Maiden Voyage – Day 2

We like to get up and out the first full day of camping.  It seems counter-intuitive and certainly your miles may vary, but for us, getting out and seeing things when we are fresh works.  Since we were at Lake Placid, we decided to look at the Olympic sites.  (Luckily, they were already there. It’s like they knew we were coming. – Lee) One of the nice things about us as a couple is we always like to try new things and we never say we are ‘too cool’ to do something.  We pass on things because they are too scary or physically demanding, but never because we are too cool.  Giant ball of string? I want to see it. Cornhenge? Let’s go take a look.  (You can skip cornhenge. We might not be too cool for it, but you almost certainly are. – Lee).  Sometimes these roadside attractions are lame, but generally we are delighted by what we get to see.  

When we went to the first Olympic site they were selling a multi-pass to four different events for $32 a person and I felt a twinge.  I am trying to keep budget in mind during these camping trips, although it’s tough with all the one-time purchases we have to make.  Lee felt it was a good deal and, as much as I hate to say it, he was right. (This is a common occurrence, me being right, and her hating to say it. – Lee)  Coming from the Midwest, I need to guard against being penny-wise and pound foolish, as my grandmother says, and Lee is great at balancing our money.  (She misspelled a word in there, she meant to type “Lee is great at spending our money.” It’s true, I rock at it. If there were an Olympic event, I would be unable to stand from all the gold medals around my neck. I should get a statue, or a parade. – Lee) Suffice it to say, it was a bargain and gave us enough relatively cheap and interesting activities for 2 days.

We went out and about the first day seeing the sites and doing a little shopping.  We bought our second magnet for the fridge; I spent forever deciding which one to buy. We also bought a little sign to hang on the front of the camper. This was a major decision 🙂

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Having learned our lesson from last time, we  got back in plenty of time to start the fire and cook the chicken.  One really fun thing for me was stopping at one of those roadside stands and getting additional wood.  The wood at the campground was pretty cheap (only $5.75) and came with a fire starter, but I always wanted to buy bundles from a roadside place–I know, I’m weird like that.  You have to have cash, though, and exact change; luckily I had $4 in my purse and we grabbed a bundle, which made me very happy. It’s the small things in life.    The only downside to the day was when my allergies really kicked in.  It’s high pollen season here in the North  and sniffling all day was a bit of a drag.  We stocked up the medicine cabinet and the over-the-counter medicine helped some but I’ll definitely keep this in mind for next time.

One other thing that was a bummer was the lack of a decent Wi-Fi signal.  The campground says Wi-Fi but it’s largely unusable (kicking us off after a few minutes every time we tried to use it) and although I don’t want to spend a ton of time connected…it’s a nice option to have especially on a rainy day (more on that tomorrow).    It really wasn’t a campground issue in this case but an area issue because cell phone coverage was extremely spotty as well.  As much as I enjoy getting away, not having GPS or Google Maps forced us to go old school with navigation.  Let’s just say we are a bit rusty and got lost a lot. (I don’t recall ever being lost. I was sightseeing. – Lee)

There is raging debate–ok, maybe that is an over statement–over the relative merits of independent sites versus KOA campsites.  I’m going to give the newbie perspective but fully reserve the right to change my mind at a later time. Both seem to have advantages.  The independents are cheaper and have the seasonal residents.  I like the seasonal folks a lot, generally people who are retired or semi-retired and have a place at the site.  They keep an eye on everything and there are definitely fewer kids at these sites probably because they have less kid related activities. KOA campsites, on the other hand, have more employees, more family activities, and guys in little carts constantly monitoring the site.  Both seem pet-friendly, although I did see more big dogs at the KOA site.  In both cases they had nice helpful people at the front desk and an assortment of those immediate necessities you might need.   In a nut shell, more weekenders with kids at KOA and more seasonal folks and fewer kids at the independents.

I think, given a choice (and there often isn’t one, believe it or not), I would choose the independents because we don’t have kids and I really like talking to the seasonals, but I have one major caveat.  We often see independents with no websites, and we had an opportunity to drive through and scout one of those on this trip. It was pretty scary. I’m sure there are many nice independents without web sites, but this place was scary.  It was pretty wild and unkempt and the full hookup area was a wide field, which we are not really interested in.  So for me, unless personally recommended by someone I trusted,  I would stick with independents with websites, and that significantly shortens the list of available places.  I am glad KOA sites are an option because you do always know what you are going to get, which is comforting.

On a totally different note: we worked out the showers.  You have a limited hot water tank so you need to take a few minutes and talk about how you are going to handle showers.  There are basically three options: take extremely short showers, use less water in the shower, or have a break between showers. We went with a combination of the first two.  Lee gets wet, turns the water off for soap and shampoo, then turns the water back on.  I take a pretty quick shower.  So everything works out fine.  The main point is: communicate about this in advance.  One more thing–if you both like a morning shower, make sure you save the breakfast dishes until after the showers are done! (Personally, I had a fool-proof plan which involved both of us taking a shower at the same time. Sadly, this would be impossible because the shower is very small. Our next camper will have fewer couches and a larger shower. – Lee)

Lessons Learned

  • Carry cash
  • Allergy season is different in different places, so be prepared with your medicine cabinet
  • Allow for extra time in your meal prep time calculations to get the fire hot
  • Chicken takes an hour to cook on a fire (no way around it that I’ve found, yet!)
  • ‘Wi-Fi’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘usable Wi-fi’
  • Be extremely cautious when going to a campground with no website
  • Have a shower strategy and avoid the fight that happens after someone uses all the hot water
  • Save the breakfast dishes until after the showers are done

Campfire Wishbone Chicken 

  • 1/2 cup Wishbone Italian dressing
  • 5 chicken legs

1.  Pour salad dressing over chicken and let sit overnight in the refrigerator

2.  Get the campfire started and build up a nice base of coals

3.  Cook chicken on a flat grilling pan over fire for one hour, turning over at least every 10 minutes

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Maiden Voyage – Day 1

Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA

Finally! The day arrived for our maiden voyage.  I traveled for work quite a bit in the interim, but Lee snuck in lots of time to work on the camper.  I can’t list every single thing he did, but suffice it to say I have the best husband ever.  One of the things he did that I absolutely loved was put some additional shelving in the pantry cabinet. The original cabinet is tall, and very deep (24″!) but only had three shelves. Lee added two more shelves to make more reasonable heights and significantly increase the food storage.

Here’s the original pantry cabinet, with some stuff in them to give you an idea of the scale. And because Lee is Lee, he added lighting.

There were also lots of little touches and during the first day of setting up it was like having a ton of little presents.  Small touches like a wood soap container that matched the interior that really made the day special.   We did find the time on our no-camping weekend to go to the Container Store.  I highly recommend a trip just to get ideas for storage.  The best purchase was a case of plastic shoe boxes  at $1.69 each.  All loose items are safely stored in these boxes, they fit great in any storage space in the camper, and they are clear so it’s easy to open the door and quickly find something.  This was actually my idea, and I was pleased to see it work well.

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My other favorite purchase was a condiment/vegetable tray that holds ice in the bottom  and has a lid so you could keep snacks outside longer. It’s a bit of a frivolous item, but a bargain at  $14.99  because it made me so happy.

After checking out the improved camper, we hitched it up and Lee maneuvered it out of the storage area.   I think we were so excited that we had successfully managed that part that what happened next was sort of inevitable.  Lee was getting ready to turn onto the main road and we were talking when we heard a big crunch.  I looked out my rearview mirror and the wheels of the trailer were going up and over a pretty big rock.  Lee was upset; I started laughing.  Yes, I know it’s an odd reaction, but when we bought the camper the daughter-in-law of the couple who sold us to it gave me one piece of advice.  She said the first time we dinged the camper not to get upset.  It was going to happen and it was just a camper.  This flashed into my mind and I admit I felt a little relieved that the first ding seemed so minor.  We pulled off at the first place we could and Lee checked the camper.  The stairs were slightly bent and one of the panels was crunched a bit, but nothing too major.  Lee didn’t take it quite so well.

(Well, duh. First of all, I was just minding my own business,  driving out of the parking area, and this seriously large rock, a boulder, really, with a major attitude problem leapt off the side of the road and bit right into our sparkly new camper. You can see the perp in the photo below. 

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Doesn’t it look like a thug? I was going to teach it a lesson, but you have to be careful. These street boulders travel in gangs.

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Seriously though, I was worried I might have done real damage to it, and in the first few minutes of our first real trip. Luckily, it was only a slight bend to the steps that I was able to straighten our with some pulling and grunting (see pulling and grunting below) and a judicious kick.

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This is what the steps are supposed to look like.

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And this is the new-and-improved, modified version.

As you can see, the affected step brace now has an arch to it. Engineers say that an arch is the strongest architecturally,  so if you think about it, I improved the design and made it stronger. Some of the skirting, which is just cosmetic also came loose, but it doesn’t flap while driving at highway speed, so it’s really just art. My ego, on the other hand, damaged beyond repair. – Lee)

Once we were back on the road, the traffic surprised us a bit.  We thought we had left in plenty of time, but the drive was on mainly two-lane highways and it is construction season so the roads were often down to one lane. I only mention it because I always have to be on time. Why it matters being on time to a campground for vacation weekend, I have no idea, but I need to have a healthy dose of “we get there when we get there” for these trips.  Why start off stressed? It turned out to be fine since check in started at 3:00 and despite some unexpected delays we still arrived at 3:15.  (I chalk this accomplishment up to my almost supernatural ability to manipulate time and space. It’s eerie, really. – Lee)  In our previous travels (without a trailer) we saw tons of places to pull over and shop or maybe have lunch, and indeed we saw tons of those places during this trip, but very few have a parking lot that accommodates a truck and trailer. (And of course, now that I was aware that there are roving gangs of boulders wandering around looking for innocent campers to attack, I didn’t want to take any chances. – Lee)  Once we got closer to the campsite, I made some mental notes of places to visit,  and we circled back later in just the truck once we had dropped the trailer, but mostly the little shops along the way are something that you might have to give up.  Lunch was another challenge.  If you are on interstates there are truck stops along the way, but since we were on less traveled roads it was more of a challenge.  Luckily I had bought a phone app for $10 called AllStays which shows your vehicle on the map and what facilities are coming up. This was really helpful for finding gas stations that could accommodate trailer height and upcoming turnarounds or pull offs to take a quick bathroom break.   As a side note, the ability to stop and get into your trailer to use the bathroom is pretty awesome.  At first I felt kind of weird about it, but no more scary public restrooms for me–you bring yours with you!  We ended up stopping at a small Citgo truck stop which had gas and a small deli inside.  (Eat here! Get gas! – Lee) I would have preferred one with a restaurant of some sort, but the food was cheap and did the trick, plus, as I said, options were limited.  One word of advice: start thinking about where you will stop at least 30 minutes in advance.  The app was very helpful in this case because you can look ahead along your route.  It’s definitely a mindset adjustment if you are used to just being able to stop anywhere.  Plus, setting up the camper is physically demanding and a good solid lunch is key for later on.

After lunch it was  my turn to drive.  This was my first time driving a trailer of any kind and I was pretty nervous, but the only way to make this work on longer trips is for me to take a turn so I took a deep breath and pulled out of the station.  Below are my takeaways from the experience.  I didn’t get comfortable on that first go, felt a lot like a brand new driver, which, in a way, I was.

  1. Make wide turns and look at the lower side mirror on the side you are turning (left mirror for left turn and right mirror for right turn) to watch the trailer tires to make sure you clear.
  2. Obey the speed limit.  I found every time I crept above the speed limit even 5 mph I started to struggle.  Apparently the speed limits are for bigger vehicles and are pretty accurate–who knew?
  3. Watch for sway.  The truck we have gives a message on the instrument panel to slow down if the sway becomes too bad. This is great, but you can sway over the middle line because of the wind if you’re not careful.  I had seen people driving and swaying and always thought they weren’t good drivers… shame on me.
  4. Stay to the right.  The middle lane is way too stressful with having to watch both sides almost constantly.  In the right lane, people can easily pass you and generally you have a lot of extra space to play with on the right, so it’s much less stressful.
  5. Take your time.  If you’re one of those people plodding down the road, so be it.  People can get around you if they have someplace to go and you’re new at this, so don’t be pressured into speeding up.  Plus, you’re the big vehicle so they can be more agile than you if needed.

We made it to the campsite and signed in.  Again, the people checking us in were super nice–mostly older, semi-retired folks who seemed generally pleased that we were newbies.  The setup went pretty easily, although Lee had reorganized and I wasn’t sure where a lot of things were.  (Hey, I can’t help it. Things needed to be put where they needed to be put. I had an orientation class, but she didn’t show up. – Lee) There were a couple of challenges. We didn’t have enough sewer hose to park where we wanted.  Lee ran down to the store and bought another twenty feet of hose, so now we have forty feet in all. (If I keep buying sewer hose, eventually I will have enough to just run the hose from the camper to our house. – Lee) Also, either from going over rocks or something else, a black plastic hose with wires inside had rubbed against the tire and some of the wires were bare.  This is where I am really lucky to have Lee in my life because he repaired the wires. (It is astonishing to me how often it comes up that she is lucky to have me in her life. I should get a medal. Or a statue. Or at least a parade. So, like she said, there’s this little bundle of wires that are attached to the slide-out. When the slide-out slides out, the wires go along with it. And when it’s not slid out, there’s a spring that’s attached the to bundle that is supposed to pull the slack that is created up under the trailer. Some genius engineer designed this whole thing and put it smack in front of the trailer tires. You know, right where it would flap against the tires if the spring broke, allowing the tires to rub away the protective sheath, then the insulation around the wires, and eventually, right through the wires themselves. When we got to the campsite, my eagle eye caught this and I tried to figure out what the wires provided power to. Everything worked, so I can’t imagine what purpose the wires served. I didn’t have a multi-tester with me, but I did put together an “I don’t know this camper very well so I better be prepared for weird things to happen” kit. Luckily, that kit included some wire, and wire nuts. I was able to splice the mess together and for the return trip I used baby bungee cords to stow away the slack loop.

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Back home I will have a few weeks before I drive over another boulder to figure out what the wires supply, and install a better splice, and a more robust slack-wire-retraction device. – Lee)

Lesson Learned

  • Leave extra time for construction traffic
  • Invest in an app that shows camper resources
  • Don’t leave lunch until the last-minute
  • Make wide turns and look at the lower side mirror on the side you are turning (left mirror for left turn and right mirror for right turn) to watch the trailer tires to make sure you clear
  • Obey the speed limit
  • Watch for sway
  • Boulders are dangerous, sneaky creatures,  and are not to be trusted

Easy and Delicious Baked Fish

Ingredients

  • 1 cup herb season stuffing mix (finely crushed)
  • 4 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1  7.6 oz portion of grill flavored frozen fish (2 portions)
  • 2 tsp lemon juice

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees

2.  Combine stuffing with butter, tossing well until mixed

3.  Lightly grease a baking dish

4.  Place fish portion in bottom. Sprinkle fish with lemon juice

5.  Place crumb mixture lightly on fish and extra around the sides

6.  Bake in preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork

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Trial Run – Sunday

Trial Run  –  Last Day

Sunday morning came and with it the realization we needed to depart by noon.  (This is another one of those weird things you would never think of, but it’s just like a hotel. They need to clean the…..dirt ground, I guess, for the next camper. – Lee) It had taken forever to get set up so we weren’t sure how long it would take to tear down. (It ended up taking less than 90 minutes, not bad for our first time).  After some brief discussion we decided to pay for an extra day. This would give us an unlimited amount of time to pack up and finish organizing and would give the kids a chance to visit and see the camper.   Another really good decision.  I think it cost us an extra $48, but at this point it was well worth it.

(At some point during the day, Trace called to me from inside the camper “Something’s wrong.” in a tone that could only mean a spider had somehow gotten into the trailer, or the grey water tank had filled up and was starting to back up into the shower stall. It turned out it was the water in the shower stall thing. Really disgusting smelly water. No big deal, though, I had purchased a sewer hose kit at Camper’s World the day before. But I hadn’t hooked it up yet, because I figured we wouldn’t need it until it was time to drain the tanks when we were ready to leave. Apparently, we use a lot more water than most people, because we had filled that sucker up in just two days, without even using the shower!!! Or, it could be that it wasn’t empty when we started. Hard to tell. So, I hooked it up. Word to the wise, even if the valves are closed when you take off pipe cover, a little of that water is going to leak out. Onto your hands. It is not pleasant. If you have a small child, ask them to take off the cover. Or wear gloves. I washed my hands off, and then set about hooking up all the pipes. The good news is, it’s pretty easy. The bad news is, however much hose you have, you need more. I strolled down to the office/camp store/ice cream parlor/craft center and sure enough, they had a fine selection of the stuff RVers need. I bought another hose kit, and hooked everything up. Once the tanks were drained, the shower smelled better. – Lee)

My oldest daughter stopped by on her way to work and parked her car in our drive.  There were signs stating visitors had to register, but since it was going to be a very quick visit I didn’t think they applied.  Not 2 minutes after she pulled up, a roving campground employee stopped and politely told her she had to move her car to the main office parking lot, and sign in at the main office.  I was surprised, because folks had largely left us alone and I didn’t think anyone was paying attention. At first I was a tad annoyed, but then I thought about it and it makes sense.  The seasonal folks are there all the time and the temporaries like us probably bend the rules all the time.  It’s quite an investment for them, like a summer home, and I don’t blame them for protecting their environment.  Needless to say when our youngest daughter came, we had her park at the office and went down to get her. A quick word about the office/store.  They have a great selection and the prices aren’t that bad.  Toilet paper in particular has to be a special kind and you can’t find it anywhere but a camping store or Walmart.  Obviously there are certain things you do not want to run out of, so pay a little extra and get what they have for the convenience.   Also wood.  I didn’t know that you can’t bring out-of-state wood to a campground.  Because we were close we brought some of our own, but I didn’t have enough small pieces.  Lee got tired of seeing me struggle and bought a bundle.  It was $8 a bundle and very dry, but I still need to look for a solution to that problem.

I want to talk a minute here about division of labor because I think it is very interesting.  Because it is a small space, you are on top of each other unless you divide up the jobs.  We naturally gravitated to the things we were best suited for which in our case tended to be very traditional.  Basically I took care of the inside and Lee took care of the outside.  (I would like to point out the inherent unfairness of this. Assuming your reading this inside, take a look around, and get a feel for the size of “inside”. Now go “outside” and compare. Outside is much, much bigger than inside. Seems unfair to me, I’m just saying. Also, there are less mosquitoes, and dirt and gunk and stuff inside. And it hardly ever rains inside. -Lee)

I found this interesting because in our everyday lives, Lee and I have always shared the various household roles.  When he had a job where he traveled, I took care of the kids, cooking and sort of doing the cleaning 🙂  When I started traveling a lot, the roles switched and he took the primary role with the kids and house.  It’s worth mentioning that Lee is a better housekeeper than I could ever be and has organization in his DNA, but I do think I was a more inspired cook when I was taking my turn in the early years.  Because he is a master organizer, I left organizing inside of the cupboards to him and I think you will agree that the results were fantastic.   Having a husband who can do a little bit of everything is really a huge benefit. (It doesn’t hurt that he is also clever, and handsome, and manly. – Lee)

Lessons Learned

  • Pay for the extra day if you feel you need it so you are not rushed with your first time packing up.
  • Check the fill level on the Grey water tank and Black water tank regularly to avoid unpleasant surprises
  • Wear gloves when messing with the sewer hose (yes we actually had to learn this lesson)
  • Divide the duties based on what you are best at and try to work as much as possible in separate physical spaces during the tear down.
  • The visitor rules are for real; follow them.
  • You can’t bring out-of-state wood to a campground.
  • Make sure the trailer is firmly on the block of wood when you park.

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Trial Run – Friday

Swanzey Lake Campground  

After the whirlwind experience of deciding to get a camper and buying one in just a few days, we were very excited to get started. We figured the only way to try out our new camper was to take it camping! We don’t really have space to park it or set it up at our house, we live in a regular neighborhood with pretty small lots, and a driveway with way too much slope for a camper, and the storage lot that it’s parked at isn’t very woodsy, so we picked a place about 15 minutes from our home to give it a trial run.  Picking someplace close was an excellent decision, because as things came up we had ready access to our house and the little things we needed there…like food and showers. Picking a site was the first step and Lee called the campground and told them we were first time campers.  This was smart because the campsite manager picked a great spot for us that would be easy to get in and out of.  Start with a pull through! The best sites are a tougher to get into, but it is your first time so why make it harder than you have to? Trust me: the challenges will come in other areas. (I’m really glad we went with a pull through site for our first outing. Contrary to popular belief, men are not born with the innate ability to back up a trailer, and I never had an opportunity to learn, so the last thing I wanted to do was start the weekend by knocking down trees, old people and little kids. Or damaging my awesome new toy. – Lee)

We took over the storage site from the couple we bought the camper from (think Storage Wars) and it only $43 a month.  The good news was the price, the bad news was that it was pretty tricky getting it out of there.  Bringing it back was a piece of cake, but we aren’t there yet!) Pulling it out required two people and some fancy maneuvering on the part of my husband, (who in addition to being very handsome, clever, and manly, is also very handsome, clever and manly. – Lee)  Once we were on the road, Lee drove very carefully.  He has a CDL license so he’s no stranger to driving 26′ straight trucks, but a trailer is different. Not to mention we were figuring out not only the camper but the features in the Ford F150 XLT we bought.  We also learned that campgrounds are usually at the end of long, twisty, turny, bumpy roads. (If you’re new, here’s a couple of very simple things to remember. The trailer is much wider and longer than a car, it takes some getting used to keep it between the lines. Take turns wide and slow, ignore the frustrated drivers around you, they don’t have to pay your insurance. Slow down, and you can always stop and reassess if you get in a bind. If you need to make corrections, make small ones. Leave LOTS of space between you and the idiot in front of you. It takes longer to stop pulling all that weight. Also, everyone but you is a bad driver, and they’re worse when you’re pulling a trailer. – Lee)

Once we got to the campground we signed in and again the manager was very helpful, telling us some basic ground rules and giving us a map of the site.  It’s amazing how nice and helpful people are once they know you’re a newbie! The most important thing she said was “If you need help ask the seasonals!” (the folks who keep their campers permanently at a site throughout the season)

By this time it’s starting to get a little late and we got to the site ready to deploy.  This was our big moment and we were incredibly excited. Except…and it’s a big except: we couldn’t get the camper to decouple from the truck.  Lee tried everything, cranked it up, cranked it down, put the trailer stabilizers down, put the trailer stabilizers up, and then down again.  Put some blocks under the tongue jack. Cranked it up, cranked it up some more. Cranked it up a lot more. It just wouldn’t come off the ball. At one point, the truck bed was up so far the wheels were nearly off the ground. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and I started to walk over to one of the permanent campsites.  I knew it was permanent, because the couple had a porch and a huge stack of wood; obviously they were there to stay. Before I managed to get all the way to their site, I heard through the trees, “Would you like some help?”  “Yes, please,” was my prompt response (my mother didn’t raise a fool). They had been enjoying the show quietly; entertainment is scarce at campgrounds. Two very nice gentlemen in their 60’s came over to take a look, with lots of good-natured ribbing and teasing about “amateurs”. In all fairness to Lee,  it took them awhile to figure out the problem.  The hitch needed some WD-40 to loosen it up and you have to slide it back and then click up to release.  The slide part is what was confusing so it took another 20 minutes before we heard the blessed click of the trailer releasing. Then they had a few choice comments for people who sell things to other people without fully explaining how they work, which took the heat off us. (Here’s another word of wisdom: Leave your ego at home. There’s no shame in asking for help. Most of these people remember how it is to be new, and they’re thrilled to help. Let them, and pay attention. And ask questions. People love to tell you what they know. But also keep an ear out for the bad advice. – Lee)

Finally we could get started! Of course, we needed to listen to more sage advice from the two gentleman who helped us and Lee took this with grace.  That’s part of the deal when you ask for help, listening to all the other help…but I do have to admit we were pretty antsy to get started so I am not sure how much of the advice actually registered.

Now for the fun part.  We plugged in the power and water, set up the corner stabilizers, opened up the living room slide out, and lowered the canopy.  I have to say when the canopy went out I was VERY excited.  There was something about having a canopy of my own that really spoke to me and at that moment the camper really felt like it was ours.  (One of the first things I wanted to do was get the hot water going. For some reason that was really important to me. Maybe I expected casualties, and wanted to be able to boil sheets, I don’t know. We weren’t sure how much propane we had, and we had an electric site, so I decided to get started heating the water using the electric element. After about 30 minutes, there was still no hot water, but I noticed quite a lot of water running out of the outside access panel for the water heater. I opened it up and there was a hole where the water was coming out as fast as it could. Laying inside the door was the anode rod. If you don’t know what this is, you can Google it. It didn’t take me long to figure out that the anode rod and the hole were the same size, so I turned off the water, and put the rod in. Believe it or not, I had brought some pipe tape with me, because I’m smart. Just not smart enough to check the anode rod before turning on the water. Once I got it all put back together there was still no hot water, so I switched it over to propane. I think I might have fried the electric heating element by having it turned on with no water in the tank, but the gas heated the water just fine. I should have read the manual first. The moral of the story is: Read the manual. – Lee) 

As we went around doing the setup I started a list of things we would need to buy.  I’ll admit I am a bit of a list maker, and sometimes this can actually get in the way of having a good time, but in this case it turned out to be absolutely vital.  Make the list as you are gathering first impressions.  Write everything down.  You may not do it all on day 1 but it will give you a solid reference point for the next step.

By the time we set everything up (and created quite a long list) it was really late.  It didn’t occur to me that the refrigerator would take so long to cool down and in any event  I hadn’t brought any food, so we ran back to the house and grabbed a quick bite.  Another bonus to being so close!  A last-minute look to see if we forgot anything and then we went to Target to get all the stuff on our list. It was a long list. And it cost more than we originally thought it would.

We had negotiated $1,000 off the camper price with the couple we bought it from because we knew we were going to need money to get things started.   What I didn’t know was it is very similar to when you bought things for you first apartment.  You need one of everything, but there is no sense in spending a ton of money.  The balance between reasonably priced and still nice is interesting, plus in the camper you need to throw in the fact that you have very limited space.  As we made our purchases we were constantly thinking about space and storage which often lead us to the less expensive and smaller/lighter options. Finally it was time, and off to Target we went.   Now let me say here that any comparable store will do, but we like Target and it’s amazing what you can get for $800 there.  I think we filled three carts.  I won’t bore you with everything we bought but below are some of the key items that really mattered to me

  • Dishes –  I found some nice melamine dishes that were lightweight but felt like a real plate (update these got way to hot in the microwave so I replaced them with Corelle later which worked much better), but I will say I took forever obsessing about which pattern to buy.  Lee was very patientDishes
  • Outdoor rug –  This was a big item for me.  I had always wanted one and it was an expensive purchase (119) but I wanted it so we bought a large indoor/outdoor carpet to go under the canopy.
  • Can opener – spent a ton of time talking about these.  We wanted hand crank because we didn’t want to give up the counter space, but the decent ones were in my mind too expensive.  We bought a cheapie one, which we later had to replace, so this is definitely an area where you just have to spend a little extra money
  • Towels, linens, etc. – We got lucky and found nice towels in the right color in the clearance section so we snagged up extra.  One thing Lee is great about is his “No regrets” policy.  Basically if you are out somewhere and see something you want at the right price (that you couldn’t easily get someplace else), just buy it.  And buy extra.  Don’t make yourself crazy.  This has definitely been one of the most impactful things I have learned from him in our years of marriage.
  • Chair cushions – We had a couple of decent outside chairs but they were not that comfortable for sitting for extended periods of time which I definitely planned on doing.  Chair cushions are something that we never bought when the kids were young.  Multiply the purchase of anything by 5 and it gets expensive, plus what would be the point, since they would just get beat up.  But now with just the two of us, we could ensure the cushions would stay nice and for only two people much more affordable.  We did not skimp on the chair cushions 🙂
  • Ice Maker – This was the most expensive purchase and Lee’s idea.  It was an extravagance for sure, but I like my water ice-cold and I drink a lot of water.  On the weekends our ice maker at home often can’t keep up with me, so I am sure Lee (who knows me better than anyone on the planet) was thinking about weekend after weekend of buying ice and thought “no way.  I am solving this problem upfront”.  This is an area where years of marriage are to our benefit.  He felt it was important, I trust him to take care of me. We spent the $159.
  • Tiki Torches – The tiki torches meant to Lee what the outdoor carpet meant to me.  Good advice in this entire scenario is if something really matters to the other person just  go with it.  A lot of these feelings regarding camping seem to come from a pretty deep place (at least for us) so just let the other person work through it.  And the Tiki torches are a great way of keeping the mosquitoes at bay, so it’s a win-win.

(At the end of the trip we knocked a ton of things off our list, but there were many camper-specific items that Target doesn’t carry, more on that tomorrow. – Lee)

After filling up three carts and loading it all into the truck, it was back to the trailer to get some sleep.   A quick note here on the bed.  It’s a queen but a short queen. We didn’t even know there was such a thing. Our 2nd best sheets from home worked fine, but they do hang over quite a bit.  Also, the mattress is designed so the bed folds up revealing a great HUGE storage space underneath.  This is an ingenious design but unfortunately leads to a pretty thin mattress.  Lee slept really well, but I am a side sleeper and I have to say I woke up several times and it did feel like I was sleeping on a board somewhat.   The next day “fixing” the mattress definitely went on the list.  Either way it was exciting…our first night in our new place.

IMG_1019

Lessons Learned

  • Pick a place close to your home to try the camper out for your first weekend.
  • Tell the manager you are new to camping so they can help you pick an easy site to get in and out of.
  • Always start with pull through sites when you’re a newbie.
  • Take turns wide and slow, ignore the frustrated drivers around you
  • If you need to make corrections, make small ones. Leave LOTS of space between you and the car in front of you
  • Leave your ego at home. There’s no shame in asking for help
  • Read the manual
  • Don’t turn the electric heating element on with no water in the tank…you will burn it up
  • Write everything down as you go.  A million things will occur to you that you won’t remember later.
  • WD-40 is your friend
  • The refrigerator takes awhile to cool down
  • Regular queen sheets will work just fine on a queen short bed

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Getting Started

Tale: Getting Started 

Lee and I have been married and raising kids for a long time–a really long time. Over the years we have often talked about what we would do someday when the kids were grown and gone.  One of our ideas  was traveling around the country in a camper.  My grandparents did it for years. They sold their house, bought an RV, and spent six months traveling the fifty states.  The freedom of that was VERY appealing to me, and I’ll admit I had a completely romanticized view of what that would be like.   As we grew older, and frankly more practical, we still talked about it, but the practicalities were a larger part of the conversation and through the teen years there was always something going on.  Fast forward to a few weeks ago, our first romantic weekend getaway in 20 years.  I kid you not, we had taken two vacations alone, but hadn’t had a romantic weekend alone since the kids were babies, and our oldest is 24, you do the math. We loved the weekend; we went to the Corning glass festival, stayed in a lovely B&B and really enjoyed each other’s company.  But the weekend cost well over  $800 and on the 5 hour drive home were lamenting the fact that we wouldn’t be able to afford to do this very often. The subject of camping came up again, and as we often had, we started to talk about how great that would be but the what the challenges would be.  This time though the conversation was different.  There were less challenges than ever before and oddly the idea seemed almost feasible.  You can cover a lot of conversational ground in a 5 hour drive! I had taken an extra day off from work so we decided to travel to Campers Inn (a large RV dealer in Nashua, NH) and take a look to see what our options might be.

The next morning we went to the dealer and started with the very smallest camper on the lot.  We wanted a shower and on board toilet, (I have to confess, that was my requirement. I just can’t stand the idea of walking, unshowered, to a public shower and then standing in someone else’s dirty water. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never been that interested in camping. It’s just gross. – Lee) so that ruled out pop-up style campers, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that there are tiny campers that have bathrooms that are just a little bigger than pop-ups, but aren’t pop-ups. We were also limited to the 3500 lb towing capability of our minivan, which kept us in the very-small-trailer category.

I am a bit claustrophobic so I would walk into a camper, walk in the bathroom and shut the door, and walk right back out again. Lee and Lance Simmons (an excellent salesperson who is an avid camping enthusiast himself) were very patient for the next 2-1/2 hours as we methodically worked our way through the various models and types available.  (It was amazing how quickly both of us decided what liked and didn’t like.-Lee) Finally we walked into a travel trailer and I felt good.  It was a “couples” trailer, designed for two people so it felt like there was extra space and I felt comfortable and at home.  Two problems, though: it was $35,000 and it was over our 3500 lb tow limit. There was one I could have lived with, but it would have been a stretch versus the larger ones I actually felt comfortable in.

I told Lee we could buy a truck…trade in my car and get a new truck, so that problem was solved but we weren’t going to spend that much money to try something out.  We were in luck, however. There was one used model that was similar to what we liked on the lot. A 2005 Keystone Hornet for $12,500; and despite having obviously seen a lot of use it was clean and most importantly, designed for two people.  We decided to sleep on it (something else we have learned the value of as we have gotten older) and do some internet research.

That night I went online, typed the make and model into Craig’s list, and the EXACT same camper was available in my small town! What are the odds??? It was quite a bit newer, a 2010 model, and immaculately clean for only $15,000!  This really got our attention; when the universe wants you to do something it generally sweeps barriers aside with remarkable speed. I won’t bore you with all the details but here is how the next four days went:

5/29: See the camper, meet the incredibly nice retired couple who have barely used it. (It turns out he hated camping!) Make a commitment to buy the camper.

5/29: Take out a 401K loan…takes literally 3 minutes online.

5/30: Go to trade in my car and buy a truck to haul camper, find out my company has a partnership deal and I get any truck on the lot at invoice price automatically. Find a truck and buy a truck, drive the truck home.

5/31: 401K Money gets direct deposited into our account. Lee gets the money, meets the couple, and buys the camper.

On Monday we talked about getting a little camper, on Friday we owned a “new to us” 32′ travel trailer and a brand new truck to pull it with.

camper and truck

Lessons Learned 

  • It never hurts to look
  • Visit an RV dealer and go into every camper, starting with the smallest available size and work your way up. When you’ve found what you like, you’ll know it!
  • Sleep on it; don’t get pressured into an immediate decision
  • Comparison shop – Craig’s list is your friend
  • When the universe makes something that easy ..go with it