WheRVe we been? Our travels, 2nd quarter 2017

Here’s a summary of our second quarter travels for 2017, mapped with a little help from Google. (Want to review the first quarter first? Click.)

The map’s a bit misleading, because we started in West Virginia, rolled east to the Virginia coast, then backtracked right through WV again on our way to Kentucky.

RV miles traveled this quarter: about 1500. RV miles traveled this year: about 4700.

Little Beaver State Park, WV, Apr. 10-19: What a beautiful campground this is! I reviewed it here, and we really enjoyed the peace and quiet of early springtime in “almost heaven.” Best part of this visit: we were within a 2-hour drive of some family on my daddy’s side, so we were able to share home-cooked Easter dinner with aunties and cousins galore, including the newest little leaf on our family tree. Genealogically speaking, Asher is my first cousin twice removed, but I’m just gonna call him a kissin’ cousin, because that’s what I did to his precious face.

Cousin Asher with a boo-boo that was not caused by my kisses, and the views of and from our campsite at Little Beaver State Park

Norfolk, VA, Apr. 19 – May 1: Friends we love, food we’d missed, and our boy! We got to spend a week with our older son and his girl, who flew in from WA to celebrate his former Boy Scout troop’s 100th anniversary. It was his first trip back since we moved away from the City of Mermaids in 2010, and we crammed in as many visits to old favorite places as we could. The kids stayed with friends, and Tim & I parked at the Little Creek military campground, where that “No wake zone” sign became less funny as the rain continued and the roads failed to drain. Ah, sea-level living by the sea. We don’t miss it.

One thing we do miss about living by the sea is access to good, fresh sea food.
We took advantage.
Often.

Williamsburg, VA, May 1-22: We were having such a good time in our former hometown — without a house to work on this year — that we decided to extend our stay in the area for a few more weeks. While enjoying daily bunny visits to our campsite at Cheatham Annex, we also made a side trip via air to visit friends in Boston, added some insulation to The Toad’s basement, and celebrated Mother’s Day by borrowing a friend and her two boys since ours were absent. And we didn’t leave until we got a Very Important Phone Call.

What could possibly have pulled us away from all this, you ask?

Taylorsville, KY, May 23-30: The new BFT is ready! But first, in a twist of fate that I could not possibly make up: minor RV disaster. When we packed up in VA and I pulled in the slides, I heard a pop-hiss from the front of The Toad. A hose had ruptured, spewing hydraulic fluid everywhere under our bed. It looked like a murder scene. Thankfully, we were pulling in once more beside our friends Always on Liberty, and Captain Dan’s quick and able assistance made it so that we could still get to the dealership and pick up our new truck in time. (The full story about what happened to the old BFT and why we bought a new one is right. frickin’ here.)

Out with the old truck, in with the new!
Oh, and we’ll be getting new flooring soon too. Thanks, hydraulic leak.

Goshen, IN, May 30 – June 18: We finally made it to our first RV owners’ club rally, a national one with 500+ attendees, and we jumped in feet first by taking on jobs that required months of advance planning. While there, we made new friends, learned a lot about RVing from them, and survived more potluck suppers than we ever thought possible. Met up with some old friends too (I’m looking at you, RV Love and Always on Liberty), danced, ate like the Amish, and replaced our sofa, recliner and mattress.

Kelly, of RV There Yet Chronicles, snapped the photo of us at the rally, auditioning for the never-coming-to-a-theater-near-you movie “Derpy Dancing.”
Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

Ozaukee County, WI, June 18-30: We needed a place to go between scheduled events in Indiana and Pennsylvania, so we headed to visit friends just north of Milwaukee. Summertime in Wisconsin is brief, and everyone likes to get out and enjoy it, so RV park and campground spaces can be hard to find at the last minute. Although we thought several times that we’d end up overnighting in a driveway or parking lot, we managed to cobble together reservations at three different spots, allowing us to experience classic WI activities and treats, like local brews, a baseball game within sight of Lake Michigan, a fish fry, and cheese curds (both fresh and fried).

Three reasons we can’t live here:
Winter
Fried walleye
Cheese curds
I’d be too cold, and I’m pretty sure my body weight would double.

Coming up next: We’ll spend a few more days in WI to get us through Independence Day Weekend, and then we’ll roll to PA for a family reunion/graduation celebration with some of Tim’s cousins. We’ll also be spending a couple of nights in a NY B&B to mark our own wedding anniversary. 25 this year!

An epic fail, advice from a stoner, and how we ended up with a new truck

A funny thing happened in March, on our way from San Antonio, TX, to Elkhart, IN, for a service appointment to take care of some welding issues on The Toad: the BFT is the one that failed us.

Irony: the dependably cooperative BFT dies on the way to having the notoriously lemony RV repaired.
WHO THOUGHT IT WOULD BE THE TRUCK???

Not what we were expecting.

Our incredibly reliable, tough-as-nails, much adored 2012 Chevy Silverado 3500 dually sputtered and quickly died while we were driving on I-35 just south of Dallas — a mere 225 miles into our 1300-mile trip.

We are very thankful that despite the scariness of the incident, the travel gods were indeed watching over us.

We were on flat ground instead of a hill.

There were no vehicles riding too closely behind us.

We were not in a construction zone.

We had a wide shoulder to pull onto.

And I was smart enough to start veering toward that shoulder at the same time I was saying, “That didn’t sound right.”

Why did that turn out to be a smart move? Because we had mere seconds before the truck shut down. All power: gone. On an interstate.

The tow truck driver took Tim and the Silverado to a service shop, leaving me on the roadside with the RV until they returned.
Why?
Because Tim can talk truck to the garage gurus, and I shouldn’t ever do that.
We both know I’d say, “You know what? Just burn it. We’ll walk.”

From my personal Facebook account that day: So I sat all alone in the grass next to I-35 for more than 2 hours, waiting for the tow truck to come back for the RV, and this is the only person who stopped to make sure I was OK: stoner on a fucking bicycle.
Said his name is Mondo.
He was riding to Austin for his birthday.
I don’t know where or when he started (and I rather suspect he didn’t either), but he had about 145 miles to go.
Mondo offered me use of his cell phone to make an emergency call, in the event I didn’t have one.
Clearly he’d never met me.
And then, in the way only the perpetually stoned can properly pull off, he told me I should just relax, and not stress out about it.
He then literally rode off into the sunset.

To make a very long story a lot shorter, the problem turned out to be what is rather evocatively known as “grenading” of the fuel pump. Upon its death, it sent shards of metal through the entire fuel system, leaving us dead in the proverbial water.

As Tim described it “The critical part seemed to be the Bosch-built CP4.2 HPFP, the exact same pump used in the Ford F-series Light Duty diesel trucks. If you google ‘F350 CP4 failure,’ you’ll find plenty of discussion on the issue. Same if you google ‘Duramax LML CP4 failure.’”

Tim, who is not an industry expert by any means, but merely a consumer who’s always trying hard to get smarter, further surmised, “A major culprit appears to be the quality of diesel fuel in the U.S. (i.e., the mandated ultra-low sulfur blend plus other things), combined with what might be less than acceptable engineering by Ford and GM. Reportedly, Bosch has been saying for some time that the lubricity of the fuel needs to be higher for these pumps to last, and U.S. diesel fuel doesn’t meet these standards.”

Within ten minutes of meeting our new BFT, Tim was underneath it, checking all the things.

What that meant for us was a $10,000 fuel system replacement (GM paid for part of it) that left us stranded for two weeks outside a really small Texas town. Middle of Nowhere was still a good 10 miles away. We were there so long we painted our RV’s interior!

And then, after the truck repair was complete, and we were finally sitting in Elkhart waiting for the work to be finished on The Toad, we realized that we needed to make a big decision: test our luck by keeping the BFT and its fresh new fuel system with the exact same type of pump that had gone spectacularly belly up, or upgrade to a truck that wouldn’t have that issue.

To make the second part of the story shorter as well, we knew we couldn’t live with the uncertainty of driving a truck that might croak again, any more than we could change the U.S. diesel fuel composition standards that were probably part of the cause.

The Silverado was our only vehicle, and it pulls the Bighorn, which is our only home. We couldn’t stomach the idea of going through a second catastrophic failure, or having it happen under far more hazardous circumstances than the first one.

We opted to upgrade.

Y’all say hello to our 2017 Dodge RAM 3500 dually, which we picked up at the end of May, just shy of 3 months after the Great Fuel Pump Grenading Incident of 2017.

For those who are wondering why we didn’t go with the 2017 Chevy Silverado, which does not have that same iffy fuel pump as the 2011-2016 diesel models, there were three factors that put the RAM on top.

  1. Shorter turning radius for easier maneuvering
  2. Larger payload and axle weight ratings for higher towing capacity
  3. More competitive pricing for better value

We look forward to thousands and thousands of miles together.

My birth announcement.
I figured our sons should know.

12 miles on the odometer, and it definitely does not make my butt look big.
What a great purchase!
Also, we had a terrific experience working with Jeff Taylor, Commercial/Fleet Manager, at Glenn’s Freedom Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram in Lexington, KY. Holler if you’d like a personal referral!


Author’s note: A version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

Yosemite Revisited: More Tips, Less Snark

You may recall that I had less than charitable things to say about our visit to Yosemite last July. The park is spectacular; it’s our timing that was all wrong.

Emily “You Can Embroider That Shit on a Toss Pillow” Rohrer

But with summer travel planning season upon us, I thought it might be a good idea to offer up some information that campers might find a little more helpful than my pissy rant of 2016. So here ya go:

If you’ve got your RV pointed toward California this summer for a swing through Yosemite National Park, be aware of three things:

  1. You’ll never forget the scenery,
  2. Unless you’re a photography genius, you won’t be able to capture all that majesty in pixels, and
  3. It’s gonna be crowded — really, really distressingly and disproportionately crowded, to DisneyWorld-esque levels. 1200 square miles is not big enough for all the people, because every single one of them spent significant time, effort, and money to spend part of their summer vacation there, and they are going to have their Experience of a Lifetime, visiting the same top 5 park attractions as you are.

For information on RV camping at Yosemite, click on Visiting Yosemite With an RV, but be aware that even the folks in charge recommend staying outside the park, and shuttling in using public transportation.

From the NPS web site, “Since parking for RVs and trailers is limited in Yosemite, we strongly encourage you to park your RV outside Yosemite and use YARTS to travel into the park if you’re not staying the night in Yosemite.”

If you do want to try to stay in the park, first make sure your RV will fit, and that you can survive without hookups for the duration of your visit. There aren’t any. However, dump stations with fresh water are available at 3 of the 10 RV-accessible campgrounds, and generator use is allowed, but only at posted hours.

Yosemite campground map
(Source: NPS.gov)

It probably goes without saying that you’ll want to make your reservation as far in advance as possible, or, if you’re feeling lucky and adventurous, you can try for a first-come/first-served spot.

When we visited Yosemite last year, we set up The Toad in a private RV park in Lee Vining, CA, which is about 12 miles east of the westernmost entrance at Tioga Pass, and a nearly 2-hour drive to the main visitor’s center in Yosemite Valley. (Be aware that Tioga Pass/Hwy 120 closes from October-May due to snow, so using Lee Vining as your home base is not always a good option.)

Source: Google Maps

We had to visit in the summer because my husband and our younger son were hiking the John Muir Trail, and that’s something you want to accomplish when there’s little or no snow. And if you’re hiking the whole 211-mile thing, like my husband did, you have to go through Yosemite.

But now that we know what the Yosemite crowds are like in the summertime, we will never do that again. Our schedule is no longer bound by school calendars, and we will use that to our advantage by visiting the more popular national parks at off-peak times in the spring and fall.

How bad was it? Imagine crowds of tourists from all over the planet, hollering to each other in umpteen different languages, trying to enjoy the exact same spot you are, stopping to consult their maps right in your path, posing for selfies in front of everything, dealing with children who have obviously just had it, and/or driving slowly with one arm out the window to shoot video that nobody will ever want to view.

Lower Yosemite Falls, and a very small portion of the day’s tourists

By about 2:00 p.m., I was eyeballing the bear lockers in the parking lot. You’re supposed to put your food items in there, rather than leaving them in your car for bears to tear apart while you’re off exploring. But by mid-afternoon, I was ready to take all the food out, and put half the tourists in.

These are bear lockers. Big enough for tourists, yes?

That said, I found the park to be most enjoyable in the early morning hours. If you can get in and get some sight-seeing and hiking done before what seems to be the Witching Hour of 10:00 a.m., you’ll have a lot more space and breathing room to take in and truly appreciate some of the most eye-popping scenery in the country.

And hey, if you’ve only got one day to spend in the park, try this itinerary from Oh, Ranger!, one of my favorite resources. Be warned: everyone with one day to spend is going to be trying to see the same list of attractions as you are.

There will be crowds.

You will need patience.

Good luck!


Author’s note: Portions of this article appeared previously at OwnLessDoMore, and a version of this post is published at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

Little Beaver, Big Treat: Our Stay at a State Park in Wild Wonderful WV

I grew up in western Maryland, not far from the West Virginia border, and through my teenage sarcasm filter, I interpreted WV’s slogan “Almost Heaven” to really mean “almost nothing.”

I was wrong.

But I was also kind of right.

This is private property near the state park.
It is not a golf course. Or Heaven. Despite appearances to the contrary.

There isn’t a lot by way of big cities in West Virginia, and to a mall-obsessed teenager of the 1980’s, that put the state in a location way further south than Heaven, if you know what I mean.

But through my adult eyes, I can see that it’s because of all that “nothing” that the state feels like a paradise on earth.

Those rural pastures, secluded lakes, winding roads and rolling mountains that I scoffed at as a teen because they were “so middle of nowhere, Mom <eyeroll>” now seem heavenly indeed.

Earlier this year, we looked at the map for our upcoming journey eastward along I-64 from Kentucky (see my review of the Lake Shelby Campground) toward our ultimate destination of Norfolk, VA.

Knowing that we had a few extra days to spend en route, we chose the approximate halfway point of Beckley, WV, as our stopping place. And since we are big fans of state parks, nearby Little Beaver became our home of choice for that week.

Source: Google Maps

We knew from reading independent reviews that the 2-mile drive from the interstate into the campground was narrow, hilly, and curvy — not a favorite for those who drive or tow recreational vehicles!

Our 38’ 5th wheel plus 1-ton dually are almost 60′ long, and I was able to negotiate the road with no issues, just verrrrrry slowly and cautiously. I only made Tim suck in his breath and say “Watch the rear wheels!” one time, so I consider that a success.

And once we were in the park? Oh, the beauty and serenity! During the area’s spring break week in April, the place was surprisingly uncrowded, at least by humans. Which means we were treated to multiple wildlife sightings during our visit, as well as plenty of peace and quiet.

Our campsite: shaded and secluded, just like we like it

The view from the OwnLessDoMore work station did not suck. It’s a wonder I got anything done, really.

Little Beaver Lake

Things to do in the park include fishing, boating, hiking, biking, geocaching, and bird and wildlife watching, and there are also picnic areas, playgrounds, and tent/group camping areas.


Little Beaver State Park: Just the Facts

  • 71 miles southeast of Charleston WV, 180 miles west of Charlottesville VA
  • about 2 miles south of I-64, near Beckley WV
  • GPS coordinates 37.755833, -81.080556
  • 1402 Grandview Road, Beaver WV 25813
  • email: littlebeaversp@wv.gov
  • (304) 763-2494
  • http://littlebeaverstatepark.com
  • 40-foot RV length limit
  • water and 30/50A; some sites are water only; no sewer hook-ups
  • dump station on site
  • bathrooms, showers, laundry
  • limited wifi (accessible at camp store, but not at RV sites; our AT&T cellular data worked well)
  • combination of reservable and first-come/first-served sites
  • no fee to enter park
  • rates for RV sites: $30 for W/E, and $28 for W only. Discounts for senior citizens and veterans.
  • SEASONAL: Campground closes October 31 and reopens on April 1

And hey, while you’re there, you’ll probably drive the 9 miles into Beckley for grocery and supply runs. Don’t miss a meal at the King Tut Drive-In for a true trip down small-town America’s memory lane. Save room for homemade pie and hand spun milk shakes! (Note: closed Wednesdays)

I am a big fan of liver & onions.
There are plenty of other goodies on the menu.
You do you.


Author’s notes:

A version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

This is an independent review. We received no compensation from Little Beaver State Park or the King Tut Drive-In.

RV Travels: 13 Ways You Know You’re in a Small Texas Town

I have spent almost ten years of my life living in Texas: a four-year stint in college, and nearly six years in my 40’s, due to a military move. My parents, my brother, and his family have lived there for more than two decades, so we’ve visited a lot too.

Plus, although we spend most of the year traveling, San Antonio is still our home base, and our younger son is a second-year physics and math major right up the highway at UT-Austin.

That’s my way of telling you that when it comes to small towns in Texas, I’ve got some familiarity. And after a truck breakdown left us stranded in one of them for two weeks earlier this year, I became an expert on observing the endearing quirks that make these places special.

1. The local tow truck driver doubles back after spotting you on the side of the highway with your hazard lights blinking, figuring you’re going to be his next call anyway. And he is correct.

If you’re gonna travel in an RV, get the best roadside assistance plan you can afford.
You will not regret it.

2. The RV park your 5th wheel is towed to is so new that nobody at the service shop knows the name of it, but they know exactly where it is and that it’s open for business.

The Wagon Yard RV park was nothing fancy, but wow, were we ever glad to have it!

3. You are very thankful that the RV park is new and unheard of because that means it has space available during spring break week in Texas. Every public grade school and university in the state gets the same week off for spring break, which makes last-minute lodging arrangements nearly impossible to obtain.

4. You become celebrities in the grocery store because you got there on bicycles instead of in a pickup truck. The clerk, upon hearing that our truck was in the shop, felt so sorry for us that she even helped load the groceries into our backpacks.

Of course we were all ready to go when we discovered the tires were flat.
Why wouldn’t they be?

5. All heads turn when someone walks through the door of the dinette.

6. And when that someone is a big ol’ farmer wearing denim overalls and work boots, the waitress greets him with a smile and a 2-syllable “Hey,” to which the farmer replies simply, “Sweet tea.” And the waitress sets it on the table by the time his fanny hits the chair.

7. Every store on Main Street, whether it’s open for business or appears to have been vacant for 20 years, bears a sign supporting the local high school team, with the obligatory incorrect apostrophe. “Go Zebra’s!”

8. Other than the dinette mentioned above, socializing occurs in one of two places: under the Friday night lights or in the Sunday morning pews.

9. You’re never allowed to forget which state you’re in here. Never. Not even in the bathroom.

Jesus ‘n’ Texas, y’all.

10. Your camera roll boasts photos of a BBQ plate, wildflowers, a road runner, and a spray-painted sign for a tractor pull — all from the same day.

11. And the tractor pull causes a significant uptick in traffic.

12. Being located right between two airports means nothing, as the options lack anything resembling a terminal or even planes. They are grass strips suitable for landing crop dusters, and there are cows grazing on them.

Someone out there in the country has a good sense of humor.
(source: Apple Maps)

13. Related: more of your neighbors have four legs than two.

The RV park where we stayed for that little “detour” was in fact 8 miles from one small town we visited (Grandview), and 10 miles from the other (Cleburne).

Of all the places for the truck to break down? That was the middle-of-nowheriest.


Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission