Since the very beginning of our full time journey, Lee and I have wanted to try a travel schedule like our friends Steve and Deb. Steve works a full time corporate job and Deb is their travel planner and we have always admired how they have been able to balance those two things. Until recently though we were largely going from one job to another, but finally we are able to give it a try. We have six full months to just wander where the road takes us and we are incredibly excited about that.
I say wander where the road takes us, but that does include some restrictions. I need to make sure I have ATT cell phone and data service at our stops, and although I can work from the truck some days, I also need to make sure that we are in place for certain conference calls. This turned out to be more complicated than we thought, and I am thankful that business travel has been discontinued in my company because layering that in would have even been more difficult still.
Since we are new to this, we decided to work on our travel schedule together and it took two 2-1/2 hour sessions to schedule two weeks. I am sure we will get better at this over time, but the first attempt was rough especially because West Virginia is not the easiest place to travel with restrictions. There are lots of places with no cell coverage, and oddly most of the RV Parks are not listed on any of the sites we normally use. That is probably because many “worker” RV Parks have popped up and these are not typically listed in one of our apps.
Consequently even with all that research things still didn’t work out that great, but as I said we are learning, so let me walk you through it. Our very first stop was planned for near Wheeling, WV and it was a couple hours drive from Somerset, PA. Since the beginning was all freeway and the campground was off a major road, we thought we would be fine, so we headed out after my morning conference calls. I had an important meeting at 3pm I needed to be stationary for, but our ETA was 1pm which we thought would leave us plenty of time.
Our goal was Echo Valley campground. We had checked the ATT app to make sure we had coverage and things looked pretty simple. Since we had a back up we decided just to head that way without calling. Big Mistake!! Once we left the freeway, things immediately were concerning. It was a winding, twisty road and it was not clear where the entrance was on google maps satellite view. For years Lee has asked me to verify entrances and exits at places and I do it, but not very graciously. Until this stop I honestly didn’t see what the big deal was because things almost always work out just fine.
Well, this stop really drove home why he feels that is important because just getting in was a nightmare. The entrance was a VERY sharp (over 90°) turn on a curve and down a hill onto a one lane gravel drive leading to a one lane narrow bridge. There was a tree in the way and a street sign, and lots of gravel. There were no postings on how much weight the bridge could handle, but since we couldn’t back up we were committed. It took a few adjustments to get past the entrance and over the bridge, and once we turned the corner a woman walked out of her house and said the campground was her daughter’s. She seemed confused because we hadn’t called ahead but after talking to her daughter said we could stay for $30 cash per night.
We proceeded down into the campground itself and as soon as we got there…no cell coverage. We weren’t thrilled about how it looked anyway, and decided we needed to leave and go on to the next option. Unfortunately the only way out was the way we came in, and Lee had to make a three point turn to turn us around. And on the way out we realized making the turn to get back across the bridge was NOT easy. There was a steep embankment on the right, a light pole on the left, and a hill behind us. It took numerous tries before Lee was able to make it.
Once we were back on the road (which involved me getting out and blocking traffic, I called the next place. They were full, but they had a relative who might have a few spots. We called them and they said they could take us and we pulled into a warehouse parking lot. Lee walked in and was surprised to find that this was a local Trump headquarters. The place was packed with signs and cardboard cut outs, which left Lee wondering if he was in the right place. Thankfully he was and they said we could stay for $25 cash a night.
There were several open spots and some nicer rigs, so we looked around and selected one. Once we backed in though we saw a sign that said the water was not potable (pretty common in West Virginia) and we knew we had to leave again. We were not carrying enough water for our three day stay and although we had cell coverage it was on the weaker side.
By this time it was 2:30 and I was super anxious about my call. We were back on the main road though and Lee was looking for a parking lot we could pull into while we had decent coverage. Thankfully, he saw an unlisted campground along the road that had 4 bars of ATT. Bonus it had potable water and was only $20 cash a night. Turns out there are lots of these “worker camps” sort of everywhere in WV, but they are generally not listed anywhere on any website. Almost all are cash only and in this case we put the money in the slot in a container. I was just thrilled we had a place to stay although Jack wasn’t a huge fan. I think he likes the traditional campgrounds better.
(UPDATE: After the experience above, it seemed like EVERYWHERE I went in this little town I was seeing these “baby” RV parks. Some with signs, some without, but I found at least 10 of them without even looking. They all appear to be designed for land owners to take advantage of some extra space, and provide working people with a clean, quiet place to live while they work in the area temporarily. The common things seems to be that they are small, have good new power, water, sewer hookups, are inexpensive, and seem to be specifically geared to NOT have kids and “RVers”. There might be a way people find these places, but I can’t see it. Anyway, here are five examples of these “temporary worker RV Parks” in Moundsville, WV alone. I will spend some time trying to find out how these workers are finding these places, and let you know in a future post, when I figure it out. The first image below is the one with the really tight turn that we went to first. As you can see, it’s tiny. The smaller area at the top is NOT the same RB park. It’s a different owner. – Lee)
Armed with what we learned from this experience our next planning session was more specific. We spent one day working on our next few stops around visiting places in the area. I’ll talk about what we saw in the area in future posts, but for this one I want to walk through how the next few stops went. Just to be safe on our next stop we decided to travel on Sunday. Not only did this give us more breathing room, but it also allowed us to take State Route 20 as a cut through instead of a major freeway.
The road turned out to be beautiful, but it was pretty stressful for Lee to drive. We tend to use car GPS regularly, but after this road we definitely need to pull out the RV GPS. We don’t use ours much, but nothing else works quite like it does, especially when most of your route doesn’t have cell coverage. I actually used my paper Atlas for some of the drive especially when it recommended we turn down “Gregory Run Road”. I always call places like this “Bob’s Road” (ala Twister) and thankfully the paper map, and the no large trucks sign steered us properly. The RV GPS would never have recommended that, which is why I highly recommend having and using one in rural areas.
I actually have an affinity for West Virginia because my Great-Grandfather grew up in Buffalo, WV. Family lore has it that when he lived in Fort Gay, WV he met my Great-Grandmother who lived in Louisa, KY. Since her county was dry, they crossed the river to drink in WV and that’s where they met. If you have ever heard a twang in my voice (happens when I drink or am tired), I like to think it is the West Virginia coming out 🙂
Although it was stressful for Lee I loved the drive and even got to see a beautiful bald eagle. It was flying low along the river bank and paced us for quite awhile. Unfortunately by the time we got a chance to pull over and try to take a picture it was gone, but it was absolutely beautiful. I haven’t seen an eagle that close since Alaska and it really made my day.
We finally arrived in our next stop Westin, WV and before going to the campground we pulled into the Robins Nest Travel Plaza. We don’t like to set up when we are hungry and this was the only place I could find. It turned out to be really nice, with good portions and inexpensive meals. I will also say that they are taking social distancing seriously everywhere we have been in West Virginia, even limiting occupancy to two people in small spaces. Been really nice seeing that.
Finally we made it to the Broken Wheel Campground and at first I was a little nervous about cell coverage. But it turned out to be OK and Jack was excited to be in the woods again. Once again we had to pay cash, because their credit card machine wasn’t working but this time we were prepared. A little pricey at $30 a night but the Stonewall Jackson Dam and State Park is right next door.
One thing I would like to mention here is I really appreciate having a front living room in situations like this. Our wifi sits in the front window and generally even in a wooded spot we can get signal from the entrance. Also our bedroom is in the back which means we are away from any road noise at night.
So that is where we are as of this writing. We have booked a site at the WV State Fairgrounds @ $45 a night for three nights and we found a spot in Elkins by getting a recommendation from a booked campground there. Weekends are a problem since most of the traditional campgrounds are booked and cell coverage was super tricky in the Elkins area which is next to a huge national forest. We think the planning will get much easier once we leave the state (and have more practice) but so far it has been stressful but worth it. I’ll keep you updated as we go along, but next up several posts about the fun things we have been doing.
(And for those who are keeping an eye on our usage of the TSD Logistics fuel card, on our last visit we stopped at a TA Truck stop outside of Wheeling. We got 26.13 gallons of diesel and the street price would have been $ 66.87. But we paid $ 50.80 so we saved a whopping $ 16 on not even a full tank of fuel! So far we’ve saved over $65 using the card, when we use it. – Lee)
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