Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Archive for the tag “east coast”

Letting the Days go by

We made the quick jump from south of Boston to north of Boston with no problems and little traffic, landing in Salisbury Beach State Reservation. The campground was the opposite in every way from Wompatuck State Park. The sites were wide open, close together, and had electric and power. While it wasn’t as close together as a typical tourist area private RV Park, they were really close together for a state park. Looking back at our pictures, neither Mike nor I stopped to snap a few of the campground. Probably too excited to be back at the beach!sal61sal62

We did quite a bit of touring in the area, and not much hanging at the beach, though. There are so many wonderful towns to check out!

We went as far north as Cape Porpoise, a village just past Kennebunkport, a town we loved when we had visited about 15 years ago. It is still a beautiful town, though it is getting kind of crowded. On the way back, we drove Shore Road, where the Bush compound is located and stopped to admire the view.

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Pier 77/Chowder House restaurant entrances. Too bad it was 10AM, too early for chowder.

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Views along the Maine coast

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more views from Maine

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and yet another. Can you blame me? The coast is beautiful!

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St. Ann’s Episcopal Church – right on the coast with a beautiful ocean view.

Our favorite town to visit in that area of Massachusetts is Rockport. It is a beautiful little town right on the coast with some of the best lobster rolls outside Maine.

For me, this is the perfect New England coastal town to set down roots – too far from a city to commute but close enough to a city to visit, plenty of things to do and places to eat, and an unhurried attitude in the people who live there. If only it wasn’t so far North! Though the weather is somewhat tempered by the sea, the winters still get a little too cold.

We also passed through Gloucester, a town that used to be my favorite New England town. Over the years, it has gotten so big and so crowded, it is hard to even find one’s way around, let alone find a place to park. We did manage a spot down at the waterfront where we waited out some of the traffic before heading back to camp.

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We didn’t spend much time in Surfside, a beach town right next to Salisbury Beach. Our initial first impression was that it was a miniature version of Ocean City, MD and we just weren’t in the mood for crowds and boardwalk fries. We did run around Newburyport though most of our time there was checking out the boats. We were still debating the merits of different traveling styles and whether or not being live aboards was a viable option.

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We even managed a stop in Salem for a day. Unfortunately, we picked the one day a week the Peabody is closed. We did manage lunch and a beer at Beer Works. We weren’t thrilled with the fruit beers (a little perfumy) but the pale ale and the witch city red were good.

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One of the historic wharves of Salem.

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The Burying Point cemetery, right next to the Witches’ Memorial.

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The “Friendship of Salem” just before the haul out.

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Stickworks, art by Patrick Dougherty

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Because buried deep inside my brain somewhere is Beavis. Or Butthead.

Most of the time we were in Salem, our thoughts were on getting to the local ASPCA. We had finally decided we didn’t want to live without a dog or two in our lives any longer and we wanted to find a dog that needed a family. We struck out in Salem. There were only five dogs in their shelter, all pit bulls. The wonderful volunteer did tell us that they would be receiving a ‘shipment’ by the end of the week, but we would be gone by then. As we would find all over New England, there aren’t as many dogs needing families up here as there are down south so the shelters here rescue them and get them shipped north. We decided we would continue to look as we headed north anyway.

We had a great time in Salisbury Beach. The weather was perfect, fellow campers are friendly, and there is a lot to do in the area (maybe too much). Some day we may return and will definitely include this campground in our list of places to stay.

 

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Have you ever seen the rain…

It wasn’t the shadowy, buried in trees, sites that I didn’t like. It wasn’t the lack of water or adequate power (20 Amp only). It wasn’t even the location. But I still came away with a bad taste in my mouth about Wompatuck State Park. Plenty of people love it; the reviews are great. We had no problems with the lack of water as we arrived with full tanks and had a spigot right next to our site. The 20 Amp power didn’t bother us as we shunted off all our 12V needs to the batteries (by turning off the converter) and ran those off solar. And the trees were kind of nice during the day when it was in the 80s. There was something else.

On arrival put out our awning as it was cloudy and we heard drizzling through the copious trees. We thought nothing about it and, after lunch, we went up to the park headquarters to scope out some hiking trails. We were prepared to ignore the warnings about a new (?) tick disease (Anaplasmosis) that people were worried about as people tend to get worried about the most unlikely things. Crossing the parking lot (the large very empty parking lot) the sound of drizzling grew louder. I looked up – no definite clouds in the sky, just a slight haze from the heat. The drizzling sound grew louder. I looked up again, towards the tree in front of me. I looked at the leaves to see if rain drops were hitting them because they weren’t hitting me. Hmmm, there aren’t many leaves. And the sound grew louder. And then I was right under the tree, looking up, and a caterpillar fell on my shoulder. And it hit me. I looked up. I looked closer. ARGH! I ran out from under the tree as quickly as I could. The sound. The missing leaves.  I looked down, trying to avoid them with each step but it was impossible.  I raced to the jeep.

“You know that drizzling sound?”

“Yeah.”

“Its not rain.”

“Huh. Okay. what is it?”

“Caterpillars. Thousands and thousands of caterpillars.”

“No shit.”

“No shit.”

Actually, there was plenty of s$%t. When we got back to the campsite, the sound was even louder – instead of one lone large tree we had about 50 on our site, hanging over the picnic table, fire pit, rv, awning, car…everything. The picnic table was covered with tiny black specs – caterpillar poop. Since the fire pit was directly under trees, there was no way we were going to cook on it. We sat on our chairs under the awning listening to the ‘rain.’ After a few minutes, I looked over at Mike. He had a caterpillar on his shoulder and two on his leg. I sighed as I wiped two off my chair. It was going to be a long week.

Wompatuck Park, in spite of the caterpillars, is a pretty nice park, especially considering the fact that it is about 15 minutes outside Boston. It is close to the Hingham Ferry, which will take people right to the historic port area of Boston. There are plenty of bike trails and hiking trails all over the park. The sites are mostly large and private and while we were there, quiet. They have bathrooms with hot water showers that were well kept. I think, at any other time of year, we would really like this campground.

We decided to make the best of it. Besides, we had tickets to the Orioles/Red Sox game and we weren’t going to miss it.

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We got lucky and a ‘friend of a friend’ not only snagged us a primo parking space for the jeep, they took us on a tour of the Green Monster.

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The Green Monster

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The view from the Green Monster.

Fenway is a beautiful ball park. It seems much smaller and more intimate for games that Camden Yards but there is a ton of stuff to do and places to eat. We probably walked about ten miles just circling Fenway to see everything.

We had excellent seats right behind home plate. For us, being from Birdland, the prices were extremely steep. I completely understand why Boston fans come down to Camden Yards to see games.

The Orioles won! We had a great time at Fenway Park and could now cross another ballpark off our list.

We really had the urge to get out of the campground during the day so we headed down to Plymouth. We saw ‘the rock’ and the Mayflower II in its home.

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Plymouth Rock. Much greater in the mind than in reality.

We also did a lot of driving around, checking out the different towns, docks, and marinas. We fell in love with Scituate, MA.  It has an incredible small town feel with a marina that is probably bigger than the town. Being only 25 miles from Boston, it would be a great town to live in (for us).

Like Narragansett, RI, Scituate will be added to our list of “towns we would love to live in if we ever move where it snows.”

We were in Wompatuck over the weekend and unfortunately, the ferry from Hingham, a commuter ferry, runs only Monday through Friday. So our plan was to head in to Boston on Monday to see the historic sites, then leave on Tuesday. Monday morning I woke up and couldn’t take it any more. The “drizzling” had entered my brain so deeply nothing would drown it out. I was on the verge of having panic attacks because the trees were closing in. So, we pulled out at about 9AM. Luckily, there was a space available for the night at our next stop, Salisbury Beach State Park.

 

 

Watching the ships roll in

Scenes at the Cape Cod Railroad Bridge, the railroad crossing for the Cape Cod Canal. Trains still use it though we were never able to catch one on it. The bridge goes up and down, spending most of its time up for boat traffic.

At the Woods Hole Science Aquarium. It is free to get in and great for kids (or adults who love sea life). It isn’t very big but they do have touch tanks and lots of information. Mike and I both grew up on Jacques Cousteau and followed the explorations of Alvin, so  visiting Woods Hole was a no-brainer. The small town ended up being one of our favorites though we didn’t get to spend much time there.

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Probably the prettiest lighthouse we visited was Nobska Point Light just outside of Falmouth. The location is sublime (even in the rain) and just what one would expect of a New England Light house.

Falmouth is also a boating town, with a fairly large marina (by Cape Cod standards) and tons of mooring balls. They have a very good, small farmer’s market and a great, walkable downtown core. During our stay, we tried Maison Villatte for desert (amazing chocolate and almond croissants and bread). We had lunch at La Cucina Sul Mare and really enjoyed their lunch specials and their incredibly reasonable prices; definitely a place I would go back to. The food was prepared well. We met a friend for burgers and beer at Liam McGuire’s Irish Pub. Both were good as was the conversation. While we couldn’t stay for the daily live music we were assured that it was the big draw for the standing room only crowd. If you go, get there early!

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We thought the red boat would make a perfect Great Loop Boat. Its a little larger than we want but the big windows and all that deck space would be a wonderful place to watch the world drift by.

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Dexter Grist Mill in Sandwich. They still grind corn here, and they sell it, too. In the pond, we watched fish mark and protect their territory, making small circles free of debris which they circled to keep other fish out.

On another rainy day we passed through Barnstable and stopped at the Coast Guard Museum for a visit. Our actual reason for being there was the Old Jail, built in 1690. Its history is pretty cool but we didn’t get to see any of it – no one was there. It sits on the grounds of the Coast Guard Heritage Museum, so we wandered through that instead. The museum had displays starting from the beginning of the existence of the coast guards, right through modern times. What I found most fascinating was the light ships – boats that were constructed to be used as light houses where light houses couldn’t be built. Yes, I lead a sheltered life; I had never heard of them. There are none operating in the US (as commissioned light ships) at this time, but they can be found in places like New York, Virginia, Michigan, and Delaware. None currently on Cape Cod.

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See that little point sticking up on land way way over there (about center right in the image)? That is the Sandy Neck Lighthouse in Barnstable. Unless you have a boat, a resident sticker, or the ability to walk ten miles (round trip) in sand, that is as close as you can get to it. I had none of the above (okay, we could have walked the ten miles but had absolutely no desire to) and so we viewed it from the Barnstable Beach. Two things we noticed about parking on Cape Cod: the beach parking is expensive ($20/day, every day) and people go to parking lots and sit in their cars, especially parking lots with a view. All over Cape Cod, from the time we arrived to the time we left, there was not one parking lot we visited that did not have at least one car with a person in it just sitting. In some places, there were ten or more; some reading, some napping, some eating, some just staring. But there was always a person hanging out in their car. We go a lot of places. We have been all over the country and hung out in a lot of parking lots. But we have never seen anything like the parking lot vigils in Cape Cod.  Why? We will never know.

There was even a car parked at the Sargo Tower in Dennis. Okay, that is our jeep and it was us. The Scargo Tower was built specifically for the view. While we didn’t get the full view the day we were there, the view was pretty impressive. On a clear day, one can see all the way to Provincetown, which is where my camera was aimed for the bottom picture. We could see the Cape Cod Bay, but not any further.

We visited Chatham one day, a very pretty town at the elbow of Cape Cod. We caught the “Sharks in the Park” installation but missed out on the “Lifeboats in the Shops” scavenger hunt. I guess we don’t shop enough.  We managed to find (and get up close to) the Chatham Lighthouse and the beautiful beach attached.

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As you can see, the beach has some great sand bars off shore. From a map, it seems they stretch for miles. If we ever return, we will head here with our kayak. It looks like a great place to play Robinson Crusoe for a day.

We then headed up to Chatham Pier and Fish Market but it wasn’t open. We did get to see a few seals though, and a lot of work boats.

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If you want to buy a float, this is the place to do it. They also have wicked fudge. Eastham.

We also found another lighthouse, Nauset Light which had been moved a bit away from the coast. Fascinating fact about lighthouses – they each have their own light pattern. This enables boat/ship captains to verify their location at night or in fog when land masses can’t always be seen. This particular lighthouse is the one on the Cape Cod Potato Chip bag.ma301

We also spent an entire day wandering around Provincetown. It is like Key West of the North with the same funky beach vibe and far out people.

 

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This picture was taken a few hours earlier than the one before it. The streets get crowded as the day progresses.

The Pilgrim Memorial can be seen from just about everywhere in the town.

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The remains of the Provincetown Theatre

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We ate lunch at the Lobster Pot. Good food but pricey, a tourist location.

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lots and lots of boats in P-town.

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We also spent some time wandering the coast of Provincetown – there is a lot of it!

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The bay is taking back the land, including the parking lot. Way off in the distance (near center) is another lighthouse (Race Point Lighthouse).

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The causeway will take you to Woods End Light Station on the Provincetown Spit. The lighthouse is that bump above the couple’s head.

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Our two weeks on Cape Cod went very, very fast. We only saw and did about half of what we planned to. We never made it to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. We didn’t spend a lot of time at Cape Cod National Seashore.  We didn’t eat a gazillion lobsters or gallons of chowder. Time got away from us. If we had been ‘vacationing’ for two weeks, we probably would have done all that and more but we would have been exhausted afterwards. We tried that last year in Alaska and burned out after about 10 weeks of non-stop go. So we took it easy in Cape Cod and still enjoyed every minute.

One thing Cape Cod did was solidify our desire for a boat. We spent hours looking at boats and debating the kind of boat we want. Like RVs, there isn’t a single boat that can do everything we want well. But there are a few that can do much of what we want well enough. Being raised around the Chesapeake Bay, we love gunkholing. Sailboats are very limited in their gunkholing ability (don’t tell a sailor that!) so we are looking at shallow draft trawlers. Our previous boat would float in 18 inches of water and we loved getting all the way into little creeks to hide away from the deep vee and sailboat crowds of the bay. With that settled, we debate on towable vs. non-towable and keep going back and forth, debating live aboard size vs. ability to drag the boat around the country visiting water from coast to coast. Depending on the day, we vote for one or the other. Some day we will figure it out. Or, the perfect boat will magically appear in front of us one day like a rainbow and it will be too good to resist.

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taken while driving.

Sitting on the dock of the bay

Back when we decided we were heading to New England for the summer, at the top of our list was Cape Cod.  Neither of us had ever been there so we really wanted to plan ahead to make the most of our trip. After a couple of weeks of back and forth about campgrounds – how often to move, where to move to – we decided we would like to chill at one location for the entire two weeks, moving our Jeep from place to place rather than our bus. Our place of choice: Scusset Beach State Reservation in Sandwich, MA. The location for us was perfect – not in the middle of all the ‘to-do’ (read traffic) in Cape Cod but close enough to anything we might need or want to do. The campground itself was also perfect. While it only had 50A and water hook ups, it had nice open sites right next to the beach and the Cape Cod Canal.

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The campground from the beach parking lot. In the fog. The short bus is on the right.

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From our site, #98, we could see the end of the canal and the tall ships that passed by. We lucked out in that the Mayflower II, on its trip from repairs in Connecticut  back to Plymouth, passed right through the canal.

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We were also an easy walk to the beach, which was very popular. Even in the fog.

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There was a lot to do in the campground itself: walking, hiking, fishing, swimming, and what we did most, lazing around in the sun. While we did have some foggy days and a couple of rainy days, most were warm and sunny. There is a fishing pier on the canal, a breakwater that extends 1/2 a mile out into the bay, and access to the Canal Path, a seven mile end to end bike path.

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The light at the end of the breakwater, about 1/2 a mile from shore.

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Tug and barge passing the breakwater

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rock detail. there were some pretty cool rocks.

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Looking back to land from the end.

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Foggy day at the beach.

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We were there for two weeks so we had to visit the dump station on day seven. Word of warning: the dump station is only open until 3:30 PM every day. I have no idea why. Also, the setup is kind of strange; rather than a pipe straight down, it is off to the side. Mike says it smells really bad, worse than a normal dump station. I had to make sure our chairs didn’t blow away 😉 so I didn’t get the pleasure.

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The campground is just outside of Sandwich, which is on the other side of one of two car bridges that cross the Cape Code Canal. In Sandwich, there are two grocery stores (I highly recommend the Market Basket both for prices and fresh foods), quite a few restaurants (definitely stop in Cafe Chew), and the Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center. On the campground side of the bridge is a McDonalds, a gas station and a tourist visitor center. Based on my experience, I will never attempt to cross over the Canal Bridge on a Sunday ever again. To get from the grocery store to the campground took almost an hour. It is 4.8 miles away. Most of that time was spent waiting in traffic for 1/2 a mile of the entire route, to get onto the bridge. Once on the bridge, the drive was all of five minutes. I have heard that crossing onto the Cape on Fridays is also time consuming.

All in all, we had a great time at Scussett Beach. We had family stop and visit for an afternoon and met up a couple of times with friends in the area to catch up and hang out. We also did a ton of sightseeing which I’ll post in the next entry.

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Sunset, our second to last night. Pretty amazing and bested all the other things we saw.

“You can’t always get what you want…*

While in Connecticut, we were not only able to fix our vacu-flush problem, we managed to secure a site for a few days at Fishermen’s Memorial State Park in Rhode Island. Someone  canceled a two day reservation in the water view area with full hook ups and then someone else canceled four more days in the same area! We were set for the week before memorial day, though we still didn’t have a site for Saturday and Sunday.

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Fisherman’s Memorial State Park is a very nicely kept park. The grounds are impeccably landscaped, the full hook ups are well placed, many (but not all) sites are very level, and the location is great – not too far from the beach, Narragansett and pretty much the entire state of Rhode Island (it is a very small state). We really enjoyed our six days here and didn’t want to leave.

When we weren’t being lazy, we wandered around Narragansett, a beautiful small coastal town with a bit of history. We also wandered around for the day in Newport, one of our favorite towns we have visited so far.  One of the highlights was The Cliff Walk, a 3.5 mile wander along the coast past huge mansions and beautiful views. It just so happened to be a sunny seventy degree day so the walk/hike was one of our favorites so far.

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One of the many mansions along the Newport coast.

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Used to be a mansion, now being used by the college.

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The view at “the steps.”

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We also spent some time wandering around the pier and old town. All told, we probably walked seven miles or more just seeing the sites. Unfortunately, I didn’t take my camera on that day.

While at Fisherman’s, we hunted for a place to stay Saturday and Sunday nights, Memorial Weekend. The pickings were pretty slim. We also needed a place to stay Monday and Tuesday. Charlestown Breachway had a few spots available so we drove the fifteen miles to the campground to check it out. It is dry camping but right next to the beach, so we were hoping for the best. We figured out why there were sites available still, despite the location: it was a parking lot. Literally. There are 75 sites in the parking lot, all of them about 15′ wide and 40′ long. While we were desperate, we just weren’t desperate enough to squish in with 74 other RVs during the heat and the holiday, with generators running non-stop. My claustrophobia kicked in just looking at it.

So, we resigned ourselves to boondocking at a rest area or a Walmart. On Friday morning, luck smiled on us. Someone canceled their site at West Thompson Lake, a COE park about 60 miles away in Connecticut. It would be back tracking just a bit, but it was an electric and water site long enough for us to fit. So Saturday morning we packed up and headed that way.

The park itself is small, very wooded, and very quiet. It isn’t my favorite campground, but the parking situation was way better than the Breachway. We spent a quiet two days hiding out in the woods, dodging gypsy moth caterpillars. I did get the opportunity, during the down time, to make my first ever batch of hamburger buns using the breadmaker to knead the dough. I just used a basic recipe from Food.com and they turned out excellent. Way better than what I typically get at the grocery store.

I also had a craving for Naan bread, so I gave it a try. I substituted heavy cream for the lowfat milk, olive oil for the canola oil, and added a bit of garlic. It turned out amazing, way better than I expected (I gotta start getting pictures of bread!). I whipped up some tzatziki sauce, browned some chicken, and we had a great meal.

Sunday morning we were wondering if we should stay put for two more days or chance a Walmart. We were both a bit claustrophobic by then, as the woods seemed to grow closer with each passing hour. And then someone cancelled their days at Horseneck Beach State Reservation in Massachusetts. I don’t blame them – the weather report was for cold and rain and the sites were dry camping. But the site they canceled was on the beach! So we booked it and took off Monday morning for Massachusetts.

I completely fell in love with Horseneck Beach and could probably have spent the rest of the summer there. Our site was right on the beach and, in spite of the fog our first day, the place is beautiful.

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Our beach front camping site. Rated to hold a 40′, which it easily could.

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Sunset over the beach sites.

While we only spent two days here, it was as relaxing as an entire week. We drove around the area, the highlight being Westport Point, 17th and 18th century houses leading down to the docks. We enjoyed a good lunch at The Bayside Restaurant, and oogled the RVs parked on lots on the ocean. It was a great way to end the month of May.

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These beach roses smelled amazing and added to the atmosphere here. There were tons of them between the beach and the campsites.

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The singing rocks. The beach is rocks and pebbles. When the tide was going out, it was strong enough to pull smaller rocks towards the water. They would bounce and skip over each other, sounding like ‘singing.’ It kept us enthralled for a good hour a day.

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*…But if you try sometime, you find you get what you need.”

“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.

“Ticking away the moments…

…that make up a dull day. Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way…”

That pretty much describes the last three weeks, which is why there have been no blog posts. Well, that and we didn’t have internet or cell phone service for most of the time.

When we left Virginia we headed north to Greenbelt, Md. We had a wake to attend for a beloved family member and many friends and family to catch up with. We spent the week at Greenbelt Park, a federal campground just ten miles outside of Washington, DC. We love the park, at least during the spring and fall, despite the negatives heaped on it by other users. While there, we didn’t get one tick, we had great solar, and the weather couldn’t have been more beautiful – 70s and sunny every day.

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Site 145, with great solar and satellite reception (at least in April)

Greenbelt park is a dry camping park but, being only $16 per night so close to DC (and about 1/4 the price of other local campgrounds), it is an amazing campground and a great outdoor experience. There are hiking trails, great roads to bike on, a walk to the metro, and nice camp hosts. There is water and a dump station available, though the dump station is kind of a pain to use. We stayed in three sites while we were there due to other people having the best spots reserved. The best site for us was 145; it got five hours of sunlight for our thirsty panels and we were able to access a satellite that carried the Orioles games. Site 138 is also good for solar and satellite.

If you are booking a site for Greenbelt online, be careful. The locations of campsites on the recreation.gov website is inaccurate. Also, all campsites are listed as drive-in whether they are back-in or pull-through. Many of the pull-throughs here are actually ‘pull-overs’ as they are wide spots in the camp loop road. Most are barely 8′ wide and if one has a slide on the driver’s side, chances are you will spend the entire time there being worried about someone hitting it.

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This is an image of two campsites across from us, I think 143 and 144 (neither on the web site/non-reservable).

From Greenbelt, we headed over to Front Royal to visit with more family. We spent an extended weekend at Shenandoah River State Park, in a lovely, large spot with a view.

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The view behind our campsite, #14

Shenandoah River State Park is a great alternative to the Federal parks up on the mountain. While we didn’t have cell signal, we did have electric and water hook ups and plenty of open sky for the satellite dish. The perks come at a cost though; the state park is $45/night once one adds in all the fees. The state park is just outside the federal park and about eight miles to Front Royal, a wonderful town that seems to have doubled in size over the last ten years.

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Cousins David and Dylan joined us for a couple of days of camping. The sites are roomy enough for everything and a tent.

Our plan, when leaving Front Royal, was to drive down into Shenandoah National Park and camp at Big Meadows for a few days. I love hiking on the Appalachian Trail and some of my favorite parts are in the park. Two things turned us away: we couldn’t go down Skyline Drive to Big Meadows because we couldn’t fit in the tunnel (12’6″ max) and there was a wild fire close to the central entrance and the road was alternately open and closed depending on how the wind was blowing. So we headed north on Route 81 and landed in Charles Town at the Hollywood Casino. They have a large parking lot for oversized vehicles and parts of the lot are pretty level. The only negative is the train tracks immediately behind the lot; I could feel the whole bus shaking when the train went by. We stayed there one night as the forecasts called for rain. It was a quiet night and we left $40 richer than when we arrived, thanks to a very willing penny slot machine.

While hanging out at the casino, we realized we were really close to some family land in Bedford, PA. We headed in that direction, trying to beat the impending storm. We made it to Shawnee State Park just as the skies opened up. We got parked and hook up to electric and waited out the rain. The rain was a great test of our patch job on the passenger slide out, as it hadn’t really rained since we left Wakefield, VA. Turns out, the patch is a success and we have no more leak!

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Our campsite in the nearly completely empty Shawnee State Park

The rain let up enough for us to go find the family land. Cousin Wayne has turned it into a great retreat, complete with bonfire pit, covered pavilion, and enough firewood to get an entire regiment through a PA winter. We also visited Fisher’s country store to stock up on various bulk items like flour and organic baking supplies. I had recently bought a bread maker and I was dying to try the possibilities. So far, so good – I managed to make an incredibly flavorful very crusty bread which is impossible to find outside of Italian delis. We also stopped by the Coffee Pot, just because, well, coffee.

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Nothing inside now, but it used to be a restaurant.

The next day we headed over to see the Flight 93 Memorial. The building and grounds are absolutely beautiful, a fitting memorial. A warning though – the visitor center and displays are overwhelmingly sad – go prepared.

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The walk along the crash site (left) to the wall of names. The visitor center is the building in the left center.

The rolling countryside of Pennsylvania is rather pretty (pastoral, really) even in the rain. Driving in the highlands though, one will run into fog quite frequently. I love fog – it lends everything an ethereal quality, even in the dark.

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After the Memorial we decided to go see the Johnstown Flood Memorial. We never actually made it there as we got completely distracted by Johnstown on our way. The town itself was unexpected. Often, unless we research or hear by word of mouth beforehand, towns are just dots on the map. On some maps, one can tell the size of the town by the size of the dot. We didn’t have that kind of map. We expected Johnstown to be a tiny little town like Bedford or smaller, particularly since it had been wiped out by floods three times. Well, Johnstown was huge, in relative terms. Though the population now is closer to 20,000, at one time 80,000 people lived here. The town was the heart of Bethlehem Steel. We only had about an hour in the town and spent most of it driving around and looking at the buildings. It was raining so I couldn’t shoot, but Johnstown is definitely on our list of places to return. I am completely fascinated by Rust Belt Cities and their architecture. In Johnstown, I saw bits of Baltimore and Cleveland, a little of Cumberland and Ellicott City. The town is trying to revitalize itself and has attracted new industry to the area. While there are many decaying homes and buildings, even in the rain the city felt hopeful.

Two last things on our stay in Bedford: food and birds. We ate at Jean Bonnet Tavern, a landmark built in the  1760s on the Lincoln Highway. It has served as a tavern, inn, trading post, and family house for over 250 years. The food is good (try the french onion soup) but the draw is definitely the building itself.  The birds… for two days, we watched a robin flit around our bus every time we went outside. By the third day, we realized something was up. He was carrying stuff in his beak and would get agitated when we were around. Not as agitated as the Robin in Front Royal who spent two days, non-stop, pecking at our roof, but agitated none-the-less. So went went looking and didn’t find anything until finally, later that evening, Mike found it:

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A robin’s nest on our front leaf spring.

It was a shame to have to clear it out but we were leaving in the morning and didn’t want them to lay eggs. We hope they found another home.

From Bedford, we headed a little south to Lazy A Campground in Hedgesville, WV, just outside of Martinsburg. This is a lovely little campground nestled in the hills of West Virginia, far enough from everything to be idyllic but close enough that a quick drive gets you into town.

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We were only there for two days but we fell in love with the campground, even if we didn’t much care for Martinsburg. If you find yourself in Hedgesville, definitely stop by Orr’s Farm Market. They have the best apple caramel loaf I have ever had. They also have pick your own strawberries and apples in season, though April isn’t much of a season for anything that grows around there.

Next we headed to Little Bennett County Park, in Clarksville, MD. Mike had a dental appointment and surgery in Frederick, and we had been hanging around waiting for it for a couple of weeks. Sometimes, that’s just how things go. The surgery went well and we were glad to leave Little Bennett Park. If it hadn’t been the closest campground to the dental office, we would never have stayed there. The campground offered electric only hook ups for $47/night and the sites were small, heavily treed, and unlevel. Maybe if it hadn’t rained all three days we were there, it wouldn’t have been so claustrophobic. It definitely won’t be on our return-to list, but it was very convenient for what we needed.

Mike finished up his recovery time by driving to Elk Neck State Park. We’ve stayed there a few times before, and were returning to visit friends. We grabbed a site on the river with a lovely view for the weekend. We were in the Elk loop; dry camping with some sites having a view of the River/Bay.

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Site 139. Not the greatest for solar or satellite but the view was nice.

Friday we relaxed after the drive, Saturday we ran around town, and Saturday night we hung out with  Andrew, his wife and his beautiful daughter. He is an Air Marshal and had some great stories to tell about his travels around the world.

Sunday morning we were relaxing and taking it easy until CRACK! Something echoed through the camp loop. I waited a few minutes, then went outside.

“We should move.” “Why?” (Mike pointing) “See that tree? That was the sound.” “Oh. Crap.” “I’ll go change.” “I’ll pack the chairs.”

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On the right side of the tree, one can see the very long crack running up the side. The tree was fairly straight when we arrived two days before.

The tree didn’t look so bad if you stood near the rear of the bus. Until the wind started blowing. Then its weaving could make you dizzy as it circled around in the sky. And unfortunately, the lean was right over the center of the bus. So, we packed up everything in less than ten minutes and moved. We found site 125, in the same loop, with great solar potential. There was only one other camper so we had our choice. After parking, we managed to get satellite, too.

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So, in the 24 days we spent in the DC area, we had ten campsites in six campgrounds and a casino. I’m pretty sure we didn’t have time to hike and stuff because we were too busy moving all the time. But, we’ve seen some new places, enjoyed some old ones, and spent quite a few good times with friends and family. We will pretty much continue this pattern, bouncing up the east coast, until we settle in Massachusetts at the beginning of June.

Albany, Ga

While waiting out the rain in Eastbank, I looked around for a place to stop next, somewhat north, that had a laundry and something of interest to do. My first go to is always US Campgrounds, a website with maps of every public campground in the US. It includes the smaller city and county parks that are typically very hard to find without knowing the area. And that is how I found The Parks at Chehaw. They have a zoo! It was 100 miles from Eastbank, in the general direction we were traveling, had laundry, and was within an hour of driving to Ashburn, GA.

The reception at the front desk wasn’t the greatest when we arrived and the short road into the campground could use quite a bit of work. If one overlooked the trash strewn about (some kids obviously had a fun easter) the campground was quite pleasant. The sites are not private but they are wonderfully shaded by tall pines and very level. The power and water pressure is good and we had a sewer hook up. While the laundry room only had one washer and dryer, they were both clean and worked well. The park was mostly empty so we had no problems doing four loads of laundry.

Our reason for a quick run to Ashburn, GA was to visit Carroll’s Sausage and Country Store. We had visited there a couple of years ago while staying in Wanee Lake Golf and RV Resort, a wonderful place to stop over on a trek north or south. Carroll’s Sausage is probably the best hot pan sausage we have ever tasted. So good in fact, that two years later we were willing to drive 45 miles each way to get some more. As luck would have it, on our way into Chehaw Park, we saw a Carroll’s Sausage store right near the entrance. No visit to Ashburn needed, and we stocked up on quite a few pounds of hot pan along with thick peppered bacon and some smoked jalapeno link.

Chehaw Zoo is a very small zoo, with about 85 different species. But, the enclosures are large and open and the different animals have space to move around, hide if they want to, get away from the crowds if they need to. The draw for me was the black rhinoceros, a critically endangered species that may not survive in the wild for much longer due to poaching. There are only about 5,000 left in the world.

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Chehaw Zoo works with many conservation groups, including the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Right now, there are only about 10,000 cheetahs in the world, and the Conservation Fund is working hard to fix that. The two at Chehaw Zoo seemed very happy, though I didn’t get a chance to see the Cheetah Run.

cp9Some of the other animals we spotted on our walk…

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I was fascinated by this bird’s head and how abruptly it erupted in feathers

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The bobcats had a very open enclosure, enabling them to climb about 30′ or more up into trees. This one was sleeping sitting up about 20′ over my head (the walkway is a raised platform).

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The meerkat enclosure was small, at least the visible part. This particular one was looking for any way to get out.

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A frog in a pond of the lemur enclosure. The lemur enclosure was huge – open air – and viewers were more enclosed then they were. Unfortunately, while we were there, they were all sleeping and looked like furry lumps.

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Colobus Monkey and baby. They were fun to watch.

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The zoo had the biggest alligators I have ever seen in a huge open swampy area where the people were confined to a raised walkway and they were not. That 800 lb. gator recently killed in Florida? I’ll bet there were at least three here that would rival that one.

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I love camels, as long as they aren’t close enough to spit on me. These were almost that close but seemed good natured. This is the first time I remember seeing two hump camels (bactrian).

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Chameleons are so cool. The skin texture, the colors, the way they move…

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There were also Kangaroos, emus, wolves, snakes, various birds, and a petting zoo. The walk around the grounds made for a very pleasant afternoon.

Chehaw Park also has a very large frisbee golf course, a lake one can fish in for free, lots of walking and biking trails, a huge kids playground, and a bmx race track. If we had had more time, we would have stayed a while longer.

 

2016 – Here we come!

In 2015, we bounced around like crazy – more than 30,000 miles crazy – as we raced from the east coast south, then west, then north to Alaska, then back south, then east. Honestly, it’s tiring just thinking about it. By August, we were pretty burned out (as you can tell from the blog, though I will be adding the missing spaces soon). We started thinking about 2016 and how we didn’t want to do it. 2015 we handled with a wing and a prayer. It worked out really well, but we needed a break from the stress of last-minute-itis and being in a hurry. We didn’t make one advanced reservation or plan in 2015 which meant we took what we could get when we could get it. It worked pretty well in Alaska, but not so well in Montana.

So, for 2016, we have a plan. Both of us have “New England in the Fall” bucket list items and, since we completely missed fall in 2015, we decided this is what we would do. The great thing about it is the east coast is so much smaller than the west coast! We will probably do less than 1/2 the driving we did in 2015. And we will get to see the leaves change, one of the best reasons to travel the east coast.

Since the east coast is so much smaller, we will also get to spend a lot more time in each place. Not including Phoenix and DC (where we stopped for three weeks each visiting family), our average stay at any one place in 2015 was four days. Considering one of those days is a move day and one is a down day (grocery, laundry, breathing), we didn’t get much time for savoring where we were. In 2016, most of our stays will be a week or more. That gives us three extra days to chill, to hike, to kayak, to off-road… The possibilities are endless!

I hate to admit it, but I am a campsite snob. I love booking sites in the perfect location with the best view – who doesn’t want to spend a week at the beach on the beach? And while we managed to do that in Alaska (the sites were first come first serve), doing that on the east coast is nearly impossible without advanced planning. So, back in August, when we knew we were going to Florida in January, I started booking sites. We were out of luck in the Keys but we did manage to snag great campsites at other beach campgrounds further up the coast. Thank you to all the people who cancelled their vacations! I’m sorry for your loss, just ignore my great big smile!

In October, 2015, when we learned that the Escapees were planning the 56th Escapade in Vermont during the summer, going seemed like a no-brainer; we would already be in the area. So, we booked our spot and started looking for what to do and where to go before and after. Our schedule just sort of flowed from that, our bucket list, and our list of people to see along the way. I started booking more sites, either hoping for cancellations from sad ex-vacationers or, in the case of later in the summer, booking sites when they become open. It takes some work and some persistence but it often pays off. For South Carolina and Florida, I have had to check the reservations every day since October looking for cancellations. This netted beach campgrounds in Fort Clinch, Gamble Rogers, Fort DeSoto, and Hunting Island. And, though we still don’t have a reservation for Memorial Weekend (I hate trying to get that week), we do have great campgrounds in Massachusetts in June.

January will see us heading south to Florida, with stops in Myrtle Beach and Hunting Island along the way. After some time in Fernandina Beach and St. Augustine, we drop down to Seffner for week for the 2016 Fleetwood Regional Rally. We didn’t even know this Rally existed but we are looking forward to attending. While there, as they offer the opportunity to have two repairs done by Fleetwood factory techs, we are finally getting the microwave support bracket fixed. It snapped in a construction zone in Alaska and we have had a stick holding up one side ever since. We  kind of mostly forgot about it, except when traveling on REALLY bumpy roads when the stick falls out. We could probably fix it ourselves but the thought of pulling out the microwave and getting it back in place correctly is a little daunting for me. That sucker is pretty heavy and I was really surprised at the tiny metal tabs holding it up. After the Rally, we head back to the east coast of Florida for some beachfront camping at Gamble Rogers.

February we plan to kayak in Ocala, visit in Orlando (maybe even finally go to Disneyland), hit the Miami Boat Show (we are still thinking/looking for a boat), then head southwest to meet up with family in the Marco Island area. Unfortunately, Collier Seminole State Park still isn’t open for camping. It is a great location for the west side of the everglades and the towns down in that corner of Florida. We will make due but I keep checking the reservations site daily anyway.

March is Spring Training Baseball! We can’t be in Florida without hitting a few games. We lucked into a site at Fort DeSoto and another at Myakka River but the pickings are rather slim. Next to the Keys, this is the most difficult area to get reservations in during the winter. Must be all the sunshine. Two years ago we tried private parks in the area but they are so tight and squishy it seemed more parking lot surfing that camping. So we will head back north, to the Gainesville area, then Georgia and Alabama at lake front COE parks.

April will see us moving quite a bit as we cover Georgia, including a return to Savannah, a city we fell in love with a few years ago. I am a huge fan of low country cooking and shrimp and grits is one of Mike’s favorite meals. Then we turn north for a brief stop in Charleston (more shrimp and grits!) before heading to a lakeside spot in North Carolina.

We need to be in Maryland in May for a dental appointment so we will make a run up there, then hang out for a few weeks in Virginia and Maryland, visiting family and friends. We will end the month in New York, visiting my long lost son and chilling on the Hudson River.

The entire month of June will be in Massachusetts, mostly near Cape Cod, which neither of us have ever traveled to, with day trips into Boston for baseball games and historic wandering (I hear there is beer there).

July will see us in Vermont and New Hampshire, with a quick trip (okay, a week) in Cooperstown, New York. Yeah, we like baseball and it is on our bucket list…. At the end of month is the Escapade, where we hope to meet up with other full timers and Xscapers. We had a lot of fun at the last get together and are looking forward to meeting up again.

In August we will head further north, into Maine and Nova Scotia. I have always wanted to see the tides at the Bay of Fundy and will now get my chance! Yes, a bucket list item, but my bucket list is really, really long. Luckily, we have the time and the ability right now to do so much of it. While there are days we wake up not knowing where the hell we are or how we got there (without alcohol being involved, even) most days we are just grateful we get to do this now, while we can.

September and October we head west, but only a little bit. Friends told us we have to visit the 10,000 Islands area of New York so we will. We always take the advice of locals and those who have been there – most of the time they are the best source for can’t miss once in a lifetime places. Not including restaurants, we have never been let down. We will hit the finger lakes, the Adirondacks, and Niagara Falls, soaking in the water views and the fall colors for which the area is famous.

November takes us to Ohio, across West Virginia, and back to Maryland, where we will spend Thanksgiving, while December is completely dependent on the weather. Cold winds will carry us south but how far south depends on how cold it gets. I hate cold. I am told if you put on more clothes you aren’t as cold but I know I can only wear one pair of shoes at a time. So, 30 degrees is my limit, which is great for the bus, too.

Right now, we have campsites booked into August. My experience with east coast campgrounds on weekends during the summer tells me this is a necessity. We prefer to stay at state and federal parks and, with the east coast so crowded, we feel we have to. If we change our plans, we can easily change our reservations; it is difficult to book a campsite at the last minute already reserved by someone else. We may lose some money if we do, but having the right campsite in a great location outweighs some lost money. Also, our bus is large. Not as large as most, but big enough that it limits the number of campsites available to us. One park I recently checked had five sites available for >40′ rigs but 120 sites for <35′ rigs. Quite a few parks we like have a 35′ max and at 34′ we have to kind of squish in there. Knowing we have reservations in advance for a site that will fit us gives us a much more relaxed experience. Having struggled last year finding spots in California state parks, we decided to try how it worked with advanced plans. Maybe we will hate it after a few months, but we can always change our plans. That is the great thing about this lifestyle – you can do it any way you want.

 

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