NET wrapup

Today is the last day of the New England Tour (NET). Time to look back.

By the numbers: 88 days in 8 different campgrounds. Towing miles: 471 over 7 hops. Cumulative truck miles: 4293. Campground fees: approximately $5,500 (about $62.50 per night). Yes, RV campsites in New England are expensive.

Highlights:

  • Seeing family. The NET was spectacularly successful in this respect. We saw brothers, sisters, sons, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and various other relatives.  Hardly a weekend went by where we didn’t see family.
  • Playing softball. Though I could not commit to a team due to my need to leave Aug 1, I was able to play a “fill in” role on several teams, performing very well.  And saw Big Papi one day.
  • Finding headstones.  While most visits to cemeteries were failures, I had some very satisfying successes: Jett’s paternal grandmother, a pair of great-grandparents, some of Jett’s colonial relatives, including some of her Mayflower ancestors and a bunch of others.  On my side of the ledger, I found one of my most famous ancestors, Gov John Webster of CT, plus some of my ancestors who founded Hartford CT and Woburn MA.
  • Catching up with old friends.
  • Attending the Escapees Chapter 3 rally at Newfound Lake NH.
  • Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth MA.

Lowlights:

  • Cold, wet weather. May and most of June were unseasonably chilly and very wet.  July was better, but we still had the heat on several nights and had one night toward the end of July where we could see our breath.  There was very little “beach weather.”
  • The annoying seasonal residents at Sea-Vu West in Wells ME. The people there had a very strong dislike of transients like us.  Well, we formed a very strong dislike of both this campground and its residents.  There is 0% chance that we will ever go back there.
  • Health. I was fine, but Jett suffered though a pinched nerve and other physical issues that sucked the fun out of many of her days.  Some relatives also had significant health issues.  Tough to get old.

 

Transponder use

We have had a transponder, used to pay tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike and other MA toll roads, for nearly 10 years.  Over time the region in which the transponder can be used has grown and now covers most of the northeast.  We can now automatically pay tolls when driving the Yaris anywhere between Massachusetts and Florida.  We used it this summer in NH and ME, too.

But we could never legally use it for the truck.  The tolls everywhere are different for a Yaris and a GMC diesel dually – dramatically different in some cases, as we discovered this summer in Maine.  We drove the truck over a 12-mile segment of the Maine Turnpike and paid $7.50 rather than the $3.00 auto rate.  I thought this was outrageous – paying 2.5 times as much just because the truck has 2 extra tires.

But there is a convenience factor, for sure. And for that reason I decided to get a transponder for the truck.  Obtaining the device was a breeze, handled by the friendly staff at the E-ZPass office.  And I learned something that makes the outrageous tolls somewhat less outrageous: the toll is the same when the truck is towing the 5th wheel.  That rule applies anywhere in MA, NH and ME, so I could have hauled the rig up the same 12-mile segment in Maine for the same $7.50 toll.

However, that does not apply outside of MA, NH and ME.  We are about to embark on a journey that will take us west, potentially along tollroads in NY, OH, IN and IL.  I don’t know what the tolls will be there.  I am hoping that those states still have cash lanes.  If they don’t then I am going to find out the hard way – by getting a bill in the mail – how expensive those states are.

Second Trip West (STW) preview

We are four days away from embarking on our second cross-country trip. This one will, like the first, include Tillamook OR as a stop, but, unlike the first trip (the Great Trip West or GTW), this time Tillamook will be the final destination. The route is designed to hit many of the states that we have not yet visited: Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington – 12 states, leaving just 4 of the lower 48 unvisited. The towing distance will be nearly 4200 miles over 22 hops and 60 days.

The trips is organized into 3 segments.

STW Segment 1

STW Segment 1

STW Segment 1

The first segment is from Oakham MA to Madison WI. About 1400 miles over 7 hops and 27 days. Things we will see and do include:

  • Genealogical research in the Albany area.
  • A short visit to the beautiful Thousand Islands region of upstate New York.
  • Three days in the Niagara Falls area.
  • Two days near Mayfield OH where I hope to find some ancestor headstones.
  • A few days in the Detroit area where, among other things, we will visit Greenfield Village.
  • Two days near the Indiana Dunes.
  • Eight days in my hometown, Madison WI. We will attend my 50th high school reunion (yes, I am that old), see some relatives and friends and probably spend a day in the Wisconsin Dells.

STW Segment 2

STW Segment 2

STW Segment 2

About 1650 miles from Madison WI to West Yellowstone MT over 9 hops and 20 days. Highlights:

Obviously, this segment is heavy on national parks.  These are all on our “bucket list” of national parks we want to see.

STW Segment 3

STW Segment 3

STW Segment 3

The third and final segment of the STW is about 1100 miles over 6 hops and 13 days. Highlights:

It will be an interesting trip full of sights we have never seen.  It will be a lot of driving, with a 13-year-old truck. But the truck has been operating beautifully and it should do fine. I will keep my fingers crossed and my camera ready.

A visit from Liliani

Liliani

Liliani

I finally got to spend some time with my granddaughter, Liliani, on Saturday. It has been 10 months since I last saw her, which is certainly not because I didn’t want to see her; it was a negative consequence of our decision to wander around New England this summer. It wasn’t until we got to Littleton that we were within an hour of her and the timing for that stay just didn’t work. But Oakham is just 30 minutes from her home, so we finally got together.

I just about didn’t recognize her. She has grown about 6 inches in those 10 months. And cut her hair. She is now a young woman. But still very sweet, very shy. She is always a pleasure to have around. Which is more than can be said for many 11-year-olds.

We didn’t do anything super exciting. We went to the pool, played miniature golf, wandered around the campground, had a chicken tender lunch, dinner at the Black & White Grille and a McDonald’s breakfast. Jett taught her a new card game. Quiet pleasures.

Playing mini golf

Playing mini golf

With Rusty

With Rusty

In a super-sized chair

In a super-sized chair

Swimming

Swimming

NET Hop 7: Littleton MA to Oakham MA

NET Hop 7

NET Hop 7

40 miles via MA 2A, MA 2, I-190, MA 31, MA 122A and MA 148. Cumulative tow miles: 471. Truck miles: 461. Cumulative truck miles: 3036.

Reinforced strut

Reinforced strut


We have been to Pine Acres Family Campground several times. We have stayed at Boston Minuteman Campground many times. But we have never traveled directly from Minuteman to Pine Acres, so the route was new. And even though it was a short trip – just 40 miles – it was long enough to have a disagreement between Google and our GPS. Worse, Google and GPS had completely different names for the street we were supposed to turn on after exiting I-190. I was confused but remembered that it was a quick left, so I took the one that seemed right and, fortunately, was correct. Jett was following in the Yaris, so I couldn’t blame a navigation error on her. It was all on me. Pressure.

This is the last hop in the New England Tour (NET). But I will defer a wrapup until the “tour” is truly over – when we leave on August 1.

We spent 9 days at Minuteman and it remains one of our favorite places. We regret not booking a longer stay. One of the regrets was that we got to Kimball Farm just once for ice cream and not at all for dinner. I had a special flavor – peanut butter Butterfinger. Yes, it was as good as it sounds. But their seafood is always a treat and we didn’t get any this time around. Sad.

Jett’s sisters once again came for a visit and the highlight (other than the cutthroat Hand, Knee and Foot card games) was a Sunday brunch at the Westford Regency. Their brunch isn’t cheap but it is first-rate. I had some very fresh lox and a couple of slices of to-die-for ham. I won’t mention all the other items, but I will say that it was not a good day for my weight loss goals.

Our site (80) was great, except for backing in. The large rock claimed both caps on our sewer line storage pipe. No major problem, but a “ding” for sure. I will have to figure out a good way to repair the damage.

Speaking of damage, I applied my engineering intellect to the problem of the “map basement” support strut, the problem being that the top end of the strut was pulling out of the relatively soft door panel. I decided that I needed to reinforce what the screws were going into, so I got a metal plate, drilled 3 holes, screwed the plate into the door, then screwed the strut into the plate. Works like a charm. So far.

Site 80

Site 80

Reinforced strut

Reinforced strut

The 4th with family

Lucas Pond

Lucas Pond

The New England weather this summer has been… mixed. No, that is too kind. It has been crappy. It has been wet and it has been cold. The days with no rain at all have been scarce. We set a “record low high” on July 14 with a high of 66. Crappy.

But, between the raindrops, we managed to have a pretty good 4th of July at Lucas Pond, Northwood NH, with Jett’s family. We ate a lot a good food. And a fair amount of other food, too. The grills were running Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (the 4th). Hamburgers, hot dogs, steak tips, marinated chicken breasts. Cole slaw, potato salad, potato chips and a variety of potluck side dishes. No one went hungry.

Coming all the way from VA were Jett’s sons, Joshua and Devin, plus their boys, Patrick (visiting from CA) and Zachary. Joining them were cousins Chance (with Emily and their newborn daughter), Riley and Jacob. Jett’s sisters and her nieces. A full house.

Apparently concerned that we hadn’t eater enough, Devin treated us all to a lobster fest on the 4th, followed by a trip to Johnson’s for ice cream (where the kiddie size would feed a classroom).

While there, niece Allison was notified of the birth of her first grandchild in GA. I got a picture of her getting her first ever (with many to follow) photos of her grandchild. Sweet moment.

Allie's first photo of first grandchild

Allie’s first photo of first grandchild

Sybil, Christine and Zachary

Sybil, Christine and Zachary

Jimmy with Briella

Jimmy with Briella

Jett with Rusty

Jett with Rusty

Devin expounding

Devin expounding

Zachary

Zachary

Lobsterfest toast

Lobsterfest toast

Joshua, Patrick and Zachary at Johnson's

Joshua, Patrick and Zachary at Johnson’s

NET Hop 6: Northwood NH to Littleton MA

NET Hop 6

NET Hop 6

69 miles via NH 43, NH 101, I-93, I-495 (around Boston) and MA 3A. Cumulative tow miles: 431. Truck miles: 545. Cumulative truck miles: 2575.

This was a very easy, quick hop. I actually expected the traffic to be brutal as I thought many people would have been ending a week-long 4th of July vacation on Sunday. But traffic was, if anything, light. No stop-and-go stretches at all. I barely had to use the brakes. A pleasure.

Our home for 9 nights in NH was the Saddleback Campground – the campground where we started our RV lifestyle 5 years ago in the summer of 2012. Then, as now, we chose the campground because it was very near the summer cottage of Jett’s sister. It was a very adequate first campground, but we had nothing to compare it to. We now can compare it to dozens of other campgrounds.

It has changed very little in 5 years. The things we liked then – the solitude, the cute pond, the friendly hosts (even though the hosts are different now than they were then) – are still the things we like now. The things we didn’t like much then – the difficult, sometimes cramped, sites, the lack of sewer service on most sites and very limited TV antenna reception – are still the things we don’t like much now. In 2012 we paid for cable TV, but that wasn’t an option this time, so we survived mostly by watching DVDs.

Unlike our 2012 site which had limited a sewer hookup (gray water only), we had no sewer hookup at all this time. We survived quite well without it, getting a pumpout just before we departed. The pumpout extracted over 100 gallons of sewage, but as our total tank capacity is 200 gallons, we weren’t pushing it. This was a surprise as I really thought a week would be our limit, but we made it 9 days without difficulty.

The weather, while not perfect, was better than we have seen for any week so far this summer. Several downpours and thunder interrupted the otherwise sunny and warm weather (though I still had to don a jacket most mornings). Spending time with Jett’s family on Lucas Pond was a joy, as always. I will post those photos separately.

As usual, the campground put on a private fireworks show on July 2. We didn’t see it because Rusty is not much of a fan (he just about jumps out of his skin, like most dogs), so we left. But I am sure it was a very nice show.

They also showed Ice Age on the beach at dusk another night. With free popcorn. I am a sucker for free movies and free popcorn.

The campground, in association with other NH campgrounds, sponsored a Make-a-Wish event on the day we arrived. The Make-a-Wish Foundation bought a small trailer for a mother and her two children, the younger one having a terminal illness. The camper is welcome, free of charge, at a number of campgrounds in southern NH this summer, to satisfy the mother’s wish of giving her daughter a summer of camping. It was a touching ceremony and a great opportunity to meet the hosts, the mother and her family and the other campers.

Our site, across the pond

Our site, across the pond

Ice Age showing on the beach

Ice Age showing on the beach

The pond

The pond

The donated trailer

The donated trailer

Cutting the Make-a-Wish cake

Cutting the Make-a-Wish cake

Wells ME and the Maine coast

Sunset along Wells Beach

Sunset along Wells Beach

Neddick Light

Cape Neddick Light

One of the main (Maine?) reasons for staying in Wells was to explore the area and, possibly, actually get to the beach. Unfortunately, Jett was a bit under the weather during our stay so we didn’t do as much exploring as we had hoped. I did get to a couple of cemeteries and wandered about a bit on my own, but, fortunately, we were treated to a 2-hour guided tour by campground neighbors Tom and Lynda who had lived in the area their entire lives. It was a sunset tour, so while I got a very nice sunset shot near Wells Beach (the sun sets in the west, of course, so the beach was in the other direction but, trust me, it was there), most of the shots were fairly dark. But it was a wonderful tour nonetheless, featuring Ogunquit, Wells Beach, Cape Neddick Light and Dunne’s Ice Cream.

So while we didn’t see as much as we planned, I saw enough to say that I like the area. It would be a good place to spend some time in the summer. Except for the water, which is friggin’ frigid. If you want warm water, stick to the Gulf of Mexico.

Dunne's Ice Cream

Dunne’s Ice Cream

Rocky shore at Wells

Rocky shore at Wells

NET Hop 5: Wells ME to Northwood NH

NET Hop 5

NET Hop 5

47 miles via US-1, I-95, US 4 and NH 43. Cumulative tow miles: 362. Truck miles: 426. Cumulative truck miles: 2030.

This wasn’t the shortest route, but it was the easiest route. The other routes involved some sharp turns and traversing dense residential areas. The chosen route was mostly 4-lane highway. An easy trip, except for the 5-minute downpour and the tight quarter-mile through downtown Ogunquit. Traffic was light which was a surprise considering that it was the Friday before the 4th. I guess we got out ahead of the pack.

Our home for the 8 nights in Wells was the Sea-Vu West Premier RV Resort. This is one of at least 3 Sea-Vu campgrounds in Wells. The original, on US 1 in Wells, looked cramped. Sea-Vu South, just south of West, was newer and looked – as far as I could see from the road – about the same as West. West was my choice primarily because of the high ratings in Good Sam.

We would rate the park a bit lower.

Our site

Our site

First the good things:

  • Our site was large, shaded and backed onto greenery.
  • The park was very clean and well-maintained.
  • The pool was large with plenty of chairs.

The bad things:

  • The office staff was unfriendly and not very helpful.
  • The small dog park was at the other end of the facility, past all the park models.
  • The park was about 75% park models with seasonal residents who were not very friendly to transient campers such as us.
  • The WiFi connectivity – both on the park’s free WiFi and my own Verizon router – was terrible.  Among the worst we have seen in 5 years of travel. I couldn’t upload pictures and finally gave up on trying to do anything on the internet.  Just too frustrating.
  • The electricity went out for over 4 hours one day.  While this was not the campground’s fault, they were not very proactive about informing campers of the status.  I had to contact the utility directly to find out what was going on.

The seasonal/transient tension is something we saw last year at Apple Island. Somehow the seasonal residents view transients as second-class citizens and tend to either ignore them or, worse, be rude to them. In my case I was walking Rusty to the dog park one morning and a seasonal resident was out watering his little patch of grass. Mind you, I was in the street, but Rusty was near the edge of the grass. The resident said to me “I hope your dog isn’t going to piss on my grass.” I swore at him under my breath and walked on. No sense getting into a physical altercation with a man armed with a water hose.

Speaking of grass, the park seems to have some odd rules about what residents can do to their property. Patios and walkways made with brick pavers were everywhere and apparently are okay. But no concrete walks and, oddly, no driveways of any kind – everyone parked on their precious grass. That struck me as very odd.

The bottom line is that I would rate this park at about 5 on a 10 scale.  We won’t be returning.

Maybe others feel the same. I was surprised that the transient area was only about 40% occupied on the weekend – the last weekend in June when most kids were out of school. I think most parks would expect to be booked solid on that weekend.

The surprisingly empty transient area

The surprisingly empty transient area

The hidden cost of headstone hunting

I enjoy headstone hunting for several reasons:

  • It is a bit of a treasure hunt – I always feel great when I find an old headstone marking an ancestor’s gravesite.
  • It is esthetically pleasing – most of the old cemeteries are quite scenic.
  • It is free.

Well, almost free. As I discovered a couple of weeks ago, there is a hidden cost to headstone hunting.

On a sunny day I wear my sunglasses which are just clip-ons for my prescription glasses.  When I need to look closely at a headstone I take them off and hang them in the collar of my shirt.  They are pretty secure there and if for some reason they slip out, I feel and/or hear them fall.

So I spent about 90 minutes at the Highland Cemetery in Ipswich recently. And while the day was sunny the cemetery was mostly shaded.  I took my glasses off at the start and didn’t put them on until I had finished walking the cemetery, which covered over an acre.  Or, more to the point, I tried to put them on but they weren’t there.  I had lost my glasses somewhere in the acre of headstones.

I spent an additional 30 minutes retracing my route, carefully scanning the grass. Nothing.

The cost of replacing the glasses: about $400.

I will henceforth leave the glasses in the truck and use cheap non-prescription sunglasses if it is sunny.

Some lessons are learned the hard way.