Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Archive for the category “People”

“We’re on a road to Nowhere”

We had four days with no agenda, no place to be, so we pulled out of Elk Neck and headed north. We wanted a cheap full hook up park for a few of days and after searching reviews and Passport America, decided on Spring Gulch RV Resort in Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

Spring Gulch is a Thousand Trails park, so our expectations were on the low side. We are members with a Zone Pass and have used their parks all over the country. This park was very similar, with their typical tight gravel sites. It seems to have quite a few amenities, but most were not open and we weren’t really interested anyway. But, we will probably not bother returning to the park, if only because of our interaction with the front desk. The ladies were nice enough but I just can’t get past our conversation. After finding our reservation, asking about our rig and assigning us a site, I asked if we could upgrade to full hookups instead of the E/W site we were assigned. She said, “Sure. You wouldn’t have fit in that site anyway.” I think my mouth actually hung open as I was left speechless. We did fit into the full hook up site we were eventually assigned, all 36′ of it for our 34′ bus. The campground itself was mostly empty except for the seasonal RVs so I’m not sure why she was so controlling on site assignment. My only thought is that she was worried she would have a sudden rush of campers on Tuesday and would need the larger sites for them.

The second big negative for the park was the laundry facilities. It was off by itself across a field with no parking anywhere. There were after hours campsites about 100 yards away (and over a fence, no less), so Mike parked there to lug our three loads of laundry. The spots, like the rest of the campground, were empty and it was during office hours so Mike thought it wouldn’t be a problem. Of course, one of the campground employees raced over to inform him that he couldn’t park there as they are campsites and someone else might park there. The employee ranted for a good five minutes about what is allowed and not allowed. The next morning, a back hoe and a couple of trucks were also parked in some of the after hours spots. I wonder if they had to listen to the old guy’s speech?

In spite of the campground, we did enjoy our stay in the area. Intercourse is one of our favorite towns in the Lancaster area. It is where you will find Immergut Hand-Rolled Soft Pretzels, probably the best pretzels we have ever had. Stoltzfus Meats and Deli is also a great place to stop for local foods. Their restaurant isn’t bad either.

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I didn’t do a lot of photographing here. While I would have loved to capture images of the Amish going about their daily business, I understand their desire not to have their picture taken.

We had another reason to run up to Pennsylvania this trip: my great great great great great grandfather got off a boat in 1750 and settled his family on a farm in Buffalo Valley. I had finally located where he and his son (my great X4 grandfather) were buried and I was interested in seeing the area in the US where this branch of my family started. We found the cemeteries in which they were buried but, unfortunately, 300+ years of weathering can do some damage to  stone. The cemetery plot map of the oldest section was not in the church (someone had taken it home) so I had to be content with the idea that I had probably seen their final resting places and I had seen (and walked) where they did.

For lunch, we stopped by a local favorite, the Cruiser’s Cafe. the place is tiny and crowded but the burgers are great and the service even better. And, how can you beat $2.60 for a hamburger? The broccoli cheddar poppers were very good, too.

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After a long day of cemetery stalking, we headed back to the short bus. On the way, we stopped in Mount Joy for dinner and came upon Bubes Brewery.  The restaurant/bar/brewery is in a 200 year old building that just oozes atmosphere and time. While we were only able to enjoy the bottling works restaurant, which was extremely good, the place so impressed us we are returning when we head south in the fall to try the Catacombs. While there, we had really good food, tried five of their beers (loved them all except the fruity one), and people watched. We would have stayed for the beer pong tournament, but we were tired and it had been a really long day.

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Friday morning we packed up and headed back south, to Lake Laurie RV Resort in Cape May, NJ. We had been invited to meet up with LEOOnly friends Kenny and Connie. They had a seasonal site at the park and spent many summer weekends there.

Lake Laurie RV Resort, owned by Sun Communities, had recently been taken over by KOA. While many of the reviews of the resort are less than stellar, the recent take over had brought some great improvements including the addition of large open pull through sites for transient RVers. The new sites were well tended, well spaced, and extremely level. Currently the sites only have electric and water but the park offers pump out service with 24 hour notice. Just beware: the gentleman pumping our tank was a little over zealous with his job. He worked hard to increase the suction to “get out the sludge” until we stopped him. It really isn’t a good idea to generate a lot of suction in a black tank which we knew from previous boating experience.

We met up with Kenny and Connie that evening for happy hour at The Boiler Room, a bar/pizza/music room in the basement of Congress Hall. The pizza and beer were good, the conversation was great, and we returned to the park for entirely too much more happy hour to end the night.

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Cape May evening shopping

If I was looking for a romantic getaway, Cape May would be the place. It has an understated elegance and refinement helped by the restored Victorian houses and sea breeze. One would be perfectly content to slowly stroll the streets, sip a glass of wine in a street side cafe; it radiates gentility and has just a little bit of (I hate to say it) southern charm.

We weren’t in the romantic mood on Saturday so we headed over to Wildwood, just down the road from Lake Laurie. If Cape May is a reserved, responsible older sister, Wildwood is a brash, in your face, younger brother. It is beer instead of wine, bouncing around instead of strolling, yelling and laughing instead of library voices. And we fit right in.

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How to solve the matching shirt dilemma without actually matching.

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The beach at the boardwalk with the tide out.

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Fun!

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Panorama of the beach at the boardwalk

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After a full day of bouncing around and stuffing our face with more pizza (it is New Jersey after all) we headed back to the short bus to meet up with Kenny and Connie for dinner. They were wonderful hosts who fed us again, this time with great beef skewers and burgers cooked on the grill. We had to shut it down early because of impending rain but we had a great time and look forward to meeting up with them again.

Sunday morning we packed up early and headed out to Cherry Hill, NJ. We had a ‘date’ with  Tim and Donna, more LEOOnly friends who offered us their driveway (and more food!) for the night. They are seriously considering full timing and wanted to pick our brains. We did our best to encourage them over a wonderful meal they cooked. Being in their house kind of made me jealous; Donna has an amazing sense of style and has built or designed quite a bit of their furniture. I don’t have the space for it now but if we ever stop full timing, I’m stealing some of her ideas.

Monday morning came and we pulled out of their driveway just after the worst of rush hour. We had nowhere specific to go, so we headed north into Pennsylvania. We landed at Mount Airy Lodge, in the Poconos. In the 60s and 70s, Mount Airy Lodge was the place to be, kind of the “Kellerman’s” of the Poconos. They then went ‘honeymoon’ with champagne tubs and mirrors on the ceiling. By the 80’s interest in the Poconos as a vacation destination died (just like the Catskills) and the resort closed. It was torn down and the new owners built a hotel and casino. The casino allows overnight RV parking in one of their parking lots so we took advantage of their hospitality and stayed a night, played a few slots (lost this time), and unwound from all activities of the weekend.

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Nothing would be finer than to be in Carolina…

Continuing our trek north, we headed into South Carolina. We managed to pass through Atlanta at about 11AM and hit no traffic. I don’t know if we are lucky or have great timing but, in our two passes through Atlanta this year, we passed through without problems. Yeah, some of the drivers are a little nuts, but we are so used to DC driving that Atlanta is a cake walk. So far.

In looking for a campground not too far off the highway but in a pretty area preferably near water, we found South Cove County Park. It is on a little peninsula in Lake Keowee just outside of Seneca, SC. Because it has sites right on the water, it won out over the many other parks in the area.

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The campground from the office

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Our campsite, #33

We did not reserve our campsite ahead of time but on weekends during the spring and summer, it might be advised. If reserving ahead of time, ignore the driveway lengths when making your decision. The sites on the water are pull-throughs but the entrance and exit are shared by the sites in front or behind yours. This can be a tight situation when the campground is busy but it was pretty empty while we were here.

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The site behind us. Our shadow is where the shared entrance/exit is.

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In front of us, from left to right, a hill site, the road, and a site further down the lake.

The campground was very quiet though there was the occasional power boat passing by.

We set up and ate lunch then relaxed and caught up on with things on social media (excellent Verizon signal here). About an hour later, we heard the familiar sound of Harley pipes. The bike came back around and stopped in the site in front of us. “We have neighbors – we need to move the jeep.” We had parked it in the empty campsite in front of us. Turns out, it was Bill and Mary Ann. They had seen Mike’s check in on Facebook and happened to be in the neighborhood. We first met Bill in Hunting Island last year through LEO Only and spent a couple of hours catching up.

They knew we liked off-roading and beautiful views so they suggested we head up to Jumping Off Rock where we would get a little bit of both. They were right – the place is beautiful, the road is fun but not challenging, and there are no crowds.

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One of the views at Jumping Off Rock.

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Most of the road is easily passable by passenger cars. But a high clearance vehicle will be needed in some parts, including at the beginning.

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A small waterfall along the way

We aren’t sure if our timing was impeccable or if we were lucky or if there was some sort of rules change but a gate was open that allowed us to get all the way down to the lake on a peninsula.

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If you have a tent, this would be a great place to camp.

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Rope swings at the end of the road.

Lake Jocassee is beautiful and we decided that it is definitely a future kayak trip. This end of the lake is fairly remote and the scenery outstanding. One could probably spend a week on the water and still not see everything.

On our way back to camp, we stopped by Bill and Mary Ann’s house. It is beautiful, set in  hills overlooking the lake – a dream place to retire to. They made one more suggestion: Paesano’s Italian Restaurant.  When someone from New York and/or New Jersey suggests Italian, I’m inclined to believe their recommendation. That suggestion was as good as the first (I love local knowledge!); the food and service were excellent and I’m still thinking about the tiramisu.

We returned to camp and Mike made friends with the local ducks while I got caught up on blog posts. By the end of our second night here, he had them practically eating out of his hands.

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A word of warning about camping here on the lake shore, and probably any other shore: overnight a storm blew in. We knew it was coming but our neighbor didn’t and lost his awning. The lake here is 26 miles long and the wind can build up to a gale over that distance if coming from the right direction.

Also on our last night here, we went outside to see if we could see the storm rolling in. It was chilly, so we closed our door. After a few minutes of star gazing, we tried to go back inside. And we were locked out. Even using our spare key, which happened to be in the jeep, wouldn’t get us in. Mike gave me a boost to the passenger window where I crawled inside to let him in (luckily, our windows aren’t always locked). After about five minutes of fiddling with the locks and banging the door, it finally released. And has worked perfectly ever since.

Reluctantly, we packed up and headed on. We stopped overnight at a rest area near Burlington, NC after making a pit stop at Walmart to pick up some needed supplies. The rest area has separate parking for RVs and we spent a fairly quiet night. Walmart may begin to rival Amazon for convenience in shopping. They now offer ‘pick up in store’ service with no added shipping charges. I ordered a collapsible ladder in South Carolina and was able to pick it up two days later in North Carolina. How is that for convenient? I didn’t need a shipping address or a few days to hang out in town to wait for it to arrive.

Our next spot was Holly Point Campground, part of the Falls Lake Recreation Area. The area is beautiful and not too far from Wake Forest, which has a lot to do. We didn’t make reservations early enough to get a lakefront site but we did manage to snag a beautiful, open wooded site with electric and water.

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loop 3, site 80

We later found out that loop 3 is known as ‘the retiree’ loop – it is very quiet and, according to the rangers, usually booked by retirees. It would seem to hold true during our stay as we were joined by four class Bs holding four retired couples meeting up for the weekend.

The sites here are huge and very well spread apart. Most are fairly level and extremely long, long enough for a 45′ class A and a toad and a couple of guests’ cars. While we had one of the most open sites in the campground, the majority of them are shaded with very tall trees, lending a very ‘woodland feel’ to the experience. We knew this weekend would have a cold spell so a sunny site would keep us warm.

We stopped here at the suggestion of Greg, another LEO Only friend who happens to be a Ranger here. We hung out and got to know Greg and Kimberly  and had a couple of great days trading camping horror stories, general life stories, and learning what it is like to be a Park Ranger. We are looking forward to our next pass through the area.

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Jonathan Dickson State Park

There were entirely too many things to do at Jonathan Dickson State Park. We tried to do it all during our six days there, but alas, we fell short. We hated to leave but, we had places we had to be…

First, the park itself. JDSP is huge. There are two campgrounds, lots and lots of walking trails, and a good river to kayak on, with both rental boats and a place to drop your own.

We stayed in the Pine Grove Campground, which has wide paved sites with full hook ups. Though it can get crowded in the center of the loops, we had an outside site (#8) where our patio overlooked what we called our ‘african savannah’ tree.  Yes, the campground is pretty bare – all the trees were knocked down in a hurricane a few years ago – but the rangers are out planting trees and shrubs with the hope they will grow. Some day it may again be a pine grove. The other campground, River Campground, is closed for remodeling. In the future, it will be our campground of choice – it still has some trees, the sites are pretty large and flat, and it is right near the river boat launch. You really can’t go wrong with either, though there is some road noise from the highway up at Pine Grove.

If you like hiking, there are probably 100 miles of official and unofficial trails here. While we only covered about 10 of them, we felt we got a pretty good overview of the park. JDSP was also our introduction to geocaching. Our motivation was pretty thin on a couple of the hotter days but, if you throw in a goal and a surprise, we can get moving pretty quick! We ended up with about 15 caches without trying too hard, and that was with the free “Intro” app. There are over 100 caches in the park, some really easy to find, others nearly impossible.

We also managed to blow up our kayak and drop it into the The Loxahatchee River. We had a few fun hours of kayaking but vowed to remember NOT to do it again on a weekend. The power boaters are mostly friendly and courteous, but every once in a while, you run into a ‘hotdog’ who isn’t.

A great place to visit while there is Blowing Rocks Preserve. Owned by the Nature Conservancy, Blowing Rocks protects about a mile of Florida coastline where limestone cliffs jut out of the sand. While they aren’t the cliffs of Oregon and California, they are a neat thing to see on the Florida coast. They get their name from the waves crashing into the cliffs at high tides. We got lucky and didn’t even have to make high tide – a storm was coming in and the wind had pushed the sea inland – the waves were huge much of the day.

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We also did a little bit of wandering around the area – there are some trails back through the sea grapes, across the road, and onto the inter-coastal side.

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A great place to visit in the area is the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary. It is a refuge and hospital for Florida wildlife with great walking trails between the animal enclosures. They have a ton of various bird species among the animals and, the reason we came by, Florida Panthers. Having never seen one in the wild, I was interested in the ones they had rescued and rehabilitated. We spent a wonderful afternoon wandering around.

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We ate out quite a bit while we were there, probably because we were suffering from a withdrawal of eating out while in Ocala. Our first stop was the Shipwreck Bar and Grille. To be honest, we only ate here because the place we wanted to go was packed with a waiting line out the door. I’m pretty sure we would have been better off waiting for a seat at the other place. The second place we tried was Hogsnappers, which was fairly well reviewed. Maybe we just went on the wrong day or ate the wrong things on the menu. The sushi was okaaaaayyyyy, and the fish tacos aren’t even worth mentioning. We made it to Dune Dog, a very highly rated ‘hot dog stand’ with a great beach vibe and some pretty good beer choices. Yes, I would eat there again. Try the nachos.

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We met up with Deas and Jennifer (Nealys on Wheels) through RVillage and joined them at Tequesta Brewing. The beer was good and the conversation better, and we got to meet John and Jen, ex-fulltimers who are soon to be fulltimers again. We continued the night with The Crafty Crust which had great service, great beer, and great pizza.

We didn’t have a lot of down time while at JDSP, but we did have a great time and fell in love with the area. While we wouldn’t live there, we will definitely visit again. There is just so much to do…

Taking a break – Anchorage

Well, it finally happened – we got burned out. We have been doing a lot of travelling and touristing but not much living. Yes, our bills were paid, our laundry clean, we had food in the fridge, but our daily living had been crammed between racing here and hiking there and looking at this and learning about that. We needed a break.

We headed up to Eagle River Campground for a couple of days to rest and regroup. While there, we did run up to the nature center which is in a beautiful location, hiked around (there are many great hikes up there) and took in the views.

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View from one of the trails at Eagle River Nature Center

Internet weather sources stated that it would be cloudy and rainy the entire week. Since the campground is pretty much in the woods, we wouldn’t be getting much solar even if the sun was out (the paved, level campsites were really great though) we decided to ‘live it up’ and go to a private park with actual electricity. Whenever we are in a full hook up park, I always feel like I am in an upscale hotel – unlimited power, unlimited water, sometimes cable and wifi. It is a treat that I love to indulge in once in a while.

We went to Big Bear RV Park and Campground, just north of Anchorage in Wasilla. The wifi there is TengoNet (lousy) and there is no cable tv but the campground is quiet and there is actual grass, which Belle loved to roll around in. I was tempted to myself.

We finally did a much more thorough inside cleaning of the Short Bus, some inside cleaning of the jeep (we are still finding desert dust in it), got a ton of laundry done, and rested up for our next leg. It wasn’t a week of laying around though.

We were able to meet up with TipsOnRoadTripping.com, a family of seven touring Alaska in a 31′ class C. They have four weeks and were racing from New Jersey to Alaska and back. I have no idea how they can manage but they are having loads of fun.

We also met up with the Snowmads, a wonderful couple who are touring Alaska while they work full time from their RV.

A friend of ours from Maryland just happened to be moving to Anchorage for a great job and we spent a day with her running around, trying to find a moose. We were unsuccessful but we had a great time.

We had cocktail hour (or three) with another full timing couple who happened to be from the same area as we are (DC) and who happened to be in some of the same campgrounds as we (Florida) at the same time and we didn’t even know it until bumping into each other in Alaska. A Shenandoah National Park t-shirt started the conversation. Yes, it is a small world.

We also made an attempt to drive Hatcher Pass but the cloud cover completely socked us in before we got to the good part.

And, we had a blast on the Knik River racing up and down the gravel bars and through streams in our jeep. The jeep is still working and we didn’t need a tow so all is good.

Okay, so we didn’t take it too easy. But there was a day or two in there where we did nothing. Belle and I were having allergy attacks – we still don’t know which weeds are causing it – and we really needed time to exhale.

I don’t have a lot of pictures of this time. I also needed a break from the camera. A few years ago, I worked for a newspaper as a photographer. After about a year, I hated photography, I hated cameras, and I wanted out. Photography was no longer fun, it was work. I didn’t pick up a camera for an entire year after that though, before that, you wouldn’t catch me without one. By Anchorage, I was getting that feeling again; I felt obliged to take pictures and I was taking pictures of things that didn’t interest me. Looking back at what I have captured of Alaska, I can see the deterioration of my image quality starting just after Valdez. The images started lacking expression and have become more and more about representation. So I hope, with a break and the recognition of getting that feeling again, that I can get back to enjoying capturing life as I see it.

Oh, and we also made a firm decision to buy a boat. But more on that in the coming months as we wrestle with the funding and logistics.

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The first time I have every seen baby seagulls (there are three in the picture). Taken at Potter Marsh.

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