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