Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I don't know how we avoided an "Into the Wild" ending...

This past weekend, we strapped on our hiking/snow boots for a night of (mis)adventure at Ricketts Glen State Park in Benton, PA. State parks are our new favorite thing, so we expected to have a grand time. And we did, of course...but with all of the mishaps that went down, we probably qualify to star in our own RV-centric sitcom.

Without further ado, here are the five major lessons from this trip:

1. There's a reason why not many people (or no people) camp in the winter.
On our first camping trip back in March, it was fairly cold. But we did have heat and electricity and there wasn't snow on the ground. We expected to have our fair share of neighbors in the campground owing to the fact it was the last day of hunting season, but there wasn't a camouflage hat in sight. Or any hats, or humans. We were the only people brave (or stupid) enough to be camping.

Nothin' but us and the forest
We both thought this was pretty cool. By the time we arrived for 3 p.m. check-in, daylight was already on its way out, but evening at Ricketts Glen was really something to see. With the snow blanketing the ground and the trees and the full moon glowing overhead, it was actually pretty bright outside. According to Steve, who ventured out there far more often than I would agree to, the nighttime scene was so spectacular that you could see for "miles and miles."

2. So, our battery is shot...
Things were a little bit TOO easy at first. I mean, sure, the ground was covered in snow and patches were quite icy. But Steve managed to maneuver the RV in our spot pretty quickly (it also helped that no one else was around, so I didn't feel as self-conscious about yelling out directions). Once he deemed his parking job adequate, he set about getting our heat turned on.

Before we even attempted this trip, Steve informed me we'd be going without electricity for most of it (save for what was left in the battery) but heat was a definite, thanks to the propane. Well, his surefooted optimism was shot to hell after I walked in the trailer to prepare some post-drive refreshments and the light wouldn't turn on. Even though we'd been driving for three hours and change, the trailer battery hadn't charged at all. And apparently, because the electricity wasn't on, the heat wasn't coming along for the ride either. We were SOL.

While I was sending up fervent prayers that we wouldn't become a cautionary tale for future winter campers, Steve turned the car's engine back on, which did the trick. But the last thing we wanted was to have the car running all night for us to have heat. Unfortunately, that's exactly what we had to do. We did shut it off from time to time, including at night while we were sleeping. But, um...yes. I realized how much I like heat. Especially when it's 15 or 20 degrees outside and the only thing sheltering you is an aluminum box. Needless to say, we packed on the layers and went to bed hoping for the best.

3. Steve needs to listen to me more often.
When the heat first kicked on, I mentioned, "So, we have to leave the car running to get heat in here?" Steve brushed me off and said about a dozen times, "I think you're missing the point" and went on to drop some fairly technical lingo that I tuned out. Well, wouldn't you know it, every time we turned off the car, off went the heat and the lights with it. Obviously the two things were related. I also suggested that this was a pretty good way to use up whatever gas we had left. He said it wouldn't, but tell that to our near-empty gas tank the next morning.

4. Lola isn't allowed near frozen lakes.
Because we aren't registered ice climbers or in possession of ice axes and crampons, we weren't allowed to attempt the Falls Trail, the most famous (and difficult) of Ricketts Glen's trails. There were other trails with varying degrees of difficulty, but we decided to play it safe. We ambled along the short Beach Trail on Sunday afternoon, which offered beautiful views of the beach and the ice-covered lake, and took turns taking pictures with Lola next to the lake.
All's well at first...
Lola springing into freak-out mode
When it was my turn to pose, Lola got spooked by something, started lunging away and I lost control of her leash. Before we could grab her, she had skittered out onto the FROZEN FREAKIN LAKE. OMG. She may have realized this was a bad decision because after gingerly making a couple more steps on the ice, she inched onto an equally-slippery log, where Steve was close enough to grab her leash. I have no idea how we got out of this one. We were sure that the ice would break as soon as she hit it. Steve assures me he would've jumped in after her if this had happened, but even that sounds like what nightmares are made of. Now that I've aged about 20 years in that one second...

5. When the temperature falls below freezing, stuff freezes. Like our tanks, for example.
Our one goal for this whole trip? Dump our tanks. I guess we should've known this wasn't going to go our way, either. We both knew we should've done it earlier in the season. Neither of us realized things would freeze that fast. File this one under "common sense isn't so common," I guess.

When it looks like this outside, camping isn't a breeze
Despite all the problems, it was still a fun time. The campfire Steve built was lovely and despite not having much to do other than that, we really enjoyed the feeling of total seclusion and privacy.

Creating our own heat...the way nature intended!
We even used our oven for the first time -- I baked some butternut squash and Steve whipped up a scrumptious dessert of apple crisp. (The things we'll do when we can't watch TV!) And our ice-skating pup got to sleep with us in bed because of the lack of heat, but we'll probably never allow that again after she woke us up about 13 different times with pawing and readjusting. (And every time we woke up, we just realized how much colder it was getting.)

As Steve says, our winter camping days are just beginning. It wasn't the park's fault that our battery went on the fritz (in fact, it's probably ours, but I'm hoping it's something we can blame on the manufacturer). This was one of those trips where you learn what you really need and what you can live without. And as much as I love camping, I love being warm even more.

Stay tuned for more of our battery woes...

Oh, and our rankings! Here we go:
Pros: beautiful scenery, large and spacious campsite
Cons: not much to do, most hiking trails closed (not really the park's fault -- so we'll update these rankings when we return during the summer)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hitting the Road Again...3 days!!

Well, it's been a while! We've definitely had our minds on other things, some good and some not so good. But I'm pretty sure nothing cures a case of the winter blues like planning a trip. We're ready to get back into camping again -- falling temperatures be damned.

Last night we started searching for a year-round campground within several hours of us. This turned out to be not so easy. There doesn't seem to be a good selection of campgrounds that keep their doors open all year long. We knew it was going to be difficult, though, so we pressed on. Steve checked out PA's awesome state parks website and found out about Ricketts Glen State Park, which is about three hours away from us. It's supposedly one of the "sights to see" in PA and offers plenty of trails for hiking and exploring. Waterfalls are also a big draw (although I'm not sure if they'll be viewable right now). There weren't any sites available with electricity so we decided to rough it and go for one without it. According to Steve, we'll still have heat and electricity thanks to the propane, but we'll just have to use it sparingly.

It'll only be a one-night trip (our main priority is dumping our tanks), but I'm so excited. It seems like it's been forever since the last time we hitched up with our big, beautiful RV in tow. Definitely looking forward to all the joys of the outdoors -- the smells of the forest, gorgeous scenery and s'mores! It's been a long three months and we deserve it!

If any of you fabulous RV bloggers have any tips/advice on winter camping, I'd love to hear them!