Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Georgia on my mind...

Ugh! This summer is going by way too fast. The past two weekends have been dominated by social commitments, so even though we had to travel, the trailer wasn't along for the ride. The good part is we've been able to spend time with friends we don't see very often, which means a lot of bragging about our new part-time RVing lifestyle. Suffice it to say, we have quite a few people requesting to join us on future vacations!

Awesome news: As of two days ago, we made reservations for our end-of-summer voyage. This will be our longest trip in terms of duration, but shorter than our stay at Holly Shores in Wildwood. We'll set out on Tuesday, August 30 and plan to drive 5-6 hours until we reach a Walmart suitable for boondocking. We'll wake up bright and early the next morning to finish the rest of the drive to...Savannah, GA!

Originally, we had planned to stay at a campground in Myrtle Beach, since that seemed like a reasonably long distance away, but something we could still manage in the span of a week. Then Steve's allotted vacation time was cruelly shortened, so we thought we might try looking for a place a bit closer, like in North Carolina. We spent a lot of time researching campgrounds in both NC and SC but couldn't find anything we liked. If the place was ah-mazing, like the one I mentioned before with the lazy river, it either cost beaucoup bucks or didn't allow dogs (or restricted the breeds it did allow). I did find a couple spots that looked promising, like on the Outer Banks. While that area seemed quieter and more serene than we're used to (certainly moreso than the Jersey Shore!), I was about to take the plunge and call in a reservation. Then Steve admitted, "You know where I really want to go? Savannah." Yes, that was approximately 226 miles further than Myrtle Beach, which at that point we were considering only as a secondary option. But who cares! It's Savannah. Only the most gorgeous/adorable/freakin' awesome town on the planet.

I've been scheming for a way to get back down to Savannah for years now, ever since the first (and up until now, only) time Steve took me there in October 2006. Steve used to live there for a few years before we met, so I guess this was a way of introducing me to a big part of his life (aka Waffle House, Krystal, Bojangles, the finer things in life). Unfortunately, I may have driven him so crazy during that two-day drive there and back that he swore he'd never again endure that long of a car ride with me. (Long story- I wasn't feeling well.) Apparently, it's been just long enough that he's completely forgotten that statement, and I'm going to take full advantage!
Ahh, young love...Savannah '06
If we were going to make this trip worthwhile, we damn well had better save some money along the way. Steve found a state park that allows camping called Skidaway Island State Park. For $28 a night. There was no way we were going to find anything cheaper, that's for sure. The great thing about this park is that it's pretty close to everything -- downtown Savannah, beaches of Tybee Island -- yet it's also secluded at the same time, if the reviews on TripAdvisor are anything to go by.

Now, not only am I excited about returning to Savannah, but also I can't wait to visit all our "spots" along the way. Finally, our trailer is going to get to see all the beautiful kitsch that I-95 has to offer. Like this! better believe it!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Roughin' It, State Park Style

Once upon a time I wrote about how we had come to expect a new standard in the campgrounds we visited. Our campgrounds needed to come outfitted in resort amenities. That meant that if there wasn't a pool, boat rentals, and some other quirky amenity (gnome-themed restaurant! lazy river!) I wouldn't be interested.

Well, the only problem with that mentality is that it's an expensive one. I know that camping is considered the cheaper option as far as vacationing goes, but that isn't necessarily the case if you always look for the poshest campgrounds with the most facilities on tap. And even if we're only going to stay one night at a time, we still need to consider the price of gas and tolls. (Related rant: Why must everything be more expensive the larger your vehicle is?? We're already paying more to keep this thing fueled up -- why do we have to get charged more for tolls, too?) So, in an attempt to temper my naturally expensive tastes, we started looking into state parks.

The Poconos is a very popular summer spot for both Philadelphians and New Yorkers, but I've kind of resisted its appeal for a while. I'm fiercely loyal to the Allegheny National Forest for obvious reasons, which to me is the purer, more authentic way to experience mountain living. The Poconos is a tourist destination in every sense of the word. But it's also vast in terms of both its spread and its offerings. If you want to find a place that's off the beaten path, it's not going to be that hard.

So it was with this newly open-minded attitude that we set off for Hickory Run State Park in White Haven, PA last Saturday morning. We chose this place because it met all three of our criteria:
1) pet-friendly
2) beach and lake with swimming (Steve's main concern), and
3) hiking trails

When we pulled into the camping area, I was a bit nervous because our site was in the designated pet area. That meant that every single person had a dog (and in most cases, a kid as well). While Steve was filling up at the water station, I was trying to keep Lola from losing it every time someone walked by with a dog or a kid whizzed by on a bike. I was starting to rethink my whole "Lola's the best travel dog ever" assertion. She was even barking! This wasn't good.

Outside our site
Luckily, that's why trails were invented. We took her on a nice walk to the beach area, and then promptly got lost retracing our steps from whence we came. I don't know how, but I blame Steve. He *insisted* the trail would loop around the same way, but it didn't. By the time we returned to our site, though, she was sufficiently calmed down and ready for a little siesta.

This camping area, by far, was my favorite of all the parks we've been to so far. You definitely had the feel that you were in the middle of a forest, not an RV park. The people staying on the other side of us were in a tent, which added to that whole rustic atmosphere. And even though it's peak season for state parks and the camping area was nearly at capacity, it didn't feel crowded at all. I had high hopes we'd see a bear strolling by at some point, but alas, it didn't happen. (Steve thinks this is because bears would avoid the dog areas. I'd avoid Lola if I was a bear, too.)
No Mom, I don't wanna take a picture

We spent both afternoons sunning by the beach and swimming in the lake. This was a really nice spot, made even nicer by the fact there was a snack bar, shower area and picnic tables for people to host barbecues. By the end, we both had natural tans worthy of a guest spot on Jersey Shore, at least. This is turning out to be our darkest summer ever.

The beach
 On our way back from the beach, we stopped into the camp store. This place didn't look that promising from the front -- it didn't even have a sign you could see from the road -- but it ended up exceeding our expectations. Along with our budget. Oh, well. Here's what we picked up:
1) a waterproof container so we can keep camera, phones, etc. safe during canoe/kayak trips
2) percolator so Steve can stop complaining about the lack of strength in the instant coffee
3) Hickory Run State Park hats (Steve fell in love with a camo hat, and even though I'm not much of a hat person, I couldn't resist this one)
4) logs for the campfire
5) coffee for the percolator (It's time for the percolator!)
6) fire starters
7) tinfoil for cooking stuff on the fire
Sporting our spiffy new head accessories
Before leaving on Sunday, we visited Boulder Field, which was about a 20-minute drive away up a steep and winding hill (we also could've hiked this, if we had the three to five hours to spare, but no thank you). I was really excited because I'd been reading up on this place since we made reservations. Boulder Field is a national natural landmark that was created 20,000 years ago during the most recent glacial period. Apparently, people like to hop from boulder to boulder and play hide and seek, but I really don't see how. We brought Lola along -- poor decision, because one yank on the leash and we all could've suffered an uncomfortable death, or at least debilitating injury, on those rocks. (Actually, I don't really think dogs are allowed in that area, so we got in and out as fast as possible.)

Crazy how far out that guy is in the distance. We weren't that brave
The home front

For the first time in our trailer's history, we were able to use the central air. What a relief to come back from the beach and find it was almost *too* chilly inside! Of course, you'll never hear me complaining about the AC working well.

We had all of our meals meticulously planned out so we wouldn't have to buy anything extra. We brought more than we needed, but I think that's the smart way to go. In fact, I got to try out the two burners on the electric stove at once!

Me: "Can I cook the corn on one burner while the burgers are cooking on another burner?"
Steve: "Is that a real question?"

I promise those tasted better than they look

Pros: great camp store, beach, scenic hiking trails, lovely and serene campsite
Cons: no bears! (although they could've gone roaming through our campsite while we were sleeping and we'd be none the wiser)
False advertising?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Country Livin'

This weekend we had an amazing time staying at our cabin in northwest PA. We didn't take our RV with us, but it was never far from our thoughts! One of the main reasons we became interested in camping is because of our experiences at the cabin. We realized we both loved the quaint, down-home small-town life, the picturesque surroundings and the chance to "get away from it all." I adored the idea of having a vacation home we could escape to on weekends, without ever having to pay for accommodations. It also helps that we don't know anyone else who vacations in the Allegheny National Forest. This might be more popular with people on the other side of the state, like Pittsburgh, where Steve's dad's side of the family is originally from.

The only problem is that the camp is six hours away, which means that we need at least a three-day weekend to make a trip there manageable and worthwhile. In 2009, we made it there four times, which ended up being a record. Last year, between the wedding and Steve's work schedule, we only got there once. It does make the actual visits even more special. But during the times when a six-hour drive isn't possible, we want to be able to enjoy all the benefits of camping anyway. That's one of the reasons we bought the trailer.

Front view of the camp
While we were there, we were surprised to see travel trailers and motorhomes all over the place -- and not just because the campgrounds there are a major draw. People had RVs parked in their driveways everywhere we looked, it seemed. I figured that since so many of the houses there are second homes, people wouldn't have the need for a recreational vehicle. Not so. Apparently, even when they already have a main vacation base, they don't necessarily want to be tied down to that one spot. That makes sense. Steve pointed out that when we bring the trailer, we'll be able to seek out new spots and adventures, like, for example, boondocking by a lake.

Our favorite spots

When Steve started taking me here in 2009, it was shortly after we adopted Lola. I remember being so thrilled watching her tear through the trails, romp through the streams and generally live like a dog is meant to do. After all, not too long before that, she was trapped in a cage at an animal shelter. It was great to see her unleash some of that boundless energy in the forest.

So every time we visit the camp, we make it a point to take her on at least one or two long hikes. This trip we opted to go to one of our old standbys, Buzzard Swamp. It's a relatively flat and scenic route, and it's also where we've had some of our most memorable wildlife sightings (grouse, pheasants, a ginormous buck that nearly trampled me...). And it didn't let us down this time either. On our way driving to the parking area, Steve spotted a porcupine crossing the road! My life was officially complete. I had to get a pic of course, which entailed following it into bushes and up a tree (okay, not the second part. I draw the line at climbing).

Damn you, fast porcupine! You can barely see him
Lola drinking out of a Gatorade cap...when she's thirsty, she'll do anything
Halfway through Buzzard Swamp trail
We also made a visit to one of the unnamed trails along Route 66, which we've informally named the Savanna. It's this wide open space of sand and swamps surrounded by forest. We love to come here, take Lola off leash and let her go nuts. Which she did, of course.

She underestimated how deep it was going to be
This makes me laugh...Lola, Queen of the Forest
Because we always have this area to ourselves, we don't worry about letting Lola roam free. Nobody disturbed us this time either, but there were signs the Savanna isn't as untouched as we'd like it to be. What used to exclusively be an expanse of sand is now dotted with some large piles of gravel and interestingly shaped cinderblocks. Don't know what's going on there, but leave my happy place alone, people!

Lola inspecting the new additions
New loves

One of my favorite parts about coming here is that we always seem to discover something new. While we were at Flickerwood Winery in nearby Kane (best wine ever, people...enough to turn this strict white-wine oenophile into a red-wine devotee!), Steve picked up a brochure from a place called Kinzua Wolf Run Marina. It sounded like absolute paradise -- a place to go swimming, boating and dine on a deck beside the Allegheny Reservoir. Unfortunately, the brochure stated no dogs were allowed, so it was going to have to be a Lola-free excursion.

The beach
The marina
It was in this stunning spot that I found my new favorite activity: kayaking! Steve and I each got our own kayaks, which scared me at first. Steve can attest to exactly how worthless I am at paddling canoes, so I seriously doubted my ability to pilot my own boat solo. But it was actually pretty easy to pick up. Once I got the hang of it, I was in my own little world. Steve had to yell at me to avoid getting hit by passing motorboats.

Back on the ground...I was afraid to take my camera along, which was smart because I got soaked
Steve also discovered something that he now wants to add to our ever-growing travel collection: a house boat. These things were docked all over the marina, and I have to admit they looked pretty awesome. Like a trailer on the inside, only sitting on the water. They aren't cheap, I'm sure. So maybe we'll look into renting one at some point.

After wearing out our arm muscles paddling, we treated ourselves to a lovely late lunch at the restaurant on site, called Docksiders Cafe. Relaxing outside by the water and listening to some live Neil Diamond covers capped off a splendid day.

Yes, I'm a goofball
This weekend, we're back in the RV for a stay at a state park that's two hours away. Can't be more excited! Apparently there's an active black bear population. If we don't see at least one, I want my money back!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Things We're Not Gonna Do Again

Our trailer is finally back with us safe and sound! We picked up the new-and-improved (now with working air conditioning!) RV this week. The only problem? We decided to do this around 8:30 p.m., and the dealership is 45 minutes away. By the time we arrived there it was dark, which made for a "fun" experience:

Ah, there she is!
I was thankfully able to locate the flashlight pretty quickly, but Steve still had a tough time. I think that for obvious reasons, hitching up in the dark is always going to be harder. The process seems to go relatively smoothly when 1) there's daylight, and 2) we're in good spirits, aka not tired and grumpy. Steve eventually sent me off to attach the towing side mirrors, which I'd never tackled before. His reasoning? I could figure it out myself and then take it over as my own little job for future trips. Well, I didn't figure it out myself and needed him to attach the first one properly before doing the second one. But now I can safely say I know how to do it, so that will always be my area of expertise from now on.

It was a total relief to drop the RV off at the storage facility, at after 11 p.m. no less. Lesson learned: Next time (hopefully there won't be a next time anytime soon, but just in case), we're going to do everything in our power to hook up while it's still light out!

This weekend we're taking a trip to Steve's family's cabin in the Allegheny National Forest. Sadly, the trailer won't be joining us. We figured that since we already have a place to stay, we wouldn't need to bring the trailer along for the ride. Also, since the "camp" (as we call it) is six hours away, we aren't able to get up there much. This will be a nice treat for us, before we get back into the *real* camping lifestyle.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!