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













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.


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










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 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




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” 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










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 Meeting People from the Internet

It’s a funny thing to meet people who you have only gotten to know on the internet and something neither Lee or I have ever done before.  I will say it has been an awesome experience, but you have to leave what you think you know about a person from what they right and get to really know them as n the flesh people.  Some folks are exactly the same as you pictured them and others are different…not bad just different.  We spent last night and today meeting so many people who I have been talking to in the forums and it has been really wonderful. Usually in every couple there is a one person who posts and another who gets told to read certain posts lol.  In our little group it’s been mostly women doing the posting but the guys that do post are extremely knowledgeable and active.  One of my favorites is Red and he and his wife got to come when they took the spot of a last-minute cancellation.  Red and Pam have been camping for years, but just started full-timing when they both retired.  Lee and I just immediately felt so comfortable with both of them.  They are very kind and helpful but are careful to say they don’t know everything….I think they do but appreciate the humbleness 🙂  One quick story to tell you what kind of people they are…we had told ourselves the very first thing we would buy was a surge protector…because we had heard horror stories about folks who didn’t have one and lost their entire electrical systems in a storm.  Did we buy a surge protector first…nope..why because they  are very expensive and there were more fun things to buy.  So we get to the campground and the mother of all storms is coming in…tornado warning, flood warning, and heavy thunderstorms.  It’s 7pm when we realized we had a serious problem and decided we would have to unplug everything all night…not the greatest prospect.  Red leaned over to Lee and quietly whispered “I have an extra one you can borrow.”  He didn’t make a big deal about it…as a matter of fact he went out of his way to say it quietly and then took Lee and gave him a rundown of what he recommended us buying and why.  Long story short the next morning we drove to camping world and bought exactly what Red told us to buy…and yes it was extremely expensive (around $800 with the Good Sam discount)  but replacing the electrical system can run $2500.  You have those moments in life when God/universe  puts the right person in front of you at just the right time…and I really believe this was one of those moments.  Ok so this is what Lee bought…one is a surge protector and the other is a voltage regulator.  The surge protector stops the electrical system from getting fried and the voltage regulator “boosts” the power you are getting from campsites with low voltage.  It’s really cool how it does it.  It takes in juice and holds it and then adds to it so you always have the correct amount of power.  Power drops can hurt your TV and computer and this stops that from happening.  Think tape delay when watching a live television event 🙂

IMG_1609 IMG_1610


We also met several other couples who are our age and who  just bought new 5th wheels or Class A’s.  I had been communicating with many of the wives online because we all were asking similar questions and going through the same things at the same time.  We totally bonded over the RV-Dream forum topics and meeting in person solidified that.        Some of my favorites so far are Kelly and Bill (screen name Jersey Girl),Jo and Ben (Jo and Ben)  Cori and Greg (bylandandsea), Linda and Scott (Liberty Linda), Jo and Craig (Mary Sunshine),  and Debbie and Steve (Debbie M).  In addition to folks I “knew” we have met several other been doing this a long time… couples such as Greg and Sue and Neil and Connie.  Plus when you meet people you get to see the insides of their rigs which is awesome for great ideas on how to maximize storage space.  Pam had put tension rods up high in her shower to hang towels on and we LOVED that idea and have already copied it in ours.  thanks Pam!!!



After spending the day meeting people on our own we finally registered for the actual educational rally.  The introduction was fantastic and Linda had everyone organized and having fun in no time.  Howard and Linda (RV-Dreams) have been traveling the country for the last 9 years and they host and teach at these rally’s.  Linda had everyone stand up in different categories…do you own a Class A, Do you own a Fifth Wheel, who came the farthest etc…which not only got everyone involved but allowed people in the group to see who they might want to talk to.  Many people haven’t bought an RV yet and are staying in a cabin or nearby hotel and Linda made a point to ask those of us who had RV’s to invite folks back during lunch to see our rigs.   She did a VERY good job getting people loosened up and then we all played a game where one representative at every table was a jockey in the Kentucky derby.  I have run a couple large training seminars and the logistics are crazy…Linda was awesome at corralling 150 head strong people in a fun way with a very personal touch.

Howard and Linda

Howard and Linda





Kentucky Derby Game

Kentucky Derby Game

We headed back to our site around 9 thinking it was time for a good nights sleep and then Bill and Kelly came by walking their dog and we all sat and talked until 11pm 🙂  We are usually in bed really early so for us that was a late night and we had such a wonderful conversation it was hard to go to bed.  Can’t wait for tomorrow when the classes start…yes I know I am a geek but can’t wait to post more lessons learned 🙂

Lessons Learned

  • No seriously buy the surge protector first
  • Invest in a voltage regulator
  • Go to a Rally you meet the nicest people
  • Meeting people from the internet can be really cool (yes I know we are late to this party but better late than never!!)


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First Time Traveling Long Distances – Bloomsburg, PA

We got up later than we would like, and didn’t get out of the campground until 9:15. The weird water connection reared its ugly head as Lee had to disconnect the sewer hose with no water flush … Yucky. Back on 80 though and heading East.

I’d like to take a moment and talk about gas. Doing research we have seen as much as a 50 cent difference between turnpike gas prices and truck stop gas prices and it is definitely worth it to wait until a truck stop then get off the turnpike and right back on. Couple of issues though.. If you want to combine bathroom breaks inside the Pilots are definitely the cleanest but they are often not RV friendly to pull in and out of. Along this trip we have tried TA, Loves, Pilot, Kwik Trip and regular Flying J and there were things we didn’t like about all of them. Mainly almost all are a nightmare to get a RV in and out of. Finally in Pennsylvania we discovered Flying J’s with RV Stations. Fantastic! Islands specifically designed for campers with a $5 dump station right in the island. Clean restrooms, no fighting with cars, easy access in and out. Can’t say enough and we will definitely be on the lookout in the future. Plus we having a Flying J card and save on every purchase inside. They only give gas discounts if you drive a diesel, but that will be the case when we buy a new truck.

Lee did the research this time and found a campground in Bloomsburg Pa… The halfway point left until home. The drive through Pennsylvania was absolutely beautiful. Much better than 90. The leaves are starting to turn and the views were often breath-taking. Indian Head Campground ended up being a little father from the highway than we would have liked and the drive to it was not promising. Pulling in we saw numerous old trailers parked in a row ( repossessions maybe) and a funky little camp store. The lady running the store was very sweet though and we were a little concerned as we pulled into our site. The site turned our to be terrific. Concrete patio, large open field in front of us and we got to hear the concert from the city fair next door for free :). Unfortunately although the campground has a lot of potential, I have to rate it 2 out of 5 pinecones. Needs a major cleanup.

I cooked chicken and potatoes and we setup much smoother than last night. Lee took his time and it went much smoother. Overall much more relaxing day. Tomorrow we head home. Miss my girls.

Lessons Learned

  • Use your Gas Buddy app as prices may vary as much as 50 cents from state to state
  • Flying J’s with RV Stations are the best places to stop and get gas



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.


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. 


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.


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.


This is what the steps are supposed to look like.


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.



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


  • 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


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.


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

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