Breaking another rule of ours, that's what.
The rule is, never visit New England much after Labor Day. Since beginning our RV journey, we've dedicated ourselves to “chasing seventy”. Seventy degrees, that is. We've grown to like warmer weather, and being in Vermont – northern Vermont to be specific - at this time of year is definitely a rule breaker.
We really enjoy driving to new places and taking routes we've never driven before, but I've got to admit that after 32 years of taking the same route to Massachusetts and New Hampshire from Georgia (I-85 to I-77 to I-81 to I-84, etc), it was very strange staying on I-81 past Scranton, PA to head into New York State. I kept wanting to turn that steering wheel to the right after clearing Scranton! The drive was also interesting, as our GPS program took us through some small towns in New York and Vermont. One town in particular, Fort Edward, NY, has their town center festooned with American flags and banners with the names and service pictures of their town's many veterans lining their main street. It's an amazing and uplifting thing to see as you drive through Fort Edward. Apologies for the quality of the video below. Our camera is stationed BELOW our wipers, but hopefully you get the experience. Every American flag has a banner next to it with the service picture of a Fort Edward veteran.
And don't get me wrong about the trip to Vermont; the resort we're staying at is really nice. Apple Island RV Resort in South Hero, VT has wide, level lots with about 40' feet of grass between sites, and great views of Lake Champlain. The lots are terraced to allow for those not right on the shore to still have a relatively unobstructed view of the water, and the staff is super helpful. I'm sure during the season this place is a really great place to stay, with a nine-hole golf course right next door, a marina and boat launch across the street, and a really nice looking pool and hot tub combination at the community building. Apple Island is only 30 miles south of the Canadian border, and would have given us a great opportunity to visit our neighbors to the north if the border wasn't closed due to COVID restrictions.
But it's a bit nippy here during the first week of October, and while our heat pump can handle the nights, the daytime temperatures don't get high enough to allow our top to come down on the Mini. That's a first-world problem as far as I am concerned. Add to that, the expected bright foliage we're used to seeing this time of year is apparently running late, so the Green Mountain State is a bit too green right now. Everybody here says to just head over to Stowe, because the colors are prime there right now, but we're parked HERE, not in Stowe!
One of the really nice thing about being here is that we came at the tail end of a local Tiffin Allegro Club rally. The Hudson Valley Allegros had about a dozen or so members here for a weekend rally, and many of them stayed afterwards to hang out some more. They were nice enough to invite us over to a campfire, and we got to meet some new friends.
Once the weather warmed up a bit, we were able to take the kayak out onto Lake Champlain for a leisurely cruise. Grover decided he didn't want to be out on the colder waters of northern Vermont, so he skipped this outing and sacked out in the RV for a while. He sacks out in the RV a lot.
The last 2 days were incredibly blustery and pretty cold for those of us not used to chilly fall weather. Winds were 16-24 mph all day long for 2 days, so we hunkered down and caught up with TV shows and other internet-based work (like this blog, for instance).
Met another full-time Tiffin couple who have been doing this for about a year now in their pre-owned Phaeton diesel pusher who also have their residence set up in South Dakota. Hopefully we'll be able to meet them down the road elsewhere.
But now, it's 2 weeks in New Hampshire to visit with my Dad and reacquaint ourselves with friends and family. A new park we've never stayed at awaits, as our usual park closes October 11th after Columbus Day.
This blog post is for people planning to become RVers, for those just beginning their RV journey, or just for people who don't RV at all, but are interested in how we make things happen on the road. It will contain no cute pictures of our grandson, Jace, nor any pictures of majestic scenery or beautiful campsites.
It's our self-imposed challenge to see how RV life on the cheap can be accomplished going a significant distance. Frankly, it's a life more than a few RVers do on a regular basis, eschewing campgrounds unless absolutely necessary, and finding opportunities to boondock for (relatively) free wherever possible. This will also detail our search for gas stations in an area which doesn't have our usual RV-friendly Flying J truck stops that can accept our 38-foot motorhome and 15-foot attached towed Mini.
So first, why are we doing this travel on the cheap? “Because we can” is not enough. It's basically because of the time frame in which we find ourselves heading north to Vermont and New Hampshire as late in the camping season as we are doing. A planned high school reunion for Barbara had been scheduled for late October, so instead of our usual “no later than Labor Day” rule for traveling to colder climates, we were forced to push our Fall trip up north to after Columbus Day.
In addition to making things chillier for us thin-blooded former New Englanders, when the weather gets colder, campgrounds close for the season (usually the Monday of the Columbus Day three-day weekend is their last day), making finding a spot a bit problematic for a late-October class reunion. Having done some initial research and planning, I had found a campground in Brookline, NH, just over the Massachusetts border, which stays open year 'round, so an early booking for the 2nd and 3rd weeks of October was accomplished early. Of course, then we find out they're canceling the reunion until next year due to COVID reasons, so we could have avoided all this and just headed up sooner!
“So what's the reason for this post, Dave, since you got your campsite all set after Columbus Day?” you ask. Well, the answer is that getting up to New England in late October is only half the problem.
It's getting back to warmer weather this late in the year which can be the challenge.
To prepare for the travel on the cheap, our fresh water tank needs to be filled to at least 2/3rds full for the 4-day trip to our first campsite in Vermont, where full hookups await. Next, as usual when we leave a campground, the black tank is emptied and flushed as clean as possible, and the gray tank is drained fully. Since we'll be on generator and battery power for successive days, I check and top off water levels in each of the four 6-volt batteries stored under our front steps to make sure they're fully capable to take repeated charges. These batteries can power the coach for about 12 hours or more without recharging, based on how much power we use during the day. I also check the oil level in our Onan 7000 watt generator to make sure that it will keep running for extended periods. If it's a driving day, I don't have to worry about charging our house batteries with the generator, because the alternator on our Ford V-10 engine does the work.
One of the easiest ways to camp on the cheap is Wallydocking, which is staying at a Walmart along your travel route. Not all Walmarts allow for overnight RV parking, but most do. We use an app called RVParky to scout out which Walmarts are RV-friendly based on fellow traveler's reports, then pull in and ask the store manager if it's still OK to stay. We then spend some money to thank our host, so it's not entirely free camping, but it can be. Most Walmarts that allow for overnight parking only let you stay for one night, but we found two in central PA (we stayed at the one in St. Clair) that actually have signs posted that tell you that RV parking is allowed for up to 48 hours. Very accommodating.
Other places for inexpensive boondocking are Cabelas, some of which may even have a dump station on site, or Harvest Host sites, which allow for an overnight stay at a winery, distillery, farm or museum. Just pay back your host with a purchase, and you're good to go. One other app we don't use at all is Boondockers Welcome, mainly because the people offering their areas to park don't have room to accommodate an RV and toad of our length, but it does work for shorter 5th wheels and travel trailers. Finally, Cracker Barrel restaurants can be RV-friendly, but you have to be very careful in finding one whose parking lot can take your RV without blocking too many of their parking spaces. Basically, arrive as far after their dinner rush as possible to find a spot, then get breakfast the next day and scoot!
Finding gas can be a challenge heading up to the northeast, mainly due to two factors; available real estate and limited camping opportunities. People create businesses when there is a need, and there is simply less need to build a travel stop that can accommodate a large RV when there are fewer parks which can accommodate a large RV in that area.
Stations are also smaller in footprint due to higher real estate costs, and those smaller footprints can make is tough to thread something 53-feet in length into and out of a gas station. You also have to be careful in making sure the overhang above the pumps is tall enough to take your over 13-foot high RV!
So unfortunately there are no Flying J travel centers in New England. None. Ditto Love's, which doesn't have dedicated RV gas pumps like Flying J does, but can usually take something our size if we check it out properly. We'll get to an app that let's us do that in a moment. Shell stations can be RV-friendly at times, because they build more of their locations with pumps that run parallel to the road and their buildings than other providers do, making it a straight pull-in / pull-out experience, but even Shell doesn't have a lot of presence in northern states. In New Hampshire, there is a brand called Irving which has mostly decent room for us, but they're a local brand and not very plentiful.
So what's a gasser RV owner to do? Google Earth to the rescue!
If you have never used Google Earth, it's a really cool app that gives you a bird's eye view of anyplace on Earth, and searching is as easy as can be. You can input the specific address, or just the name of the store or gas station and the town you're looking for, and the screen does a little corkscrew thing and gives you an overhead shot of your potential destination!
One Love's station in Binghamton, NY we were looking at just happened to have their picture snapped as a large 5th wheel was pulling into their pumps, so we THOUGHT that that particular location would be good for us. Found out we needed to look at the distance from the pumps to the entrance, because when I tried to pull in, I would be blocking the exit for the drive-thru Wendy's on site. Being a considerate driver, blocking an exit doesn't sound like a good idea when you need to pump 60 gallons or more in your tank. Needless to say, we moved on to a nearby Mirabito station that had room for us. Lesson learned. Google Earth also confirmed a Cracker Barrel north of Albany we were thinking of stopping at. Fortunately, that worked out better for us, with plenty of room to maneuver to stay overnight. So instead of Wallydocking, we Crackerdocked!
So as you can see, the art of traveling on the cheap is a bit more like a science, with a lot of experimentation involved. Planning for the trip back to warmer weather and a likely 2-month or more stay in Georgia, we found a Walmart in New Jersey which will allow us to stop and see an old friend in New Brunswick, and a campground still open until November 1st further south which will find us near the outskirts of Philadelphia to visit a couple of other friends, and hopefully partake of a real, honest-to-goodness Philly cheesesteak. Staying there will also help us officially knock another state off of our list and add a sticker to our map.
But our practice at traveling on the cheap will go a long way towards making life more flexible for us on the road when we need it.
After our trip through Tennessee and North Carolina, it's back to Georgia again to watch our grandson, Jace, while he's on a Fall break from kindergarten. I don't know about you, but growing up we didn't get our first break from school until Thanksgiving. This guy has barely been in school for about 5-6 weeks, and they're already taking a break!
Anyway, while it's nice to get a Jace fix, having him 24/7 for the week reminds us again why we like short visits with him. I think he's part locust, because he's devouring every bit of food in the RV, and if we're not careful he'll probably start eating Grover's kibble!
We stayed in a different location than our usual haunt this time. Instead of a week or so at Leisure Acres, we tried out a COE (Corps of Engineers) park in Gainesville called Bolding Mill. As with all other COE parks we've been to, the park is well-maintained, and has the usual friendly camp hosts. We were originally scheduled to stay just a week, but we extended another 5 days because the sites available were simply too beautiful (and inexpensive) to pass up. Just water and electric, so we had to move a few times to hit the dump station (I refuse to carry one of those wastewater caddies, both in principle and due to limited space), but the 15 minutes or so spent moving out and back was worth the effort given the sites we had.
Our vagabond lifestyle is also subject to last minute changes, so we had to add a single night onto the front of our initial reservation at Bolding Mill because we arrived early, add those 5 extra days on the end, and also wait until a cancellation occurred to be able to book a single weekend night in order to stay in the park for the Saturday night between our initial reservation and our extension. I was literally pulling out of the campground, saying goodbye to the host and telling her we'd be back tomorrow, when she tells me she just had a cancellation on a site that would accommodate our RV. I pull into a parking lot, make my reservation, and pull right back into Bolding Mill COE. In 2 weeks time, we stayed in 4 different sites to make this work. Fortunately, because there were no sewer connections on the sites, it gave us a reason to swing by the dump station to clear tanks in between moves.
Met some really nice people at Bolding Mill COE as well. Our first site was a beautiful back-in (Site 12) that had the “patio” area overlooking a section of Lake Lanier. Our next door neighbors were Peter and Sandy, who spend their summers up in the Georgia area hitting all the COE parks, pulling what Jace calls a “triangle RV” (a decent-sized pop-up camper with seriously sloped roof). Once on site, they open up two “Clam” enclosures for extra room to live in. One is setup as their outdoor kitchen with cooktop, ice maker, toaster oven, etc; while the other one has chairs and tables in which to relax and enjoy a bug-free existence. They use their camper for sleeping and bathroom only.
They also have oatmeal cookies available for the always-hungry 5 year-old who happens to live next door. By the time our week was over, Jace was calling them Meme and Pepe and impressing them with his socialization skills. He did his usual “Can I see your RV to see how clean it is?” routine, which for some reason he started to do in Florida earlier this year when meeting new neighbors. We literally have no idea where he got that from, but he does it to almost everybody he meets in a park.
Another fellow RVer we met was Rick, who has been full-timing in his 22-foot GreyWolf travel trailer for more than three years now. Invited us over to meet some friends of his that he camps with every now and again and sip some cold beverages.
Toss in a few meals with friends and daughters, and it was a pretty nice 2-week stay in Georgia. Bolding Mill COE is definitely on our list of places to return to for shorter visits, we got our requisite Jace fix, and now it's time to head northward to another state we've never visited in the RV – Vermont – plus an extended stay in New Hampshire to visit family and friends. It's a later trip than usual due to some scheduling that will be included in my next post, but we're loaded up with propane if the weather gets too cool for us.
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're planning the ultimate retirement experience - travel the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, play golf and stop at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.