Our trip to New England and back complete, it was time for a bit of R&R&R (Rest, Relaxation and Recovery), and what better place to do that than in our favorite Corps of Engineers park, Gunter Hill in Montgomery, Alabama. Unlike last time, we knew the campground inside of the park we needed to book (Catoma), due to it's spacious, level cement sites and more importantly – full hookups!
The trip from Georgia is usually just a single day, but our reservations weren't going to start for another day, so we threw in a quick overnight stop using our Harvest Host membership at Hodges Vineyard and Winery about an hour outside of Montgomery. Harvest Host sites are generally boondocking sites with no amenities, sometimes with occasional electric or water hookups. Not so at Hodges. Two dedicated RV sites situated right beside their store, and full hookups as well. A very pleasant surprise. If they have more than 2 RV guests scheduled, there is an overflow parking lot with no hookups, but plenty of space.
In addition, they allow you to sample just about any wine they make, which is nice due to the fact that their wines tend to run a bit sweeter than most others. Their Pinot Grigio was more the color of a white zinfandel than a traditional white wine. It appealed to our taste buds as we like sweeter wines, but it might not be to other's tastes who appreciate a more traditional Pinot. We bought 4 bottles of wine (they have a blueberry dessert wine which will go perfectly poured over vanilla ice cream) and a large package of locally-made cheese straws - they are to die for!
We also had our second encounter with a hurricane this season, as the remnants of Hurricane Delta was working it's way northward. Sadly, it kept us indoors and unable to walk the grounds, but our brief view between tropical bands showed a very beautiful property. It was a short 1 ½ hour drive from there to Gunter Hill the next day.
We had booked two separate weeks in different sites due to no site being available for the whole two weeks we planned to stay there. Or so we thought. Our first week was scheduled for Site 4, while our second week was just down the road a bit at Site 21. What we failed to realize is that making reservations on Recreation.gov is different than making reservations everywhere else in the RV world. In the RV world, you book nights, allowing you to leave the NEXT day. On Recreation.gov, you book days, and the last day you book is the day you have to leave.
So there we were, doing some food shopping on a Saturday afternoon about 25 minutes away from the campground, and we get a call from the camp hosts telling us we were supposed to have checked out of Site 4 by 3:00, and it was 3:15 and the next people who had reservations wanted their site! Rushing back to Gunter Hill, we hastily pack up and unhook our utilities to clear the site. The next people to use our site were parked on the grass next to the driveway and had already plugged in their basic 20A power cable. Theirs was a school bus “conversion”, still painted in pasteurized processed cheese yellow, with the back rusted out and open to the air. But it was now their site, and we vacated.
However WE had no place to go, since our next site (21) was already occupied, and wouldn't be free until 3:00 the next day!
So we pulled into the parking lot for the bath and laundry house and proceeded to get back on Recreation.gov to see if there was a site available for the evening. Fortunately, we found Site 35 open for the night, booked it and backed our way in. We didn't bother to hook up everything – just power – as we were only there for the night. It was a shame that this site was already booked for the following week, as it was right next to the water; we would have changed our following week's reservations in a heartbeat. Our next site still had an obstructed view of the water, but it was not as good as what we had for the evening in Site 35.
So the next day, I make a number of reconnaissance trips on my bike past Site 21, hoping to see it unoccupied. No such luck. The couple using it had just bought a brand new 2021 Tiffin Open Road 34PA gasser and were giving it a shakedown for the night and following day, and needed to use the whole allotted time to test things out. I did manage to speak with the guy, point out a couple of things to look for (he has the dreaded softball-sized dimple on his front cap that we had), and gave him advice on how to best have it fixed in Red Bay. Finally, the site was ready for us by 2:30. Didn't take long to move, but I did have to haul my tow dolly around a second time in two days.
So lesson learned. If you're making reservations on Recreation.gov, remember that you're booking for the DAY – NOT the NIGHT. The last day you pay for is the day you have to vacate your site, NOT the next morning.
Despite all the mix-ups, our second stay at Gunter Hill was fantastic! With generally level paved roads, this was a perfect campground to break out our Montague folding bikes for some much needed exercise. Since the weather was good for both weeks, we averaged a bike ride a day, and sometimes two. In between, we got Grover into the exercise act by taking him on very extended walks at least once per day. One night, he was so tired he got himself out of my chair and promptly went into our bedroom, burrowed his way under our covers and went to sleep before we did!
We also met some really nice people during our stay; Jerry and Marsha in their Newmar diesel, Tim and Deb in their 5th wheel next door to us the first week in Site 3, and especially Tina and John Caparella, who full-time in their Denali travel trailer with their dog, Moose. We had planned to break out our Advanced Elements Lagoon2 tandem kayak during our stay, and it just so happened that Tina and John like to kayak as well. Making a play date for 10:00 on Wednesday morning, we haul our associated stuff and bagged kayak in the Mini down to the boat ramp parking lot, and have everything pretty much inflated and assembled by the time Tina and John arrive to unload their kayaks.
Two hours fly by as we take on the Gun Island Chute of the Alabama River. Beautiful scenery. Lots of waterfowl. No gators! Life is good. Arms are tired as we're hauling the 35 - 40 lbs of kayak and paddles back up the very steep boat ramp, but we make it. Everything packs back up the way it was supposed to, and we get back to camp to turn around and inflate it all over again so that the kayak can dry out before we leave on Saturday. It's not the first time we've used the bikes and kayak, but the first time we've used them in the same park, and more than justifies our purchases over a year ago.
By the end of the week (and double-checking the last DAY of our reservations) we're ready to head down to central Florida to scope out some potential January sites and see some friends and family.
Our first weekend at Mill Brook RV was a reunion of old friends. My best friend growing up, Rick, and his wife Marielle (my big sis) had purchased a Grand Design Reflection 5th wheel earlier this year to replace the toy hauler trailer they sold last year. Even with a shortened camping season due to COVID-19, plus some health issues, they've managed to get in a good bit of camping (now glamping) this year. This weekend with friends was the end of their season in New Hampshire. We ended up getting about 10 people around a campfire and some nice grilled burgers and dogs. And wine. Lots of wine. Maybe it was just me having lots of wine. I'm not sure.
The rest of our time in New England was spent reacquainting ourselves and introducing our daughter and grandson to New England food and the Atlantic coast.
The food was covered by roast beef sandwiches (lean roast beef, white American cheese, served on either an onion roll for some or just a plain hamburger roll for others with BBQ sauce as an option), a New England specialty which puts Arby's to shame, or some of the best and freshest seafood on the planet. So a trip to the Clam Box in Georgetown, MA, Costello's in Plaistow, NH, and our favorite - Simard's Roast Beef in Wilmington were hit up early.
And of course, golf had to be played. My buddies I used to work with at Xerox years ago get together each week, and I'm usually able to make a guest appearance each trip up north. COVID shutdowns have caused a change in taking care of reservations for tee times. Some places require you to pay for your entire group at the time of the reservation. Others will hold the reservation for a couple of days while your players call in their individual payments. If a person needs to cancel, many are just giving a credit instead of a refund. Let's just say it's both confusing and a bit irritating.
As to my golf game, let's just say it still needs a LOT of work, as I have not been getting out as much as I planned to do when I first started retirement. But as they say, there I a never a bad day on the golf course.
While I was being taken through the torture rack known as Granite Fields Golf Course just 5 minutes away from our campsite, Barbara and Alicia had to keep Jace occupied and entertained – not always the easiest thing to do. Enter Demeritt Hill Farm. Nice petting area, apple picking, and the always present pictures with head cutouts for photo ops. There is nothing like New England apples fresh picked in the Fall.
One of the great joys about traveling with our grandson, Jace, is his fascination and love of water; in this particular case, the ocean. He loves any body of water, but he REALLY loves waves crashing onto the shore. Big or small waves, he's on it.
The first trip to the shore was to our, and Jace's favorite beach; Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester, MA. A favorite of my Mom's and my Auntie Marge's when we were growing up as kids, because it's nestled in an inlet so any wave action is benign, and it's shallow so a four year-old can walk way out from shore and not get knocked over. It also features a sandbar that has been there for decades which gets exposed during low tide, but submerges during high tide. You don't even get your navel wet. Getting Jace out there doesn't take a lot of time, but getting him back to shore takes forever. I know; you're shocked, right? An afternoon well spent, and Jace comes back with a few seashells to bring to his Dad.
Next trip out was to a treasured place for both Barbara and me. Nubble Light in York, Maine was the site where I proposed to Barbara all those years ago, and it still holds a special place in our hearts. For Jace, it meant some serious rock climbing with Papa while waves came crashing into the shoreline. Nubble sits on a beautiful rocky promontory and stands as a beacon to provide safe harbor to fisherman and recreational boaters in southern Maine.
A cookout at my sister-in-law Debby's house gives us another visit with Dad, and a chance to see our nephew Mike, his wife Nicole, and their beautiful daughter Phoebe. Jace and Phoebe seem to get along very well, even if they can't get the whole see-saw thing down pat. Earlier in the week we had a short visit with my cousin Gary, his wife, Lisa, and my Uncle Don. Don and my Dad are the surviving patriarchs of the Fudge and Richard families.
IN an earlier edit of this page, I neglected to include another family visit; this time by Barbara's cousin Joy and her husband, Mike. Joy and Mike stopped by our site and brought gifts of wine for us, and activities for Jace. (good thing it wasn't the other way around!) Sorry, guys! It's hard to remember what I have for breakfast some mornings, let alone all the things that occurred almost a month ago!
Our final visit to the Maine shoreline holds great memories for Barbara. Officially known as Cape Elizabeth, it's commonly known as Two Lights. This is because there are actually two lighthouses still on site, as the older one was never disassembled when the newer, taller lighthouse was erected. Barbara's grandparents had a place in nearby Old Orchard Beach, and Two Lights is a short drive away. Many a summer day was spent by Barbara climbing the vast rocky shores. It's also a great place to get inspiration for the painting she used to do, and hopefully will again. Two Lights also features a small restaurant where we were able to have our final fill of fried clams and scallops.
A final night in New Hampshire with our best friends Rick and Marielle (and one of the best pepperoni and bacon pizzas I've ever eaten), and it was time to hit the road again. Bypassing Western RV Village in Carlisle, PA so as not to repeatour earlier boulder encounter, we stop at a place we stayed last year while on the way back from New England – Camp-A-While in Hegins, PA. Less than a mile down a steep hill off of I-81, it's halfway between Hazelton and Harrisburg. They have three pull-through sites they usually keep for transient RV's that need a lot of room without having to unhook our toad. A nice young couple bought it last year and they have been making improvements to the park, and it shows.
One final stop before dropping off Jace and Alicia was in Max Meadows, VA at Pioneer RV Village. It's our go-to stop heading north and south on I-81. Right at the junction of I-81 and I-77, it's a perfect one day drive to and from Georgia. It features large sites with small trees and an open meadow bordered by a meandering creek. Perfect for Jace to throw hickory nuts into to keep him entertained.
While New England is no longer our home, we still consider it to be something close to home. The food, the friends, and the family will always make it so. But our home now is wherever we park it. And even Grover is getting very comfortable on travel days when Barbara has a weak moment.
Our intended trip to New England to visit friends and family having been canceled due to COVID-19 this past June, we FINALLY get the go-ahead to make the trip in late September – early October. Our earlier trip was put off due to private campgrounds and interstate rest areas being closed along our way, and while we could have stayed somewhere in New England to do our visiting at that time, the prospect of me driving 24 hours straight made our June trip impossible.
Not that we still didn't encounter some issues along the way in September. Massachusetts state government kept changing their rules for RVers so much that certain campgrounds stopped taking reservations from out-of-staters because they got tired of refunding money. Maine still insisted on a 14-day quarantine for people traveling from certain areas (areas we had traveled to and from). New Hampshire finally got around to allowing out-of-staters to finally come in to private parks, but not into state parks, limiting our choices And to top it all off, some campgrounds were limiting their discounts to try to recoup losses suffered during the early part of camping season.
It was a mess.
Finally, some friends of ours were able to secure a couple of weekend sites for themselves and a relative for them to camp with, and a spot was also available for us for our 2 week stay. Mill Brook RV Park in Kingston, NH became our go-to campground for the second straight year. It's well situated to hit the NH coast, Maine and Massachusetts from one location, so it was perfect for us.
Also similar to last year, we had our grandson, Jace, with us. Fortunately for us, we also had Jace's mom, our daughter Alicia, with us this year to play the role of cat-herder. Jace is the proverbial cat.
Our drive up was a bit different this year, in that our usual place to stay, Pioneer RV Village in Max Meadows, VA (right where I-77 and I-81 meet) was fully booked for the one night we needed. It's a great park with wide, grassy pull-through sites that are perfect for the one-night stand (and longer stays). So after trying all other parks in the area and coming up empty, we found a Harvest Host site called Draper Village / Draper Mercantile. There were 3 parking spots available at a farm up the road from the Mercantile (don't pull into the Mercantile itself as it doesn't have a way for you to turn around or back out), and you can take a short walk to the Mercantile once you get settled in. Unfortunately for them, we got in late and left early, so everything was closed by the time we got around to supporting our hosts. The Mercantile looks interesting, so maybe next time.
It was very foggy and dark when we left the next morning, which gave me an opportunity to see if the headlights that had been adjusted in Red Bay last November were still working correctly (they were). Barbara followed me through the streets of Draper and onto I-81 North in the Mini, as I didn't want to reconnect the toad in those conditions. Mated everything back up at a rest area about 30 miles north where the sun was up and the fog had dissipated.
Our second night's stay on the way north was, frankly, a disaster. Unless you were Jace. He got a playground. We stayed at Western Village RV Park in Carlisle, PA, a park we used last year as a base for the Hershey RV Show and our trip further north. Barbara had called ahead, requesting our typical pull-through site. The spacious sites up front for “transients” were all booked, but the person on the other end of the line said she did have a pull-through in another section of the park. Understand, we ALWAYS tell people at parks that we're a 38 foot Class A motor home with a tow vehicle when asking for a site.
Well, we got a pull-through, but it was better suited access-wise to a short travel trailer. Narrow site, with large boulders on one side and trees on the other, extending to the back and front of the site, so when morning came there was little room for me to take the turn out of the campsite.
Long story short, the large tail swing on our 36LA was too much to make it's way past a boulder on the passenger side exit, and we caved in our rear basement bay door and some fiberglass on our rear cap. We also bent back the steel fender on our tow dolly. I was seriously pissed!
On our way northbound Barbara called the campground to inform them of our damage and to tell them to never recommend putting a motor home in that site, and the person in the office says, “We never put motor homes in that site!” Well, maybe you should tell the person working the desk LAST night that, ya think? If there is a silver lining in all of this, the folks at Progressive Insurance have been very easy to work with thus far, and we hope to be able to schedule some time in Red Bay in November to have the damage fixed.
Our final stop on the way to New Hampshire is one of the only rest areas I think I'll ever stay at. On I-84 in Connecticut, there is a rest area heading northbound in Southington, CT. What makes it special for me and the rest of us fellow RVers is that it is one of the few (if only) rest areas with dedicated parking for RVs. No cars, no 18-wheelers allowed (they each have their own dedicated areas). It has plenty of room both wide and long to park dozens of RVs, and it gives us the ability to park against a curb so that we can open our slides for the night and run our generator. And of course it's free.
A short 2 ½ hour drive the next day, and we're in place for 2 weeks. Jace is free to be free, and we can start putting together all the visits needed to see everyone we need to see. I have to get my Dad's taxes done because the Senior Center no longer offers that free service due to COVID-19, Enterprise needs to be washed after a couple of thousand miles on the road (thanks again Wash and Wax All!), and we need to prep for visitors coming in for the weekend.
Next up – Sightseeing on New England's rocky shores.
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're living the ultimate retirement experience - traveling the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, playing golf and stopping at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.