Full Time RVing vs. Living In a Trailer

We have traveled a great deal this summer, and one of the most profound discoveries I have made is the difference between full-time RVing and “living in a trailer.” We have stayed in a number of campsites, some of which are also RV parks. That, we have learned, means “seasonals live here.” Seasonals live for months or years in the park. They build decks and gazebos around their trailers and they hang all sorts of cute knick-knacks on the outside, from flags through to “bless this mess” type signs. Some seasonal trailers are used as weekend cottages, but others are lived in full time.

This is what seasonals enjoy.

Now I do not want to say anything bad about seasonal trailer living generally. Staying in one place is probably just as enjoyable to seasonal residents as moving on is to me. It’s like arguing which color is better – blue or green. It all comes down to personal taste.

But I find something distressing in seeing a trailer sink slowly into the grass, buried under garden furniture, and in some cases, sprouting a layer of moss and even shrubbery on the neglected roof and exterior walls. To me, a trailer has wheels on it for a reason. It has been designed to move. To see it rooted in place makes me think of a caged animal. I feel trapped.

This is what I enjoy. Look! No neighbors! No gazebos!

The people I like to follow online, like Wheelin’ It, Two Hearts and Two Wheels, Technomadia and a few others, all report back their discoveries – from boondocking to comfy parks – but they are always somewhere new and exciting. They feed my wanderlust, and I take careful note of where they have been so I can add their best locations to my own travel plans.

Now, when I review any park, I pay close attention to the maps to see how many seasonals they have and whether the “transients” as we are so pejoratively called, have our own space. I thrive on the contagious energy of my fellow travelers

Again, no disrespect to seasonals. It’s a just as much a lifestyle choice as is my nomadic life. But if I can’t see clear under your trailer to the other side, I probably won’t be seeing you further down the road.

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If You’re Not French, Don’t Stay Here

As part of our trip along the 401 highway, we stopped off for 10 days at Camping Mirabel, in Ste. Therese, Quebec, which is just north of Laval, which itself is just north of Montreal. It’s a pretty town that grew out of the Seigneuriale land allocation system of the 1600’s and today is a well laid out bedroom community with lots of leafy subdivisions and some quaint and ancient inner-village streets where you can almost feel the centuries peel back.

We stayed at Camping Mirabel. It’s a  nicely laid out park. Lots of residentials in well-kept permanent trailers, and a good space for transient RVs with level pull throughs and many shade trees. It’s reasonably quiet throughout the day, and reliable power and water pressure. Those are the good points.

The problem? We never felt welcome there.

This is a park for French Canadians and no one else. Most parks we have visited, people wave and say “hi,” enjoying the camaraderie of the RV lifestyle. But here, once they see your out-of-province license plate, they look away. That includes the management. We have traveled to many parks across the North America, and my wife and I both lived in Quebec for many years. We are fluently bilingual, and for what it’s worth, we understand the cultural issues that Quebecers feel. But never have I felt so unwelcome and so scrutinized in an RV park.

Camping Mirabel. Nice park. Shame about the people.

And they charge $60 a night for the privilege! Also, the walking of dogs is forbidden anywhere in the park. You have to walk them on the road leading to the site. And yes, the one time I accidentally broke that rule, I was confronted by a resident who said to me, in French, “you don’t have the right to walk your dogs here.”

When you add the atrocious condition of Montreal roads, I would suggest you just keep going.

Drycamping at Burning Kiln Winery

Our first time bookdocking with Harvest Hosts was an absolutely wonderful experience. We got to spend a completely quiet night on the grounds of the Burning Kiln Winery near Turkey Point, Ontario, on the shores of Lake Erie.

For some background, Harvest Hosts is an organization in which the proprietors of wineries, farms and even some rural museums, give RVers permission to stay overnight on their property.

The rules are straightforward – usually no more than one night, self-sufficient dry-camping. They usually allow only one or two rigs on at one time, and, of course, in exchange for the free night’s stay, it is expected that you go in, visit the facility, and buy some things.

Buy wine from a winery, in the height of summer? That’s not a problem for us.

Burning Kiln is one of the places that really does it right. In addition to hundreds of acres of healthy vineyards, they have a marvelous restaurant with tasting rooms, tours, live music, the whole thing,

As is the required convention, we arrived and I introduced myself to the manager who welcomed us and asked if we would like to camp in the parking lot, which is what we expected, “Or,” she said, “you can drive up that dirt track over that rise – there’s a clearing there and you can camp in the vineyards.

Arriving at Burning Kiln. The tasting rooms and restaurant are way over by the red umbrellas in the background.

Wow. You didn’t have to tell me twice. So there we were, one of the most beautiful nights of the summer, in our own private campsite, surrounded by grapes, and the calls of owls and herons in the forests beyond. The starlit night and a bottle of rosé from their tasting rooms complemented our drycamping dinner. The rig’s battery did a great job of keeping the lights on, and we wanted for nothing else.

Just us and the grapevines. No-one else.

In the morning as we were preparing coffee, the winemaster herself dropped by. Not to see us specifically but to inspect the grapes near our site. She was quite a wonderful and talented young lady, and meeting and talking viticulture with her was an added bonus.

Again, we made a point to thank our hosts before departing.

If you are looking for a break from regular campsites, and would like to drycamp somewhere more interesting than a Walmart parking lot, check out HarvestHosts.com. The annual membership costs the same as one night’s camping anywhere (around $44), so it pays for itself immediately, and the memories of the experience are unique and wonderful.

On the Niagara Riverside

We spent July at our favorite home base, Milton Heights Campground, which is just off the 401 highway, north west of Toronto. I will always recommend this campground to anyone traveling to the Toronto area. It is clean, spacious, well-kept, and there are different settings to choose from. If you have a rig, you can choose to be out in the open field, with beautiful views of the Niagara Escarpment, or you can nestle in the area I call “The Village” since it is more enclosed and intimate, while still feeling spacious.

The “Village” side of Milton Heights

In August we set off to Niagara. We found a delightful campsite upstream from the Falls, called Riverside Park Motel and Campground. It is a little cramped, but the residents, both travelers and seasonals, are quiet, and the place is very clean.

View of our neighbors from our window.

Added to this are the surroundings, which are beautiful. Next door is a farm and horse ranch, with three beautiful chestnut horses who are obviously very comfortable seeing the humans in their RVs. And right outside the front door is the Niagara River, with Grand Island in full view. This is great cycling territory!

The Niagara Parkway

This is an area rich in history and was populated by the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 1780s. There is still a strong Germanic presence in the names of the towns and streets. And this is also the heart of wine country.

Our other neighbors – after a rainstorm. Horses are to the right of the barn.

We did a slow drive-by of the Falls – we have seen them many times, so we felt no need to stop. Niagara Falls is a city built on tourism. The Canadian side has the advantage of the best visual perspectives of both the Canadian and the American falls. The eternal crowds stick to the sidewalk, and then just off the strip is a collection of tourist traps that would make Las Vegas blush. Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and a hundred more similar attractions, all compressed onto one street.

Also similar to Vegas is Niagara’s seedy, run-down areas – the “no-tell Motels,” strip bars and low-rent restaurants that all could have been settings for Breaking Bad. You get to see these when you start to “live” in the town for a while rather than just visiting. As soon as you head out to find the nearest Walmart, you’ll find them.

If you want to see some amazing photographs of the Falls, go to Nina Fussing’s blog entry here.

We are discovering the ideal staying time in any one place is 7 days. And shorter than that and you feel you are – as the WKRP theme song goes – always “packing and unpacking, town to town, up and down the dial.” Any longer than a week (or 10 days max) and my wanderlust starts to kick in.

I would highly recommend the Riverside Motel and RV Park for people who really like scenic drives, beautiful homes and quiet scenery. (We haven’t been paid to say these nice things, by the way.)

Next stop: Wine Country and trying out Harvest Hosts for the first time.

“First Day Back” Mistakes, Plus Grenville Park Review

June 19, 2017 – Our summer road trip has begun. The goal is a quick trip to Montreal (Camping Mirabel) to see some friends and get back into the RV groove.

We made the mistake of scheduling our post-winter packing of the trailer for the first day of travel. Bad idea. I figured the trailer was already closed up and there was nothing in the cupboards, so let’s just pile all the bins in and go. Umm, no. Liz reminded me about all the clothes, dishes and other sundries that  would have to go in before we hit the road, so a good two hours of valuable travel time was swallowed up as we basically “moved back in” to the trailer as it sat parked outside our rented condo.

The moral: if you put your rig in storage, make sure to bring it out for a few days at the local campsite or on your driveway, before heading out on the road. Who needs a “moving day” level of stress on top of the normal challenges of RVing?

A year into owning my rig and I still can’t believe how big it is. When I see a 5th wheel coming along on the other side of the highway, the pickup looks dwarfed – like a tugboat pulling a freighter.

But here we are. Day 1 and 2 of a hopefully 25-day trip, driving one day and staying on average 3 nights at each site, to allow time for rest, sightseeing, and oh yes, work, I still have to do that.

This first stop is Grenville Park between Kingston and Cornwall on the heavily-travelled 401 highway, Grenville is great choice as a stopover on this long road between Montreal and Toronto, but it would also be great as a summer retreat for those smart enough to stay put for a while. The lots are reasonably spacious, and the park has a really nice layout, literally at the water’s edge. Well-manicured grass, and superb views of the river and the ships. There is lots of history in this neck of the woods. Canada and the U.S. saw much military action in the 18th century, often against each other. There are pleasant towns nearby, and being so close to the water, you can watch the freighters heading up or down the St. Lawrence, and wave at the upstate New Yorkers just half a mile away.

View from the campsite: the imaginatively named Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge

As usual, the WiFi is almost non-existent, but otherwise, it’s a really nice, quiet, spacious park. I will definitely schedule it in again as a stopover on any future 401-based trips.

Feeling the Pressure over Compressors

The departure date for our big road trip to Nova Scotia is getting closer. Our 5th wheel has had its first annual propane inspection, brake inspection and bearings re-packed. The next thing on my list was tire pressure. There are lots and lots of YouTube videos and RV blogs that stress how important proper tire pressure is, and that you should always measure it cold, that is to say, before you drive away. But there is really not much out there on how to keep them inflated.

Those cheap little 12 volt cigarette lighter air pumps sorta kinda do the job, but for me at least there’s a couple of problems. Our 5th wheel rig requires 65 psi. The pump can get there, in a “little engine that could” kind of way, but only by using the 12 volt outlet on the truck. I purchased a 20′ extension cord to ensure the pump could reach the rig’s tires, but its little fuse blew, as did the replacement that I ordered.

I was only able to inflate the tires slo-o-o-o-o-wly by pulling the truck right up alongside the rig, running the pump, and then driving to the other side to do the same thing over there. This is not good for campground grass, and would mean unhooking at a truck stop. Not very practical. And the air hoses at highway gas stations are not always in convenient places, especially when you and your trailer together are 45 feet long.

So I went and purchased a real air compressor. Boy! Who knew getting air into a tire was so complicated? Growing up, I used a hand pump for my bicycle. When I used to camp in a tent I used a cute foot pump, and then later a chintzy little electric one.

Now, it seems you have to buy a serious tool with valves and dials and a motor and everything in order to reliably get to 65 psi or higher. People who own diesel pushers have the luxury of an on-board compressor, but even they tend to prefer using a portable one in order to reduce the time spent idling their engine.

NOTE to any enterprising campground operators: It seems like this would be an excellent value-add for RV campsites. Bringing a compressor around for a morning-of-departure top-up.

These air compressors can be quite intimidating. Once again there is precious little available teaching in terms of how to operate one, supplied by the manufacturers. I bought a 2 gallon oil-free Husky (see how natural I sounded there?). It turns out Husky is a Home Depot brand, so all of the Husky web domains just go straight back there. You have to choose the size of tank (where the compressed air goes), its PSI capability and the Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM or SCFM) rating. It’s also important to choose between 120 volt power (like a regular 3-pin household plug), or one that connects to your truck batteries. And oh, yes, don’t shop for compressors if you’re hungry, because they come in two main types: hot dog and pancake. I kid you not.

So, YouTube to the rescue. Meet my new best friend. Her name is Leah, and she runs one of the best how-to YouTube channels I have ever seen. It’s called SeeJaneDrill. Her video on using a compressor is easy to follow and is amazingly friendly. She is a fantastic, experienced instructor who really takes the mystery out of doing hands-on tool stuff. She is patient and clear, and just the absolute best. You can check out the short introductory trailer here, and the specific video on using a compressor is here.

So now I have an air compressor. I have not used it yet, but thanks to Leah, I know how. With the wheels and the tires being so important to successful RVing, this is an investment that I expect to see pay off.

Planning a Trip: Software and Satellites

After wintering in the Toronto area for work-related reasons, we are now preparing to hit the road in a big way in June. Our trip will take us up through Quebec to Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, then to Prince Edward Island and finally down the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, back towards Montreal.

But wait. There are two words I really should pull out of that paragraph. The first is “trip,” and the second is “finally.” This i not a trip. This is life. We are living on the road, not vacationing away from home. Therefore, it is better to say we will be living along this Maritime route for the summer months.

The second word to remove is “finally,” because there ain’t no finally. For the same reason above, there is no garage to come home to. Where we go after Montreal will depend on what we want to do at that point. To us, that really is part of the fun.

But that doesn’t mean we do not plan. In fact, planning the route is a source of great enjoyment for me. There are way too many resources to choose from, of course, from apps like AllStays, to RV park review sites, fellow nomadic bloggers, and membership sites like Good Sam, RVillage and so many others.

I like to use the Trip Planner feature from Good Sam, because it shows all the sites along any route, even non-Good Sam sites, it calculates the distance between stops along with estimated fuel economy, and it identifies RV-friendly routes.

Our philosophy of travel is what we call 250-3. It’s our variation on that used by many other nomads, who limit the number of driving hours and miles to something reasonable, like 300 miles and parked by 3:00 p.m. For us, we are choosing a maximum of 250 miles per day, with a three-day stopover in each place.

This allows for time to both sight-see and get some work done (this is LIFE on the road, not a vacation), and 250 miles seems to be enough for drivers, dogs and machinery in any day. This means a voyage to Nova Scotia entails five sites and 15 days. And that’s just outbound.

I find it to be great fun, measuring out a route in 250-mile increments and then researching the sites available in the area.

You can see the spaces from up here!

Once I have chosen a potential site, I use the Satellite View feature of Google Maps to observe the site grounds from the air. I find this to be a much more reliable method of assessing how spacious the individual campsites are. Most RV parks offer a quaint cartoon-style map of the grounds together with ideally angled photos of the facilities. Google’s satellites, however, can really show how close you will be to your neighbors.

I am thrilled to have met so many great people both on the road and through social media. Once our rig comes back from its spring tune-up, we will be mobile once again. This time, hopefully, for good.