Roots, Ruts, Rocks, and Ru-roh!

This post is a special installment, relating the strange events of a single day.

Tuesday, October 15. Clarksburg, Maryland.

Ignorance is bliss, they say. Blissfully we decided to ride the bike trails near Little Bennett regional park campground. The bike trails were, inconveniently, half a mile away on the other side of a river valley. To get there, we’d have to take some hiker-only trails. A friendly park employee pooh-poohed the hiker-only designation, saying they’d be a fine way for us to get to the bike trails. So off we went.

At first it was not too bad. A gentle downhill slope, not too many roots, rocks and ruts. But soon the slope became steeper and the trail rougher, and we stood on our pedals with brakes clamped as we continued to lose elevation – every minute incurring more vertical debt: a commitment to climb the same distance to return home. Though it became clear that this BMX-style ride was a poor match for our semi-street ebikes, apparently some odd and unfortunate cognitive bias made turning back seem even worse. Ordinarily Mark is the one to throw caution to the wind, but in this case he offered to abort the mission, but the uncharacteristically intrepid Lori wanted to push on.

Somehow we reached the river bottom intact. We crossed a bridge, and found the “natural surface” bike trails (dirt and gravel) still somewhat of a challenge with very steep sections and lots of unmarked branching this way and that. Still, we enjoyed them well enough, and spent an hour exploring. Eventually it seemed prudent to start back. We located ourselves on the map. Retracing our steps would be dull and take too long, so we chose another not-for-bikes “shortcut” that would lead us to paved road and eliminate several miles of trail. The shortcut turned out to be a steep hill climb, and we needed full power assist just to keep moving up the steep and rutted hiking path.

We emerged to find the road worse than anticipated. We’d have to ride down a steep, no-shoulder road with bursts of traffic roaring down it. Lori was terrified, but we’d given ourselves little alternative. We blasted down the road, hitting 30+ mph, with fortunately few cars passing us. This led us back to the river bottom, bridge, and the long climb out. Again, we relied heavily on the electric assist (these bikes weigh 45 lbs after all!) and made the rough bouncy hill climb out.

Finally, we made our way to a paved campground road. Victory!! We rode in triumph back to the RV for a well earned rest and refreshments.

But…

Just as the bikes were secured back on the rack, Lori frantically felt her back pocket for her phone. She had a look of panic on her face and Mark knew…. the phone was lost!

In a panic, we took the bikes back off the rack to retrace our recent path. We scanned the campground roads with little hope but not knowing what else to do. Suddenly Mark stopped, calling for Lori to follow him back to the RV. He had remembered Apple’s “find my phone” feature.

During our entire 8 mile ride, we’d seen only 2 other people – so the chances that anyone would find the phone seemed vanishingly small, and the clock was ticking. Not only would we lose light in a few hours, but the phone battery would surely die. And rain was on it’s way for the evening and into the night. It was find it now or find it never.

Logging into iCloud revealed a location near a trail we’d been on, but not quite on it. Assuming the location accuracy was within a reasonable margin of error, we hastily loaded up the bikes, readied the RV (unhook water, electric and sewer, put in the slide) and tore off to find the trailhead. 10 minutes later we arrived, lucky to find a parking area there as well.

Mark jumped on his bike and rode to point on the trail we’d been on that was closest to the “find my phone” locator coordinates. He returned 10 minutes later without success. The next attempt was to go to the actual spot identified by the “find my phone”, even though we hadn’t ridden on that particular trail. When Mark reached the spot, he used his own phone to confirm the exact location. Strangely, it was now reporting a different spot, on road we had not been anywhere near! What??

Apple’s “find my phone” shows us where Lori’s lost phone was last “seen” by the cloud.

Mark returned the the RV, feeling defeated, and a little frustrated by the “find my phone” feature. What had seemed so hopeful, was turning out to be a bust.

Lori suggested to Mark that he call her phone. An obvious thing in retrospect, but we really hadn’t consider the possibility of anyone finding it. We were completely alone on the trails we’d ridden. But we called anyway. Why not? And there was an answer!!! Oh joy!

As it turned out, the finder wasn’t able to reach us with the locked phone, so he had headed home. Unfortunately, he lived almost 20 miles away! We got the bike back on the rack, got the RV turned around, and headed for the rendezvous – tired, but overjoyed at the prospect of getting the phone back. We wound up (in the 26′ RV) in the dense historic downtown city of Frederick, MD. Not RV friendly! But finding an alley to turn down, we parked, and Lori waited with the RV while Mark made the connection.

The guy who had found the phone was very nice, happy to have helped us out. He even recommended some places for the celebration that we’d independently decided was a fitting end to the crazy day. The restaurant turned out to be quite good, with a mellow chardonnay and crisp hefeweizen amplifying the pleasure of a satisfactory outcome.

Savoring success with Shrimp Scampi at the Ragin’ Reef.

P.S. Our happy ending nearly reverted back to nightmare! At the restaurant, Mark had parked the RV in a fenced rear section of the parking lot (trying to be “out of the way”). Lori, concerned, mentioned it to the restaurant host, who advised us to move it, as the fenced area is owned by another business who often closes and locks it until the following day! Mark moved the RV immediately, and sure enough, when we returned after dinner – the fenced area was locked. Whew!

This is *not* the kind of adventure we were hoping for on this trip, but of course some tribulation is inevitable, and thank goodness it all worked out in the end. Hope we’re not using up all our good luck!

See ya!

A Week of Firsts!

16 days into the trip and we’ve already been to Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. Mark created this video of our visits to:

  • Colt State Park, Green Animals Topiary, and Newport Cliff Walk (Rhode Island)
  • Gillette Castle and Devil’s Hopyard (Connecticut)
  • Nockamixon State Park (Pennsylvania)

Since our last post, we’ve had a series of “firsts” that we’d like to share.

After our visit to Gillette Castle in CT, we had a quick overnight in NJ. We stayed at Donaldson’s Farm in Hackettstown through our Harvest Hosts membership. It was a peaceful place to sleep that night, along the edge of their corn fields. The next morning we enjoyed shopping at the farm stand before heading off again. We stocked up on fresh fruits and veggies, plus some baked goods.

Our stay at Donaldson’s was our first boondocking experience (also referred to as dry camping) which means we were not hooked up to any services. No water, sewer or electric. We learned a little more about balancing our battery/solar power that night. We knew we would need to keep our fridge running, use some lights, and turn on the water pump for flushing or using the sinks. We relied on our charged battery and some additional solar power, and we stored some fresh water in the tank before leaving our previous location. We had also followed the weather reports and noticed it would stay in the low 50’s overnight, so we wouldn’t need the heater. The next morning, the RV was nicely warmed by the sun. Everything went well, and we are happy to have that successful experience under our belts! We like the Harvest Hosts concept and now we’ll feel more confident using it in the future.

After New Jersey, we booked a few nights at a campground in PA, and since it was during the week, the place was super quiet. We had the whole back area of the campground to ourselves. It was there that we had our first campfire of the trip. With 2 large logs and only a small amount of kindling, it was a challenge to get the logs to catch. Mark fanned the flames for a long time, but those darn stubborn logs wouldn’t fully catch, no matter how hard he tried, so he eventually got out his battery powered air pump to create a blast furnace effect, which finally did the trick. That was a funny sight! While sitting around the campfire, we popped open a bottle of champagne to celebrate our first full week on the road. Cheers to new adventures!

The next day, we visited Nockamixon State Park where we had another opportunity to enjoy our bikes. The park is beautiful with wide, paved trails for walking or biking, interesting bird life, and great water views all around. However, the highlight of our time in PA was our visit to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square. Fortunately, our schedule is flexible, so when we saw clouds predicted for Friday, we changed our plans and went to Longwood on Thursday instead. We had a perfect sunny day for exploring the extensive grounds. There are many different garden areas, a conservatory, several fountain gardens, an outdoor theater, a few large tree houses, a children’s area and an old homestead. We took a guided tour of the current exhibition, Blooms and Bamboo, and later in the day, we took a tour of the Homestead, which focused more on the history of Longwood. A highlight for visitors, are the musical fountain shows offered several times each day, especially the illuminated evening shows. For anyone visiting the PA area, Longwood is a great day trip.

Late Thursday evening, we rolled into the Delaware Seashore State Park. Our site was on the end of a row, overlooking the Indian River Inlet. In fact, we were right at the point where the river meets the sea, which makes for very interesting water patterns. It was cool to watch as the river and the sea struggled together.

We could watch the river from our dinette but a five minute walk led to the surfers in the sea.

As you might imagine, campgrounds and campsites vary quite a lot, and we are continuing to figure all of that out. Our Delaware site was very flat, which is a nice feature in a campsite. At our site in PA we had to gather large, flat rocks to put under our tires to level the RV, and that was not the first time! After that, we went shopping and bought our first set of leveling blocks. Super handy!

Friday was a bit gray, and a little chilly, so we decided to spend time on some chores. We tidied up the RV, which takes about 15 minutes from top to bottom! Lori likes this a lot. Then we drove off to a grocery store and our first trip to a laundromat. It was handy moving the groceries from the cart and straight into the RV fridge/cabinets. So convenient – as was sitting in the RV having our lunch while the clothes were in the washing machines. When Lori returned to move the clothes over, she got into a conversation with our “dryer neighbor” – a retired teacher. They chatted until all their clothes were dried and folded. Big surprise! :-)

On Saturday, we drove an hour over to MD and spent the day at Assateague Island National Seashore, our first National Park. Lori had wanted to visit this area since our son, Tyler, camped here a few years ago. It was also the perfect opportunity to pick up a National Parks Pass. We’re all set now for entry into the rest of the National Parks on our list. Assateague Island is known for their wild horse population. These beautiful animals roam the beaches and marsh areas freely, untamed, and truly wild. It’s quite a sight, but visitors must also be cautious. There are warnings everywhere to keep a safe distance from any horse you encounter. Forty feet is the recommended distance. If they feel threatened, they will bite. If they get spooked, they sometimes run towards the road and get hit by cars. While riding our bikes, we came upon several wild horses grazing along our path. We watched them for a bit and then gently biked passed. The island is home to a variety of other wildlife – such as deer, rabbits, raccoons, turtles, various sea creatures and a huge selection of birds, including bald eagles. We saw a beautiful grand egret along one of the marsh trails.

We’re currently in Maryland at Little Bennett Regional Park. After a brief visit with a friend in the Baltimore area, this was a convenient stop along the way to our next destination – Shenandoah National Park. We’ve got a few sunny days ahead, but the nights look rather chilly, just above freezing overnight, brrrr. Perhaps we started south too late! We haven’t been planning more than a few days ahead though, so we could always adjust the course toward warmth if we decide to skip the Blue Ridge Mountains. But that would be a shame. We’d miss the place John Denver told us is “almost heaven”. C’mon, sing it!

Almost heaven, West Virginia,
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River..

– John Denver et. al.

There are also some neat caverns near Shenandoah park, and Lori has never seen giant stalactite/stalagmite formations (do you remember which is which?). We need to remedy that. Fortunately there are many spectacular caves along our route, so if not here, we’ll get to one eventually.

Something we’ve noticed about our living patterns since starting this adventure – they haven’t changed much! We still stay up too late most nights and generally sleep in most mornings. Today was super lazy, and we didn’t get out of bed until 10. Somehow, we thought this might be different in the RV. Turns out, we’re still not morning people, no matter where we live. And we’re okay with that.

Until next time…

2173

We’re off!

The significance of this post’s title? Our starting odometer reading.

Anyone want to guess how many miles we’ll drive in a year? I’m thinking somewhere between 15k and 25k, but who knows?

Launch day, Sept 30th, was nuts. Besides preparing to head off in the RV, we also had to close up our seasonal cottage, which is a fair amount of work. Naturally, we procrastinated and left many chores until the last minute. (We were also enjoying time with friends and family right up until the night before our scheduled launch, so really, no regrets.) When Monday morning rolled around however, we were car-less, having left it with our Somerville condo neighbors the day before (thank you Jack and Kristin!). This made some preparations a bit more challenging, since the RV was parked down the hill at the Summer Village guest lot. We still needed to move most of our clothes over (after doing last minute laundry) as well as the contents of our fridge and freezer, and a variety of this-n-that! Fortunately the Summer Village gatekeeper was OK with Mark driving Wandah right up next to the cottage, for dozens of back-and-forth provisioning trips. Overall, it was a hectic start, and our original plan to leave at noon turned into a 2:30 departure, but we did it!

Enough kvetching already! Once on the road, we had an easy trip to Rhode Island, and spent the evening rearranging the disaster we’d created by jamming lots of stuff into the RV, willy-nilly, in our desire to get going. We are certain we over-packed, but also couldn’t decide what not to take. We had failed somehow to heed repeated advice: “pack light”, “you won’t need it”, etc. Easy to say, hard to do.

Which of these things could have been left behind? portable propane grill, digital dual head tire pressure gauge, air compressor, USB fans, 50 amp dogbone, Zero Gravity chairs, the extra blanket, mini teapot, the Bananagrams?  At least we saved a little space by getting a 3 quart instant pot, instead of bringing our existing 6 quart. Woo hoo!

The RV space is starting to feel a bit more liveable already. We’re eating and drinking down the backlog (the fridge was jammed!) and much of our things are quickly finding their natural “home”.

On Tuesday, we had a nice time at Colt State Park and riding along the East Bay bike path. We rode a total of 12 miles, at least 90% at “PAS 0” (Pedal Assist Strength level 0, i.e. no assist). We had the best cheese steak ever (really, quite fabulous) at Barringon Pizza – our turn around point, just steps from the bike path.

La Vie Est Bon
After our day out, Lori put up this wall decal in the RV as a reminder for us to count our blessings.

The particular blessing Mark noted this day was how handy it can be to have your house with you all the time. No need to pack a lunch on outing days – we just duck into the RV and make a sandwich. Forgot the sunglasses? Need an umbrella? Change of clothes? So much easier when home is always near.

Internet and Media

It took us a long time to decide on an internet strategy. We could rely on campground wifi + comcast hotspots + phone tethering. Ultimately, we bit the bullet and got a Verizon MiFi hotspot with unlimited data.

It’s fast and very convenient.  It would have been miserable connecting each time to a new, and possibly sketchy public wifi. When there’s a good cell signal we get 80+ mbps down. We also got a chromecast to send video from phone, tablet or laptop to our TV. Seems to work pretty reliably, and the quality is good, too.

Food Food Everywhere! Under the dinette seat, behind the TV, over the stove, over the dinette..  Maybe we brought too much (was 2 large cans of diced tomatoes overkill?) but it seemed a shame to throw it out. Maybe over time we’ll reduce the backlog. Not that we managed to do that at home so well. Some of these jars have been in the back of cabinets for years. The rear portion of this space also serves as Lori’s craft cabinet. It was not easy leaving so much behind!

Tubs, tubs, tubs – Lori organizes the world!

With our limited space, and a need to keep items from rolling all around when we’re moving, we needed a variety of storage options – from baskets to bins to buckets! We’re still trying to figure out what works best for each space but, so far, so good.

We can fit seven baskets in the over-the-bed cabinets to hold our clothes. Three for Mark and four for Lori. Under the vanity, there are four covered tubs. One for cleaning supplies, one for Mark’s toiletries and two for Lori. The closet holds twenty-five hanging items. Ten for Mark, fifteen for Lori. Is anyone seeing a pattern here? 

Well, that’s it for now, folks.  We’ll be heading off to CT next, with a visit to Mystic and also Gillette Castle State Park. Thanks for following along!