Hidden Gems and Rage – Horizons Unlimited Virginia 2015


While Sue was driving I looked for campgrounds we could stay at. Wisconsin was playing to make the March Madness finals, and Sue was excited to watch. That meant we needed somewhere with WiFi to stream the game, and we stayed at our first full-on RV park. It was cold and rainy for most of the time, but there was a playground, other kids, and the staff set us up in a spot close to one of the working WiFi antennas. We ate, drank, and I’m pretty sure Wisconsin lost – coming apart in the second half. All I really remember anymore is that it was very, very late when Sue powered off the computer.

In the morning we all showered before getting back onto the road. Limitless hot water is something I still consider a high-end luxury, and I lingered. One thing I do like about RV travel is the ease of setting up and packing. When everyone was back, it was just a matter of turning off the propane, folding in the step, and a quick once over to make sure everything was fastened. Then we were rolling.

Cliff the RV isn’t new. A 1984 Winnebago Chieftain 23, he has most of the upgrades that were available when he was new. But he is still, now, 30 years old and with some version of 88,000 miles (there are only 5 digits on the odometer). When Sue was driving him around New York last fall, she had commented that, especially going up mountains, he would sputter. It was diagnosed as a carb issue and we decided to wait on repairing it, since it hadn’t seemed worth the grand the shop wanted. I was pretty sure I could do it for the cost of parts, and since it was only an occasional issue we just put it off.

Once we got into the mountains, though, the sputtering started. It was only an occasional thing, and it started late in the day, so we didn’t do much other than say “well, that’s back,” and look for somewhere to camp. Sue found a state park that looked promising, though I will admit to some mixed feelings. It was way off our route, but I do like state parks and I didn’t protest much. Sue was driving when we turned off the highway through a small town, trying to follow the park signs and GPS.

Oh. My. God.

I’ve traveled in that part countless times, but never in an RV. The road, a narrow two-lane affair with no shoulder and posts inches from the pavement, wouldn’t have even attracted much attention, apart from the fun way it wandered along a ridgeline, houses packed close on each side. There was an occasional, amazing, view, but in the passenger seat I was constantly sure either the wheels were going to fall off the edge of the pavement – about a 4 or 5 inch drop – or we were going to clip a pole. Or just hit a pole. Or both. Sue, in the driver’s seat, was apparently unaware of my distress, and felt pretty comfortable over near the middle of the road. In fact, Cliff was hanging over the edge of the road, we checked later. The wheels were set far enough in to allow them to stay on the pavement, which is good I guess.

There was one stop sign on a hill where Clif sputtered, and then died. The sputter had been getting worse as the day wore on, and this time he wouldn’t restart. There was traffic, the road was still tight, and we were still on that hill with a car right behind us. The girls started to complain a little, and Sue, frustrated at Cliff’s poor power in the mountains, was cranky. I was stress and irritable, snapped at the girls to calm down, then managed to get Cliff running again. I admit it, I just wanted to be parked.

We found the State Park, quiet and empty, campsites next to a small creek. A few of them had electrical hookups, and we decided to take one of those. The road was in poor shape, and we had to back in. Sue hadn’t had much backing practice, but I told her she could do it and got out to plot a route and keep the girls clear. The backing required her to drive up a short hill, and then come straight back. Seemed easy to me, but before she was quite straight, Cliff stalled again. While trying to get it started, the RV rolled back down the hill, jack-knifing the trailer and damaging Cliff’s bodywork. Sue was understandle upset and I took over the backing, using a more level but much more complicated route. The awning was set up, and we ate outside. Sue and I had a chat, it was probably only the second time we’d been upset with each other, so we don’t have a lot of experiance. We talked it through, though, before going to sleep.

The morning was clear and cool. I went outside to try and sketch the scene, which was a failure, while everyone else played in the creek.

ANd, finally, some pictures.

That morning, with the sun out and having talked things out, that camping spot was perfect. Sue commented she could have sat there for a week, reading. I agreed, and that was more the sort of low-pace trips we’d had in mind when we’d gotten Cliff and the trailer. It, however, was not to be our fate on this trip, and around noon we packed up to continue east.

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A Whole New World – HU Virginia 2015


I really enjoy going to Horizon’s Unlimited events. They are smaller than ones such as Overland Expo, which lets you feel like you’ve met everyone there over the course of a long weekend. I know this isn’t actually true, but that sense of community is enjoyable.

The Virginia HU Meet was new, and I also like supporting those. I don’t always understand why (especially given some of the more bitter Amazon reviews), but I always hope someone, somewhere, listens to what I have to say.

This trip was going to be different almost of when I decided to go. Sue wanted to come with, which wasn’t anything too major. She’s come with me on longish road trips before and had still wanted me around. What was going to be different this time was that her two girls – 9 and 11 – were also coming with. Since they hadn’t logged anything like the needed miles to ride to Virginia on the backs of motorcycles, we were all going to go in Cliff the RV. Curiosity was going to be Chauffeured to this one.

For the month or so before leaving, we talked about the trip, the history of the area (Appomattox), road trips, things to do in the RV to pass the miles.  Games were bought, movies watched, books checked out from the library. Excitement grew.

I had to work until 6pm the Sunday we were leaving, so I packed my stuff Saturday. Since there was a whole RV (I had a cabinet all to myself) I splurged on clothes and brought two pairs of pants. Yes, that is luxury for me on the road, and I don’t want to bring up the number of underwear. As I was walking my still-only-half-full duffel out, one of the girls looked at it in surprise. “Is that all you’re bringing?” They had spend the whole weekend packing, and it didn’t look like they’d wasted much of that time.

I got home, changed clothes, and we were off. The planned first stop was the RV/motorhome Museum and Hall of Fame. There was free overnight camping there for RVs, and I like free. The museum is pretty cool as well, but I think part of the reason we wanted to stop was this was the first place Sue and I stopped on our first road trip together, back in 2013. 2014 had been full of other adventures, and I think sharing the RV Museum with the girls was a sort of re-start for all four of us. We arrived after dark, ate, and settled in for the night.

Morning came gray and gloomy, but we weren’t going anywhere yet. We had breakfast, (these two meals were far more involved than anything I could have managed on the bike, on my own) and headed for the entrance. 

The girls immediately won over the men working the counter, getting pictures inside the same trailer in the lobby – which had been clearly labeled “No children allowed inside.” We paid our fees and headed in. One wanted to give us the full guided tour, and I was tempted, but we opted to walk at our own varied pace. Sue and I ambling along, Kaylei moving with fits and starts, and Alyssa a blue of barely contained energy and excitement. We did lose one or the other of them from time to time, but they always showed up again, usually demanding we follow to something they’d seen further ahead.

The museum is laid out along a road, starting with the earliest examples of RVing and moving forward through time until the 70s. There is a separate, smaller area with modern units and a diorama showing the Winnebago factory. with audio and lights to highlight the stages of motorhome construction. The units in this modern area made Cliff seem a bit drab,  but he was ours and home for the next week or so.

We headed back outside in time for lunch, then drove on. We didn’t have a planned stopping point for that night, just south and east and a vague (very vague) sense of how far we had to have traveled by the end of the day. The miles rolled past and Sue found a state park that looked hopeful.

 

Yeah.

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Sunrise and the Long Drive Home


I am, at the best of times, not a morning person. I mean, really at the best of times. So, after eating enough food for a week and then going to bed after midnight, I didn’t think Sue was serious about that “getting up to see the sunrise over the falls” thing. I was quite wrong, and she make extra sure by setting an alarm. For 5. 5 am.

Sue had been driving around in Cliff the RV for about a week, while this was just my second night. The furnace didn’t work, which left us both chilly. I was surprised to learn I was colder in the RV than I had been in similar temperatures in my tent. It’s all about micro-climates, and we just couldn’t get one going in the large interior.

So, the alarm is going off, and Sue is getting up and offering hot water for coffee, and all I know is I can see my breath inside the RV. But, I get up anyway and we head out to the fall. We had been close enough to Horseshoe falls to hear the water all night.

We took a walk along the viewing promenade, watching the sky as it grew lighter. A nice person offered to take our picture.

The actual sunrise was lost in the mist, so there wasn’t really one moment. And we got damp, but it was a good time. The coffee and tea were gone, and we were surprised to learn Starbucks didn’t open until noon. There was nothing else for us to do than go to Tim Hortons.

It was Sue’s first time trying the treat from the north, and she liked it better than the Dunkin Donuts we’d had the day before (after seeing them all over in the NE, I will admit the one we stopped at was a poor specimen). Sadly, after eating it was time to get moving. We filled up the gas tank (ouch) and headed east. We cut across Canada, crossed back into the USA, and drove home, pretty much withouth stopping, although we did take a lunch break so I could cook bacon. Why have a fridge and stove if you can’t have bacon whenever you want?

Home again I had time to think about RV travel. I’d managed almost a week total since we’d bought it (Sue was way ahead of me on Cliff Time, as we’d started calling it), and I could see some advantages.

Those tanks of gas though. Yikes.

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Those Falls, and sleeping in parking lots


We drove west and west and west. It had been a late start, and we had a long way to go. It would’ve been hard on Curiosity, but with the RV and taking turns driving it wasn’t so bad. Well, apart from the gas. After all the $6 fillups, the amount of money needed to fill the larger tank was a bit of a shock.

We reached the American side of the falls as the sun was setting. We found parking and walked out to Goat Island. Yes, there is parking on Goat Island. We saw the sign – after we’d parked. The walk was fine. Sue and I had both been to the American side before, but watching the sunset was new for me. Since Niagara is an expensive place to stay I only visited during the day – when there was time to leave and find a nice park to sleep in. That wasn’t going to be an option this time.

Once it was dark we walked back to the RV and headed for the border, arriving just after two tour buses. Sigh. One of the border officials walked over, asked how many people we had on board, then for our passports. We had nothing to declare, and he waved us through, commenting if we went through the procedure it would take hours – both buses were ahead of us. We manuvered Cliff around the buses, and crossed over to Canada.

We didn’t really have a plan for this park. There were some RV parks around, and there was a Walmart we thought we might be able to overnight park in. We were getting hungry, too. But we still ended up on the road along the falls (after some interesting traffic issues. Good thing Cliff is small for an RV). At one end there as a parking long – right near Horse Shoe Falls, and we pullled in to park and walk around some (and eat). I jokingly asked if we could stay in the lot overnight, and the attendant replied it wasn’t technically allowed, but no one ever checked and it happened all the time. A lot of the cars belonged to people gambling in the casinos, and some of them would be at it all night. So, we had a place to stay. Once we were in, we saw there was another RV there as well, clearly set up for a stay. We could have parked closer to all the attractions, and the restauants, but stayed further back. It was a little darker, less active, and we could hear the water roaring over the falls.

 

We walked up to Niagara, and I asked a random couple where we should go and eat. They weren’t locals (is anyone there?), but visited often. After asking how much we wanted to spend, and what we wanted to eat, they sent us to a bufffet in a casino. I had mixed feelings, but I had asked, and what was the point if I wasn’t going to take the advice?

Getting to the buffet was a chore – getting into the casino was easy but it was another 15 minutes of wandering through machines to get to the food. I know, that was the whole point, but it still sucked. 

The buffet, however, did not suck.

Imagine the three best buffets you’ve ever been two. Then imagine they were all at the same place, and all the food was just a little bit better. Oh, and all you can eat still too. We ate a lot

After gorging ourselves we walked along the river and falls back to Cliff. Both were lit up with spotlights, and it was cool. We tried to get pictures, but they didn’t really turn out all that well. It was after midnight when we crawled into bed.

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