On the next part of the journey We were looking at all the life There were plants and birds and rocks and things There were gators and crystal springs The first thing we met was a manatee And the sky with no clouds The day was warm and the river was wet But the air was full of sound
Adapted from “Horse With No Name” by America
We visited 4 Springs in a row:
7 Sisters Springs (Chassahowitzka River)
At Chassahowitzka River campground (near 7 Sisters Springs) we rented kayaks, and toured the river, enjoying the wildlife (birds, fish, turtles) and particularly the friendly manatee that was often near the docks at the boat rental. We also saw our first freshwater springs – with crystal clear water flowing up out of underground caverns. The water appears bright blue, particularly where the caves are made of light colored stone. Another fun part of kayaking the Chassahowitzka is traveling upstream a mile or so of progressively narrower and shallower water until you reach “the crack” a deep rock cleft where spring water pours forth.
Gilchrist Springs wasn’t too interesting, being closed to boating. Besides we were just stopping for the night before we could get a spot at Ginnie Springs. The park ranger casually mentioned “weather” was on the way, but we didn’t give it much thought until we saw a weather report warning of wind gusts of up to 50 mph, and a tornado watch (and eventual warning 15 miles away). Lori had an evacuation bag packed with food, flashlight, etc. in case we had to run for cover in the concrete block bath house nearby. It never came to that, but Lori was on the verge of making a run for it for 1/2 an hour or so.
Ginnie Springs was lovely. We kayaked one day – visiting at least 5 different crystal blue springs along the Santa Fe River – and paddle boarded the next (the first time for both of us!). Scuba divers explored the caves at the bottom of the main spring, and we spent a long day in and out of the water, on and off the paddle board. Lori learned from a fellow paddle boarder that our phone model is water resistant. He showed us several underwater clips he’d taken earlier. That was enough for Lori to brave it herself, and you can see the result in our video. Ginnie Springs is also set up as a tubing river, with a path to walk back upstream after a lazy drift downstream. It is huge with hundreds of campsites. What a great place for a family outing.
Wakulla Springs State Park is another gem. It has 2 main virtues. One is an excellent hour+ tour on the Wakulla River, only $8 per person. A great deal! We learned to identify many native birds. We saw at least 20 alligators, from 2 foot long babies, to giant elders. We also saw two manatees. There was a wealth of information provided about the river environment and the characteristics, habits, and behaviors of the river’s denizens. The other neat thing about the park is the high-end cafe onsite. If you eat there, they take the park entry fee off your bill!
Well, enough chatter. Here’s the video. Yes, you’ll see lots of spring water, what can we say, we were enamored with it. There’s always the fast forward button.. :)
As we write this, we’re in Mississippi, just east of Biloxi, headed for Louisiana tomorrow. Stay tuned for the details in our next post. Bye for now!
We weren’t going to do a “no RV” blog post, but we had a lot of fun while Wandah was in the shop so we’ll do short video and summary. Highlights include:
Meeting up with Mark’s Hewlett-Packard friends & Lori’s family
Beach / Sunsets / Drum Circle
North Port & Venice FL
After leaving Wandah in Winter Garden, Florida, for a minor fix, we headed southwest for a day in Boca Grande and then over to North Port. Lori’s cousin Elizabeth (Libby) was very welcoming and provided us our own little living space with bed, TV, couch and chairs. To show our appreciation during the nearly two-week stay, Lori channeled her inner Marie Kondo, helping Libby to re-organize and simplify her living space. Mark assisted with handyman work and gadget setup. Win-win.
We also had some memorable area outings. The gulf coast is known for dramatic sunsets. One night we watched from Venice, where there’s a small park with a long jetty on one side and a nice seafood restaurant on the other. We watched the sun sink below the horizon then enjoyed dinner by twilight. Another night, we went with Anne (a friend from HP days) to Nokomis Beach, where they celebrate the sunset each Wednesday with a drum circle and dancing. Very hippie. Very fun.
We got our wildlife fix by visiting Myakka River State Park with Anne, then the 3 of us joined Libby for a nice BBQ lunch, and a boat tour on the Myakka River from Snookhaven. We got some local history, and learned about a variety of birds and animals we viewed along the river. We saw a few alligators too!
One night at Libby’s we had dinner with her neighbor Walter, a horticulturist. One of his passions is Orchid cultivation. He suggested we all attend the Orchid show in Venice the next day – his treat! It was spectacular! Here are just a few of the orchids that were on display there.
We have friends from our cottage community in Westford who spend winters at their beautiful new home in Cape Coral, Florida. (Bart and Christine – Mark knew Bart at HP). Our several day visit with them included excellent dinners out, a visit to the Edison/Ford Winter Estates, and a day of cruising the Cape Coral canals with Christine’s parents – with a mid-day lunch at Rumrunners. We did have some down time too, lounging under the lanai in their hot tub and newly-finished pool, playing rounds of Texas Hold-em, and playing with their cute new pup, Lexi. What a good time we had!
We finally got the call to pick up the RV, so we headed north towards Winter Garden, once again, to be reunited with Wandah on Monday morning. Thanks to a recommendation from Lori’s friend (thanks Karen!) we spent Sunday in the cute lakeside town of Mt. Dora, with a vibe more rural midwest than “typical” Florida. There was a huge art fair going on, filling the downtown streets for blocks in every direction! After hours of strolling the art booths, and the nearby park and waterfront, we headed south to Oakland Manor House B&B, located on enormous (50 square miles) Lake Apopka. The Manor was grand and ornate yet quite charming. We headed to quaint and old-timey downtown Winter Garden for dinner, skipping a Peruvian Shaman ceremony being held at the B&B. We slept well in our comfortable room and the next morning enjoyed the delicious breakfast offered by the innkeeper.
So that’s it. We picked up Wandah on Monday and we are already back in the groove! Next time we’ll share a video of our Chassahowitzka River manatee sighting, taken from our rented Kayak. Stay tuned!
After several weeks home for the holidays, we resumed the RV life in Florida on Monday, January 7. A video link is at the bottom of this post if you’d rather just look at the scenery. :)
We started off with 2 state parks in central Florida. First was a night at Lake Louisa (restocking the fridge and getting our bearings) and three nights at Hillsborough River.
Lake Louisa is a nice little park between two lakes, neither of which is Lake Louisa. After an overnight there, we drove to the actual Lake Louisa to have lunch and walk some trails near the water. The lake has an unusual dark reddish tea color. They say it’s due to tannic acid, and not harmful to people or wildlife. Mark was surprised to see a map showing nearby Lake Minnehaha, having grown up not far from Minnesota’s Minnehaha Falls. He thinks the name Minnehaha (laughing waters) makes more sense for falls than lakes!
Hillsborough River State Park
Next we headed to Hillsborough River State Park, a short drive southwest. Hillsborough has many easy hikes by the river and a nearby historic fort, Fort Foster. We also engaged in some of our first substantial “campground culture” including a pot luck dinner with about 30 other guests and a “campers coffee” with donuts, park info and Q&A.
We met some nice people at the potluck dinner and had some good discussions about things to do in the area. We got more than one recommendation to visit the Ybor historic district in Tampa so we added that to our agenda. The next morning we checked out the campers coffee and donuts event where we learned many statistics about the Florida state park system, including history and finances (zero tax dollars, entirely funded by camping fees!)
After the campers coffee, Mark joined a group from the campground on a tour of nearby Fort Foster, a military outpost during the years of conflict with Native Americans. The death rate was quite high, not from fighting – but rather from insect borne disease! The medicine of the time was primitive (bloodletting, quinine, amputations without anesthetics), and they eventually had to close the fort because it was such a death trap.
After Hillsborough we drove straight to Ybor – a neighborhood of Tampa that’s become an interesting historical area. Ybor was founded on cigar production by a Cuban who emigrated first to Key West, and then when labor strikes proved too troublesome, moved operations to Ybor. The factory was so successful, the area was a huge boom town, with massive growth and immigration. It was the start of what is now Tampa. We toured the Ybor museum and an original cigar factory worker’s home, illustrating life back in the days of the cigar boom, which started in the 1890s. We also had our first cuban sandwich of the trip. It’s a local specialty and did not disappoint.
Honeymoon Island / Dunedin
We booked 3 nights at an RV park just to the north of Dunedin (“Duh nee din”) which is a cute town on the gulf coast just west of Tampa, An excellent bikeway – The Pinellas Trail – stretches almost 40 miles from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg and we used it for our two major outings in the area. The first was a day on Honeymoon Island. If was an easy 3 miles on the wide and flat paved trail, then a scenic ride out on the causeway to Honeymoon island. Honeymoon Island has 2 parts, one of which we enjoyed. The enjoyable part was to the west, a long stretch of white sand beach with plenty of trees right up to the shoreline, which provide cover for the “honeymooners”. We walked at least a mile northward. It felt secluded there despite its popularity on that warm weekend afternoon. We’re not sure how many actual honeymooners the place attracts, but a wedding was performed on the beach that day. We saw the bride and groom posing for wedding photos on our way out.
Less enjoyable for us was the nature preserve on the eastern fork. It started off fine, with a maze of trails we rode through on our bikes. After about 20 minutes we reached a dead end where a bald eagle was in his nest. Cool. But on the way out the pleasant trail turned nasty. Suddenly we were being bitten by flying insects. We hadn’t prepared for bugs! So we fled in haste, swatting away what we could. But escape wasn’t so easy! We encountered multiple “trail closed, do not enter” signs blocking our exit path.These eventually forced us in a big loop back to the trail end, where we found the crew putting out the signs! At that point we decided it would be “safest” to try to retrace our steps back the way we came in, only to find some of *those* trails shut down too. After a long ride down an alternate trail, we hit a long patch of deep sand, which was impossible to ride on! We dismounted and pushed our bikes through the (seemingly endless) sandy stretches, wondering whether it was too late to turn back and try yet another exit path. But we forged ahead, *finally* finding our way out, hot and sweaty and bug bitten. Ugh! What a mess! Lesson learned: Always keep bug spray in the backpacks!
The next day we took our bikes on the Pinellas trail again, this time for the 6 mile ride into Dunedin’s funky and slightly hipsterish downtown. We found a bike rack right near the trail, and locked up the bikes to explore on foot. The place was hopping with activity, with lots of restaurants, pubs, and specialty shops. After walking down to the docks, and winding through several blocks, we found ourselves at the Dunedin Brewery for a flight of their beers and a bite to eat. They claim to be the oldest microbrewery in Florida, founded in 1995. That’s 10 years after Boston Beer Co, six years after Cambridge Brewing Co. so I guess Boston was ahead of the curve. Anyway, Dunedin is pretty nice. We could see ourselves taking an extended vacation here someday. (wait, do you need to be working to have a “vacation”?)
Oscar Sherer State Park / Osprey
We stayed at Oscar Sherer campground in Osprey for 2 days. Friends Jeff and his wife Monica were staying just a couple miles away in the same town (Jeff is a former HP co-worker of Mark’s). We spent a fun and active day together. We started out in the morning with a bike ride on a rail trail connected to our campground. After a lunch break back at their place, we headed to Casey Key where we relaxed near the water. Finally, we drove among beautiful waterfront mansions to dinner at a seafood restaurant.
Our main “bucket list” item for Florida was to see Key West. We lucked into campground reservations at 2 state parks for a total of 4 days on the Keys. John Pennekamp State Park is on Key Largo and Bahia Honda State Park is farther west on Big Pine Key. They served mostly as home base for two trips to Key West. After an overnight in Key Largo, we checked into Bahia Honda and got on a bus to Key West, arriving late afternoon.
We spent a while wandering around, passing Harry Truman’s Little White House, and the Hemmingway house, but since it was getting late we didn’t tour either one. We headed for the “southernmost point” in the US, watched the sun set from a pier, then had an excellent dinner at a restaurant adjacent to it. We were lucky to get a table at the water’s edge where we watched the sea and glowing sky gradually dim. Just beautiful.
The next day, we opted to drive the RV most of the way to Key West (the bus had been painfully slow) and then bike the rest of the way in. We walked a lot, down to Fort Zachary Taylor, back to the Key West lighthouse, just enjoying the day. We decided to head to Mallory Square, one of the most popular sunset watching locations in Key West. Quite a nice spot with boats passing back and forth, clouds billowing, street performers on the boardwalk, and general merriment. We got a few pictures of the sun lowering, but we were robbed of a real sunset, as a low cloud bank covered the sun just 10 minutes before sunset. :( We finished the evening with a nice meal, and took our time strolling through the bustling streets. We noticed a few sprinkles, but weren’t too worried. Rain wasn’t predicted for over an hour, plenty of time to get back to our bikes and ride back to the RV. Right? Wrong! The sprinkles turned into a steady rain. The bikes were 1/2 mile away. We started walking fast, getting wetter and wetter. In haste, we unlocked the bikes, preparing for a drenching ride back to Wandah. But, we lucked out!! The rain let up again, and we had a mostly dry (but very windy) ride. We wasted no time getting the bikes on the rack, and ducking quickly inside the warm, dry RV. Whew!
While we were in the Keys, we got the call that our RV parts were in, and we could bring it in for service Monday morning. So on Sunday we drove 5 hours to a campground near the RV dealership in Winter Garden to prepare Wandah for the drop off. That involved quite a logistical dance of its own. The fridge and freezer had to be emptied/defrosted, grey and black water tanks emptied, bikes and bike rack taken off the vehicle, clothes packed and rental car picked up.
After dropping off Wandah, we drove to Icon Park in Orlando to relax in the sun, see a movie (Little Women), be lifted 450 feet in the air on little chairs hanging from chains (the Star Flyer), have a nice dinner, and do a wine tasting at Coopers Hawk. The tasting included 8 wine choices, but by #6 we were feeling too full (and buzzed frankly) so we called it a night. (Yes, we’re getting old!) We didn’t even secure a hotel until after 8 pm. No worries, there were a dozen to choose from.
We’ll end this post’s narrative here. Gluttons for punishment are welcome to attempt to endure a 7+ minute video with scenes from the above adventures. You’ve been warned!
We’re currently on hiatus from the RV trip, visiting friends and family. We’ll pick up the story once we get Wandah back. We plan to head toward the panhandle and then along the gulf coast toward Texas. See you then!
This is a catch-up blog post. We visited the 3 places listed above in November 2019. After these cities (plus one day in Myrtle Beach, SC) we drove to Durham, NC where Mark attended a conference, and Lori flew home for Thanksgiving. Mark then drove to Orlando and after staying with an old friend, he left Wandah at an RV dealer and also flew home to join Lori in the Boston area. We had extended stays with both family and friends, and we’re very grateful to those who hosted us, and so glad for the time we got to spend with everyone, even though it didn’t feel like enough. Leaving was difficult, despite being excited to resume the journey.
We’re now back on the road, in Florida, currently on the gulf coast north of Clearwater. The next post should pick up with our post holiday travels.
Of the 3 cities only Charleston was entirely new to us, but we found new things to do in both Chattanooga (where we attended a wedding 20 years ago) and Savannah (where we stayed for 10 days in February 2016). They are all fun cities! New experiences included
Chattanooga, TN: Aquarium, Cloudland Canyons, Rock City
Savannah, GA: Botanical Gardens, Mighty Eighth museum, Skidaway Island State Park
Charleston, SC: City Market, King St.. Waterfront Park
The Chattanooga, TN Aquarium is excellent. It has two separate parts – saltwater and freshwater. The freshwater side was especially interesting.
Our campground near Chattanooga was Cloudland Canyons State Park (just over the border into Georgia). Near our site was this cliff-side trail with beautiful scenic views of the canyon.
Also nearby is a commercial venture called Rock City. It’s a nice way to spend an afternoon. Fresh air, interesting paths and trails, great views – including a spot where you can see 7 states, a “fairy village”, and more. Lookout Mountain is a small national park commemorating an important civil war battle. The mountain was strategic high ground held by the south; Its capture by the north was a turning point in the war.
With a nasty cold front headed our way, we made a dash for the southeast where temperatures would remain a toasty 1 degree above freezing on our first, coldest night in Georgia. This visit would be a return to one of our favorite previous places. We’d visited Savannah just a few years ago, so we didn’t need to take the city tour or revisit the art museums, cemetery, churches, etc. We mostly wandered around, eating, drinking, and enjoying places we knew. This time however, we added a stay at the excellent Skidaway Island State Park, where we really enjoyed several days of long walks and trail rides through lush foliage and beautiful views.
Charleston, South Carolina
Mark had been wanting to visit Charleston for years, having heard about its charming architecture, elegant homes, parks, waterfront, galleries, good food, and more. We walked many miles on each of 2 days in the city, and since downtown is fairly compact we covered a good portion of it. Some highlights were walks along the harbor, drinks at a rooftop bar with panoramic views, King Street shopping, the city market, and good restaurants, including those featuring BBQ, Seafood, and indulgent comfort food.
We also enjoyed a long visit to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens to the north. Quite a place.
One thing that really endeared Charleston to us immediately as RVers, is that their visitor center parking garage features an RV parking area! First and only time we’ve encountered that. So nice!
Bonus Feature: Camper’s Coldbrew
Mark’s “Camper’s Coldbrew” is simply coldbrew on the road with less equipement. Lori vetoed Mark’s original name for it, “Hillbilly Coldbrew” since that’s “not nice”. Teamwork wins again!
The main difference from his home process is that he don’t use a special coldbrew pitcher. He buys a $1 jug of spring water, drinks some of it, and pours in the ground coffee. It doesn’t have to be fresh ground, but since it’s hard to find the optimal coarse grind in pre-ground coffee, he recommens buying whole beans in the grocery store and using their ginder set to the coarsest grind setting.
An important step with the jug method is to let the mixture settle well before you start to filter it, so that most of the settled coffee grounds stay in bottom of the jug. Otherwise the filter cone will fill up filtering will come to a grinding halt. (ha ha). You may want to use a second filter if the first one starts to drain too slowly.
The final result is as good as any made with fancy equipment. No surprise really. Here’s an overall “recipe” and recommendations:
Start with good beans (fresher the better, Mark prefers a medium roast)
Coarse grind the beans. (coarsest setting on a supermarket grinder works well)
Use good water (spring water is nice. Charcoal-filtered tap water is also fine)
Mix and agitate occasionally (every couple hours if you can, but at least 3 times during the brew)
Brew at room temperature, 10 to 14 hours. (longer = stronger. It’s not very fussy but if you brew too long, the coffee will start break down, making it hard to filter out the small particles)
Filter well with a paper filter. (optionally pre-filter with a nylon or metal filter. I’ve also tried a 2nd paper filter pass, but it doesn’t seem to improve the end result)
Chill, serve, and enjoy!
Whew! Lots of video editing. Glad to have this done finally. We hope to blog more often in future so we don’t get so far behind. We’ll see!
Our recent posts have been about the places we’re going and things we’re seeing. This post changes that up a bit and focuses more on our day to day living experience. This time we’ll cover the following topics:
Deciding where to go and what to do
Setup and tear down
At the campsite
Chores (shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry)
Staying comfortable (not too cold, not too hot)
Vehicle maintenance (fuel, fluids, tires, etc.)
Pictures and Video – our usual practices
Internet and TV
Where to go
Deciding where to go is a blessing and a curse. The blessing, of course, is that we have lots of freedom to go to interesting places. The curse is that we are constantly having to make choices AND find and book campsites.
The October 1 start of our trip was perhaps a month late given our desire to visit dozens of places between Boston and Florida. Rain and two nasty cold fronts chased us away from the Asheville area where there were many state parks on our list. First we headed west to get through a multi-day rainy spell, then southeast when the recent record cold wave passed through the southeast. Even in Savannah it got down close to freezing.
Lesson leave a substantial temperature margin. If you want daily highs to be at least 60 degrees, go where the average high is at least 70.
In the months before departure Mark started accumulating “places of interest” using google maps. There are many “best of” articles that identify interesting places. Best state and national parks, most beautiful place in each state, 10 underrated cities, etc. Each time one caught his interest he’d use the google maps “save” feature to save it in a map for the trip. Opening the map periodically shows us what points of interest are nearby or on our expected path.
What to do
For “stuff to do” we do the obvious: google for “things to do in xxx”. This helps us decide what cities to visit, and how many days we think we’ll need there. In the east our travels have been somewhat city-oriented. We expect that will change some as we head west and visit the great national parks and forests out there.
Our average travel distance between places is about 100 miles. We don’t like driving more than about 250 miles in a day. If it’s a little over, we might just push though, but if it’s longer, we plan a stopover (boondock or campground near the highway).
Finding campgrounds can be a pain. Some common disqualifiers:
No water or electric service
Too shabby (run down, bad reviews, all paved)
Too far from the city we’re visiting
To identify options, we use a bunch of websites and apps. “Campendium”, “Allstays”, “Passport America”, “Ultimate public campgrounds”, and plain old google have all yielded useful campground information. Campendium is nice because it filters out sites that don’t meet our criteria (RV site with water and 30 amp electric) and shows options on a map and in a list with average recent price paid and average review. But it’s not as complete as Allstays. So we combine apps.
Booking has been mixed. Many state and regional parks use a system called “Reserve America”. Thank goodness! One login, site search, booking and payment, even a “notify me if a spot becomes available” feature. We don’t like the hassle of signing up on other reservations systems, so that means calling, which often restricts us to booking between 9am-6pm.
Since we have been “blowing with the wind” we often book quite late, and don’t even know where we’ll be staying in 2 days. That can make the “campground full” problem worse. Naturally there’s a competition for sites. If it’s cheap, nice, and in a good location, it’s probably full. So we compromise. The price can also be tricky. It might be higher than on the website, they might not honor discounts or have complex restrictions, they might have minimum stays, they might charge extra fees, or or or..
In contrast, “boondocking” – free overnight parking without hookups – has been quite easy to find. There’s always Cracker Barrel or Walmart near enough to our path. We’ve boondocked 4 times now, but may start doing it more since it has worked out well so far.
As you might realize, the constant searching for and booking RV accommodations can be a time consuming chore. Fortunately that’s offset by the fun of anticipating the next adventure.
Walking – we’ve been walking *a lot* even more than back home in Somerville where walking all over town was a way of life. Trails, parks, cities, attractions have all been great exercise.
Driving is an whole new adventure. Wandah is *big* so we have to frequently be on guard for streets that are steep, narrow, height restricted, have low overhanging trees, on and on. We have generally not let the RV’s size stop us from going into cities. We do some planning, and have learned some tricks for mostly staying out of trouble. There’s still the occasional jam where some skilled maneuvering or backing up is required, but it’s manageable.
We did have a “hold your breath” moment at the Durham airport. We came to an arched overpass that was marked 11′ 0″ which would be one inch to low. We really had no way to turn around without causing a major incident. Mark took a calculated gamble that the very center of the arch would probably be at least 11′ 1″ so we drove right down the center line slowly and hoped for the best. And it was fine. Whew!!
Biking has been a real pleasure. Our ebikes make all the difference when we find ourselves climbing hills or going on unpaved trails, or just going very long distances. The motorized assist feels like a super power, and we seek out opportunities to ride just for the fun of it. Mostly the riding has been for pleasure rather than utility (e.g. going where the RV can’t) but we expect that won’t always be the case. We have helmets in case there’s substantial on-road travel, and saddlebags, e.g. to carry stuff if needed.
It is a bit of work to use the bike cover. 6 straps, a drawstring, and 2 zippers. It takes a good 5 minutes just to put it on or take it off.
Wandah is narrow enough that we can park in a normal width space, but long enough that we need either two in a row for street parking, or two head-to-head spots in a parking lot. If our RV was any bigger it would be much more difficult to find parking.
We’ve had good luck finding parking at city parks, municipal lots, and museums. Supermarkets and shopping malls are easy, too. In larger areas, we’ve learned to check Visitor Center parking lots, which may have RV specific spots. The Charleston, SC, visitor center parking ramp even had dedicated indoor RV spaces – that was a first! We also figured out that we can use a car-sized spot if it has a flat area behind it. The back five feet of the RV just overhangs the flat area and we fit just fine! Occasionally, we have asked local police officers or lot attendants for parking advice and they have been very helpful in directing us to good spots.
Setup and tear down
After just a few weeks the routine became… routine. Seven weeks in and it’s almost second nature.
Every time we arrive at our campsite:
Fetch the EMS (Electical Management System – an electric line analyzer/protector) from the basement (an under-RV storage compartment), plug it in to the 30 amp socket at the supply post and flip the 30A breaker on.
Extend the 30 amp power line from its basement compartment and plug it into the EMS. If the EMS is happy with the power supply after monitoring it for 2 minutes 15 seconds, it will let current flow to the RV.
Connect pressure limiter and inline filter to the water supply. Fetch and connect the fresh water hose. Run water for a while to make sure it’s fresh. Turn off water supply. Feed hose through basement pass thru and connect to RV water inlet (same basement door as for the power cord). Turn on water supply. [Adding quick-connects to the hose and filter was a game changer. Connecting/disconnecting the hoses would be very annoying otherwise.]
Deploy stabilizers. These keep the RV steady when we’re moving about inside. They can also do minor leveling. On rare occasions the site is not level enough, so before using the stabilizers we drive up onto leveling blocks that we carry for that purpose.
Open pass thru for power line and close up basement doors.
Turn auto stair retraction “off”, which means the stairs stay extended when the door closes/opens.
Deploy the slide out. Put the key in the ignition and turned it on, put the emergency brake on, then push a button to slide out the slide (about 10 seconds). Wait for “click” that indicates that it’s completely out.
That seems like a lot, doesn’t it? It’s not really too bad. Mark does all the outside stuff in under 5 minutes.
Tear down checklist – to prevent mishaps
It all has to be done in reverse when we leave the site. And leaving is more “dangerous” than arriving because driving away when connected to water or power, or with slide, steps or awning out can be disastrous, so we have a departure checklist. Most items are “always” but some only apply when we empty the holding tanks (more on this later). Here’s the actual list we use:
Shades up, windows closed * skylight closed * awning in * all stuff stowed and secured * heat, hot water and gas off * fans and lights off * antenna off * flush black water * flush grey water * cap sewer both ends * rinse sewer hose * turn off water and release pressure * disconnect water from RV * drain and stow hoses * bikes secured, “foamed” and covered * slide in * stabilizers up * disconnect power * close hose and power pass-thrus * lock all basement locks * steps on * destination in GPS * brake off * legos stowed.
Some cryptic items: “antenna off” – there is a power antenna. Since it draws power, it should be turned off when we’re not plugged in. “Cap sewer both ends” – close off the sewer pipes both in the ground and on the RV. “bikes.. ‘foamed'” – a brake lever rubs on the back of the RV when on the rack, so we use a chunk of foam “noodle” to prevent damage. “Legos stowed” – the leveling blocks look like legos.
The inside checklist tasks consist mostly of securing items and switching off systems. Several of these are listed above. Basically, we want to secure anything that could fall, move around, or pop open while we’re driving. We make sure all cabinets/drawers are tightly latched, and we use velcro and rubber mats strategically to keep stuff in place. Lori’s favorite tool is what she calls the “refrigerator baby gates” which are used to keep the fridge contents from sliding around or tipping over.
So that’s the setup and tear down. Like setting up, it sounds like a lot to do, but it often takes just 10 or so minutes, depending how settled in we are.
At the campsite
How about while we’re at the campsite? Here are some things we deal with:
EMS: The EMS is quite sensitive. We’ve had the power go off in the middle of the night because of unstable power. It can be a hard decision whether to leave the power off, or gamble by plugging in directly. Most of the time bypassing the EMS would be fine, but the consequences of getting a bad power spike could be frying $7k worth of wiring and electronics. We have not risked it.
Breakers: It’s not hard to trip a circuit breaker. Two power hungry appliances running at the same time can do it. Space heater on high plus microwave for example. Toaster plus instant pot. It’s still pretty rare. Two breakers have tripped in 6 weeks. The panel is easy to get to. I’m just glad it’s not blown fuses. I have replacement fuses too, but it would be more of a hassle.
12V vs 120V:
Lights, USB, Antenna, Fans – all 12V. They draw power from the batteries.
TVs, Microwave, Heat Pump, Water Heater, wall sockets – 120V. When plugged in to “shore power” (external power) they use that. But you can turn on the inverter (a device that converts 12v DC battery power to 120V AC) and run them that way. Some 120V appliances such as the heat pump, are very power hungry and will drain the batteries quickly. Use sparingly.
Refrigerator: Automatically switches between 12V and 120V.
Shore Power: 30A supply that we plug in to. Powers everything and charges the batteries too. We like being on shore power because it’s carefree.
Generator: Just like shore power, but we create it ourselves with a built-in propane gas generator. Unfortunately it would burn the entire propane supply in about 20 hours of use, plus it’s kind of loud, so we almost never use it. I would likely need to use it to charge the batteries if we were to boondock two days in a row. That hasn’t happend yet.
Solar: It’s a nice trickle charge for the batteries. As long as the sun is shining it will power the refrigerator, but a day’s sunshine is not quite enough to power the fridge for 24 hours. I.e. the battery would deplete over a few days with solar only. We’re considering adding more solar and bigger batteries so they could fully power the fridge. At least in sunny places.
Battery: 2 deep cycle batteries. I was surprised they’re old school batteries that need distilled water added periodically. Doh! Might be an upgrade item. We get used to closely watching the voltage display when boondocking, worrying about the batteries running low. So far so good. Oddly there is no battery “meter” showing how much power is left. Instead you need to translate the reported voltage into a percentage. 12.7v = 90%, 12.5v=90%.. down to 12.2v=60% and 12.06=50%. It is “bad” (potentially damaging to the batteries) to go below 50% of remaining capacity. That’s what we’re trying to avoid of course.
External water supply: A typical garden hose connects the external supply to RV. A pressure limiter and filter are added to insure clean water at a safe pressure.
Fresh water tank: A 32 Gallon tank allows us to carry a supply of fresh water.
Water can be heated electrically, by propane, or both at the same time. We use electric water heating almost exclusively. It takes less than 10 minutes to get hot. Actually the water gets crazy hot. We have to mix in lots of cold to even be able to touch it. I think that’s why we’ve never “run out” of hot water even with this RVs relatively tiny hot water tank. It takes very little hot water mixed in for the water to be hot enough for showers or dish washing.
In very cold weather there is a risk of water lines freezing. Down to about 20 degrees it’s fine just to disconnect the external supply and leave the hot water heater on. We’ve gotten down to 33 degrees, but didn’t disconnect. Below 20 degrees there are more extreme measures to take, such as putting a heat lamp in the basement where the water valves are, or in extreme cold, draining the water lines and adding antifreeze to the gray and black water tanks. No thank you.
A valve lets us switch between “normal” mode (external water supply goes direct to RV water lines) and “tank fill” mode (external supply fills the fresh water tank). We generally carry about 10 gallons of fresh water in the tank so we can get a drink, wash dishes or flush. If we wanted to take showers when boondocking we could, but would want more like 20 gallons in the tank.
Pressure: when not connected to an external water supply, water pressure must be created by a pump. We need to turn on the pump manually in that case. We generally only turn on the pump while drawing water because the pump uses battery power.
Conserving water: we were both surprised how easy it was to change to a conservation mindset without feeling deprived. We either take fast showers, or turn off the water between getting wet and rinsing off. It’s not bothersome at all. Dishes can be washed with a fraction of the water normally used by wiping them clean before washing. Doing the washing with the water off, and doing the rinsing all at once.
Leveling (stabilizers, blocks)
As mentioned we have leveling blocks. They do look like legos. You can use 1, 3, or 6 under each wheel. They sell them in 10 packs. Go figure. I just want 2 more so I can do 6 under each. But you can’t buy singles. Doh! Some people add auto-levelers. Push a button and these pistons drop pads down and self-level the RV. Nice, but expensive and heavy. Not worth it I think.
The so-called “slide out” or “tip out” is pretty simple. It operates by a switch. You just need to be level enough that it doesn’t over-stress the motors. Also, avoid getting stuff pinched in it. Not really a problem. It’s amazing how much bigger the RV feels with the slide out.
Water: The Black and the Gray
Gray water tank: 40 gallons. Filled from shower and 2 sinks. People don’t leave the gray water drain open, even when there’s a sewer connection. You wait until it’s getting pretty full, then dump it all at once.
Black water tank: 32 gallons. For the toilet. Each time you completely empty the toilet, you must “prime” it before using it again. Priming consists of adding a couple gallons of water plus a liquid meant to control odor and help stuff break down. We really like the RV toilet! It uses a tiny amount of water and just seems simpler and more sensible than the ones at home.
You always dump black before gray, because the gray water cleans out the hose after the black stuff has run through it.
Many times there’s no sewer connection at each site. No problem. There’s virtually always a “dump station”. At check out time we’ve seen a waiting line of 3 or even 4 vehicles, but that’s rare. It takes less than 5 minutes to do the whole job.
We’re experiencing a wide variety of new supermarkets. As you would imagine, they vary in price and quality. Cheapest so far: Aldi’s. Krogers are nice but expensive. Publix are in the middle. The one Piggly Wiggly we went to was very poor and had multiple empty shelves but we don’t imagine they’re all that way. We have also bought groceries at Walmart. They’re not great but sometimes it’s whats most convenient.
Breakfast for Mark is always the same. Cereal, yogurt, and fruit. Lori’s breakfast is often a hard-boiled egg (we cook 10 at a time in the instant pot) and fruit.
Camper’s Cold Brew Mark likes cold brewed coffee in the morning. The full process may get documented eventually, but the shorthand version is: 1) Coarse grind coffee beans by hand 2) dump ground coffee into water jug with 1/2 gallon of water. 3) Shake jug occasionally over 12-14 hours. 4) Filter with filter cone and paper filters. 5) Refrigerate. Makes enough for 2 weeks.
Lunch in the RV is typically sandwiches, salads, or leftovers. Mark really missed toasted bread for his sandwiches. After some unsatisfactory toasting experiments via the convection oven (grill setting) and stove (open flame), he gave up and bought a $10 toaster. Lori was not keen on yet another appliance, but to Mark it’s well worth the extra space to have toast sometimes.
Dinner: We have relied heavily on our 3qt instant pot mini. So far we’ve made beef stew, turkey chili, chicken soup, chicken broccoli Alfredo, spinach/sausage soup, chicken thighs with rice, and spaghetti & meatballs. A particular virtue to the instant pot, besides speed, is that it is sealed when cooking. That means minimal smells and moisture are released into the limited confines of the RV. Plus Lori makes Mark take the pot outside to release the pressure! :-)
We’ve enjoyed some delicious meals out, especially in areas that are known for regional specialties – such as Memphis BBQ.
We are mostly avoiding fast food, but occasionally we have been tempted by the convenience. Mark, who rarely eats fast food at home, has gone to Taco Bell, Popeye’s (spicy chicken sandwich!), Hardee’s etc. Lori, tends to eat leftovers instead.
Staying comfortable (not too cold, not too hot)
We have 3 heating methods, each with pros and cons.
RV propane furnace. Pros: fast, quiet, doesn’t require external electric supply. Cons: some smell, some humidity added to the air, and we don’t like the cost and hassle of refilling the propane tank.
RV heat pump. Pros: fast, free. Cons: noisy, requires electric hookup. Doesn’t work below 35 degrees.
Space heater (our purchase). Pros: quiet, free, no smell, no humidity. It’s not super fast but we just keep it running and it can warm the RV from 60F to 70F in 15 minutes on high.
We have heated almost exclusively with the space heater. We started out using the heat pump, but it is loud enough that when it kicks on in the night it wakes Lori up. We have found out that most RVers buy electric space heaters.
Staying cool – fans, heat pump, windows
So far this hasn’t come up much. There is an A/C which we’ll use when needed. It is loud and requires external power. Frankly, it’s much easier to get warm (via blankets) than get cool at night, so we’re hoping to avoid too much hot weather.
The RV has 3 fans: in the bathroom, in the ceiling, and in the heat pump (fan mode). There are also windows of course. We hope this will be enough to keep it from getting too stuffy.
We also have USB fans that we can aim at us while sleeping. They make a huge difference.
Staying clean (showers, laundry)
Showering in the RV: This is surprisingly pleasant. We’ve never run out of hot water, and the required water conservation doesn’t feel like deprivation. Because the shower is tiny, it still feels warm and cozy even if you turn the water off while soaping/lathering. An alternative is to run the warm water at a very low rate (just above a trickle) which avoids the on/off. Rinsing really only requires a tiny fraction of the water that we’d normally use.
Campground showers: Only Mark has used campground showers so far, and only when they’re close by. It’s often as much about saving gray water tank capacity (potentially avoiding an extra gray water dump) as it is about having a long hot shower.
Laundry – laundromat life.
We carry about 2 weeks worth of clothes, and do laundry about every 12 days. Using the laundromat has also been easier than expected. We add it to a travel day so it doesn’t interfere with fun stuff. A nice thing about the laundromat is the ability to do everything at once. We usually have 3 washer loads (25-30 minutes) and then 2 dryer loads (30-40 minutes). This makes the entire process, from arriving at the laundromat, to driving away with clean and folded cloths, around 2 hours, and we may spend an hour of that eating lunch. Not bad!
Vehicle maintenance (fuel, fluids, tires, etc.)
There are several items of regular monitoring and maintenance required.
Fuel: Diesel only, 10% biofuel max. It has been pretty easy to find diesel fuel, though it is significantly more expensive than gas, as much as 65 cents per gallon more! We have paid between $2.59 and $3.26 per gallon. The tank holds 26 gallons. The fuel light comes on at 1/4 tank. That means we tend to put around 20 gallons in the tank at each fill. At 16 mpg, that’s 16 * 20 = 320 miles between fills.
Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF). In the last decade or so, new diesel engines must have a pollution control device that uses a fluid you have to add periodically. As everyone knows, urea and de-ionized water can be used to perform a selective catalytic reduction of nitrogen oxides to water and nitrogen, i.e. a good old (NH2)2CO + 4 NO + O2 → 4 N2 + 4 H2O + 2 CO2 and (NH2)2CO + 6 NO2 → 7 N2 + 8 H2O + 4 CO2 reaction. We recently had to do our first DEF fill. You buy a 2.5 gallon jug (Walmart and Home Depot carry it) and pour it in, very carefully. It’s nasty stuff, and leaves a residue on anything it touches. Fortunately we can go 5000 miles per DEF fill. Some truck stops even have DEF pumps. I’m looking forward to that as an alternative to lugging the jug. The government is so hard-core about this system, that if you run out of DEF, your vehicle will go into what’s called “limp mode” which limits you to under 15mph. That wouldn’t be fun. There’s plenty of warning that you’re running low, so this shouldn’t become a problem.
Tire pressure: 6 tires, check weekly for the correct 61 PSI. One hassle is that the dual rear tires (“duallys” in the lingo) require a reverse chuck for the outside tire. I had to rig up a connector from air pump to a reverse chuck. A slow leak in one tire has forced me to check the problematic tire every few days and add air (with a Ryobi portable air pump I bought for the RV).
Battery acid level: check monthly and add distilled water as needed.
Generator: run monthly to test
Fresh water tank: periodic sanitization with chlorine bleach. This is an annoying multi-hour process. Not looking forward to doing it again.
Engine oil, filter, etc. Amazingly, our Mercedes Sprinter 3500 engine goes 20,000 miles between oil changes. Wow!
Pictures and Video – our usual practices
Lori has only her phone, takes lots of photos and videos. Mostly she posts to Instagram, but adds some photos to the blog posts. Mark has been taking 90% of his pictures with his DJI Osmo Pocket video camera. For photos it’s somewhat limited compared to our DSLR, but is so easy to carry it has become the default.
Mark syncs video and photos from the video camera to his Mac to edit them with iMovie then uploads them to YouTube for posting on the blog. iMovie is a bare-bones video editor, but it’s so easy to use that it may continue to be the editor of choice anyway.
Internet and TV
We thought we’d found a great solution with a Verizon Jetpack Mifi hotspot. It lets us connect every device: phones, laptops, tablet, and Chromecast. The Verizon salesman swore there was no throttling even after Mark asked repeatedly. Guess what? Throttling. After a measly 15G data per month, hardly enough to watch one show every night.
Fortunately Mark found out hat we can get 30G hotspot on each of our phones for $20/month, and by doing that the MiFi is only $10/month for its 15G. We’re going to try to get by with 75G total.
If that doesn’t work for us, we could switch to visible.com which offers unlimited 4G LTE including mobile hotspot on Verizon’s network – all for $40/month/phone.
TV / Video
TV: Most days, the only TV we watch is The Late Show (Colbert). Near populated areas, over-air TV reception has been pretty good. When we’re in state parks, it’s not so good. Some people get satellite TV, but we’re not keen on that. We’ll have to see how bad it gets. Maybe we’ll adapt and even enjoy less evening TV!
Video: Mostly streaming Netflix. We also have streamed some network shows that we missed during the week.
When we thought we had unlimited mobile hotspot, we used it with Chromecast to watch Netflix but it used up our data within days. I’m not sure what the solution is here. It looks like Chromecast won’t connect to the phone without separate WiFi.
We have a mail forwarding service called MyRVMail. All our mail gets forwarded to a collection point in Florida where the outside is scanned, and we get notified and can see it. Once we know there’s mail for us we can 1) have it sent to us 2) opened and scanned or 3) shredded.
It’s great that MyRVMail exists, but it’s still a a bit of a hassle. We can’t always tell if something is junk or needs to be scanned or sent. Some things they won’t (or aren’t allow to) scan, like medical test results. When we do decided to have something sent, we have to figure out where we can pick it up. So far we haven’t been in one place long enough to get any mail. When we are, the common practice is to have sent “General Delivery” to a post office where we can pick it up. I’m about to try that for the first time.
Well! If you’re still with us, your endurance is impressive! Do you have the patience of a saint? Are you really really interested in the nitty gritty of RV living? Or maybe you just miss us. We miss you! Next time, back to the travel stuff. Ta ta for now!
Hello friends! Yes, it’s been awhile. We’ve been busy. This retirement life is hard work! Seriously, we are having fun, but there’s lots of planning involved. Where should we go next? What campgrounds are available in the area? What things should we see and do at our destination or along the way?
Stops since our last post:
Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia – The state park there focuses on John Brown’s raid as the major historical event. Quite interesting.
Scenic Skyline Drive took us through the Shenandoah National Park
Luray Caverns – met a couple from RI, also traveling in a Winnebago View
Appalachian Trail – walked a small portion – learned about the AT14 State Challenge from the Park Service Guide at Shenandoah National Park
Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis Tennessee – getting our city fix
Birmingham and Montgomery Alabama – home to major events in the struggle for civil rights
Shenendoah National Park & Luray Caverns
We stayed 2 nights in the Shenandoah Valley. There are several caverns in the area, including Luray Caverns which by most accounts are the largest and most interesting. We also drove Skyline Drive with beautiful views of the valley. In the video below you can see the caves and mountain views, plus a small sample of what it looks like from Wandah’s “cockpit”. You’ll see winding mountain roads, driving in the rain, and flat and dry highways. We really enjoy the high perch and large windows. You can see so much more in the RV than in a passenger car!
Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis
Heading southwest (mostly west) from Virginia, we stopped in several Tennessee cities in a row. We had never been to any of them, and it was fun discovering their charms. Sorry the video is so long! There was so much to see and do that even after cutting the video down to less than half it’s original length, it’s still over 9 minutes long. You’ve been warned!
Knoxville, – We started our day with a trip to the top of the Sunsphere – it was built for the 1982 World’s Fair – it’s 26 stories tall and the gold-colored, glass paneled dome is 75 feet in diameter and provides great views of the city. Fun fact – the Sunsphere was featured on The Simpson’s as the Wigsphere. From there, we walked over to Market Square where a young man was practicing his skills on a public piano. Afterwards, we took an outside table at Tupelo Honey Cafe and enjoyed an afternoon snack of the area’s popular banana pudding. It’s everywhere. If you like bananas and pudding, it’s tasty. Bean Pot Campground – stayed just one night, but couldn’t pass this place up when we saw the name. Of course, it had nothing to do with Boston, but somehow we felt a little sense of “home” here.
Nashville – We chose a campground without much personality, but it was super close to the city. That’s generally the trade off when visiting cities. Otherwise, we prefer State Park campgrounds. Rather than drive Wandah into Nashville, we took an Uber to the city, and walked all over the city. We started at the Parthenon (a replica of the actual Parthenon in Athens Greece built originally in 1897 for a world’s fair). It also houses an enormous statue of goddess Athena completely covered in gold leaf. Other points of interest we visited include: Centennial Park, Vanderbilt University Campus, AMAZING chicken at McDougal’s, Music Row, Country Music Hall of Fame, Woolworth’s on 5th (made famous in the civil rights struggles) the State Capital and the Tennessee State Museum. This last stop was an unexpected gem; so interesting with great exhibits on southern culture, food, art and history. And it’s free! We loved it.
On our last day in Nashville it was raining – AGAIN! We had a lot of rain in October. So, we checked out the Gaylord Opryland hotel and convention center. It has a beautiful indoor conservatory space with over 50,000 plants, fountains, and several waterfalls. A river runs through it, complete with a boat ride. There are also retail shops and many restaurants.
Memphis – When we arrived in Memphis we discovered a large art and music festival along the riverfront. The next day we started with a walk to Arkansas! There’s a nice footbridge across the river. Good exercise, nice views, and our first and only (so far) visit to AK. Later that day we took a 3 hour food tour in the downtown area. We tried some local dishes and learned a bit of Memphis history, too. Later we returned to Beale street for a drink. They close off the street to cars, and people walk up and down with their “to go” drinks. Music was coming from everywhere, street performers were doing handsprings down the middle of the street, quite a scene. We also had amazing Bar B Que ribs at Central BBQ. OMG Amazing!
After BBQ we noticed the Lorraine Motel right next door. As you may know this was the site of MLK’s assassination. We’ve seen it so many times in film and TV, and the exterior facade has been preserved just as it was on that fateful day in the 60’s.
We almost skipped Graceland. Lori wasn’t sure she wanted to risk ruining her childhood memories of The King. She fondly remembers watching Elvis movies and listening to his music with her cousins back in the day, and after his death, she often imagined visiting Graceland. Mark convinced her to knock it off her bucket list, and she was not disappointed. These pictures show some interior rooms, but what Lori enjoyed the most couldn’t be captured on film. Throughout the house, were images of Elvis as a regular guy, enjoying his family. In the lower level, they show his old home movies with Priscilla and Lisa Marie swimming in the pool, celebrating birthdays, and riding horses on the property. Happy to say, the memories are fully preserved.
On our last day in Memphis we took another traveler’s advice to see – believe it or not – the huge Bass Pro pyramid. Inside are wilderness exhibits, a koi pond, an alligator pond, and much more – but the main attraction is a free standing glass elevator to the restaurant and viewing platform at the top. Would have been a great view if not for the dense fog that rolled in during lunch before we got a chance to take any pictures!
Birmingham and Montgomery
Birmingham – visited the Art Museum. Ironically Mark finally had some “Nashville Hot Chicken” which is all the rage in TN. It was fantastic, and they had deviled eggs as a side! These folks really know chicken. We also spent an afternoon at the Birmingham Zoo. Quite a nice way to spend a sunny afternoon. Sure beats working. :)
Montgomery – was on our “must” list, in order to see the relatively new National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Shocking and moving to see this huge and somber memorial to victims of lynching by whites bent on maintaining their dominance over formerly enslaved people. Another excellent resource to understand racist oppression of American blacks is Montgomery’s Legacy Museum. Very much worthwhile.
Ok, we’re out of steam. We hope to blog in “smaller bites” from here on out. We’ll see!
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.
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??
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.
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!
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 firstboondocking 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 neatcaverns 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.
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!
She has a name: Wandah (or Wanda? I’m not entirely sure). We just know we’ve got the wandalust so we are going to wandah around the country for a while.
Wandah has been seen in public several times now, including 3 overnights (once with full hookups!) and several showings. When not at her temporary home at Marty & Paula’s in Westford, here are her appearances so far, in order:
Visit to Mom (in Hudson, MA) direct from the dealer
Overnight in Dennis Port, MA – for Jonathan’s big day
Visit to Josh and Sandra’s – Westford
Two nights at Boston Minuteman Campground, Littleton MA
Visit to Cabela’s Hudson – Lori’s family over from Clinton MA
Visit to Cindy and Rich’s – Sudbury – for “The Barn” preschool teachers & alumni
We have several more visits and overnights to come in MA, NH, and ME.
The First Reveal
Our first overnight was on the Cape. Our good friend Jonathan had a milestone birthday celebration, a huge shindig with scores of out of town guests and accommodations were scarce. So we brought our own! Somewhat more comfy than for those who tent camped in the back yard. This first time out we “dry camped”: no water from hose or holding tank, which simplified things substantially.
A great time was had by all, and we enjoyed seeing old and friends and meeting new ones.
Our first real camping practice was just a few miles away, in Littleton, MA. Full hookups: Water, Sewer, and 30 amp electric.
Water: We hooked up the water supply (pressure limiter -> filter -> hose -> RV) and had good pressure throughout. A quick connect hose coupler has now been ordered, as hookup/disconnect would quickly get tedious.
Sewer: The rhino-flex made its debut, connecting the waste pipe to the sewer. Didn’t need the support ramp since there was a nice natural downhill slope.
Electric: The EMS showed a clean 30A and the connection was fast and easy.
In summary, all systems checked out. No leaks, water got hot, shower was fine, toilet did it’s toilet thing as expected. The freezer froze and the refrigerator chilled. So did we, with a little late night TV via the roof antenna. (The campground offered a cable hookup but we hadn’t brought any co-ax).
Lori put up the quick set screen house (getting faster!) and we set up all the chairs and folding table. It rained overnight, and there were no leaks with the slide-out out. All good! Our first evening meal was salmon, pan fried over a propane stove. Quite tasty. Does camping always make food taste better?
We had some campground fun too. In the evening we had guests Josh and Sandra who showed up with Mexican takeout. Yum! We talked well into the night. The next morning on a walk around the grounds we found equipment for cornhole, tether ball, and horseshoes, and played them all.
Teardown went smoothly as well. I did my first “dump” sequence – first black water, then gray of course, and I even did a black tank flush! There’s a connector on the side that goes to a spray head inside the black water tank. This rinses it all clean. The sewer hose has a clear elbow so you can see when the water runs clear. Oh joy!
Mission accomplished. Now we know we’ll have an easy time whenever there are hookups. Soon we’ll want to try “boondocking” which is self-contained camping. That’s where advanced skills come into play, balancing our 3 primary resources: water, battery power, and propane, with key goals of: keeping the electric fridge running, staying warm, and staying clean – i.e. shower, toilet and dish washing. Apparently running out of water often occurs first so if we boondock we’ll have to learn effective water conservation practices. We think we can do one day pretty easily, but two or three may start to really test our skills.
Wandah the Debutante
Wandah had a coming out party, graciously hosted by Rich and Cindy at
their home in Sudbury. The attendees were Barn preschool teachers and
two husbands. We put out the slide and the awning, and relaxed in
zero-gravity chairs with cold drinks and snacks. Champagne followed with
a toast to our coming adventures.
Lori shows off her speed. 2:27, a record!
Provisioning & Mods
We continue to stock Wandah with gear. Pots pans bowls plates silverware knives towels bath supplies… You don’t tend to think of how many things you use in a day until you’re forced to make hard choices about what will fit. Lori is big on containerization. We have a dozen plastic tubs to organize things. Tubs for different kinds of clothing, tubs for cleaning supplies, even a junk tub with miscellaneous stuff.
Some recent additions we’re happy with include 1) A vertical set of pouches that we fastened near the door to hold flip flops, flashlights, remotes, anything we’ll use a lot going in and out. 2) A privacy curtain, that divides the bedroom suite (lol) from the living room and kitchen. This means we won’t always have to close every shade, drape, and curtain in order to get dressed. 3) A behind-the-door waste basket. Every inch counts! Thanks Grandpa Ron for some great ideas.
After testing out half a dozen ebike models, we chose the same kind that our son Luke recently bought, Aventon Pace 350s. We feel these are a good value, relatively light for ebikes, decent build quality, and enough power and range to meet our needs. And they’re fun! Start to pedal and there’s a surge of assist power. To some it feels like you have superhuman leg strength. To others, it’s like a ghost helpfully pushing you forward. Either way, it makes riding fast and effortless. We strongly considered getting manual bikes, but heard so many positive recommendations from other campers that we decided to go for it. Sure it’s less exercise when the boost is turned on, but since this will be our only local transport option other than Wandah herself, we didn’t want any impediment to getting out and doing stuff. And in some places there are wicked hills. No fun getting hot and sweaty when you just wanted a leisurely tour, or to make a run to the store for supplies.
We’re quite happy with the bike rack as well. It holds two bikes up to 60 lbs. each (ours are just 45), is easy to use, and has a locking hitch and bike cable. A zippered cover keeps the bikes dry in bad weather. Nice! Well that’s all for now folks. See ya next time!