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Archive for Roadtrips

Douglas State Fishing Lake, Tonganoxie KS

Last night was possibly the noisiest night we’ve spent in the Airstream. After a 400 mile drive (way over budget, but we’re trying to make up for leaving Jackson Center late), we pulled into a Wal-Mart that had long spaces especially for RVs and tractor-trailers. I’ve never seen that before at a Wal-Mart.

We figured it was logical to pull in between a couple of big rigs, in a sort of modern-day circling of the wagons, but that was a huge mistake. The rigs ran their diesel engines all night long, and they came and went noisily in the wee hours of the morning. We turned all three Fantastic Vents on, which masked the sound reasonably well, but I still woke up at 3 a.m. from something ““ probably the cold symptoms ““ and could not get back to sleep. I ended up responding to emails from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m., and then getting back to a fitful and uncomfortable sleep.

I hate having colds. My brain works at about 2/3 speed and the whole world seems to be a bit foggy. There’s also the usual symptoms that nobody wants to see or hear: the drippy nose, the froggy voice, the snurking sounds. I drove just two hours in the morning and then turned the keys over to Brett for the rest of the day. He did fine, owing to a couple of years of owning a 31-foot Sovereign himself. I’ve never allowed anyone to tow our trailer before, but Brett is pretty handy with vehicles and so there were only a few moments when I had to close my eyes in terror.

glen-thomas.jpgGiven my repellent condition, it was not the best day to go visiting, but we were directly on a path past Bill Thomas Camper Sales, a leading Airstream dealer and supporting advertiser. Neither Brett nor I had been to see their new facility, so we stopped in and met with Glenn Thomas for an hour. Nice place, and of course they had lots of shiny new Airstreams for us to crawl around inside. I was interested to see that they have five full-hookup spots in their lot, very convenient for an overnight stopover from I-270 in Wentzville, just west of St Louis.

Since having our disc brake pads replaced in Jackson Center, the brakes have been so-so. That’s because they need a little use before they “wear in.” The new rotor also had a burning smell for the first few hundred miles, which is normal. About halfway through our drive today Brett suddenly noticed the brakes grabbing much more strongly, to the point that we had to turn down the voltage on the Prodigy brake controller. At first he thought that something was wrong, but it was just the pads wearing in.

Not long after, they settled down and the stops became very smooth and effortless. Now the brakes are at their very best, just like disc brakes are supposed to be. I’d forgotten how good they can be.

We have since crossed into Kansas. Facing a long dull ride on I-70 again, we took our friend Joe’s advice and detoured to try Route 56. This road follows the original Santa Fe trail, and historic markers are everywhere. A portion goes through the Flint Hills and the tall grass prairie. It will take us longer to cross Kansas this way, but we have some time to spare since we hustled across Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.


Our stop tonight is at the eastern end of Rt 56, on the shore of a small state fishing lake. There are about four primitive sites for camping here, and no rangers, no fees, no amenities. Nobody is here at all, unless you count the kayaker I spotted on the lake this evening. Finding a beautiful quiet spot like this is an experience you only get when you take the road less traveled. I’m already glad we chose to skip the seductive, straight and smooth I-70, for the sinuous and scenic Rt 56.

Oberlin, OH

From Penn Wood to our next visit was only a three hour drive along I-80, through the alternating rainshowers and sunshine that I’ve begun to accept as normal. As roadtrips go, it was unexciting but at least convenient: straight down the highway and no need for fuel stops along the way.

I was surprised to find that I-80 passes right through a national park I’d never heard of: Cuyahoga National Park. If I’d seen this during research we would have tried to fit it into our schedule. The park doesn’t have camping but it does have two visitor centers (which means it likely also has a Jr. Ranger program). I made a note for next time. We seem to get through Ohio at least once a year, and visiting our friends Lou and Larry has become part of a regular routine as we head west.

So that’s where we are: parked in “our” spot alongside their house, with an extremely convenient full hookup. (I suspect they let other people use our spot when we aren’t here, but they haven’t admitted it yet.) Unfortunately, Lou and Larry had a family gathering to attend on Saturday, which drastically curtailed our visiting time. We spent the morning with their daughter Loren touring downtown Oberlin instead.


Oberlin, beside being known for its downtown college, takes some pride in the fact that it was a key junction of the famous “underground railroad” which protected escaped slaves in the mid-1800s. The sculpture above, which is visible on South Professor Street, symbolizes that historical role. All students have been welcomed to Oberlin College regardless of race since 1835. In 1858 town residents rescued an escaped slave who had been taken by “slave catchers.” This incident, documented here and in many other places, is claimed to have sparked the Civil War.

This evening the thunderstorms returned, thus maintaining the streak of having no more than 24 hours without rain in the past couple of weeks. Ohio has not been exempt from the exceptionally wet summer this year. Around town we can see how the corn is coming in spotty due to being drowned by rain, but it isn’t half as bad here as it is back in New England. We’re getting calls from people back in Vermont who are wondering when the rain and gloom will stop. From the weather map, it doesn’t look like things will improve much anytime soon.

All this rain has made me extremely glad I went to Colin’s shop for a leak test last month. It only takes a little while for a leak to cause major damage to the subfloor (and in turn, structural integrity) of an Airstream. One of the leaks that were found in that visit was letting in a surprising amount of water. I made a video which explains where the leak was, if you’re curious. Also, the repair to our front compartment that we received at Colonial Airstream in May, has been tested and proven good. We’ve towed through several heavy downpours and the front compartment has remained absolutely dry.

We’ll be at the Airstream factory in Jackson Center OH for several days this week, starting tomorrow night. A couple of friends have called to say they might be there too, which I’m hoping for. Jackson Center is a very small town with not a lot going on, but we usually manage to have a good time when friends show up in the Terra Port. Perhaps we’ll get really lucky and it won’t rain, too.

Caz to Penn Wood

Just as a result of our desire to meet up with friends along the way, and spend two nights, we needed to cover almost 400 miles today. That’s a lot more than our usual driving day. As always, we had to pass up a lot of really good places along the way, which is exactly why I hate to cover such distances. If we’d had more time I would have picked out a stop in Ithaca, Corning, or Watkins Glen. We would have stopped at the barbecue place Randy recommended, and the Soaring Museum in Corning, or one of the many waterfalls in the central NY region, and paused to take pictures of the odd signs I saw along the roadside.

That’s the downside of a roadtrip where the primary goal is to get somewhere. Sometimes it’s nicer not to have a goal in mind, and just let the bright spots of the road find you.


At the end of the winding roads through the Allegheny State Forest, we found Penn Wood Airstream Park. Our friends Alex and Charon are staying here this year, so we came here specifically to seek them out. Since we are transient visitors, we’re parked in a clearing toward the front of the park (with full hookups and a concrete pad, so we’re not suffering). The rest of the park is basically all occupied by lessees. There are a lot of Airstreams tucked away in shady forest spots all around the clearing we’re occupying.

fa08-cover-medium.jpgWe’ll stay a couple of nights to recuperate from the drive, get some work done, and catch up with our friends. One thing on my agenda tomorrow is to go through the advance copy of our Fall 2008 issue that arrived here FedEx today. Here’s a peek at the cover, and the beautiful photo by Neil Holman.   The issue will be mailed later this week to all subscribers.

A good Monday

In downtown Saratoga Springs is a bakery called Mrs London’s, where we met our courtesy parking hosts Bruce and Virginie this morning. We hadn’t seen much of our hosts last night, due to prior obligations of theirs. So we had pastry and coffee (chai for me) in the morning, by the busy main street under the shop’s awning and talked about everything. It seemed an ideal day for that sort of thing, bright with sunshine and light on responsibility, even though it was Monday.


This set a nice tone for the day, and since our drive was only three hours total, we were in no hurry. Eleanor wanted to stop at the Saratoga spring in the state park to refill two gallon jugs, and she also requested a stop at Roma’s Italian market on Washington Street for some pistachio nougat. We did all this with our hosts’ spare car, leaving the Nissan and Airstream hitched up and ready to go.

Once we got on the road, our next stop was about 60 miles west, in the small town of Herkimer NY, where “diamonds” (actually quartz crystals) can be found amongst the gray rock in open pits. You pay a fee and they give you a hammer, and then you sit in the sun and hack away at rocks in the hope of discovering a little piece of quartz. It’s kind of like being a convict on a chain gang, except you pay for the privilege and you get to keep the little rocks.

herkimer-diamond-mine.jpgApparently the Travel Channel did a bit on the mines, and that spurred their popularity. Quite a few people were in the mine banging away at rocks when we visited, including a lot of families. I personally could not get the rock fever, and after an hour or so of sweating (in a humid 78 degrees, with passing rain showers and occasional sun), I chose to hang out in the Airstream while E & E searched for fabulous little crystals. They came back a couple of hours later with a plastic baggie holding a lot of tiny samples, some of which will become part of Emma’s magic wand.

Our final stop for the day was one I’ve been anticipating for a long time. Randy Miller, son of the legendary Airstream photographer Ardean Miller (see Airstream Life, Winter 2007), invited us to his home in Cazenovia NY. It was an invitation I could not pass up, even before I saw the pictures of the place. We are parked on a farm high atop a hill in central New York, where all around are spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.

cazenovia-field-repair.jpgGetting to the back yard, where we are parked, was a challenge. At one point we were basically off-roading down a steep embankment, and the last two feet of our 30-foot Airstream did not like it. The bumper I damaged last January on the way to Quartzsite was particularly insulted by the terrain. Now it is bent in the middle. I had to do a “field repair” literally in the middle of a field, which involved removing the bumper, bending some metal, and whacking it back into place. It will hold, but there is no question that further service will be needed at Jackson Center.


Now that we are parked, I’m not inclined to go anywhere. We’ve got a spot of honor next to the fire pit and tremendous hospitality. Randy has all the toys any overgrown kid might want, and his daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids are here visiting (as well as their friends and more children), so the late afternoon was spent playing with a remote-controlled airplane (which I crashed spectacularly into a tree), dogs, children, and a potato-shooting gun.

cazenovia-airstream-piper.jpgcazenovia-campfire.jpgRandy also arranged that we would be overflown by a Piper J-3 Cub in the early evening. The neighbor/pilot buzzed us with great finesse and even demonstrated a little aerobatic maneuvering. Then it was time for dinner, which was grilled outside for everyone. The kids made S’mores over the fire and told ghost stories in the dark, and I didn’t get a single mosquito bite. All in all, it has been one of the better Mondays I can recall. We’ll stay a couple of nights for sure …

Setting up the Jam

We’ve arrived at Saratoga Spa State Park, site of the Vintage Trailer Jam this week. As always seems to happen when I’ve got a major event to attend, we had a glitch before departing. The trailer was hitched up and ready to roll at 8:15 this morning, but the Prodigy brake controller reported “N.C.” which means “no connection” to the trailer brakes.

We tried the obvious things, and determined that the trailer brakes were working fine, and the problem was in the truck. Since we just came out of the Nissan dealership the day before, and they were working on the trailer wiring, we assumed they’d mixed up something. So we unhitched and drove up to the dealership again, where they tested everything and could find no problem.

After an hour of that we gave up on the dealer and drove over to the local RV shop, where they understand brake controllers. Pete’s RV hooked up a testing unit and saw the problem, and in less than 10 minutes had it diagnosed as a bad 7-way plug on the truck. The factory-installed plug has seen three years of heavy use, and has been connected and disconnected hundreds of times. Something inside a sealed module seemed to have worn out, and it wasn’t serviceable. The tech at Pete’s popped in a new plug and we were good to go again. Minimum service charge plus parts: $65. By 11 a.m. we were on the road with the Airstream right behind us.

After the refrigerator failure, the turn/brake indicator failure, and the 7-way plug failure, I was starting to wonder if we’d make it to Saratoga at all, but we did, even through heavy rainshowers along I-87. By the way, the front compartment repair done in May by Colonial Airstream’s service department has been proven successful. After towing in heavy rain the compartment was snug and dry.

vtj-parking-setup.jpgToday is probably going to be the worst weather day of the week. The humidity flirted with 100% (meaning a hot fog formed in some spots nearby) and with partial sun beating down on us while we walked the grounds to mark parking spots.   Tomorrow a cold front is supposed to come through and bring us sunny and much drier air, which will be extremely welcome.

In addition to Brett and myself, Colin Hyde, Hunt Jones, and Don Collimore were here to get the pre-event jobs done.   We all sweated and guzzled water and wandered around the field trying to figure out how exactly 83 trailers are going to manage to get parked on level ground, reach the power lines, and depart later without crunching into each other or falling in one of the many massive gopher holes that dot the field.   Colin had made a plan months ago but there were significant logistical barriers he had not accounted for (a couple of large muddy spots, low overhanging branches, etc).   It was not the finest hour of any of our lives but we did manage to get it all worked out.   I hope.

We’ll find out tomorrow when 38 trailers are expected to arrive.   Those are our “early birds,” many of whom are also volunteering to help with the rest of the Jam.   With their help we might even survive this thing.   It’s a good thing that many of them are friends from previous Airstream rallies.   They’re more forgiving.

vtj-colin-awning.jpgThis evening after we’d done what we could to get ready, we pulled my Airstream and Colin’s over to the official site and parked ourselves in two of the most difficult spots.   We’ll be the last ones out, so it makes sense for us to take the most “buried” spots.   Once the other trailers arrive we won’t be able to leave.   We even set up awnings and broke out a generator for some air conditioning.   That’s Colin wrestling with   his vintage awning at right.


The last minor issue of the day was the arrival of the NY State Park Police, who apparently didn’t get the memo that we were going to be camped here.   Fortunately the officer was willing to listen to Colin’s explanation and didn’t pursue it any further than asking some questions. We are still here and nobody is trying to move us out.   That’s good because tomorrow this empty field is going to be dotted with a lot of vintage trailers, and on Friday we expect to have 83 parked all over the place.   Saratoga Springs State Park may never be the same.

Hyde Park to Saratoga Springs, NY


Our last plan with Rick and Sandi was to visit Hyde Park’s   “Eveready Diner” for Sunday brunch before heading out from the state park.   This place was just begging for us to come in and try a stack of buttermilk pancakes, an omelette, and some of those fat sausages.

hyde-park-eveready-diner-sign.jpgWe weren’t disappointed. Breakfast was served quickly, the tall stack was sweet and light, and the interior of the restaurant was just as visually stylish as the outside.   It’s a nice spot for a hearty breakfast (served all day, of course) before hitching up the trailer and hitting the New York State Thruway.

We had an easy tow on the schedule.   I’ve got to do some advance work for the upcoming Vintage Trailer Jam in Saratoga Springs, which is only 100 miles north of Hyde Park.   A client of Colin Hyde’s happens to live in the area and he offered us courtesy parking for a couple of nights, so we yanked the Airstream up the highway knowing we had a spot “by the barn” with electric, somewhere a few miles from Saratoga Spa State Park, where the Jam is being held.

There’s a lot to do in Saratoga Springs and a lot of details to resolve before the Jam can occur, so I’ve got my work cut out for me.     We’re trying to hold a vintage RV rally on the grounds of the Saratoga Automobile Museum (which is in the state park), and there are no hookups of any kind available, nor any dump station or dining facilities.   So we’ve got to bring everything in, which means   thousand logistical challenges to resolve.

I expect it will be worth the effort, because just from the little I saw from Route 9 as we drove by, the park appears to be absolutely beautiful.   I’ve also been told the museum is great, as is the horse race track, the golf course, the spa, and the famous spring water that people used to come here for.   Eleanor and I will be checking out as much as we can over the next two days.

The RV Industry Association reports something we already knew: Even with higher fuel prices, traveling by RV is still less expensive for families on vacation than the alternatives.   Air travel is getting more expensive too.   Tallying up our costs even at $4 per gallon (which today we paid for the first time ever), our fuel cost for this cross-country roundtrip from Arizona to Vermont will be less than $2400.   Add in lodging (campground fees), tires, and maintenance and we’re still under $4,000. That’s for six months of travel, meaning about $22 per day.   It’s still the best deal around, and still cheaper than staying home.

Our coordinates: 43 ° 5’47.54″N 73 °51’5.20″W

Assateague Island National Seashore, MD

I like driving Route 13 up the eastern seashore. The road is smooth, level, and lightly trafficked. All through the tow the Nissan hummed steadily as it tugged the Airstream through quiet green countryside up into Maryland.

We made one important stop, at The Great Machipongo Clam Shack, to stock the freezer and buy seafood sandwiches for lunch. I say “important” because we know the place and love the food, but also because it has fast wi-fi which reaches across their roomy parking lot. Twenty-seven huge emails had piled up over the last few weeks which I have been unable to download efficiently over my cellular Internet connection. All of them downloaded quickly while Eleanor was inside ordering lunch.


Assateague National Seashore looks at first a lot like the Outer Banks: a barrier island, lots of sand, sea oats, and other salt-adapted plants. But it has one significant element that other barrier islands don’t have, namely wild ponies. They have been living here for centuries, perhaps survivors of a Spanish ship that sank off shore, and they are a major tourist attraction.

assateague-manure.jpgWe have yet seen them, but their signs are everywhere. Hoof prints are in the sand by our campsite, and horse manure is scattered along the narrow campground roads. In backing up the Airstream I was forced to drive right through a nice heap of manure, which is the first time that’s happened in our travels.

If you come here, note that there are two campgrounds adjacent to each other on the barrier island. One is state park, and the other is national park. The national park sites are $20 per night (versus $30 for the state park) and have the same services: nothing. But the national park requires a $15 per vehicle entrance fee, so for a single night it’s cheaper to take the state park unless you have a national parks pass.

We ended up in the state park because of site availability. There, you’ll find a huge variation in the length of campsites. It’s impossible for longer trailers like ours to back into a site without the tow vehicle driving on the sand (and maybe manure) at least a little. The registration desk has a book listing all the site lengths and it’s a good idea to check it before you pick one. We needed a huge site to fit all three vehicles (remember the Honda?).

It’s beautiful on the island, but I can’t help the sense of “We just did this.” One barrier island is much like another. The wind this afternoon was like the Outer Banks at their worst, whistling and howling and throwing sand in our faces. We tried to walk to the beach but the tiny particles stung our legs and wriggled into our eyes. I’m afraid that means we won’t be able to properly investigate the place with the time we have.

We would stay several nights, but Memorial Day weekend begins tomorrow, and both the state and national park sites on the island are completely booked. We anticipated this. We could have allowed more nights here if we had left the Outer Banks a day or two earlier, or driven right through instead of stopping at Koptopeke last night. There’s always a compromise somewhere, and in this case Assateague got the short end of the stick. We will have to leave in the morning.

We could have made reservations for this weekend, but that would have required us to nail down our exact trip plan weeks ago. Instead, we left it open, trusting that some sort of plan would emerge, and one did: we are going to spend the weekend courtesy parking at the home of fellow Washington DC Unit (WBCCI) members Star & Peter, up in New Hope PA.

That’s ideal, since they have hookups on their property, don’t mind us coming or going whenever we want, and by courtesy parking we are saving money too. Their house is near Philadelphia so I expect at some point we’ll make a day trip in to the city.

Assateague will be on our “return” list to visit again someday when we have time to explore it. I’d like to be able to photograph the wild ponies, ride the bike trails, and drive down the 4WD section of beach. See, even full-timers don’t always have time to do everything they want. It’s a big country and a lifetime is barely enough time to explore it.

Our coordinates tonight:   38 °13’58.15″N   75 ° 8’28.59″W

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