Ending our Bar Harbor austerity program: Time to party during the last week of June

One of the things you may have noticed when comparing our first week or so in Maine (Southern Coast) with the following two weeks (Bar Harbor) is how much more financially restrictive we became.  Between Blue Berry Pond, Freeport, Meadowbrook Campground, and Boothbay Harbor I had lobster five times!  In Bar Harbor: not once!  During our first week we went hog wild at L.L. Bean’s factory outlet, we dined fancy at a downtown Freeport cafe, we stocked up on supplies, and did I mention the lobster?  Upon arrival in Bar Harbor we restricted ourselves to picnic day trips to Acadia National Park and a couple of nearby villages, and affordable visits to the Moose Lodge

The problem was, of course, money: we were seriously behind on the monthly budget  after that first week of splurging, aggravated by the daily camping rate at Mt Desert Narrows in Bar Harbor (even with the monthly discount during not quite peak season rates, it was nearly $47, the second highest rate we will pay all year.)   So we didn’t exactly live poor during the middle of the month, but we reeled it in big time, fighting an uphill battle to end the month in the black.  After 16 days of this, even with our successful quasi-market at the Moose Lodge, we realized that though it was feasible to scratch our way back during the last week of the month, we were just missing out on too many things that we had specifically come to Maine to enjoy.

Former Lodge Governor Larry, Lobsterboat Captain Chuckie, another Former Lodge Governor Jack, and Jack.

So we accepted the near inevitable, loosened the purse strings, and enjoyed the heck out of the last seven days of June in Maine.  We were freer with our Moose Lodge visits, we patronized local farmers markets for overpriced mushrooms, and we hit downtown Bar Harbor for a return visit to Atlantic Brewery, the local craft brew pub we had enjoyed in 2016.

Oh yes, and after researching prices and reviews, we returned to Travelling Lobster, another place we had thoroughly enjoyed during our first visit to the region two years ago.  Their price per pound was right, their cooking fee was negligible, and they had an amazing (though pricey!) IPA from Boothbay Brewery.

Rosemarie was not left out in the cold for this meal: Travelling Lobster’s seafood chowder combined with locally produced Old Soaker Blueberry Soda hit the spot.  Even Pad Kee Meow enjoyed the outdoor dining experience. 

Now, sure, our moderate outings pushed us a touch over the budget for the month, but we are still well under for the year, and have no regrets about a handful of reasonably priced but highly enjoyable experiences to close out the month of June.

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Starting our one month stay in Bar Harbor

Our final, and favorite, Maine stop in 2016 was Bar Harbor near Acadia National Park.  There we stayed for three days at Mt Desert Narrows Resort at the Passport America 50% off rate, and then a week at the first come, first serve Bar Harbor Campground up the road.  In planning our trip this year we resolved to spend a full 30 days in Bar Harbor, which would allows us to take advantage of the somewhat discounted monthly rate offered by Mt Desert Narrows.  It would still be one of our most expensive campground fees for the year, but bringing the daily total cost down from nearly $70 (for a power and water only site) to less than $47 (for a full hook up spot) made it feasible.

After working with the front desk regarding site options, we went with a full hook up site with a limited view of the harbor.  It is not quite as attractive as what we were assigned in 2016, but has turned out to be very pleasant, particularly since we enjoyed extra space on one or both sides due to the lack of neighbors during much of our stay.

The view out of our front window.

One of the reasons we enjoyed this part of Maine, and thus one of the things that brought us back for such a long stay, was our experience with the nearby Ellsworth Moose Lodge.  In the years since Gloria introduced us to the Venice Moose we have had the opportunity to visit more than a score lodges.  And while many have been fun, none gave us a welcome like Ellsworth.  It really was like being long lost members of the family. 

So the Ellsworth Lodge was at the top of our priority list for places to visit once we settled in at Mt Desert Narrows.  Rose has kept in touch with a couple of the members, and many others remembered us from 2016.  My membership having lapsed sometime last year, and having no real connection to the Venice location, I signed up here in Maine.  Though we may not see this place more than one month every two years, it is still the best lodge for us, and we are happy to be connected to the people here despite the infrequent nature of our visits.  

You can’t beat the drink prices in these membership type places, and when you find one as welcoming as Ellsworth, it makes the $60 annual fee that much more reasonable.

Other than a friendly nearby Moose Lodge, why a full month in Bar Harbor?  Two maine (heh) reasons: We correctly predicted that our pace of travel in April and May with multiple family visits would leave us tired and ready for a long stay.  And second, we really like this location and the variety of things it offers, starting with the large national park.

Pad Kee Meow has been bolting out the door on us with alarming frequency.  Fortunately she usually just wants to roll in the warm sand.

Every few days we would load up a picnic basket and make a day trip in Loki to one section of Acadia or another.  Most people don’t hear Maine and think of beaches, but Acadia has an excellent small option to satisfy all but the most severe critic.  The imaginatively named Sand Beach hosted our first Acadia picnic, on Rosemarie’s birthday, and provided us with some decent beach glass and even a small sand dollar.

Before our RV lifestyle Rosemarie typically enjoyed big celebrations on her birthday.  Since we are rarely around friends and family in June now, we have to think about other ways to make it special.  Happy B-Day, my wonderful wife, and may the journey long continue!

We have been quite fortunate weather wise during these first couple of weeks in Bar Harbor.  Other campers reported that they had only a couple of warm, rain free days during the entire month before our arrival.  Our streak of good weather allowed us frequent pleasant outings to Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, and Seal Cove.

While downtown Bar Harbor is the most well known, other nearby towns and villages hold a lot of charm, and far fewer tourists.  We found ourselves returning to South West Harbor during our frequent outings, but also enjoyed North East Harbor, Bass Harbor, and Seal Harbor as well.  The nice shops, bars, and cafes are a draw, and both South West and North East Harbors have small, once a week farmers markets as well.

How much you figure these ocean front cottages go for? 

Speaking of markets: we had hopes that Bar Harbor would be profitable for us and thus offset the cost of our campground.  Unfortunately we were completely blocked out of the three markets in the area; either they only allow produce and food, or they don’t allow drop in vendors.  This started to put a real crimp on our lifestyle as we sought to get back on budget after an expensive start to the month.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse.  

We even approached the managers of Mt Desert Narrows Resort about selling the jewelry in their store.  We put together a single rack heavy on camping, travel, and RV oriented items, complete with “Mt Desert Narrows” stamped display cards.  After giving us a bit of a run around over the the course of three days, they eventually told us no, that they had tried jewelry in the past and it did not sell enough to be worth the trouble.

Given that we sold items to three of the seven people in the campground that saw Rose’s stuff, I think they are missing out, but it was a good experience for us trying to pitch it.  Those sales, by the way, included earrings for two of their employee work campers, and a trade of two pair of earings for a delicious Blueberry Pie from “The Pie Guy,” a gent that drives through the resort every few days selling his baked goods.

Fortunately, our favorite Moose Lodge came through for us.  Without us asking, merely having brought up the subject of Rose’s jewelry with members, the governor (Moose Lodges have governors rather than presidents) invited us to set up and sell at the upcoming North East Moose Association gathering that Ellsworth was hosting.  And so we did, clearing enough to make us happy during one Saturday afternoon, with affordable drinks and good company to boot.

Unlike last post, you might have noticed the absence of any mention of lobster in this one until now.  Despite being surrounded by dozens of lobster pounds, I have resisted the urge.  We have been clawing our way back towards breaking even on the budget this month, so it just hasn’t been on the menu.  I think I am going to have to buy them live and give cooking them a go myself; I’m going a bit nuts seeing them advertised every half mile and yet unable to splurge. 

Pad Kee Meow’s new tube, which she doesn’t seem to keen on sharing.

With two more weeks to go in Bar Harbor, we are still enjoying the place immensely, though we have resolved that in our next trip to Maine, we will likely not stay a full month in one campground, but rather spread out our stay across a few more locations and sites, perhaps revisiting the first come, first serve option up the road, or one of the many other campgrounds in the region.

Meadowbrook Campground: A good spot in 2016 becomes a great spot in 2018

During our eastern loop in 2016 we stayed in four Maine campgrounds, one of which, Meadowbrook, I selected because Rosemarie would be flying out of town for a few days, and I needed a cheap but pleasant place to stay for the duration.  Meadowbrook, by accepting Passport America’s 50% discount, met the first criteria, and the on site Lobstah Pound fully satisfied the second.  But beyond that, it was not particularly memorable in terms of beauty or location, or so we thought.

So a little ahead of our intended schedule during our run up the coast, we included Meadowbrook in our route based on the price and lobster alone.  Boy were we surprised at how much nicer and beautiful we found the place this year.  In 2016 they put us on an open site in the middle of a grass field.  Upon arriving this year we discussed our preferences with the front desk and management, and they placed us in the heavily wooded section of the campground, an area we did not even know existed.  What a difference!  Now we had the cheap Passport America price, the quite affordable cooked to order lobster, and a peaceful spot surrounded by trees to spend our days. 

We loved it so much we extended our stay from three to six days, and barely left the campground.  And though we had started off this month way in the hole after our major restock and splurge day in Freeport, I still took advantage of the situation by having three lobster dinners during our stay.  At this time of year all they had available were hard shell lobsters, which are significantly more challenging to eat, but I was willing to fight through this impediment.  Later this month more places will have soft shells as the lobsters go through a molt.  I’m most definitely looking forward to that.

Happiness: white wine, red lobster.

We took a day trip to Boothbay Harbor, one of our favorite spots in Maine from our pre-RV days.  We even found the same restaurant, Kalers, at which we had huddled inside from the cold and rain and enjoyed a couple of beers with Linda back when she and Jayson were stationed nearby.  It did not disappoint; Rose and I split the delicious lobster and crab slider combo.

Our engaging bartender had not only just purchased a travel trailer, but also spent part of last year in Sanibel.  We enjoyed comparing stories and giving him several key recommendations for online sources that will help him find the right type of campgrounds that match his preferences.  Our fondness for this town had us resolving to include a few days in a closer campground during our next RV trip to Maine, whenever that might be.

Not to to go overboard with discussing every meal we had in Maine, but I do want to give a shout out to a surprisingly good pizza we got from, Bisson’s, a gas station and country store nearby.  While I love all types, Rose is particularly particular about her pizza; the closer it is to authentic NY style the better, and plenty of those places advertising so called “New York Style” she finds wanting.  Along these lines, she would normally turn her nose up at something overloaded with cheese like they serve at Bisson’s, but something about their cheese, sauce and bread choice really works.

Pad Kee Meow enjoyed Meadowbrook Campground quite a lot; they had abundant chipmunks and a semi-wild setting that appealed to her hunting instincts.  She gave us quite a scare on our last full day when she managed to pop her lead loose and went for a long walk in the woods dragging 20 feet of leash behind her.

It took us nearly an hour of panicked searching to find her some 500 yards away down a hiking path, the leash snagged to some tree roots.  Her harness is loose enough such that she can pull out of it when she is particularly motivated, and this episode made us realize that this looseness is a positive feature rather than a bug, which will allow her to find her way home should she ever repeat this adventure and we are unable to find her.

One last thing about Meadowbrook: In three and a half years of fulltime RVing with visits to more than 200 different campgrounds, I can’t think of any place that attempts to monetize your presence more than Meadobrook.  I mean this as a complement to their marketing instincts rather than a negative.  They don’t nickel and dime you with silly costs like some places do (quarter showers, anyone?) but rather offer their guests the opportunity to spend their money on site rather than out in the nearby small towns.

The lobster pound is part of it, but they also have a paint ball course, a mining sluice with bags of minerals for sale, fresh scooped ice cream, and a dozen other little things that most campgrounds just don’t think to offer.  Rather than simply selling the individual ingredients to make smores, example, they have put together a full kit that includes everything, including the roasting spits.  They sell a variety of beer, including a few craft options.  Its hard to explain, but they have obviously thought hard about offering their guests every amenity they might want.

This place was too pricey for our blood, but their roadside marketing gimmick got us to at least stop and check it out.

Next up: we settle into our one month stay in Bar Harbor.

41 Months Fulltiming: May 2018 Report

The Distance:  1,868 miles as we worked our way from South Georgia all the way up to Maine, executing the first third of our 2018 plan.  That’s more than the rest of the year combined.  Our 2018 total is now up to 3,542 miles.  June will be a major slow down since we will remain in Maine and only shift locations twice.

Big mileage month!

The Places:  After leaving Wanee Lake we stopped outside Georgia to visit Rosemarie’s cousins, then began our trek through the Carolina’s with a stay near Asheville.   From there is was on to Wilmington to visit my mom and step dad, then up the coast to the Norfolk area to see Linda and the boys.  We cut inland a bit before stopping near West Point, NY to see more family, cut back east for a short stay in Newport, and finally continued north to our first Maine location.  This worked out to 4 nights in a national recreation area, 6 in private campgrounds, 13 in military sites, 3 in a relative’s driveway, and 5 in relatives’ houses.  For the 26 days in the RV, we had 16 with full hook ups, 7 with electric and water, and 3 dry camping. 

I think this is near Newport, RI.

The Budget:  Another close month at only 3.4% under budget, but under is under so we’ll take it, particularly since June and July are likely to be tough months for us in the financial arena.  We benefited from a substantial sign up bonus for a no fee checking account with Chase, rather cheap campground fees, and eight days free or nearly so as we stayed with relatives.  Thus our average nightly cost came out to just under $21.  That helped to counteract the big gas bill ($926 between Serenity and Loki) and $130 in tolls.  This keeps us well under budget for the year as we approach the half way point.

Rewarding ourselves for staying under budget.

The Drama and the Improvements:  We found a great replacement for Rosemarie’s folding bike (sold during our last stay in at Wekiwa Springs State Park.)  A bicycle thrift shop in Asheville had a brand new, recently donated 24″ mountain bike for $40.  As for drama: our steps continue to give us trouble.  I was unable to get them to retract as we prepared to leave Wilmington, but fortunately the owner of the storage lot helped get me settled by finding a loose switch connection, that, when jiggered, temporarily allowed them to work as designed.  Lastly, I managed to run us out of gas while in route to Maine; my formerly trustworthy gas gauge and warning indicator failed to provide a heads up, but it’s on me for pushing things too close to the edge.  We pulled over, detached Loki and I went a couple of miles up the road to fill up our portable gas can.  Ah well. 

Our monthly reports so far this year:

And here are our 20172016, and 2015 annual summaries which include monthly report links.

Back to Maine! Returning to our favorite places from our 2016 visit.

Having decided to leave Newport earlier than expected, I secured a short stay at Blueberry Pond Campground near Freeport.  It is one of the very peaceful places we stayed during our tour through New England two years ago, and since they are Passport America participants the full hook up sites are quite affordable for short stays.  Given how tight we were with our May budget, it was just the thing to help keep us on track during the final days of the month.

Our spacious site at Blueberry Pond Campground

Located on several wooded acres, most sites have plenty of greenery and are well spaced from your neighbors.  The campground has free, mostly usable wifi, at least during our stay when there were not many other campers present.   Most weekend nights the owner invites the campers to the fire pit near his on site home and office.  This is a nice touch that helps Blueberry Pond stand out a bit from the many wooded campgrounds available in Maine.

Rocking our #LINDASTRONG t-shirts on the day of the Norfolk Area ALS Fundraising Walk

We had two restful days there, and then one extravagant day in nearby Freeport, where between shopping at the outlets, drinks, and a restaurant visit we put a pretty hefty strain on our June budget on day one!  For quite some time we had on our wish list a bike rack that mounts on the Geo Trackers spare tire bracket.  For the last couple of years we have had them mounted on the rear ladder of the motorhome, but that impeded ready access to the roof when needed, and precluded mounting other objects there, such as the kayaks we will eventually purchase. 

Splurging on a lobster roll, clam chowder, and wine during our day in Freeport

L.L. Bean’s boat and bike section had the Thule model we liked, and even better they had one left in the outlet building at 30% off, and to top it off they were running some sort of big weekend sales event with factory reps present, so we got the thing mounted by experts for free.  You would think it would be pretty easy, just take off the spare, slide on the mounting plate, etc.  I was pretty surprised how complicated it was, and glad that we stayed around for the install; it would have taken me a couple of hours to sort it out.

Our new Thule bike rack

A shorter than normal post for us; we really did not do much more than one day of shopping in Freeport during this three day stay.  Up next: a return to another Maine campground in which we learn to check out all of the loops for maximum enjoyment.

An unfortunately short visit to Newport

I mentioned last post that we were having trouble securing reservations in Newport.  The navy run Carr Point Recreation Area, located off base, has only six spots, and though it is very early in the season they could only give us one day in site #1, then the next day in #6, nothing on day three, and then a two day stay in #6 again.  And unlike most military bases, they claimed to have no overflow areas for dry camping.

The suspension bridge leading to Newport

They were kind enough to waive the deposit until we knew for sure if day three would open up, so we made the four hour drive from West Point ever hopeful, but determined to enjoy Newport regardless.  This was our second RV trip there, having really loved both the town and the seaside campground in 2016.  It is power and water only on gravel sites, a couple of which are difficult to level, but all of them have gorgeous views of the bay. 

Our site at Carr Point overlooking the Narragansett Bay 

Our first day there all we did was sit outside and enjoy the environment, having done a minimum set up in preparation for the next day’s site move.  We executed that the next morning, and after a bit of confusion because I misread the site numbers (which you would think impossible in a place with only six spots) we got settled.  We had a great day exploring the nearby rocky beach, checking out the nearby Melville Municipal Park just in case we needed a one nighter there, and perusing the wares at the on base thrift store.

We had been pretty good about limiting our restaurant expenditures, and with it looking like we might have to shorten our stay, we rewarded ourselves with an evening out.  We try to eat the regional food in the places we go, so for Newport it was seafood, and oysters specifically.   Our research led us to Midtown Oyster Bar, which does a Wednesday evening “Shells and Champagne” special wherein their oyster chef pairs different types with a specific beer, wine, and sparkling wine.  Purchase a glass and you get the three of the designated oysters.  Purchase a bottle of the wine or sparkling and you get a dozen.

We went with the bottle of wine, a savignon blanc, and had a great small meal splitting the dozen shellfish.  They are much smaller than the Apalachicola vareity, but quite tasty.  During the process we learned that this region has a god number of oyster farmers that create a growing variety of oysters types based on the breed they start with and then growing them in specific conditions.  Sort of like the craft brewers of the shellfish world.

Another view of part of Carr Point Recreation Area: one of three sections with plenty of room for overflow dry camping

The next morning we called the office to make one last check for an opening, but alas, no.  We had three options: move to the nearby county park (expensive,) stay in one of the overflow dry camping spots (apparently not yet authorized for use) or move on (shortening out stay in Newport from five to two days.)  We were really frustrated that Carr Point has four spots already already marked out for overflow, and yet no one in the office seems to know about them and could not approve us for a one night stay.  Speaking to our RV neighbors, it seemed like we would easily get away with stealth camping there since it is off base and they never send anyone out to check on it.

But still, there would be some stress involved, so we went with the third option, which you probably already new from the post title, and left for Maine, returning to Blueberry Pond for a short, restful stay.

Easton’s Beach

In which we accidentally go to West Point during graduation week.

I have been to the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY, exactly one time: as part of a familiarization trip while I was teaching at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.  The only significant things I remember about that visit is how short the USMA parades were compared to Annapolis and that I met Senator John McCain at a social event.  We had a short and casual discussion about the value of keeping the Naval Academy Prep School (me pro, him con, with legislative complications iirc.)  So it was of interest when my research into where to stay in the Bear Mountain area of New York, per Rose’s regional priorities, lead me firmly to the Army recreation area at Round Pond, managed by West Point’s extended command structure. 

Through one leg of the Chesapeak Bay Tunnel

Of course, we didn’t get there without some mild drama.  We needed to break up the drive from Norfolk, and I found another Air Force Base, Dover in Delaware,  roughly half way along the route.  Their Family Camp is quite small, about 13 hook up sites, but with plenty of drycamping overflow.  A phone call to the office just prior to our arrival revealed that the hook up section was completely full, but as we pulled through the place there was an empty spot.  Turns out the previous tenant left early without checking out, so it worked out well for us, and we got another stamp in our Frequent Camper book as well. 

Our site at Dover AFB’s Family Camp.  

Though I had looked into routes to minimize the toll costs, I could find no realistic way that didn’t significantly increase the drive time, so we bit the bullet and just took the shortest recommendation from Google Maps.  We had already spent $31 between the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and the Delaware tolls.  New Jersey and New York added another $47 between them!  Still not as bad as our first trip through New York in 2016 where the George Washington Bridge alone cost us $82

Heading deeper into the land of toll roads.

The timing of our West Point visit happened to fall on academy graduation week, a coincidence that might have made reservations difficult in a smaller campground, but the army has a lot of land, and they were able to fit us in.  I suppose we can be thankful that this was Annapolis’ year to have the president attend, so neither traffic nor my personal opinions were overly offended.  The situation reminded me of our last minute and random selection of an RV park in Indio, CA, which turned out to be the town on the outskirts of the Coachella Festival the week before said event.  Then, as now, we were lucky to get a spot.

Our site at Round Pond Recreation Area near West Point.

We had miscommunicated our travel intentions with nearby Mahopac friends Star & Michael; they had already committed to plans for the weekend, so we had a couple of days to ourselves.  The campground had a surprising variety of wildlife, not just birds and chipmunks, but also a family of woodchucks that visited our site on a couple of mornings.

Hard to get a size appreciation here, but looked as big as the cat, though a lot of that is probably just the thick fur. 

PKM was very interested, but momma looked to be bigger than the cat and pretty tough, so we were extra careful about keeping her on her leash and monitored when outside.  Which didn’t prevent her from catching one of the chipmunks, but we got her to let it go and given the speed with which it ran off, we think it survived.

PKM and I watching the wildlife.

The Bronx contingent of Rose’s extended family descended on us on day 3: Titi Mari, cousin Dwayne, and KK.  They originally planned on just swinging by for a short visit and to drop off some things for Rosemarie, but the peaceful beauty of the park and the intrigue of our lifestyle kept them most of the day.  We had a great time catching up and telling stories of our misspent youth.

A bit tired after near continuous visits with family and friends over the course of the last two months, and having trouble securing reservations at our next stop, we extended extending our three day stop to four.  This allowed as a short day trip to Bear Mountain State Park, which was nice but the drizzle and fog limited the potentially great views.

The view from the top of Bear Mountain State Park’s observation area.

We tried to visit the West Point Museum and visitors center, but the GPS was confused as to how to navigate the base, and we even ended up blowing through a guarded check point in our confusion.  It was pretty poorly marked, the guard was not visible, and we approached it from the side rather than the front, but still my fault for being distracted.  Had we not turned right around and come back out there would have been some excitement.  By the time we got oriented, the visitor center was closing, so all we got was a walk through the gift shop and a picture outside.  Ah well, we are not museum people anyway.

Since this might be the last commissary we would see for some time we stocked up on meat and other supplies before heading east towards Rhode Island.

To Virginia: Five days in the Norfolk region for family

From Wilmington we headed north toward Norfolk, VA.  The plan was to stop at yet another Air Force Family Camp just an hour or so up the road outside Goldsboro, but it is a first come, first serve facility and they could not give us a firm idea of availability until we were very close to the base.  It turned out they were completely full, so punching our Frequent Camper passport at Seymour Johnson AFB will have to wait for another day.

A rainy ride through North Carolina to our one day stop at Lake Gaston.  

We took a roadside pause to do some quick research for other options, and I found a Passport America park a little outside of our path, but it seemed like the type of place we would enjoy, even for a short stay.  Lake Gaston RV Resort in Littleton, NC, just south of the VA border, offers lakeside camping in a pine forest with a variety of hook up options.  Since it was just for one night, we chose the last pull through site available in the electric and water only section for $29, all in,  With a short stay and plans to be on the road at a reasonable hour the next morning, we were not able to take advantage of the swimming and boating options, but the steady drizzle through much of our stay would have prevented that anyway. 

Nathaniel’s daughter Linda Rose

We could not find a short term storage lot for our five day stay, so after calling around the multiple navy bases in the region, we settled on taking a full hook up site at Sea Mist Campground on Damneck Naval Station.  We don’t have a lot to report about the place since we spent the majority of the time at Linda’s, so it was effectively a $25 a night storage lot with power.

Our site at Sea Mist on Naval Station Dam Neck 

While there it was food and family, every day.  Linda’s youngest son, Chris, is deployed, but his wife was frequently at the house, usually with her boys Elijah and Jude.   JuneJune and his wife Kaytarra are regularly at the house as they assist with Linda’s care, which means their son Nasir is around a lot of the time as well.

PKM puts up with so much, including kids running their hot wheel cars across her head.  To his credit, Nasir was particularly gentle with kitty.  

Nathaniel’s full time work and large family limited his visits, but he came by a couple of times during our five day stay, and we, were able to swing by his house to see Jasmine and three of the kids: Malakai, Linda Rose, and newborn Baby Jayson.  Between their kids, her children from a previous marriage, and two big puppies, I don’t know how they do it!

With our presence adding to the crowd, we tried not to decimate Jayson’s fridge and cubard too much.  Other than springing for pizzas for the assembled masses, I also made another whole Turkey.  That’s right, yet another overnight brining and spatchcocking process on a 14 pound bird.  It was more than sufficient to feed six adults and three kids with plenty left over for Jayson, Nathaniel, and me to have some future meals.

Taking a less than enthusiastic Precious to her beauty salon for some nail clipping

We helped, or rather, tried not to interfere too much, as Kaytarra got Linda ready and loaded in the van for an outing to a very large Dollar Tree where everyone purchased more than necessary because Dollar Tree.

Nathaniel filling up the kid pool for Malakai and Linda Rose

Thanks again to Jayson and Linda for hosting us during our stay, it was great to see the extended family, especially all the children.

Of course there is room in the box for all the kids. 

The newest addition: Jayson Rome

Wilmington, NC: family, work, and beer.

Our Charlotte plans to visit Key West friends Dennis and Ginger fell apart under the obstinate forces of multiple impending weddings (Ginger is a professional planner for such events,) so we extended our stay in Lake Powhatan by a day and then rushed our journey east a bit.  Such a route required, at least for our conservative daily road mileage preferences, a one day stop over.

Google maps offered two major routes from Asheville to Wilmington, but the southern option allowed us a stay at another low cost military RV site: Falcons Nest Family Campground on Shaw Air Force Base, outside Columbia, South Carolina.  This is a perfectly serviceable place offering electric and water connections (plus a dump station) in a reasonably sized site for only $20 a night.  While not exactly in a destination area, it was perfect for our needs, and allowed us to stamp our Air Force Base Family Camp passport book with our tenth stay, which, as part of the Air Force Frequent Camper Program, will grant us five free night certificates at future AFB’s. 

From there it was on to Wilmington, where I had procured five days of RV storage at a private lot, Jack’s Boat & RV & Storage, just outside town in Castle Hayne.  RVers choosing to stay with relatives who do not have sufficient driveway space face a real challenge in finding reasonably priced temporary storage for their rigs.  Most of the chain storage places want a minimum three month storage fee, and many of the military bases have waiting lists.  Just as in Venice, we were lucky to find this private storage lot; just one man trying to offer a flexible service on his fenced in acres.  Hard to beat $6 a day.

We dipped down into South Carolina on our route to Wilmington, which means we got to pass this questionable landmark as we turned back north along I-95.

Serenity properly stored, we loaded up Loki with supplies for five days, the cat, the cat’s various accouterments, and any food from the fridge that needed consuming, including the last of the Key West fish fillets I had caught and frozen.  For Mothers Day I prepped an excessive amount of it so that we might all enjoy fish tacos to go with our bubbly and still wine. 

In previous visits we kept PKM completely isolated from the labs.  This time we decided to make controlled introductions.  It went well: Rex could not care less and a supervised Ginny stayed under control.  The key?  PKM did not run, so where is the fun in chasing?

Having labored for several days helping Gloria with her new home, it seemed only fair to offer such services to my mom as well.  Any thought I had that she might poo poo such a gesture as unnecessary evaporated with the near immediate and lengthy list of things that needed done.  So Rose and I spent a couple of mornings and early afternoons assisting with invasive vine removal, spreading mulch, chopping down and cutting into pieces four trees, moving furniture, and cleaning out roof gutters. 

We did not have the ideal tools for the job, but a hatchet and my sawzall did the trick.

Mom and Tim have a running joke about the very many things there are to do in Wilmington, and that you just can’t possibly do them all in a short stay, which has a nice air of self aware irony when it comes to visiting grandchildren and other kids.  But for adults, it works on a different, more sincere level: there really are plenty of fun and interesting things to do regardless of your interest.  And they know their audience: gone are the proposed visits to, I dunno, symphonies, museums, and the like.  They accommodated our well established preferences with the the ocean, wine, and beer, starting with a late afternoon trip, picnic basket included, to Wrightsville Beach.  We always enjoy seeing different beaches in the many coastal states we visit, and this was yet another nice one.

Later in the stay we did a self guided tasting tour through three of Wilmington’s fourteen breweries.  We shared flights at Flytrap, Front Street, and Waterline Breweries.  Each has a very different vibe, we enjoyed them all, but particularly liked the offerings at Waterline and the knowledgeable server at Flytrap. 

Flytrap Brewery’s collection of mascots.

On our last evening the four of us headed to the Sweet n Savory Cafe for their weekly (every Wednesday evening) free wine tasting.  This is a bit nontraditional, in that it is intended to be part of a meal rather than a stand-at-the-bar tasting.   They offer half a dozen one ounce pours with some connecting theme, and the purchase of any bottle results in a free appetizer or dessert.  Assuming we would for sure buy a bottle, we went ahead and ordered their Stuffed Meatballs, while Mom & Tim selected the lightly fried Crispy Cauliflower, and even I had to agree that they made the right choice; it was awesome. 

When the manager explained that the wine tasting theme for the evening was German wines, I audibly groaned, assuming it would be a selection of sweet rieslings which I do not like at all.  He insisted we withhold judgement and give it a go, and damn if we didn’t so thoroughly enjoy one of the options, a Silvaner (another varietal I had never heard of, much less tasted) from Hans Wirsching in Bavaria.  What a pleasant and eye opening surprise!  We bought two bottles (at $20 each) which covered the appetizers, and look forward to not only enjoying them at a future special occasion, but also to finding more Silvaners.  If the appetizers are any indication, the food at Sweet n Savory is fantastic, and the bakery goods looked deliciously sinful as well.  We will definitely come back again, especially on a Wednesday evening. 

Asheville, NC: Lake Powhatan National Forest Recreation Area

Rose had two stops in mind in between Atlanta and Wilmington: Asheville and Charlotte, NC.  So we went a bit out of our way to the former, and chose Lake Powhatan National Forest Recreation Area as our base camp.  Good weather and a popular destination area meant this excellent park had few openings, but with our stated willingness to move sites, the staff was able to find us a four day stay.  Our high tempo travel pattern has made us particularly good at moving quickly and without drama.

Our first site at Lake Powhatan.  So much better than the private RV “resorts” provide.

Lake Powhatan is yet another one of those fantastic National Forest campgrounds located in a beautifully wooded setting on a series of creek fed lakes, with the added distinction of being 10 minutes from the heart of Asheville.  We love the careful balance between being in nature and yet close to a lively area that places like Lake Powhatan provide.

The campground offers options from dry to electric/water only to full hook up sites; based more on view and specific location than services, we chose the $31 full hook up option.  That’s a pretty good rate for a beautiful spot so close to a city as interesting and cool as Asheville.  If there is a downside to Lake Powhatan, it is the very tenuous-to-nonexistent Verizon connectivity available in the park.

Aside from relaxing in the forest, while there we made daily outings to the local libraries and a wonderful indoor farmers market: the former for wifi and the latter for excellent local cheese, butter lettuce, and the “caviar of the south,” pimento cheese spread.  I grew up on the stuff, but it was all generic, big brand stuff.  For the first time in my life I had actual small batch, home made, high end versions of it, and I am completely sold.  Whether you are a southern boy who at least had the Winn Dixie option growing up, or a northerner who has never heard of pimento cheese, I urge you to give the real version a try.

Our site pics are almost always from the front.  Here is something a bit different; a shot from the hill leading to the lake.  Also: notice but one bike on the ladder rack?  Not for long…

As a part of Rosemarie’s jewelry making ventures she has dealt with a large variety of suppliers, but one of her favorites has been Cherry Tree Beads.  So passing through their home town could we possible avoid a pilgrimage there?  No we could not; and though we did not buy all that much from them that day, we learned a lot about the way a big bead and gem distributor works, and will be definitely be ordering more from them in the future.

As we were departing Cherry Tree Beads, we spotted a Bicycle Thrift Shop, and pulled in on a whim.  This is exactly what it sounds like: a thrift store that specializes in, or perhaps more accurately, exclusively deals in bicycles and their associated parts and accouterments, and does so for the benefit of Trips For Kids, a charity focused on providing children with outdoor bike activities.

The past few years of casual biking have made clear that Rosemarie needs a 24″ bike (not one of the more common sizes; they tend to jump from 20″ to 26″.)  And what did we discover at Bicycle Thrift Shop?  A practically brand new 24″ women’s mountain bike in purple glitter and white.  It could not have been more perfect for Rosemarie, and at $40, a steal.  We added a floor pump and an interesting behind the seat strap down addition for $10 bucks total.  What a deal. 

Lastly, Aheville is a top tier craft brewery destination, and we took advantage of that with trip to a couple of the locals; of particular note is Burial Brewery.  We were unable to hook up with brother Jason this trip, but hopefully on our next visit to the region we can meet up.