Saturday, August 1, 2020

Harvest Hosts

While I appreciate the notion of stopping in rest areas may sound a little odd but easy free stopping is valuable for us when we are driving between areas we want to visit in depth. Interstate freeways get a bad rap as they deny the traveler the ability to experience the places they are driving through and I can't disagree, however the ability to get somewhere is also useful I find, and rest areas are much easier to deal with than motel check ins. We pull in and walk Rusty, brush our teeth (the sink drains to a holding tank thus no mess) and go to sleep. In the time it takes to unload your luggage in the room and find the soap we are snoring.
And then for those times that you aren't rushing hither and yon there is Harvest Host. Layne the navigator runs through the app which includes a map to pinpoint the locations. Harvest Host is an adventure and it's not meant to be the equivalent of KOA, the sort of corporate experience that guarantees the same service and identical facilities at each stop. The philosophy here is the total antithesis of the franchise  plan and it is truly amazing, an overused word that I try to avoid. Amazing. Consider me amazed.
Beer, ribs and fried chicken. That was our fee to stay at a ski resort.  A ski resort?? Yup, in the ever astonishing Upper Peninsula of Michigan (thinking we were still in Wisconsin - idiots loose on the road) we stayed at Indianhead Mountain Ski Resort.  If you wanted to participate in corn hole tossing, or whatever it's called that was an option. The family participating eight feet away did a lot of laughing as you do in these situations. The views were spectacular as you might expect at a mountain resort.
The thing about Harvest Host is any outdoor activity with room to park a few RVs is qualified to participate. In low season pack in four or five campers and you get a few extra sales at the bar and at dinner time. The black beer was 5% (my maximum bitterness) and flavorful and delicious and I had two because all we had to do was walk Rusty across a field to find our own beds. No driving required after imbibing at Harvest Host.
We find some Harvest Hosts are more to our taste than others and you will too. Some are free with dogs and others require leashes. We got a shower at one but only because they mentioned it. You can only stay one night unless they offer you a second one. Never ever ask. Some might offer electricity but most offer spaces to park and you are expected to be completely self sufficient. Generators are frowned upon which is okay as we don't have one but if you must use it that say do it briefly to get your charge up. The rules are obvious for grown ups.
One Harvest Host offered a shower, another offered us popcorn along with a dog to help consume it. Rusty watched and waited his between playing with the other dog. No leashes required obviously.
Harvest Hosts can be goofballs or quiet and reserved. One farm we parked at had seen an RV sink into a mud patch and required towing out. If that sort of thing throws you out of gear then maybe you need organized camping or state parks and nothing wrong with that. This is what I like:
Rusty and I got up at dawn and I soaked my sneakers in dew because I was too stupid to put my Crocs on, but we had an excellent walk through the vineyards, more or less together. This stuff is very nostalgic for a man who spent his young summers on a farm in central Italy. Let me say right now I have no regrets about emigrating because this work is hard. My sisters still do it, farming and hosting and I know it's not an easy life.
It's easy though to pay $79 a year and become a Harvest Host member. Want to stay at a distillery? They've got that. The restaurant and tasting area was so crowded we called a Coronavirus Veto and didn't visit. Oh well, next time once we are vaccinated...
The rules for these places are simple: you can't sleep in a car, in a tent or in a tent on a car (Overlander-style). Be neat tidy quiet and unobtrusive and plan to spend some money. The idea is to support a small business and we are all ready to do that. Taste some wine, buy a gift, a meal or food to go. At one place we got several pounds of home cured pork in various forms. We tasted and bought wine, we ate breakfast served at our van:
We have parked in fields, alongside woods, alone and alongside strangers who thanks to Coronavirus remained strangers, but we have also parked in parking lots. I also swam in Lake Michigan at one host's private beach. No seriously.
While there Rusty met a local whose owner told us stories of growing up in Michigan while we stood in the lake and she watched her (human) child dipping in the Great Lake.  These I assure you are magical memories. Rusty learning to drink the ocean was a crack up.
If you like Thai food I know a Harvest Host who is Phillipina and travels with her husband to Thailand and brings back extraordinary recipes. I'd rather stuff my face on organic vegetable green curry with flounder than pay for a cement pad with hookups in a row of RVs. The cost is the same, the only difference is the RV park will let you stay as long as you want and Harvest Host keeps you moving. Your choice, your needs. I Love America.
These fabulous people actually want you to stay. It's weird but I am getting over the feeling that I am intruding or taking advantage. Harvest Host shows you the America we all fear is disappearing.  It's alive and well and quite visible from your RV.
Gratuitous Rusty picture: