I definitely waited far too long to write an update, and now I’m overwhelmed at where I should begin. So, here’s a quick recap of what we’ve been up to since May. Most recently we made our way back to Maryland, for the first time since we moved, for a wedding celebration. It was really nice to be a part of our friends’ special day and to be able to spend time visiting with a few folks while we were there. We also visited Assateague Island National Seashore. I can’t believe I had never been there; we’re planning on trying to camp there in 2022. Apologies if we missed you on our trek back, but it was kind of a whirlwind. We’ll make sure to make our rounds next time. In the meantime, we’re always happy to host guests in North Carolina!
We also celebrated 10-years of marriage at the end of September. We spent most of the morning and early afternoon exploring the Green River Game Lands and the trails surrounding the Carl Sandburg home. It was a gorgeous day, and we were able to sit outside and enjoy some tasty BBQ at Hubba Hubba Smokehouse in Flatrock for lunch. Afterwards, we went home and lounged outside on our deck, got cleaned up, and enjoyed an amazing dinner at Soulisa’s just over the border in South Carolina.
Between June and September, we had the honor of hosting a few visitors and watching my brother compete in a shooting match locally. We also went on our annual summer trip to Michigan (outlined below). Aside from all of that, and trying to get out to explore our new area, we’ve mostly been working on house projects (see list below).
*items with an asterisk were things that I had on my must-do/home health & safety list
Annual Michigan Trip Recap
How’s Stevie Mix doing?
Stevie is thriving in her new home. She loves all of the windows, and takes her job of watching for wildlife and package deliveries very seriously. During her breaks, we typically find her snoozing in the sun or next to a window. We found a wonderful boarding facility called Dogwood Farm Kennels, which gives us peace of mind for times we can’t bring Stevie along. We are in the process of finding a new veterinarian after not being happy with the first practice we visited.
Where are we headed next?
Stay tuned for a November/December post about our late October trip to Arizona for my 40th birthday! We’ll be landing in Phoenix and making our way up to Sedona, the Grand Canyon, and Antelope Canyon. I’m beyond excited to do some actual hiking in the Grand Canyon this time, and to see slot canyons. We’re also expecting a couple visits from family in November, and will be working on fall camping and winter skiing plans. I hope you enjoyed your summer, and are having a wonderful fall so far!
We made it to North Carolina in early April and have been busy working on settling into our new home. The drive down from Maryland was pretty casual. It was the first time, aside from picking up Homie Roam-o from storage, that we drove in tandem (Andy in the RV, and Stevie and I
in the Jeep following behind). As we left our former home behind and chased the Blue Ridge Mountains, I kept thinking that I’d never tire of these views. So far, I haven’t. Every time I see Tryon peak (the first peak of the Blue Ridge) from our north facing windows, or when I pull back the curtains on the two massive windows in our bedroom, or when I glimpse the blue silhouette of the mountains in the distance, or when I stand on our little bridge overlooking Skyuka Creek, I am taken aback by how beautiful it all is. We were lucky to see the area literally blossom to life this spring. We have been delighted at all of the blooming plants, trees, and shrubs on our property. Living in this house is what I imagine it might feel like to live tree house. I’m incredibly happy to be here, and I feel very lucky that we even found this place.
I’m going to shift back to the drive down to NC for a moment. We planned to split it into two legs and stay overnight at Brothers Craft Brewery, a Harvest Host location. However, we arrived at the brewery much earlier than we anticipated. Rather than stay, Andy went inside and filled our growler. He also purchased some bottled beer for later. We put everything in the fridge, had lunch, and then decided to press on. We arrived just before sunset. Thinking about it now, it seems so long ago.
The roofers just finished putting on our new roof the day after we arrived. So, between the roof and the wood floors having just been refinished, we had quite a bit of dust to clean up to do. Much of our first few days involved cleaning all of the hard surfaces and unpacking the RV. Once the cubes arrived, we were busy unloading and unpacking. We emptied everything out of both in less than 4-hours. It was pretty amazing that nothing broke or shifted in transit. I thought that it was scary to watch the forklift pick the cubes up in Maryland, but that was nothing compared to watching them fork the cubes up our long, steep, and twisty driveway. The driver was a professional though and had no problem. He did comment that our cubes were in the top 10 heaviest he’s ever lifted. We had to laugh; there was 800 lbs. of free weights and plates divided between the two, not to mention the rest of our gym equipment.
Planning the Our Move
Digressing a bit more, for those who may be interested in how we planned such a significant move, I thought I would give a little bit of insight into that process. Between late January and the end of March, we were immersed in packing, strategizing the logistics of our move, visiting with friends to say ‘see you later’, and organizing all of our personal effects and household goods. We made a big push to downsize what we had. I have moved a lot in my life, but this was the first time I seriously downsized.
Here a few things I learned along the way:
The House & Our Town
We’ve been playing a game of catch-up, as the previous owners didn’t perform much in the way of maintenance over the last 6-years. I hope we can do this property justice and bring it back to its former glory (without all of the wallpaper). If you’re interested in seeing pictures of our 70’s rancher, click here to view pictures of the house from 2015 when the second owners sold it, and here to see the 2020 listing photos, and lastly here for the album where I’ll be documenting home improvements. In addition, pictures of day-to-day events, RV trips, and moving/house related things, pictures and videos are posted on my Instagram account here. I’m too impatient at the moment to upload them to the blog.
The past 6-weeks have been full of cleaning, organizing, shopping for things we need, meeting contractors, making repairs, weeding, replacing light fixtures and outlets, meeting new people, running to the transfer station (trash & recycling drop-off), planning modifications, running to the hardware store and Tractor Supply, getting our library cards, scheduling our DMV appointments (they’re running 6-weeks out!), observing nature (I have a running log of all of the animals we have seen on our property), and checking out local restaurants (see list below) and sights.
Also, thanks to my tenacity, we now have the very first mailbox ever on this road. I’m pretty much best friends with our mail carrier, who is the sweetest person. I really can’t get over just how nice everyone is. I don’t want to say that moving here was a culture shock because the ways in which it differs from Maryland have been refreshing, but it is a much different world down here. People are really open and friendly. If you’re out walking, it’s nothing for someone to go out of their way just to greet you and introduce themselves. When I heard that Tryon calls itself the “friendliest town in the south,” I kind of laughed. How nice can they be? Well… surprisingly nice!
As a personal side project, to understand our new home better, I began digging into local history and learning about the first two owners of our house (we’re the fourth owners). I’ve learned quite a bit by checking out reference books from the library and reading online. With the help of Nextdoor, I have connected with some interesting folks along the way. Andy and I met with a local legend, writer, and historian. At 91-years young, he was able to tell us a lot about our property, the surrounding area, and even one set of owners of our house. According to tax records, our parcel was split off from a much larger property behind us in 1979. Our neighbor’s property has a long, interesting history that we are still learning about. Their land also backs to Howard Gap, which is historically significant. All of Tryon was at one time Cherokee hunting ground until the early 1700s.
We have a number of big projects that we’re currently working on. It has been difficult trying to get contractors to commit to starting a job. Everyone is slammed with work, and of course lumber prices compound that frustration. Our big projects include: replacing the breaker box, enclosing the carport, removing decades of wax from the tile flooring in the kitchen and hallway next to the master bedroom and den, radon remediation, possibly replacing our septic system and most definitely having it pumped, designing the kitchen refresh, finishing our gym area by adding flooring that arrives this week, landscaping and planting, installing a flagstone patio out back, replacing a rotting landscape timbers, and replacing a number of light fixtures. Regarding the laundry and mudroom areas, we plan to remove the wallpaper, paint the walls, shelving, and cabinets, and replace the flooring.
Taking a Break
We took a much-needed break in early May since. We drove the RV about 2-hours away to Petersburg Campground in Appling, GA. I knew we needed to go just far enough away that we wouldn’t be tempted to come back to the house to work on projects, but not so far that we spent a full day traveling. Campendium didn’t lie in dubbing it one of the best campgrounds with water views. I think pretty much every site has a view of the lake. It was incredibly beautiful and relaxing. Despite some nasty thunderstorms that rolled through, we were able to kayak, walk, and bike. Hardly anyone was there, and it was exactly what we needed to recharge. We’re currently working on planning our next road trip to visit family and friends in Michigan.
How’s Stevie Mix Doing?
Stevie is in her element. It’s fairly clear now that she was never meant to be a suburban dog; she’s very much at home in the wilderness. Stevie loves watching nature from the many floor-to-ceiling windows. She always alerts us when our resident black rat snake is out sunning, or if there are any chipmunks, squirrels, or lizards out and about. Her main activities include morning security patrols, long walks, sleeping in the sun that the skylights cast in our living room, monitoring the backyard from her perch on the back of the sunroom couch, meeting locals, or telling the two horses across the way what’s what. We were quite surprised that she wasn’t the least bit stressed on the long drive to NC, or in living in a new place. She’s very much at ease and relaxed here.
Happy New Year! Thank you for continuing to follow along. I know I’ve been fairly quiet, but with very good reason. We bought a house in North Carolina! We’ve been keeping that exciting news close hold for awhile until we were sure it was going to work out. Before I get into that, let me quickly summarize the end of last year.
We had a quiet Thanksgiving and Christmas at home–just the two of us. It was strange being away from friends and family, but we made the best of it. It was a big departure from the lively and fun Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2019. Hopefully you all had a nice holiday season, and a good start to 2021.
During November and December, I did a thorough review of my first full year retired. Though 2020 was a strange and challenging year, we managed to take 7 trips (thanks to the RV). I was able to spend more time and energy doing things that I find meaningful like spending more time outdoors, enjoying more quality time with Andy, learning new cooking and baking skills, forging new friendships, and sending more snail mail to friends and family. I found that 2020 was a pivotal year in working toward personal health and wellness goals. I exercised 215 times, which was about 19% more that I worked out in the year prior. I now have a full year of meditation under my belt, and I got a bike. I also established some personal lifting records. I’m very proud of my 140 lb deadlift. I’m looking forward to improving even more in 2021. Overall, 2020 was full of growth and learning for me.
Andy remarked the other night that it’s as if we’ve been sprinting since we retired. Right out of the gate we headed to Germany, and then to Colorado to ski. The pandemic hit while we were in Colorado, so we jetted back home. We were heartbroken to cancel our 2-month trip to Montana last spring that we spent quite awhile planning. Between March and April, we hit the pause button to regroup. We began doing some house projects to prep for our eventual move.
By springtime though we were a bit restless, and ultimately decided to purchase an RV. For a month or so we were immersed in the research process, and then we were off camping… seemingly everywhere. However, once it started to get cold and we were settled back at home, we began to get really serious about choosing a place to move. If you’ve been watching the housing market over the past few months, you know how crazy it is. There’s very limited inventory; houses across the country are getting snatched up within days. The rental market is just as competitive.
We considered moving to Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware, West Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Ultimately, we began focusing our efforts on finding a home in the areas to the west and south of Asheville, NC. We love Asheville and the surrounding mountains, waterfalls, trails, and artsy vibe. After 2-months of looking, we were getting kind of annoyed though. Each home we were serious about went under contract before we could even contact our agent to get more information.
In early December, we found a beautifully maintained 70s rancher that sat on a 4-acre wooded lot, with a stream, and mountain views in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains in Tryon, NC (self-proclaimed to be to be the “friendliest town in the south” for 125 years). The house met many of our criteria: an open floor plan, high ceilings, lots of natural light, mountain views, nature, close to shopping, airports, and things to do. I was initially dissuaded by the vintage kitchen that needs a makeover. Andy liked the house, but we kept looking because the town wasn’t in the area of North Carolina that we focused our search.
About a week after seeing the house online, I confessed that I had been revisiting the house daily to see if it had gone under contract. I was seeing it’s potential and falling in love with the idea of living there. We decided to pursue it and took two virtual tours via Facetime, and asked a lot of questions, before putting in an offer. Knowing how competitive the market is, I also wrote a letter to the sellers. The listing agent responded to our offer with a request that we see the property in person first. So, a few days later (early January 2021), we drove 8-hours down to see it.
Being inside the house and walking the grounds really sealed it for us. Before heading home, we learned that there were other offers on the table, so we improved ours and then hit the road. It was a really frustrating drive back to Maryland–between the heavy traffic, accidents, rainy weather, and not knowing whether our offer would be accepted even though we had already put in a lot of effort to make it work. By that point, we had also fallen in love with the town and surrounding area. The sellers left everyone hanging for another day, but ultimately accepted our offer. I was a bit surprised considering that they received one over asking offer, but we think that they liked the letter.
Between January and mid-February, Andy was neck deep in an agonizing loan process that nearly cost us the house. I could probably write 5-pages on this alone, and if you’re looking for a lender and need some advice, send me a private message. I have a lot to say on the topic. One of the biggest surprises to date about retiring early, is that our lifestyle does not compute with most lending institutions. When you manage your own investments, and you’re not collecting either social security and/or a retirement or pension check, you don’t fit into their neat little box and the checklist gets thrown out the window. They don’t know what to do with you.
The lender hit us with a myriad of requests; some of which were the following (our responses in parens): show us your “income” (I’m retired. I don’t have an income.), we need a letter from your CPA or advisor (I manage my own assets.), we need your pay stubs (I don’t have any. I’m retired.), provide us with your last W2 so that we can see how much you could make IF you started working again (Umm.. What?? I’m not going back.), show us proof of payment for your current HOA (Buying the new home isn’t contingent on selling our current home, and the new house doesn’t have an HOA.), provide us with proof that you hold a homeowners policy on your current residence (Again, what does this have to do with the new house??), send us a paid invoice for your insurance policy for the new house (You can’t purchase a policy on a residence you don’t own yet. We provided a quote from our insurance company.), we can’t use a quote from the insurance company, and how can we be sure you won’t just zero out your investment accounts (How can any lender be sure someone won’t default on their loan?).
I get annoyed just writing about it. 🙂
The bottom line is that we dropped the lender, figured out another way to make it work, and we are now the new owners of a 70s vintage rancher. We’ve been packing, strategizing the logistics of movers and pods, and donating, gifting, and selling things that we no longer need. We’re planning to be moved by spring.
Let’s talk about moving for a moment. This is a big milestone for us because even though we’ve been married for close to a decade now, this will be our very first move together. It’s also the very first home we picked out together. I’m incredibly lucky that Andy has taken on all of the major logistics of how we’re going to move all of our things. Not only that, but he has been largely coordinating with various contractors for repairs and renovations, and he flew down for the inspections and to meet some of the contractors. Even though I was an Army-brat and have moved quite a bit, I have since become a creature of habit. It’s nice a lot of the weight off my shoulders.
Right off the bat, we plan to fix some things the inspection revealed–mostly minor, but a couple are pretty big. We also plan to enclose the carport to make it into a garage, as well as redo the hardwood floors in the main living area (currently there are two large carpet in-lays). After that, the next big project will be redoing the very vintage, but well-preserved kitchen. That’s in my lane, and I have some ideas about it. I’m not quite ready to reveal that just yet though. I’ve included some of the listing photos below. I can’t wait to get in there and add all of my own furnishings and personal touches. The house is really a mid-century modern showpiece with great bones.
I get a little giddy looking at the pictures and imagining us living there, immersed in nature, like we’ve been dreaming about for years. It’s very bittersweet though because we have built so many friendships here. In many cases, my friends’ families are now my family too. I’m going to miss them all so much. It’s also a scary prospect to start over and to take such a big leap of faith on a town that we don’t know a lot about. Even scarier is that it’s a place where we don’t know anyone and will have to re-establish roots and connections. However, what’s life without taking some risks and trying new things? Once we’re settled, we are so looking forward to hosting family and friends who want to visit us.
I’m sure some of you might have some questions. Hit me with them. I’ll try to answer them all. In the meantime, stay warm. I heard Punxsutawney Phil predicted that we still have quite a bit more winter ahead of us.
I’m overdue on writing an update. Every time I sit down to do it, I get distracted with other projects. So, here I am! There’s a lot to catch up on. I was in a wedding in mid-October, 3-weeks after returning from our Virginia trip. I can’t say enough about how beautiful and carefully thought out everything was. I loved that they had a ring-warming ceremony. It was a small, intimate gathering, and we had a lot of fun getting to know everyone. A couple days later, we left for Kentucky, and then in late November we took an impromptu road-trip to Michigan with my brother and oldest nephew. It has been a busy couple of months leading up to the holiday season.
While we were readying the RV for Kentucky, my mom called to let me know that my Granny (maternal) had a nasty fall, which led to a broken hip, broken arm, and a cracked rib. She ultimately had surgery, and thankfully the hospital allowed my mom to be there in the hospital with her. On top of that, my brother was scheduled to have major surgery during the tail-end of our Kentucky trip. I was stressed out about both of them, but unable to do anything to really help. My brother’s surgery went better than anticipated. My Granny’s surgery went well too, but once they moved her from the hospital to the rehab facility, she was not allowed to have visitors. My mom would stand outside and talk to her through a window.
When my brother asked me to accompany him to Michigan to visit our family in November, I jumped on it. It was so nice to see everyone, and be back in the middle of the woods. I was really happy to be able to visit with Granny in the rehab facility, even though we had to stand outside in the snow and talk through an open window. We also got to spend a few days with my Opa (paternal grandfather). Overall, it was a really nice week away. We made and consumed many of our favorite family meals, worked on puzzles together, watched the river go by, played dominoes and cards, and my mom taught me how to can preserves – mango habanero!
We prefer to keep our drives between 3 and 4 hours, so that we can get out and explore a bit. It’s nice to stop at Harvest Hosts’ (HH) locations to break up the driving. It’s also a good way to see points of interests and talk to locals. I know I have mentioned it many times before, but we really love our Harvest Hosts (HH) membership. The Appalachian Distillery is family-run, with a wide variety of moonshine flavors. Since they weren’t able to pour samples due to COVID, we purchased a box containing all ten moonshine flavors in small 50 ml bottles. After setting up and walking Stevie, we opened a few to taste between us, and then headed next door to the Yacht Club bar and grill, where we sat outside on the front porch with Stevie and enjoyed a nice meal and the sunset. I was really impressed by the food at this place; it’s definitely a hidden gem. Some goats wandered over to the upper parking lot in front of the restaurant, and after our meal, we walked over to look at them. There were a couple other HH guests, but plenty of room to accommodate us all. We had a nice conversation with both couples. Overall, it was an extremely quiet overnight stay (the track wasn’t running that evening). We were back on the road by about 8:30 am.
Kentucky River Campground
The folks at Kentucky River Campground (KRC) extended the warmest welcome we’ve ever encountered at a campground. Most campers here have been coming for 10-years or more; it very much feels like a family. That said, we were invited in with open arms as if we were part of the regular crew. During our initial planning for this trip we booked a site at a campground in Shelbyville. However, a week prior to leaving, we decided that it made more sense stay in Frankfort, which is closer to the two main distilleries we wanted to visit. Every site at KRC has full hook-ups. They also upgraded us to a river view site for no extra charge. Cell reception was nonexistent, though they did have spotty WiFi. This was challenging because Andy was in the middle of a business deal that he needed to download and review documents for, and also have phone conversations about.
The lack of decent service also posed another issue in getting a ride through Lyft/Uber. Though, even finding a ride via a local taxi service was near impossible. Frankfurt just doesn’t have drivers available. We found that once we got to a distillery, we could call an Uber/Lyft/Taxi to take us to another distillery, but no one wanted to drive us back to the campground. Each 10 or 15 min ride was also about $20-30. Sure, we could have tucked everything away, pulled up chocks on the RV, and driven to the places we wanted to go. However, the roads leading to many of these old distilleries can be quite narrow and twisty. We also didn’t want to drive the rig after sampling bourbon at more than one distillery, or get Stevie unsettled by moving and leaving her inside alone.
We had a reservation to enter Castle & Key on a beautiful, sunny day. All tours were suspended, but we did get to walk some of the grounds (the distillery sits on a total of 113 acres), have a long and informative conversation with an employee, and enjoy a cocktail outside. The buildings and grounds belonged to the Old Taylor Distillery, which according to the website was established in 1887. I have been unable to find out why one of the buildings has 1867 etched into it prominently. The site closed in 1920 fell into disrepair until around 2014 when investors purchased the propertuy and and began restoring it to it’s former glory. Castle & Key is currently aging their first batch of bourbon, and employ Kentucky’s first female master distiller, Marianne Barnes. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for them. If you’re in Frankfurt this winter, you can visit and purchase a bottle of their first ever batch of whiskey, Restoration Rye, which released just after our visit. If you watched Neat: The Story of Bourbon on Hulu, you’ll recall that all bourbon’s are whiskey, but not all whiskey’s are bourbon.
From Castle and Key, we took an Uber to Buffalo Trace. We didn’t realize that all of the tours for Buffalo Trace were free, or how quickly they would fill up. We tried to book a tour about 2-weeks prior to leaving for Kentucky. So, unfortunately, we only got to walk around a small part of their grounds and go into their gift store. Buffalo Trace is one of my favorite bourbons, and they’ve been working on their craft for over 200 years. If you can get a hold of a bottle of their bourbon cream this winter, I guarantee that you won’t regret buying a bottle or three. I was lucky to find it somewhere at home, and I plan to go back and get more.
The following day, we missed the tour I booked at Glenn’s Creek Distillery. I’ll own this mistake. I didn’t double check the reservation, and I had it in my head that it was booked for an hour later. We were having a difficult time getting a ride anyhow, even though it was a Saturday. We decided to take the $15 as a minor loss, rather than paying $60 for two more cab rides in addition to tasting fees. Instead, we spent a large part of the afternoon sitting on our site’s deck overlooking the Kentucky River, I threw together a charcuterie board, and we sipped on some Buffalo Trace bourbon (center picture below). We even took a nice bike ride beyond the campground and saw some scenic farmland.
On our way to Mammoth Cave National Park, we made a quick stop in Bardstown for lunch, and ended up sampling a flight of bourbon at Bardstown Bourbon Company, which is near Makers Mark and Four Roses (neither of which were running tours at that time). They were also still in the process of aging their first batch bourbon, but they had some blends on-hand. This was our first time sampling a bourbon blend, and it was also where we learned about mash bills. Though they don’t disclose up-front which three bourbons make up each blend, we were able to look up the individual mash bills by percentage of corn, rye/wheat, and malted barley to see what brand it was.
Mammoth Cave National Park
On our way to Mammoth we passed the exit sign for the birth place of KFC, but we didn’t stop. In hindsight it was better that we didn’t delay. We should have double checked the park website and directions to Mammoth. We had been without consistent cell service for most of the trip at this point, so I don’t think we thought much about it. We were using Waze, rather than our internal GPS that has our rig information plugged in (though, I’m not sure it would have really mattered), and it routed us to the main entrance of the park. Waze assumed we could take the Green River Ferry across to the Maple Springs Loop, where the back-country horse campground sites are located. However, there were two major issues: the ferry can’t transport RVs, and the ferry was actually closed. There was a detour in place that Waze didn’t appear have flagged, and we didn’t realize that we couldn’t connect to the Maple Springs loop from the south until after we had driven well out of the way. Ultimately, we had to drive ALL the way around the park to the other side; there was no better alternative. The detour signs were also confusing toward the end of the route. I later asked a park ranger which way he would have taken around the park, and he at least confirmed that we had gone the best way. Anyhow, after the 40-mile detour and a couple of wrong turns into the other camping areas (there were quite a few horse camps bordering the park), it was late afternoon by the time we reached the campground loop. By then, we had once again lost cell service and couldn’t double check a digital map. We found the campground, but aside from a bus conversion, no one else was around. So, we stupidly followed our GPS down a sketchy road through the woods that brought us back out to the main road. I wasn’t sure the RV was going to make it without getting stuck or hitting something. It was more like a double track trail, and now that I am home and able to check a map with satellite view, I see that it’s not even marked.
Anyhow, we returned to the campground, declared we were indeed in the correct place, and set-up camp. We stayed at this site for 2-days, and it rained most of the time. The first night we took Stevie on a short walk since it was getting dark. She ran after a deer in the road and caused it to slip and fall. I think she was quite pleased with herself. The next morning it began to rain. We waited for a break in the weather, but without consistent access to radar data, we weren’t sure how much rain was to be expected. In the afternoon, we set off for a trail ride. By then the rain had let up considerably, but soon after getting onto the trail, it was too heavy to continue. We went back to the RV, and watched it pour for most of the day. At dusk, the rain finally cleared, and we were able to take a bike ride on the closed road leading to the Green River Ferry (the north side of the river). Also of note, this was the first time I have ever heard coyotes howling at night. Being in the middle of no-where made their cries even more eerie and hair raising–especially at 2 am.
After two nights and extensive rain, we were ready to move to the other side of Mammoth. We backtracked the 40-miles around the park to the HQ campground. They were very strict about check-in times, and we were early, so we parked in the huge lot where cave tours start and tickets are purchased. The lot had a bunch of designated bus and RV spots. We had lunch and took Stevie on a walk, and then decided since we had an hour or so to kill that we may as well enjoy a bike ride. We got Stevie settled inside, and took off on our bikes. About half mile later on a wooded trail, I decided it would be a splendid idea to Superman off of my bike (Zero stars. I do not recommend). I jumped. I don’t know what I was thinking except that the trail was not working for my skill level, and I didn’t want to be on it anymore. Luckily I didn’t break anything, but I did end up with some cuts, contusions, and a sprained knee. Andy had to pick me up out of some brambles and off the side of hill. Meanwhile, I asked after my missing shoe and bike. haha They were left behind, and intact, on the trail when I jumped off. I tried to ride it out a bit on the paved road, but I was in pain and bleeding, so I went back to the RV to clean myself up. I sent Andy back out to enjoy a solo ride, figuring at least one of us should enjoy being outside. By the time he returned, my ego wasn’t as bruised, I had cleaned off the dirt and blood as best as I could, and was icing my knee after taking a couple ibuprofen.
We lucked out on the sites at the HQ campground. Though we couldn’t book either of them back-to-back for consecutive nights, we were easily able to just move over one spot in the morning. Both spots had full hook-ups and were the only sites like that at the campground. They were also closest to the path leading to all of the facilities: cave tour meet-up location, gift store, post office, camp store, showers, and laundry (the latter two were closed). Andy chatted with the neighbor, whose site we were moving to, while she was out tidying up and disconnecting her rig, a Unity. We got some ideas from her on towing a car and options for winter destinations. She was the second solo female RVer we met on this trip. We met another very nice lady at the next campground, who was driving a Winnebago Travato. I’m very intrigued by solo travelers.
On our last day in Mammoth, my knee was still pretty tender, but we went on leisurely 8-mile bike ride. We discovered an old graveyard on the grounds, and later took the self-guided cave tour. They did have Park Rangers positioned at points of interest within the cave, so you could ask questions and learn more about the history and geology of the cave. We spent a long time looking at everything and asking lots of questions.
National Corvette Museum
This was a fun stop for both of us. The best part for me was learning about the sinkhole that swallowed eight corvettes in 2014, and the aftermath of recovering the cars and stabilizing the building. There is still a cave under the museum, and I took a picture of myself standing on the shaft with a ladder descending down 30 ft down. I’ve linked a couple videos above, but for more information, and to explore the cave virtually, click here. I also really enjoyed seeing people taking delivery of their new cars in the middle of the museum. Additionally, they had a huge side lot for RVs and trailers for daytime visitors (no overnight stays are allowed). I noticed that they had power hook-ups and picnic spots as well.
Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
We camped at the Ridgeline Campground, which was interesting to get to. It felt like we were never going to stop climbing up the twisty roads. Once again cell service dropped off, and at some point the GPS declared that we had arrived at our destination when we hadn’t. The signage for the campground wasn’t great, but we eventually found our way. The campground itself was fairly small, pretty full, and none of the spots were anywhere near level. It took us a little bit to figure out the best way to situate ourselves. The site was wide, but not very deep. We had to park with our bike hitch essentially hanging over a steep drop off, so that our nose wasn’t in the roadway (our RV is only 25 ft long). There was a concrete wheelstop that our tires weren’t anywhere close to touching. This site also had a lot of overhead trees, and acorns were pelting the roof. They woke us up a couple of times.
When Andy hooked up the water, he noticed that the pressure gauge was reading incredibly low. We decided to add enough fresh water to the holding tank for a couple days and use the water pump, rather than deal with subpar water pressure. This was the first campground where we did laundry. I was happy that I had the foresight to bring a roll of quarters because, as suspected, they didn’t have a coin machine. We packed enough clothing for the trip, but since we had some time during a pop-up storm, I figured I may as well get ahead on doing laundry at home.
We didn’t ride our bikes here because the roads leading down were pretty steep and narrow, with no margins. There didn’t seem to be any biking trails from where we were to the base. We did hike to Cumberland Falls (aka Niagara of the South or Little Niagara), and then down onto the shore area below the falls. Stevie had fun splashing around in the water and exploring the trails. I couldn’t believe the size of some of the leaves on the trails. Some of them were bigger than Stevie! We missed the moonbow by a week. I bet it was incredible on Halloween. By the way–the only other place in the world where you can see a moonbow is at Victoria Falls on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border.
Zilpo Recreation Area
With our trip winding down, and my birthday approaching (hello, 39!), we relocated to the Daniel Boone National Forest. We stayed in the Fox loop of the Zilpo Recreation Area, which is managed by Thousand Trails. It was pretty much a ghost town, as the whole area closed for the season the day after we checked out. The water spigot here was missing a washer, and rather than have water continuously spraying out, we once again just added more water to our tank and used the water pump. This site was by far my favorite campsite we’ve stayed at. It was large, had two picnic tables, gravel, trees surrounding it, and the fire ring was positioned a good distance from where you’d want to park. I actually took a picture of the site, which is something I keep forgetting to do when we stay somewhere. The picture doesn’t do it justice, but I’ll drop it below.
We had hoped to kayak in Cave Run Lake (a 8,270-acre fresh water lake), but it had gotten quite cold and windy. It was much warmer during the first half of the trip. We rode our bikes through every single loop of the campground, and hiked around a bit. There was a sign posted on the road leading down to the boat launch area that read, “PREPARE TO LAUNCH,” and it had Andy laughing hysterically. Remembering my jump off of the bike, it went something like, “hey, Jess, here’s YOUR SIGN! hahahahahahahaha!!” I should have stolen that sign. Just kidding! 🙂
I had a nice, quiet birthday with my loves. We spent most of the day outside, had ribs for dinner, and Andy built me a nice campfire. It was funny hearing Andy explain where he had to squirrel away my card and present in the rig to keep me from finding it for 10-days.
Riffle Run Campground
For our last stay, we drove to Riffle Run Campground, an Army Corps of Engineers site. The campground didn’t take advanced reservations, and was on a first-come-first-serve basis. We figured with camping season dwindling down and it getting cooler, it would be fine. We had another campground option flagged as a back-up. It was a pretty ride to the campground, and also another quiet area. You’re able to choose your own campsite–whatever is unoccupied. You just complete a registration card with payment, and leave it in the drop box. There are a lot of trails to hike on surrounding the campground, but we set-up camp around 3 pm. We did take Stevie on a walk around, and then biked up to the dam and on some access roads around the campground. We spent awhile talking to a nice couple about our rig. They popped by to ask some questions about it, as they were considering downsizing. We have really enjoyed meeting new people on the road this year. Everyone has been incredibly friendly.
We planned to drive to Cumberland, MD and stay overnight at the 1812 Brewery (HH) again (see the Mitten state post), but when I double checked their hours, I realized they were closed. We likely could have still stayed there, but we wanted to enjoy their beer and some food, stay the night, and then head home the next day. It would have been a nice end to a long trip, and a fun way to break-up a long drive. We have to get better at reviewing plans and GPS coordinates before we hit the road. It takes so much advanced planning to plot a trip like this, that it’s easy to forget some of the details, or glance over the route and think you have everything you need plugged in. Also of note, since this was the first time we largely had no cell service–at least at campgrounds–it’s important to have GPS coordinates and information saved off-line somewhere. We use RV Parky to plot trips, but couldn’t access notes and data stored in the app without cell service.
How’s Stevie Mix doing?
Stevie is fine as wine. She loves to be on the road and in the wilderness. In fact, she loves the RV so much that we take her to the storage facility periodically when we pop over to check on the rig, or we’re doing maintenance or making mods.
Since I mentioned mods, we just added a 3-inch Tempur-Pedic mattress pad topper to our bed. It’s called ‘Serenity’, and we purchased it at Costco. I also bought a seat-belt extender from Amazon, so that bed could stay secure while driving. Once we added the topper, we could no longer connect the safety belt on the ceiling. We also bought a couple of replacement parts to store inside the RV, like a water pump and a transfer switch. Andy upgraded our on-board tool kit as well. We finally located our water pump, which is under the cabinet where we store things under the sink. For some reason the manufacturer stapled the board down, so Andy plans to take the staples out and instead affix it with screws. He’s also going to drill some finger holes so that it’s easier to open. The same goes for the cabinet the transfer switch lives underneath in the linen cupboard.
Where are we headed next?
To be determined… We’re actively looking (virtually) for a house or property at the moment. We’re also just enjoying being home for a bit, especially with Andy’s birthday and Christmas coming. We hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving, spent making fond memories. Wishing you all a warm, happy, and festive holiday season!
I wanted to take a moment to say Happy Thanksgiving! I truly appreciate each and every one of you, and I hope that you have a wonderful holiday season.
This time of year always has me feeling sentimental. Between October and January, much of my headspace is reserved for taking stock of the year, thinking about everything I’m grateful for, reassessing personal goals, and looking forward to the coming year. Today, I’m especially thankful because I’ve hit the one-year retired milestone. While 2020 has presented a number of challenges, as well as a fair amount of frustration and disappointment, I still have so much gratitude. We were able to do and see quite a bit more than I thought possible, I forged new friendships and cultivated old ones, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, and I continued to grow and learn in a number of ways. Thank you for following along on this journey with me. You — my friends and family — will always be the best part of my day.
Wishing you all good health, love, laughter, and happiness. May you spread as much light and kindness as possible.
Our September trip to Virginia didn’t exactly go according to plan. During the planning phase, we were unsuccessful in finding a camping spot at Smith Mountain Lake, so we decided to try an Army Corps of Engineers campground, which is something we have talked about quite a bit. They’re typically well maintained and low-cost. Enter Philpott Lake, located approximately 40 miles southwest of where we initially hoped to camp.
Andy purchased an inflatable two person kayak just prior to the trip, so we were able to take it out on its maiden voyage. The boat and seats quickly inflate with foot-pump, and it all flattens down into a compact carry bag. The paddles also break down into smaller pieces. We reconfigured our outside storage to fit everything more easily. We also purchased new chairs for this trip, as one of our old ones started to break on our Pennsylvania trip.
Our first stop was to Ridge Valley Alpacas, a Harvest Host, in Fairfield, VA for one night of dry camping. I don’t know about you, but I think an alpaca farm is one of the coolest places to visit. We learned so much about the animals and farm. I took some photos, we fed some of the friendlier alpacas*, I pet one of their huge farm dogs, and we had a couple of nice conversations with the owners. We also purchased some beautiful items from their store, and they let us use our Blackstone grill on the store’s covered porch since it was raining. It was a perfect spot to grill up some burgers and smiley fries, have a beer, and take in the beautiful view of rolling hills and farms all around.
* Apparently, personality wise, alpacas are more like cats and llamas are more like dogs. Alpacas, while generally curious, are more aloof. However, llamas are much more willing to walk up to people and interact. Llamas will also spit.
After our alpaca farm stay, we drove a few more hours south to Philpott Lake. We arrived before checkout, and our space was still occupied, so we backed into the spot next door and had lunch. By the time we were finished eating, our site was empty, so we popped over there. It was really nice to have both water and power on-site. We still have yet to camp at a full hook-up site (water, power, sewer). The campground and facilities were very well-maintained and clean, and the Park Rangers were really friendly and kept a watchful eye over the campground.
During our stay, we biked, hiked, and kayaked. We also experienced a full day of torrential rains (remnants from Hurricane Sally), Stevie was nearly attacked by another dog, and we found a bunch of drugs in the woods during a hike. After being eaten alive by a mystery bug, we rolled up camp a day early.
Kayaking was a lot of fun. We were surprised at how comfortable the boat was, and how at ease Stevie was with the whole situation. She put her front feet on the bow of the boat and stood there while we paddled. I had to grab her life-jacket handle a couple of times because she seemed inclined to jump in. I thought putting her in the water briefly next to the boat might dissuade her from attempting to get in herself, but it just seemed to encourage her.
Though the kayak doesn’t move as quickly as a single person or hard sided kayak, we all really enjoyed exploring from on the water. We saw quite a few fish jump while we kayaked, and toured around a couple of the islands within Philpott Lake. There were a bunch of folks out fishing and tooling around in other boats, canoes, and kayaks.
On our second full day, we encountered a few hiccups. We decided to take a roughly 6-mile hike on a wooded trail. Rather than go the full 10-miles, we decided to jump onto a fire road that looped back around. The trails were covered in cobwebs, so we picked up some walking sticks to sweep them away. Around the 4-mile mark, we came to a fork. We knew that we needed to jump off onto the fire road at some point, but the path veering left was partially blocked by an old, gutted Mercedes. It looked ominous and I didn’t really want to walk by it, so we turned right. Andy noticed something off the trail in the brush, and I walked over to check it out. A zippered pouched was laying on the ground, it’s contents strewn about–alcohol pads, dozens of syringes, two metal spoons, a vial full of clear liquid, and a couple flashlights. I poked it with my stick, and decided we’d better check whether we were headed in the right direction. My phone didn’t have service, but luckily one of Andy’s biking apps showed us where we were. Turns out that we did need to walk by that ransacked car. The fire road was deeply rutted clay that eventually led to this pretty cool little cemetery. We stopped for a bit to check it out, and then continued on.
The road led us to the tail end of a rural, residential street. I noticed a woman walking to her mailbox at the opposite end of the road where we were headed. She had a large dog on a long chain-link leash in tow. I wasn’t worried until I saw an even larger unleashed dog start to follow the lady. Stevie, for some unknown reason, really likes to try to provoke big dogs. I asked Andy to hang back a bit to give us time to assess the situation.
We didn’t get a chance to decide what we were going to do though. When the woman turned to see her unleashed dog and and us with a small dog, she completely panicked. She screamed at me to pick my dog up immediately. Andy stepped between us and the dog as a buffer. Meanwhile, the dog was carefully trying to slip past Andy to get to Stevie. I was so worried the dog was going to jump on me and bite me to get to Stevie, or rip her from my arms, or both. You’re never supposed to pick up your dog when an aggressive dog is coming at you. After what seemed like 10 minutes of the lady screaming at her husband to get the dog and screaming at the dog to leave us alone, the dog was retrieved and walked back to the house… where the husband promptly let go of its collar. I can’t make this stuff up. The dog went around to the back side of the house and started to follow us down the road. I didn’t put Stevie down until we got to our campground around the corner.
Once we got back to the site, we had lunch and I tried to calm my nerves. While we ate, I noticed Stevie was biting at her feet, so I took a look at her feet, legs, and belly. She had barely visible red dots all over her. I started to pick them off, but there had to be thousands. We determined they were likely chiggers, so we set-up our folding table next to the outdoor shower, and Stevie got to be the very first one to use it. Unfortunately, she still seemed irritated after her bath. I sent Andy up to the little store outside of the campground to see if they had anything we could use to treat her. We definitely didn’t want to bring bugs into the RV. He returned with some Epsom salt. I kid you not, it took both of us to hold her in a small plastic tub full of warm water and the salt that came just to over her shoulders. I think a few folks driving by got a laugh; we were certainly laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.
After we were done torturing the dog, Andy went to explore paths on his bike. I decided to stay close and ride around the campground. We both returned, and then took showers. Later that night, we started to notice tiny bites. They seemed to multiply day after day, even on the day we had to stay inside due to the rain. I stripped the bed immediately and put clean bedding on. We wiped every surface and made sure all of our hiking clothing were contained in a laundry bag, but still more bites appeared daily. In total, Andy had about 250. I probably had 20. And Miss Stevie? She had none. Not a single bite.
I spent a significant time during the rainstorm looking up bug bites and reading about every kind of tiny, biting thing. We never figured it out. The bite patterns and size didn’t make sense to be chiggers, though they certainly itched and hurt in the same way. Since we were frustrated from itching and not sleeping well as a result, we decided to pack-up camp and head home. We definitely revised our must-have items for future trips to include cortisone, flea/tick bath, and dog shampoo.
Since it would have been too taxing to drive straight home, we decided to stop in Strasburg, VA, where my brother and his family live. We initially called the Harvest Host we were supposed to stay at 15-minutes from my brother’s house. They couldn’t accommodate us early because they were preparing for a wedding, so we spoke to Box Office Brewery and asked if it would be okay if we stayed in their lot overnight. It worked out well because it’s a public lot and the fire department is in the same area, so we felt very safe there. My brother was working when we arrived, but his wife and kids joined us for dinner and ice cream. It was so good to see them all, and overall a really fun, impromptu stop.
How’s Stevie Mix Doing?
Stevie is our little road warrior and adventure dog. She’s no longer rattled by the noises the RV makes when we hit bumps in the road. She’s typically curled up in her bed (harnessed in) while we’re driving, but occasionally she’ll get onto the couch and look out the window at the passing landscape. Once we get to our camp site though, she doesn’t want to miss out on anything. She tends to skip her afternoon naps and is pretty tired by bedtime. As a result, she seems content to stay in the RV and rest while we ride our bikes. We were pretty surprised at how well she took to being in the kayak. The night we inflated the boat in our living room to see what it was like, she jumped right in when we called her. We expected a little hesitation once it was in the water, but she didn’t have any issue at all with it. I’m happy that we can bring her with us on those outings.
Where Are We Headed Next?
We’re looking forward to sampling some bourbon. After watching Neat: The Story of Bourbon on Hulu, we were really excited to venture down to check it out. We’re also planning to visit Mammoth Cave National Park, which will be the first national park we tour in Homie Roam-o.
Wishing you all a happy autumn!
We recently returned from a trip to two Pennsylvania state parks. Initially we intended to go to the Finger Lakes in New York, but they had a mandatory 2-week quarantine restriction in place for Marylanders. We decided to head back to Ohiopyle and had hoped to stay there for the duration of the trip. However, with so many people camping now, we were unable to book a pet-friendly site for the full 8-nights. So, we decided to book another PA park for the second half of the trip.
I don’t have a whole lot to report, as we had a nice relaxing trip. I’m going to jump around a bit; apologies in advance. First, I’ll take you through some upgrades on the RV itself and RV camping lifestyle wise, then I’ll talk a little bit about each park, and finally I’ll get into how Stevie Mix is adjusting and our future travel plans.
Digital Tank Sensors: I mentioned in the last post that Andy installed digital sensors on our grey, black, and freshwater tanks. Halfway through our trip, the black tank sensor started giving an error code. Andy contacted the company, and they promptly sent us a new sensor. Of course, after emptying the tank at the end of the trip, the sensor seems to be reading correctly now. We’re on the fence about replacing it before our next trip since we still have the factory installed panel inside, though it doesn’t provide as much fidelity. However, with the other sensors working properly, and our next trip being another short one, it’s not a major concern at the moment.
Somewhat related to the sensors, we plan to purchase a spare water pump to stow away. We’ve heard and read a lot about them breaking frequently in RVs and trailers. It’s probably a good idea to have a spare one on hand, which means we also need to take a look at what we have and how it’s installed.
Refrigerator: In preparing the RV this time, and thanks to the temperature monitors we added to the fridge and freezer, we noticed just how long it takes to cool them down. Since we store Homie in a climate-controlled facility and have the ability to keep him plugged in, which also keeps the batteries charged, we decided to just keep the fridge going 24/7. It’s also nice to have cold drinks on-board when we’re out working on the RV. You wouldn’t believe how much we actually stop by to check in, add some new element, or pick something up. I feel like I live there sometimes. We know many of the other RV and boat owners pretty well now, as well as the facility’s manager.
RV Check Out: There’s a big Class A stored a few slips down from us owned by a very nice gentleman named Henry. With over 20 years of RV experience, Henry is well versed in all things RV maintenance. He seems to really enjoy taking all of the newbies in the storage facility under his wing. Since Henry is also an electrician, he offered to go over all of our electrical components and systems, as well as the wiring underneath the coach. Prior to heading to PA, Andy, Stevie, and I went out and spent half a day going over everything. Thankfully, unlike some of the other coaches stored there, there really wasn’t much to be corrected except to wrap some wires under the coach, apply grease to some electric fittings, and spray high-temp paint in some areas. Afterwards, as a precaution, we ended up purchasing some extra fuses to keep on-board.
As an aside–I really can’t say enough about the warm welcome, joy, and enthusiasm that the RV community extends to everyone – both in-person and virtually on social media. I’ve been lucky to meet a number of helpful, diverse, and fun people.
Staying Fit While on the Road: Prior to the trip, I purchased two thick yoga mats (some campsites are pretty rocky) with the intention of testing out how we might keep up with our workouts while on the road for longer periods of time. Even though they roll up, they’re still pretty large. We’ve moved them around a bit trying to figure out the best place to store them. Thankfully we have a lot of storage. I’m kind of embarrassed to say that we didn’t use them at all. We got into relaxation mode halfway through the trip, but I think we compensated by the amount of biking and hiking we did during the first 4-days. We definitely plan to get use out of them next time.
Ebikes: One of my complaints about our last trip was that I didn’t have the ability to explore or pull an escape chute to take a break, unless I went on a walk or took a hike. Andy brought his bike to Michigan and was able to go off on long rides. Sometimes it was nice to sit and read quietly, and it did give me a chance on one particular day to spend one-on-one time with my brother, sister in-law, and their kids. However, at times I felt that I really needed a mental and physical outlet. Fellow introverts understand what I’m talking about. When we returned from our June-July trip, Andy started looking into ebikes for me. In the meantime, he took his Giant OCR3 compact frame road bike off the trainer in our basement. I rode it around a bit so that I could get accustomed to riding a “real bike” instead of the beach cruiser I recently sold.
By the way, if you have a bike to sell, Facebook Marketplace is the place to do it. It took me approximately 5-10 minutes to write the ad, and about 1 minute to receive 10 offers on it. I can see why after learning that you can’t really find a bike to purchase in stores like Walmart or Target right now.
I ended up with a beautiful Luna Cycle ebike, and have been really happy with it so far. It’s not the typical ebike, as it only weighs 39 lbs and has no throttle. It’s low-powered, has only 3-gears, and has a torque sensor, so it adds to your level of effort by whatever you set it to. I would qualify it as a gravel bike, and it’s easily ridden without any assist at all since it’s not terribly heavy like most ebikes. However, kicking in the assist for steep climbs or longer rides was awesome. I am hoping it will condition and prepare me for much longer bike rides on the Giant.
Regarding steep ascents, there’s a killer gravel hill connecting Ohiopyle State Park and the Great Allegheny Passage (see my last post for info on the GAP). This connector is a pain to even walk, but with the ebikes, it was no problem at all. The first time back up with my bike, I grew tired of walking and pushing it up. To Andy’s surprise, I jumped on and started pedaling like crazy. A man on the trail called out to me that I was going to “hurt myself” when he saw me climbing the hill on my bike, but I pressed on and passed him walking his bike – eat my dust, sucker! The next time up, aside from a brief pause and reset halfway after sliding a bit on the gravel, I rode it up the whole way. I still wouldn’t attempt riding down the hill from the campground unless you have an actual mountain bike and some skill.
I digress. Andy wanted in on the ebike fun too. Of course, projects like this are probably really fun to avid bikers and engineers alike. Shortly after we ordered my bike, Andy purchased parts from Luna Cycle to convert one of his bikes into an ebike. His is much, much more powerful than mine because it uses a throttle and a high-powered battery. HIs battery seems to last forever, unlike mine, but it boosts his bike’s weight quite a bit. I believe his bike weighs in at about 50 lbs, but you can really fly on it, getting up to speeds of about 35 mph. Mine purports a top speed of around 24 mph, though I’ve had it up to 27 mph. One day, after a long hike in the heat to Cucumber Falls, I opted to sit and read a book, while Andy took off on a 30-mile ride to a neighboring town. He was able to really let loose and reach the top speed on his bike. He was also back in record time.
Ohiopyle: I wrote a bit about this state park in my last post. This time around we were well aware that not all of the sites were particularly level in the Ivy loop, so we chose a spot a couple down from where we were the first time, and it was perfect. We didn’t have to get our leveling blocks out at all. It was also fairly insulated from view from our neighbors, which was nice. Everyone we encountered from fellow campers to park rangers were been incredibly friendly and nice. My only gripe about this location is the treacherous gravel hill connecting the campground to the GAP. However, the surrounding hiking trails, access to water, and proximity to the town make up for that. The GAP is an amazing rail trail to bike, and you can white water raft or kayak in the Youghiogheny River. We actually hiked down a somewhat steep area with Stevie to access the river, and we had the place to ourselves. The town of Ohiopyle was also accessible to us from the GAP. Had we needed something, we could have easily biked into town.
The weather while in Ohiopyle was hot and humid, but it rained the day we left for Keystone. Once the rain passed, the humidity and temperatures dropped quite a bit. It was perfect weather—warm days and cool evenings and mornings with a slight breeze. I actually had to break out some jeans and wished I had packed a hoodie.
Keystone: We chose this park specifically because we both had read that the biking there was amazing, but we found that to be incorrect, or at least not very accessible without a car. The loop from our campsite and around the lake was about 3.5 miles. We could do it fairly quickly, so we got bored of it. The surrounding hiking trails were designated for foot traffic only, and were fairly short trails. We really slowed down on our physical activity when we arrived at this park, but it was a nice break.
We went into full vacation mode at Keystone. We’d walk the loop with Stevie in the late mornings and take another stroll in the late afternoon. We hung out at the site most of the day, and took some late afternoon or evening bike rides. I think 4-nights there was probably too long though. We were getting restless after a couple of days. It was an adjustment to get used to a slower pace.
I should also mention that you can rent boats, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, and canoes at Keystone Lake. There were a lot of people fishing from the shore as well. There’s a designated swimming and beach area, but it was incredibly busy during the weekend. Not only did the beach clear out after the weekend, but our campground was nearly empty.
How’s Stevie Mix Doing?
Stevie is always up for an adventure! We started calling her Dirt Dog because second after exploring hiking trails and watching chipmunks around the campsite, her favorite camping activity seems to be snoozing while lying in the dirt.
Stevie also seems completely comfortable riding in the RV and staying inside alone when we’re riding our bikes. Earlier this year she started to really protest being crated when we left the house. She would bark loudly when we put her inside—something she had never done before. She would also walk past her crate into Andy’s office to avoid going in. She was telling us she didn’t need it anymore, so we started to gradually leave her out at home, and eventually put her crate away entirely. We weren’t sure how she might act inside the RV alone, so we packed a crate for the trip, but ended up not using it. Occasionally she would bark when she saw us ride away on our bikes, but it didn’t last long. With the long morning hikes and no real daytime naps, she was pretty exhausted. I think she probably enjoyed us leaving for a bit so she could catch up on her beauty rest.
Where Are We Headed Next?
Later in the fall and possibly into winter, we’re considering Georgia, Kentucky (hopefully a bourbon tour!), Hilton Head, and South Carolina for longer stays. We’re actively researching that now, so stay tuned for updates.
As promised previously, an RV tour can be viewed here
I hope you’ve managed to make the most of your summer this year. Best of luck to everyone returning to school—children and teachers alike.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
We’re currently planning a long trip in our RV, and I figured it was probably time that I wrote about the first trip. I’ll backtrack just a bit first. Just over 6 months after my retirement, we brought our new RV, dubbed Homie Roam-o, home. The buying process and having minor things addressed by the dealer, prior to and after the purchase, has been daunting and frustrating. That could probably be a post on its own, but that’s not why I’m here.
The amount of information available for the purpose of just deciding on whether a trailer, sprinter van, or RV would suit your needs best can be overwhelming. Once you’ve decided on the manufacturer and chassis (if it’s an RV), you still have to outfit it with additional equipment for safety, comfort, and maintenance. Thankfully, we have friends and family who have been great resources. We also semi began this process a year ago. We asked ourselves a lot of questions about our travel and living style, and also our comfort in towing verses driving various rigs.
We chose a small C class size to start because it’s something I can drive comfortably, the living space is comfortable large enough for the two of us and Stevie Mix, and it came equipped with a lot of features that are considered upgrades. There are some great online articles that can help you think through what kind of rig will fit your lifestyle:
Andy did a huge amount of reading prior to the purchase; he made sure we had everything on the safety and maintenance side that we needed to get started. I was busy making lists and ordering things for the living quarters, and also figuring out how we would live, sleep, and eat while on the road. It definitely takes teamwork. I set aside some time today to make sure I have a good understanding of how all of the systems work, how to setup camp, and how to empty the grey and black tanks. I also watched some videos on our onboard power sources, and how to make sure you’re using those correctly.
Our first trip was to Rocky Gap State Park in Flintstone, Maryland. I cannot say enough positive things about this park. I think during normal times, this park is probably pretty busy. However, we arrived on a Tuesday (2 June) and left on a Friday (5 June), and it appeared that only camp loop A was occupied. We got a nice site near a water access point, which we didn’t end up needing except to hose off our rug when we were cleaning up (the pine trees were coating the area with pollen). The site had power, and was close to the restrooms and shower, which were very clean. I wasn’t once concerned about the cleanliness of this park. The lakefront beach and hiking trails were pristine and empty. We hiked 6 miles on Wednesday, and 5.5 miles on Thursday, and we only encountered people a couple times near the edge of the lake. Stevie was in heaven on the trails and exploring everything. At some point I faked her into thinking I was running into the lake, and she seemed to think this was a good idea, so she plunged right in and then sort of panicked. Andy and I were rolling laughing on the bank, but I don’t think she thought it was so funny. I wish I had gotten it all on camera.
We had a few hiccups on the ride up, which are now amusing in hindsight. The fridge door handle was broken, which we knew about on delivery of the RV, but the part was on order. I swear I asked at least three times if the fridge would pop open once loaded and we were on the move, and they assured me each time that it would not. Welp. They lied! I should have trusted my gut. As we were headed down the highway, Stevie started panicking and crying because it was loud and unfamiliar to her. This presented a problem because she was screeching into the back of Andy’s head, and driving a large vehicle down the road when it’s still new is stressful enough. So, I unbuckled myself (please don’t do this!) to untether her and hold her in the front passenger seat. Naturally, she scratched me up in her panic, which stressed me out. I was basically holding Scrat from the movie Ice Age on my lap. Once I got buckled in, she stopped vocalizing her displeasure, though she was shaking terribly. Then, the fridge door flew open! I looked back and food containers, eggs, beer, water, veggies, etc. were strewn all over the aisle. A can of shandy rolled down to me, and I considered popping the top. We had driven a mere 27 miles from home at this point, and we had to pull over. Thankfully, I used to live near where we were, and I knew a safe place we could stop. We got to a safe location off the highway, put everything back, and bungeed the door closed. Thankfully nothing exploded or broke. I think ONE egg slightly cracked—shout out to those old school egg storage containers meant for camping. Other than the fridge incident, I had thankfully done a good job securing everything else minus one tiny decorative sign I forgot to affix with a command strip.
About halfway to the park, we stopped at a fueling station that had diesel. We were able to park out of the way and sit at our dinette and enjoy the lunch I packed. After lunch, we looped back around to the pumps, and Andy topped off the gas tank for the first time. We were on our way! We were much more relaxed at this point, and the rig was doing well on performance at the increased elevation.
Checking into the state park, finding out site, parking and leveling the rig, and hooking up the power all went well. However, well had a bit of a SNAFU trying to hook up our gas grill to the LP quick connect on the back of the RV. We looked everywhere for a lever to turn on the gas when we couldn’t get it to ignite. Our camp host even tried. I actually pulled out the soft close drawer under the stove inside to see if there was something hidden in there, and then I couldn’t get the drawer back in. I was losing my patience. We had forgotten to meditate that day, and I was definitely turning into the Hulk from being hungry. After we ate and I headed off to the shower, Andy fixed the drawer before I got back.
Regarding the LP quick connect, we didn’t learn until we took Homie back to the dealer, that we were looking in the right place under the rig, but the lever is incredibly small, and we simply overlooked it. We ended up using our seasoned grilled (like a hibachi grill top) over an open fire. The camp host provided us with a bundle of wood for free, which was incredibly nice. We definitely didn’t starve, but we got a bit smoky, which is not my favorite thing. I know, I know… camping and fire rings. It’s whole thing. There will be smoke.
I’m still getting used to sleeping in the bed because it’s much firmer than I’m used to. By and large though, we had everything we needed, and it was nice to get away. Stevie made herself at home and was quite content once we were no longer moving. I think her only gripe is that there are no windows down at the floor level. I caught her standing on the dinette table a couple times, and she was swiftly reprimanded. She ended up making herself at home on the back of the couch. We started a little logbook. Andy journals about the trip, and then records information about gas mileage, on-board water, issues, things to remember or bring next time, and lessons learned. We’re looking forward to the next trip!
I hope you’re well and finding ways to get out and about! Until next time…
As we near 70 days of quarantine, things have slowed down for us considerably. During the first 30 days, we were hopeful about being able to go to Montana, so were hustling to ready the house and Jeep. We were really bummed about cancelling. I was having a difficult time adjusting life after mid-March. Being retired had already been a major adjustment for me. By the time March rolled around, I was just starting to feel like we had gotten into a good daily routine, and that I was in a good place with balancing my time. I had to start reminding myself daily that I’m working on becoming more flexible and adaptable to change. I’m a work in progress, folks!
So, now what?
One of the most frequently asked questions we get is, “what are you going to do now that travel is severely restricted and you cancelled your big trip?” Around day 50, we decided to revisit purchasing a B or C class RV or travel trailer. This was something we talked about a year or so before retiring. At the time, we concluded that we wanted to do more international travel and didn’t necessarily want to live long-term in an RV/trailer, nor drive everywhere we went.
Things have certainly changed. With safety being a biggest factor to consider in our current climate, an RV/trailer seems to make the most sense since you can take your own living quarters and restroom everywhere you go. Even with many parks reopening across the country, bathrooms are often still closed. After a lot of waffling between tow behind trailers verses RVs, we settled on a small C class RV, the 2020 Dynamax Isata 3 24RB. I’ll spare you the ridiculous amount of research that has gone into this decision, but please ping me if you have specific questions. We have a short trip planned for soon after Homie Roam-o comes home. Hopefully, I’ll be able to post a little tour video on Instagram once we take possession of the RV.
We are actively working to gather things for our maiden voyage (does that phrase only apply to boats?). Andy is doing reading up on all of the onboard systems and technology. He’s also reading forums, and installation and user manuals like it’s his job. Most days, I’m very thankful to have married an engineer. I’m looking at the organization and supply side of things, and also relying on Andy to explain how everything in the RV works. I want to make sure I am just as efficient and knowledgeable at operating everything.
We foresee doing a bunch of fairly local trips in the near future to see what it’s like to stay in places with amenities (water and power), and we will also be dry camping (aka boondocking) since the RV is equipped with solar panels, LP gas, and batteries. Once we assess how comfortable we are living in a small space, we’ll start planning longer getaways. Stay tuned on that front.
We subscribed to a service called Harvest Hosts, a network of free one-night stays at farms, wineries, breweries, museums, and golf courses. Hopefully it will be a great way to get to know and support local communities as we travel. I’m really looking forward to those kinds of stays. Here’s a snapshot of all of the current locations:
The second most asked question I have been getting is whether I would have retired in late November had I known what was to come in 2020, and I have to say yes. Yes, a million times over. In fact, we probably would have retired sooner so that we could have traveled more prior to being locked down.
In other news, here’s a rundown of some of what we’ve been up to since my last post.
Until next time. I hope you’re all staying busy, sane, and safe.