“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.

Ticked Off

In the words of Ray Barone’s TV dad, “Holy Crap!” After all these years of planning, saving, and yes, traveling, who would have thought we would be waylaid by something as small as the dot on this letter i?

Ticks! These are the demons of outdoors-loving people and their long-grass-leaping dogs.

Apparently, if you live anywhere in North America where there is water, you really have to look out for black-legged ticks, which are prime carriers of Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is nasty. It can knock you on your back for a couple of years or for life, like Lupus or Fibromyalgia.

The ticks pick up the disease from sucking the blood of mice then, if they find a way onto your skin, the bacteria in their saliva gets into your bloodstream, and that’s where the illness starts.

It’s really a drag, when you are planning a trip to consider just how many places are now hotspots for tick infestation. It must be even worse to be a manager of a campsite or RV site in one of these areas. It can’t possibly be good for business.

This doesn’t mean we are stopping our travels. No way. There are lots of dangers out there in the wild. It’s  matter of taking precautions. We went to a local outdoors/hiking equipment store to ask if they had any special clothing to ward off ticks, but the answer was, “just tuck your pants in your socks.” Sage advice, but probably not enough.

Here is what we have learned so far. We take this seriously, but as I said it is not going to stop us from traveling.

  • Stay away from long grass. Ticks don’t fly, but they wait on the blades of long grass or branches of trees and drop onto a person or animal when they brush against the leaf.
  • Tuck your pants inside your socks. Ticks like to climb up to warm, safe areas like the groin and armpits.
  • Attach a pet flea & tick collar to each ankle. Don’t just put one collar around both ankles or you will fall over (ha ha).
  • Wear light colored clothing. It’s not like ticks have fashion sense, but it’s easier to spot them on tan pants than on jeans.
  • Use a brush or sticky roller to clean off your clothes before entering your rig after a walk.
  • Shower regularly and inspect your skin everywhere.
  • Make sure your pets have up-to-date shots.

Check the Map

It’s a good idea to check against an up-to-date Lyme disease map of the area you are planning to travel, published by the local Ministry or Department of Health to to see whether you are going to a hotspot, but even if not, it’s a good idea to take the same precautions.

What If You Get Bitten?

Contracting Lyme disease from a tick bite is not instantaneous. Usually – not always, but usually – you will see a red “bullseye” rash around the bite spot. It is essential to get prompt medical attention to receive an antibiotic treatment as soon as possible. That’s why it is so important to check your skin – especially groin and armpits every day.

Sigh

So it’s not great news, but it’s another part of being out in the great outdoors, and it is certainly not exclusive to the RV/hiking community. It can exist pretty much anywhere.

It’s not going to stop us from exploring, but it’s probably a good idea to keep those pants tucked inside your socks.

 

 

Kincardine – October 2016 – Horses, Mennonites, and Dunes

2016-10-10-saugeenTravel offers an amazing gift – delivering experiences and impressions that go beyond the expected, not only in number, but also in intensity. We were lucky enough to have this happen during a quick three-day outing to the Lake Huron shores.

Pushing in between a number of Toronto appointments and obligations, our wanderlust told us to get to the ocean, but no coastal sites, either in PEI, Nova Scotia or Maine were accessible within the 10-day window we had chiseled out between appointments. The next best thing to an ocean is a great lake, and Lake Huron is on the north side of the the Niagara peninsula. Being within a day’s drive, this became the our goal for a mid-October getaway. So we aimed for Kincardine on Lake Huron.

Our first surprise was discovering just how many campsites close for the season, either on October 1 or after Canadian Thanksgiving which is usually around the 12th. Many of the sites close to the water were closed, so we chose one further inland called Saugeen Springs RV Park in Hanover. This park is an absolute gem. Beautiful large sites, some even on the river’s edge, and absolute quiet.

2016-10-10-saugeen-rv
This was our site at Saugeen. Every site was huge.

The Traveler: Before departing Milton Heights Campground, we met up with our neighbour and kindred spirit, Peter, who had just come back from an amazing cross country adventure with his 40′ triple axle 5th wheel and his 3500 Dodge RAM. After crossing Canada and driving up and down the B.C. coast he has come back, with stories I can only hope to match someday.

The Night Sky: A quiet walk around the campsite at 3:00 a.m. revealed a cloudless sky so full of stars that the regular old constellations were difficult to pick out. Anyone who lives out in the country probably takes this for granted, but I stand there transfixed, staring at the sublime beauty of the Milky Way. The stars have an enormous presence that the silence seems to only magnify.

The Horses: I have a great love for horses. Along with dogs, they are thought to be the only creatures who would actually miss humans if we were to all vanish overnight. The campsite has four or five horses, along with goats and sheep. They quietly go about their business, eating, mostly, barely registering Henry’s presence as he tries to crawl under the fence to play with them.

2016-10-10-saugeen-horses
Liz and the Saugeen horses.

The Mennonites: We headed through Ontario farming country, toward the coast, passing Mennonite farmers working the fields with horses and ploughs and others shopping at the local Walmart. The women wore ankle length blue dresses with a headdress, while the men all had blue shirts, sleeves rolled up with work pants, boots, beards and hats. Their horses were working horses, puling wagons and ploughs.

The Dunes: The waterfront and beach at Kincardine are beautifully kept, with grassy dunes separating the main street from the waves of Lake Huron. We licked out with beautiful, unseasonably warm weather.

2016-10-12-kincardine-beach-1
The beach and the dunes at Kincardine

We got lunch at a fabulous coffee shop called Bean’s Bistro – the kind of place that has board games, paperback books and LP records that would make you want to come back in the evening and stay a few hours. The food was generous and fantastic.

On the way back to the truck we noticed the Scottish shop – or a scottish shop – Kincardine certainly does its best to echo its namesake back east. It was the first store I had ever seen that offered kilt rentals and sliced haggis to go.  People tend to scoff at haggis but I rather like it. I just never thought of it as a takeout food.

It was difficult to leave. It is doubly difficult contemplating the next few months back on “dry land” waiting for conditions to be right to get back out on the road again.

Back to Earth – September 2016

Milton
Milton

As August reveals the slightly shorter days, the longer dusks, and the mature apples, grasshoppers and ragweed bushes, so I realize that we, too, must leave summer behind and focus on the more sober activities of Fall. We have lived as full-timers for exactly three months now, and we have enjoyed every moment of it. Our travels have not taken us far as of yet, essentially to Montreal and back, but we have learned so much, and with the exception of sleeping, we have been outside almost the entire time.

Borrowed from Technomadia's blog (click to visit) One of the best blogs in the RV community.
Borrowed from Technomadia’s blog (click to visit) One of the best blogs in the RV community.

I have greatly enjoyed doing my writing work from underneath the 5th-wheel overhang, a place that gives shadow almost all day, while Henry sleeps under the trailer itself. It is easy to lose track of the days, which is why I was so amused to see Technomadia showing off their “day clock.” It looks odd at first glance, but makes sense once you grow used to the unhurried pace of a rural RV park or campsite.

Now, however, I face the other half of my business life, the in-person consultations and speeches. This year I worked hard to pool them together, limiting my availability to one month stretches, to ensure we could still sneak away from time to time. I mustn’t complain – work is work, but it sure stings a little to have to come back to earth.

I love looking at trees, hills and horses. I love watching big buses and trailers pull into the park, and I equally love watching them leave. Each departure rekindles my wanderlust just a little more, wondering where they are off to next. I love watching Henry sleep away the afternoon, and I love the night breezes wafting through the coach. I am counting the days now until I can walk with him along an ocean beach, instigating tide pools and the creatures they hold.

As we prepare the trailer for a brief – very brief – sojourn in the storage area of our favorite park, I find myself already looking at two screens: my calendar and the map, calculating where we could squeeze in another road trip.

This lifestyle may not be for everyone, but it certainly has shown us some amazing adventures already. It is time to unpack the suit and act respectable again for a few weeks, but I will be doing so with my gaze firmly fixed on the horizon.

 

Montreal – July 2016 – Horses and Memory Lane

2016-07-30 MontrealMontreal is the town where Liz and I grew up; more specifically on the South Shore. We have each been back for various reasons over the years, but this time we decided to stop in at a Good Sam campsite very close to the towns of our youth. The site was called Camping Alouette, and it, like the others we have chosen, was excellent. Extremely well run, clean and comfortable. Half of the sites are on flat land, but many other rigs – 5th wheels, trailers and even buses – were perched on lots all the way up a steep and wooded hill. Quite fascinating. Our site was on the flatlands, and we faced a farm that had four horses.

2016-07-24 St. Basile 2

Those horses were the highlight for me. Watching them run free in their large paddock, seeing them roll in the dust, and hearing them whinny and talk to each other on consecutive warm sunny days captured the beauty of RVing in the countryside.

2016-07-29 Beautiful horses
This was my view as I sat down to work.

Some long-time friends joined us for a few days and we spent some time revisiting our old high school, known back then as Richelieu Valley Regional High School, and driving around our old neighborhoods. Everything was much as it had always been, just leafier.

One afternoon we climbed Mont St. Hilaire, not super-high as mountains go, but imposing enough, given that it sits quite alone among the cornfields. It and its neighbors a good few miles away are remnants of ancient volcanic activity.

Mont St. Hilaire. Photo credit: Associations québecoise d'urbanism. Click to visit.
Mont St. Hilaire. Photo credit: Associations québecoise d’urbanism. Click to visit.

The peak is 1358 feet up, and there is a well-marked, well worn trail that leads to the summit, seemingly at a consistent 45-degree angle. It was an exceedingly hot and humid day, but the view from the top basically encompassed everything from our childhood: the towns we grew up in, our schools, and in the distance, Montréal itself, our place of university study and first jobs.

2016-07-28 View from Mt Hilaire
The view from the peak.

We didn’t meet any new friends at the campground. Many people were either residents, tucked away in their built-up mini-estates, or they were overnighters, pulling in for a night or two before heading further north or further south. We did encounter a couple from Texas in an upscale diesel pusher, who had a beautiful Great Dane with the unlikely name of Muffin, thus dispelling the myth that all of these big buses automatically came with a yappy lap dog for company. Anyway, Muffin and her humans disappeared one morning, and we soon found ourselves planning to do the same.

Although our next destination had been Prince Edward Island, life got in the way, as it so often does. The fridge in the RV stopped working (a Dometic with barely 2 months’ usage!), and also Liz had tickets to go see the Tragically Hip play one of their last ever shows on August 12. So we pointed ourselves back towards Toronto for a short while.