Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Archive for the tag “State Park”

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.

sal32

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

sal31

Views along the Maine coast

sal34

more views from Maine

sal35

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

sal36

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.

sal11sal12

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.

sal13sal21

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.

sal42

One of the historic wharves of Salem.

sal43

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

sal44

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

sal45

Stickworks, art by Patrick Dougherty

sal46

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.

 

Advertisements

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.

bo4

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.

bo1

The Green Monster

bo5

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.

bo11bo12bo13

bo14

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.

 

 

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.

ma212

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

ma215

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.

ma207ma208ma209

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

ma210.jpg

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.

ma221

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

ma220

Tug and barge passing the breakwater

ma222

rock detail. there were some pretty cool rocks.

ma219

Looking back to land from the end.

ma218

ma217

Foggy day at the beach.

ma216

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.

ma213

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.

ma214

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.

ri01ri02ri03

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.

ri09ri08

ri07

One of the many mansions along the Newport coast.

ri06

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

ri05

The view at “the steps.”

ri04

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.

ri22

ri4

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

ri3

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.

ri9

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

ri5

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.

ri6

*…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.

cm21

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.

cm20cm19cm18

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?)

 

 

“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.

ma5

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.

ma6

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.

ma7

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.

site1

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!

ma12

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.

ma4

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.

ma15

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.

ma3

ma2

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:

ma14

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.

ma11ma1

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.

ma9

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.”

ma10

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.

ma8

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.

A beach and a rally

It took me a long time to get around to writing this blog post because I didn’t want to write this post. I don’t want to dislike something so much, particularly a beautiful state park, that it makes it hard to write something about it. But that is what happened with Anastasia State Park. I thought time and distance would temper my opinion but no, I still don’t like Anastasia and I probably won’t stay there again if I can help it.

The park itself is in a beautiful location: on the beach about three miles from the beautiful city of St. Augustine. The beach is wide, clean, and empty (in January). The town of St. Augustine has a ton of things to do and is absolutely beautiful. The state park is huge with lots of photo opportunities and quite a lot of things to do.

So what is so bad about it?  The campground. The campground is everything I hate the most about campgrounds in one squishy, claustrophobic package. The campground has 124 sites, 80 RV sites and 44 tent sites. The sites are spread out on six loops that wander through the woods. The park lists five sites that will hold a 40′ RV and 16 additional sites that will hold an RV 35-39′ long. 27 sites are for RVs 29′ or less. The campground provides water and electric and an abundance of shade. Our site, #80, is rated for a 36′ RV though we could have fit two of our short buses in the space. So why the hate? I need to say here that the Campsitephotos.com photo of the site is much closer to reality than the ReserveAmerica campsite photos of the site. And even that picture must be a couple of years old as the tree and shrub cover seems to have grown exponentially (like my claustrophobia here). The site was easy to get in to – it is parallel to the top of a loop so it is an easy back in, which is what we did. At first, we didn’t back in too far as the connections are closer to the front than the back. We got out to check our slide clearance and could have stepped right into the tent of our neighbors who were setting up on our right. So we got back in and backed up a ways (we needed to use extension cords and long hoses to reach water and electric) and set up. We sat down for lunch and realized our windows had a perfect view of our neighbor to the left – into their trailer and their camping area – and since we were a little higher than them, we could look down at everything they did.

We were there for three days. Two days it rained or wanted to rain so it was dark in our little tunnel, and cold and damp. One evening, the water shut off. We had water in our fresh tank so it wasn’t much of a bother. For one day, the electric went out. It had been marginal anyway, averaging about 109V, and we had our solar panels. Okay we didn’t have our solar panels (nothing penetrated the deep shade we were mired in) but we did have healthy batteries with a charge. It probably would have been less bad had it been sunny or warm. Or if we had had a different campsite. Or if it had been closer to the beach (it was about 1.5 miles to the beach).

We did manage to spend a dry afternoon wandering around St. Augustine and the fort. I love the city, its architecture, its age.

Gratefully, we left Anastasia State Park and headed to Lazy Days Campground in Seffner, Florida. Back in December we found out about a Fleetwood Rally in Florida and since we would be there, we signed up. As far as private campgrounds go, Lazy Days is pretty good. They have excellent hook ups, enough space between campsites to be comfortable, and a large clean laundry room – all things we find important in a private park. They also have a pool, tennis courts (or is that pickle ball?), a huge clubhouse, and wide easily navigable roads.

The Fleetwood Rally wasn’t quite what we expected but we did have a lot of fun. Our previous rally experience is limited to Escapees, which packs each day with seminars and talks. This rally was much more laid back, with few seminars, and a lot of time to mix and mingle with attendees. In fact, it seems more a reason for old friends to gather somewhere warm; the fact that next year’s rally (same time, same place) is already over half booked with this year’s attendees bears that out. Over five days there were three dinners, three open (beer and wine) bars, and about a dozen talks, seminars, and crafting opportunities. There was also a flea market, a vendor show, and a Fleetwood RV mini-show. The best part was the opportunity to have Fleetwood techs repair up to two functional or safety problems with your RV.

When we first signed up for the rally, we had the opportunity to sign up to have the techs look at two problems we were having with our RV. We really don’t have many so it took us a while to think of one – the hesitation in our landing gear (leveling jacks). The first one was easy – the bracket holding our microwave snapped on an Alaska road and we still didn’t have it fixed. It was still on the wall but we had a piece of wood holding up one side in case of a really bad bump. The jacks took ten minutes to diagnose and ten minutes to fix; they replaced our touch pad (we pay for parts, they provide labor). Unfortunately, they did not fix the microwave problem, though they did provide me a part number to replace it.

We met many great RVers at the rally. Most were snowbirds or locals but all had something to share and we learned quite a bit from their experiences. One important lesson is that we have been extremely lucky with our Fleetwood Bounder. Considering this is the only Class A we have ever owned, we have not had half the problems others seem to report (with both Fleetwoods and other products). We also learned that Fleetwood is opening or planning to open more factory service centers which seems to be a good thing according to other owners. From our limited experience and their knowledge, RV dealers are awful to deal with when trying to get repairs.

We spent some time browsing the hundreds of Class As on the lot at the Lazy Days dealership located right next door to the campground. We spent some time in the new 2016 Bounder and came away glad we got the 2014. The two big changes that we wouldn’t want to live with: the driver’s side understorage doesn’t come out with the slide and the windows barely open. To increase the amount of pass-thru storage, Fleetwood separated the storage from the slide. For us, the inconvenience of having to crawl under the slide to get to anything outweighs the added storage space. And the windows (everyone loves the flush mount windows) now only open just a little bit at the bottom, barely wide enough to get a breeze let alone any real air circulation. But it looks nice… One other thing we noted, the cargo capacity on the particular 33C we looked at lost about 800 lbs of cargo capacity. For us, it kills any thoughts of trading in ours. Right now, that 800 lbs. is made up of solar panels and wiring, batteries, and fresh water. Losing that would mean a lot less dry camping and boondocking, two things we just aren’t ready to give up. Of the dozens of other Class As we viewed, none of them had the complete package that suited us quite as well as our current short bus: layout, cargo capacity, sturdiness. While we really want to get rid of the carpet and newer models have much less, there was too much of a trade off to get that. So we decided that next year, we will replace our carpet ourselves.

All in all, the Fleetwood Rally was a great experience and, by our calculations, free! Or maybe my math is lousy. The cost of the rally was $299 for five nights of camping. But, take out three dinners ($20 X3 =$60) and 12 beers ($3 X12 =$36), you are down to $203. Lazy Days gave us coupons for four free breakfasts, and five free lunches at their RV store. And the food was pretty good. We ate two lunches there – burritos and stuffed shells – and ‘saved’ another $20.  We got our leveling gear touch pad for $146 with tax; online, the cheapest I could find it was $256+tax – a $110 savings. Plus, we saved probably a $100 or more in labor at an RV dealer, who would charge us at least an hour of time. So, with the meals and the beer and the part and the labor, the campground charges were essentially free! Which is a great thing when you are on a budget.

 

 

Finally Florida – Fort Clinch

It was finally time to move further south. The weather was just going to get colder and we had reservations for the next stop already. 180 miles, 5 degrees, and a new state for the year!

We have stopped in Fort Clinch State Park twice before, once as a stop over on our way to the Keys and once for a few days to get business done. Both times were in the Amelia River Campground, which we love. This time, we lucked into beachside when someone else canceled. The two campgrounds are exact opposites in personality. Amelia River feels small and intimate whereas the beachside site are wide open and airy. Sometimes Amelia River  makes me feel claustrophobic but sometimes beachside feels cold and impersonal. You really can’t lose with either side though; both have a nice easy walk to water, bathrooms, and washing machines.

fc10

For a first timer with a tall bus or fifth wheel, the road into the park can seem daunting. None of the trees here grow straight nor in any particular direction. But, the rangers here are pretty good about marking low hanging branches and, if you stay close to the center when you can and take it slow, you should have no problem getting to the campgrounds. We made it with a foot to spare with a 12’10” clearance.

The highlight of the park is the fort and its museum; one can spend a couple of hours just wandering around. What amazed me was the brickwork. If one considers they were all made and laid by hand, a couple of hundred years ago, and then considers the scale, it is a massive undertaking, indeed.

Sunset is a great time to be out on the park pier. While it can be a little windy out there, the views are stunning. It is probably one of the longest piers I have ever walked, jutting way out into the Amelia River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean.

fc2fc3

There are two walks in Fort Clinch; one is a short meandering 1/2 mile through woodland and swamp, the other a 6 mile multi-use trail around the park. Be careful of the quick moving bike riders on the second. The path is narrow and cyclists often like to ride fast. There is also an overlook from which one can see the lighthouse.

We really like the town of Fernandina Beach. It is small and not too busy, at least in January. While it does have some spread – most of the island is completely built up – the historic downtown is cute and restrained, more closely resembling Beaufort, SC than Myrtle Beach.  There are a lot of really good restaurants, specialty shops, and places to just stop and watch the crowd go by.  We tried Arte Pizza which has really good pizza and salads and great cannolis. We also stopped by Timoti‘s for lunch and had great blackened grouper and a salad. But, if you can only eat one thing while in Fernandina Beach, I highly suggest you make it the Hush Puppies at Timoti‘s. These are the best I remember ever having had, though Mike says we had some as good at The Dixie Pig in Rock Hill, SC.

Fort Clinch State Park is an excellent introduction to Florida. One gets a taste of Old Florida, the beach, New Florida, history, and good food, all in a small fairly uncrowded area. There is quite a bit to see and do and in the five days we were here, we didn’t get bored.

Post Navigation