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)


  1. WOW, you are all lucky to be alive. Your blog scared me to death, glad you and Lola are OK.


  2. Before you try that again invest in another battery to wire in your system and a small gasoline generator that has the capability to recharge your 12 volt batteries along with enough.WE bought a 3500watt model at Rural King and it will power our fiver along with the A/C. A 200 watt model should be enough for a smaller trailer and it's A/C. The 1000 watt models will run tv's and recharge batteries but not the A/c. When I say A/C I mean air conditioner when the power goes out in the summer.Don't forget if you lose battery or converter power (12volts) your refrigerator won't work either even if it is switched to propane. So you need some way to make sure your batteries are charged.My last two trailers have had dual batteries and so far not trouble. They will last through the night and then you can recharge during the day for an hour or so. Hope this Helps, Be safe out there, Sam & Donna.

  3. Where it say 200watt should read 2000 watt.

  4. Leanne- I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to scare anyone. We were really fine, just a little cold, but with blankets and layers, it wasn't that bad. But we definitely know not to risk it again next time!

    Sam and Donna- thanks SO much for your advice! That's going to come in handy and I'm passing all of that helpful info on to Steve. He's looking into purchasing a new battery right now.

  5. OMG - what a trip! Can you imagine what it would have been like if you guys weren't optimistic about things? The scariest part to me was the dog on the ice. That really could have been a disaster. I'm sure a hot bath or shower felt good when you got home. Like I always say, Live and Learn. I'm doing that constantly!

  6. You guys are hilarious! Glad you weren't
    found.......Lola between you..frozen & blue. Generator...that's whatcha need for sure. Thought about you up there at Ricketts on was a nice day. Maybe next time we can meet you up there.

  7. oh my goodness! three are diehard winter campers!..sounds like it was an interesting trip!..a good learning curve by the way!!..and also just a heads up..when you use the furnace in the trailer if you are not hooked up to 30 amp!! sucks the battery big time!..a generator would be a really good idea!!

  8. Barbara- I know, we're constantly learning our lesson! I agree that Lola on the ice was the scariest part. Never EVER gonna get that close to the ice with her. Just not a good idea!!

    Laurie and George- I wish we could afford a generator! Those things are pretty pricey, from what I hear. Oh well, we're working on getting some better batteries. You should definitely meet us up there next time!! We would love to meet you guys.

    Sue and Doug- It sure was interesting and we're learning all the way! Thanks for the tip on the 30 amp...makes a lot of sense. I think we'd go for the generator if we were full-timing, but it doesn't wouldn't work financially if we're just doing occasional trips. Definitely something to keep in mind for the future though...

  9. Glad that your adventure turned out well. Reading these other comments makes me think that they are over reacting a bit. Yeah it is inconvenient to be without power in the RV but not necessarily life threatening. You had the oven which would have worked for emergency heat as long as you left a vent or window open a little so some fresh air could get in. And, as long as you were running the vehicle, you could have stayed in it with the heater running (again with ventilation) or ... driven into town. Really the scariest part for me was running out of gasoline. Then you might have been stuck there with no power and no heat.
    By the way, Ella and I winter camp a lot. And if you're prepared, it is tremendous.

  10. Went back and read all your posts from March to the present. You sound alot like my wife and I except we have kids your ages. We just got into RV'ing this year also and have the same Jayco 22FB you have. Really enjoy your commentary and experiences. We live in IL so we are anxiously awaiting spring. Fun reading. Thanks Curt

  11. Santa- I agree! We never felt like our lives were in danger (although we might've joked about it). I agree, running out of gas would've been pretty bad but even then, hopefully we could've flagged down a park ranger or something.

    Curt- thanks so much for reading all my posts- wow! So cool to meet someone else with the same exact camper. I'm excited to read about your experiences as well!

  12. With time comes experience and with that all things will fall into place. Haven't heard from you in a while hope everything is Okay.

    It's about time.

  13. Hi Rick and Kathy! You're right- thanks for giving me the kick I needed to start posting again. I agree, so many of these things we learn come from experience, and I'm sure we'll keep on learning- but we're on our way!

  14. What a cute blog! We camped last year in freezing temps and had the same problems! We quickly discovered our RV wasn't designed to leave the state of Florida in the winter! Glad it turned out ok for you all!

    1. Hi Dana, thanks so much for stopping by and checking out my blog! Oh good, I'm glad we're not the only ones who realized we aren't cut out for camping in the winter. Looking forward to checking out your blog!