Maine Part 2: Moving slightly coastward to Blueberry Pond Campground

As I have mentioned or at least implied a couple of times in previous posts this has been a very expensive month for us, what with family gatherings, a wedding, a birthday, paying for half the new tire on serenity and four new tires on the tracker.  Accordingly, after we finished our ten day stay at Poland Spring, we looked at our options for cutting the costs back for the rest of the month.  This meant parking lot camping or Passport America rates all the way, and to kick things off we headed straight for the Auburn Walmart 13 miles away.

Though we have “parking lot camped,” usually under stealth conditions, several times while we nursed The Big Kahuna along in 2015, this was our very first Walmart overnight experience.   A number of big chain stores allow overnight RV campers: Sams, Costco, Home Depot, Cabelas, and most casinos included.  With Walmart, it varies by store: usually the supercenters allow it and the neighborhood versions don’t, but it’s best to call and check.  We needed to stock up on food and supplies anyway, so we pulled in, spotted two big rig semis and one small RV, parked in their vicinity, and then called for overnight permission.  They must get asked quite often because the main switchboard person knew the answer to this esoteric question without having to consult with a manager: yes, just park in the far corner.

So there we were, Saturday night and parked in the shared lot between a Lowes and a Walmart.  I know to the non-RVer this sounds not merely unglamourous, but hideous.  Not at all!  Keep in mind, we have every convenience of home in our rig.  We leveled Serenity with our hydraulic system, put out the most unobtrusive of our three slides, restocked our groceries at the conveniently located discount store nearby, set up the Honda generator for basic electrical needs, cooked dinner on our stove top, and settled in for the evening.

We noticed that we were at the very edge of the free Walmart and Lowes WiFi signal, and as night approached and the crowds thinned out, I did a bit of experimenting in the parking lot, enough to realize that the normally “so crowded it is unusable” connections from both stores had become rapidly more functional, if only we were a little closer.  Though neither store had closed yet the lots were nearly empty, so I took a chance, pulled in the levels and slide, and crept Serenity closer, a lot closer, to the big stores.  We were still positioned out of the prime parking real estate, sort of at the far right edge of one and left edge of the other, but it was close enough that we could get a solid WiFi signal from either antenna inside the RV.  One more home convenience that also allowed us to save on our ever strained Verizon data plan.

The next morning we moved back out to the parking hinterlands before making full preparations to get underway, lingering long enough that our very short drive to our next destination would put us there around check in time.  Blueberry Pond Campground in Pownal was only 18 miles southeast.  They were one of the top reviewed Passport-America parks in the region, though they only allowed the discount rate Sunday through Thursday and for a maximum of three days, two of the more common PA restrictions.

But what a fantastic campground!   Similar in some ways to Poland Spring, it is located in the woods with extensive greenery all around and spacious, tree-covered sites.  It also has very similar amenities, including a pool and free WiFi.  The energetic camp owner and his fiance try to make for a sense of community among the temporary residents, running a themed dinner event for all every two weeks and providing frequent bonfires near in the common seating area.

We loved this place and the serenity it provided.  Our first night fell on Father’s Day (now you know exactly how far behind we are on this blog,) so I drove out to a local general store to grab a few local craft brews.  Baxter Brewing Company produces a fine assortment, I particularly liked the Throwaway IPA and the Pamola Session Ale, whereas Rosemarie preferred the Summer Swelter Ale.  Regardless, they made made for delicious drinking at the first night’s bonfire.

During our far too brief three days there we attended every campfire event, swam in the pool, got slightly lost on their nature trail, and just reveled in the clean Maine woods air.

Our last full day we dove the 4.5 miles into Freeport to visit the L.L. Bean outlet, and spent money we shouldn’t have on admittedly phenomenal deals.  We also sampled all the options at Maine Distilling Company’s  free tasting room downstairs from the outlet. They produce a range or spirits, including vodkas, gins, rums, whiskeys and a few difficult to categorize options.  Returning home to promptly pull out a few more items on our “ready to sell” list so I could prep Craigslist and eBay ads in the coming days to compensate for these latest expenses.

The last night while at the campfire one of the other RVers mentioned the great pizza they had eaten at the nearby North Pownal General Store.  Not feeling up to cooking, I called in an order 30 minutes before they closed and headed the ten minute drive to pick it up.  As I was the last customer of the evening, the gave me another pizza, the one in the warmer for individual slices, free.  And while this was a bit thicker crusted than Rosemarie’s New York style preference, it was big, delicious, and piled with toppings.  A big thanks to the generous and outgoing owners, who provided not only that night’s dinner, but about half a dozen additional meals for me while Rosemarie flew down to Florida two days later.

Both of our Maine campgrounds have been fantastic.  We really feel fortunate that our research sources pointed us to such great places.  Comparing them: Poland Spring is much larger and has the wonderful chain of lakes and boating opportunities.  Blueberry Pond has a much greater sense of the personal involvement of the owners with the campers.  Both had beautiful sites and properties with the right balance between nature and amenities.  We shall see how the remaining stops in Maine play out, but if we ever get back to this state, I  suspect we will be staying at both properties again.

And we made it! Maine Part 1: Poland Spring & LA

We have arrived in Maine, one of our major destinations on this year’s route plan, and one of only a handful of stops that had an actual “no later than” date of arrival requirement.  We are here to celebrate a wedding, and to take advantage of the gathering of family and friends to throw a 50th birthday party for Rosemarie.

With Maria and KayKay getting their first taste of riding in the motorhome, the four of us departed Connecticut and passed through the Massachusetts before cutting across the southeast corner of New Hampshire, where we stopped to take advantage of the lower cost and untaxed liquor at one of the state run stores.  It’s a bit ironic that the Live Free Or Die state mandates that all spirits and liquor have to be sold by the state government!  It was a good midway stopping point allowing all of us to stretch our legs as well.

Back on the road, we finally arrived in Maine, and continued north about 45 minutes beyond Portland, getting to our destination in the late afternoon.  You have heard of the town, Poland Spring, from the bottled water company that originated and still operates here.  After research, we selected the Poland Spring campground as the best bang for the buck campground we could find in the vicinity of Lewiston-Auburn (LA), the location for the wedding.  We were not disappointed.

Our first Maine campground, though a privately resort, had the feel of a state park in terms of natural setting, spaciousness, and greenery.  It is heavily treed, with large sites well separated from your neighbors, the greenery adding to that sense of privacy.  Unlike many public parks, though, it had plenty of amenities as well.  In addition to the power and water connections, we had two included WiFi passes to the fully functional resort network, and access to a pool, playground, boat dock and lake swimming area.

For us the clear highlight of the campground was the potential for significant animal sightings, particularly birds that nested or hunted along the lake chain. Lots of loons and other water fowl, of course, but the star attraction were the nesting pair of eagles and two chick in the 700 pound nest on the island just off shore.  On our first day we were able to observe one of the adults standing watch and the two chick poking their heads up occasionally.

Though the park is a Passport-America participant, they have the unusual restriction of only providing that rate for walk up campers; you can’t make a reservation on the PA rate.  Not willing to take the chance, we had originally reserved five days on an electric and water only site, saving a few bucks by not electing for a full hook up spot with sewage.  Shortly before our arrival, feeling a bit tired from the faster than planned pace of travel, we added two days to our reservation and received a modest discount for the weekly rate, coming out to about $29, all in.

Titi Maria and KayKay stayed with us the first night before moving over to Junior’s house, enough for them to get to enjoy the natural setting, swim in the lake, and see the eagles.  After that the week turned into the expected whirlwind of wedding preparations, continual family get togethers and, of course, Rosemarie’s party!  We held it at the lake cabin Jason and Linda had rented for themselves, Rosemarie’s mom, Gloria, and her cousin Christopher and his family.  We had the expected fantastic, loud, and drink filled time.

After that, it was all about the wedding.   Junior and Kaytarra had rented the Elks Lodge in Lewiston, and had arranged for all of the guests to bring the food in pot lock style.  We spent the early afternoon preparing 80 wings, and then helped transport people and supplies to the wedding hall.  Junior himself had prepared two pernils which we took in Loki, the smell driving me a bit crazy; After having tried several versions of this Puerto Rican pork dish, and Rosemarie having had decades of them, we both agree that Junior makes the best, and have resolved to alter our technique to match his.

Rosemarie helped decorate the wedding arch once the groomsmen delivered it.  About 100 guests having arrived, while not exactly on time, not nearly as late as we are used to in Miami, the event kicked off with a great ceremony, immediate reception, and quite a lot of dancing.  Yes, me included.

The next two days continued with family gatherings before each group departed, which also allowed me the opportunity for a couple more fantastic Maine lobster rolls.  Hey, you gotta eat something when at a seafood shack, right?  We got pretty much the entire remaining out of town contingent plus local cousin Junior and son Nazir together for one last seafood extravaganza; thanks to The Lost Gull in nearby Oxford for a fantastic lunch.

Cousin Christopher, his wife Amy and their children Elijah and Jude, stayed with us for two nights at the Poland Spring campground before making the drive back to Virginia.  We spent the days exploring the camp and the nights beside the fire, all of us slowly working out way through the vast array of leftovers from the wedding.

Finally the week of activity came to a close, and used to our relative isolation on the road, we collapsed, not at all ready to continue on to another campground quite yet.  Plus, our budget was pretty much devastated from tires, repairs, parties, and the usual wedding guest expenditures.

Accordingly, I talked with the front office and negotiated a three day stay, but on the Passport-America rate since we were not making a future reservation.  We had to move sites, but had three days at this beautiful park just to ourselves and at only $20 a night, sewage included at the new spot .  We settled in, relaxed, recuperated, and reassessed our plans for the rest of the month, focusing on cranking down on our expenditures to make up for the first two weeks.  During this time we feasted on the extensive leftovers that I had quite literally been forced to take home by the family clean up crew at the wedding, and spent almost nothing except for the very much worth it two hour boat and trolling motor rental.

We spent our last day at Poland Spring cruising the Lower Range Pond, most of it under power until the battery gave out, after which we enjoyed the sunset as we paddled back to the dock.  We could not have asked for a better ending to our first Maine stop.

Repositioning to Northern Connecticut

As mentioned in a previous post, we are doing these New England states “out of order,” i.e., not along the most time or distance efficient route, in order to best position ourselves to pick up relatives in NYC and take them with us to Maine.  Having visited Newport, RI and Cape Cod, MA, we now had three days before our planned rendezvous.  After going through a number of options, we decided to position Serenity about half way between NYC and Portland, ME, stay there for three nights, use our Geo Tracker for the round trip to the city, and have Titi Maria and KayKay stay with us in the RV one night before continuing on to ME the next day.

Looking at our route options, northern Connecticut was our preferred staging area, and after research via AllStays, Passport-America, and RV Park Reviews, we selected Chamberlain Lake Campground in Woodstock, CT.  We secured four nights, three of them at the 50% discounted PA rate, though the first night was full price since it fell on the weekend, an excluded day by there policy.  This placement would give us a 140 mile car trip to NYC in each direction and then roughly 190 miles in Serenity the next day to get to our Maine campground.

Spacious sites surrounded by trees.

Chamberlain Lake Campground turned out to be quite nice, in appearance closer to what we expect from a state park: heavily wooded with spacious sites on a nice lake, complete with docks and natural swimming areas.  We were on the power and water only rate, but the usual on site dump station was easily accessible on our departure day.  The park also offered a cable TV option for a couple of bucks each day, which we selected as well.  Though there was no park wide WiFi, we were provided with the access code for the office/recreation room connection, which worked fine in that vicinity, particularly since we never saw anyone else using it during our stay.

With what would no doubt be a whirlwind of impending activity in Maine, including parties, family gatherings, dining out, trips to the airport, wedding preparations and the like, we took advantage of this calm before the storm to do, basically, nothing.  Once hooked up we didn’t leave the park for two days, venturing out on the third solely to restock groceries. We took the time to appreciate the beautiful local surroundings, particularly after the bulk of the campers left at the end of the weekend.

On our fourth day we headed south to NYC, braving not only the toll roads and bridges, but also the downtown Manhattan traffic, venturing all the way to the South Street Seaport in order to have lunch with Rosemarie’s sister, Melissa.  Though the drive was a bit stressful, it was the parking that nearly did me in. Fortunately we stumbled across a very short pay spot after circling several blocks, and we reaped the advantage of having a car less than 12′ in length.  With Rosemarie providing exterior guidance, we were able to parallel park with only four or five back and forth moves.

Not an RV friendly road. We could take off the top three feet of Serenity.

Melissa took us to her favorite pizzaria in the area, which was the primary thing we wanted in the city.  We had an hour or two of catching up with her before we needed to head out and pick up Maria and KayKay.  The short drive took us an hour due to the usual Manhattan traffic, but we scooped them up and fled across the Triborough Bridge just as rush hour was hitting.  It took us over three hours to get back to the campground, partially due to my having to slow Loki down to about 50 mph the last hour of the drive due to a progressively worsening vibration which I suspected was the result of a deteriorating tire.

We arrived before dark with plenty of time to show Titi and KayKay the park, especially the lovely lake.  That evening, with adult beverages flowing as fast as the stories, along with a viciously competitive  game of Uno, I am pretty sure we were, for once, the loudest site in the campground.   Despite this, or perhaps because of it, we provided such a positive RV experience for Maria and KayKay that we ended up keeping them an extra night with us once we arrived in Maine, rather than drop them off at Junior’s right away.

The next morning I headed off to the nearest town in search of a tire shop.  The first place wouldn’t even look at the problem until I secured an appointment, which they might be able to provide late that afternoon.  Thank goodness for Kelly’s Tire in Putnam, the second place I checked out.  I would later learn that this family owned business has been around since the 1930’s and in the same location since the 40’s.  They also have the interesting distinction of running a full service gas station at the same price per gallon as the area’s competing self serve places.  Very old school, with the energetic attendant not only pumping the gas, but cleaning the windows, providing dog treats, and checking tire pressure and adding air if requested.  The locals clearly appreciate it; they were running pretty much nonstop while I was there.

After describing my symptoms to the manager he immediately came out to inspect the rubber, having me pull forward slowly to see all sides of each tire.  He spotted the problem right away: two of the tires exhibited an almost serpentine wave to the tread along with some bulging, a sure sign of major tire deterioration and impending failure.  Since I was already running on a very old spare after having run a screw through a sidewall while in Florida, and because all of the originals were nearing at the end of their tread life, I elected to replace four tires instead of two.  Our June budget included paying for one new tire on Serenity already, so now it looks like our July plan to buy a luxury item with our flex money has been overtaken by events.  Ah well.  Kelly’s had me on my way in about an hour.

After returning to camp I found that Rosemarie and crew had the interior of Serenity ready for the road, so after disconnecting services, dumping tanks, and connecting Loki we were on our way towards Maine.  Thanks for a great RV experience, Connecticut, hope to do it again sometime.

Just a bit of pollen in the air.

A short and unfortunately dreary stay in Cape Cod. You can’t always get lucky with the weather.

After leaving Newport we continued northwest into Massachusetts and out onto the Cape Cod peninsula.  Perhaps complacent from the lucky streak we have had, where each stay included at least half of the days with beautiful weather, once we got set up in the cute ocean side Campers Haven RV Resort in Dennisport we settled in for the day rather than take advantage of the clear skies and warm temperatures to explore.  Unfortunately that would be the only nice day of our stay, with the remaining two being dreary and wet.

Dennisport is roughly half way across Cape Cod.  We selected Campers Haven for location and price: of the three places offering the Passport-America discount it was the only one directly on the peninsula coast.  Though only scheduled for a partial hook up site in accordance with their discount policy, they went ahead and upgraded us to a full service site.  We enjoyed the 50% rate for our first two days but had to pay full price for the last night since it fell on a weekend.  You see all sorts of limitations at campgrounds and resorts that participate in PA, and weekend exclusions are pretty common.

Campers Haven offered a nice price for the location.  Private campgrounds in populer tourist areas do not usually offer the wide open spaces and greenery that one finds in state parks but our site was reasonably spacious and the neighboring RVs didn’t impinge on us at all.  The spot was level and the services excellent: in addition to full hook ups, a helpful front desk, and powerful hot water in the bath house, they also had fully working free WiFi provided by Tengonet, and cable TV via a coax connection. 

Both of those are rare enough to warrant specific comment.  We have not always had the best of luck with Tengonet and like services; the portal capture technology does not always work well, along with the usual problems of free WiFi, i.e., too small a pipe for the number of users and to weak a signal due to limited antennas.  Cable TV hookups, once a mainstay of RV resorts, has become rarer as more RVers purchase their own satellite TV systems and use WiFi for their video streaming.  Since we don’t have the former and the latter is often constrained, it was nice to have the cable TV rather than rely on the wasteland that is over the air television. 

Despite the drizzle we braved the weather our second day there to explore the general area, finding one incredibly quaint neighborhood after another and getting lots of advice and recommendations from locals for restaurants and the like.  The last full day we drove an hour back to Falmouth in order to catch a ferry over to Martha’s Vineyard.  There were closer ports of departure, but Falmouth had the cheapest rate since it is the closest to the island.  With a $2 military discount, we ended up paying $18 each for a round trip ticket, with multiple return times offered. 

We had really pushed the timing, and not wanting to take a chance on missing the next ferry we settled for the nearest $15 per day lot rather than search around for something more competitive.  Nor had we been able to grab breakfast along the way.  Don’t make that mistake, eat something before you get to the ferry because their snack options were pretty awful, and the prices on Martha’s Vineyard are not exactly cheap! 

Upon arrival we deviated from the standard tourist paths heading to the many boutique stores and restaurants and instead hiked a couple of miles to the nearest lighthouse that we had spotted while sailing in to the port.  The tourist map was a bit deceptive since it was not drawn to scale, and I estimate we did a four mile round trip, but for much of the time we had great views as we walked along the seaside paths and roads.

On the way back we explored a very cute little chocolate and jewelry shop before we stumbled back into town with food and a drink on our minds.  We settled into Nancy’s bar for some beer and an affordable yet fantastic clam chowder.  Had the weather been nicer and the budget bigger we might have stayed longer, but we caught the first of the afternoon ferries back to Falmouth.  Our last enjoyable view of Martha’s Vineyard was watching the Ospreys from the nearby nest taking turns minding the nest and hunting for fish.

We ended our trip with a quick stop at Sundancer’s restaurant, strongly recommended by some locals, where I had my first Lobster Roll in years, but definitely not the last of this New England trip.  It was fantastic, as promised.  We hunkered down for the rest of the night before bidding adieu to Cape Cod late the next morning as we headed back east to Connecticut.

17 Months fulltiming: May 2016 report

Wow, last month I was reporting that we had just left Florida, and this monthly we are already in New England!

The Distance: 1467 miles, which nearly double the distance from April, which had been our biggest month of the year until that point.  I doubt we will keep up this nearly 1500 mile per month pace now that we have nearly reached Maine, the wedding there having driven our schedule these last couple of months.  Our total for the year so far: 3053 miles.

The Places:  Eleven locations for this month.  We started off with a four day stop in the immaculately maintained Joint Base Charleston campground to check on The Big Kahuna before continuing up the coast to visit my Mom and Stepdad Tim in Wilmington.  Then it was three days in the Chesapeake region, parked at the Navy’s NorthWest Annex to see Jayson and Linda, before we sprinted west to the Shenandoah National Park (our first NP of the year.)  We cut that visit short by a day to swing back towards D.C. for a whirlwind of visits with friends from my time on USS Carney.  This included a one night stay in the parking lot behind the Centreville Moose Lodge in Fairfax, VA and splitting our four day stay in Annapolis between the Annapolis Moose Lodge and the navy’s campground across the Severn River from the Naval Academy.

After that streak of friends and family, we had two stops just to ourselves, the first at Trap Pond State Park in Delaware, then a short stay at the Naval Weapon Station in Earle, NJ. We closed out the month with a one day stop to see Star and Michael in Mahopac, NY and a five day stay at the navy campground new Newport, RI.

We had full or partial hook ups for 21 days, dry camped for five, and stayed in friend’s or relative’s homes for five.  Broken down by type of park: we stayed in in public campgrounds for seven (3 national, 4 state), in friends/relatives’ driveways, houses, or other property for five, in military camgprounds for seventeen, at moose lodges for two, and didn’t spend a single day in a private RV resort.

The Budget:   We were on track to finish 5% under, but then ended up splitting the cost of a new tire between the May and June budgets, so we finished exactly even.  This was possible only because we sold so many things on Craigslist after pulling the last of our items out of The Big Kahuna in Charleston, and several pieces of Rosemarie’s jewelry at her Etsy store.    It also helped that we kept our campground costs pretty by staying in military sites for so many of the days, and with family and friends for a few.

The Drama:  We had to replace another tire on Serenity, the cost of which will effect our June budget.  We also had some excitement chasing down an electrical problem in New Jersey which took out our inverter and several power outlets, though we solved that one at no cost.

The Improvements:  We have now replaced three of the six tires, and after our working port in Charleston, done a major reorganization of our entire stowage compartments.  nothing significant to report.

All of our monthly reports, as well as our first full year report, 2015 in Review, are linked below.

2016 Reports:

2015 in Review

We are officially in New England! Five days in Newport, RI

Our original plan had us cruising up the east coast, hitting each state in turn, arriving in Maine by early to mid July.  Based on an impending wedding near Portland we accelerated the schedule by about four weeks.  More recently, we arranged to pick up a couple of relatives and wedding attendees in NYC and take them with us in the RV to the big event. Because we can’t pick them up until just a couple of days before the wedding (they have pesky interference like work and school) this presented a scheduling challenge given that we still wanted to visit all of the New England states before turning west.  I mean come on; we stopped in New Jersey, so do you think we would skip New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, or Massachusetts?

What we came up with is to sprint beyond New York and visit Newport and Cape Cod, then cut back to Connecticut for a few days.  We would then pick up Titi Maria and KayKay in our Geo Tracker, bring them north to our Connecticut campground for a night, and then continue on to Maine the next day.  Other relatives will be taking them back to NYC, so after we are done exploring Maine, we will visit New Hampshire and Vermont.

Pad Kee Meow loved our site quite a lot, especially the easily climbed trees.

So that is how we ended up at the Carr Point, part of the Newport Naval Station’s property, and a little known gem among military RV campgrounds.  Even though the park only has six sites and we were arriving on Memorial Day weekend, we were still able to make reservations less than two weeks in advance.  Our timing continues to be fantastic this year; the park had only just opened for the season the week we arrived.

Our site had nearly unobstructed westward facing views of the bay, which made for spectacular sunsets on the good weather days.

The six spots are situated right on the water overlooking the Narraganset Bay.  We pulled in forward rather than back in so we would have the great view through our front window. The park has 50 amp power and water, but no sewage at all, not even a dump station.  At $20 a night, it is still a fantastic deal, you just need to arrive with your grey and black water tanks empty, be conservative with the water use while there, and if you are staying a while perhaps plan to drive to the nearby private RV park in Middletown and pay the $15 fee to use their dump station.

We had access to the waters edge from near the campground.

We had great weather on each end of the five day stay, with a day and a half stretch of near continuous rain and drizzle sandwiched in the middle.  We loved the location (and the price) so much we extended our reservation from four to five days, sliding our Cape Cod and Connecticut reservations to the right.  We explored downtown Newport, the historic district, mansion row, Ocean Drive, the marina’s, basically everything we could fit in during the good weather days.

On the rainy days we spent a lot of time hunkered down at the base internet cafe catching up on shows, news, and this here blog.  The one day extension allowed us to stumble upon the base thrift shop’s annual sale: $4 bucks for whatever you could fit in a paper bag, excluding uniforms and a few other categories.  Holy crap.  No wonder there was a line outside half an hour before they opened.  We kept it real, we only have so much space, and walked away with but two bags.

The 23 items within them averaged less than 35 cents each, for which we got a handful of DVDs in Rosemarie’s preferred genre of bad horror, four box sets of complete seasons of my preferred comedy shows, a pair of boots, multiple dresses, a purse and matching winter hat, a high quality winter jacket with hood, etc etc. For an additional $3 I also replaced my four cup coffee maker, rusted enough to become a possible electrical safety hazard.  What a score.  We donated a small bag of things upon arrival, but now we would need to do some serious cutting of our existing clothes in order to stay true to our “one in, one out” rule of items in the RV.

While there we met the To family, our neighbors for the stay, the father, Kam, a freshly minted (though prior enlisted) Navy Ensign supply officer attending classes at the Newport Naval Station.  During their time in Newport they were living in a small Class A motorhome, which strikes me as a bit ingenious.  I can’t even count the number of military courses I attended while in service, and some of them simply did not provide adequate housing.  Department Head school in particularly would have been a much nicer experience had I possessed a decent RV rather than have to stay in the crappy dorm rooms the school provided for us geographic bachelors at the time.

Our last day displayed the unique weather of New England islands.  During our afternoon drive around Ocean Drive and Fort Adams State Park we passed through large patches of rolling and thick fog.  Turning back towards the Newport Harbor, it disappeared completely, resulting in a beautiful clear sunny day, allowing us to watch the near shore sailing races from the harbor docks.

We’ve stayed in six military campgrounds this year, a big change from our grand total of two in 2015.  My past resistance to them, based largely on the additional rules, scrutiny, and bureaucracy found within the facilities, has melted in the face of the subsidized prices for often extraordinary locations.  We still love the nature experience provided by national, state, and county parks, as well as the amenities provided by private resorts (especially when they offer the 50% Passport-America rate) but for the rest of 2016 and beyond we will remain much more open to the military campground options along our route.

Near shore catamaran race we watched from the dock.


New York: welcomed with an egregious toll in NYC but great company in Mahopac

So, I am still not quite sure what I did wrong.  I asked my google maps to route me from New Jersey to Mahopac, NY and avoid tolls in the process.  It produced an option that appeared to go just a bit north of NYC before crossing the Hudson River.  Lacking local knowledge, I went with it, and cruised up 9 and then 440, then truck route 1 and 9, and truck route detour 1 and 9, only white knuckled in a few places, though increasingly concerned about the number of signs indicating we were headed to a vaguely familiar sounding bridge or tunnel that really seemed like it would have a toll.

Does this bridge look familiar? Then you know whats coming.

Sure enough, we hit the George Washington Bridge toll booth an hour into the trip.  The small sign on the booth indicated that cars were $15 and trucks started at $15.  Outrageous, they were going to charge us $30 just to cross through NYC!  I was wrong, of course.  The condescending toll monitor informed me that it would be $84.  The size of our truck warranted $21 per axle, and she then helpfully pointed out that $21 x 4 did, in fact, result in a product of $84.  It didn’t matter that two of those axles were on a tiny car which unconnected would have passed for $15.  It was not disconnected, and therefor would be an additional $42.

This is one of those reasons that non-New Yorkers have, shall we say, strong feelings about New York, or at least the city.  Heck, its one of the reasons New Yorkers often feel the same, other than when they are aggressively defending the state and city to outsiders.  It ruined my mood for the rest of the trip.  The absurdity of having to pay that much money to cross a damn bridge is just nonsense.

Fortunately, the rest of the day went much better.  We arrived at Star and Michael’s house around three, and just as promised they had a huge and accessible driveway that easily accommodated Serenity.  Our hosts pulled out the stops for our one day visit, preparing a delicious stromboli as a late lunch and later a wonderful steak and baked potato dinner. They invited Pad Kee Meow into their impeccable home for the evening as well.

In addition to the free flow of wine and beer they also opened their liquor cabinet, commenting that they collect a lot of stuff, mostly purchased in vacation duty frees, that they simply don’t drink and that we should have at it.  And that is how Rose and I reluctantly agreed to have a very small pour of Johnny Walker Blue before switching to something affordable.  Michael wouldn’t hear of it, and insisted that we top off with the good stuff.  We managed to stop short of emptying the bottle.

The picture is blurry, but at this point so were we.

After dinner they had an unusual power outage, apparently the result of a blown transformer that took out the lights all over town, so we all got to pretend we were drycamping somewhere, and Michael and I started his generator to provide a bit of power to critical items.  The rest of the night was filled with catching up, stories, and laughter until at least 2 AM.  We crashed and slept late until Star made us yet another big meal.  We parted a bit hung over, bellies stuffed, in the early afternoon bound for Rhode Island.  I am still not sure what i did wrong with my google maps routing.  Maybe the “avoid tolls” option on my phone only included road tolls and not bridges?  No idea, more research required before I ever cross through coastal New York again.

he type of New York bridge we would prefer in the future: Neither tolls nor traffic.

Into New Jersey: Earle Naval Weapons Station and an electrical problem

Having had a great four day stay in a beautiful state park in Delaware, we continued north 194 miles into New Jersey, dodging a couple of tolls by avoiding part of the turnpike. Having splurged a bit in Annapolis, we were still aiming to save a bit of money on the back side of this month so we elected to stay at our fifth military campground of the year, the RV park on the Earle Naval Weapons Station.  Having been there multiple times on a couple of my ships, I was familiar enough with the area to know that it would likely involve a lot of woods and few temptations to spend excessively.   It delivered on both accounts.

I’ll give some props to the weapons station: they had the easiest check in process of any park; private, public, or military, that we have every experienced.  Once we cleared security we simply pulled up to the secondary gatehouse, showed ID, and promptly received an envelope with our site pass and other pertinent information.   Less than a mile later we pulled into the rather oddly laid out RV campground and backed into the spacious site #2.

I say oddly laid out because it looks like there used to be something other than RVs on each site, perhaps some sort of housing, with sidewalks and paths that didn’t seem to have a lot to do with the current lay out.  Additionally, the sewage connection was centered in the concrete pad, meaning that once we backed up I had to crawl part way under the rig to hook up the hose.

Pretend there are a couple of very nice pictures of the actual campsite and surrounding area here and after the next paragraph.  Due to as yet inexplicable technical error, we lost the ones we took.  

That is our only complaint, though, because this RV park defied our material condition expectations.  We are accustomed to Navy parks being a bit shabby and run down compared to their Air Force equivalents, which is rather representative of the respective services’ bases as a whole.  Not so this one: other than the odd lay out, the connections, bath house, and laundry facilities were excellent.  Even the WiFi was great, allowing full streaming any time of day.  We took advantage of the quite affordable washers and industrial dryers to do three loads of laundry for less than $7, and caught up on season 2 of Gotham.

Continue pretending you are seeing a well framed photo of the RV campground. Ooooo, ahhhh.

While there we planned to do nothing, not even leave the base if we didn’t have to. Unfortunately, Serenity’s house electrical system had other plans.  On our second day I noticed that several of our standard outlets were not charging our electronics.  Further investigation revealed that our house batteries were not getting charged by the inverter/converter either.  After checking the main pedestal breaker, we figured out that everything else was working: outside, front, and GFCI electrical sockets, air conditioners, and the refrigerator were all good to go.  I opened the breaker panel and flipped all the breakers just to make sure: no change.

Examining each breaker, I discovered that both the nonworking sockets and the battery inverter were on the same dual 15 amp breaker.  Bingo!  I called the place we bought Serenity to get a phone assist, Chris was happy to oblige, and he confirmed that my thinking was along the right track and I probably had a bad breaker.  So I set about confirming this by switching the wiring about, and managed to make things worse by knocking out the front air conditioning entirely.  Arghh!

Off to Home Depot I went, grabbing two breakers, believing that I had started with one bad breaker and possibly broke the second during my half-hazard trouble shooting attempts.  While talking with the employee who helped me find the right breaker, I had one of those “doh” moments when I realized that the input power was supplied via a copper plug to the back of each breaker, but only if it was properly seated.  During my troubleshooting, I had not actually reseated the breakers after I pulled them out to redo the wiring.

Excited that I had probably not actually damaged a breaker, I celebrated by finding a nearby geocache before hurrying back home to, hopefully, make repairs. Once their I properly seated the front AC breaker and voila, it worked just fine.  I replaced the breaker that caused all the problem in the first place and… nothing.  Still no battery charging or power to the affected outlets.

My high tech live circuit detector

I did a bit more visual inspection, noticing that the copper plug in the slot of the nonworking breaker looked a bit discolored.  On a whim, I switched the breaker to an open slot, flipped the main and individual breakers back on and was instantly rewarded with the steady hum of the inverter charging the house batteries.  A quick check with my handy dandy electrical socket checker (a portable hair trimmer) confirmed that we were back in business, and for nothing more than the cost of gas to drive to Home Depot, at least once I returned the now unnecessary new breakers.

The stress of a possible RV mechanic bill and time delay removed, we relaxed in the campground, watching three deer wander through the back field.  The next morning we packed up and headed north to New York.