New England & NASCAR In 5 Weeks - May 1 to June 7
Pictures can be found here
We returned from the boat in mid-April. We flew to NY to my brother's house where the bus had been stored all winter. We found the bus intact, although the blister problem had multiplied 1000 fold. When we bought the bus, it had some blisters, which are thought to be caused by moisture in the wood backing of the siding popping little blisters when exposed to freezing temperatures. Well, NY had one of their coldest winters in recent history, and the blisters flourished. Other than the cosmetic issue, the bus was fine. It started right up after sitting for four months and I ran the motor and the generator for an hour or so.
Since we did not get any maintenance records when we bought the bus, I had scheduled an appointment at the local Freightliner dealer to change all the fluids and inspect the whole chassis. The appointment was for a Wednesday morning, so I planned to drop the bus off Tuesday afternoon. Keep in mind that it is spring, and after a lot of snow melt, the ground is fairly wet. The forecast for Monday was nice, and Tuesday was supposed to rain. The bus has been parked on my brother's lawn, just thirty feet or so from his hard rock driveway, but in the grass. It had noticeably sunk and inch or two over the winter. In hindsight, I should have moved it from the grass to the hard driveway Monday when it was dry, but I waited until Tuesday morning when it had already been raining awhile to try to move it. As you might expect, it moved about six inches before the wheels spun in the mud and started digging a hole. I immediately stopped trying, knowing I would just make it worse if I did. We had already signed up for Good Sam's roadside assistance program, which is the AAA of the RV world. I called Good Sam and explained that I needed a tow, but it would be short and there was no hurry. About 90 minutes later, a heavy duty wrecker showed up. The wrecker backed in the driveway and extended a cable to my trailer hitch. As he pulled, I backed up, and in seconds we were on the hard part of the driveway. I signed a work order, and instantly my membership dues paid for itself. We took the bus to the Freightliner dealer and left it for it's service. Two days and $2000 later, we had a baseline for chassis maintenance. Oil changed in the motor, transmission fluid changed, coolant changed, generator oil and coolant changed, and the chassis lubed and inspected.
We had the potential for a work contract to happen, but as usual, things were dragging along. We decided that rather than sit and wait, we might as well take a trip. As a first baby step, we made a reservation at a KOA about 10 miles from my brother's house. We cheated a bit and drove the bus and the car separately. We towed our dolly over there later with my brother's pickup. We spent a week at the KOA making sure we really understood the systems of the bus. During that week, I spent several days working with my brother on the house he has been renovating to flip. My bus project during this week was to install the TV lift in the cabinet behind the couch. We are replacing the 29" big old TV over the front dashboard area with a 32" flat screen. The new TV will be behind the couch in a cabinet that we found fairly useless. We always sit in the recliners on the passenger's side, and the couch and cabinet are on the driver's side. It will be much easier to watch TV this way than both turned towards the front. I got the TV installed, and rather than run a coax or HDMI cable into the slide, I bought a wireless HDMI system. We don't have the DISH network setup yet though, so for the time being, we'll watch the old TV using the RV park cable hookup.
After a week at the KOA, we decided to do a New England tour. One of the best vacations I ever took was two weeks through New England with no plans or reservations. Each day got more or less planned the night before. This trip was going to be more or less along the same route, showing Barb places she had not been before. The difference between this trip and my previous one was that I was under the impression that we needed reservations at RV parks in advance. Later in the season, that would probably be true. As it turned out, we were so early in the season that we were in almost empty parks. Our first stop was Mystic, CT. The RV park in Mystic had been a family owned property for many years, but had just been purchased by Sun Resorts. They were in the process of overhauling the place to make it much fancier place. Mystic was one of our stops in the boat in 2006, so this beginning of our new chapter kind of joined the previous chapter here. We spent a week in Mystic. We visited Mystic Seaport, Mystic Pizza, and the Nautilus Museum in Groton. We also met up with old cruising friends Jack & Carol. We had dinner at their house one night, and one afternoon, Jack, who is the sailing coach at the Coast Guard Academy in Groton took us on a tour of his facility.
Our next stop was in Plymouth, MA. We spent three days at Pinewood Lodge. Pinewood Lodge was a neat campground, with lots of tall pine trees throughout the property. It was probably a good thing we didn't have our DISH system working yet, because I imagine the trees would have blocked any hope of seeing a satellite. While in Plymouth, we took a couple day trips. One was to Hyanisport, where the Kennedy Compound is, and one was to Woods Hole. Woods Hole was another connection to our boating days. We had tried to stay in Woods Hole on the boat, but the marina was full, so we had carried on to Cuttyhunk and never got to see the famous Woods Hole Aquarium. Well, the gods must not want us to see Woods Hole Aquarium, because the day we went, it was closed. We were able to tour the Science Exhibit Center though and found it quite interesting. On the day we drove around Hyanisport, we also went out on to Cape Cod. We went as far as Chatham, where my childhood friend Paul has a summer house. I attended his wedding there back in the 70's, and tried to find his house from memory. Of course, my memory of 40 years ago isn't too good, and we never found the house. But we had nice drive. Of course, we also walked around Plymouth and saw Plymouth Rock, which is much smaller than one might imagine, and toured the Mayflower replica.
The next stop on the tour was at The Pines in Salisbury, MA. Similar to the last stop, the word "pines" in the name described the place well. This park was mostly seasonal RV's that were permanently parked. I'm guessing people came out from the Boston area on weekends during the summer to get away. It was just beginning to open up for the season as we found many places were available. From here we did two day trips. One to Gloucester, MA, and one to Rockport, MA. Gloucester is a neat seaport town, and home of the fishing fleet where the Andrea Gail, star of The Perfect Storm was based. I recall stopping here in 1994 and having the best clam chowder ever at the Gloucester House. Barb remembers getting sick after eating at The Gloucester House when she visited while in a class in Boston in 1978. Since we were so early in "the season", The Gloucester House wasn't open, so we had a nice lunch at a pub across the street. Our trip to Rockport revealed a cute little town that I had not experienced on my original tour. It too was a very seasonal town that was just beginning to open up.
Next stop was Bar Harbor, ME. Bar Harbor had been the furthest north stop of my previous trip. It had also been our goal in 2006 in the boat. But, in 2006, we realized that we were rushing too much to attain an artificial goal, and slowed down and never got north of Newport, RI. We stayed near Bar Harbor at Timberland Acres. We joked about the theme of the parks were staying at, in that they all had "pine" or "timber" in their names. Timberland park was also a nice heavily wooded park, but transient big-rigs like us stayed out in an open area. We stayed in Bar Harbor for ten days. It was a fifteen minute drive from the RV park to the actual village of Bar Harbor, and we visited there a couple of times. We also went to Acadia National Park. Unfortunately, the day we chose to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain, it was extremely foggy at the top. It was so thick that I could barely see the adjacent cars to parallel park. Another day trip was to the Seal Cove Vintage Car Museum. It is a private collection of cars. To put the word "vintage" in perspective, my brother owns a 1927 Chevy. It would be amongst the newest cars in this collection. Another day we drove around and visited Sand Beach. You might say every beach is sand, but in Maine, most of the coast is very rocky. Sand Beach is part of the Acadia National Park and it really is a beach. We visited Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond, and Stonington. Stonington was a good example of how extreme the tides are in Maine. Checkout the pictures section for examples of this. Another day we drove to Castine, ME, home of the Maine Maritime Academy where the son of friends of ours went. It was here that we miscalculated our gasoline supply. The price here was substantially higher than back near the RV park, but we needed some. So, I bought $10 worth, but the fun part was they had old pumps that had nothing electronic about them. You lifted the handle, twisted the little thing that reset the pump, and pumped your gas. Another day we drove to Schoodic Point. It is part of Acadia National Park, and had a very interesting rocky shore to explore. Schoodic Point was also home to a very cool building that used to be a Navy outpost. Being a very far east part of the US, Schoodic Point was used as a radio monitoring station during WWII. This is now home of the Schoodic Institute. For several days during our day trips, we kept seeing a bunch of old Bentley's driving around. I finally had a chance to speak to one of the owners at a restaurant, and learned that they were on a rally. Most of the car were from the 30's and these guys still drove them regularly.
After ten days in Maine, we headed west. Our first stop was at Timberland Campground, in NH. Catch the campground name theme continuing? We spent four days here over Memorial Day weekend. This was a neat park, because it was owned and run by a young couple who did everything. It reminded us of when we ran the marina in Grenada. One of our goals of this stop was to see a moose. The park had a map of several day trip drives, and one of them was billed as the most likely one to see moose. So we took that drive one day. We saw a moose statue in the town park, a stuffed moose in a local store that would rival Cabela's or Bass Pro, a plastic moose in golf clothes at a mini-golf place, and finally after five hours a real moose a few miles from returning to the RV park. That one remained the only real one we saw, but it was cool. Also along that drive we saw a number of covered bridges, a couple of cool waterfalls, and a small railroad museum. We spent Memorial Day at this park, and they had a nice little ceremony to honor our veterans. That evening they also had a local singer performing around a campfire.
The next stop was at Lake Champagne Campground in Randolph Center VT. We did something new on this trip though. We stopped at an attraction with the RV, on the way to our next campground. I had done some research and knew that the Ben & Jerry's plant in Waterbury, VT had RV parking available. So, mid-day we pulled into Ben & Jerry's plant. I had been there before but Barb had not. We took the tour, got our free sample of the flavor of the day, bought dishes to eat there, and then bought four pints to go. Most RV freezers are marginal for keeping ice cream. Ice Cream needs to be kept at 0°, and your average RV freezer will get to about 15°. BUT, our Engle freezer in the basement will get to 0° with no problem, just like the one we had on the boat did. So, we stocked up on Ben & Jerry's with a plan for it in a few days.
When we got to the RV park, we found it to be a nice place, but we were out of our pine tree theme. This park was more of an open field that was terraced into several different camping areas with a nice lake at the bottom of the hill. We did two day trips from this park. One took us to Montpelier, the capitol of VT. On that same day-trip, we stopped and visited Peter Burmeister, who is the older brother of my childhood friend Paul. As kids, Peter was closer to my brother's age, so we weren't that close, but since I have always been in touch with Paul over the years, I was always vaguely aware of Peter's life. Well, Peter's life now is being a gentleman farmer. Don't confuse gentleman farmer with retirement. In a few years owning this property, he and his wife have built a large building custom made for processing the organic chickens they raise for sale, and it includes a full apartment on the second floor. This building was nearing completion when we visited. The next step was building the new house that would replace the double-wide that came with the property and that they live in now. There were also a few cows, a large garden, and the obligatory dog. We enjoyed a few hours of visiting, seeing his farm, and reminiscing about our lives 50 years later.
Our other day trip on this leg took us back to Waterbury, where we visited the Cold Hollow Cider Mill. In addition to the store that had every apple-based product you can imagine, including cider, cider doughnuts, cider pancake mix, and every kind of jam, jelly, hot sauce, etc., they had a viewing area to watch the press at work. Many people came and went during the process of loading the press with chopped apples, and then the pressing itself. We were the only people who stayed and watched the whole process. We were rewarded for that by being invited to come right into the press room so we could get some better pictures. I guess the guy figured if we were interested enough to watch the whole cycle, we should be rewarded. Across the parking lot from the cider press was a hard cider shop. They buy cider from the press and then ferment it into hard cider. We didn't get a tour, but we picked up a mixed six-pack of hard ciders to sample later. Our day continued with stops at Texas Falls (we had to visit with that name) and Glen Falls.
Next stop was to Camping on the Battenkill in Arlington, VT, where we met my brother and his wife and friends Linda & Denny. We had a cool little triangle of three campsites together for a week. Camping on the Battenkill was back into a wooded setting for us, and it was very nice. The Battenkill river runs along the campground and offers kayaking and fishing opportunities. During the week, we made several trips. We visited Mt. Equinox, which is a steep drive to the top of the mountain where there was a neat observation building. The history of the place was quite interesting and you can read about it on their website. Another trip was to Bennington. If we had wanted to see moose, this was the place. They have full-sized moose statues all over the city that were painted by various artists. We visited the Bennington Museum which was quite interesting with VT history. Another day we went to the Orvis flagship store in Manchester. It's not only a cool huge store, but there is also a pond to test your fishing equipment, and a separate building where they manufacture their fishing rods. We had other days that we just hung out at the campground and enjoyed meals together and campfires at night. The weather was great except for one night that it rained at dinner time. We found that we could comfortably fit six for dinner in the bus, which was good to know.
On our last day in VT, we learned that Barb's dad had passed away in OH. He had been in a nursing home for a couple of years, and when the end came it was fairly quick. We went back to my brother's house for a day and then headed to OH. In OH, we had arranged to stay at Barb's cousins farm. They had plenty of room for us to stay in their driveway and be plugged in. Over the next week we said goodbye to Dad and took care of things there. We still were in limbo about a work contract, so on the spur of the moment we decided to go to the NASCAR race at Kentucky Speedway. The race is in two weeks. We left Barb's cousin's farm and went north to a KOA in Streetsboro, OH for a week. Streetsboro is about halfway between Canton and Cleveland. While in Streetsboro, we visited my sister-in-laws sister Baby, a friend from cruising days Roxanne, and Becky, an old friend from early in my career. From Streetsboro, we headed south to Follow The River RV Resort in Florence, IN. We pretty much just relaxed for a week here prior to the race. We took a couple of drives, but other than nice countryside, there weren't a lot of things to see.
The camping at the racetrack opened up on Tuesday before race weekend. The track is literally a few miles south across the border in KY. We have never done the NASCAR race camping thing, so we went the first day we could, assuming the sooner we were there the better. There had been a fair amount of rain in the weeks before the race, so we found the spot we were assigned to be a bit soft even though it had been filled with fresh gravel. After being unable to get level because the jacks were just sinking in the mud, I drove the car up to the office to see if we could switch spots. They happily accommodated us, and the new spot was not only hard and dry, but it was closer to the tram stop to get to the track. We had an interesting week at the track. For one thing, you get packed in pretty tight, with just an inch or so between each rig once you have slides and awnings out. We met a couple of our neighbors and it was quite the party. There were three races over the weekend, the Camping World Trucks, the Nationwide (now Xfinity) cars, and the Sprint Cup cars. All three races started late in the afternoon and went into the night. The grandstands are on the west side of the track, so the sun was behind us and not baking us while we were in our seats. The week at the race track was the first time we were dry camping for a whole week. Unfortunately, we found that the drive belt on our generator slipped when under load. That meant we couldn't run our air conditioning at all, and it was a challenge to keep the batteries charged. Something to fix, but we made it through.
When we left the track we just went back across the river to Follow The River RV Resort again. We didn't have a plan after this, so we needed to think about where next. We still didn't have any news about a work contract, so we decided to head back to my brother's in NY. The next day we went north in IN to Hoffman Lake Campground for one night. We hoped to make a stop the next day at McMiller's Customs in Nappanee, IN, but when we finally made contact with them, it turned out they were in FL on vacation. So, from Hoffman Lake, we drove to Massillon, OH where we spent our first night at Camp Wal-Mart. (Most Wal-Marts are very accommodating in letting RVers stay overnight.) This Wal-Mart was only a couple miles from the nursing home where Barb's mom is, so the stop enabled us to visit her. Then next day is was on to NY and back to my brother's.
So ends the first big trip living in the bus.