivers to race in Columbia, Tennessee. Experience it all while holding on to the handlebars of an American made bike from Trek Bicycle Shop.
“Your first sense of independence is on a bicycle. I truly believe that. I see it with my daughter as she learns how her bike is capable of taking her anywhere. That’s your independence, so I don’t think the love of bikes will ever go away completely.” – Mike Wolfe
A tasty Tennessee hideaway where you can hang your hat when you hop off the Two Lanes.
Fly Hollow Road is incredibly narrow as it cuts through a two-mile stretch of Tennessee back country about an hour south of Nashville. It’s just wide enough for a car to squeak through the thick cedar and oak trees, but if you make your way through, you’ll find yourself at a field gate with a wood sign which reads “Appointment Only” and just inside and at the end of a dirt road is a giant metal bell. If you’re a Two Lanes traveler who made reservations, give it a ring and soon you’ll see Jon and Mandy Giffin riding down the hill on their ATV to welcome you to Forest Gully Farms.
This incredible 29-acre organic, self-reliant permaculture farm and homestead in Santa Fe, Tennessee is sure to be one of the most unique finds on your travels. After a day of active exploring or quiet escape, you’re certain to find solace and simplicity at Forest Gully. Unlike other getaway rentals, which give you just a room, an overpriced minibar, and squeaky pull-out sofa, Jon and Mandy offer you 15 of those acres full of u-pick produce, a waterfall, and the opportunity to sleep in your choice of three underground hobbit houses or “Gully Huts”. Let’s dig a little deeper.
Forest Gully Farms was conceived as a place where travelers, locals, and families could stay for a weekend, learn about the food on the farm, and detach – no hotspots or wifi needed or wanted. Disconnect from the digital world and re-connect to the real world at a bed and breakfast where you pick and cook breakfast yourself.
Established in 2013 by Jon and his wife Mandy, the farm is an honest offering to anyone who wants to experience the natural and edible beauty around them. It all fell into place once they quit their traditional 9 to 5 jobs.
“I’m a self-taught plant man who went to school for photojournalism, a wedding photographer who recently hung up his camera,” chuckles Jon. “But I am proud of the way I am learning to make use of the land and work with it instead of against it. You won’t see anything on the property growing in beautifully manicured rows. Mandy and I see this farm as a laboratory for alternative farming where we don’t fight nature, but rather allow nature to tell us where plants should grow. In doing this, we are finding new foods all the time. Most recently we had elderberries pop up!”
And plants are definitely popping. The property is abundant with intentional and unintentional fruits, veggies and herbs. Paw Paw trees (the largest native fruit-bearing trees) grow wild in the company of persimmons, mulberries, and magnolias (an homage to Mandy’s Mississippi roots).
Other produce abounds: cilantro, parsley, basil, carrots, red onions, peanuts, English peas, celery, Brussels sprouts, watermelons, field peas, beets, muscadine grapes, radishes, hazelnuts, turnips, tomatoes, habaneros, cayenne, and jalapeños. There are also two bee hives on the property – admire but do not disturb!
Walk over the hill a little ways and you’ll find a picnic table under a tree with a large red cedar chicken coop beside it. Jon built the coop to house the 16 chickens Mandy calls her “golden girls.” On the way over to collect your eggs for breakfast, pick some clover and dandelions for the “girls.” They will love you forever.
“Jon and I wanted to give to others in a more fulfilling way,” explains Mandy. “We’re so proud of the food we grow and what’s already growing. What’s important to us is to educate. We want to help families and explorers alike successfully identify edible plants in the woods on their adventures. Things you think are weeds, like oxalis, are actually tasty sour snacks! That’s why we had the Gully Huts built. We want folks to saturate themselves on the farm. Take a grazing tour of the land: walk, eat berries, smell the fresh herbs, and let your mind wander . . . it will help you decide what type of meal you’d like to prepare for the day.”
Which brings us to the place to prepare your bounty . . . meet us at the bottom of the wood staircase.
At a first glance, these the Gully Huts look strikingly similar to the ones in the hills of the shire in Lord of the Rings. It’s all part of the appealing plan. Tucked into hills of oregano and thyme, the huts stay cool year ‘round. They were built by Wooden Wonders, a company out of Maine, and collectively, they sleep up to eight people, with plenty of room for everyone’straveling gear.
“The best part is our ‘rent one, get two free’ policy,” explains Jon. “That’s so you can freely come and go around the grounds without having to share them with others. After living in the red hut for eight months while our house was being built, we feel like we have a great idea of everything you need to enjoy your visit and the space you need to fully relax.”
Walk inside to drop your bags and you’ll immediately smell the fragrant white cedar that the houses are built from. Old burlap coffee bags hang in the windows as curtains, and colorful quilted blankets cover the beds. And yes, there’s also a copy of The Hobbit on the nightstand, respectfully.
On the kitchen counter, you’ll find some of Mandy’s favorite recipes that feature produce from the garden. The most popular and delicious one we tried was the wild sumac lemonade. (Yes, sumac!) Also included in the welcome kit are a suggested tour of the grounds, some facts about the chickens, and a scavenger hunt around the farm to help you get familiar with the plants. Just outside the front door is a large fire pit where you can practice your cast-iron cooking!
“What makes the huts so appealing is that they allow you to disconnect and get back to nature,” says Mandy. “Not only that but you get to see how your favorite foods grow. It’s a healthy way to remind yourself that dinner doesn’t need to happen by popping open a bag. Head over to collect your choice of eggs for breakfast. You can’t beat a fresh organic egg in cast-iron skillet!”
After your meal, slip your boots on and hike about 200 yards down the trail to the freshwater spring and waterfall below. The path is littered with wild ginger! Jon and Mandy did a great job of building some wood steps to help steady your descent, but there are still a few little spots where you’ll want to watch your step! The water below is ice cold and the fog lays thick on the moss, logs, and rocks.
Escaping to places like Forest Gully is an important reminder that we need to think about how we spend the hours in our day. When we’re at home it’s easy to load Netflix and rewatch The Office while you crunch on Cheetos and simultaneously update your Facebook status. Studies have proven time and time again that our brains and bodies are most happy when we’re out in nature. So why not feed that happiness? Go out for an adventure, learn something cool, and then use what you’ve learned to improve the quality of your life. That’s what Jon and Mandy want you to take with you when you leave Forest Gully Farms, and it seems to be working.
“My favorite thing about this entire experience has been the surprises,” explains Mandy. “A lot of people after their stay have told us that they’ve decided to grow something and ask for help on how to begin their own garden. I always recommend that they start with tomatoes or cucumbers because they’re easy maintenance for beginners. It’s a rewarding feeling when people come out here and then keep the experience alive in their own corner of the world.”
Forest Gully Farms is open year-round, offering fresh fruits in summer, golden leaves in the fall, and the quintessential backdrop for a shire-worthy campfire when the snow falls. They’re already booked up every weekend for the rest of 2017, so make it your Two Lanes mission to visit them in the new year. No special equipment needed . . . just water shoes, an empty belly, and an open mind ready to be filled with the wonders of real life.
In partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the “This Place Matters” campaign invited Mike’s friends, fans and followers across the country to submit photos of buildings significant to them and their communities and in need of life-saving repair and restoration. The campaign generated a wide and enthusiastic response, with submissions ranging from old private homesteads to dilapidated public spaces, and after careful consideration of the many #placestosave, the Variety Theatre was chosen to win a visit from Mike.
Mike was welcomed to Cleveland by an enthusiastic crowd and a group of city officials who took him on a private tour of the theater and the city block-sized complex that will soon house restaurants, retail spaces, and offices. Shortly after, he spoke for about 10 minutes to the crowd and to his millions of followers through LIVE videos and photos, expressing his appreciation for the community’s support for the ongoing project. he also talked about his own passion for preserving America’s history and the buildings that tell the stories.
“Heritage tourism is one of the important things we can all lean into nowadays. This isn’t just a project for the neighborhood. It’s a project for the entire city of Cleveland,” he said. “When you walk into an old building like the Variety Theatre it’s something that never leaves you. You become a child all over again. You want to touch and explore everything. There’s so much of that wonder here. That experience is going to be had again thanks to the heartfelt commitment of this community.”
As a thank you, the Variety Theatre board named him the honorary chairman for the capital campaign to raise the remaining amount needed for the eight-figure restoration of the early 1900s theater.
“No one has ever given up on this theater,” said Mike. “You have one or two people who truly believed in this and everyone around them said ‘ I want to be a part of that.’ That’s what ‘This Place Matters’ was about and that’s why this place matters.”
The Variety Theatre’s anticipated completion date is 2019.
Remember what camping was like before glamping? We didn’t care about mud on our shoes, bug bites, or cell reception. The food wasn’t in the fridge, it was in the water, and after we cooked it, we’d eat it around the campfire – watching for hours as flames turn to coals and embers floated skyward was all the television we needed.
These days, technology has overtaken us. Where we once asked a stranger for directions and perhaps wound up having a conversation with someone interesting who maybe sent us the long way that took as through a treasure of a small town, now we plug an address into our GPS and take the biggest, fastest highway to our destination. No muss, no fuss, no wasted time . . . no unforgettable characters, no unexpected experiences, no precious memories of the time we took all day to get there and discovered a piece of America on the way.
All summer long, folks across the country pile into campers with their friends and families for a weekend camping trip that now means $200,000 trailers with full kitchens, living rooms adorned with electric fireplaces, and flat screens fitted for a next-level Netflix binge-a-thon where afterward they’ll slumber soundly on a queen sized bed to the hum of their AC unit. Nice for a hotel room, but camping? Not so much.
So let’s ditch the luxury, pick up a bottle of bug spray, and head out for a real all-American camping trip. And we know just where to go:Elkhorn, Wisconsin.
Since 1925, Camp Wandawega, a one-time speakeasy turned nostalgic campground, has been the destination for campers willing to manage with the bare necessities as they retreat and reconnect with nature. The camp rests on 25 acres of clearings, woods, overlooks, and the shores of Wandawega Lake, fresh waters teeming with smallmouth bass and a collection of car keys left behind by generations of eager campers who forgot to empty their pockets before cannonballing off the dock or catapulting off the rope swing.
Nothing fancy about Wandawega. You should know right now that your sleep might be interrupted by the tickle of ladybugs creeping across your pillow, spiders may join you in the well water shower, and it might take a few minutes to get used to the creak of an 80-year-old bed frame topped with less-than-luxe 10-thread-count-sheets. The showers, baths, and kitchens are all authentic to the camp’s Prohibition roots, they’re all 100% communal, and they haven’t been updated since the Hoover administration.
Nervous about roughing it without your blow dryer? Don’t be. The moment you turn the corner to camp, you’ll be met with a sloppy kiss from Wandawega’s official welcome committee: furry, four-legged Frankie and owners/camp rangersDavid Hernandez and Tereasa Surratt. They’re always close by to help you ease into the classic camping experience. They’ll help you find a pizza place in case you burn your hotdogs, take you on a beer run in case you need distraction from those itchy bug bites and direct you to the closest Piggly Wiggly in case you forget your toothbrush. David knows what you need because he’s seen it all . . . he and his family were regulars at Camp Wandawega from 1960 right up into the ‘80s.
Though occupied with restoring the property since 2004, David and Tereasa haven’t done much to the lodge, cottages, or the three-story hotel on the property. They’ve pretty much left the old buildings alone except for enhancing the décor with historic memorabilia and adding amusements like books and puzzles. Yes, we said puzzles – they’re part of the secret plan to lure you in and get you to turn off your phone.
Walking about the grounds, you’ll discover places to hang your hat the old motorcycle garage, an A-frame overlooking the lake, a cabin, traditional teepees tucked away in clearings, and a decked-out treehouse that’s just the place for reconnecting with the robins and bluejays. All equally perfect for optimal sunrise/sunset observations, no extra charge! They operate on a “trust thy neighbor or go get a room at The Holiday Inn” policy. Embrace it or fear it, but we think that’s pretty cool.
And speaking of things in the dark, we know nature can be a bit intimidating but the sooner you respect the coyotes, deer, and scurrying squirrels, the more you’ll enjoy yourself. If you don’t want to meet the camp’s live-in clean-up crew, be sure to clean up your area. Raccoons are little party crashers who always show up hungry and with friends. Don’t leave them an open invitation at your cabin.
What a comfort to know that there are still places in the world that remind you that life can be easy and simple without all the commotion and clutter. That unplugging for a bit allows you to notice the goodness of life around you and to be present in the moment, and it gives you time to try baiting a hook or building a fire.
It’s places like Camp Wandawega that engage our minds, feed our souls and remind us of the joy that comes from reconnecting with simpler joys. Make a reservation and you’ll have a great story for your friends. While they’re complaining about the service Saturday night at the restaurant of the moment, you can talk about your glorious weekend jumping off docks, hooking your own dinner and catching lightning bugs. Grizzly Adams would be proud to shake your hand.