Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Trip to Connecticut

I wrote about having the Ezee-Lift installed on our Roadtrek. To do this we had to travel to Connecticut which I figured, given the price that shipping must be a heavy package and not having to do the installation ourselves, was worth the time, the tolls, and the gas. Besides, it was an excuse to take the Roadtrek out on a trip.

It is a busy time of the year for Meryl's business, and while she could get away for one day, she really could not get away for an overnight trip. The day that we were going was my birthday, so we decided that we would make the trip a birthday excursion, and just go up and back for the day. We did take clothes and supplies in the Roadtrek to stay overnight, just in case, but that just in case would really have to be big.

The trip to Connecticut where we had to go to have the Ezee-Lift installed, according to the GPS, was three hours and fifteen minutes. We wanted to arrive at about 1 pm and we also wanted to try to avoid some of the rush hour traffic (ha ha). It is a funny thing about Connecticut. Connecticut is about 23 miles from our house. The problem is in that 23 miles is an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean named the Long Island Sound. There is no bridge. That has been an ongoing fight for more than fifty years, and while there has been willingness to build the bridge no one has really been able to find a place for it, as the attitude of the people on Long Island always tends to be "not in my backyard" or as it is actually called around here "NIMB" pronounced nimby. There is a ferry out on the east end of Long Island, but the ferry has a set schedule, is quite a distance from where we are, and costs a lot of money. (I have no idea if it would even take the Roadtrek.) So the way to go to Connecticut is to travel west into Queens County in NYC, cross the Throgs Neck Bridge into the Bronx and travel up and around to the start of the Connecticut border, and travel back east - all the time, if you could see across the Sound you could see where you just had been. So what you are doing is driving a U if you put that U on its side to the right. It is not so funny when you put our location into a store locator map on an internet site and have it come up to say that there is a store just 25 miles away - in Connecticut (if you have a boat car).

We have made this trip many times before - but never in the Roadtrek. We know that in Connecticut there is a major route that we cannot travel on with the Roadtrek, as it is not permitted due to its height. This is the Merritt Parkway or Route 15. I have software on my computer at home to program routes that can then be saved on either a Garmin or Tom Tom GPS. I always start planning a trip with this software because with the Roadtrek, you cannot rely upon the car-type GPS to not put you on roads the Roadtrek (or any RV) is not allowed on. The name of the Software is TYRE and it is free. It uses Google Maps and will route you much as a GPS does BUT then you are able to look at the route and find the roads that you are not allowed on (using other websites) and then basically route yourself around them - using waypoints that your drop on the map on places on the roads that you can travel on. This must be done very carefully in zoom mode to make sure the point you place is on the correct side of the road. It will then re-route and you can review the new route and continue with more waypoints if necessary to get to your destination if the software decided to send you on more roads that you can not travel on. (A truck or RV GPS would do this for you - they are expensive, but a possible new toy to buy at some point in the future.) Websites that I have found to do this only print out a readout of directions and from what I saw, left out exit numbers, etc. So - I create a route to Connecticut that works. I transfer it to the Roadtrek's Tom Tom - and the route in the Tom Tom goes out of its way to send me on the parkways that I cannot travel on. What happens is that TYRE is sending not the route, but the series of waypoints that you set for the route. The GPS then takes those and does its own routing which, if you have not put enough waypoints to make absolutely NO OPTION for the Tom Tom to go another way. I worked between Tyre and the Tom Tom for several hours until I had a route I could take the Roadtrek on. I should also add that we needed to change from Route 91 North to Route 84 East and the access road from 91N to 84E is on Route 15 - an extension of the Merritt Parkway. I worked another hour in frustration looking for a route that would not take me north and then back south to get on 84E from 91N. When I showed this to Meryl, she said that she did not think that the restrictions on Route 15 went that far north - and that we might be able to take the Rt. 15 access to 84 East. We decided we would see when we got there.

We started the trip on the driveway finding out that the walkie-talkies that we use for Meryl to guide me backing out into our street full of traffic did not work. Well, mine turned on and Meryl's turned on, she went down into the street to watch for oncoming cars, and I heard nothing. I looked down at the walkie-talkie and saw the power light out. Batteries don't last a year. OK. I stopped, opened the window and let her know. She tells me I just missed one of the few clear opportunities to pull out. We proceeded with her shouting when it was clear. I pulled out, she got in, and we were off!

Traffic in NY is not good. It does not seem to matter what time of the day. If there is not a tie up for an accident there is some construction going on. We got to the Long Island Expressway to start driving west and the road was heavily congested. This eventually came to a bumper to bumper stand still - well beyond rush hour. The problem was that there were three construction trucks in the left lane way up ahead - and the rear truck had an arrow flashing to move all traffic into the middle and right lane. But there was no construction. All that was happening was that the traffic was being moved right to go around these three moving trucks! Once around that traffic was not too bad in NY but that wasted quite a lot of time. Over the bridge and around through NY and into Connecticut where we got on I-95, the Connecticut Turnpike, not able to go up the Merritt Parkway which is an alternative.

No matter when we have been on the Connecticut Turnpike in the past several years - day or night, no matter what hour, there is construction going on. I am not sure what they are working on but they are always working and it is never finished. We lost an hour on the trip stopped in traffic, moving a little head, and stopping again, until we got off I-95 to the next part of the route which was north on I-91. Remember that the trip was supposed to take just over three hours total. We also added in a stop of lunch but we were well off schedule.

We decided to stop for lunch off of I-91. I-95 has Route 1 running alongside with many places to stop to eat, but I-91 has markings at exits of what is at that exit and it is less congested to get off and back on again. Be aware that I-95 does have rest stops with fast food restaurants, but triple the prices of the food at your local fast food restaurant and that is what you will pay at any of the rest stops on the Connecticut Turnpike. We saw an exit sign that said McDonald's and Wendy's and we pulled off. A sign at the exit told us to turn left to the restaurants and we did.

One of the big features of a Roadtrek is that you can "park anywhere". Well, that really needs to be "park almost anywhere" as there are a lot of little parking lots with little room for a large vehicle to maneuver. We saw the Wendy's and pulled into the lot. It was a very small lot. There was no spaces really large enough to put a 21 foot van and there was a drive through line of cars that extended almost to the entrance of the lot from the road. We could see that up where that line turned to the left to go under the drive through that NO WAY the Roadtrek could have fit under (I have yet to see a drive through that the 8'9" Roadtrek can fit under) that there was an exit to the right that would take us back to a side street and back on the road we came on. We could also see the McDonalds almost next door with a much larger parking lot. We waited on the line of cars, and moved up until we could get out of there - and did.

We got to the McDonalds lot and it was not much better, but a car had pulled out of a space near the exit and I could just pull the Roadtrek right in. Lunch was quicker than getting from I-91 to finally parked. Happily, the road back was easy to get on and the entrance to I-91 was directly on. We headed north again.

When we got to the cut off on Route 15 where the access from I-91 North to I-84 East was, we could see trucks pulling off onto Route 15. There were no signs of any kind with any vehicle restrictions and we just followed. Now, let me tell you a little problem with routes transferred to Tom Tom with waypoints. No matter what it wants to go to those waypoints in order and will take you in circles until you go back. We had to stop Bedelia as I call her from telling us to get off and go back, get off and go back. Meryl cannot see the GPS screen from the passenger seat - a problem in how the GPS/radio is designed and set right in the middle of the dash. I could not and would not try to do anything to change the route while driving, so I pulled off I-84 on an exit and looked for a place to pull the Roadtrek over - which was not easy to find. Eventually, I was able to pull off the road, clear the route and tell Bedelia to go to the Ezee-Lift address directly as there were no longer any roads we could not drive on. We got back to I-84 and headed to our first destination of the day.

I told you about the trip to Mr. Jone's home, the inventor and maker of the Ezee-Lift, already in my article about the install. The very much country roads are scenic, narrow, and in some places one lane. There were moments when we were very close to the edge of the road that just dropped off into the forest about ten feet below. Slow and easy is the way to do it. And we did. The trip that was supposed to take just a little over three hours was almost five hours.

We got to Mr. Jones and he put in the Ezee-lift and as I told you then he gave us a way to get back to I-84 without the twisty, single lane road. Nice. What we did need now was gas.

I had been watching gas stations along the road from and to I-84 and the gas prices were ridiculous. Connecticut has one of the highest gas taxes in the country. NY is not much less but it is less. Where at the time gas was $3.99 at home for regular, gas here was ranging from $3.13 to $3.35. And all of the stations next to those prices said "CASH". Credit prices were fifteen cents higher and up. We saw a Sunoco station up ahead with a large sign that said $4.02. I never thought that I would ever be happy to see a gas price at $4.02, but I figured that even with a credit card charge added on top of that it had to be better than what I saw. Unless you carry a LOT of cash on you, the Roadtrek takes 35 gallons and that means at these prices of say $4.25 per gallon cash that you will need almost $150 in cash in your pocket for just that one fill up. I don't carry anywhere near that much cash. It has to be credit. I got really excited when I went up to the pump and saw that the $4.02 was the cash OR CREDIT price! Eighty dollars later on the charge card and we were back on the road.

So where were we going? There is a chain of outdoor stores called Cabellas. The stores are few and far between. There is one in Pennsylvania between Allentown and Harrisburg off of I-78, and there is one in Connecticut in Hartford. We have been to both before, and the Pennsylvania store is larger and much more fun, but the Hartford store is OK for a Cabellas fix. This is a store that is referred to as "shoppertainment". There are things to see and do in addition to things to buy. The stores have a large, walk through aquarium with floor to ceiling fish tanks containing large, local game fish. At the Hartford store, the tank is about half as long as the one in Pennsylvania. There are local wildlife - stuffed - all over the store in natural habitat displays. If you are opposed to hunting do not come into any of these stores. There is an electronic shooting gallery, an archery range, a "gun library" to look at antique guns - all for sale, and a restaurant that serves game and common food items as well. This is where we were going.

Cabellas caters to RVers with RV parking and an RV dump station including fresh water. At some of their stores you may stay overnight in the parking lot. You always ask the store manager for permission to do this. The Connecticut store does not permit this and there were signs in the parking lot that stated no overnight parking. There was an RV parking lot and there is a dump station in the rear of the parking lot, near the RV parking lot.

We pulled into one of the large RV spaces big enough for a Class A and parked. We were the only RV there. We walked into the store past a display of kiacks hanging from the overhang for sale. Inside the store there is a large camping department, a small department for trailers and some things for RVs, a large gun department, a large fishing department, a boat department with boats on display, and a large camping department. If you have any interest in camping or outdoor activities, there is something here to look at. We had no intentions of buying - just looking and we had a great time. There is even a display of taxidermy wild animals from Africa including an elephant. (I already gave you the waring if you are anti-hunting.)

Dinner was to come next - my birthday dinner - and we were heading for Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut which is further east. Look for a coming article all about Foxwoods, as there is an RV connection there.

I will skip past Foxwoods and tell you about the way home. I would love to say that leaving at 11:00 pm would find clear roads all along the way but no, in Connecticut that just does not happen. I will say that the delays and construction was much less than we encountered during the day on the Connecticut Turnpike, but it was there. Any thought about staying overnight was put right out of my head when I saw how tied up the return roads were during the day. The trip would be much better at night - and it was. On much of the route in Connecticut, we were one of only two or three vehicles on the road. It was pretty good considering what it was like during the day. When we got into NY however, even at almost 2 am, the roads were congested - no construction, just traffic. Yes, the "city that never sleeps" really never sleeps and they drive. It was quite late when we pulled the Roadtrek into our driveway. But we had a real good time!

I know that this has been a really long article, and I hope not too boring, but I am sure some of you are wondering how did the Roadtrek do on the trip?

First, it is still winterized as there have been some near freezing nights in March and into the beginning of April. There are may things inside that are out of place and the cabinets are not stuffed and made noise-proof as they would be when we are packed for a regular trip. There was a lot of banging inside on rough roads - nothing new, but noises that were silenced by full cabinet were there with partially full cabinets. There is a new noise that we cannot yet figure out. It showed up at the end of last year - a hollow sound - and it happens when we first start to drive and quiets as we keep driving, but comes back again if we stop and start again - but like most noises in vehicles, it does not happen every time.Tires for the trip were 60 psi in the front and 80 psi in the rear and the ride was pretty smooth, away from potholed roads. I think that I will leave the tires at this for the next trip - maybe experiment at some point with the max recommended psi in the front which is 65. But so far 60 seems to work. The Roadtrek behaved and the ride was comfortable. Oh yes, and the audiobook on my mp3 player played so nicely through the dockboss on the Ipod connection to the Eclipse radio!

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