Last Time at the Keene Pumpkin Festival

This week was absolutely amazing.  Our rally friends Cori, Greg,  Deb and Steve were all here in Keene to spend time with us and see the Keene Pumpkin Festival.  (It turned out that was not as good an idea as everyone thought it was. That’s foreshadowing. Read on. #pumpkinriots. – Lee) Deb and Steve were here on Monday and we got to spend Monday and Wednesday night with them.   Lee was super busy as his whole week is spent in preparation for live coverage of the Keene pumpkin festival, but we still had lots of evening time to spend with them.  For those who don’t know, Lee runs the local community television station here in Keene.  He’s been the executive director for many years and actually started the station with a very small amount of funding and a very large dream 10 years ago.  So, although we are ready to move on with our lives, it has been bittersweet.  Giving his 30 day notice to his board of directors was very emotional, and it was great to have friends from our new life here to support him.

Cori and Greg came into town on Friday and all six of us got together for a night of steak dinner, campfires, and lots of laughter.  Things have obviously been chaotic for us over the last 30 days, and the laughter was exactly what we needed.  I have to say Greg is incredibly funny so he would get us rolling then Steve would chime in and between the two of them I laughed until I cried.  Lee said it took so much of his stress away…laughter really is the best medicine.

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Everyone loved the leaves here and the quaintness of our little New England town. (Little did they know what was coming……)  It is peak leaf season and since the summer was so wet the colors were particularly vivid.  Greg said he had never seen such vibrant reds and he is absolutely right.  I’ve seen some beautiful foliage in other parts of the country, but nothing beats the fall in New England after a wet summer.  Lee was up at 5am on Saturday (his annual pumpkin festival coverage is a dawn to dusk event) so I took the team on a tour of the city.  In  Keene once a year they close the downtown and try to set the Guinness Book World record for most lit carved pumpkins.  Last year we set the record with over 30,000 and I couldn’t wait to show the group everything.  It’s a really terrific event for the local business owners as they do a months worth of business in one day, and all of the food is provided as a fund-raiser by local non profits such as Volunteer Fire departments, Lion’s Club, etc.  Not only do you feel great  about donating to charity but the food is phenomenal.  Greg and Steve ate their way up and down the aisles 🙂

The center of Keene has all the pumpkins carved by local school children

The center of Keene has all the pumpkins carved by local school children

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greg, Cori, Steve, and Deb in front of the large pumpkin tower

Greg, Cori, Steve, and Deb in front of the large pumpkin tower

 

One of my favorite parts of the festival is the kids costume parade and every year I get to provide color commentary as the kids walk by in their costumes.  Over the years I have done the event with my mom and my girls but this year I shanghaied Cori into being my guest co-host.  Cori has never been on TV before so she was a little nervous, but she quickly got into the spirit of it and did a great job helping me.  It was bittersweet because I knew it would be our last year at the event and it’s been such a huge part of our lives I really was feeling a bit sad about it.

Cheshire TV at the Keene pumpkin festival

Cheshire TV at the Keene pumpkin festival

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lee was having a blast though, because for the first time he had a whole cast of professional media people hosting the event all day.  Over the years Lee has had a variety of hosts, but this was the most professionally produced event for him ever and he was having a blast.  So while he was working I walked the main street with my friends and showed them all the people and places I have grown to love over the last 13 years.  Keene has been a wonderful place to raise our children and since it is a small town (about 25,000) we have grown to be a part of the community.  Since Lee runs the local television station he knows everybody and by extension many people know me.  I walked the gang everywhere and they were good sports, even buying shoes at the best shoe store I’ve ever been to: Ted’s Shoe and Sports.  I like to support local businesses and it was great to see them so busy!

As a local I like the morning the best, but as the day goes on it always gets super crowded, so we all ended up leaving in the early evening to go back to the camper and hang out.  Lee of course stayed as he would be there until midnight or so, but I am just not a fan of the crowds.  Plus things get rowdy with all the local college kids after dark, so I always try to be out of there before then.  Well this year I am so glad I did.  Some of you may have heard that the college students actually rioted about two blocks away from the event.  They were starting fires, flipping cars over, throwing beer bottles at each other, and generally making a menace of themselves.  The police department did a good job of containing it to off the footprint of the actual pumpkin fest but at one point there were over 4,000 kids making asses of themselves.  Usually the pumpkin festival coverage is very folksy, but the host Jared felt he needed to get some footage of what was going on so he took Lee as his camera man and they went to get some coverage.  Lee said it was crazy.  Kids were throwing beer bottles at them and the behavior was much worse than anyone ever expected.  Jared got a couple of interviews with kids who said the police were using tear gas to break up the gatherings and shooting them with paintball-like pepper pellets.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen the video and these kids were completely out of control and the police did the best they could, but the thought of tear gas and riot gear in our small town is not a pleasant one.  Plus my husband is down there with a camera right in the middle of it.  I was glad that they didn’t stay long as the situation was really not safe.

Back at the camper though Cori and Greg and I were hanging out when Steve and Deb came down to tell us to turn on the station.  Apparently the person who produces the pumpkin festival was displeased that Cheshire TV was covering what was happening at the campus and threatened to “pull the plug” on the television coverage.  It takes a special kind of hubris to march onto a live broadcast and try to grab the microphone out of the hand of the host of a show, but hey, that’s Keene. The downside of living in such a small town is the “movers and shakers” think they own the place and the rest of us work for them.  Lee is VERY serious about the First Amendment…it’s practically his religion and censorship of any kind is a big no-no in his book.  (Scratch that. It IS my religion. It’s the most important amendment, that’s why they wrote it first. – Lee) I get she was trying to control the message and since running this annual event is her full-time job for the entire year her livelihood depends on its existence, but there are lines you just don’t cross.  One positive thing that came out of the entire scene though is the melancholy from the morning evaporated.  Again it’s been a wonderful place for us to raise our kids, but it’s definitely time to move on. There is a whole wide world out there and this is just one tiny little town that sometimes takes itself waaaay to seriously.   🙂

For those who are interested I have provided a link.

So, we had tons of drama but the group were really good sports about it.  They found the whole thing pretty hysterical (riots aside) and thanked us for the entertainment.  Family members, bosses, and friends from Texas, California, and Virginia were texting them throughout the day saying they saw the riot on their local news and wanted to check in with them.  Don’t get me wrong, the riots were NOT funny, but since they were contained to a pretty small area of town (good job police!!) it was a non issue for them.  Plus it gave us all lots to talk about.

Sunday we had another great day together.  Lee woke up to requests from network affiliates and had to run out first thing in the morning and provide footage of the on-air altercation to some of them (CBS, NBC, NECN) which was kind of exciting, but the rest of the day we just hung out together.  More laughter, sharing of stories, and getting to know each other better.  One of the best weekends I have ever spent with friends in my life!!  I don’t know if all camping people are this cool or we just got incredibly lucky at the rally we attended, but I love love these people and feel so very blessed they are in our life.

Greg and Cori

Greg and Cori

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steve and Debbie

Steve and Debbie

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First Time Paddling on the Connecticut River

Hello everyone…it’s been a busy week, but for those who are just interested in the paddling, scroll down and it’s one of the last things we did 🙂  As of this week we are living in the RV all of the time. No, unfortunately the house hasn’t sold, but we’d much rather be here than at the house, and since we paid for a seasonal site, this is where we are staying.  I traveled on Wednesday this week to Philadelphia but other than that worked from home base on Thursday and Friday.  Thursday was OK, but there were many, many large banging sounds from nuts falling on the camper. It’s startling,  really, and so loud.  Lee explained Thursday night that a squirrel is climbing a tree high above our camper and eating nuts there so a bunch of shells are banging the top of the camper from very high heights.  I asked if we could “wing it” with a pellet gun or something and Lee looked horrified.  Seriously, I love animals but it was distracting and that squirrel can eat somewhere else!   I also cooked during the week, which is a huge benefit of working from the camper.  I am not a huge fan of pork, but Lee loves it, so I made some pork with a maple syrup and balsamic vinegar glaze on the campfire and some rice.  It was very easy and Lee gave it an enthusiastic two thumbs up.  (To be fair, it was really two thumbs up one at a time, in order that I could eat uninterrupted. – Lee) The recipes for this week are all listed below.     The best part of Thursday was 9pm when we got a phone call from Kay.  I was so sure the call would come on Wednesday night when I was flying home, or otherwise unable to answer the phone, but thank heavens we were both together and in our camper.  Kay cried for a minute or two but then pulled herself together and said although the first week was rough she had “gotten her shit together” and they made her an element leader.  She seemed a bit bewildered that they would have chosen her for that but felt honored by it.  I can already hear the difference in her voice.  Say what you want about the process but it is life changing for everyone who has gone through it.    We both breathed a big sigh of relief that she was OK and I immediately booked our tickets and hotel for her graduation in October.

Friday there were much fewer “nut bombs” hitting the camper.  Maybe he heard my  evil thoughts and decided to move on, but Jill, our resident chipmunk was out in force and seemed happy to see me.  I tend to feed her throughout the day and she was super cute climbing in and out of our wood pile.  We knew the quiet was coming to an end though because it was Labor Day weekend.  I have to say our neighbors behind us  have been MUCH better.  Sometimes they visit and I barely know they are here.  Unfortunately, the site across from us is now occupied and their dog is a barker.  I understand how difficult it is to stop a dog from barking, but it does bug me when the dog barks and they make no attempt to correct it.  Seeing how much time our friends Jo and Ben spend correcting their dog’s behavior I think it’s really laziness to let a dog behave like that. Another issue that we dealt with is that while we’re here, someone has been parking in our sticks and bricks driveway.  Yes, you read that right, and the nerve it takes to just park in someone’s driveway astounds me.  Lee has been coming home sometimes in the morning, and for lunch every day, and has seen the car numerous times.  Needless to say at first it freaked him out but then he finally got annoyed enough to call the police.  At first they didn’t want to do anything, but he was adamant and they agreed to run the plate and contact the person parking there and tell them to stop.    Despite the barking dog , overall, Friday night was good and not nearly as noisy as I expected.  I was pretty tired from a long work week so we ate some leftovers and went to bed.

Saturday we decided to get up and hit the sales.  Last year we stocked up on several “seasonal” items such as bug spray, tiki fuel, and other camping stuff and saved a ton of money and I was excited to go again.  Plus we have run out of kindling and were looking for a new bag of it.  We drove north and stopped at several little feed stores, hardware stores,  lumber yards, etc.  Didn’t have a lot of luck finding anything but the day was beautiful and we had a good time.  Finally we made it to Mr G’s Liquidation Center and hit the mother load.   When the kids were small and we were broke we went there semi-regularly to stock up on canned goods and unusual items.  They have what they have, but prices are 30% -60% off what you find elsewhere.  Plus it’s like a treasure hunt and super fun.  We stopped going once the kids got older and we started to make a little more money, but now that we are trying to live on a budget thought it would be a great time to revise the tradition.   It was awesome!!  First of all, I felt great about what I got for the $150 I spent versus always feeling slightly ripped off when I go to a regular grocery store. In addition, they have items that are difficult to get here in the northeast anywhere else.  I bought two Plochman’s mustard (my absolutely favorite) and numerous cans of Pennsylvania Dutch mushrooms which I love and haven’t seen for years up here.  After all that shopping I was tired, so we headed back to the camper to meet the cable guy.  One of the necessities for spending the next couple of months in the camper was getting our cable box out here.  It was more complicated than I would have thought, so they sent out a cable guy and he and Lee tinkered until they got it to work.  If we were in a new place with things to explore TV would not be such a big deal, but since we’ve seen most everything in this area TV will continue to be a staple of our entertainment ..at least in the short-term.   After the cable guy left Lee took the trash down and ran into our sticks and bricks neighbor, his dad, and the former owner of our house.  Turns out the new S&B neighbors two doors down have been parking in our drive way and our S&B neighbor across the street did tell him we had not moved, but he continued to park there.  Well now we have a name with the car and I will be addressing it if it happens again.  Also it was nice for Lee to talk to Steve, the former owner of the house.  They raised three kids in the house and then moved when the last one graduated, and now we are doing the same.  Steve felt it was priced right and knows there is nothing wrong with the house, it’s just a lousy market right now.   We know that as well, but it was nice to get some validation.   They were all staying in the group site at the front of the campground, and I thought it was nice that they  were still friends and got together.

Although the campground had a pot luck event on Saturday we stayed at our site.  It’s time to sign up for next year and they had a band, potluck, and fireworks.  I have to say I have been very disappointed with the lack of events this summer and Lee and I have never really connected with the community (such as it is).  Although I like the couple who run the campground, I thought it was a little transparent that they scheduled an event just when it was time to sign up again.  Lee has asked me about it, but I said no.  My main problem is we cannot easily get our camper in and out of the site it’s in…which is not their problem, but also I feel their security is very lax which is.  With everyone up at the party we were looking forward to some quiet time, but the people across from us had gone up and left their dog in the camper.  That dog barked constantly for over four hours.  We had dinner, baked potatoes with chili and cheese  (which Lee loved; recipe is below), and finally I couldn’t take it anymore and asked him to go talk to the owners.  As soon as he walked up to them they looked upset and said “Barking Dog?”  On the one hand it’s nice to not be the only complainer, on the other hand if they knew it was an issue why didn’t they take care of it sooner?? Jill told Bill to go find them down listening to the music and make them take care of it.  Again, I understand how tough it is camping with dogs, but either buy that dog a bark collar or don’t go off to party and leave it alone.  Eventually, they came back and the dog barking stopped and we settled in to watch a movie.  Don’t get me wrong, we expect some noise on weekends, especially holiday weekends, but there is some camper courtesy that needs to be shown.

Sunday was a lazy day…well lazy for me, but Lee was bound and determined to fix a sound problem with the TV.  It involved two trips to Radio Shack and some grumbling, but he eventually hooked the TV up through the camper stereo. In the process he discovered that the radio was never hooked up to the antenna and he was pissed.  Overall our Open Range experience has been a good one, but when he runs across a situation where the builders cut a corner he gets mad.  I recommended he call the manufacturer and complain and we will see, but now we know why we can only get one radio station at the campground.  (Seriously, this is not at all cool. They just didn’t run a line from the antenna to the stereo, and now, to correct, a line has to be run through a finished, insulated camper. That should have been done when it was constructed. I really like listening to the radio, and if I’m not going to be able to, then I should have paid a few hundred less for the camper.- Lee) For dinner tonight we had some chicken on the campfire…just so-so, the recipe didn’t make the cut, but I also made (for the first time) Potato-Pepperoni Hash.  I thought I would try it because I liked all the individual ingredients (those who cook know that doesn’t always work out) but it was fantastic.  Definitely adding it to my new favorites and the recipe is listed below.  (She’s not kidding, she loved it. She ate all of it. Normally she leaves some food on her plate, and I get a  little bonus extra dinner, but this time she scarfed it all up, and now I feel faint from lack of nourishment. – Lee) Super super muggy at night so we turned on the air.  I have to say the AC in the camper is amazing even thought we are only on 30amp.  VERY pleased.  Oh one other thing about Sunday; I have read in blogs (and our friend Greg confirmed) that when the weekend campers leave you can scavenge their wood.  Been wanting to try this and finally the tent site near ours left a huge pile.  Lee and I went and got it and although I felt great about the free wood, felt vaguely guilty as well as if I was doing something wrong.  I know it makes no sense as the owners of the campground would just pick it up and resell it, but like I said felt weird.  That being said we go through a lot of wood and I don’t think we can pass the leftovers up.  (I really can’t make up my mind about this. On the one hand, if someone leaves wood behind, obviously they are doing that because they don’t want to take it with them, and they’re leaving it for “the next guy”. On the other hand, we’re not “the next guy”. On the other hand, the campground is just going to scoop that wood up and then resell it, so it’s not like the “next guy” is even going to get it anyway. So, overall, I feel like it’s OK to take it, but I’m afraid someone will say something. It just feels weird, and not just because it sounds like I have three hands. – Lee) 

Monday I slept in late (9am is not late. That’s half the day gone, and practically time for second breakfast. – Lee) and we scurried out the door to go paddling.  We went to North Star Canoe Rental in Cornish, NH and the guys there were really terrific.  It only costs $15 per boat to drive you 4 miles up the river and the guys were very nice and personable.  (To be clear, that price doesn’t include a canoe or kayak rental, that’s just what they charge you if you have your own boat. I have no idea what they would charge to rent one, but I bet it’s on their website. I also don’t know how much they would charge you to take someone else 4 miles up the river and just leave them there without a boat, but I bet that’s not on the website. – Lee) We weren’t sure how to handle the inflatable, but decided we would leave it in the bag and then blow it up onsite.  (Inflate, not detonate. I just like to be clear. – Lee)

North Star Canoe based out of a barn :)

North Star Canoe based out of a barn 🙂

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The two young men were fascinated with the Sea Eagle and asked Lee tons of questions as he was setting it up.  (Sadly, one of those questions was not “Hey dude, would you like to sit in the shade while I pump up your wicked rad inflatable for you?” – Lee) Our Sea Eagle 385  never fails to get attention, but I was surprised that two people who ran a canoe livery had never seen one.  Once we got it set up we started to put it into the water.  Lee wore his tennis shoes, not sure what he was thinking there, and took them off then we got into the boat.  (I was thinking there would be a dock. Also, shut up. – Lee) The river level was a little low starting off and we had to get out and pull the boat.  This is where the bare feet were NOT helpful as the rocks were very sharp.  I did have shoes though, and found a great new rock for my rock collection 🙂

The Canoe puller we put the Sea Eagle in the back of the bus

The Canoe puller we put the Sea Eagle in the back of the bus

Beautiful view from the livery

Beautiful view from the livery

The paddling was beautiful and there were only a few people on the river.  We got to see the Cornish Wooden bridge  longest covered wooden bridge that carries automobiles and that was neat but it really was hot.  Not muggy, just sun burning hot, and Lee doesn’t do so well in the heat.  (It wasn’t “hot”, it was “Jesus H Christ, we must be a mile from the sun” hot. It was end of days hot. -Lee)  I got out once and got completely wet…the water was so clear, but Lee was happiest in the shade or when the sun went behind a cloud.  (That’s pretty generous revisionist history usage of “happiest”. It would be more accurate to say that in the shade I was somewhat less likely to cheerfully beat someone to death with my paddle so I could skin them and use them as an umbrella. I do not like the heat. – Lee)

Cornish Wooden Brideg

Cornish Wooden Brideg

Longest single covered span wooden bridge that carries automobile traffic

Longest single covered span wooden bridge that carries automobile traffic

 

The views were amazing though.  The water was so still in places I got some great shots with reflections.  Pretty happy with how they turned out.

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Connecticut River

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Connecticut River

 

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Connecticut River

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Connecticut River

 

After paddling, we stopped at a corn stand and bought a dozen ears directly from the farm.  I wanted to try freezing fresh corn and thought at that price, I couldn’t lose.  I bought a dozen ears for $5 and when we got home I went to Pickyourown.org to get directions on how to freeze them.  Basically you boil the corn for 9 minutes then put in ice water for 9 minutes.  Afterwards you gently cut down the cob about 2/3 into the kernel, then put into a freezer bag removing as much air as possible then freeze.  It was fun but a lot of work.  I’ll let you know if the taste was worth the work.

It’s been a great week…going to Atlanta again next week, so Lee will get some quiet time alone at the camper.  I can tell he’s devastated :). (I am. I don’t know how I will get through the week. Probably rib-eyes, bourbon, and pie. – Lee)

 

Lessons Learned

  • Always wear water shoes when going kayaking (Did you not hear me when I said shut up?)

Recipes

 Grilled Rice Packet

  • 2  (10 oz) packages of Green Giant Frozen Rice
  1. Remove contents from package and place on large piece of heavy-duty Reynolds wrap
  2. Seal edges using double-fold seals
  3. Place packet on grill for 30 minutes; turn over once at the 15 minute mark
  4. To serve open packet and stir gently

 

Grilled Rice Packet

Grilled Rice Packet

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Chili-Cheese Baked Potatoes

  • Chili; whichever kind you prefer (I use  one McCormick Chili packets with 1# hamburger, and 1 can each of Light kidney beans and dark kidney beans)
  • 4 Idaho potatoes
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Sour Cream
  • Butter
  • 2 scallions chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. Pierce potatoes with a knife once and place into oven unwrapped
  3. Cook potatoes for 1 hour
  4. Remove potatoes and open
  5. Add butter, sour cream, and chili to taste
  6. Sprinkler with cheddar cheese and pop into the microwave for 2 minutes until cheese melts
  7. Add scallions to top of potatoes and serve
Chili-Cheese Baked Potatoes

Chili-Cheese Baked Potatoes

Potato-Pepperoni Hash

  • 3 -4 medium sized Idaho potatoes (diced)
  • 3 oz  pepperoni (diced)
  • 3 scallions (chopped)
  • 1 garlic clove (minced) or 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 TBL vegetable oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Also, make some other food for yourself, because you won’t get to eat the potatoes. Tracy will scarf them all down.
  1. Simmer diced potatoes in salted water until tender; about 12 minutes
  2. Drain and pat dry
  3. Heat vegetable oil in large skillet
  4. Add potatoes and cook, stirring, until crisp; about 8 minutes (add salt and pepper to taste while cooking)
  5. Add pepperoni and sprinkle lightly with garlic; cook 1-2 minutes mixing well
  6. Remove from heat and stir in scallions
  7. Take whatever you made for yourself out of the microwave.
Potato - Pepperoni Hash

Potato – Pepperoni Hash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.  Search Amazon.com here

Paddling on the Ashuelot River

This weekend the forecast said bright and sunny but it changed a bit and we were back to some rain.  It’s funny how the camping experience changes on rainy days and one of the drawbacks of a seasonal site is you can’t plan your camping tips around the weather.  When we went into the camper thee was a definite rotten food smell.  This was new as the camper has still maintained its “new camper” smell this whole time but we could smell it.  After checking the fridge we discovered the smell was coming from the sink.   During the week, Lee came out and drained and flushed the tanks and although he had put some water in the black tank (you must do this to avid hardened pyramids of poo) he did not put any water in the grey tank.  I put some chemicals down it and once we took our showers Saturday morning the smell finally dissipated, but definitely a lesson learned is to leave some water in BOTH tanks.  Part of the problem with being parked seasonally is there is no motion to agitate the water and clean the sides of the tanks.  The sensors in the grey tank say 2/3 full even when its empty so there is definitely residue of some sort stuck to the sides.  We do the best we can not to let any food particles go down the sink, but seriously this is next to impossible.

We were able to grill out burgers Friday night though and after 25 years of marriage I have finally gotten Lee to watch the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series.   For those who are fans getting him through Season 1 was a challenge, but we finally hit season 2 and he likes it better.  This was the thing my girls and I did together growing up and we are all huge fans of the show, so it’s nice to be able to finally share that with Lee.  So far that’s been our rainy night activity 🙂

Saturday we woke up and it was cool and overcast.  Lee put the boat in the truck, but I wasn’t thrilled about paddling in the weather…but we waited it out and around 12:30 drove down to the Ashuelot River.  We put into the river by Matthews Road i( right by one of the 7 covered bridges in Swanzey) and although there isn’t an official boat launch there we managed to navigate the mud and get it into the water.  Our plan was to paddle upriver until we got tired and then turn around and float/paddle back.  I will say I love going downstream, but not as big of a fan of going upstream 🙂  That’s work!!  IT was absolutely beautiful though and although somewhat overcast we had a wonderful time.

 

The covered bridge by the river entrance

The covered bridge by the river entrance

Pretty view of covered bridge through the trees

Pretty view of covered bridge through the trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View of the bridge from the river

View of the bridge from the river

As you can see from the construction its old old

As you can see from the construction its old

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The water was muddy from the rain

The water was muddy from the rain

We paddled right under this tree hanging out over the water

We paddled right under this tree hanging out over the water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We saw a turtle on this log but it jumped off before I could get a picture

We saw a turtle on this log but it jumped off before I could get a picture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the way back we decided to get a little adventurous and went into a couple of alcoves and side streams.  It’s fun but you couldn’t really see how deep it was so we had to really communicate in order not to get stuck .  We also saw along the river bank some mussel shells.  I had no idea the river had muscles in it…so I looked it up when we got back and they are Eastern Elliptio Mussels  .   The animals apparently know because there were lots of shells along the river bank.  We went over to the bank at one point so I could get a rock for my collection and we saw many of them.   All in all it was super relaxing and after two paddling trips I am definitely hooked…although my arms and shoulders are sore again today 🙂

We went down this side stream to the left as far as we could go

We went down this side stream to the left as far as we could go

Who new the river had elliptio mussles?? The animals apparently

Who new the river had elliptio mussles?? The animals apparently

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We got back to the campsite and I started to get things ready for dinner for our friends Mark and Cricket.  As you know if you’ve been reading I like to try out new recipes, especially foods made over the campfire, but I have only subjected Lee to the results of those experiments.   Mark and Cricket are the mellowest couple we know  so I thought I would try out some new items on them.  I did warn them though that usually I only had a 50% success rate 🙂  Cricket and Mark came about 6pm and Cricket brought me some flowers from her yard as a housewarming gift.  So sweet and very beautiful.  Plus the little flower holder does two things…looks pretty and doubles as a small vase.

DSC01880

Housewarming gift from Cricket and Mark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We took them on a tour and Lee and I watched the food until finally everything was done.  Turns out I had some good karma coming for being adventuresome because they liked everything!! Chicken, Baked potatoes, Grilled Carrots, and Bacon wrapped corn on the cob all were declared winners!  The bacon wrapped corn was particularly interesting.  It had some kick because of the chili powder and the bacon flavor enhanced rather than drowning out the taste of the fresh corn.  I am a corn purist being brought up in the heartland but this was really good.  If your interested in the recipes I have them below.

Mark and Cricket eating

Mark and Cricket eating

Chicken, Corn on the cob, carrots, and baked potatoes 100% cooked over the fire

Chicken, Corn on the cob, carrots, and baked potatoes 100% cooked over the fire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After dinner we stayed up talking for a long time.  One of the things I don’t like about our seasonal site is we are surrounded by VERY loud neighbors.  On the nights they are in sounds like they have 20 people at their sites.  The conversation is pleasant not obnoxious but they are loud.  One of the coolest things about having people over to visit is it helps tune out what they are doing…although we all know how to use an appropriate level outside voice lol.  Again, one of the downsides of a seasonal site.  When we had loud neighbors last summer we shrugged it off for just one weekend and moved on, but these folks are for the summer.  They are nice people don’t get me wrong, but we like to camp for the nature and relaxation and they are definitely in the camping to socialize/party group.   All in all it was a another great weekend though and it was so nice that Cricket and Mark came out to share it with us.

 

Lesson Learned

  • Do not empty the grey tank completely or you will get a rotten food smell

 

Bacon Wrapped Corn

  • 4 ears of fresh corn
  • 4 bacon strips
  • 2 TBL chili powder

1.  Husk the corn and place on a large piece of foil

2.  Wrap corn in a piece of bacon

3.  Sprinkler with chili powder

4.  Close the corn in foil and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes.  Flip once after 10 minutes

Preparing corn for the grill

Preparing corn for the grill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Potatoes Baked in Foil

I’ve tried several recipes to make baked potatoes on the grill and this one actually worked.  This is how we’ve always made potatoes in the oven and it works equally well over a campfire

  • 4 medium Idaho potatoes
  • butter

1.  Scrub potatoes and poke with a knife to create a steam release

2.  Place on large piece of heavy-duty foil folded over to double thickness

3.  Rub potatoes with butter or margarine (use your hands it’s fun and makes your hands soft)

4.  Wrap potatoes completely

5.  Place potatoes directly on coals on the outside edges of the campfire

6.  Cook for 1 hour turning every 15 minutes

 

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One Year Camping Anniversary

One year ago this weekend, Lee and I had our very first camping adventure here at Swanzey Lake Campground.  It’s been an amazing year so I thought I would take a second and recap what we have done.  If you looking for the full read…check out the Key Moments tab.  In one week we decided to buy a camper, found one, bought it, and had our first camping experience.  Last summer we went camping over 13 weekends and visited 9 states.  We saw our daughter in Wisconsin, went to the ocean in Maine, and saw the Olympic village in Lake Placid…just to mention a few highlights.  What we knew by the end of the summer was that we love camping and being together just the two of us.  The summer allowed us to reconnect to one another.

At the end of the summer we decided we wanted more (including longer trips and more boon docking), so we went to Hershey RV show for two days and found the perfect 5th wheel for us.  We ordered a new truck, ordered the new 5th wheel and endured a VERY long winter waiting to get out there again.  Finally the 5th wheel came and we attended an amazing rally and met so many other people who are as passionate about camping as we are.  So it’s been a year and we sit in the same site (this time as a seasonal) grateful for the many gifts last year brought us.   Because we are selling our house and getting our last child to graduate HS we intentionally picked a campground 20 minutes from the house.  I am going to wait a few more weekends before I compare seasonal camping to going to different sites.

One thing I can say is whether you are moving around or staying put camping is a really great way to spend the weekend.  Because I have been traveling so much, I absolutely had to go into town this morning and run some errands and I went from super relaxes to stressed in no time at all.   The lights and noise in a super store are jarring after the stillness of the campsite.  Everyone waves in the campground…no waves out in the “real world” plus I saw some pretty rude behavior in a couple of stores you just don’t see in the campground.  It’s funny because these are the same people who live in town but there is something about nature that seems to bring out the best in people.  So how do I feel after a year…pretty darn awesome about the whole thing 🙂  It just gets better and better and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

One of the really fun parts of camping for me is trying out new recipes.  Cooking was a chore with three kids but now I can really explore different foods and God love Lee for being willing to eat just about anything.  So this weekend I had menus that were all new items.  Most of them were a bust unfortunately…either didn’t taste that great or waaay more trouble than it was worth, but I did discover two winners and have listed the recipes below.  It’s a lot of fun even if the experiments don’t turn out that great and it’s a good way to kill time on a rainy day.  I love old cookbooks and found the following in one of the church cookbooks that people put out as fundraisers.  The recipe was written by Ruth Arledge and I thought I would pass it along.

A Happy Home Recipe

  • 4 cups of Love
  • 2 cups of Loyalty
  • 3 cups of Forgiveness
  • 1 cup of Friendship (I add a second cup because I think it’s so important)
  • 5 spoons of Hope
  • 2 spoons of Tenderness
  • 4 quarts of Faith
  • 1 barrel of laughter

1.  Take love and loyalty, mix it thoroughly with faith.

2.  Blend it with tenderness, kindness, and understanding

3. Add friendship and hope, sprinkler abundantly with laughter

5.  Bake with sunshine

Serve daily with generous helpings.

 

Sesame Scented Snow Pea Pods

Super easy and delicious

  • 1/2 pound fresh snow pea pods
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  1. Steam snow pea pods for 3 minutes.  If you have a steamer for the microwave this works well.  If you don’t have a steamer, blanch the snow pea pods in water for 1-2 minutes until bright green.
  2. Drain peas and pat dry.
  3. Place in bowl and toss lightly with sesame oil.  If you have spray oil this works great.  Squirt 3 times then toss then 3-4 times more to taste
  4. Serve right away

DSC01821

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinnamon-Seared Pound Cake

Simple to make and REALLY good.  The grilled cinnamon flavor goes great with the strawberries and the bread has a little crunch.

  •  1 16oz bag frozen strawberries (thawed)
  • 1 10-1/2 oz package frozen pound cake – thawed  (Sarah Lee is pretty yummy)
  • 2 TBL butter (softened)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Whipped cream
  1. Place undrained strawberries in blender and blend until smooth.  Chill in refrigerator
  2. Blend softened butter and cinnamon
  3. Cut thin slice off each end of pound cake
  4. Cut remaining cake into 6 slices
  5. Spread butter on one side of each piece of pound cake
  6. Place cake, buttered side down, on grill.  Cook for one minute then flip and cook for two minutes
  7. Place cake on plates with strawberry mixture and top with whip cream

DSC01828 DSC01829

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First Time Having Guests at the Seasonal Site

 

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks since we got back from the rally.  I have worked out-of-town both weeks and the weekend in between we finished getting our house ready to sell.   We definitely did NOT want to miss the Memorial Day weekend house hunting traffic, so we scheduled two open houses; one on Saturday, and one on Sunday.  The downside was no camper time while we got it ready for that.  Lee snuck out a couple of times and setup some basics and he put the new reclining love seat in and removed the original couch, but there was still lots of work waiting us when we hit the campsite Friday night.  The first day and a half was spent squaring things away and it was weird unpacking for a seasonal stay versus moving around all the time.  When you’re on the go everything is placed for ease of packing up and making sure it’s secure.  When you’re stationary you can put anything you want wherever you want, which is nice, but totally different from the rally arrangement.  While I situated things Lee worked on the support box under the couch.  In the pictures below you can see we bought a love seat with zero clearance so each side can tilt back and out.  It’s SUPER comfortable but does look pretty weird in that small a space.  That being said I don’t regret the purchase at all and until we can get to Amish country and buy a custom couch I am super happy.   I started down the path of thinking where would guests sit…how it looked etc, but as Lee quickly mentioned guests will mainly be outside and “Do you want to be comfortable or not?”  The man had a point and once I sat in it I was sold…slightly weird looking or not.  One last note Lee built a box for below the couch because the new one sticks out a little farther than the old one, so it needed something to rest on. The box didn’t look very good until he removed the padding and leather from the old couch and used it to upholster the new base. It looks great.  The man is a genius!! (It’s true. I am a genius. – Lee)

Here's the wooden box he built

Here’s the wooden box he built

Finished box on the bottom

Finished box on the bottom

My daughter Kay curled on the couch

My daughter Kay curled on the couch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That was the other thing..my daughter who is 18 gave up her Friday night and came out to visit us right after work.  It was so fun, we had hot dogs and marshmallows and she kept us entertained all night with weird facts from an app her phone has. She’s a good girl and it was sweet she came to hang out.  The lack of wifi was a bit of a bummer for her though.

One of my other favorite things was I got my rock collection sorted out.  I like rocks and have collected neat ones in all my travels.  I really thought I was going to have to give up my rock collection…partly for weight and partly because vision of rocks flying around the camper was giving me nightmares.  Lee and my in-laws all threw themselves behind solving my rock problem though (so sweet) and helped me find these very nice plastic containers at The Container Store.  I will be able to strap these in when we move and I now have three different rock carriers with plenty of space for more to come!!  I don’t know about you, but it’s the little things in life that give me true joy…so thanks to Lee, DeDe and especially Denny for helping me make this happen. (If you’ve never been there, I highly recommend The Container Store. It’s my personal mecca. The have anything you need for putting anything into anything. They even have little boxes you can put littler boxes into. – Lee)

My rock collection...left to right Gold...Black...Red

My rock collection…left to right Gold…Black…Red

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally on Saturday Lee hung my Audrey Hepburn picture (which I fretted would not work and make the room smaller and turned out to be perfect) and covered the cabinet mirrors with Artscape Window Film.  I really hated the fact that the cabinets across from the bed had mirrors for a variety of reasons…not the least of which is that I am not that crazy at looking at myself all the time. (I am not nearly as happy as she is about it. Who doesn’t want a wall of mirrors facing the bed???  Bow chicka bow bow, baby. – Lee) So I did some research and found a window cling at Home Depot.  We weren’t sure what it would look like on a mirror since it’s made to go on a window, but Lee, ever practical, said buy one roll and if it doesn’t work you’re only out $22.  Not only did it work…it completely surpassed my expectations…LOVE LOVE  LOVE it.   And, again, the room does not look smaller which was a concern.  So here’s my updated bedroom thanks to my great handy-man hubby. (The Artscape window film is really easy to work with, and looks great on windows, and apparently, mirrors, although the more colorful and detailed patterns probably wouldn’t look as good on a mirror as a simple etched or frosted glass look. All you do is rough-cut it to fit, spray the glass with water that has just a few drops of liquid soap in it, and then position it and squeegee it until there are no air bubbles or water left. There’s no adhesive, it just works based on the laws of fluid mechanics. Or magic. Then you use a very sharp razor knife to trim the edge, and sit back and enjoy the adulation and kisses from whoever you did it for. Hanging a picture is even easier and hardly ever requires squeegeeing anything, so the work-to-kisses ratio is more in your favor. – Lee)

 

My Audrey Hepburn poster

My Audrey Hepburn picture

Before and after with mirrors

Before and after with mirrors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lee at work

Lee at work

Finished product looks so much better

Finished product looks so much better

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday night we had our friends Georgia and Jim over.  They had not seen the campsite yet and we were happy to be ready to share it.  I went with hot dogs and chips but I did make my Mom’s amazing potato salad.  Usually I’m lazy and buy a vastly inferior product at the grocery store, but making a small batch for just the four of us was super easy and it lasts well in the fridge.  I have the recipe at the bottom if you want to try it out.  It’s truly yummy delicious.  I also have been looking for years for that hot dogs that mimic those of my childhood memories and I finally found them.  Jordan’s Ball Game Treats are very inexpensive and taste just like the hot dogs I ate when I was a kid.  I am sure they are terrible for you…but I’ll take a good ole basic hot dog over one of those fancy ones any day. (Fancy hot dogs??? What the hell are fancy hot dogs? I don’t think she knows what hot dogs are made of. – Lee)

Oh I also keep forgetting to mention Lee put up a bird feeder on the window that Dede and Denny gave us and a hummingbird feeder.  We have had friends in both along our travels and since they are right outside my desk window I can sit and watch without scaring them away.  I included the hummingbird feeder mixture in the recipe section because it’s easy to make but I keep forgetting the ratio.

 

Bird feeder and hummingbird feeder outside my desk window

Bird feeder and hummingbird feeder outside my desk window

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Georgia and Jim (two of our best friends) came over and we had a great time.  Their son worked for Lee and he is the son we never had.  He chose the same career field as Lee and is doing very well in it so we had a very enjoyable night talking about our kids, our plans for the future, and of course showing off our new camper 🙂  It was also cool that despite having intermittent rain all weekend it was perfectly dry all night.    Thanks so much Georgia and Jim for helping us kick off our seasonal summer!!  Look forward to many more nights by the fire.

Speaking of the campsite here are the pictures of the campsite and our friends Georgia and Jim.

Campsite at night

Campsite at night

DSC01811

 

 

Kay and Lee hanging out by the fire

Kay and Lee hanging out by the fire

Big rock on our site

Big rock on our site

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Very well wooded love that...we have neighbors but can barely see them through the tress

Very well wooded site.. love that…we have neighbors but can barely see them through the tress

 Connie’s Best Ever Potato Salad

1.  Peel potatoes and cut into 4-5 pieces

2.  Boil covered until you can easily cut through with a butter knife but remove before mushy.  Rinse with cool water

3.  Boil eggs and allow both eggs and potatoes to cool

4.  Use a fork to mix egg yolks, mayo, mustard, and good seasons

5.  Mix potatoes, green onions, and egg whites

6.  Mix dressing into potato mixture gently stirring.

7.  Refrigerate until served (best if made the night before)

Connie's Best Potato Salad Ever

Connie’s Best  Ever Potato Salad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hummingbird Feeder Solution

  • 1 part sugar (must be the real deal)
  • 4 parts water

Stir well prior to filling up the feeder

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First Time Camping at a State Park in a Fifth Wheel

This morning I did much better at navigating.  I starting immediately when we got in the truck and looked at the My Pilot app, typed in our route, and saw all the Flying J’s and Pilots along it.  This let us decide in advance where we would stop and fuel.  Much better plan since we love Flying J’s and they aren’t everywhere and this allows us the greatest opportunity to find them along the route.  Lee gave me our approximate stopping point for the night…I really recommend this because it gives the navigator a starting point for a campground search and you can talk about shortening or extending the days trip based upon what you find in the area.   Howard had recommended a new website called Ultimate Campground Project.  There is  even a mobile version I purchased for $5.99 and well worth it!!  The site helps find public campgrounds which are less expensive and sometimes there are hidden gems as Howard says.   They do require more research though because generally their websites are not that great.  Based on his seminar at the rally…I search the area we were going then I called the campground first to discuss the size of our rig and see what they recommended and once armed with some site numbers I called the reservation desk.  It’s a good plan BUT the kid I talked to at the State Park was a trainee and we were having a tough time communicating and the reservation desk was clearly reading from a script which ultimately was not that helpful.  I did however get through the steps and locked us into a pull through site (#39) within 1 hour of getting on the road.   So I am feeling very proud of myself…very organized and together (For those who read my blog often you know pride often goes before the fall so prepare yourself.)

At our first stop I took another turn driving. Another advantage of Flying J’s with RV lanes is the are relatively easy for an inexperienced driver to get out of, so we departed easily and took off down the road.  I am really feeling comfortable driving the freeways.  My method (and I know not everyone will agree with this…Lee doesn’t) is to find a truck carrying special materials of some sort (liquids, heavy metal, etc) who I think is driving particularly well and pace them 4-5 car lengths back.  They know the road better than I do and I can watch when they change lanes which gives me plenty of lead time to do the same.  Now this being said, never do anything reckless to stay with them.  If you lose you truck buddy another one will come down the road.  I NEVER do this with the standard box trucks because their driving is to inconsistent from truck to truck but as a general statement the drivers with the unusual loads seem to be more cautious and better overall drivers.   One last comment on this…you can keep an eye on them but don’t relax so much you forget you control your vehicle.  I just look at it as an extra set of eyes…so to speak.  Hope that makes sense.  Oh one other thing…when I get tense I grip the steering wheel to tight which tightens the whole body and you actually have less control.  Keep your hands loose on the steering wheel.  Lee was really great about reminding me when he saw me gripping to tight.

Because we were doing so well, I wanted to stop and get a nice lunch at a Cracker Barrel.  We have been eating lunch in the rig everyday which was fine, but I wanted a treat so Lee found an upcoming Cracker Barrel on the All Stays app.  We know not all Cracker Barrels will fit a rig this size so he google mapped the area and saw the parking lot was small, but there was a large hotel next door.  We pulled in and because the parking lot in the back was empty Lee got out and gave me directions on how to back into a space (my first time).  This turned out GREAT!!!  Me giving directions to Lee has not worked that great because I don’t relaly know what to tell him, but he knows exactly what to say and told me step-by step how to park…it looked great.  We are definitely onto something.  I was totally calm because I trust him and he was kind while giving good directions!   My only feedback to him was to allow me to go as slow as I wanted because there is a delay between when he would say stop and when my brain could register it and hit the brakes.  The other thing is I don’t know what “straighten out” means..so he had to tell me turn the steering wheel left or right instead.  We were both pretty excited and think for us as a couple we are definitely on the right track with this method.   We went inside and asked permission at the hotel to stay for an hour (she said it was fine as long as we didn’t camp out) and had our lunch.  Although I loves me some Cracker Barrel…I would have to say overall it’s to much of a pain finding a place to park etc…plus it cost $30 for lunch versus something in the RV so I don’t think we will be doing this much.

So we finally came to the Frances Slocum State Park (in Pennsylvania) and checked in.  The office closed at 4pm but we made It by 3:20 so felt we had plenty of time.  We received direction…the trainee I had talked to was there and brand spanking new, and we got our maps and headed to the site.  This park is known for its man-made lake…which is nice, but we quickly realized that the small campground was designed for pop ups, tents, and small travel trailers.  We went to our pull through site and it was terrible. It was a tiny semi-circle next to the bath house with no view whatsoever. Also  the fifth wheel would face the road and the campfire would be on the wrong side.  Since the campground was practically empty we drove around the small circle looking at our alternative sites and Lee thought using our new method (me driving him spotting) we could get into one of the backup sites.  The office was closed by this time and I was trying to call the reservation d, but Lee (who is smart like that) walked over to the camphost and got her permission.  At the same time we realized there was no water at the site.

Ok so this was on me…despite my research and phone calls it escaped me the sites were electric only.  I assumed electric and water…bad bad assumption.  And we don’t carry much water on travel days (hurts the MPG) so we had to go fill up with water first which was way down the road.  Now I want to say this is where my positive attitude kicked in.  As they say the difference between an ordeal and adventure is attitude and I was bound and determined to look at this as an adventure…Lee not so much J  We went to the water area and hooked up our hose.  We knew we were getting water but it did take a long time.  I sat at the panel and kept hitting the tank fullness indicator and it took about 20 minutes to get to 2/3 full.  Once full of water we went back to our new site and Lee backed me in.  This took quite awhile because the angle to get into the site was pretty sharp.  We finally made it though but the fiver was seriously slanted.  So Lee pulled out the blocks and the moved forward a bit and then back and he used the stabling jacks…which we usually don’t have to do for a one night keeping hitch stay and we were somewhat level.    Actually he perked up during this process…he was very complimentary on how I followed his directions..I told him I trust him so it was easy to do exactly what he said and I think we both felt a sense of victory over the accomplishment.  He did say since we were beginners maybe we should stay away from State parks for a while, but I am eager to try another one just do a much better job on the upfront research.  Oh and as a benefit they don’t sell wood here but we were told we could burn any of the dead wood on the ground and we had a ton of it so had a very nice fire that night

 

Tilted fifth wheel :)

Tilted fifth wheel 🙂

Nice parking on the blocks by Lee

Nice parking on the blocks by Lee

 

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Much more level after the jacks were out

Much more level after the jacks were out

 

Overall the campground was less than average.  I don’t mind rustic but it should really have large sites and folks should not be right on top of each other in this case.  So I have to give them a relatively low score.  Please see below for a more detailed review.

I woke up in the morning with a terrible chest cold.  We went from 87 degrees in Tennessee to 57 degrees in PA and it went down to 33 overnight.  So here’s something I learned /…when you have a 2nd AC unit…even though the temperature controls have heat …it is not turned to the furnace so when you turn heat on you get outside air.  Basically I was warm and snuggly in my blanket but breathing super cold air all night 🙂  So I felt pretty yucky and helped Lee with the outside so we could get going as soon as possible.  The leveling blocks are like big Lego blocks and snap together so once Lee rolled the RV forward I started to pull the bricks apart.  One came off easier than the others and wham I smacked my self right in the bridge of the nose.  I literally saw stars and for a moment I thought I broke my nose…but it got better after a little while.  When we went down to the dump station that actually worked VERY well. I stood on the hose at the connection and Lee did the other parts.  While I was standing there I did notice the water we filled with yesterday had a huge sign saying Danger NO potable water.  The sign was not on the spigot though so we had gotten this water and I had brushed my teeth with it in the morning.  It makes no sense because every water spigot that’s potable will not hook up to a hose, so I think they expect you to use buckets or something.  Give me a break…we are buying a Water Bandit ASAP!!

After a long day of driving we reached the dealer we bought out rig from Flagg RV.  This was our first trip with our fifth wheel and despite a pretty extensive PDI (we tested everything except for water as it was still to cold) we had a small list.  The big one was the washer/dryer combo because the instrument panel doesn’t light up at all and it leaks.  Lee was ticked about this one, because everything else was relatively minor but obviously this aftermarket item was not installed or inspected correctly.  The Service Manager Steve was great though and had one of his top techs Chad review the issues while were there and then said they would order parts and have Chad make the 2 hour trip top our seasonal site to complete the repairs …couldn’t have gone better.  One other weird thing was a squeal in our Fantastic Fan.  Apparently Fantastic Fan makes an amazing product and Steve said in twelve years he had never seen one squeal (probably a bad bearing).  There is a lifetime guarantee on their part so they think they can fix it easily but both Chad and Steve thought it was weird we had an issue with it.  It didn’t show up in the PDI,  by the way because it only happens when the fan is on for a length of time.    Anyways the trip went VERY well…Lee picked up some valve extenders at their excellent RV store (seriously they have more parts than any store I have seen), and finally we headed to our seasonal site.

Our seasonal site is very tight and requires professionally backing the camper.  No really after seeing it with fresh eyes in the new fifth wheel we need a professional.  Luckily the owners sun is a professional truck driver and he moves them on the weekends, so we parked in the empty lot until Lee can meet the son and get it permanently moved to our seasonal site….finally!!!  I had an amazing time and really enjoyed myself but I am tired of driving so far every day.  I did want to add one picture thought that pretty much sums up how we felt about this week…which is in the top 5 vacations I have taken in my life !!

 

Who knew I could still bend back that far :)

Who knew I could still bend back that far 🙂

 Lessons Learned

  • The more challenging the day the more lessons learned 🙂
  • Check Fuel options along the route first thin in the morning and again after every fuel up so your deciding on where to stop in advance. Significantly reduces stress and gives you more options.
  • If traveling as a couple have one person selected the approximate end point for the days travel and have the second look for campgrounds/stopping places in the area.   Sometimes you can have too many choices is it’s wide open and it can take forever to research.
  • If you get a trainee at a campground and are uncomfortable with what their level of knowledge don’t be afraid to ask to speak to someone else. I was worried about hurting the kids feelings and ultimately that did not serve me well
  • Reservation call centers only know the information they have been given so if you have any concerns at all call the campsite directly
  • Try having the driver with more parking experience navigate and the other person drive the rig. It seems counter intuitive but it works great for us.
  • Have a small clip board and pad on hand to write down instructions such as fueling exit number and website campsite directions (GPS doesn’t always work for campsites)
  • Be careful when booking a public campground …don’t take anything for granted
  • Know in advance if you’ll need water and plan accordingly.
  • Buy a Water Bandit
  • If you have a 2nd AC unit it does not necessarily do heat despite having Heat on the controls
  • Wen you are separating the leveling blocks don’t whack yourself in the nose.
  • Pay attention to potable water signs

 

Frances Slocum State Park – Luzerne County, PA 2 out of 5 pine cones

Very small state park with a nice man-made lake   The sites are pretty small with electric only although the 50 amp was good.   No wireless but solid AT&T cell service.  The camp host was very nice and moved us to a larger site when the reserved site was not a very nice one.  Any dead wood laying on the ground can be burned and there were tons of cut trees.   Overall it was ok, but for that level of rustic I would expect much nicer views.  IT would be fun with kids in a popup for a weekend but definitely not “big RV” friendly.

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First Time Getting the Fifth Wheel Weighed and Driving Home

We started off the morning with getting our fifth wheel weighed by Howard and Linda.  They have been trained by the RV Safety Education Foundation  and have been trained on how to weigh  motor homes and RV’s.    They are very passionate about the importance of weight safety and this passion is discussed frequently on their website and in their rally.  We were convinced we wanted to do this, and at $60 (part of which goes to the RVSEF) it’s a bargain.  I am not going to go into all the specifics..but instead refer you to Howard’s blog for the details since he’s the expert, but essentially you can’t just look at overall weight but need to check the weight on each tire of the RV, the hitch, and the front and back of the truck.  Each area is a calculation based on type of tire and manufacturer specs…there’s some pretty heavy-duty math (which is not my best thing) plus they use special scales to weigh each set of tires so again…HIGHLY recommend you get weighed by someone who knows what they are doing…it’s a bargain. The big deal about the weight is how it impacts driveability, safety, and impact on your frame, and because we are brand new at all of this we were concerned.  Well, Lee got an A + from Howard and Linda 🙂  I say Lee because he is the one who found permanent homes for everything in storage.  A common thing people do is overload one side or the other and Lee was dead even side to side in the back and only 50 lb difference between the front and the rear. Plus we had LOTS of head room for adding more stuff.  Linda said this rarely happens and I was super proud of Lee that he came  so close simply by eye-balling it.  That’s my guy!!  (I am the pack master. – Lee) Howard gave us some recommendations for what PSI we could use on our tires (currently using 80 but can go down to 60 on the truck) which should give us a much smoother ride!!   The bouncy bounce in the truck on rougher roads is a little uncomfortable and this should help with that 🙂

Since we were the first appointment of the morning we also had a few minutes to tell Howard and Linda how much we had enjoyed the rally.  I had written them an email “comment card” and they took it in the spirit it was intended and thanked us for it. Lee spent many years traveling across the country doing large-scale live business events (think huge annual corporate meetings) plus he spent several years doing lighting and stage crew for traveling tours, including Cher and the Eagles.  My hubby knows live production. (And a good show is scalable, no matter how small. All business is show business. – Lee)  I have trained folks on new software systems all over the country as well…and we couldn’t help but watch the seminar from that perspective.  Howard and Linda run a very professional seminar while maintaining a warm and friendly environment.  Not the easiest thing to do.    The content of the slides was terrific, the pacing was good, the tone and level of detail were perfect for beginners like us.  Also many people put the logistics of an event on “auto-pilot” which can lead to problems, but Linda was actively keeping an eye on the food, bathroom cleanliness, temperature of the room etc.  If you do those things well they largely go unnoticed, but if they aren’t done well it can make a great seminar very unpleasant…(think about the last time you had to learn something and the room was too hot or cold).  Anyway, we were glad to be able to tell them how impressed we were by the quality of the seminar and then, reluctantly, we  headed out driving back home.  By the way, I really liked the campground.  River Plantation is very close to an outlet mall and all the Pigeon Forge attractions but it is also tucked away so if you stay in the campground it feels like you are in the wilderness.  I wouldn’t stay in the interior sites, they’re pretty packed together, but the river sites were fantastic and my site #401 backed up to a small waterfall that was lovely.  If you’re interested, you can see the end of the post for a full review.

Let me warn you  from this point in the day it was all downhill  so if you’re looking for one of my happy posts you might want to stop here 🙂

It started with the GPS being unclear as to which way to turn out of River Plantation.  Because most campgrounds are on private roads the GPS gets confused so we often turn the wrong way out initially…it happens all the time.  As we were driving to the highway we saw a couple from the Rally stopped on the side of the road.  They are easy to spot because they pull a fifth wheel with a semi truck cab and it was pulled over with the engine off, and the hood up. (Never a good sign! – Lee) Luckily Lee was able to pull us over and walk back to see if he could help.  Theresa and Rick were this very nice couple we spent some time with during the open house because Teresa had a custom-built sewing machine cabinet that was pretty cool and I was fascinated by her little sewing area in the RV.  Anyway, Rick thanked us for stopping and said he was fine.  He had bought a new heater hose at Napa and he said “This is why you always buy from Napa because they have sent someone with a replacement part and he is on his way.”  VERY good to know and I have added it to our lessons learned.  So back on the road we went.  I was feeling a bit sad…having to go back to the real world and was distracted.  My job is the navigator and let’s just say I did not navigate well.  I knew we had plenty of time before our first gas stop because Lee had filled up the truck prior to hitching up, so I blew off familiarizing myself with the route.  So we are driving along and noticing that the Diesel Exhaust Fluid light was on, and wouldn’t go off.

In a diesel (and this is all new to us) the EPA requires diesel exhaust fluid…I think it makes the emissions cleaner. Anyway we had gotten a warning message on the way down to the rally and stopped and bought a gallon of fluid.  Right before we left this morning, Lee put in a gallon but as we were driving we noticed the message did not change (it states you have X amount of miles before the engine will limit your speed to 50 mph, and then eventually go into idle-only mode.)  Ok, so now something that was a minor thing was turning into a big deal.  On the fly I am checking the diesel supplement manual and eventually we had to call the dealer we bought it from to ask why the information screen wasn’t recognizing that we had added the fluid.  The whole time Lee is driving btw and the miles are counting down.  According to the dealer, it should have reset automatically when we put more fluid in but since we only added one gallon (our tank takes five gallons) it didn’t work.  They also said that even after you fill it up, you should turn on the vehicle…let it run for 2 minutes…then turn off and do again until it resets.  Of course according to Murphy’s law as soon as we got this information we passed the last true truck stop for 50 miles and the mileage indicator is down to 99 miles left.  By the way if it totally runs out and you drive too far on none the truck will actually go into idle only mode…so this is nothing to screw around with.  Ok, now we knew what do…but we needed more of this fluid, so I pull up all those maps on my IPAD and it’s  too far for my comfort level to a true truck stop.  I use All Stays generally and a great app called My Pilot but there was only one “Road Runner” travel station 26 miles away.  Now Lee is irritated, because he’s stressed from driving, worrying about the mileage countdown,  and I am not navigating.  In my defense there was a lot going on BUT if I had familiarized myself with the route in advance it would not have been such an issue.   We pulled off at the travel station, which claimed to be a truck stop, and there was a sign (which we didn’t see until we were leaving) that said “Absolutely no trucks or trailers)…did you know these are not truck stops but designed for cars??? …I didn’t…It was just a regular gas station. We needed to get that diesel fluid so Lee took a chance and pulled in but then got “stuck” and couldn’t get out because of where cars were parked.  He hates that…I mean hates it with a passion and I have navigated us right into that situation.  (Let me just say here that there is a special place in hell reserved for people who park in stupid places. There is very little room for error in the geometry of moving something that’s 56 feet long.-Lee)  I jumped out of the truck and went and bought 5 gallons of the exhaust fluid while Lee put the flashers on and waited.  Once we had the fluid…he backed up (with my spotter assistance) and finally wiggled our way out and back onto the highway.  It was not easy, it was not fun, and it was very avoidable…as we stopped at the next rest area, filled the fluid tank completely…turned the truck on and off and the warning light reset. All of this happened before noon. I would love to type here “and the rest of the day went beautifully”, but we were both irritated with each other for another five hours; just got on each others nerves, until we finally took a  break and pulled over and talked about it.   I want to thank my new friend Cori because when I texted her around 4pm and told her Lee was seriously getting on my nerves her response was “Take a fake nap”  I laughed so hard I finally was able to let some of the tension go and talk about it.

We finally stopped for the night at a KOA which was off the highway and had a nice fire.  I know Lee felt bad about the tension because he talked me into buying a bear paper towel holder.  It was $40…yikes…but super cute and if I am going to spend I’d just as soon spend it on a small mom and pop business than at a large retailer.  Anyway here’s a picture of my bear 🙂

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Bear paper towel holder

 

And here’s a picture of our campsite at KOA Harrisonburg/Shenandoah Valley.  It was a nice campground, a little pricey, but the people were super friendly.  My major complaint was the smell of pig poop that seemed to permeate the air.  A local farmer must have been fertilizing.  You can see a full review at the bottom of the post. (That’s not smoke from the fire, that’s the haze of pig shit stink. Seriously. You could scoop that stuff with a spoon. It was nasty. – Lee)

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Finally, my friend Cheryl from the RV-Dreams forum wanted to know how Lee built our custom desk.  We have a Front Living Room model of an Open Range (386-FLR) and we custom ordered it without one of the couches so that he could build a desk.  I was going to wait until it was complete done to post, but Cheryl is looking at building one now and asked for the info…so here it is Cheryl written by Lee because I honestly have no clue how he did it…I just know I LOVE it!!!

 

So, this is not that terribly complicated, anyone who is comfortable with a few tools can do it. Swearing helps. Not smacking yourself on the head by leaning in too close or fast to the edge of the slide out will also help. The first step is to get yourself some kind of a recreational vehicle. I recommend the Open Range 386-FLR, with one of the couches removed. The space is perfect for a nice big desktop area.

But all you really need is a piece of kitchen counter from Home Depot or Lowe’s, or some other such store, and something to use as pedestals, for it to sit on. I like filing cabinets as desk bases, because you can put stuff in them. Be aware that desktop height is 30″, and you will find that the vast majority of filing cabinets are 30″, which makes sense. But our desk was going into a slideout, and the “floor” of the slideout is 7″ taller than the floor of the RV, so I needed to find something shorter. I totally lucked out, and found the perfect lightweight but incredibly strong stackable storage drawers at staples. They are 24″ deep, which is a LOT of room, and they are designed to lock together when stacked, making them very stable. They’re designed to be full of paper, and stacked up to 10 high, so they will take a tremendous amount of compression force. And when two of them were stacked, they EXACTLY hit the height I needed. Your situation may not have the height restriction, so plan accordingly. In my rig (as you can see I the pics, there are two pieces of wood at each side of the slideout floor to reinforce the floor, so I placed the drawers just inside of those, which gives me a nice little cubby on either side of the drawers to stick things like power strips and laptop bags, and small pieces of candy I can forage for later. I used 2″ L brackets to anchor the drawers to the wooden floor with particle board screws, because they have nice fat threads. To anchor the drawers to the brackets, I drilled a hole in the drawers and used small bolts with fender washers so they don’t chew through the plastic while driving, and lock nuts. I also used brackets to anchor the desktop to the drawers, and to the wall of the rig. Obviously, you have to make sure that you use short enough screws so that you don’t damage anything hidden underneath/behind the structure. Each RV is a little different, but if you poke around you can find places to anchor things to. I also cut the desktop to its a very snug fit side to side, and that helps to stabilize it. And finally, because I ran out of time and as a temporary way to keep the drawers closed while driving, I just popped a drywall screw through the side of each drawer to “lock” the drawers in place while driving. I’ll come up with something sexier later. I am having custom fronts made that match the rest of the rig and found drawer pulls that also match, so the drawer fronts will match the rest of the interior.

The decorative junk on the desktop is held on place using museum putty, which is amazing stuff. I highly recommend it.

Happy modifying, email us pics of whatever you come up with! – Lee

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Desk view…we are putting wood cabinets on to cover the filing cabinets

Brackets in bottom and top and there is a screw to hold the file drawer closed when driving

Brackets in bottom and top and there is a screw to hold the file drawer closed when driving

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons Learned

  • Get your RV weighed
  • Buy parts at NAPA they will deliver a replacement to you if you break down
  • If you’re having an issue..stop and talk about it.  MUCH harder to discuss things when driving and you may put yourself in a worse situation!!
  • When the diesel exhaust fluid light comes on fill the tank completely..but do not over fill
  • When you have filled the diesel exhaust fluid in a Ford truck you may need to let it sit for a minute then turn the truck on and off a couple of time to clear the warning message.
  • If you don’t put the diesel exhaust fluid in the truck will limit your MPH to 50!!!  Don’t let this happen.
  • Being the navigator is hard work if you do it right
  • Not all Diesel Travel stations have truck or RV lanes you need to do more research to find out!
  • Map out your next gas stop immediately when starting or after each fuel up so you have plenty of time to select the best price and best accessibility location

 

River Plantation RV Resort –  1004 Parkway  Sevierville, TN 37862  4 out of 5 pinecones

River Plantation is right outside of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee (Home of Dollywood) and is specifically designed for large RV’s and Motor homes.  Although I would not stay in one of the internal sites, the river view sites around the exterior were excellent.  They are large and my site (#401) has a small waterfall behind it that was both picturesque and made great white noise at night.   It was extremely neat, clean and safe with terrific laundry facilities and a very nice bath and shower area.  The site also has several cabins, and although the smaller ones I would pass because they have no amenities, the larger ones have a small kitchen in them.  The conference center is great if you’re having a rally and the people who run the place take it seriously.  There are tons of family activities close by and the Smoky Mountains are very close.  Despite being so close to so many attractions the place is tucked away and if you don’t leave the campsite it feels like you are in a more rural area.  Overall I was thrilled and would definitely go back.    My only complaint was the wireless was pretty spotty and at that price point I thought it could have been better.

KOA Harrisonburg/Shenandoah Valley  12480 Mountain Valley Road Broadway, VA 22815  3 out of 5 pinecones

4 miles off the interstate but extremely secluded.  It is a smaller KOA but has a nice play area for the kids and a swimming pool.  The camp store was very nice for its size and the people were super friendly.  Wifi unfortunately was practically nonexistent unless you were near the lodge and then even a weak signal.  It was also pricey for what you got…we paid $47 for a water and electric only pull through site.  Another concern was a strong smell of poop throughout the campground.  There were several cow barns nearby and I am guessing the farmer was manuring his fields.  That being said it was friendly and a little off the beaten track which we like but I wouldn’t recommend staying here for more than a few days.

 

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Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.  Search Amazon.com here