First Major Trip Report: The Mitten State and Beyond

  1. Ohiopyle State Park – Ohiopyle, PA (2 nights)
  2. “Ohio Green Acres” (Harvest Hosts) – Helena, OH (1 night)
  3. Family Visit (Andy’s side) – Tipton, MI (2 nights)
  4. Family Visit (my side) – Grayling, MI (5 nights)
  5. Log Lake Campground to visit more family (my side) – Kalkaska, MI (4 nights)
  6. Silver Lake State Park – Mears, MI (1 night)
  7. Family Visit (Andy’s side) – Eau Claire, MI
  8. Shamrock Park (visiting Andy’s childhood friends) – Berrien Springs, MI (1 night)
  9. Family Visit (Andy’s side) – Elkhart, IN (1 night)
  10. Dynamax Factory Tour – Elkhart, IN
  11. Johnny Appleseed Campground – Fort Wayne, IN (1 night)
  12. Salt Fork State Park – Cambridge, OH (1 night)
  13. 1812 Brewery (Harvest Hosts) – Cumberland, MD (1 night) >>> HOME!

Planning

It takes an incredible amount of planning to prepare an RV for a long trip. We both spent a lot of time making lists and checking them off. We also did a lot of meal prep in the days before we left. By the time we hit the road, we were both in need of a break. Thankfully we anticipated that while planning, and we decided to kick-off the trip with two nights at our first stop, Ohiopyle State Park, so that we could rest up.

Due to local road congestion and the aggressive nature of Maryland drivers, we decided to leave in the late morning hours on a Tuesday. We knew that driving the RV in our home state would likely be the most stressful part of our time on the road, but once we passed Frederick, we could relax a bit. We chose to cap all of our drives at around 4-hours and planned to drive only during daylight hours. We didn’t want to have to set-up camp in the dark or worry about visibility on the roads.

On the road… Here we go!

On our first RV trip to in June, we noticed an interference issue between the RV camera feed and the on-board Garmin GPS. We read up on it a bit in the Dynamax forum but hadn’t gotten around to attempting to fix it prior to leaving. The benefit of using the Garmin is that it has our rig’s information loaded into it (size, height, weight). Due to the interference issue, we used Google maps to locate the park. Technically it did get us to the park, though it just directed us to a densely wooded area on the side of the road, rather than the actual campground entrance. Google maps also had us traversing incredibly twisty, steep roads. There was a much easier way for RVs and travel trailers that the Garmin would have probably taken us instead.

We had to backtrack back a bit after I loaded up the GPS coordinates we found via a camping app. Lesson learned there, and Andy has since fixed the interference issue by relocating the GPS antenna to the furthest point on our dash. It wasn’t evident at the time, but quite a bit of extra cord for the antenna was tucked into the dash, so now we can run the cameras and GPS simultaneously.

We set up camp around 4 pm, only to learn another valuable lesson. When freshwater hookups aren’t available at your site, fill up before setting up camp. We chose our site based on the location of the fresh water access, only to find out after we had parked and leveled the rig, that the spigot had been turned off. It did cross my mind while parking that we should add the water first, but we were both tired and ready to be on vacation. We had to tuck everything away so Andy could drive up to the water and dumping station, add the water, and then return to park and re-level. It wasn’t terribly inconvenient, but it just wasn’t something we felt like doing after being on the road for a half day.

Highlights:

  • We hiked along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP rail trail) and walked over the GAP Bridge; between two separate outings, we hiked about 7.5 miles.
  • Before we hiked the GAP, Andy explored a bit on his gravel bike. In all, he rode about 15 miles.

On our third day, I took the wheel and drove for a couple hours on the Ohio turnpike and some country roads. The rig drives like a van, but then you scan the mirrors and cameras and realize just how large you are. It’s weird to be almost level with truckers, and to be driving at 70 mph, hanging with the big boys, in the equivalent of a small bus. I actually really enjoyed it.

We stayed at our first Harvest Host (HH) location in Ohio. We got a bit spoiled because water and power hookups were available for us to use. Most HH locations are dry-camping sites. We enjoyed some walks on nicely paved, quiet country roads. We met a daring farm kitty that puffed itself up to walk past Stevie and up to Andy to be petted. Stevie was not interested in the cat in the least. Since we were surrounded by corn fields and near silence, I suggested we watch Signs that night. I’ll admit I was not keen on walking Stevie in the pitch dark afterwards, and I definitely got up and locked the door mid-movie.

After breakfast and a walk, the next morning we pressed on to Tipton, MI, where we camped at Andy’s cousin Sandy and her husband Bob’s home. They are currently rebuilding a 1960 Airstream and have a 2005 Airstream that they’d been using for road trips. I love looking at vintage trailers, so this was a real treat. Late in the evening on the first night, with a massive thunderstorm brewing, we retired to Homie Roam-o to take showers and go to bed. Andy went in first, and immediately I noticed a large amount of water pooling on the floor. He thought I was just complaining about over-spray, but once he saw it, he turned everything off and jumped out. We believe that during the de-winterization process, the dealer likely discovered a small leak. In trying to fix it, they seemingly over cranked the nut that attached two pieces of PVC pipe together, which resulted in it cracking. All of the shower water spilled onto the floor under the basin and then pooled in the bathroom. Thankfully we were with family and had access to their guest bathroom and laundry. It was also nice that Andy had Bob, who is also very handy, to troubleshoot the issue with.

Side note: Up until this point, the two state parks we had camped at (Rocky Gap and Ohiopyle) were relatively empty and had very clean showers, so we didn’t bother showering in the RV. That way our water use and grey water holding tank were non issues. I did turn the shower on briefly at some point when I was cleaning the RV, and I know I also poured water down the drain another time. It’s possible that hitting bumps while driving down the road exacerbated the crack in the connection further. We’ll never know for sure, but at least it’s fixed now.

We had a wonderful visit with Bob and Sandy. Their property is serene and quiet. We were also thrilled to be able to visit with a half dozen of Andy’s first and second cousins, as well as Andy’s Aunt Betty that came by to see us.

Highlights:

  • We got to sample the first batch of wine from the family’s vineyard in Oregon
  • We also learned how to play a new game called Jokers and Pegs (similar to Trouble); we have since purchased our own board.
  • The sunsets here are some of the best!
  • Touring the 2005 Airstream

From Tipton, we headed to Grayling, MI, where my parents live. We first stopped off at a state park to empty our black and grey tanks. It was the first time dumping our black tank, and all went smoothly until we hooked up the fresh water to the ‘black tank flush’ connection. Next thing we knew, water was coming out of the bottom of our rig onto the pavement. I jumped inside in time to see fresh water pooling all over the bathroom floor, and headed into the kitchen. I grabbed towels and mopped it up. After a bit of reading, it seems likely that the valve on our ‘black tank flush’ is installed backwards. It’s not a critical feature, as you can simply flush out the “stinky slinky” manually, but it would be nice if it operated correctly. Thank goodness it was only fresh water that flowed into the rig though. We were also lucky to be headed to my parents where I was able to re-wash all of the towels and do our regular laundry as well.

Side note: Andy made a post-trip mod on the grey, black, and fresh water tanks. We were always guessing exactly how full each tank was because the display inside Homie Roam-o only depicts 1/3, 2/3, and FULL. Andy took a couple days this week to install digital sensors that will precisely read the levels, which will be increasingly important when we dry camp. We’ve been fortunate to make friends with a fellow an RVer at our storage unit that used to be an electrician and has driven Class A’s for over 20 years. Next week, he’s going to help Andy check everything even more thoroughly than we already have. They plan to go over all of the electrical systems, and check the rig’s undercarriage to make sure everything is tucked away sufficiently.

The road leading to my parents driveway was sporty. The gravel had ridges in it, so we were quite shaken up and dusty. Andy later said it was even difficult to ride his gravel bike on it. However, once we arrived, it was wonderful to be back along the Au Sable River again. As always, the water was pristine and cool. We enjoyed catching up and spending quality time with my parents, playing in the river, and kayaking. My brother, sister in-law, and their 4 kids joined us on our last night there.

A couple days later, we all re-grouped at Log Lake in Kalkaska, MI, where my brother and sister in-law always rent a little lake front cottage. We reserved a site at Log Lake Campground. My parents joined us two campsites away a couple nights later in their new 27-foot travel trailer, which is really roomy. It puts the travel trailer of my childhood to shame. The campground itself was not our favorite, but it was great to be able to walk to the cottage. We were extremely happy to have access to own bathroom while there.

Andy was able to fit in some nice bike rides near Log Lake and also in Grayling. I organized a virtual book club meeting on our first night at Log Lake; I was actually surprised that my cell service was so good. We also visited my Granny at her assisted living facility on the way to Log Lake. I was sad that we were unable to hug, and that we had to see her outside while sitting 6-feet apart. The staff were very kind though; they brought us water while we sat under a tent with her. An elderly resident even brought Stevie a bowl of water.

Highlights:

  • Kayaking on the river and on the lake (even Stevie kayaked, swam, and floated on floaties)
  • Swimming in the lake with the kids
  • Independence Day fireworks over the lake
  • Spending quality time with my family
  • Chatting with my sister in-law lake side and laughing at the kids
  • Shopping trip in Traverse City
  • Camping in tandem with my parents, who just got a new travel trailer as well

From Log Lake, we drove to Silver Lake State Park in Mears, MI. I could have stayed here for weeks. I was disappointed that we only booked one night. The campsites were nicely shaded, and the views were gorgeous. I was itching to play on the dunes. We plan to go back at some point and rent a dune buggy and enjoy the water.

Highlights:

  • Walking along the Silver Lake and the campsites

The following morning, we headed to Berrien Springs, MI, by way of Eau Claire, MI. We made a brief stop in Eau Claire to visit Andy’s Aunt and Uncle. It was wonderful to see that they’re both doing well and still very active. After some catching up, iced tea and cookies, we left to check into Shamrock Park in Berrien Springs. The campground was well-maintained and even had some permanent residents. Andy’s childhood best friend and former neighbor, Marty, picked us up, and we surprised Marty’s mom, sister, and another old neighbor at dinner. It was a fun evening full of laughter and listening to them rehash old stories.

Before we left Berrien, we made sure to stop by Marty’s mom’s house. When Andy’s second mom orders you to pick up some strawberry jam before you leave town, you do it. Of course, “some” means that your freezer will close be to full, and that you’re not getting out of there without also taking some homemade noodles with detailed instructions.

Highlights:

  • Sunset off Marty’s back deck overlooking the St Joseph River
  • Seeing a young red fox up close
  • Catching up with old friends and family

After Berrien we jetted to Elkhart, IN to see two of Andy’s Aunts. We had a really nice afternoon catching up both of them. We ordered pizza, played dominoes, and ate ice cream. The next morning, Andy made us all ‘Rolex’ for breakfast, we chatted some more, said our goodbyes, and headed off for a Dynamax factory tour.

Highlights:

  • Sitting around a table playing games evokes a lot of childhood nostalgia for me. I really enjoyed just sitting around, playing a game with loved ones. It was the perfect evening in.
  • It was pretty incredible to see RVs being built from start to finish without any real automation. Most of the coaches were much, much larger than ours. I was amazed that some had two bathrooms and full kitchens. I can’t picture myself driving something the size of a tour bus, but they were incredible. The most amazing part was that the exterior of each coach is a piece of art designed by local Elkhart artist Dean Loucks. If you’re curious about the process involved in painting each one, check out this video.

Leaving Elkhart marked the end of our family visits. Since we couldn’t find a HH location we wanted to stop at that wasn’t too far of a drive, and we needed to make a grocery store run, we decided to book one night at Johnny Appleseed Park in Fort Wayne, IN. This park was also a well-maintained park and very quiet considering it was near a pretty urban area. We walked across the campground to a spillway for the St Joseph River.

Side note: This blog was temporarily derailed by ice cream, several Google searches, and a lengthy discussion about whether the Fort Wayne and Berrien Springs St Joseph Rivers are one and the same. In case you are wondering, the headwaters of the rivers are only separated by 5 miles, but they are different rivers.

While walking along the river, we discovered a really beautiful dog park. Stevie Mix was being shy about going into the park. She feigned complete indifference and sat, looking away, about 4 feet from the fence line while Andy and I greeted the other dogs. It’s safe to say that by day 18 of our trip, we had forced Stevie into complete submission by eliminating most of her daytime naps and forcing her to supervise our driving and movements. Though, if I’m being honest, she seemed pretty mellow about three days into the trip.

The following day we set our sights on Salt Fork State Park in Cambridge, OH. We drove along some beautiful country roads. By the time we arrived, we were both ready to be outside. We quickly setup camp, Andy took off on his bike to explore, and I started walking Stevie. Without thinking, I set off in flip-flops and hiked about a mile into the woods on some beautiful trails before deciding I was being dumb and turning around. I hadn’t told Andy exactly where I was going. I know, I know. In my defense, I did snap a blurry photo of the trail sign and I uploaded it to a shared photo album (leave clues, ya’ll!). Every cold case show and unsolved mysteries episode I’ve ever seen flashed before my eyes, and I turned around and all but ran back to the paved roads. Andy rode for 10 miles, and I walked 4 to 5 miles. The next day we got up somewhat early and hiked the path I was on the previous day—approximately 3.5 miles. There was a major discrepancy between my Fitbit and the trailhead map.

Highlights:

  • Much cooler weather
  • A cloudless, starry night
  • Getting outside and enjoying the woods

Our last overnight stay was another HH location, 1812 Brewery in Cumberland, MD. We arrived around 4 pm and had just enough time to select a table, get two brews, and get Stevie settled with her food and water before the sky opened up and dumped some serious rain. The brewery often has live music and food trucks, but on that evening they had neither. I ended up ordering some food from a local pizza place via the Slice app, and they delivered mid-rainstorm. When everything cleared up, we headed to our RV in the parking lot for our first dry-camping experience. I had to put my earplugs in because the frogs were so incredibly loud! I was able to take a hot shower in the morning, but our water kettle didn’t work since we weren’t hooked up to shore power. We could have started the generator, but we just boiled water on the stove. We had enough solar power for lights and everything else though.

Highlights:

  • Discovering a new somewhat local brewery–the ‘Basecamp’ brew was amazing! It smelled like a cup of coffee.
  • Enjoying a rainstorm with good beer and even better company
  • Being outside among other people, though social distanced, gave the semblance of normalcy for a little while

Surprisingly we had very little traffic on the 3 hours or so from Cumberland to home. Once we did a once over on the house and plants and saw that all was okay, I was ready to be back on the road again. We’re currently in the stages of planning our next trip.

One major thing I learned about myself in taking a long road trip is that I really need a mental and physical outlet. Our meditation and workouts slid to the wayside. We really need to make time for those things next time. I was a bit jealous that Andy had his own personal escape hatch in the form of a bike. When we returned home, Andy researched e-bikes and ordered one for me. He plans to outfit one of his bikes with a kit to convert it. Since we aren’t towing a vehicle, this will enable us to bike to different places and cover more ground. Andy is an avid biker, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep pace with him, or probably bike as long–not without a lot of training. Our campsite neighbors at Ohiopyle let us test theirs out, and I was sold (though a little scared–those things can fly!). We have a carrier for Stevie that we can attach to a bike as well. I just need to recall how to flatten it down so we can stow it away easily.

Speaking of the chupaterra, you might be wondering how Stevie Mix fared during this adventure. We think she had a blast. She was definitely dog-tired during and after the trip because she didn’t get her usual daytime naps. She also refused to miss any action and had to supervise all activities.

After the first leg of the trip, she wasn’t as phased by things things rattling or bumps on the road. She mostly curled up in her bed and slept with one eye open. Sometimes when we slowed, or when she could see the forest through the windshield, she would jump onto the sofa and gaze out the window. She was tethered with a harness and seat belt clip so she couldn’t roam the cabin, for her safety and ours. If she had her way, she would sit at Andy’s feet, which would be dangerous.

It’s a weird time, but I hope you’re able to get out, have fun, and make some new memories this summer. Until next time…

xo

5 Comments on “First Major Trip Report: The Mitten State and Beyond

  1. Sounds like a wonderful adventure! Thanks for the Rolex recipe. Did you know that Nadiya Hussain made a cake for Queen Elizabeth II? She made it for the queen’s 90th birthday celebration and it was gorgeous. Definitely get the e-bike! I can just picture Stevie in a little basket with the wind blowing through her fur. Thank you for sharing your stories. I’m sure many of us are living vicariously through you. When I’m feeling sad about being quarantined, I find myself watching travel shows. My current fave is Somebody Feed Phil, brought to you by the executive producer and writer for Everybody Loves Raymond. Anyway, happy travels!

    Like

    • I did know that about Nadiya. I read it awhile back when I was checking out her bio. Thanks for reminding me to look up a photo of the cake she made. I’m going to do that momentarily 🙂
      So glad you appreciate the blog. I know you’re going to get your travel trailer and be out there with me one of these days. 🙂 Can’t wait!

      Like

  2. Love this. I really appreciate the tips and lessons learned on the RV experience; I admire the prior planning and forethought that went into it. Sounds like a great trip all around.

    Like

    • It was a great trip, and we’re itching to get back out soon! I’m not surprised you would appreciate the planning aspect of it all. Thanks for reading!

      Like

  3. Pingback: A wedding, The Mitten State, and kentucky bourbon, oh my – Life After 38

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