Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Archive for the tag “planning”

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.

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“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.”

s%&t happens

If we had won the day before at the casino, we may have stayed another day there. As it was, we woke up in a wandering mood so we packed up and headed east. We crossed over the Hudson at the Newburgh Beacon Bridge, our usual choice to avoid traffic. The tolls are cheaper, too. We were headed to Croton-On-Hudson, to visit Zach, my son.

Croton Point Park, a Westchester County Park, is a great place to stay right on the Hudson River. It is about a mile from the train station that takes commuters into New York City, so it is a great alternative to Liberty RV Park at half the price. While Croton Point Park is pricey for just a couple of days stay ($55/night) a weeks stay is only $250 with full hook ups. There are some full timers and seasonals there but for $650 or $900 a month, I completely understand why. Rent, even this far outside the city, is three times that.

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Our spacious site with full hookups

Croton Point Park has great bike trails and walking trails, a swim area, and lots of space to just while away the day.

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While in the area, we had to stop by Lefteris Gyro in Tarrytown. It is becoming our favorite place for greek salad. On warm days, it is great to sit outside and people watch. We also had chance to try Wild Fusion, sushi in Mohegan Lake. The sushi was very fresh and the rolls were creative and artfully assembled. We enjoyed our time with Zach, caught up on the latest news, and enjoyed relaxing by the river.

We still had no reservations for any place before June 1 but did find out that Hammonasset Beach State Park, in Connecticut, was opening on Friday morning and was non-reservable for the weekend. We packed up Friday morning to head east.

Part of our pack up ritual is to flush the toilet one last time after dumping. This insures there is some water in the black tank to slosh around while driving, helping to keep any build up in the tank to a minimum. So I flushed the toilet. Everything worked fine for the first 30 seconds. And then for another 30 seconds and another 30 seconds and another 30 seconds. UhOh. We have a vacu-flush toilet – a vacuum generator sucks the waste down a tube into a black tank. Vacu-flushes are typically used in boats but many RVs also have them so that the floor plan doesn’t have to conform to black tank placement or so an RV can have two toilets and just one black tank. This also keeps black tank odors down as there is a vacuum between the tank and the bottom of the toilet rather than just a straight open drop into the black tank. Typically, the vacuum generator will run 30 seconds to move the waste from point a (the toilet) to point b (the black tank). This time, it took three minutes. We had a leak.

We tried it again, just to see if it was a one time fluke or a persistent problem. Again, three minutes to create a vacuum. At least, though, it was holding a vacuum. This meant it wasn’t a blown line. The idea of chasing a line leaking toilet water was not something I wanted to contemplate. So we finished packing up and moved on, planning to hopefully diagnose and fix the problem in Connecticut.

During the hour and half drive to Hammonasset, we researched all we could about vacu-flush toilets. We knew the problem wasn’t a toilet leak – the bowl was holding water without problems. We knew it wasn’t a blown line – it eventually formed a vacuum. We knew the generator was working – it sounded the same it always did, even if it ran for what seemed like forever. We got a site in the electric area of the campground, about 200 yards from the beach and set up camp. Then we ate lunch. Then we remembered we had no working toilet. Well, we had a working toilet, we just didn’t want to flush it.

In the 2014 33C, the vacuum generator is located under the bed, behind the SurgeGuard. There are two ways to get to it: the panel behind the surge guard or the panel in the rear pass through storage bay. We tried the panel behind the surge guard first. From this spot, we could see the vacuum generator. I flushed the toilet while Mike watched. Splashes of water came out of the top of the vacuum pump, where the bellows is located. Either a seal had popped or the bellows had cracked and was allowing water to come out the top. We decided to open the other panel to get a better look – Mike was too big to do much from the surge guard panel and I was too short to reach anything through that panel.

Once we got a better look into the space, we were able to remove the pump motor, remove the pump top, and get the bellows out. The most difficult and messy part was getting the bellows out; there was a little splashing involved. Somewhere, someone posted a tip about raising the front of your RV when you do this so the ‘water’ isn’t hanging out in the pump. We saw that afterwards.

The great thing about the construction of the pump is that most all the bolts/screws are the same size. The worst part about the whole task is the location of the pump itself. I guess Fleetwood figured it out because, at least beginning in 2016, the vacuum generator was moved to an easier to get to location (we discussed trading ours in just so we didn’t have to do this). During the job we needed at least three different sized screwdrivers and sockets because sometimes we had mere inches to work in and other spots required something tall to get around something else. In other words, it took us two hours to do a 15 minute job had the pump been located in a place where one could actually see it.

We thought about it for a while and discussed our options: fix it or pay someone else to fix it. Since it was late Friday afternoon, the chances of anyone having the part and coming out to fix it in the next two days were slim. We were resigned to using the campground bathroom. Personally, I hate public bathrooms. No, really, really hate them. In fact, when I get on a plane, my digestive clamps down, refusing to do anything until I have returned home. I knew it was going to be a long weekend.

Saturday morning I started looking at marine supply stores. Since SeaLands are very common in boats, I thought my luck would be much better there. Plus, we were on the coast in a very active boating area. I struck gold! They actually keep the part in stock at West Marine, the Camping World for the boat community. We needed the part RIGHT NOW so the premium for buying there was worth it. We spent the rest of the day running from place to place but were unable to find the O Rings that went with the pump;  we hoped that the old ones would work.

Sunday, we managed to get the bellows into the pump with the old O rings and seal the whole thing back up correctly. If you ever have to do this, put the motor on last – it will save you an hour of frustration. Just make sure the pump top is lined up correctly as the wires are very, very short. Putting it back together also took about two hours as by this time, our bodies ached and we had bruises in strange places from crawling into and out of the rear storage bay. I’m kinda curious what our camping neighbors thought as they passed by our bus and saw our feet hanging out of the bays.

Finally, with everything back in place except the panels, we turned on the toilet and held our breath. It worked! 30 seconds and done!  No water splashing out the top! I cannot express how happy we were that it was done and that we had managed to fix it correctly.

For what it is worth, we are pretty sure that the pump out at Lake Laurie was the beginning of our problem. A couple days after the pump out, we noticed that the vacuum generator sometimes ran longer than usual. Since it had performed perfectly for 20 months before then, we think the extra suction may have cause a small crack that grew over a weeks time.

We stayed at Hammonasset State Park in a W/E site about 200 yards from the beach but all we saw was our site and the bathroom. The bathrooms were clean, our site was large, and the electric worked fine. We would probably stay there again if in the area but we really don’t know much about the park itself. I will note, however, that there is a great bagel shop down the street. The bagels are amazing, especially when just pulled out of the oven (are bagels baked?)

 

 

“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.

Home Again Home Again, Jiggity Jig

After a couple of days relaxing in North Carolina, we were ready to head north to Wakefield, VA and the family farm. We had quite a bit to do – repairs, purging, cleaning – that we had put off in anticipation of our stop here.

For the three months we were in Florida, it rained maybe ten days. Once we crossed the state line heading north, we were hit by rain ten days out of twenty. We had noticed a slight leak in the bedroom slide back in Jonathan Dixon State Park. It wasn’t a bad leak, just a slightly damp carpet near the head of the bed. It happened in a driving downpour so we were pretty sure it was roof related. Of course, we checked the pipes first; the shower is right there, as are the water lines for the toilet. Nope. It must be the roof. We temporarily patched a few things and left it at that.

In the driving rains at EastBank, the leak got worse. So much worse. The rain was blowing hard and getting under the slide topper. The leak was in the roof of the slide. This was proved when we pulled in the slide during the next rain in Pine Mountain and had no leak. Upon further inspection, it looked as if the seams of the roof were failing. In one spot there was a gap between the seam and the roof we could stick our finger in. We ordered a collapsible ladder from Walmart to be picked up in North Carolina and eternabond from Amazon to meet us in Wakefield.

The eternabond application turned out to be really easy in spite of the fact we could not get the slide topper off. The ‘screws’ we intended to remove to peel back the slide topper turned out to be rivets and we couldn’t get them out without destroying them. So we worked around it. We cleaned the slide roof, sprayed the eternabond primer, then laid down the eternabond tape. We were pretty liberal with it, as we purchased a 50′ roll of 4″ tape in anticipation of future need. The only trick with eternabond seems to be to go slow and only pull down the backing as you need to to stick it to the roof. We won’t be able to see how well our patch holds until it rains again.

Our second repair was the hot water hose to the sink. In North Carolina, we hear a drip coming from the sink. ( I highly recommend sitting in and around your RV every once in a while in absolute silence. That is how this leak was discovered). It was just a ‘once a minute’ drip but it was new and noticeable. We started troubleshooting; we knew where it was leaking and how it was leaking, we just wanted to know why. And more importantly,  why now. We discovered that the fitting on the hot water hose only leaked when propane was used to heat the water. The pressure in the hot water tank is higher when on propane because it heats the water more than the electric side does. If the hot water to the sink is turned on, the pressure is released and the leak stops until the tank heats up again. We couldn’t access the pipe well enough by going at it from under the sink so, when we got to Wakefield we took the outside TV out. It was an easy fix from there, just a bit more plumber’s tape and no more leak.

Our third repair was the microwave light bulb. It wouldn’t even count as a repair except the stupid bulb broke when we removed it. Amazon sent us a new one in our care package and in ten minutes, with just a little cussing, it too was fixed.

We also tackled the general oiling, greasing,  tightening, and inspections needed periodically in a rolling house and found the bus to be in great condition in spite of what we demand of her.

While in Wakefield we also did some purging. Gone was the bike, which I had barely ridden over the last six months, partly due to the fact that Mike had strapped it to the Jeep so tightly that it took about an hour to get it off and partly because it developed a flat tire. Gone was the back seat of the jeep. We kept it as long as we did so we could take Belle with us on day trips. It has seat belts so we could secure her kennel. Belle and her kennel were gone so we didn’t need the seat anymore. This freed up quite a bit of room in the back. And sadly, our winter blanket is gone. It was a huge, fluffy, down and ‘sheep skin’ comforter that took up half a bin to store. I could put four blankets in the same space it required and so, we dumped it. Also, a bulky step ladder we needed back in Washington State when our steps broke. We hadn’t found a use for it since then and it took up the space needed for our new 15′ extendable ladder. All in all, the Jeep probably lost 100 lbs. while the Short Bus came out even.

We also cleaned, laundered, rearranged our bins for more efficiency, and did some planning for the rest of April and a bit of May. It was a very productive two and a half days.

 

 

Turning North – Eastbank

Spring is here! Of course, it took three days of rain to see it. We arrived around 2PM on Thursday and it started raining around 6PM. And it didn’t stop until Sunday evening. This blew our plans for kayaking and fishing but we had a lovely site with a beautiful view so we didn’t mind too much.

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The view towards the campground from our campsite, #3.

 

Eastbank is an Army Core of Engineers campground on the banks of Lake Seminole.  It has large, mostly level sites that will hold any kind of RV. The sites come with water and electric and there is a dump station within the grounds. The lake itself is listed as one of the best places to catch large mouth bass in the state of Georgia and it is pretty easy to launch a kayak from most sites. Some sites even had small motor powered boats tied up next to shore.

The campground is closest to Chattahoochee, Florida, a small town where one can get a few supplies but not much else. We did a bit of driving around the area to keep cabin fever at bay and have one suggestion: stay off the back roads during heavy rain. Most of the back roads were clay. Deep red clay that sticks to tires and turns them into slicks. While we didn’t get stuck we did a fair amount of sliding around – even four wheel drive doesn’t help much in soggy wet clay. Our GPS routed us on these roads and we were thankful we figured it out before driving on them in the short bus. We would have been stuck for days…

When the rain finally broke, the wildflowers came out. They were the tiniest flowers I had ever seen, each the size of a babies finger nail. There were thousands of them and I could have spent hours getting pictures. To get them, I used my 100mm macro, the only thing I have that can focus closely enough to have these tiny flowers fill the frame.

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Once the rains were gone, the sunsets were beautiful. But we only got to enjoy two as we needed to head north.

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the view from our campsite

We had to change our plans. We were supposed to go to Savannah to spend a few days visiting with friends and family, then on to Charleston for some good low country food. Due to a death in the family, we needed to reroute to be in Maryland by April 15 instead of May 5. It wasn’t too much of a strain – we only had one reservation booked until June. We looked at the routes between Eastbank and DC and the shortest was right through the foothills of Georgia and South Carolina. Since we hadn’t spent much time in the area at all, rerouted our path north.

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Fort De Soto

Finally, back to the beach! The gulf side this time, as we had lucked into someone else canceling their reservations. Fort De Soto is definitely in my top 10 of Florida campgrounds. It has many large, very level sites, good power, strong water pressure, washers and dryers, some privacy between sites, and a beautiful location on the Gulf. What’s not to love? While we didn’t get a site that backed onto water (there are many, especially if you don’t have pets), we did have a very large site with plenty of room.

But what we came here for was the water. And there is a lot of it.

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Sunset from the tent campground

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Sunset from the camp store.

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And, another sunset.

We did more than just gaze at sunsets, though not too much more as we only had four days.

We blew up our kayak and headed over to Shell Key, a little over two miles from our put in (an empty waterfront site in the pet campground).

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The ride over was pretty uneventful, if you don’t count the part where we didn’t tighten the valve cap on one of our side chambers and we had to make a detour back to the campground for our air pump (Our new rule: carry the air pump). We saw a dolphin, a sting ray, and lots and lots of fish. The water in the lagoon is not really deep until you get to the channel – two feet in some places – that one could practically walk halfway there.

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We wandered around Shell Key for a couple of hours on foot. Please, if you are in a remote spot, carry out your trash! Leave the place as you found it so others can enjoy it, too.

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I had always wanted to find a giant whelk on the beach. We found one, but it was still being used so we put it back.

Being the beginning of March, we had to tear ourselves away from the idyllic beach paradise and make our way into the absolute chaos of Sarasota traffic. It is Spring Training Baseball Season! We hit Ed Smith Stadium for the Orioles Opening Day.

It took us as long to drive there as it did to kayak to Shell Key. Even including the detour. The Orioles lost but we had a great time – we hadn’t been to a live baseball game in well over a year. Yes, it is great to watch on tv, but people at a baseball game are generally very happy people and the happiness is infectious.

While at Fort De Soto, we also ate out twice. Our first night, we didn’t feel like driving far so we went up to Tony and Nello’s, just outside the park. The place was empty as we were between lunch and dinner, so we didn’t know what to expect. I had pizza, Mike had pasta, and both were very good. Good enough that, when we didn’t feel like cooking after kayaking all day, we went back. And the food was just as delicious. While I wouldn’t order the house chianti again, the wine list did have some great choices. We took some cannolis to go and they were almost like being back in Vaccaro’s in Baltimore (yes, they were good). So Tony and Nello’s is on our list for a revisit, the next time we are in town.

On Friday morning, our departure day, I logged on to the Fort De Soto camping reservations site. At 7AM, they make available about 10% of their sites for booking for the next week. There were plenty of sites available (for the first five minutes) and I contemplated adding some more days to our stay. I loved it here, I can book a site, and we have no where to stay for the night. I ended up taking a pass. We had more baseball games to see, places we hadn’t explored, and if we were going to move an inch, we might as well move a mile. So we packed up and headed off the island.

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.

 

2015 – we had a blast!

(Yes, I know am way behind my blog posts. But my computer ate three before I published them and I just didn’t have the brain power to completely rewrite them. And then, we were kinda rushing around doing 100 things and nothing. But, they will be updated over the coming month, once I finally get the pictures edited. Again.) Anyway.

We started the blog in May and for quite a few months, updated it religiously. But, we did have plenty of adventures before May and we found some pretty amazing places that we want to return to in 2017.  In 2015, we didn’t make reservations anywhere, just moved and stopped when we felt like it, where we could find space. The results varied, from hell in Florida to bliss in Alaska and all the stages of both in between. So, here is part of our year in review, with highlights and pictures.

January found us in 18 different spots, from Maryland to Texas. Yes, we drove and moved that much. We were on a mission: to get to Alaska and, looking at January, we were hell bent on getting there as quickly as possible. By the end of January we realized we needed to slow down and wait for the weather to catch up with us – it was still REALLY COLD in most of the country. We did manage to find some great spots for a couple of days (our longest stay was three days) and took some great pictures.

In Florida, we got to see manatees up close in Blue Springs State Park, eat great oysters at Eddy Teach’s Raw Bar (now closed), watch amazing sunsets at St. George Island State Park and visit with quite a few  friends.

In Texas, we met up with more friends, ate amazing BBQ at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, breezed through San Antonio, and set up camp in Big Bend.

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Manatees at Blue Spring State Park

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Sunset at St. George’s Island State Park

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Mission in San Antonio Texas

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The Rio Grande near Big Bend, Tx

In February, we fell in love with the town of Terlingua then quickly made our way through New Mexico to stay awhile in Arizona. We browsed Arizona for a while, though we didn’t sit in one place for long. We had Marv Braun, of Precision RV fix the absolute clusterfu%k the dealer made when re-installing our solar system (he also added a panel and swapped our batteries for AGMs). We made a quick visit to Tombstone and Bisbee, got lost in the Dragoon Mountains, and wandered the back roads of Prescott. Our longest stay at a campground in February? Three days, if you don’t count the stop in Casa Grande to visit with Marv (six days). We were still in a hurry.

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Great Sand Dunes National Monument

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Lost in Arizona

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The backroad from Prescott to Jerome. Probably one of the funnest drives in the area.

In March, we ran the border at Organ Pipe National Monument, went to the Escapees Escapade, hung out with my brother in Gilbert, then raced to Desert Hot Springs, CA. We ended the month with a week in Coarsegold at the Escapees Co-Op just outside of Yosemite.

We fell in love with Organ Pipe and in Desert Hot Springs, we had the best sushi ever (and really good noodles) at Domo Sushi. We visited Joshua Tree National Park and found it completely packed with Spring Breakers so we beat a hasty retreat out a back road that had us testing the abilities of the Jeep (it passed). After browsing for a day in Yosemite, we cancelled our week of reservations at one of the Valley campgrounds – it was just entirely too crowded and most of the campgrounds hadn’t even opened yet!

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The US border in Organ Pipe.

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Creek in the Superstition Mountains

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Joshua tree near Palm Springs, CA

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Yosemite Valley in March

April had us pushing northward faster than we expected because of the crowds. We had no reservations and they were hard to come by. Many of the state parks had sites available but they were too short for our rig. So we made our way North to Oregon and then Washington.

We found a peaceful site in Klamath where we wandered around huge trees for a couple of days. We landed a last minute oceanview campsite in Harris State Park in Oregon and stayed put for a week – until the rain drove us out. We stopped at Newport (loved it) and Seaside (loved it more), then raced up to Chimicum, WA in need of some rig repairs. We then bummed around Washington and continued to do that the first two weeks of May as we waited for our departure to Alaska.

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In the Redwoods, the jeep is very tiny.

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Newport Marina Sunset

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The Oregon Coastline

In May, we did last minute prepping and purchasing, including getting Belle’s shots before we took off for the Great White North. The border crossing was easy but the price shock wasn’t. Gas and many food items doubled in price. But, the scenery was amazing, the places to boondock beautiful and we were finally on our way to Alaska!

We were wowed by Fraser Canyon, enjoyed  Terrace and Stewart, got an oil change in Whitehorse, and finally settled for a breather in Haines. We got to see bears, moose, foxes, and glaciers and we were barely in Alaska.

June found us in Wrangell St. Elias Park finding McCarthy, then Valdez  watching eagles play, and left us on the Kenai Peninsula dodging forest fires.

While McCarthy didn’t live up to expectations, Valdez kept our attention and we managed to stay a week. It ended up being our favorite Alaska town (though Haines was a close second). Seward was beautiful, Homer was busy, and the Kenai River was crowded. June was more than sensory overload but if I had to relive one month of my life over and over, it would be this one.

In July we made back up to the heart of Alaska, visiting Anchorage and Fairbanks, then pushing north to the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately, while there, Belle had another stroke. We were tired and she was sick, so we began our push back south. It wasn’t really a direct path, as it took us through Chicken, Dawson City, Skagway, Toad River and down into Montana by the end of the month. There are many places we missed – we drove through the Canadian Rockies but didn’t have a chance to stop for long – but it gives us an excuse to go back.

The month of August was spent bouncing around Montana, with a brief ‘vacation’ down in Cody Wyoming. We found some beautiful places to stop and spend some time. We also found the best brisket in the country and the best biscuits and gravy in the country (sorry – it is a friend who is an amazing cook!). We found ghost towns, an endless number of backroads, and quiet, out of the way, places to hide.

The weather was finally turning so we headed south in September, spending a couple of weeks in Utah before ending up in Usery Park.  We finally followed the White Rim trail, nearly got car-jacked by wild horses and got to watch an amazing lunar eclipse before meeting up with family at the end of the month.

October was almost completely dominated with visiting family, though we did get a brief break at Balloon Fiesta. Another bucket list item done! Seriously, if you ever get the change to go to Balloon Fiesta, do it. And I highly recommend it in an RV.

The first half of November we chilled with family around Phoenix and then raced back to Virginia for Thanksgiving.  We managed to stop for some amazing meals and moments with both friends and family on our trip east (Did I mention the most amazing burgers that are worth a 200 mile detour in Roswell? Yeah, we are still reminiscing about those.)  and then settled in Wakefield, VA on the family farm.

December we holed up just outside DC at Cherry Hill RV park, where we caught up with dentists and doctors, more friends and family, and celebrated the holidays.

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We finished up the month in South Carolina, and started the new year there, too.

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If I had to do it all again, I would. And I probably would only change one or two things. Yes, we sped through many, many states when I would have preferred to linger. And yes, we acted like vacationers with a time limit rather than permanent travelers. But, now that we have done the trip once, we can do it again in 2017, but a little bit slower. There is still so much of the country to see…

Heading North

We woke up, unhooked, and headed for Talkeetna.  It is a beautiful drive along the parks highway. There are many moments where one gets a glimpse of Denali and it is easy to see why it is called “the Great One.” We pulled up to Talkeetna Camper Park.  Luckily, they had space for us, though they could only give us one night – someone else had left a day early. The park is in a wooded area between the highway and the train tracks. It is very tight everywhere in the campground and we were lucky to squeeze into our site with enough room to open both slides. We had to open one into tree branches but they weren’t large ones.

Since we only had one guaranteed day, we immediately took off. We first headed south, back the way we came, to Kahlitna Birchworks, makers of Birch Syrup. I have never had Birch Syrup and, since I love to try local foods and flavors (and supporting small businesses), I had to go. In the store front, there are an array of products, including birch syrup, with samples of each. We tried at least a dozen different jams and spreads, settling on wild blueberry and salmonberry.  Both are very good. We also picked up a bottle of birch syrup and learned about how it is made (there is also a factory tour).  The clerk was very knowledgeable about all the products and explained to us that it takes 110 gallons of birch sap to make 1 gallon of birch syrup (for maple, it is 35 to 1). This explains why it is so expensive! We also picked up a 100% natural (and better smelling) bug repellent. We haven’t tried it yet, so I can’t comment on if it works. To be honest, I’m glad I bought and tried birch syrup (with pancakes even) but I still prefer real maple syrup. The birch has an alcohol like aftertaste that I don’t care for.

We headed north a couple of miles to Flying Squirrel Bakery where we got much needed coffee (good) and some bread and pastries.  The cinnamon raisin bread was good – I could eat it without even using butter. As it was late in the day, they didn’t have many other choices. We also got a piece of coffee cake which was very good.  The only thing lacking was attentive customer service – we ordered our coffee and waited ten minutes before the counter clerk realized she didn’t make it. It took her a while, I guess, to figure out why we were looking at her expectantly.

We drove further north into the town of Talkeetna. We were completely unaware that cruise lines have tour buses there (to catch trains) and there happened to be five of them in the large parking lot with at least five more down by the train station. Each tour bus holds more than 60 people. The town was so overrun with tourists, we could barely drive down the street. Think Disney on a holiday weekend. Daytona during Bike Week. New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Seriously, I am not exaggerating. The town is about four blocks long and it took more than 10 minutes to drive it. Tourists were wandering and walking where ever whim took them. It was maddening, crowded, and overwhelming. We raced back to the RV and stayed the rest of the evening.

When we got up in the morning, our goal was Byers Lake. We unhooked and headed north. It was a clear day and we had wonderful views of Denali and the Alaska Range.

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leaving Talkeetna, a view of Denali

tal2tal25We stopped at Byer’s Lake to check out the campground. We were in the mood to kayak and were looking for a place to do it. the campground was very nice – large fairly level sites, but the site were hidden in the trees and we just weren’t feeling it.  The views weren’t spectacular enough to pull out the boat (we were dreaming of Glacier National Park type views). We were looking for a wide open space to enjoy views of something – anything – after the squishyness of Talkeetna and the tight quarters of Wasilla. So we continued north to Denali View North. The ‘camping’ spaces were wide open with a wonderful view.

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Denali View Campground Panorama

We could even see Denali. But the ‘camping’ spaces were rest stop spaces and the ground was slanted enough to cause problems. So we continued on.

We lucked into a beautiful re-alignment of the Parks Road at about MM220. The two lane wide area meant we could put out our slide on one side, pull out our chairs, and watch the river slide by.  There were four other rigs parked on the road, and a semi, but there was plenty of space for everyone, and even room for a few more.

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Our overnight spot at about MM220, next to the Nenana River

We had a quiet evening and watched for Dall sheep on the nearby mountains – we spotted at least four. It drizzled a little but otherwise it was our best campsite since Homer.

In the morning, we got up and headed to Denali. All the campgrounds in the park were booked, so we thought we would try a private one just outside. The closer we got, the more traffic we saw. We were sure the area would be empty or relatively empty as we watched more than 100 RVs pass us heading south on the Parks Highway over the two days. There was no room to park or turn around. And then we hit the construction zone. Between the road repaving and the bridge replacement, we moved twenty miles in about an hour and a half. The jeep was a disaster and needed to be washed just to open the doors. We stopped in Healy and thought about our options.

Unfortunately, it was 10AM, an hour too early to have a beer at 49th State Brewing Company. Yes, at this point, I would have no problem having a beer at 10AM. We decided that there was no way we were going to drive through the construction zone again, with or without the Short Bus. We decided to head further north, and stop short of Fairbanks.

It was a great plan (okay, we suck at planning) until we got to Anderson, Alaska. We thought we would go to Anderson and stay at their municipal campground on the river. But we started smelling smoke. The sky had been darkening during our quick run from Healy and now it was smoky, too. By the time we got to Nenana (we skipped Anderson due to smoke), one could only see about 150 feet ahead on the road. Cars ahead of us would vanish into the thick soup.

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Smoke outside of Nenana over the river.

We discussed our options. Our best bet was to continue into Fairbanks and, if the smoke was still thick, finding a campground with electric so we could run our A/C to keep the smoke out. We don’t mind smoke at all and often have campfires but this was a campfire on steroids – a few thousand acres of campfire.

We got lucky – River’s Edge Resort had a site available for two days with hookups. It would be expensive but, after the two days of aggravation, worth it. The sites aren’t wide but they do have grass, full 50 Amp hook ups, laundry, and a car wash.

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