Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Never a Dull Moment Part 2

Welcome back! In our last article - Never a Dull Moment Part 1, we never actually got to the article that I sat down to write. We took a meandering path to why we were going to a new campground in an area where we have had a favorite campground for four years. Well we are back now to what was to be a one part article about our October trip.

The Roadtrek was packed the day before. Two days before that water went into the fresh tanks. We saw on the weather ahead that there might be some cold nights - nothing below freezing but just in case, Meryl suggested that we isolate the interior (rear) fresh water tank and use the water in the exterior tank first. This is easy to do with the various settings on the 190 and the 210. (See our Summer Mode/Winter Mode article for specifics on how to do this.) Of course, the bed was already made when this was decided so Meryl crawled under to the cabinet with the water valves, I held up the mattress so that she could get the door open and she made the adjustments to the water valves.  When the night temperatures got cold- which was to be almost the end of the trip, the exterior and larger fresh tank would be empty or near empty and we would switch over to the interior tank which is much more protected inside from the cold. We were ready to go.

We got out the morning we were leaving at about 9:15 am. If you read this site regularly I have mentioned that we live on a very busy four lane suburban avenue and while everyone should already be at work at 9:00 am, there is a constant stream of cars and trucks going past our house well after 9 am. The first thing we do when we get into the Roadtrek to start a trip is turn on the compressor DC/AC only refrigerator. All that is involved is putting the Roadtrek battery switch on and turning the thermostat inside the fridge up from off - to about mid-way which should get the temp inside up in about a hour and a half. The only thing inside the fridge is my spare insulin pen which must be kept at a temperature between 36 - 42 degrees F. After the pen is started for use it cannot be kept in a refrigerator and must be as near to room temperature as possible (more about traveling like this in a future article). So I had the pen in use with us inside one of the cabinets and the spare in the fridge - at the time - in a cold bag with two ice blocks also inside - just to keep it cold until the temperature goes up in the fridge. We are in, I am behind the wheel with the engine started, and Meryl is setting up the fridge. She pushes the test button on the Roadtrek monitor panel after the fridge is on - and she says - "We have a battery problem!" OK - what? The battery LEDs with the engine on - for every other time like this - usually shows all LEDs to the top lit indicating that the engine is charging the batteries. The lights are now down to the bottom two LEDs. Not good! The batteries are low - and apparently too low for the panel to indicate that the van engine is charging them. We discussed what to do and decided to shut off the fridge. With that the LEDs still did not go up to indicate charging but now went to G - the third LED from the top of the four. At worst we would lose the pen, at least worst we would have to start the countdown of days the pen can be used out of the fridge much sooner than we would like, at best the batteries would start to charge as we were driving. Of course, this is on my mind as we finally get to pull out into the street - which took about twenty minutes for there to be a break in the traffic. We started out with the idea that we were leaving "early" - at least for us. It was after 10:00 am and we were just turning the corner from our house.

As I am driving, I am thinking about the batteries and the refrigerator. We decided that the pen would hold up in the cold bag for several hours, but I kept wondering if the battery panel would ever show that they were charging. This has happened with the generator when the batteries are low - and it takes about a half hour for the Charge LED to come on. To get to a limited access road it takes us just about a half hour from the house. Just before the highway entrance came up I pulled over into a shopping mall and we checked the LEDs - Charging! Good. One less thing to think about. We left the fridge off and decided we would wait until we stopped at a rest area for lunch to put it on. The start of this trip was certainly not dull - nor was it relaxing. Maybe I am expecting too much to relax on a trip...

Traffic to Pennsylvania was not bad - at least once we left New York State. We bounced and banged on what were supposedly recently newly paved roads - none of which actually looked like they were newly paved - or at least had, already, splits and large holes in the pavement. Not unusual - the trip out of NY and back in is always - bang, rattle, shake, bang. We stopped for gas in New Jersey - a must, as gas in NJ is about 40 to 50 cents a gallon less than where we are in New York and about 20 cents a gallon less than in Pennsylvania. We paid $1.97 a gallon. I know that gas is a lot less than this in other parts of the country, but it has not gone near to be below $2 here where we are in NY at all this year.

The "new to us" campground has a 2:30 check in time and while I did not expect it to be crowded or full, since this was our first time here we did not know what reaction we would get if we arrived there early As it was, it was 2:10 pm when we pulled up in the lane to the office. There was a big trailer in the lane in front of us. We went inside the office and we were greeted by a woman who was working with a man behind the counter who was getting the trailer registered. Each was very nice and we were welcomed like old friends. (More about this in our review of the campground in two weeks.) I did make a point of telling her that we come to Lancaster regularly and are hoping that we will be staying with them for now on - again, mentioning why. She also was not surprised like the Amish woman working here mentioned in Part 1. She gave us our site number and our key card. She said that she would open the lift gate the first time in and then you must use the card to enter after that. The gate opens automatically - same gate - same lane - when exiting.

We drove through the gate and after passing the site, not seeing it, we had a little tour of the roads through the campground to get back to it. Our back in site was closed in on three sides by large rocks that created a wall about a foot and a half to two feet high. The site looked narrow and had a picnic table taking up a corner of the rear of the space. Up from the rocks was grass mounded up around the site. It was next to a road on one side and nothing but grass on the other with the next RV site about 50 feet away. The site angled into the road. I backed in hoping to find that it was level and not have to bother with the leveling ramps. Often with a Class B you have the room to move around in the space until you find the right level area. This site was not cooperating and we were winding up off level in all directions - front low, side high. It took almost a half hour until I hit a place that was close enough. It involved being in the space diagonally and at the same time avoiding the picnic table - which had it not been there, I still think I would have found a level spot much faster. OK - get out to put down markers to find that exact spot again and test the electric box. I opened the driver's door and Meryl said "Wait!" but too late. The corner of the door hit one of the wall rocks. I sighed as I looked around at all of the other sites- most of them vacant with nothing around them but flat grass...  Electric box tested good. The markers were placed next to the tires (I have to say that sometimes getting back to where the markers are exactly is like finding a needle in a haystack - and on this trip - which has never happened before - we never did get close each night when we got back and wound up finding level all over again each night. I actually discovered one night that if the front of the van stuck out into the road (which it should not) the van was perfectly level.) We got into the Roadtrek and headed over to Roots Farmers Market for what was left of the day.

That night when we turned on the water pump it ran but little water came through the toilet or the sink. Oh boy, now what?!? I turned the pump off and then back on and turned on the sink. The water ran slow and then ran with regular pressure and stayed that way. I wondered if this happened because it was colder outside than it has been when using the water. I had the water running fine at home when I tested it before the trip so that we would have no surprises. The water ran fine that night and up to the last night when it was really cold out - mid-30's at night and it did it again. Well, whatever it was it worked itself out - and before I winterize which will be soon, I will check the water pump filter to see if there is anything in there that is slowing the flow that had to shake loose to run steady. 

I knew in advance of the trip that the next day was supposed to rain - just rain. We have found places to go and things to do here in the rain before - all too often - and I figured we would get past the day and onto what was forecast as good weather. During the day it rained heavily on and off - and even more off than on as it got into the afternoon. I was thinking how great it was that the rain would just pass, but weather on the radio was still talking about heavy rain that night. Fine. What we did not know is what was about to come.

We went to a restaurant not far from the campground that night. I felt it would be better than driving a distance on already dark roads with the rain expected to start and fog being talked about. After dinner we should have just headed back to the campground, but it was early - for us -, it was not raining, and I decided to make a stop before going back just to kill some time. By the time we were back in the Roadtrek to go back to the campground, it had started to rain. It was a steady rain but not a hard rain. We had the radio on to a popular local country station and in the middle of a song, I heard something that I have only heard in tests (and having been in major hurricanes I had never heard this for any of those) - the emergency broadcast tone. This was not a test. It was an emergency broadcast by NOAA and it named the counties and towns that a severe storm was heading for. The warning said that there would be 60 mile per hour winds and that anyone outside should take shelter in a strong building. One of the counties listed was Lancaster and one of the towns included was the one the campground is in. They gave a time frame for when the storm would reach us and when it would pass. We already in the rain and that was starting to pick up. The winds were yet to come. We got back to the campground and pulled up to the gate. I discovered quickly one of the drawbacks to campgrounds that have gates and keycards to open them - you have to lean out of the window to get the card in when it is raining. The box from the Roadtrek window was a stretch and I had to take my seatbelt off to get far enough out the window to reach - hoping the whole time that I would not drop the card. (I tend to drop things at the most opportune moments.) I got the card in the slot and back out and the gate lifted. I tossed the card to Meryl and we drove in to our space. It was raining and the wind was starting to pick up but not to any extreme. Unfortunately, backing into this site required assistance from someone outside so as to not hit the picnic table. Well, I was driving - and Meryl got out. We were both getting out eventually anyway to hook up. In the time that it took to get into a spot on the site that we were close to level and then hooking up the electricity and cable in the rain - it is very exciting plugging into 30 amps when soaking wet - we both did get wet. While we were out there, I looked right behind us and up to see the electric pole that was there with its wires going right over the top of the Roadtrek - and it occurred to me that this was not a great thing to have right behind us and over us in a 60 mph wind. There was not much we could do about it now - and it, I reasoned, that it must have weathered other storms and was still standing - and it had large and long guide wires holding it in place. I also looked at the rock wall on three sides of us and imagined the rain building up into a pool that would surround us in this site. We were still out there getting wet - it was time to get inside. We had rain jackets on - and hats - but that just meant that we had wet jackets and hats to deal with once we got inside. Meryl put down some plastic covers and put hooks up on the side ledge in the front of the Roadtrek and hung up the wet jackets. While she was doing this, I went to one of the cabinets and got out our NOAA emergency weather alert radio. I plugged it in and pulled out the antenna. It had been awhile since I used it last and it took me a little while to remember how to get it to broadcast. We heard the same alert we had heard over the van radio. It also indicated that the storm was getting closer. I wondered to myself if when they say if you are outside you should get inside, if that meant standing or walking outside - or if you are in a car or - say an RV - if you should be getting the heck out of it and finding a building. The only open building here was the restrooms. In there we would not know what is going on with the alert or if the alert would be extended past the time predicted that the storm would pass. I did not say anything to Meryl and she did not say anything to me - as she was thinking the same thing. She was already planning if we could fit under the bed if need be - away from what she decided would be breaking glass from trees crashing through the Roadtrek's windows. I looked out the window at the several RVs and trailers that were near by.  They were all occupied. No one was running for cover. Foolish as it might be we stayed inside the Roadtrek which is a heavy van. Out on Route 30 that passes the campground nearby, I could see trucks and cars driving along. A bit nervous, we sat down in the front seats and put on the television. I started my laptop and looked at weather radar maps and saw projected paths of the storm for were we were sitting. At about the time the warning said the winds would arrive we could both hear them and feel the van being shaken side to side. Were we having fun yet? This certainly was not a dull moment - and I certainly was not relaxing. I thought of long past trips when we would be in a hotel and it would rain. You stayed inside and did not give much thought to it other than you were limited in what to do going outside. We were once in a hotel in a hurricane - and the electricity went out and was not expected back on for days. We stayed one night like that and found another hotel that had power the next day - walking our luggage down the staircase from the fourth floor to the car requiring several trips. Even that was not quite like this. I guess feeling vulnerable to the elements is part of the RV lifestyle... Well, if you know this site from the beginning of the articles you know why we do this now and will never go to another hotel - so it is this or stay home.

The storm did pass just around the time it was predicted to leave the area. Things got quiet outside and the van was nice and steady as the wind was gone. I was going to keep the NOAA alert radio set to broadcast if there was another alert- this one works that way, but we decided to pack it up and put it away. We did hear on the television that another part of the storm was coming late in the night - around 3:00 am or so - and sure enough, the rain started hitting the roof about that time and we fell asleep to the sound.

Well, just like the songs lyrics - "the sun will come out tomorrow ..." and "There's got to be a morning after..." - the storm was gone the next morning. The sun did not come out until later in the day but there was a morning after and all was fine. The grass was wet, but the gravel was fairly dry when we unhooked for the day to go off doing the things we do when we come down here.

The last night we saw that the front exterior tank was just about empty and Meryl went into the cabinet to isolate the front tank and turn on flow from the interior tank. Good timing as the temperature was dropping and this was what we planned for when we set the tanks at the start of the trip.

That last night it got colder than the heat pump will handle (40 degrees and below) and while we should have just gone outside and turned on the propane valve to run the furnace and heat the inside up nicely, I decided that we would just pull out the electric space heater that we brought with us - just in case. Finding a place for the heater was the first issue. There is the kitchen counter - full of things we use to go to bed and when we get up. There is the floor. We started with the kitchen counter, moving everything aside. That did not really work out. The temperature where we were sitting was getting really hot - but away from that it was cold. It was a continual dance of getting up to turn it down, then getting up to turn it back up - as the the thermostat on this space heater does work - but it is made for a much larger space and not intended for a six foot open box in front and another six foot open box behind. I tried it on the floor. Here the air was getting warm from waste height up but because it was in line of the cold from the floor and the door, it was never turning off. This was where we left it - eventually setting the thermostat on it to 51 which was the highest temperature that it reached at the floor - at least it turned itself on and off at that setting and I could fall asleep not thinking that it would burn itself out - or worse while we were sleeping. From now on - cold weather trips - we will not bother with the electric heater (we may bring it as a backup in case there the furnace does not work) and we will just turn on the propane. Propane is something that we don't really like but will use if we have to - which so far has been rare.

So there you have it. I have to say that we did enjoy this trip overall - but there was really never a dull moment. We did things we enjoy doing on each of the days - even when it was raining. We could have done without the "big" storm. It would have been nice to be able to relax more in between the fun.

Was this the last trip of the year? Well, it is with running water on board, but we are not sure if there will be a cold weather, winterized trip coming or not. That will depend on a few things yet to be seen. On the last day we emptied the black tank and the grey tank - and I did not add the usual water into the black tank to prevent it from going dry. There will be antifreeze in it very shortly. Oh, and did we love the new campground - it has its pluses and minuses. A review will be coming up very soon - with photos.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Never a Dull Moment - Part 1

There is a superstition that if one starts out the day saying that it will be delightful and carefree, this almost assuredly guarantees just the opposite. Well, I was looking forward to our October trip to be just that - delightful and carefree. Silly me! We had to cancel a two day trip in September because we had not made reservations at a campground in advance. For the past two years we have been waiting to a day or two before planned trips to call to make reservations. This seemed to have been working - no risk of paying a canceled reservation fee - as much as a night's stay at some campgrounds - when at the last minute the weather would be terrible or unexpected things at home demanded our presence. I had not even thought twice about not doing the same for this trip at the end of September. We were going to a Quilt/Fiber Sales Show near Philadelphia and then planned to spend the next day at Green Dragon Farmer's Market in Lancaster the next day and home at night on the next day. A nice three day business/pleasure trip.  Well, there were no campsites to be had in any campground that we called - even a few that I would not normally consider staying at. The Roadtrek had been packed the day before - the bed was made - all was inside - our clothes and necessities for three days. And it did not happen. We did go to the Quilt Show - by car and home in one day the next day. So as that trip did not happen I was really looking forward to this October trip!

I made the reservations for the October trip right after this all happened in September. We were going to stay in a different campground in Lancaster County - not the one we have been staying in for the past four years. A coming article will be a review of the "new to us" campground. Why we were not going back to Old Mill Stream Campground is a tale in itself. Old Mill Stream raised its rates two years ago and there were signs that things would be changing. All of 2014, things were somewhat as usual - though they no longer accepted charge cards when making reservation by phone and required a check be mailed to hold a reservation. The couple who have run the campground for years and years were not always around. This was not a good sign. They were made this an exceptional campground - beyond a good campground. Our first trip there in 2015 in May, these people were nowhere to be found. Things were becoming more "corporate". This campground had been owned privately and then by the Hershey corporation (along with the children's amusement park next door - that this campground has been a part of). Just after we started coming it seems that a European corporation bought out the amusement park and the campground - but there has been no evidence of that until now. When we arrived for five days for July Fourth this year - there was a great deal of change in customer relations and particularly in the revision of the campground entrance - and not for the good. Let's start with the entrance - and exit. It was being changed so that anyone coming into the amusement park and also the campground had to enter a single lane entrance that split off into three lanes going into three parking booths. The right hand booth and lane was for RVs going into the campground - but this did not mean that cars going in to park for the amusement park did not get into that lane as well. Busy amusement park - lots of people with small children coming in (this amusement park is focused on young children) - and big RVs trying to get in to get into their space. One would think that at 2;00 pm when the campground starts check-in that this would not be much of a problem - but it is. To make it even more exciting the entrance lane at the corner of busy Route 30 is alongside the exit lane and cars pull into the entrance lane to exit - while you and your RV is out in the road trying to get in. We saw this happening that Fourth of July week. We discovered that week, that to exit the campground you now followed a sign that led your RV into the parking lot for the amusement park - and as you tried to make your way though the narrow aisle - narrow even for a Class B - you came upon moms and dads walking their toddlers by the hand through the lane - oblivious to the RV behind them. We saw a few close calls. By our trip there in August, the parking lot changes were complete and the situation getting in or out was even worse. Now, also in July and August we discovered that the last row of the campground - which just happened to be where our preferred for four years site was (next to the bathhouse) - was located right where the "overflow" parking on the grass for the amusement park starts. We woke up one morning to some odd sounds and looked out the window to see cars being parked behind us. (Just what you want for security in a campground - people who don't belong in the campground getting in and out of their cars all day - and into the evening, right behind your RV.)

OK - that is just the getting in and getting out. The people working in the campground and in the office were different. In July, there was one woman who we recognized from before. I spoke with her about the changes that we were seeing and her answer was that the corporation decided it all and no one asked them for any opinion or consultation in planning. It was very evident that the corporate people were taking over. This campground always books solid for Fourth of July weekend and it has always been policy that a reservation cannot be made more than one year to the day in advance. We were told when we first came there that if we wanted to come for Fourth of July weekend we had to make the reservations a year in advance and we have been doing that - every year, despite our not making advanced reservations for other trips. When we checked in I told the woman behind the counter that we wanted to make next year's reservations right then starting on that same date. It has been custom here to give whoever is in a site regularly, preference for that site when making that year in advance reservation. We asked for the same site for next Fourth of July week. The woman at the desk is flipping through papers and calendars and says - "OK I can make the reservation for you - BUT not for that site. It is taken." What?!? We were polite - we exclaimed our disbelief - how could this be? It has always been policy to not make a reservation for a site until one year to the day - and we walked in to the office at exactly 2:00 pm at the very start of check in for this day. When was the site reserved - "several days ago". What?!? "Sorry, it is now first come first serve." Oh yeah?!?  We made the reservation (which can be canceled with no penalty) at our second preferred site. We knew that our favorite campground was not going to be a favorite any longer. We had to find another campground that we would like. The problems were mounting up. The final straw was in August - we went back just for convenience. We had the site for four days and decided that we wanted to stay another night. We got another night but in a different space which was understandable and fine. The morning that we were going to move. We were getting dressed inside the Roadtrek at 10 am and there was a bang on the Roadtrek door. I looked out the window past the closed curtain and there was a man outside. He looked like he belonged to the campground - there are lots of men in tee shirts working now in the campground from the amusement park. Official checkout time at the campground is 11:00 am. It used to be 1:30 pm. It was an hour before that. I open the door and he says we are supposed to be out of the site! I tell him that checkout is an hour away. There is a trailer in the entrance road. Remember - check in is at 2:00 pm - it is 10 am. He gives me a look. I told him that we were moving to another site and when we were finished doing what we were doing we would be moving over there. He went off in a huff. What the heck is going on here?!?

So in August on a rainy afternoon we headed over to a campground that I had seen good reviews for and that is owned by one of the large local companies that has hotels, restaurants, and bake shops and all are family owned and run. It gets great reviews. My hesitation with it in the past was that it has a traffic gate that requires a key to open. Never having been in a campground with a gate - and our usual schedule of arriving late at night on some trips and getting in past office closing. We had to know what the story with that gate and our late arrivals would be. We parked the Roadtrek outside the office and went inside. There was an Amish woman at the desk. Interesting - and nice. We explained that we were just in for information - that we were regular visitors to the area but were in need of a new campground - mentioning some of the problems without saying any name - and she smiled knowingly. The gate key card would be no problem. As long as they know that you are coming with a reservation, they will leave the card and the site number for you outside the locked office. Wonderful! We tried to walk around to look at the campground but it was pouring. From what we could see it looked nice. The next trip we would try it - which was supposed to be the September trip, and I have already said what happened with that. The October trip would be our trial stay.

Wow! All of this and we have not even gotten to the start of the October trip yet. Maybe it is best that we end here and make this Part 1 and the article that I set down to write this afternoon will be Part 2. Sometimes when you think, let me tell you this before I tell you that - well, it can take some time, but we try to keep the path interesting and entertaining as we go meandering along.

So - end of Part 1. Part 2 in two weeks...