Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Changes at Old Mill Stream Campground, Lancaster, PA

We stay at this campground whenever we are in Lancaster, PA and that is several times a year. When we were there at the end of October 2013 we learned that for the first time the campground would be closing for the winter - then at the end of December. We had reservations to come back there at the beginning of December as a return stop from Virginia, but because of very bad weather, that trip was cancelled. It was not until the Spring that I started planning for trips that would begin in the Spring and into the summer. For some reason I decided to go to the Old Mill Stream website. I was a bit taken back to find a very different looking website. It had become a website plainer in appearance and the personal touches of the previous site were gone. I also saw that there were some major changes at the campground over the winter. This campground has been owned by the Dutch Wonderland Amusement Park (a theme park for young children located on the lot adjacent). I began to wonder if with the changes the very nice couple who managed the campground were still there. Over the several years of going there we had become friendly with the people who work there and felt like we were with friends when we were there.

To read my first review of this campground please see this article. Many things are still the same. If they are not the same, you will read about the changes here. 

It was not until we actually walked through the door of the office to check in on our next trip there that we were certain that these same very nice, friendly and accommodating people were still managing the campground and were still there. The people are the same but there have been changes.

The most important change has been the conversion of the "T" sites - sites that had one common entrance to two camper spaces - into independent back in sites. I have been in "T" sites here a few times and never liked them. If you were the only one in the site there was no problem, of course. But if you were sharing the site with a large trailer that needed room to hitch up to leave while you were in the site, there was a potential problem. (Though one skilled trailer tow car driver managed to do it without a problem with us in front of him once.) Many reviews of this campground mention the "T" sites as undesirable and a negative. All of those sites with the exception of one are gone. The one that remains has its front site as a pull through - a site we have been in many times and has been a site we preferred over some others. So, if you read about this campground in reviews and you see "T" sites mentioned - they are GONE! As half of the campground had been these "T" sites, this is a major change.

Another change has been the addition of cabins, taking the place of several sites and also four sites for Teepees that are complete with furnishings. We saw the small cabins - and they are typical of what you find at campgrounds. I was really curious to see a teepee and the furnishings inside. There were none set up when we were there in the sites they are designated in on the map. It may be that they set these up as needed or they have not yet set them up yet. They are listed on the rate schedule.

*This campground will now continue to close for the winter but not at the end of December but rather at the end of November. This actually causes a personal problem for us as we come back here when we go to Virginia in the first week of December - and now that will no longer be possible. There are other campgrounds that remain open in this area 12 months a year (not all but some) and we will have to go to one of those if we have decent weather to travel to the outdoor winter event we go to in Virginia. (We actually took a few detours to see some of those campgrounds on this most recent trip and found some to be on roads so twisting into the mountains that there would be no way I would want to drive that in the winter with possible ice in the dark. We did find two that would be fine and we will have to decide between the two before next December.)

*During a September visit I asked about their closing for the winter and I was told that despite what the website says, they will be open all year. The will not close for the winter - which is good news for us!  On our next trip, I will confirm this and make sure it is true.

Check in and check out time has also changed. In the past both were 2:00 pm. They decided to give some time between the two and now check in is at 3:00 pm and check out is at 11:00 am. As we are not morning people this check out time concerned me, as we generally spend the final morning of our stay here dumping the tanks and refilling the fresh tanks - even if just to have water on board for the trip home. This all can take some time unless one likes getting up and out early - which we don't. I spoke about this with our friend at the desk and I no longer have any concern about it.

I have held the negative change for last - the rates have increased and they have increased a lot. The rate has been $48 a night for the past two years and I recall less than that our first year coming here. On season rates are now $55 Sunday to Thursday, $60 Friday and Saturday, and $65 for holiday weekend nights. These are full hook up sites - electric, water, sewer, and cable - 20 amp/30 amp/50 amp. There are about 4 electric and water only sites for less. Off season rates are now less.  This now makes this campground the most expensive of the other campgrounds in the area - though some of those campgrounds charge additional for "extras" that are included here. This is now the most expensive campground that we stay in. Yes, it is a lot. It is actually less than some areas in the Northeast. Location is prime here. This campground is in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch attractions. It also has a fishing stream across the back border of the campground and a full view of farm fields and pastures behind across the stream. I have often seen cows at the stream - and in the stream - as we have gotten ready to head out for the day. None of this really justifies the price that they are now charging. For now, I am willing to pay the increased rates. We will see what happens in the future especially after we experience one of the two that we have found for the winter. And for all I know the other campgrounds here will follow suit and raise their rates also. Hotels here have become very expensive and this area has visitors steady from April to January. This is a popular area to travel to and this campground fills and books to full for holiday weekends a year in advance. As I have said in articles about our trips to this area, this is my home away from home. When I come I want no stress and to know that things are as I expect them to be. I have that here - at least now that I know what has changed and what remains the same.

The restrooms and showers are spotless and there are "single room restroom/showers available - often called Family Restrooms. Cable reception is still 48 channels and wifi is good.  There are clean laundry machines. Sites remain fairly level. It does take some maneuvering in the space with the Roadtrek to find the spot on the site that is level. With the new changes, they have raised the dump pipe up about six inches on each site. I now longer will be driving over it backing into the site. (No that could not have been me!  ;)  )  Sites are shady and the whole campground is in the "woods" with trees everywhere. Roads in the campground are paved. Sites are gravel. There is a small shop selling some RV accessories, snacks, and fishing things. They also sell propane.

One other positive change that has nothing to do with the campground. I am able to now get a number of over the air antenna channels here without having to raise the antenna on the roof of the Roadtrek. This was not so in the past. The area broadcasters must have increased their signals. There is one over the air channel that comes into our cable at home that we like to watch and that is not on the line up of cable channels here - so late at night when we are looking to watch that here, all we do is push the antenna button and set the TV to antenna channels and there it is. A few button clicks and we can go back and forth. We always could get it in the past with the antenna up here but now that is not necessary.

So there you have it. I still recommend it - aside from the new rates. If you don't want to pay this much try one of the others, there are several to choose from. If you don't like staying in campgrounds then don't come here or to any of them in this area  - or anywhere. Everyone is free to make the choice they favor. I like campgrounds and knowing I have a site for the night and power to plug into to use our air conditioner. It gets hot here in the summer and inside the Roadtrek the temperature has risen to over 100 degrees F. For health and comfort I will pay for a campground.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

First Trip of 2014

The Roadtrek did go to Pennsylvania in early April for one of the all too frequent needs for service, but that trip really can't count as our first trip of 2014. We had thought about extending that trip for a few days but the weather was just not good - and this has been the problem ever since. We went down and drove back home that night. It seems that once all of the snow ended in March, the rain started and there has not been a decent end of the week since then until just a week ago.

We planned this trip since April and every week we cancelled the trip. I usually make reservations ahead of traveling but current forecasts and long range forecasts were just not cooperating. We had initially planned to attend the annual 18th Century Market Fair at Fort Frederick in Big Pool, Maryland. The weather forecast was dismal and I learned after that the rain was so bad - when we would have been there - that the place flooded. We then decided that we would go to Lancaster, PA - our home away from home and with that I looked for decent weather from a Wednesday or Thursday though Saturday. Week after week it was raining at the end of the week there - and here for most of that time. At one point we heard on the radio, following another of what was becoming too usual a forecast, that it had rained on Thursday and Friday for the past eight weeks. I was sick of the snow - and it seemed that the rain was taking its place. (Yes, in some parts of the country - particularly on the West Coast - there has been a severe drought, if possible we would have gladly sent this rain back in your direction.) Anyway, week after week passed with no trip. There were a few weeks when I thought - go anyway. But with the cost of tolls and gas - to go where we wanted to go and be there in the rain, it was not worth the trip - no matter how badly I wanted it. Finally, a week ago, things were looking promising. They had looked promising other weeks too until the days were almost there, and then the weather reports that had said sun a few days before were saying severe storms. I even considered, two days before we would leave,  calling to our favorite campground and making reservations. I was also eager to get to this campground as I had learned that there had been some big changes there and what was not being said was if the management had changed. (I will be publishing an updated review of the campground shortly and will not go into details here.) I decided not to jinx the weather and we would wait until the last minute to call for a reservation. We would call on Wednesday - we would leave on Thursday - as Wednesday was now forecast for rain. It would rain on Thursday but only at home. The call Wednesday was disconcerting - only an answering machine answered. We left a message. Two hours later we called again and this time got the reservation - not for "our space", but at this point I did not care. We still could not tell if the management was the same and there were more indications that it might not be. Anyway, we were set to go and there was no cancelling now.

We filled the water tanks and Meryl made the bed up in the Roadtrek. It was a hot day for the first week in June and I started the generator so she could have the A/C going while she did so. We then packed the Roadtrek with everything that we needed for just three days - really two nights - that could be packed and not needed that next morning in the house. A bag is set aside in the house for the must haves - medications, personal items, etc. that can only come out when we are about to leave. As each of those items is used and not needed again until we are on the trip, it goes into the bag. There is just s much that you want to have always in the Roadtrek that you get duplicates of for that purpose - and some things we have can't go in until the very last minute.

This was the first time that Meryl was making the bed with a new piece that she asked me to make for her. The boards that make up the bed fall short about six inches at the bottom of the bed leaving about six inches without support. This support is not needed as support but Meryl realized that bottom corners of the middle of the bed (see Meryl's method of making the bed) were not remaining tucked in because of nothing under them. She asked that I make a board to fill in that space. Our Roadtrek came with a short board that did not fit anywhere - it seemed to have been an extra piece of wood - in not so great condition (perhaps a cutoff) - that was just in the back with the rest of the boards. It was too big to fit in with the other boards and we just set it aside in the house waiting for some need for it. I took that board and after careful measurement of what was needed cut it down in my workshop, rounded the unfinished edges and fit it into place. It fit perfectly. So now Meryl had a platform of boards that went under the mattress cushions with no gaps of mattress without a board under it. She made up the bed with the new board in place and was very happy.

The next morning we were ready to go and it was pouring. That was OK as it was expected. I was just counting on the reports that in Pennsylvania that storm would have passed by 10 am and we were heading into clear weather for the next three days.

This was the first trip that we would be using the Copilot GPS app on an actual trip and not just test drives. It would be out in three states on interstates. I also had the Tom Tom in the Eclipse in the dash programmed with a pre-planned route to take us where we needed to go on roads that we were permitted in the Roadtrek to drive on. I set the location in the Copilot and knew that there were going to be some arguments between the two GPSs because the Copilot was going to send us correctly on roads that avoid some that I know I can get away with - as any RV GPS would do. Had I not been driving these local roads for more than forty years, I would not chance going as I would be going and I would have followed the Copilot's "safe" route.  We finally set off.

What I learned pretty quickly about the Copilot was that its traffic function can be very valuable but very annoying if you know you are going a different way than it wants you to go - as it kept telling me to make turns that I knew I was not going to make - and it was finding traffic delays of hours along the route it had planned. I just ignored these - and discovered that the special traffic screen that comes up to present the alternative to you or asks if you want to just keep going the way you are going, goes away in less than a minute and returns to the map and route display. Good. Once it got to a point locally that it had no alternative but to follow the route planned on the Tom Tom, it settled down and the two routes agreed - no traffic ahead too! And it was raining!

Even with my modifications to the "RV safe" and permitted route, it takes us about a half hour longer to get off Long Island than it would in a car - and that gets added to what, with traffic and road construction, already can take four hours or more. Once off Long Island the routes on the Tom Tom and the Copilot agreed - except where I went the way I like to go which is not the short way. One thing to be aware of with any GPS is that it does not know about traffic light delays and it does not know to avoid streets in areas where you know there are frequent shootings and gunfire. I usually take the long way around those.

The sky cleared entering New Jersey - the rain returned briefly and by the Pennsylvania Turnpike the sun was out and it was clear. Including a stop for lunch we were at the campground in four and a half hours. We checked in with the lady who we have known since we started coming here when we got the Roadtrek and received a warm welcome back. We were very glad to see her still there! We chatted and went to the site. As always when coming in to a campground site, we find a level spot on the site, mark it to be able to get right to it when we come back later in the day - and every day for the stay, and then we test the power box for polarity and voltage. This site was slightly off. It took putting the Roadtrek on an angle diagonally in the space and then turning the front wheel all the way to the right to get onto a spot that was very near level. The campground was not empty but not full. We saw when we entered that a travel trailer group was having a get together there and many of those who were there were part of that group. It did not bother us any; we go and come back each day and do our own thing. The power box was fine and we were off for a first half day in Lancaster since last October. Oh yes, heavy rain kept us away in December - those reservations had to be cancelled - and this campground did not charge us anything for the cancellation (some do, many do).

Let me put out right here that we like going to campgrounds. I know that some Roadtrek owners don't. In fact recently it has been their trend to put down all campgrounds. We don't want to stay in Walmart parking lots for days. (You actually are only supposed to stay in one over night for one night only.) We don't want to find some corner in the woods to stay in - I don't think anything like that here even exists - without trespassing. Nature is nice. To me relaxing nature are farm fields in rolling hills and what makes this area relaxing for me is being around the Plain People at places that are not places the tourist much know about. I have been coming here several times a year for more than fifty years. At one point we thought about buying a home here as a second home. We bought the Roadtrek instead - or we would be going no where but here. When we travel I want to know that there is a place for us to be when we get there and I want that settled in advance.  So if you don't like campgrounds, that is fine for you. Everyone does what they like to do and this is what we like.

This was a happily uneventful trip - Roadtrek-wise. Nothing went wrong. Nothing broke. There were no water issues. The small issues that we did have were a few minor annoyances that were resolved during the trip (with one minor exception that remains to be resolved and does involve the Roadtrek). The lever support that holds the outside cabinet up and open is letting go with the slightest touch. This never happened before and the door fell on Meryl's arm twice. I have to find a way to fix this or come up with a way to keep it in place with some addition. The rest, as I say, were just annoyances. As this was a short trip and I had just started a new insulin pen I did not need to bring a spare. An unopened pen needs to be kept in the refrigerator above freezing and not above 36 or so degrees F. We did not need the fridge for insulin which was a good thing because the remote thermometer that Meryl had set up the night before for the fridge and was working then, was dead in the morning when we left. We were only guessing at the temperature inside which only mattered to keep the soda bottles and cans from exploding if they froze. That night a trip to the local Walmart and we had a new remote thermometer ($10). Regulating the temperature inside the AC/DC Nova Kool fridge was a bit of a challenge as the temperature outside suddenly was into the upper 80s  during the trip and several times the temperature inside the Roadtrek was at or near 99. We keep forgetting to open the ceiling fan vent when we are parking the Roadtrek for several hours on a hot day. We usually get the temperature down in the fridge and find the spot on the control dial to keep it at and it stays fairly consistent for entire trips unless the temperatures outside vary a lot and on this trip they were all over the place, hot to cool and back to hot again.

One thing that took us a while to figure out since we got the Roadtrek because of the temperatures that the inside of the Roadtrek can get to on hot days - and cold days it how to deal with the insulin pen that cannot be put back into the fridge once it is started and must be kept at "room temperature". Room temperature is never figured to be 99 degrees. Last year we resolved this with a cooling pack called a Frio. Perhaps I will do an article about this in the future. It keeps the pen 20 degrees below - or above in cold weather - the temperature outside of it and does so with no power or mechanics involved. So far it has worked as advertised to the Diabetic community.

So... we went to the spots we like to go to. We spent the entire day on Friday at Green Dragon Farmers Market - and we commented to each other that it seemed early for the tourists to have arrived already and how we like this much better when it is not tourist season, but still had a relaxing and good time. At Green Dragon the aisles in the acres of parking lot are narrow - pretty much rows of cars on gravel that form their own front to back rows - so we always head out to the far corner and park in two spots. There are often RVs parked - just for the day - off in a grass field on the edge of a wooded area and we could have gone there - and will the next time as it is a closer walk and less up and down hill than where we tend to park. Of course, the horse and buggies get preference parking and there are stalls for them right along the edge of the market. We brought sub sandwiches back to the Roadtrek from the market for lunch, started the generator to run the A/C - it was already 90 inside at lunch time - turned the front seats, pulled out the front table, and had lunch (trying hard to keep crumbs off the floor so as not to attract any critters inside). After lunch it was back to the market. We had dinner at favorite restaurants each night.

Sundays, as I have written about before in this area, are off days. Most things relating to the Amish and Mennonites - especially local restaurants are closed. We now come here avoiding Sundays, so we check out on Saturday morning and we spend the day and a good deal of the night in the area and then drive home Saturday night. This means that Saturday is now dump the tanks day and this has to be done before we leave the campground. We don't want to spend the day doing this so we were up a little earlier than we would usually be and went out to dump the tanks. I decided that with 2/3 of a tank of fresh water left I wanted to keep that water in the tanks - and fill the black tank and add water to the grey tank before we dumped using a gallon bottle filled at the campsite water spigot. I should have just decided to use the water in the tanks and refilled them before we left, as this process took more time than anything else. I wanted fresh water in the tanks in the event that we needed to use them for whatever reason on that day going home. The black tank was reading 2/3 before we left home and all that could be in there was about a gallon of antifreeze that we had not dumped after de-winterizing (anticipating one of those trips that did not take place in the weeks after). By the end of Thursday night the black tank showed full. If you don't already know, RV tank monitoring sensors and gauges are notoriously incorrect. The systems just do not work for so many reasons - and this holds true for all RVs and travel trailers. You have to guess when the tank is actually full - or know your pattern of use - we figure now four days of use to fill the ten gallon black tank. You can tell for sure if you see water come up through the pipe that flushes down into the tank in the toilet. I knew the tank was no where near full and I wound up adding six full gallons of water to the so-called full tank to actually fill it. It only needs to be 2/3 full to dump but with these conditions of knowing what the level really is, how can anyone know 2/3. The grey tank monitor on my Roadtrek is actually pretty accurate and it only took a gallon or two to get it to show 2/3 on the panel. This is what takes the time. The actual dumping with the macerator takes minutes.

The tanks emptied, I added the usual one gallon of water to the black tank - never leave it dry - plus two ounces of tank chemical and we were good. We pulled the electric plug outside and the cable tv cable, put them away and we were off. The trip was too short. We spent a nice day in the area on Saturday, saved the best restaurant for last, and headed home - again with the Copilot running along with the Tom Tom. In this direction the Copilot almost mirrored the Tom Tom.

When we got home, I checked to see how much data the Copilot used on the drive home to report traffic - the only thing the Copilot needs a data connection for and it was less than 9 mb. Not bad.

We were home, safe, and I was grumpy - because once I get away I want to stay away, but life calls at home and things just can't always be set aside and ignored.

Good trip - and we will be heading back for the Fourth of July! And I have some ideas for a few new trips in between - if the weather cooperates - this week there is no day without rain in the forecast... Those were lucky three days that just went by!