OOPS!

They say things happen in threes.  Or fours.  Fives?

We’ve had very smooth sailing until now.  This stop has made up for that, but we’re still laughing and smiling.

We stayed at Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania.  The campground is about 50 years old according to the campground host.  Back then the trailers were not as big as they are now, and some of the corners are very tight.

“They want us to fit into THAT space?”

The road to our site was very narrow, making maneuvering difficult. The site was very short. But with a fair amount of backing and forwarding we were able to get the trailer into position and the truck off the road.

“Ummm, Honey?  I can’t find the water spigot.”

Look at the reservation slip… oops!  This is an electric-only site.  Good thing we have large tanks for “ins” and “outs.”  But we don’t travel with the fresh water tank full because of the weight it would add, so… Ask another camper where the water access is.  Hitch the trailer back up to the truck, and drive to the water.  Fill up.  Now get into our spot again. (Did a better job positioning the trailer this time!)

Since we plan to “boondock” (camp with no hookups at all) for a good portion of the winter, we look at this “opportunity” to use only the water we’re carrying as good practice.

Still smiling.

We start to open the slides that turn our narrow trailer into a much more spacious (400 sq. ft.) living area.

“SCREECH!!!”

What the…?  Haven’t heard THAT before.

A small rug that we use at the sink hadn’t been put away, and is now under the slide, between a roller and success.  It is about 18 inches inside a ½” slot.  Our fingers aren’t that small, nor long.  Cannibalize the metal handle of a fly swatter to form a dual-hooked gadget with which to snag the rug and pull it out.

We spent three days and 4 nights here visiting the Gettysburg National Military Park.  We’ll write that up in a post soon.

Time to leave, and it rained overnight. We squeegee the rain off the slides, so it doesn’t end up inside the trailer.  Wait.  Why is that slide topper (like an awning over the slide, to keep leaves, etc. off the top of the slide) about 10 inches too far back?  Why is that end cap missing?  Why is that other end cap broken?

We have the first damage to the trailer.  Did we mention that the campground was too small for our rig?  We apparently clipped a tree at some point without feeling it. Two inches closer and we would have met the tree with the body of the trailer resulting in much worse damage.  So… disappointed that we have damage to fix, but we’re glad it wasn’t worse.

Finally (we hope!) as we return to the truck from a rest stop we notice…

The tailgate is DOWN!  Oh shoot!

We lost a few small items from the bed.  Apparently one of us had accidentally pressed the tailgate release on our fob at some point.

Phew!

We’re ready for a few problem-free weeks of travel now.  We deserve it!

The Ohio and Erie Canal

In my post about our recent biking, I promised a separate post about the Ohio and Erie Canal per se.   True to my word…

I’m not going to try to regurgitate all that has been written about the canal and its history. Use the link above for a Google search page of sites about the canal.  Instead, I want to offer what I saw of it and my impressions.  I learned any history that I include here from Interpretative Rangers or the various informational signs posted throughout the park.

The name Ohio and Erie Canal stems from the two ends of the canal: Lake Erie and the Ohio River. By connecting the two, commerce was enabled between Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico.  It turned Ohio into the third wealthiest state.

The canal was a huge undertaking!  It was dug entirely by hand in the 1820s and completed in 1832.  It was specified to be a minimum of 40 feet wide at the top and 26 feet wide at the bottom, with a minimum depth of 4 feet.  The canal was used for cargo until 1861 when rail transport took over.  From the 1870s it gradually degraded until 1913 when massive storms damaged much of what was left, and lock #1 had to be dynamited to allow flood waters drain.

We rode along 25 miles of the tow path, from the southern end of Cuyahoga Valley National Park to the northern end. In the southern end it is hard (for me, impossible) at times to discern the path of the canal. Gradually, the outline of the canal becomes visible as a large dry trench.  Much of the tow path is between the canal and the Cuyahoga River. Toward the northern end, the canal still holds water, although probably no longer four feet. I was told that some industrial sites still draw water from the canal.

I don’t know how many locks were originally in the region we biked, but we saw many—again, mostly in the northern half.  Canal barges were specified to be a maximum beam (width) of 14 feet and length of 85 feet. Although the canal trench was specified to be 40 feet wide to allow boats to pass each other, the locks were much narrower averaging only 15 feet wide and 90 feet long, thus fitting only one boat at a time.

Looking south (upstream) through a lock.
Another lock, also looking upstream.

The lock gates were massive wooden structures, some operated by hand, others by horses or mules.  The average lift capability of the locks was 9 feet, with the largest (called the “Deep Lock”) being 17 feet.

I wasn’t able to find any sign of the pumping equipment they would have needed to manage the water levels in the locks.

Near the north end of the park is the Canal Exploration Center, a CVNP visitor center. The exhibits are very well done!  Stop in, if you’re in the area.

At the CEC is a restored lock with the gates in place.

In this era of GPS location accurate to a few feet and laser transits, it was sobering to think back about the tools available when the canal was built.

A surveyor’s compass.
Surveyor’s chains, for distance.

At the Canal Exploration Center I found this modern flood control device; it had valves that would send canal water into a side arm of the Cuyahoga River.

Flood control valve.

Bikes!

One of the things that Kathe and I were—and still are—looking forward to on our trip is riding our bicycles.  We even got new ones before leaving (our then-current ones were about 16+ years old).

I don’t think that I’ve biked 50 miles total since I was a teenager, back in the paleolithic era.

We’ve done about that in the past 6 days.

Back in Indiana (we’re now in Ohio), we pedaled either 22 or 25 miles, depending on whose odometer/GPS you believe, on the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail from Goshen to Shipshewanna and back.

Today, we rode 25 miles on the Ohio-Erie Canal Towpath in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  I’ll write about the canal in another post.  Today is about biking!

One of the nice things about biking is that it slows us down, allowing us to observe what’s around us.

Flowers along the Pumpkinvine trail

Pumpkinvine Nature Trail

The Pumpkinvine trail is 25 miles long, joining the towns of Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury, and Shipshewana.  We only took the middle section, about 11 or 12 miles.  Some of the trail is through miles of agricultural land with fields on both sides as far as you can see.

One of many fields we passed.

Some of the trail is wooded.

Al, facing heavy traffic on the trail!

Other parts are on sidewalks along the street.  I was always told as a kid not to ride on the sidewalk, but on the street.  At least where the trail runs along a street, they want us on the sidewalk, not the street!

There is a 1.7 mile section of the trail for which the property was only recently obtained; there the trail is under construction.  For this section we had to ride on the side of three county roads, but there were very few cars.  It probably isn’t true, but it seemed like we saw more buggies than we did cars. Being a Sunday, we passed several homes where worship was being held, with many buggies parked outside.

Parking for worship
An Amish farm along the Pumpkinvine trail.

In MIddlebury, we wanted to see the Krider Gardens which we had heard about from other rally attendees. As we approached Middlebury we were waiting at a street crossing.  We asked another cyclist if he knew the trail here.  “Pretty well.” We asked how to get to the gardens and he offered to show us (it was right on the trail). As we parted, he told us he was the chair of the Middlebury Parks Commission, which oversees / maintains both the Middlebury section of the trail and the garden!  “Pretty well,” indeed!

Kreider Gardens

We had planned to turn around in Middlebury since this was our first ride of any significant length, but certain protocols must be observed.  First we needed to find ice cream.  Unfortunately this was Sunday so the only place in range was a Dairy Queen.  But it sufficed.

Sorry, I don’t have any pictures of the Dairy Queen to insert here…

On our way back while we were riding on the county road section of the trail we noticed that we were about to be overtaken by a buggy. (Yes, there is something slower than a horse-drawn buggy: tired-people powered bicycles!) But they disappeared!  Then we realized that these were people returning home from worship and they were turning into their driveways.

Funny how the miles on the way back seemed longer than those when we were fresh and just starting out!

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

Cuyahoga Valley National Park entrance sign

Much like Acadia National Park, Cuyahoga National Park was built from many individual land acquisitions. As a result its borders are irregular where it sits in Cuyahoga Valley between Cleveland and Akron in the Ohio & Erie Canalway. Because it is situated among existing communities there are many entrances (again like Acadia); because of this, CVNP is a no-fee park.

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad runs the length of the the park through the Canalway, with both it and the canal taking advantage of the valley’s terrain alongside the Cuyahoga River.  If you don’t know the recent history of the Cuyahoga River, it is really interesting.  Once one of the country’s most polluted rivers (quiz: what happened in 1969?), it was effectively “dead,” with no animal life in the river.  It now supports fish, beaver, otters, turtles, eagles, and many more species.

Turtles soaking up the sun

This area had been a car dump before the park.  It was cleaned up with the intention of making it a parking lot, but the beavers had a different idea.  It is now a marsh supporting many types of wildlife.

Courtesy of the beavers. Don’t park here!

We rode the Scenic Railroad on a round trip through the entire length of the park.  We rode in a dome car, offering 360° views.

Cuyahoga River from the dome car
Have to have a pic of a train going ’round the bend!
Looking north on the Cuyahoga, heading toward Lake Erie.

While the ownership and maintenance of the rolling stock and the daily operation of the railroad is the responsibility of the non-profit Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad organization, the right-of-way and railbed is maintained by the National Park.

Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath

So what is a towpath? Before motorized vessels, barges were pulled through the canal by mules. The path they took is the towpath. Mule teams were available to rent, but many barges carried their own (two) teams of mules because they found it more economical.  We were told that the passenger barges, also called “packet boats,” were often pulled by horses; I guess they were deemed to be more appropriate for the cultured (wealthy) passengers.

Because the tolerances are so tight in the locks, some canals including the Panama Canal still use “mules” in a tow system. The ship uses its own propulsion system for forward motion; the mules are now powerful electric tractors on geared tracks which use cables to maintain the ship in the center of the lock.

Overall, the Ohio & Erie Canal towpath runs 87 miles, approximately 25 miles of which is inside the park. The section in the park has been rehabilitated into a multi-use trail (walking, bicycling, and horse riding—but horses are not allowed on some sections).  It is well surfaced with much being paved and the rest being hard packed; it is all suitable for road bikes and was very easy riding on our hybrids.

At times we were riding through woods, some times along the Cuyahoga River, and still others right along the canal.

Along the towpath

The canal brought prosperity  to the area with many businesses set up along its path.  Here are the remains of a mill, the raceway which powered the wheel.

A mill race on the Cuyahoga River.

We were told by one of the Scenic Railroad staff that at the time it was constructed, this was the largest concrete bridge in the world, but I’ve been unable to confirm that.  Either way, it is quite an impressive structure

Concrete bridge over the Cuyahoga River and Ohio & Erie Canal.

We don’t think that this will replace Interpretative Rangers, but it was an interesting method for providing information about the surrounding area to the hikers and bikers.  It had a small hand-operated generator powering the player.  My arm tired out before the ending of the first recording we listened to!

Hand-operated “Audo Station.”

Being “lapsed” (out of shape) riders, we chose to ride toward the north, following the flow of the river; it is nominally downhill, although a drop of approximately 400′ in about 25 miles is not an overwhelming grade!

Then came the ride back to our starting point…but this time not on our bikes (they actually rode with us!).  The Scenic Railway offers a program called Bike Aboard, where bikers can ride the train. This allows many people (including us) to ride the towpath for longer distances, and see more of the valley, than they would be able to if they had to make the return by pedal. The railway has three scheduled stops in its run: at each end and in the town of Peninsula which is about the midpoint. However there are six other “stations” (sometimes simply a widened spot on the right of way with a bench) at which bikers can flag down the train to board, or request the staff to stop the train so they can debark.

We’re certainly looking forward to our coming bike adventures!

Meeting the Amish

Last week, while at the Grand Design Owners’ Rally in Goshen, Indiana, I took an Amish Brown Bag Tour.  We would visit a number of different Amish businesses in Elkhart County, mostly in the Middlebury/Shipshewana area. It included a “Thresher’s Dinner”
so I was a bit confused as to why I’d need a brown bag lunch, too. Hmmm. . .

The large group traveled on two large, luxury buses with VERY efficient air-conditioning. Our tour guide, Carlene, is the founder and owner of the tour company and she REALLY knows her stuff! She narrated along the way as we motored through stunning farmland and past home after home with meticulously maintained grass and gardens (they’d never let us live here!).

We passed miles and miles of farmland.

We passed several “quilt gardens” (too quickly to get a picture but you can see some samples here) and learned that they are a special tradition here. Each garden replicates a different quilt block that is made with annuals — it takes lots of planning and long-lived dedication. To be included on the Quilt Garden Tour, you need to submit your plan for approval in October and then the annuals are ordered. Your garden must be maintained throughout the entire season to remain on the tour.

Our first stop was the Rise ‘n Roll Bakery.  Carlene had prepared us well, telling us that their donuts are considered “Amish crack.”  She was SO right! As we entered the store, we were greeted by a young woman who handed each of us a piece of freshly baked donut. OH. MY. GOODNESS. It was amazing. We had about 25 minutes or so to shop — all kinds of pastries, cookies, breads, jellies and jams, and crunchy candy (think brittle) made with a variety of nuts, some with a chocolate dip. I chose a package of 6 chocolate chip cookies (my favorite), a double-chocolate muffin (do you sense a theme here?), a package of 3 monster cookies, and a box of donut holes — the same flavor as the sample we got at the door. Yeah, we like sugar.

The Rise ‘n Roll Bakery – it was busy!
An amazing Rise ‘n Roll muffin (it’s still in our RV freezer).

Well, I soon learned that the “brown bag” was a huge brown shopping bag that Carlene handed us as we approached the bus. AND SHE GAVE EACH OF US A HUGE PIECE OF CAKE from a large rack that had been rolled out to the bus. Uh oh. I wish I’d known what we were getting — I wouldn’t have bought so much inside. Yeah, riiiiight.

My large brown paper bag was already quite full and that was only stop #1. Uh oh.

Here’s the evidence that Al and I have been enjoying these treats!

Along the way to stop #2, we passed several Amish schools. Carlene shared some interesting facts with us, some of them surprising:

  • Amish children don’t start school until they’re 7 years old.
  • Pennsylvania Dutch is a language derived from German and is spoken by the Amish in their homes. Children begin to learn to read Pennsylvania Dutch in the third grade; the focus is on reading, NOT writing.
  • Children finish school at the end of their 8th grade year (age 15).
  • Sometimes a youngster might want to go on to HS at which point they’d attend an “English” school but it’s not common.  If an Amish student is particularly athletic, they might be recruited to attend a local English high school.
  • Each school has two baseball diamonds; softball is played at every recess including during their hour-long lunch break. One field is used by the younger children, the other for the older kids. ALL the kids play and they love it!
  • The teacher is also Amish; the only requirement to teach is that they finished the 8th grade in good standing. There is no teacher training.
  • Some children use their pony carts to get to school. Others come by bicycle. We didn’t see any pony carts; I would assume they have a shed for the ponies and carts just like we saw at Walmart.
School’s in session.

Stop #2 was Teaberry Wood Products and it was probably my favorite stop on the whole tour. We were greeted by Lavern; he hopped onto the bus, a beautiful family portrait in hand, and gave us some background about the family business. The long and short of it is that he works for his wife! Rachel is the primary designer of their baskets and puzzles.

They are best known for their beautifully-crafted, wooden, woven baskets—each one is made from a single piece of wood! The pattern is such that a scroll saw cuts the base of the basket and all the  ‘weavers.’ The stakes are the upright sticks that are woven in and out of the weavers to hold it all together.

Rachel showed us how a basket is cut from one piece of wood. Beautiful!
The weavers are stacked (offset) and then held together by the staves.

They also make many others items including beautiful cutting boards, handsome pens, amazing puzzles (that can be stood up and will stay altogether), stunning nativities, and wooden seam rippers.

Lavern told us the story of how the seam rippers came to be a part of their business —– they found that men were interested in the pens  but when they wanted to come up with something for the “women”  in an area where quilting is common, the idea for the seam ripper emerged. They can’t keep them in stock.  Lavern told us that since men don’t make mistakes, they don’t NEED seam rippers! No stains are used on any of their products, but each item is dipped into a large vat of oil which brings out all the grain of the wood. They use exotic woods to create the color dimension.

My gorgeous seam ripper (because I DO make mistakes!).
I’ll always remember Rachel when I use this basket — a perfect size for our RV.

Back on the bus and after a quick stop at a small quilt shop that was going out of business — we were on our way to lunch. My “brown bag” (not my lunch!) now had a bag of “Horse and Buggy” pretzels and a jar of Amish jam — I’m going to need more storage in my kitchen!

We were treated to a hearty Thresher’s Dinner at a large dining hall built and run by a lovely young Amish family. (A Thresher’s Dinner is a family style Amish dinner; it’s similar to a harvest meal.) Seth (in his early 30’s) welcomed us and shepherded us to the pie table before we entered the dining room. FINALLY! Someone ELSE who agrees that you have to know what’s for dessert before you have dinner. I chose a piece of fresh peach pie and took it to my table.

The hall is also used for quilting bees — we were surrounded by colorful quilts.

We got to our tables and were served a scrumptious feast of baked chicken, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, amazing “slaw,” and bread — lots and lots of bread. The bread is served with two spreads — a “peanut butter spread” and apple butter. We tried to figure out what made the peanut butter spread so airy — it was almost like it’d been whipped with a little marshmallow fluff. The slaw was actually a cauliflower/broccoli salad, very finely chopped, crunchy, and delicious.

What a meal!

A second wave of serving plates and bowls came around the table — most all of us were too full for seconds! And we still had dessert. Just as we were finishing our pie, Seth announced that homemade vanilla ice cream was coming out in a moment with caramel sauce. Wow!

More handmade quilts to admire.
Such fine stitches – wow!

After lunch, Seth answered lots and lots of questions from our group (both buses – about 120 people in all) — interestingly enough, most of the questions were from the men and nearly all of them were about marriage and church traditions. Seth told us all about how once they’ve completed 8th grade, young people travel quite frequently to other Amish communities (even in other states) and that’s sometimes how they meet their future spouse. He also told us about his young family (a wife and two young children) and how he hadn’t had any schooling beyond 8th grade. Several people on the tour asked questions about whether an Amish person is shunned by their family and/or community if they marry outside of the Amish faith. Seth explained that they could still visit (and would be welcomed by) their family and community but that they just couldn’t attend worship. He doesn’t like the word shunned and thinks that it makes it sound too harsh.

Seth told us that his mother had been a teacher (she was standing right behind him at that moment and chuckled!) and that he was always careful to speak as correctly as possible. Sure enough, she had finished 8th grade in good standing and decided she wanted to teach when it was time for her own kids to attend school.

We were quite struck when Seth explained that in the Amish community, no one has insurance — neither health nor homeowners. They consider buying insurance a form of gambling (and I guess it is). The community IS the insurance — if a family loses their home or barn in a fire, by that evening, community members have plans in place and the new structure is completed within a week! Seth also told us that families in the church communities (usually about 1 mile wide by 2 miles long) each contribute to help each other out. For instance, if a family has a huge medical expense, the community will provide money to cover the expenses.  What incredible generosity and commitment!

As we boarded the bus to leave, we saw a large trailer packed tightly with benches (and songbooks were in there, too). Seth’s family was due to host this week’s worship service. The trailer of benches is moved from home to home. They only have church every other Sunday and always meet in homes.

Note: At our next stop, one of our group realized that she’d dropped $20 at the dining hall when she pulled her cellphone from her back pocket. She let our tour guide know. At about the same time, the tour guide received a phone call from Seth that someone had dropped $20 on the floor at lunchtime.  Seth told us that he’d ride his bicycle out to the road and meet us as we came by on the bus— and surely he did.

We visited a buggy shop in the afternoon — here’s the show lot. 🙂

We visited a buggy shop in the afternoon — it was impressive! The owner, Maynard, runs a one-man shop; he builds and repairs Amish buggies. His craftsmanship is in such demand that he has an 18-month waiting list for new buggies. It takes him about two weeks to complete one.

One of several tool benches in the buggy shop.

All kinds of special options can be ordered– everything from LED headlights to blinkers, from hand-operated windshield wipers to extra spacious carrying room for groceries, etc. The interiors are stitched on his heavy-duty sewing machine (one of his favorite parts of the process).  They were amazing!

A buggy being built in Maynard’s workshop.
Wheels and more wheels.

Maynard explained that well-built and well-maintained buggies can last forty years or more and are often passed on from one generation to the next. They can sell for about $12,000 new.

And, of course, we were each given a bag of Horse and Buggy Pretzels as we reboarded the bus. My brown bag was heavy!

Can you see the horse and buggy shape of each pretzel?

This incredible journey into the world of the Amish community was my favorite part of our trip to Indiana.  It’s a treat to learn so much about an area we’re traveling through. I’m so glad that I am able to share some part of the experience with you.

We’ve Rallied!

For the past several months we’ve been saying, “We’re going to a Rally!” Many people who have heard that have returned blank stares, as if to say, “What’s that?”  Or, “So what?”

Truth be told, we didn’t really know ourselves.  All we knew is that lots of people with Grand Design RVs would be getting together at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds in Goshen Indiana.  It ran from Tuesday morning through Friday dinner, so now we have some answers.

Top 10 things about an (this) RV Rally

10. This fairgrounds has a really big power capacity.  There were approximately 375 RVs at the rally, and all of them had either 30 or “50” (really 100) ampere power connections.  Even if all of them had 30 amp feeds, that still requires 11,250 amps (@ 120V).  Glad we don’t have to pay that power bill (OK, we did–through our nightly camping fee).

9. RV owners are very friendly.  We hadn’t even set up our rig before we were invited over to a neighbor’s to sit, have adult refreshments, and just chat.   It is fun to meet face to face people with whom you have been corresponding on the Internet for months!

8. You don’t come to a rally to be alone, or have large “campsites”. A rally is all about community, and the rigs are packed in tightly.  Even so, there had to be three separate areas in which the rigs were parked.

One of three sections of RV sites.

7. It is possible to feed 800+ people at a pot luck dinner in 18 minutes! They set out 12 serving tables, and assigned every unit (RV, usually a couple) an item: main, starch, salad, dessert, etc., and a table to put it on. Then  the roughly 100 tables at which we ate were each assigned a serving table. It worked wonderfully. For the first helpings you had to use the assigned serving table.  For seconds (thirds, anyone?) you could go to any table–so many of us grazed and sampled a huge variety of foods.

Sorry, no pics of the potluck.  We were too busy eating!

6. There is lots to do! There were seminars going all day, some purely educational, some educational about the advantages of a product (i.e., ads). But even the ads were helpful to people who are new to the hobby / lifestyle as we are. One that Al found especially useful was on general maintenance, given by an independent mobile service tech, and another one on holding tank maintenance (that stinky “black” tank, especially!), given by a person whose job is, yep, cleaning out people’s black tanks when they’ve not maintained them properly.

5. There is lots to do! Every day offered things off-site. Each day you could take a tour of the Grand Design factory, or you could take an excursion, such as a trip to a museum or shopping in a nearby town.  Kathe will tell you about her Amish brown-bag tour in an upcoming post.

Each evening there were several campfires around the site.  One night was storytelling, another night was s’mores.

S’mores around the campfire

Two young (5-ish?) girls had a great time going around to the crowd and asking if they could cook a marshmallow for them.  They’d even burn it on request!

4. There are a million ways to make your RV your own.  The only limit is your imagination!  It was fun to be able to go through other peoples’ rigs and see how they have modified them. Some were minor touches–others were major reworkings of the interior or the inner “workings,” e.g., the plumbing.

3. There is a wealth of knowledge in the community.  The air was filled with conversations about things to watch out for, ways to do things more simply, what is good to add, which tools do you really, really want to have with you (and which you can leave home–oops! too late!).

2. The service was phenomenal! To understand this, you need to know two things.  1. Driving an RV down the road has been likened to a Richter 6.0 earthquake.  Things are always breaking. 2. RV “manufacturers” are  to a large extent parts assemblers. They get a chassis from one company, axles and brakes from another, the refrigerator from another, water heater, furnace, microwave, etc., etc.

This rally was sponsored by our manufacturer, Grand Design, and not only did they have their service techs on site, but they also  arranged for all the other companies who supply major parts to have their techs on site as well! All this service was gratis; we have no idea of the total value of all the service performed in these four days, but those service teams were busy from 7:00 AM to well into the evening every day. Thank you Grand Design and partners! We had our refrigerator serviced (it was not closing properly), and see another bit of service we got, below the list!)

1. The people who organized this rally put in an INCREDIBLE amount of work. The planning for the rally started about a year ago, and their work allowed a large rally to come off seemingly without a hitch.  I’m sure that there was lots of work behind the scenes during the rally to make it seem that way. Pam and Red Beers were the main organizers (“wagonmasters”), and they were assisted by about 50 other volunteers. THANK YOU!

We got our hitch!

Small things can make us very happy.  Up until now, we had been keeping our bikes in the bed of the truck in a moving blanket, with the front wheels in the back seat of the truck.  Any time we wanted to take a ride (which we’re trying to do each day), we’d have to unwrap the frames and put the wheels back on.  Not difficult, just a bit time consuming and a hassle. Here at the rally, we had a hitch welded on by the chassis manufacturer. (No, this part was not free!) So now, we have our bikes on the back of the trailer–easy to use and no longer taking up space in the truck.

Our new hitch, with bike rack and bikes!

Why we’re traveling

As we said in an earlier post, one of the main reasons we’ve taken to the road is to see areas of the US and Canada other than New England.  We’re already seeing differences, at least different from the parts of NE in which we have lived.

We are in Amish country. One of the things we’ve noticed is that all the stores, restaurants, and public buildings have places to hitch up horses and buggies, in, or adjacent to, the parking lots.  Here’s a Walmart parking lot!

Shelter for horses in the Walmart parking lot.

Another difference we’ve noticed is the cloud formations are different from what we (usually) get in Maine. The cloud structures are quite dramatic, but don’t (or haven’t while we’ve been here) block out the sun for more than a few minutes! Some days we could have used the shade; we had several days that were quite hot. The afternoon clouds have been like this every day we’ve been here.  Quite different from our coastal Maine low cloud decks.

Indiana clouds

Miscellany

Having worked at Jackson Laboratory, I couldn’t pass up this piece of garden humor at the Fairgrounds!

Jean-etically modified plants

A certain co-worker of mine who shall remain nameless (I’m talking to YOU, Dave!) teased me for quite a while when he learned that we bought a Ford F350 “dually” to pull our rig with.  “You don’t need a dually to pull an RV!”  But at the rally we learned that we weren’t even trying when it came to tow vehicles.  Now HERE is a real tow vehicle!

A Volvo with sleeper as an RV tow vehicle!

There were THREE of these at the rally!

On to the next rally!

After wending our way through Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, we’ll be attending another rally in Delaware.  It will be interesting to see how this one differs; it is entirely owner-based, without the sponsorship of Grand Design.

We have one more rally scheduled, but not until January. We’ll attend a rally in Quartzsite, AZ, near where we will be spending the winter.

Where in the World is the (fill-in-the-blank)??

One of the challenges in full-time RV’ing is storage.

Once we pared down what we’d be bringing, and then pared down again, it was time to play Tetris! How and where would we store the chosen items? How can we use our space most efficiently (and find things later)??

Some items that had NEVER co-habitated in our sticks-and-bricks home  had to make new friends — and hopefully, play well together! Knives that always had their own apartment at home now had to share their digs with the small whisk,—big brother couldn’t come—the apple slicer, a single pie server, and others.

Items in the kitchen cabinets are packed in tightly (never the same way twice it seems!) to use up every last morsel of available space.  Glass banging against glass? Put unbreakable items between those that could break.  Some food staples in bags? Think walnuts or flour. Transfer the contents into plastic containers that stack.  Cereal boxes too tall to wrestle into the top shelf easily? Cut them down so they will fit easily in a cabinet. And it’s plastic ‘glassware’ for the win!

And…probably the most helpful tool of all — the TENSION ROD.

The power of the magic tension rod!

They’re ubiquitous. They hold things in place while we travel in just about every cabinet we have.  We wedge them tightly either top to bottom or across to keep things in their place. Well, they’re supposed to . . .

Sometimes you also need to think out of the box—see what I did there? Look at this great place to store toilet paper and the huge ziploc bag of laundry detergent! (Yes, we have a washer/dryer.)

Don’t worry — this is the dryer.

All of this said, it can make it a challenge to find something you know (or think) you brought along. We’re still having to empty most of an entire shelf to find that one thing we are pretty sure is in there…at the back, of course. Hiding.

Yoo-hoo! I know you’re back there, Cinnamon!

Many experienced RV’ers told us that towing your rig down the road is equivalent to an earthquake. We plan for that and wedge things so that they won’t tip over. I even got creative with some leftover rubbery shelf liner strips to protect the Corelle. Score!

Interlacing the shelf liner keeps the dishes from moving around.

And then, before we depart for the next campground on our itinerary, there are a few things we need to do. We try to remember to check that:

  • All cabinet doors are securely closed;
  • Waste baskets are emptied and placed in bedroom closet;
  • Bedroom closet doors are latched;
  • Shower head and shower doors are tightly velcro-ed in place;
  • Electric toothbrush is unplugged and stowed;
  • Counters are clear — silverware tote and the teapot are in the sink, etc.;
  • The microwave glass is wrapped up in dish drain pad and secured;
  • TV has been lowered into its cabinet;
  • Bathroom door is snapped open with its handy traveling strap;
  • No loose items are on the floor except under the dinette in a plastic tub; and
  • Both rugs are rolled, each secured in a bungie cord, and placed next to the dinette.
All of that “Destination Imagination” velcro is being put to good use!
This cool lock keeps the closet shut while we’re pulling Rhett down the road.

Be careful when opening overhead compartments as contents may have shifted during flight.” Yup.

Even with the precautions we’ve taken, we’re still getting an occasional surprise when we open Rhett up after a long drive. We can be pretty sure that, if we were traveling on an interstate in really rough condition (thank you, Indiana!), we’ll find at least one cabinet open. With a few escapees who wanted a better view traveling down the road.

Looks like it might be time to install those really cool magnetic cabinet closures that we bought a few months ago.  You lock them with a ‘key’ — and they’re guaranteed to keep the cabinets closed.

But I wonder where they are.

Our first week

We’re writing this on Sunday; we’ve now completed one week of our adventure! Time flies, and so do the miles…  We’ve now covered 1195 miles since leaving our house. (Kathe corrected me (Al) when I referred to it as “home.”  We have our home with us.)

We cheated a little bit to get going…

Our plan was to leave early on Sunday, August 19 and go to Wakeda campground in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire.  We’d get up really (really) early, and do the last steps to shut down the house: draining and winterizing all the pipes in the house.

We decided instead to do that Saturday and then find a hotel room in the Bangor area, leaving from there on Sunday morning.  Good thing, too.  The “draining the pipes” ceremony took much longer than we thought it would have. We would have been quite frazzled had we tried to do it all Sunday.

The trip to NH Sunday was therefore uneventful.

Wakeda Campground, Hampton Falls, NH

Wakeda is a nice, large private campground, with over 400 sites–but you’d never know it.  We didn’t feel cramped at all. The road from  the office at the entrance to the actual camping areas is almost a mile (you pass a grass landing strip on the property!).

Many of the sites appeared to be (multi-) seasonal with porches or other structures built on (some had sheds!). However, it seemed that the temporary campers (like us) were separated from the seasonals.

We enjoyed biking around the campground roads, but didn’t venture out into the surrounding area.

We planned to meet friends we hadn’t seen in several years in Hampton Beach on Monday, so we used Sunday to do some more figuring out just how we should make use of the limited space in the camper.  We will probably have several more rearrangements before we’re through!  We did go in to Hampton Beach for dinner on a second floor patio overlooking the beach and all the motorcycles and cars “cruising” on the main road.

The visit with friends went very well, with lots of catching up with lunch across from the beach, and a very nice dinner at “CR’s The Restaurant” in Hampton. Nice atmosphere, very good food!

Travel Interlude

While we were at Wakeda, we noticed a slight smell of propane, so we know that we have a leak somewhere that I have to find.

For right now, we’re using the propane very sparingly.  On. Cook the pancakes. Off.  On. Cook the tapioca pudding (my favorite).  Off.  You get the idea.  Our refrigerator can run on 120 V AC power (home wall plug power) or on propane, so that the fridge can stay cold while we’re traveling.  Since we don’t want to leave the propane on for extended periods we’re not making use of that feature; we let the fridge warm up while we travel. Fortunately, we have a 12V cooler in the back seat into which we put the most perishable items.

New York City North / Newburgh KOA, Plattekill, NY

I don’t know whether we will find this true of most KOAs or not, but this one provided more than kampsites.  There was cable TV, a large pool, miscellaneous sporting equipment, and little pedal cars (for kids and adults) that could be used for free.  However, we didn’t take advantage of any of that equipment.  There was also a wine store on site.  No, it couldn’t be used for free!  Fortunately, there was also a propane fill station.  Did I mention that we noticed we had a propane leak?

We were greeted by a crane (not sure which type) as we drove into the campground.

The KOA’s welcoming committee

The sites, while close together, were wooded so there was a sense of separation and some privacy that we wouldn’t have had were we on just an open field.

It is interesting that they call themselves “New York City North.”  Yeah.  WAY north. About 62 crow miles, or 75 car miles north.  They do offer transportation into the city.

Our site at the KOA.

United States Military Academy, West Point, NY

Neither of us had been to West Point since childhood.  Google maps said we were about 26 miles away, so visiting was a no-brainer. If you haven’t gone, or haven’t gone recently, it is well worth a visit.  There is a very nice display in the Visitor Center and there is also the West Point Museum, considered to be the oldest and largest collection of miltaria in the Western Hemisphere.  Due to time constraints we were not able to visit the museum, but we did take a bus / walking tour through the grounds, where we learned some of the high points of the Academy and garrison. There are one-hour tours every hour through the day, and two-hour tours twice a day.  We just missed the two-hour and didn’t want to wait until the second one, so we took the one-hour version.

Here are some pictures, but the limitations of the tour (MUST stay with the tour guide–“or you will have a very bad day,”) and the scale of the Academy grounds mean that these do not do any justice to the site.

The original garrison was located here at the direction of George Washington because it was a choke point on the Hudson River, and could prevent the British from going all the way up the river and isolating the “troublesome” colonies in what is now New England from the rest of the country.  An iron chain was placed across the river (and removed each winter); 13 original links remain.

The Hudson River
The thirteen remaining links of the original chain.

One of the bus stops was the Cadet Chapel, a non-denominational Protestant church. The stained glass rivals some of the churches we have seen in Europe, and the organ is amazing, with more than 23,000 pipes.  We’d love to hear a concert here!

Duty. Honor. Country.
The organ console.

After the tour we had lunch across the street.  “Lunch” is an understatement.  It was also dinner, and lunch the next day!

We had a very enjoyable visit with our niece, Susan, that evening.

Gifford Pinchot State Park,  York County, PA

Friends and relatives have been telling us about the great camping opportunities at state parks.  This was our first experience, and it was a good one!  Gifford Pinchot is jointly managed by the State and the National Park Service.

Am I a geek, or what?
Sunset at Gifford Pinchot

The biking trails were fabulous and we jaunted out several times. It was lovely to ride along the lakefront and see so many people out fishing (boats were available). Yes, we both have a fair way to go to get as fit as we’d like but we figure if we ‘give it a go’ on a daily basis (biking, walking, or hiking), we’ll get there eventually. Right?

Eager to fly our drone (“Butterfly” — see what we did there? GWTW?), we needed to do some research about whether this was a restricted area. (We know that you cannot ever fly a drone in a National Park or anywhere near an airport or landing strip.) Turns out that there are only six parks in the whole PA State Park system that allow drones; GP is not one of them. Oh, well . . .

It was at Gifford Pinchot, however, where Al befriended a next-door (next site?) camper who was eager to talk shop about all things RV-ish. Tom and Al ended up exchanging tips and lessons learned while Sue and I shared some organizational, interior ideas. Before long, the guys were under Tom’s camper checking the torque on U-bolts. Apparently, it was a good thing they did! It was fun to meet another couple who has also just started their full-time RV lifestyle.

Also momentous at this stop, we used our washing machine for the first time. It worked great! It was somewhat of a challenge to find the powdered high-efficiency detergent that is required; we are now the proud owner of a gallon Zip-lock bag of detergent that will last us for 100+ loads (it only takes 2 T per load).

It was a wonderful first week — we were surprised at how much room the campgrounds had — we’d been told that campsites are very hard to come by. It was great to have a reserved campsite at each location, but we probably could have gotten one on the spot anyway.

We’re off to Indiana today for an 8 day stay at a county fairgrounds. More about that later!

Cheers,

Al and Kathe

Leaving

We moved to Mount Desert Island about ten years ago, in large part to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by Acadia National Park.  We’ve had a wonderful time in the park, and had the opportunity to explore parts that most people don’t see.

In those ten years, we’ve also been blessed to form many friendships through church, work, the MDI-SAR rescue team, and social groups. Despite the excitement we feel about beginning our adventure, leaving is hard.

We live on an island.  Other than by boat, there is only one way to leave–over a single bridge. Our church made the leaving easier, surprising us with this large sign attached to a power pole at the end of the bridge.

Our sendoff!

What Would YOU Pack?

How do you pack for a year away from home?

It’s easier to think of it as moving.

Into a tiny house.

First, we downsized. And it was fairly easy. If we hadn’t worn it in six months, off it went to the thrift store. If we hadn’t touched it in six months, it was boxed up for the church Christmas fair.

The refrigerator and chest freezer were both emptied, cleaned, and unplugged. Detritus went into the trash can. Canned foods were culled, some to go to the food pantry, some to go with us.

Then we purged. Old computer components, miscellaneous electronic gear we’d accumulated, old TV’s, lots of batteries…all went to the hazardous waste day at the transfer station (dump).

And on and on…so liberating!

From about 1440 square feet with an attic and a barn to . . .

Our new home…

440 sq. ft.  Perfect. We did it.

We had to choose carefully what to bring with us for a year’s journey. What was most important?

We must bring:

  1. Camera gear
  2. Clothes (only clothes that fit NOW – none of those I know I’ll fit into this again someday clothes)
  3. 3 pairs of shoes each
  4. Go Pro
  5. Popcorn popper (oh, rats! We forgot it!)
  6. Roku
  7. Our Pixstar digital frame with its own email address (grandkids pics!)
  8. Too many tools
  9. Drone
  10. New bicycles
  11. Instant Pot
  12. Hiking boots and poles
  13. Sewing machine (and fabric!)
  14. Our computers . . .
  15. And chargers. Many, many chargers!

We can leave behind:

  1. Snowblower
  2. Two cars
  3. Gardening tools
  4. Lawnmower
  5. Snow shovel
  6. The popcorn popper (apparently!)
  7. Ice scraper
  8. Spinning wheel
  9. Ice grippers (you wear them on your shoes in January!)
  10. Gardening catalogs
  11. Ski goggles
  12. Weaving loom
  13. Sleds

We probably forgot a few things. But there will always be a Walmart, Target, or Home Depot nearby. Or maybe we can just learn to do without.

What would YOU take with you for a year? Ready, set, GO!

How’d We Get Here?

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s August 19th and we are ON OUR WAY! Where to, you ask? How’d we end up here?

We love to travel. Al just retired. And we’re tired of New England winters.

Ugh.

Over the last three winters, we came to love the desert southwest. Being warm in February really appealed to us — it felt great! “Hey, I can really understand that snowbird mentality now,” I remarked to Al in February 2016 after our first trip to Arizona. Wow.

We fell in love with the Arizona desert.

When we returned there in March of 2017, we ventured northward and were blown away by Page, Sedona, the slot canyons, Horseshoe Bend, and more. We ducked over the border into Utah one afternoon–wait a minute — there are FIVE national parks in Utah. “Wow! Look at those affordable condos!” I quipped.

Horseshoe Bend is simply stunning!

But did we really want to be stuck in just one place? There are many fabulous national parks, state parks, national monuments, and more. We didn’t want to be obligated to travel to the same place each year and started musing about RVs. Hmmm. . .

We started investigating RVs and Al joined several RV forums online (Psst, honey? Don’t look now, but you’re using social media!). We started visiting a few dealerships in our area. Over several months, we went from Class A motor home (too large – and who wants to tow a car?), Class B motor home (if we didn’t tow a car, we’d have to pack up everything just to go for a dozen eggs?), and soon we were considering a fifth-wheel (and a truck!). Let’s go to the Hershey RV Show in September! Yeah, that’s the ticket! We won’t buy, we won’t buy…we’re just going to lookwe won’t buy!

We thought this would help us wait…

Meanwhile, I was starting to get a bit more encouraging. . . um, pushy…er, insistent…about the prospect of Al’s retirement! We could travel a lot! And we could do it while we’re still young and healthy enough to hike, ride bikes, etc., etc.  It was a well-timed choreography — just before we left for the Hershey RV show, he decided he was ready to set a date for retirement. Yay!

Well, let’s just say that despite our good intentions, we signed a sales agreement for a 2018 Grand Design 310-GK fifth-wheel before the weekend ended! We fell in love with the layout, size, and many, many windows in the 310 (I need lots of natural light). We’d have to come back to PA to pick it up as soon as we were pretty sure winter was over.

Soon thereafter, time to buy a truck. A BIG truck. A ruby red, long bed, crew cab, dually! We named her Scarlett (thanks for the color suggestion, Nancy Jones!) and had to name the 310 Rhett. Of course.

Scarlett and Rhett, our traveling companions.

So after many months of planning and more planning, Al is retired, and we have chosen the start of a route to travel the US — we’re not sure for how long and where our travels will eventually lead us. We can’t wait to share our travel adventures with you.

And, oh, yes—why “The Lobsters”?

Our grandkids named us Grandma and Grandpa Lobster years ago to differentiate us from their other set of grandparents. We live in Maine. And we’re traveling. We’re Lobsters on the Loose! We hope you’ll follow our adventures as we discover and rediscover each other and these amazing places we know as The United States of America and Canada!

Much love,

Kathe and Al
Grandma and Grandpa Lobster

The Lobsters

Exploring the United States and Canada by RV