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Have bus will travel

South Haven woman has taken more than 20 bus tours since retirement

“On the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again…” This could be Marilyn Gordon’s traveling song.

The retired librarian has always wanted to travel. “When I was a kid, I remember poring over the National Geographic magazines,” Gordon said. “It was my way to see the world. I remember being taken with the Canadian Rockies and Lake Louise and Banff National Park.” Those images fueled her interest in traveling to faraway places, and, as an adult, one of the first trips she took was to the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Gordon, of South Haven, wanted to see more of the world after her retirement from the Kimball School District. She noticed the ads for senior bus tours, and as she read some of the itineraries, her interest in trying a bus tour grew. “I was leery of taking a tour at first,” she said. “I wasn’t sure about being on a bus with a big group of people. I used to get carsick riding in a car.” She had also felt carsick riding the Greyhound bus before. But when she saw a two-day trip to the Apostle Islands advertised, she approached her good friend, Lucille, and asked if she would be interested in taking the trip with her. Lucille had never traveled to the Bayfield, Wis. area before, so they signed up. The trip was a success, so the two traveled together on a number of tours during the next few years.

Gordon has traveled alone on bus tours a few times, but it’s more expensive, by a few hundred dollars, because there’s no one to share the expense of the hotel room. She’s had a new traveling companion for the past four years– her niece, Judy Bryan, of St. Louis Park.

Gordon has gone on over 20 tours, usually in the spring or fall, in the past 20 years, and she has traveled all over the United States.

“I’ve been to every state except for Alaska, Hawaii, South Carolina, West Virginia and Nevada,” she said, adding, “ I would just love to drive to Alaska and see the inside passage.” Most of the passengers on the tours are seniors from Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Occasionally, someone brings a daughter or granddaughter along as a companion.

She has traveled with the same tour company that brought her and Lucille to the Apostle Islands years ago.  “There’s no need to change because I’m so satisfied with their vacations and their excellent itineraries. The motorcoach is comfortable, and this way, I can see the country.” She emphasized, “I don’t want to fly.”  Passengers are dropped off at the door so there is not a lot of walking required. Gordon knows some of the drivers and the tour managers who lead the tours, and it’s nice to step onto the bus and see their familiar faces. The driver handles the luggage, but everyone is expected to bring their own luggage into the hotel, she said. “The tour manager has a lot of details to take care of, and if there are goof-ups, they have to deal with them. They receive tips from the passengers at the end of the trip and, believe me, they earn them.”

The tour’s cost includes everything except for some meals. Breakfast is always included ,but the passengers are on their own for many lunches and dinners. The bus stops every two and a half to three hours so everyone can get off the bus and stretch. There is time to use the bathroom, and most people get food or coffee during those breaks. Years ago, the cost of the tour included more meals, but Gordon thinks because most people snack during the frequent stops, three meals a day aren’t really necessary. “And it seems like we’re always pressed for time,” she added. The bus usually gets to the hotel by 6:00 in the evening.  Gordon always packs a little food for the trip. “I bring grapes and crackers, and I have cookies to have in the evening with our tea.”

The hotel accommodations are excellent, according to Gordon. On one occasion, however, she and her traveling companion were mistakenly given a room that was not up to the usual standards. “We were staying at a hotel that was being renovated,” she said, “and when we got to the room we saw the cracked mirror and the threadbare rug and we howled! But the sheets were clean, so we thought, ‘What the heck.’”  They reported the room’s condition to their tour manager the next day.  “She was upset with the mistake and said we should have told her right away.” Other group members apparently had been given renovated rooms.

“One drawback to a bus tour,” said Gordon, “is that they take the freeways, and we miss the ambience of the small towns along the way. Once in a while, we go to some out-of-the-way places.” A favorite out-of-the-way place, which Gordon highly recommends, is the Precious Moments Park and Chapel outside of Carthage, Mo. It has beautiful gardens, and the chapel is covered with hand-painted murals of well-known Bible stories. It’s been described as “America’s Sistine Chapel” because the artist was inspired by Michelangelo.

Door County, Wis. is one of Gordon’s favorite destinations. “I have been to Door County four times with four different companions, and I’d like to go back again,” she said. “Wisconsin is a beautiful state, and on the Door County fall trip we see the spectacular colors.”

Door County is located north of Green Bay on a peninsula surrounded by Lake Michigan. The four-day trip includes a winery tour, a visit to Eagle Bluff Lighthouse and  Bjorklunden Stav Chapel, a fish boil dinner and a stop at Al Johnson’s Swedish restaurant in Sister Bay. The famous restaurant not only features Swedish meatballs and pancakes with lingonberries, along with other Swedish fare, but, what really makes it unique is the goats grazing on the sod roof. It’s a popular picture-taking spot!   The tour group stays at a resort overlooking Lake Michigan, and they take the ferry to Washington Island, six miles off the tip of Door County Peninsula.

“I have been on tours with as few as 17 other passengers and as many as 44, which was a big group,” said Gordon. “You get to know most of the other travelers, and many can become friends. The group becomes like family.”  What is surprising is how comfortable she is riding on the bus. “When we traveled out west on a national parks tour we were on mountain roads that were winding and steep. If I’d been in a car, I’d have had to cover my eyes, and I might have become carsick, but I felt safe on the bus.” Gordon did feel concern for the driver and the responsibility he had while navigating some treacherous mountain roads, like the Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton in Colorado. On that trip, Gordon saw several national parks in Arizona, Utah and Colorado, including the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Rocky Mountain and Mesa Verde.

“I first traveled to Branson (Missouri) when the only entertainment there was the Presley show,” said Gordon.  Located in the Ozarks, and  known as the Live Entertainment Capitol of the World, Branson has grown and changed since the early days of the country music shows in the 1970s and 80s. New theaters, hotels, restaurants, malls and other attractions have been built making it a popular destination for everyone, including senior tour groups.  Last year, Gordon and Bryan traveled to Branson in early December to see some holiday music shows and the annual Festival of Lights.  During that time, the Branson area was hit with a snow and ice storm that lasted for several days. Some buses couldn’t get out of the hotel parking lots.  “We heard about one tour bus that slid down a hill because of the ice and there was no traction,” she said. “I felt bad for our driver. The streets were terrible, and they don’t have plows. One day we arrived for a show and the tour manager told us nobody could get out of the bus until she got someone to put salt on the sidewalk.” It was one of the worst weather events Gordon had seen in her travels.

As much as she loves the trips, she wishes there was a more leisurely pace to the daily schedule. “One drawback, in my opinion, is that the bus leaves the hotel so early in the morning, usually about 7:30. I’d rather sleep in,” she said.  “A lot of people get up early, even 5:00, so they can eat a good breakfast. I sleep in longer and then have some cereal.” Gordon would also like more time to spend in the gift shops. “There’s never enough time.”

“My niece and I don’t mind sitting in the back of the bus,” Gordon explained, “and we sometimes get the back seats to ourselves. A lot of passengers want to be in the front of the bus for the best view.” Some tour managers are sticklers for a policy where everyone moves up a seat at every stop, but many people are satisfied with staying in the same seat during the tour.

While many people read to fill the hours of riding on the bus, Gordon, unfortunately, cannot.  There are movies to watch, though, and games, like travel bingo, if one wants to participate. All the passengers are given a map to follow along.

“I have learned,” Gordon said, “that most people are helpful and friendly. Some will complain, but most will help each other.” A few years ago, she was on a trip to Texas when she became ill during the night, and she feared she had had a stroke. She called the tour manager who arranged for her to go to the hospital. Fortunately, the emergency room doctor ruled out a stroke, and Gordon was released with a diagnosis of a pinched nerve. There were nine days left of the trip, and she had difficulty moving her arm, but everyone was very helpful and encouraging. “I had to eat with my left hand, but I managed,” she said. “I did worry about what they would do with me if I’d have had to go home. Would they stick me on a plane?”

Gordon isn’t able to pick out a “favorite” trip because they’re all so different and she’s enjoyed so many of them, but she knows she would never have traveled so much if she hadn’t started going on the bus tours years ago. “The tours are popular,” she stressed, “and I’ve gotten my money’s worth.”  Gordon and Bryan are off to New Orleans next.

Fellow passengers on the bus might hear some humming along with Willie Nelson as the miles pass by.  “Just can’t wait to get on the road again…”

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