Travel On The Cheap
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.
Georgia (and Jace) On Our Minds
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.
The Outer Banks - NC Trip Part 2
After our Labor Day-induced scheduling delay, we're finally on our way to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. From Wilson, it's a relatively short 3 1/2 hour or so drive to our campground in Avon, roughly about 3/4ths of the way down the length of the Outer Banks. But to get there, you first have to cross a series of bridges. Our first bridge over the Alligator River was fairly low over the water, so they incorporated a drawbridge to get boat traffic from one side to the other. We've seen many drawbridges from New England down to Florida, but this was our first rotating drawbridge! Instead of being raised and lowered, this roadway was rotated 90 degrees, allowing boats to funnel their way through 2 side-by-side channels, then it's rotated back and locked into place. Kinda neat.
Our next bridge brought us from the mainland over to the Outer Banks proper, and it was an eyeopener! It's the Washington Baum Bridge, and whoever designed this bridge should be shot. We just call it the Porpoise Bridge now, because that's what your RV or car does for approximately a mile or more. Each short section of the bridge is badly mated to the next, which causes this porpoising effect. It's disturbing to say the least. Watch the video below. It was even worse experiencing it in person.
Safely ashore, we get our first views of the Outer Banks as we take a hour-long drive down Rt-12, the Outer Banks Scenic Highway. With the added height of our motorhome, we get a slightly better view of the sand dunes to the east, and Pamlico Sound to the west. The Sound is relatively quiet, but the surf is up on the Atlantic Ocean side due to Hurricane Larry far offshore churning up huge waves that come crashing ashore.
Our destination is Sands of Time RV campground in Avon. Before the British came, the town was known as Kinnakeet. I kinda prefer the original name, don't you? It's a small campground with level, grassy sites, but they are relatively short in length. I'm not sure that a 45-foot diesel could back in all the way, but it would be close if it could. This campground doesn't have the easier access to the water on either side, but it's $20 less per night than those that do, and it's just a short drive down Rt-12 to get to beach access. We nestle Enterprise into site 19, a corner lot with a bit more privacy than some of the others, and it's time to go exploring.
The drive down the rest of the Outer Banks in the Mini (with the top down, of course) is highlighted by our first glimpse of the famed Cape Hatteras lighthouse, a place we will visit later in the week, and a number of quaint towns and villages until we make it to the southern end where the ferry to the mainland resides. The ferry is not on our itinerary this trip, but will be next time we hit the Outer Banks. One appeal of the Outer Banks (for us) is the almost complete lack of chain stores and restaurants along it's entire length. We prefer the small Mom and Pop eateries when we travel, and there are no shortage of them on the Outer Banks. Our first destination for a meal is the Cockeyed Clam, and it didn't disappoint. Great seafood, decent portions, and reasonable prices. The waitstaff is very friendly and everybody checks in on you to see if you're doing OK.
The disappointment early on is the impact of COVID on these small Mom and Pop establishments. Many restaurants are take-out only due to the limited size of their dining rooms, and too many are closed mid-week because they cannot hire enough people to keep them open on slower days. There is a definite lack of vibrancy in these smaller towns due to the pandemic flaring up again.
Our next day was a beach day, which excited Grover to no end. We still don't know if he's a “swimming” dog or not, but he does seem to love to get his feet into the surf. After a quick dip into the water up to our knees (Hurricane Larry's surf is way too strong to dive in) we settle into our beach chairs on shore for some relaxation time.
For about 5 minutes.
One thing we didn't plan on was the constant swarm of small, biting horseflies which make their home on the beach. Nasty little creatures designed to ruin any day, and they seemed to revel in ruining ours. Beating a hasty retreat while being bitten all the way back to the Mini, we head back to the confines of the motorhome for the rest of the day.
Our next visit (after some minor repairs that I needed to do on our 36LA and tow dolly) was to Cape Hatteras lighthouse. While the climb up the steps was closed (ongoing restoration) - which probably saved one or both of us from a heart attack - the visit was interesting and educational. There is a great history to the Outer Banks of shipwrecks and rescues (and a few war stories) that make this tour very entertaining. Also of note was the story of the movement of the fully-intact lighthouse half a mile from an eroding part of the shoreline in 1999 to it's present location. This feat of engineering was so impressive that sensors on the lighthouse which were designed to alert the engineers if the structure tipped as little as one half of one degree never uttered a sound!
We had intended to take our two-person (and one beagle) inflatable kayak out into Pamlico Sound the next day (as the waters are much quieter there), but winds whipped up into small watercraft advisory levels that morning. And we are DEFINITELY a small watercraft. Maybe next visit.
Still, another great feature due to the narrow nature of the Outer Banks is the ability to see both sunrises and sunsets over the water without any land in the distance. While our day for a sunrise was blocked by some low clouds, the sunset was spectacular. Grover enjoyed it, we met some nice people through him (he's a babe and kid magnet), and the day ended on a beautiful note.
Our last day was the primary reason why I wanted to visit the Outer Banks, because I'm such an aviation buff. Kitty Hawk is at the northern end of the Outer Banks, and it's where Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first powered airplane in history. Our admission to the National Park was free due to our Golden Age Access Pass, and we have free range to wander the site where mankind began flying. The monuments memorializing the first flights on December 17, 1903, are nicely done, with stone markers showing each successive length and duration of all four flights, and who flew them. We walked the entire length of the last flight of 852 feet. Took us a bit longer than the 59 seconds the Wright flyer was in the air, but we made the effort!
Our last stop in the park was the Wright Brothers Memorial on top of Kill Devil Hill, the location where the brothers conducted most of their glider experiments to determine how to best control an aircraft. Having climbed the pathway up to the memorial, one can only imagine the back-breaking work needed to haul large gliders capable of carrying a man up the sandy dune many times each day in windy conditions. Better them than me! All-in-all, it was a fitting end to our Outer banks adventure.
Time to start heading back to Georgia in order to watch our grandson, Jace, while he has his first Fall break from kindergarten, but on the way we stop back in Asheville at Rutledge Lake RV Campground for another visit with Debbie and Chuck Martin and Lynn Wells, another former Xeroid I used to support many years ago. Ate at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, which has an interesting menu if you're adventurous in what you eat, or they make a pretty good ½ pound burger if you're not. Four of us had the burger, and one of us had the pizza. Make your own conclusions.
A week with the Mook is next up, and a stay at a local Corps of Engineers park which will be new for us. Stay tuned!
North Carolina Firsts - Part 1
Checking off NC in Style!
I love writing these blog entries. I don't do it for the click-bait, or the number of likes or comments I get after people read them (but I do love the comments!). I write because I'm having fun each and every time we move on to another destination and see something we've never experienced in almost 37 years of marriage and more than 60 years of living on this Earth. And if you get to live vicariously through our travels, well, that's an added bonus.
Some RVers dread “Moving Day”, and I get it. Some people aren't wired to drive - even some full-time RVers. For them, the destination is the goal. But for me personally, I love both the destination AND the time spent behind the wheel getting there – especially if the roads are in good condition. And for THIS full-time RVer, there's nothing better than seeing a sign saying “Welcome to (Fill-In-The-Blank)” through that big windshield, especially when we've never been to (Fill-In-The-Blank).
Case in point; the subject of this blog – North Carolina. For years, we've always PASSED THROUGH North Carolina, driving the 170 miles or so from the South Carolina border to the Virginia border on our twice-a-year pilgrimages to Massachusetts; many times without a stop for gas, food or a nap at a rest area. For the 32 years Barbara and I have lived “down South”, North Carolina was either a place I went to for work during my Xerox days, or it was just kinda in the way.
Now we FINALLY get to experience some of North Carolina, and it didn't disappoint.
Of course, when your first destination in North Carolina is the fabulous Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, you're pretty much assured that there will be no disappointment. The grounds and buildings are simply breathtaking. George Vanderbilt outdid himself in creating a masterpiece of late 19th – early 20th century style and opulence that only the fabulously wealthy could imagine. The attention to detail. The “spare no expense” mentality, even to the agriculturally and scientifically-designed grounds (the first in America) that surround the actual estate. The immense scale of everything! You can easily imagine formal dinners being attended by the rich and famous; the men in their white ties and tails, the women in the formal finery of the era. One never left one's room without being perfectly attired for the event at hand.
For about $85 per person, you get access to a self-guided tour using a hand-held “guide” which tells you some of the history behind the building and the people who lived there. You can take a shuttle to and from some of the parking areas, but believe me, if you can walk it, it's worth the effort. Obligatory gift shops are (tastefully, of course) off to one side, and a decent cafe provides reasonably-priced food and drink. We could have taken a lot of pictures inside, but they wouldn't do justice to the one's already on Biltmore's own website. You'd be doing yourself a favor if you went to that site if you can't make the trip.
Unlike the Vanderbilt's, our own accommodations were a bit more pedestrian. Keeping with our usual desire to save money by not frequenting expensive RV resorts much closer to Asheville, we stayed at a small park just outside of Lake Lure, about an hour south from the Biltmore. Our spot in River Creek campground in Rutherfordton, NC, was barely long enough to back into with the Mini parked off to the side, but we did have a nice river running right behind us. A friendly couple own the place, and they are very helpful if you need anything. A nice perk about staying so far away was the drive in the Mini over and back down the mountains to get to Asheville. Lots of switchbacks and hairpin turns, and a couple of really cute touristy-trap towns to drive through.
After Asheville, it's a quick hop down to the Charlotte area to visit a former co-worker of mine from our Xerox days. Debbie (my former Xeroid) and Chuck Martin have retired to the Concord, NC area, so we found us a campground right next door to Charlotte Motor Speedway. Mercifully, no races were scheduled for our weekend there. My understanding is that it can get quite loud on race day. Yates Family Campground is a really small RV park, but they put us in a nice, long back-in site next to a small field that a wild turkey would run through pretty much every day. Grover definitely wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving early!
The Outer Banks was our next destination of note, but first we must baby-step our way across North Carolina. Needing to stop near Kernersville to visit a long-time friend of Barbara's from her high school days, we found an absolute gem of a park in Clemmons, NC. Tanglewood is a large county park that has all the usual county park recreational things to do, but this one also has a great (and reasonable at $38 per night) RV campground on site. It's not large, with only 44 available sites (all back-in) to choose from, but each site is paved and have full hook ups. Most sites have tree canopy above for shade, with just a few on one row that may let some extra light in. The camp hosts are absolutely wonderful (one current host couple has a 2018 Tiffin 36LA), and work hard to keep the park in immaculate condition.
With so few sites, however, reservations can be tough to come by, and us big rig users are further hampered by the excess slope and limited lengths on half the available campsites. When making reservations online, once you put in type of RV (Class A motorhome, 5th wheel, etc) and length, only spaces that will take your RV will come up as possible choices. Since half the sites are excess slope, they are literally unavailable to motorhome owners since we have more restrictions on how to level our coaches than travel trailers and 5th wheels. This gives people like us only 22 sites to try to snag, and the locals scoop them up early. We were fortunate to get 4 nights just before Labor Day weekend.
Oh, and don't try to fool the reservation system by putting in a different length or type of RV just to get a spot. The camp hosts are (rightly) unsympathetic to your complaints that you can't fit or can't level, and bring out your reservation form to show you what you requested. “Says here that 45-foot motothome you're trying to back in there is supposed to be a 32-foot travel trailer. Mind explaining that?” “Oh, and we STILL don't have a spot that will fit you. Sorry . . . “
Anyway, Tanglewood RV campground is a great place to stay, and it's about a 5-minute drive from I-40, so easy access to get back on the road. Had a great dinner with Dave Woods and his wife, Blanca; they got to see what motorhome living is all about, and as usual, Grover made some new friends.
But Labor Day was looming large, and there were no spaces to be had anywhere on the Outer Banks. As I continued to call campgrounds further and further west of the Outer Banks in hopes of finding anything, Barbara was anticipating moving from Walmart to Walmart over the long weekend. At the last minute, I was able to find a campground in Wilson, NC that had a spot we could have for the next 4 days.
Now, Wilson, NC isn't on anyone's radar scope as a destination location; it's a bit off the beaten path in rural country. But it does have a really nice lake if fishing is your thing, and they have a really interesting display of whirlygigs downtown. What's a whirlygig, you ask? Well, it's one of those wind-driven mechanical things stuck atop poles that turn and move things as the wind blows. And Wilson has about the biggest display of some pretty impressive whirlygigs on the planet.
Our campground was Kampers Lodge, a relatively small, older campground, that was extremely well laid out. It has the usual full-time residents arrayed around the perimeter in back in sites, but the center of the campground was designed with pull-through sites where you entered one site one way, while the RVer next to you entered in the other direction so that your patio sides faced away from each other. This also created “buddy sites” where people traveling together could face their patio sides towards each other, making it easy to visit with each other. The campground is very level and all sites are small gravel with stacked-stone fire pits on grassy space separating each site.
Kampers Lodge also features a small pond with plenty of ducks to feed, and they have 4 donkeys in a large pen in back who will cheerfully eat anything you might wish to bring them. Grover was fascinated with them.
Our Labor Day weekend complete, it's just a short 20-minute drive south to a local Flying J for some inexpensive gas so that we'll have a full tank to get out and back from the Outer Banks, and it's time to hit the road for a truly unique experience.
But that's for our next installment . . .
Freed from yet another Jace-imposed traveling pause, it was time to visit Tennessee once again. Our previous adventures in Tennessee were centered around the Pigeon Forge area; once to visit a friend and former manager of mine, Jack Simmons, who I used to work with at Jockey back in Dawsonville, GA, and once to spend a few days with our two grandsons, Noah and Jace for Noah's birthday.
This time, it was to enjoy some fellow Tiffin owner time with one of our favorite Tiffin gasser owners, Scott McKoin. The added bonus was that we were finally going to meet Scott's wife, Sandi, who had managed to avoid Red Bay, AL the last time we were together with Scott. Grover was also looking forward to another visit with Scott, as they bonded when last we met.
We had decided to break up out travel to the Volunteer State by heading from the I-85 north side of Atlanta to the I-75 north side, knowing the trip was going to take us into Friday traffic in and around that very congested city. So we headed to our other favorite campground in North Georgia, Cedar Break (formerly known as Calhoun A-OK) in Calhoun, GA. Got a pull-thru site for 3 days, but only water and electric (no sewer). This allowed us to experience something we had never done in almost 2 years of full-time RVing – the dreaded Dump Station. Two years, and never had to use one on the way into, or out of, a campground. We did enjoy some comfortable temperatures under tall trees and the salt-water pool on site – perfect to soothing aches and pains.
Our first stop in Tennessee was at a Harvest Host site – Silver Springs Winery in Riceville, TN. The interesting thing about this winery is two-fold; they don't have a vineyard producing grapes just yet (they expect to be harvesting their own early next year), so they make their wines from other people's grapes, and that have a really nice Greek restaurant on site. Since we were there on a Sunday, we paid back our host for their free site by partaking of their Sunday brunch, which was really very good.
From an RVing perspective, the stay was nice, but the accommodations could have been better. Sure, we got to stay for free in their parking lot (which is the whole idea of Harvest Hosts), but the area they used was a large gravel overflow lot which hadn't been mowed in a while – always something to be concerned about when running your generator for hours at a time. The other thing was tight access into and out of their lot.. If it weren't for a opening between the overflow lot we stayed in, and the car lot next door, we might not have been able to turn around without unhooking our tow vehicle and associated dolly; not something to look forward to. Not saying we couldn't have made the U-turn, but it was going to be very, very close. A longer motorhome could not have done it.
Then, it was on to a Scott McKoin-recommended Corps of Engineers park; Obey River campground on Dale Hollow Lake in Monroe, TN. At the entrance gate, we met Jeff Harper, a camp host who really knows the park very well, but refuses to admit he knows Scott McKoin at all. When we told him which site we had, he got on his trusty computer and found a half-dozen sites he thought were better suited for us that were available in our time frame, and suggested we unhook the Mini in a nearby pull-off to drive around and view them. One site was infinitely better than the one we had, so he quickly changed our reservations and sent us on our merry way. Jeff is the epitome of a great camp host.
Our site 73 was a pull-in site which had a tremendous view of the lake outside our big front window; level, wide and on the end of a row so people could border us on just one side. As it turned out, we had no one on the other side of us, so we had a very quiet campsite for the entire time we spent there. It was also right next to the boat ramp, so we had easy access to launch our kayak. As with many COE campgrounds, we had water and electric, but no sewer hookups, which meant we used a dump station for the second time in a week when we left!
Grover enjoyed his long walks, had a chance to meet Jeff who had raised beagles earlier in his life but had never seen a lemon beagle, and Grover even got to experience his first-ever ride in the kayak! He started out a little nervous, but settled back into full lay down mode by the end of the half-hour trip. And of course, he was wearing his officially-approved canine flotation device the whole time. It made it easy for me to lift him into and out of the kayak by the attached handle, because while he's cute, he's not very coordinated around watercraft.
All in all, our time at Obey River was meant to rest, relax, and recharge, and we did just that. Our last day there, some other Tiffin friends of ours, Byron and Lynn Hill, were heading east on I-40 through nearby Cookeville, TN, and we were able to meet them, along with Scott, at a Cheddar's right off the highway for an early lunch. Byron and Lynn have a Tiffin 34PA gasser painted like ours (featured in one of our Red Bay reports last year), and we had met up with them twice during our Florida trip earlier this year. Always nice when Tiffin gasser owners get together.
Our time at Obey River at an end, we then got to experience something else we hadn't done in 2 years of full-time RVing – moochdocking. We've talked about boondocking, which is where you stay on land for free (usually government land), and Wallydocking, where you stay in a Walmart parking lot overnight, but moochdocking is different. That's where you stay at a family or friend's house (many times in their driveway) for free. In our case, Scott and Sandi McKoin had offered their place to us. Most moochdocking sites have minimal power, and occasionally water. Since Scott stores his Tiffin 32SA gasser in a pole barn behind his house, he has full 50A service and water for us to use. Plus he's got a big backyard, so plenty of room for Grover, with lots of wildlife (deer and turkeys) to view.
We also get to (finally!) meet Scott's wife Sandi, who, as Scott will admit to you, is the epitome of his better half. Great nights sitting out by the RV sipping adult beverages and getting to know nice people, including Sandi's mom who lives right behind them. Seeing sights is one reason to do the RV thing; meeting up with great people is the other.
Our last full day there we took a hike at Burgess Falls State Park. Absolutely beautiful hike with narrow trails that can go from easy to difficult depending on your physical condition. Worth every minute. Grover enjoyed his extra workout, although some of the “steps” we needed to navigate were bigger than he was. Brought plenty of water to keep both him and us hydrated. Glad I brought my collapsible hiking stick!
Our third trip to Tennessee is over, and it's now time to venture into a state we had never visited in the motorhome before, and a place we've waited 32 years to see in North Carolina. Next up in Parental Parolees . . . !
My how time flies. Two years ago we embarked on a completely new journey in life, and not only because we became RV-ers, but full-time RV-ers.
So given this anniversary, we thought it was time to cover some of the things we've learned, and some of the highlights and (fortunately few) low-lights of the past two years.
Fortunately, due to the 3 ½ years of research undertaken before we even ordered our Tiffin Open Road 36LA, this list is blessedly short. As far as equipment or supplies we didn't start out with, we've added a bunch of 2'x10” boards in order to combat excessive slopes at certain sites, or to shore up wet, sloppy ground before extending our leveling jacks. I had intended to have them at the beginning, but just plain forgot. Also added a NOCO battery charger/jump starter to take care of the occasional jump starts needed when the unexpected happens. It's small, lightweight and can actually jump start something as big as our RV if needed.
Another thing we've learned: do as much homework on potential campgrounds as possible. No one app or website has all the answers, nor all the potential campgrounds listed in the area. RVParky is our usual go-to app for checking out campgrounds, but if someone hasn't put a review into that app, you can miss a bunch of other campgrounds in the area. Additionally, we found that checking out a website called Campgroundphotos.com will give us pretty good pictures of many individual sites within a given campground, and has kept us from booking some sites that would ultimately have not met our needs.
We've also learned that each state generally has an online camping guide that pretty much covers all their campgrounds, so hopefully some missed opportunities will happen less often. Some are very cumbersome, while others are very basic, but easy to navigate.
We've paid as little as $0 per night while boondocking on BLM land outside of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico (10 days free was very nice!), to as much as $80 per night at Compass RV in St. Augustine, FL (fortunately only 3 nights). Otherwise, our ranges have been from $11.50 a night for an overnight stay at a Passport America campground passing through Mississippi, to no more than $60 per night depending on where we've stayed. We try to keep things in the $25-$40 range whenever we can. It doesn't get us into the swankiest resorts around the country, but for what we want (water, electric and sewer), it's been fine.
The best value so far? Corps of Engineer (COE) parks. Our National Parks Senior Pass gets us 50% off the daily camping rate in Federal parks anywhere across the country, and since COE parks are developed around the lakes and rivers the Corps has managed, we're always near water. Sometimes they only come with water and electric hookups, but we can always make due with a dump station on site if we have to. Our usual rate for COE parks is about $13 per night.
This is a gas-powered motorhome, not a diesel motorhome. During our travels, we've paid as little as $1.39 per gallon at a small station (Mr. Fuel) off of I-20 in Mississippi, to as much as $3.06 just outside of Hershey, PA at a Flying J off of I-81. Average prices in the first year were in the high $1's (only paid more than $2.00 once in the first year), but they have grown significantly higher to the $2.85 range since 2021 began. It's well within our travel budget, but it doesn't make us very happy.
RED BAY HAS BECOME OUR SECOND HOME
Our Tiffin was manufactured in Red Bay, AL. As such, we have made a few post-sale pilgrimages back to the mothership. The good news: Only two were for warranty work that needed to be done (detailed in earlier posts you can read about from Nov 2020 or Aug 2021). One additional visit was for body work caused by both me and a campground that doesn't know how to handle Class A motorhomes. Another one was for strictly voluntary cosmetic purposes. And one was for a place to stay over the July 4th weekend because our plans changed suddenly and we couldn't find an open campsite anywhere.
Tiffin, and their many third-party providers in and around Red Bay, have always taken great care of us
GETTING TO KNOW OUR GRANDSON
If you've read our blog before, you've seen lots of pictures of our now 5 year-old grandson, Jace. The first ever trip we took in September of 2019, we had him on board, and have had him with us for more that 10 months of our 24 months on the road. He's grown from having to be escorted to the half-bath while we're driving down the road (with Barbara doing the escorting), to becoming a veteran RV-er in his own right. Helps his Mimi around the inside, and helps me dump tanks on the outside, and he's seen sights that will hopefully stay with him for a lifetime.
SOME PET PEEVES
There's a few things that have surprised us (and disappointed us) in our two years on the road.
The pandemic has hit this country pretty hard, and it affected the RV world in a couple of ways. First, was the hit campgrounds took in the early months of 2020, when travel became restricted in many states. This kept many RVers from going out on vacations, or even weekend trips, and it hit campgrounds big-time in their pocketbooks. For us, we had to stay in place (fortunately we were already in Georgia in our go-to campground, Leisure Acres), which meant we had to stay in one site for 4 months. While we were able to help the campground out with some guaranteed money for an extended period of time, there were far fewer of us, and we all got much lower monthly rates instead of bringing in shorter term daily or weekly rates. For example, that site of ours brought in $20 per night instead of the usual $45 per night to the campground for 4 months. Do the math; not a good business model.
The other issue has been a what looks to be a temporary boom to campgrounds, and it's what Barbara has termed “COVID-Campers”. Lot's of people thought it would be a nice time to go out and buy travel trailers and 5th-wheels to help isolate themselves from potentially infected people, plus enjoy the great outdoors like the rest of us full-timers. Not to put too fine a point on it, most of these people have no business camping. Very few of them did any research before they bought, and it's apparent every time one of them comes into a campsite to hook up. They, nor their kids, have any respect for another camper's site, running through or playing in what is some cases a relatively small piece of acreage. They unload countless toys, chairs and stuff; more than could ever be used in a typical weekend. They put carpet down on grassy sites which kills the grass. And they don't know (or care) about or respect quiet time (usually 10 pm in most campgrounds).
And they bring fireworks.
The worst thing (for them in the long term) is that they don't know a thing about their campers. They don't use pressure regulators on their water hookups, which can blow the internal hoses inside their campers if water pressure is too high (and many times is). They don't use surge protectors or power management systems to protect their campers, and worse yet, they don't shut off the breakers to the power poles before plugging in or disconnecting their power, which can cause arcing and melt the connectors, and damage the power pole for future users.
And finally, for those of us who make this our living, they are taking up valuable spaces in campgrounds, making it difficult to find open sites on the move as we used to do. We now have to plan our trips much more in advance, and it takes away from the casual lifestyle we used to enjoy (and ties up money we could be using today). If there is a bright side to any of this, it's that it appears that the shine is wearing off with COVID Campers, and many are now trying to sell their rigs because it wasn't all the fun and games they thought it was going to be. Hopefully, the pendulum swings back to the middle in the next year.
I realize that you have to have some decent power in order to pull one of those big 5th wheels around, so I understand the need for size and power.
But do the exhaust systems have to be so damned loud? This is really a factor of “boys with their toys”, and while they sound great to motorheads, they are very disturbing either at night or in the early morning when people are trying to sleep. Especially with people who drive from job to job in their campers, and who have to leave at 4AM or 5AM to get to their job site, and they fire up that big rig with the modified exhaust system next to your bedroom window.
Many full-timers (like us, and countless others) bring dogs with them for companionship. They are family. And most animals do NOT LIKE fireworks. Fireworks are usually prohibited in most parks, but more than a few do not enforce their rules unless you complain. And sometimes they don't have an after hours number for you to complain to.
But in the end, despite all the problems that can come with RVing, it all comes down to this:
THE MAJESTY OF OUR COUNTRY IS BOUNDLESS
Whether it's the Atlantic shore, or the limitless vistas across the Great Plains states, this country has a LOT to offer. Many people have flown out west; but it is nothing as compared to DRIVING out west. Peaks that reach majestically into the sky that you can see for hours before you can get there. Endless plains of grass, corn, wheat and other crops that are responsible for feeding much of an entire planet. Livestock roaming the rolling hills. From the White Sands of New Mexico to the awesome sights of Mt. Rushmore and the rest of the Black Hills of South Dakota. The museums and monuments that honor our heroes and their sacrifices.
And yes, the quirky stops along the way like the World's Largest Popcorn Ball, or the World's Largest Pistachio, or Carhenge.
And we've only scratched the surface. Our map has about 18 state stickers on it as I write this, with plans to do a dozen or more in the next year. Canada awaits, as does the great state of Alaska in 2022 or 2023.
We've also met some really great people along the way; fellow Tiffin owners, folks traveling in 5th wheels and travel trailers, and some of the nicest people you'll ever meet at attractions, local stores and restaurants across this great land. It's the people who help make this journey fun; and we hope to meet many more great folks in the years to come.
I can't wait to see what the next two years bring.
What Could Have Been . . .
. . . but wasn't.
Back on the road again after a five week stay in northern Georgia at Leisure Acres Campground in Cleveland, GA. Primarily here to take care of our 5 year-old grandson, Jace, two days a week when he isn't in pre-K / daycare. Our intentions were to see a whole bunch of our Georgia friends over those five weeks and catch up with their lives, do some kayaking, scout out potential alternate sites to stay, and generally kick back and do the whole RV lifestyle thing.
Yeah, well, plans change, don't they?
Good news: Jace is experiencing life with other kids (at least more than one or two at a time), and experiencing a group structure he never had while traveling with us for all those months earlier in the year.
Bad news: I think my grandson licks furniture while in day care.
Being relatively isolated in his first few years with few friends where he lived, and our lifestyle being as isolated as it can be, Jace never seemed to build up a natural immunity to the many germs and crud out there in the more open world. So when he began a three-day-a-week stint in pre-school, naturally he ended up getting sick more often. Unfortunately, it took him all of the end of our first week of taking care of him to expose US to whatever his classmates brought to school with them.
So the second Thursday of our five-week stay at Leisure Acres, Barbara and I began coughing. Two weeks later, Barbara was on the mend, and I had a borderline case of pneumonia. After seeing a doctor and getting a precautionary COVID test (negative), I was on antibiotics and 4 other prescriptions to handle all my symptoms. By the end of out 5th week here, I was finally back to energy levels needed to travel again, and sleeping through more than the occasional night.
Ahhh, the joys of grandparenthood. It's a good thing Jace is so stinkin' cute and fun to be around.
The good news is that Jace is now in kindergarten full-time, and doesn't need to be watched two days a week by us, and we're ready to go back on the road until late September.
The bad news is that our five-week plans to see everybody got trashed early, and another opportunity to socialize has gone by the wayside. Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia await (unless a COVID outbreak changes our plans). We'll update you as we travel to new adventures.
I mentioned this park in our last post, but we enjoyed the place so much I wanted to add a bit more to the bullet points I provided the last time.
Finishing up our trip to New England, our usual favorite park in Cleveland, GA was all booked solid. This was due to a 4th of July celebration they put on each year that not only attracts RVers, but locals as well. Not a space to be found, and that was actually a good thing given how scared Grover gets around fireworks. The celebration is held the weekend BEFORE the 4th, which is why the park was already booked solid.
After going through 5 other options who were already booked, we started looking on the other side of Georgia along the I-75 corridor. We were able to find a place for a week so that we could give our daughter a hand in taking care of Jace on days he didn't have pre-school, even though it was a slightly longer drive to pick him up and drop him off.
The park we stayed at used to be called A-OK Calhoun, but the new owners have renamed it Cedar Break Campground. It's a bit dated, but they have been updating the park in different ways, beginning with clearing out the rather undesirable clientele who used to reside permanently in the park. Some not very nice people and activities were apparently in place before, but there was no evidence of that in the current long-term residents, so don't believe any reviews you might read from a couple of years ago!
Also on the plus side: newer sites in the back with 50A pull-thrus for the larger rigs. Not nestled in the treed-in area of the older part of the park, but better able to handle newer, larger rigs.
Their pool is of a decent size and condition, and it's a salt-water pool instead of traditional chlorine. The chairs and tables are new. They also have a snack bar on-site that will deliver your order to your campsite. Not a big menu, but pizza is pizza.
They've been updating almost all of their internal cable infrastructure, and only have one more aisle to go to have it completed. That's the good news. The bad news is that their contract for cable TV is for an older signal that doesn't make it through newer motor homes like ours with all our internal switches and routers, and the contract is in place for another 4 years.
Sites are all pretty level and well cared for. Some sites at the end of streets have brick patios and furniture. Not all sites have fire rings, however. Roads are typically narrow for an older park, and there are not enough 50A sites to accommodate motor homes, but if it's not too hot you can make do with a single AC unit on 30A if need be.
Cedar Break also features a series of small cabins for rent, interspersed around the park. The staff is very helpful. They also have a very special resident: Peanut the Peacock. You'll hear him as it's getting dark, doing his peacock thing, but he's quiet after the sun goes down. If you walk up to him, he'll turn his back to you, extend his feathers out fully, then turn around to face you as if to say, “See how beautiful I am?” The park is located close enough to the Tennessee border to make some day trips there, as well as to spots in the northwest corner of Georgia. Price was very reasonable, as they give a discount to those who served in the military. All-in-all, a very pleasant surprise, and a place we'd go back to again.
Still, we needed to punt for the July 4th holiday. Part of the reason why we hadn't planned ahead for staying anywhere was that we hadn't planned on Jace needing some attention a couple of days a week, and we were supposed to head up to the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho and Washington state this summer. Needing to be back in Georgia immediately after the 4th , and until Jace enters kindergarten in mid-August, required us to punt and find some space relatively nearby. So we went with our favorite COE park in Gunter Hill just outside of Montgomery, Alabama. They had a spot available for us for a week before the 4th of July weekend, but no openings after that.
Further punting, since we will be near Red Bay, Alabama, where our Tiffin was made, and Tiffin is going to be closed for the holiday, we'll make a speed run up of a couple of hours drive up there and camp out in one of the many gravel parks with full hookups they have in town for a paltry $25 per night. Should be plenty of spaces available. It's what you do to make lemonade out of lemons when you don't get a lot of notice.
After that, it's back to Leisure Acres in Cleveland for 5 weeks until the early fall travel season begins! Please keep Grover, and all other animals, in your thoughts as the July 4th holiday arrives.
Eating Our Way Through New England
A nice two-week trip to the southern New Hampshire / seacoast of Massachusetts in early June is just the thing to renew old (or maybe I should use the term “long-time”) acquaintances and family. The weather is nice and temperate (although a bit warmer than usual but that is fine with Barbara), and campgrounds are just opening up for their short season. Familiar places and familiar roads to travel without using GPS to find our way.
And of course familiar New England comfort food designed to expand our waistlines.
Every area of the country has food that they are known for. Wars can be started on which state has the best barbecue, for instance, and I'm not even going to try going there.
Massachusetts is known for a few great foods. First, the absolute best seafood on the planet – fresh caught and in the cold Atlantic waters. Also roast beef sandwiches – thin, almost shaved pink and tender roast beef piled high on a hamburger roll. Greek-style pizza – which in some circles is far better than New York-style because, well, New York. And Chinese food. Not sure why the Chinese food is better up there (I'm personally not a big fan of Chinese food), but Barbara hasn't found any better anywhere else, and she knows and loves Chinese food.
And while this trip was different in some ways, most of our interaction with friends and family revolved around going out to eat.
And my waistline paid for it.
We stayed at our usual haunt – Mill Brook RV Campground in Kingston, NH, just over the border of Massachusetts. It's a nice park with very few transient spaces, and caters to the no-kid crowd, so it was good that this was our first trip there where we didn't have grandson Jace. It's also nicely spaced between the Massachusetts seacoast, my Dad's place in Chelmsford, and our friends in Nashua, NH.
First meal after arriving was a trip down the road to Costello's Famous Roast Beef and Seafood. With a name like that, how can you go wrong, right? Their Junior Roast Beef sandwich is bigger than most other places regular roast beef, and their seafood comes from just about a 30-minute drive away from the shore. I indulged in both the junior roast beef (white American cheese and no barbecue sauce) and a small fried clam and scallop order. Ate it all. Barbara had the junior roast beef with the cheese and sauce, and didn't finish hers. Some people are just lightweights when it comes to the eating department . . .
Had an appointment with my Dad to do his taxes again this year. He's in a pretty nice senior living center with his own studio apartment that he takes care of. In past years (pre-COVID) the local senior center did his taxes for free, but hasn't resumed that practice as of yet. Since I do ours every year on TaxCut, it's a simple process to add in the Massachusetts state option and handle his. For a guy pushing 92 years-old this July, he's doing pretty good.
Our next stop for eating was to an old friend, Essex Seafood in Essex, MA. They were our go-to place for seafood for many years, but had suffered a devastating fire the previous year. Newly rebuilt, they had just opened a few weeks before we arrived up north. Barbara ordered the small steamers (clams) and a small clam chowder. Thinking she'd be helping me with my order, I did the large fried clams and fried scallop boxes (no fries, because they just take up unwanted space in my stomach that can be used for seafood). Little did we know that Barbara's small order of steamers were more like someone else's large order, so I got no help whatsoever with my clams, while she nabbed a single scallop off of my plate.
This necessitated my violating a firm and fast rule for eating seafood – getting a to-go box – even if it was just for about a dozen fried clams or so.
We had intended on hitting our old beach place – Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester, MA, but we found out since they reopened post-COVID, they were charging $30 for parking. $30 bucks! We also wanted to take our inflatable kayak out on the water there, but also found out they didn't allow for that. Probably due to no lifeguards on duty and not wanting any liability for accidents. Disappointing.
We had to take Dad down to his local healthcare provider for tests the following day, but after arriving there it was determined his tests needed to be done first thing in the morning, so we took him out to lunch at another local favorite - Stelio's in nearby Billerica, MA. Dad and Barbara got the local Fish and Chips, while I went out on a limb and ordered their beef stroganoff. Both Barbara and Dad brought home leftovers. I did not – a recurring theme.
Met Bob Dwyer, an old co-worker and golf buddy from my days at Xerox for lunch the next day at a local 99 restaurant, where no leftovers were taken home. Again.
Another roast beef stop at Simard's in Wilmington, MA after some business was taken care of, where it was determined that the roast beef wasn't as good as it used to be, and much smaller than at Costello's, but the fried mushrooms Barbara has always liked were still great.
We had a chance to see three of Barbara's cousins one Saturday. It had been planned to have a get-together at her cousin Joy's house in the afternoon, but the previous day Barbara's aunt (their mother) had taken sick. Given that all of them were going to be in nearby Manchester, NH to visit her in the hospital, we moved the get-together to a restaurant near by. Margarita's is a nice Mexican restaurant which serves a really great ½ lb burger and mixed drinks that go right to the very top of their glasses. Not a problem, unless your table is a bit unsteady and rocks back and forth with the slightest pressure. At that point, drinks spill. Might be set up that way to get you to drink faster, but I'm not sure. Their glass of wine is also about a half a bottle's worth. Not often that I don't finish a glass of wine (and some of Barbara's – but that's a story for another time), but in this case since I was driving I left a bit in the glass. A very sad end to the meal, wasting good wine like that . . .
Another afternoon saw my cousin Charlene on my Dad's side visit us up in our campground. I hadn't seen her for over 50 years. We had connected via Facebook about 6 months earlier, and she visited with Dad one afternoon, which was really nice for him. Great visit for us to talk about long-lost family. No food was associated with her visit, however.
My final visit with Dad for this trip was to get him to those tests that needed to be done in the morning. While Barbara stayed in Enterprise with Grover, I took Dad to his tests and to breakfast after that at the Big Belly Buster restaurant down the road in Billerica, MA. The Country Breakfast features 3 eggs any style and three different types of grilled smoked meat products, but I opted for all bacon. Dad took home some scrambled egg and and a few home fries. I took home nothing.
While the food at our next stop wasn't inspiring (it was tasty, however), the occasion was fun. A group of graduates of Wakefield High got together for a pre-reunion reunion. On June 13, 1971, Barbara and the rest of her graduating class walked down the aisle to receive their diplomas. To celebrate that august occasion, some classmates decided to get together on that same date 50 years later. The actual reunion will be celebrated later this year, but it was past time for a few long-time friends to meet and swap stories about their town and catch up with each other. We met at the Dockside restaurant in the Greenwood section of Wakefield, and even the few husbands who attended had fun.
Of course, no meal is complete without dessert. Especially in my world. After a short drive-by of Barbara's old house, I suggested we take Rt 1 northward to see if the old Putnam Pantry was still in business. The location was always known for it's Ice Cream Smorgasbord, where you pick you flavor of ice cream and then run down a line of various toppings to complete the fattening experience.
Barbara, always willing to go along with my crazy schemes, played the role of navigator, and lo and behold, found Putnam Pantry on the first try! Still open, still had the smorgasbord, even if the number of toppings to choose from was more limited than we both remembered.
So we had dessert . . .
Our next meal was with our best friends, Rick and Marielle Penney. We had stayed with them recently during our trip to Myrtle Beach and had parked next to their Grand Design Reflection 5th wheel in the resort, but they were now back home in Nashua, NH. Nice pizza place nearby that makes a great bacon and pepperoni pizza for the guys, and a garbage pizza with the works for the ladies. Fresh strawberry shortcake with homemade whipped cream followed for dessert.
Our last meal up north was a final trip to Costello's Famous Roast Beef and Seafood. We ordered the large fried clams and scallop boxes to eat there, and ordered a junior roast beef for me and a very tasty cheese steak for Barbara to take on the road the next day. I know hers was tasty because I had some of it for lunch at a rest stop in New York state.
Three stops later – one night in Hegins, PA at Camp-A-While campground, one night in Max Meadows, VA at Pioneer Village RV, and our final stop at a new to us campground in Calhoun, GA called Cedar Break and we're back in Georgia for a week. We barely found this place with an open 30A spot before we have to vacate for the July 4th weekend coming up. It's actually a very nice small park that has been, and is still being, updated and expanded by the new owners. About 5 minutes off of I-75, and very quiet at night. They even have a resident peacock wandering around the campground.
Next up – making do in a pinch when family and holidays clash in a post-COVID RV world.
Random Thoughts From The Road
Just some musings and observations, most of which we've discovered since the beginning of the year.
When your 4 ½ year old grandson is with you full-time for 5 months, it's understandable that the focus would be on his activities. So even though I've tried to keep everyone abreast of the RV parks and campgrounds and the things that might interest and entertain fellow RVers, I know I've missed a few things we've learned on the road.
American drivers stink. I mean really stink. I personally think that Florida drivers in particular truly believe that speed limits on their roads and interstates are merely suggestions. Mind you, they're not aggressive like some other drivers I will be mentioning later on; they just drive faster than normal.
And I get it. There's a lot of real estate between one Florida town and another, so taking your time is a waste of time for many people in the Sunshine State, but we're not talking about another 5 MPH or so; we're talking about 15-20 MPH or more on state highways. And don't get me started about I-95 drivers. Don't think I ever saw a state police car on I-95 once in all the miles we put on that road in the Mini. Maybe they feel there's no reason to even try catching these scofflaws. Maybe they just don't care. Bottom-line, if you're traveling on I-95 in Florida and you can't maintain at least 5 MPH over the posted speed limit, get yourself over to the far right-hand lane.
Georgia drivers, on the other hand, are just downright dangerous. Speeding is the least of your worries when driving your motor home on Georgia interstates. No car or truck driver in Georgia wants to be behind an RV, and they'll do virtually anything to get in front of you. We've had multiple – and I mean more than a half-dozen - drivers come up an on-ramp and continue onto the breakdown lane at speeds exceeding 70 MPH (we always go no more than 63 MPH set on cruise control) just to get in front of us. And they all cut in front of our nearly 15-ton motor home with less than a car-length to spare. If you've never tried to suddenly stop one of these gas models, we don't have air brakes like the bigger diesel rigs have, so there's a LOT of inertia to overcome! They're also not shy about cutting over two lanes to get to an exit your motor home was blocking from their view.
And they can't say they didn't see us. We're a 38-foot long, 9-foot wide, 13-foot tall rolling billboard in bright blue and white.
Finally, Massachusetts drivers. Having grown up here in New England, we're very familiar with how bad drivers are in this area, but they seem to have gotten worse since we left the area. On a positive note, they tend to leave the RVers alone. But you take your life into your hands in the Mini. Maybe they just don't notice something so small. Maybe they just hate us Mini drivers because we're not driving Subarus. Maybe it's our South Dakota plates. Either way, in less than a week we've been cut-off nearly a dozen times.
Moving on to a gem of a campground we discovered . . .
We needed a spot to spend a few days in the Hershey / Gettysburg area after dropping off Jace and before our reservations took effect up in New Hampshire. One of our Tiffin friends had posted about having stayed at Dogwood Acres in Newville, PA. It's equidistant between the aforementioned towns, with about a 45-50 minute drive to each. It's also situated about 10-15 minutes off of I-81 in the middle of nowhere, so it's incredibly quiet at night. The owners have a Tiffin Phaeton they live and travel in. Super nice people. Nice lake and pool on site. The park has a McDonalds kind of theme going on, with their playground decked out with many brand characters and locations. There's also a life-sized Ronald McDonald sitting on a bench to greet you as you enter the park. Grover was NOT a fan of Ronald. Walking back from the very nice dog park, he wasn't looking straight ahead as we were coming up to Ronald. All of a sudden he looked up and found a red-haired clown waving at him. He did a 180 flip in the air and started barking and growling at the interloper. Gave Ronald the stink-eye and a growl every time we passed him after that. Didn't know clowns creeped out dogs like they do us humans.
Moving on, it's refreshing to see things getting back to pre-COVID normal. Mask mandates being dropped if you've been vaccinated. Store shelves getting restocked and products that have been missing are slowly returning.
Gas prices are becoming very disappointing. After never spending more than $2.30 per gallon since we started this journey (and much less than that usually), prices have rapidly increased to $3.00 or more. When you've got to fill the tank with 60-70 gallons of gas, that charge on your card looks pretty steep. haven't spent $200 on a fill-up yet, but if someone in Washington doesn't get their act together soon, it's going to happen.
Finally, after sleeping on our Tiffin-supplied foam mattress for more than 18 months, Barbara and I decided to return to a Sleep Number mattress, which we had used for more than 20 years previously. We ordered a new RV Queen from the Myrtle Beach store, and await it's delivery in about 2 months time. The Tiffin mattress isn't bad, but we just felt we could sleep better on air like we used to.
More travel awaits, with a report on our latest trip to New England coming up, and a huge trip planned for the entire summer up in the Great Plains states and the Northwest. Stay tuned!
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.