Monday, April 9, 2018

A Trip out of this World in our U-haul Camper

Our U-haul CT-13 Fiberglass Camper at Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville, Alabama.
With the wife in nursing school full-time this year, we don't have many options for traveling. We did manage to squeeze in a spring trip thanks to her and the kids being on spring break at the time. My son has gotten really into space recently so as an early birthday present, we planned a trip to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. This would be a 4 day trip.


Little River Falls at Little River Canyon National Preserve in northeast Alabama.
Little River Falls
We left out on Tuesday with the goal of stopping by the Little River Canyon National Preserve. After a few hours behind the wheel, we made it and got the kids setup with the Jr. Ranger program (we're big fans of the NPS Jr. Ranger program). Little River Canyon is an incredible area along the Little River in Northeast Alabama. It's a great place for hiking and outdoor adventure. Little River Falls is close to the visitor center and the views are amazing. The park staff at the visitor's center were really great and friendly. On the way home, we would come back through the park and take part of a scenic drive as our last little adventure before heading home.
Our U-haul CT-13 fiberglass camper at Little River Canyon National Preserve visitor center.


With potential storms and rain heading from Mississippi towards Huntsville, we pushed on after our brief stop to try to get into to our camping destination before the rain. We rolled into Monte Sano State Park around 6:30 pm and setup camp. With the rain expected to blow in that night, I opted not to setup everything (camp chairs and screen room included) until the next morning. I had packed most of the gear in the car or in the waterproof action packers on the roof. Monte Sano SP is located on top of Monte Sano Mountain and overlooks Huntsville from the east. It has lots of trails for hiking and mountain biking and even has an planetarium and observatory that's open on Saturday nights (unfortunately we left Friday so didn't get a chance to check it out). The campground and bathhouses are nice. Though our first campsite, (#18) was on a curve and had someone directly across from us in a much larger rig. The layout of the entrances to these sites made it impossible for even us to get our tiny camper backed in due to the sharpness of the turn. The camp hosts at check-in had even warned me to feel free to come back if I couldn't squeeze in. (So I'd avoid #18 unless you're setting up a tent.) We were moved over to #21 which proved to be a better site. After being at the campground, I'd actually recommend sites in the #44-61 range as many of those are on the ridge with great views of the valley. I'll definitely be looking to book there next time.

After unhooking the camper, we decided to grab some dinner. After driving all day, I wanted something quick; so we headed down the mountain into Huntsville. We lucked out and found a Ted's Bar-B-Q at the bottom of the mountain. I had been introduced to Alabama white Bar-B-Q sauce a decade or more ago close by in Decatur, Alabama at Big Bob Gibson's Bar-B-Q. White barbecue sauce is pretty awesome and different from many places you go. So if you're ever in Huntsville area, try out Ted's (or Big Bob Gibson's in Decatur, Alabama) and grab the white barbecue sauce.

The kids bedded down in the bathhouse during the bad storm at Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville, Alabama.
Bedding down in the bathhouse during the storm.
After dinner, we bedded down for the night and I listened to the weather radio. If you've seen my post on being prepared for bad weather, you know I always carry a weather radio. The storms were getting bad, and we were on top of the mountain so I prepared to move us to the bathhouse if things got bad. They did. I've grown up around thunderstorms all my life so they don't really bother me. But I know when they can get out of hand too. When the reports rolled in of the Huntsville airport seeing 70 mph winds, I woke up the wife and kids and moved us to the bathhouse. The NOAA weather radio broadcast antenna on top of the mountain went offline as the front edge of the storm hit the mountain with wind, hail, and rain knocking out the power. Several other campers joined us to weather the storm. As with most southern storms, they blow by pretty quickly. After about 30 mins to wait out the worst, the weather had settled into a calm rain on the back end of the front. No major damage was detected to campers other than a few that didn't get their awnings up and they tore in the gusts. Lots of limbs had come down but power was restored within mins. We moved back to the camper and slept calmly the rest of the night.

The cold front rolled in behind rain dropping the temperature to the 30F's. So we put on our warm clothes the next morning and prepared to spend the day at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. This was my third time there and it was still as much fun as I recall from my childhood. The kids had a blast and we had a picnic in the car for lunch (because it was still cold and windy). We watched an IMAX movie about the space station that was incredible. The kids wanted to see another 3D movie so we were able to get a discounted ticket for one the next morning. Yes, you can buy tickets for the movies without buying admission, they'll escort you to the theater when you arrive for your movie. So if you're going to be there for a couple days, you may want to buy admission for one day and the movie ticket for the next day.

While we were in Huntsville, we also were able to meet up with my cousin that had moved there several years back. It's always good to see family. We also discovered a great market/grocery at the bottom of the mountain called the Star Supermarket. I wish we had one of these in our town. The people were so friendly and they really have a lot to offer. This is what a small town market should be. They even sell firewood bundles for about half what the state park does. On our final day, we packed up early. We left the campground and drove back down the mountain into Huntsville for breakfast. I love finding a good breakfast place for the last morning. We stumbled on Galen's. It's got plenty of parking room for a camper and the staff are really friendly. The breakfast was excellent!

Stalagmites and stalactites at Cathedral Caverns State Park in northeast Alabama.
With full belly's, we started the trek home. Cathedral Caverns was on our way so we made a stop so the kids could get their first cave experience! The downside to this park, like most caves, is that you can't do anything without a guide. You can see the mouth of the cave and the gift shop, but beyond that you have to pay to get into the cave on a guided tour. The cave tour is about a 1.5 mile (round trip) in and out hike that takes around 1.5 hrs. It has some really beautiful views. We enjoyed it and our guide was great. At about $20/adult and almost $10/child (under 13), it's not the most economical way to spend a couple of hours. However, it is comparable to Desoto Caverns and Ruby Falls tour prices. Check Cathedral Caverns website for tour times and rates before you go.

Our U-haul CT-13 Camper at Mushroom Rock in the Little River Canyon National Preserve.
Even with the ranging weather conditions on the trip, we had a great time. I'd like to go back and spend more time with family and we'll definitely camp at Monte Sano SP again. It was good for us to get away and break up the monotony of our daily life. Adventure always seems to me to be a way to refill your cup. It puts excitement back in your life after the daily grind. Knowing how busy this year is and the minimal opportunities we'll have as a family to get away until next year, I'm thankful for the opportunity to get out and go. Hopefully, I can squeeze another trip in this summer between some renovations I want to focus on. More about those to come.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Wheeling

our U-haul CT-13 Fiberglass Camper in front of a train in Scranton, Pennsylvania
I was lucky when I bought the trailer as it came with 3 wheels. All of them were original U-haul wheels with the nubs to mount baby moon hubcaps. (though I wasn't lucky enough to score a set of the U-haul stamped baby moons)  The rims were in rough shape so I painted them black as the easiest way to get them with some uniform look. When I was looking to put the second spare tire mount on my tongue, I needed to get a 4th wheel. Fortunately, you can order them from U-haul truck parts Ebay shop (here).

new and old wheels for our Uhaul CT-13 Fiberglass Camper
The wheels are a nice clean white which match the new paint job well. (The newer wheels do not have the bumps to hold baby moon hubcaps though. So if you're looking for that style you'll need to find original wheels.) I opted to buy 2 new wheels and make them my main wheels and use the originals on the spare tires. I took the wheels and tires to my tire shop and had them swap them around. A new spare tire went on one of the old black rims after the tires from them had been moved to the new white rims. When I got back home I put the new white wheels on the camper and mounted the black rims on the 2 spare mounts. Having 2 spares for our 4000 mile journey was a huge comfort, especially since we'd be leaving the US on this trip.

Just for information, I use Carlisle Radial Trail (the existing tires were RH and the new spare is an HD) tires for the camper. Greenball is another highly recommended brand. Don't just buy the cheapest brand that you would normally throw on a small utility trailer that you don't use everyday. While you may not be using the camper everyday, you want something more dependable due to the number of miles you will drive when you are using it and the weight, heat impacts and bounce.  After all, it's better to not have to use your spare. For more info on tires see my earlier post.

wheels and rusty lugs/nuts on our Uhaul CT-13 Fiberglass Camper
The old lugs and lug nuts were very rusty. The old lug nuts were open-faced which allowed more rust issues on the lugs than a closed-faced lug nut. I bought some new chrome 12x1.5 close-faced lug nuts to put with my shiny new wheels. Next I tackled the rusty lugs with a wire brush to clean them up. (You can see my video on removing rust from the lugs if you need to do this.)

new wheels and lugnuts on our Uhaul CT-13 Fiberglass Camper
I like the new look. It's very clean and fresh looking. I'm currently on the search for chrome center caps to install to finish the look. I'll update when I find some that fit. Everything held up well on our big trip this summer and thankfully we didn't need to even use one of the spares.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Epic Adventure 2: The Sun Sets... (Part 6 of 6)

(This is a continuation of a series of posts on our second long distance trip, see the first post if you want to start at the beginning.)

Sunset at Prince Edward Island National Park
Sunset. It happens every single day. Many days we don't even think about it. Some days we look forward to it; others we complain we need more time. Some sunsets are uneventful, some are memorable. On this trip, we saw many sunsets that were memorable in many different places. It's hard to say which was the best. All were embraced for the fleeting moments they existed.

As we packed up to leave Acadia, we felt that we were nearing the sunset of our great adventure. We had a few more days till it was over, but the long haul home would begin when we pulled out of that amazingly beautiful place. We packed up the camper and hooked up prepared to leave. The ranger came by and stopped to check me out while I was finishing up so I wouldn't have to go by the office on the way out. We met a nice lady with 3 huskies who was also packing up and had been camping across from us. After a brief chat, we hit the road and pulled out of the Schoodic Penninsula headed down US Rt 1. After winding down Rt. 1 for a while we stopped for lunch and gas. A great little seafood joint, Carrier's Mainely Lobster, served us our last batch of fried clams from the northeast. This little place had a wall with buoys memorializing local fishermen who had died. It was quite a beautiful display.

Bouy fishermen memorial wall at Carrier's Mainely Lobster in Buckport, Maine
Further south we routed over to I95 to pick up some speed. We were targeting Rhode Island for the evening which was over 300 miles away with Boston traffic and plenty of road construction between us and there it was going to take a while. When we hit the bypass around Boston, I noticed the sign for the Minute Man National Park. While this had not been on the list of places to go, I could not pass up seeing where our nation was born. The bridges in Boston were all decorated with American flags from 4th of July just a couple days before. It was a beautiful sight. It was after the park visitor center had closed but I did get to the Minute Man Statue as the sun was setting.

Roger Williams National Memorial
We pressed on and found our second hotel stay in Rhode Island. Since Acadia didn't have a bath house, we were all in need of a good warm shower and more spacious quarters always are a treat after days in the camper. We crashed another Comfort Inn, this one had a nicer breakfast but the room smelled like a sweaty locker room. We also took the opportunity to use the coin laundry there to do a load to refresh our range of outfits.

The next day we made a brief stop at the Roger Williams National Memorial. This is a quick stop that educates you on Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island. He's also considered the father of the separation of church and state movement.

We then visited a friend of my son's whose family was summering in Rhode Island. It was a rainy day but always fun for the kids to have playmates for a few hours. We went down to the beach and drove around looking at some of the New England countryside.

We pressed on south skirting around NYC area and taking the Tappan Zee bridge further inland. We routed on south and made Delaware late that night to stay with my wife's best friend. We had a great visit and stayed through lunch the next day. The further south we drove the warmer it was getting. Then it was off again to the south crossing the Bay Bridge and navigating around D.C. down through Virginia and back to my cousin's in North Carolina. It was great to stop back in with the whole family. My kids getting so see their cousins they had not seen in a few years. I watched the kids pair up based on personalities. We went for a walk around their lake that is at the back of their neighborhood around to a local park. It had a new obstacle (read American Ninja Warrior) course. My son is a big fan of these and it had just opened.

Sunset on the road.
After lunch we again hit the road for the last leg home. Coming home is always bittersweet. There's the enjoyment of sleeping in your own bed and getting to spread out after days of living in a tiny camper. The fun of seeing friends and family and coworkers. The comfort of life returning to normal. There also is some sadness that the adventure has come to a close. Our 16 day, 4000-mile journey had involved 2 countries and brought us lots of memories along the way. So as the sun set that evening, we crawled into our beds ready to get back to the normal life, but vowing to take another great adventure. And we'll continue to make taking adventures a regular part of our life.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Epic Adventure 2: Carved out (Part 5 of 6)

(This is a continuation of a series of posts on our second long distance trip, see the first post if you want to start at the beginning.)

our Uhaul CT-13 fiberglass camper at a site in Acadia, Schoodic Woods Campground
With another dream stop on the way home and limited time, we pulled out of Prince Edward Island the next morning. We began to retrace our steps back to the Maine border. As we crossed New Brunswick, we stopped off at St. Johns again now that it was clear and were able to take in Reversing Falls. It's an interesting site and there's plenty of rapids and whirlpools. We went to a little park on the north side of the Reversing Falls Bridge. It's a nice area and there are 3 islands in the middle of the river upstream. Unfortunately, there's a giant paper mill on the opposite bank that kills the natural beauty of the area.

Statue from interpretive exhibit at St. Croix Island International Historic Site
We headed back on the road and made the border crossing later than anticipated but without any issues. Back in the US we made a detour to St. Croix Island International Historic Site. The site is maintained by both Canada and the US as the actual island sits in the middle of the river on the border. You would need a boat to access it but on the U.S. side there is a visitors center. While it was closed when we were there, they have a self-guided tour with character sculptures that is quite good. It tells the story of how the French landed and began to build a settlement there. One of the first French settlements. A harsh winter killed about half of the men and while they did make some friends with local tribes, they eventually packed up and moved on to start another settlement that is now Port Royal, Nova Scotia.

After the brief stop we headed south winding through two-lane highways until we reached the coast. We ended up on US1 and stopped in Machias where we grabbed some dinner. We happened into town as the sun was setting and lots of folks were milling around. As we climbed back into the car to try to reach our campground destination, we heard pop, pop, pop. It dawned on us that we had just arrived back in the U.S. on the 4th of July after spending Canada Day in Canada. We had seen lots of little New England towns with their American Flags decorating the towns on the way north and thought about how nice it was to see the flag everywhere you looked. But it hadn't settled in that we would be returning on the 4th of July. The kids watched the fireworks out the window as I drove south trying to get to our destination for the evening.

Our Uhaul Fiberglass Camper at Schoodic Woods Campground, Acadia National ParkOur destination was the new campground on the Schoodic Peninsula of Acadia National Park. We pulled in late and found our reservation information on the bulletin board. We found our site and proceeded to setup the minimal essentials to get everyone to bed. It had been a long day of driving from PEI to Acadia, about 360 miles. As I was getting stuff setup a couple of park rangers pulled up to check on us. They were the friendliest rangers I've ever run into. They asked if we needed any help setting up since it was so late and told us to swing by the office in the morning and they would give us some keys to the best spots to visit and how to get around since there was apparently a lot of road construction going on around Bar Harbor. We laid our heads down for some much needed rest with the anticipation bubbling inside to see what Acadia had to offer the next day (well at least my excitement was bubbling!).

Our kids as Jr. Rangers at Acadia National Park
The next morning we had breakfast and then headed over to the office. We picked up Jr. Ranger books for the kids which is a must at any park. I strongly recommend the Jr. Ranger program. It's free and it really gets the kids deeper into the history and science of the parks. After getting the low down on the constructions and hints on what to check out, we disconnected from the camper and climbed in the car to explore the Schoodic Peninsula. Schoodic is about 45mins north of the main part of the park, Mt. Desert Island. As such it's quieter and the campground is super nice since it is only a couple years old. The campground is very wooded and secluded with lots of trees between sites. There are no showers at any campgrounds in Acadia but Schoodic has nice restrooms and electricity and water hookups for campers. The Schoodic Peninsula has a loop road that you can drive around and eventually wind your way out to the point. the views are amazing. the rocks are incredible and while we were out there at the point the crab/lobster boats were pulling in pots not more than 100 yards offshore.

Jordon Lake at Acadia National Park View from the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park

After a wonderful morning on Schoodic, we headed down to Mt. Desert Island. This is the main area of Acadia National Park. Scientists believe that diversity in landscapes were caused by a glacier carving it out, moving and depositing rocks and boulders from further inland. Thanks to the rangers we were able to by pass traffic and construction and move along fairly easy to the loop road. We enjoyed all the stops along the loop. Jordan Pond is simply gorgeous though this was busy season and the wait to get into the Jordan Pond House (at 2pm) was almost an hour. We drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain and had a great time. We ran into a NASA volunteer who had his telescope setup to view the sun. The kids really enjoyed looking through it with it's special filter and learning about what they were seeing. It was an incredibly clear day and you could see for miles from the top of Cadillac Mountain. Back down off the mountain,we left the park and wound our way to see some more of the coast and the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. The kids did complete their Jr Ranger program and got their badges. Over all it was an incredible day. I want to go back and spend some time doing hiking and fishing. Maine in the summertime is a wonderful experience.

That night we slept at the campsite and I was a little sad that we would be leaving the next day for the long trek home.

The adventure continues with Epic Adventure 2: The Sun Sets.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Epic Adventure 2: The Land of Kindred Spirits (Part 4 of 6)

(This is a continuation of a series of posts on our second long distance trip, see the first post if you want to start at the beginning.)

Our U-haul CT-13 Fiberglass Camper at Prince Edward Island National Park (Canada).
Prince Edward Island was our primary destination for this trip. After almost 2000 miles, I found myself approaching the bridge. PEI sits in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and is separated from the mainland by the Northumberland Strait. There are 2 ways to get a camper onto PEI. You can go through Nova Scotia and take the ferry which takes about 75 mins to cross. Or you can take the Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick across. The Confederation Bridge is about 8 miles long and is the longest bridge over ice-covered water in the world. It takes about 12 minutes to drive across the bridge. It's quite a marvel to be driving over that much water for that amount of time. The bridge replaced an old ice ferry at that location and was opened in 1997.  It is a toll bridge but you only pay to get off the island; there's no toll to get on the island. The base rate was about 50 CAD + 8 CAD per additional axle. It's a bit cheaper than the ferry crossing and definitely faster.  (Crossing the Confederation Bridge)

sunset on the beach at Cavendish, Prince Edward Island
After crossing the bridge, we wound our way across the island to the northern shore. We were headed for Cavendish. The area where Lucy Maud Montgomery lived and that became the setting for  Anne of Green Gables. We drove to Prince Edward Island National Park and setup camp at the Cavendish Campground. The campground at Cavendish is rather large and seemed to be busy while we were there. It's very wooded though (at least in the B section where we were). Two downsides to the campsite we soon discovered. First was the time of the year and the fact that (like other beach areas in the south we've visited) there are a ton more mosquitoes inland. On the beach with the wind they're not bad, but bug spray was a must. The second was the nice sign they ranger had put up behind our site warning of the poison ivy. The woods right behind our site were covered in it. It didn't really bother us since the kids are old enough to understand and stay on the road's trails, but you might have to keep your eye on younger ones. There are some camping spots closer to the beach which are mostly for tents/popups with no services. They do have an amazing view though. We wandered on the beach at night and watched the sunset. It was really nice and the sand is red at Cavendish. It's a unique sight to see a long red beach. After we setup camp, we went to sleep anticipating a lot of adventure the next day.

Green Gables on Prince Edward Island
In the morning we woke up and headed for Green Gables. The Green Gables Heritage Place is located in PEI National Park at Cavendish. It's down the road from the campground and surrounded by a golf course. This house is the inspiration for Lucy Maud Montgomery's 1908 novel and actually belonged to her aunt and uncle. The house and grounds are well kept and staffed with knowledgeable folks. They do walking tours and you may even see Anne and her kindred spirit, Diana. After many photos and walking in the Haunted Woods, we left Green Gables and drove down the road to Avonlea Village. This is a period town area with shops and restaurants built to match what Cavendish looked like during Montgomery's time. It's a great place for lunch. We had some amazing Grilled Cheese sandwiches at Moo Moo Grilled Cheese, which locally sources all of their ingredients from the island. I had a Cheezy Mac and Pulled Pork sandwich (which is cheddar, mac and cheese, pulled pork and caramelized onions) all from the island. I could probably eat lunch there once a week if it was closer. We also visited the site of the house (no longer standing) where Montgomery grew up.

French River fishing village on Prince Edward Island
French River, PEI
Lighthouse and field of lupins in bloom near French River, Prince Edward Island
Fishing villages dot the landscape along the bays and inlets. We fell in love with French River, a small fishing village on the north side of the New London Bay opposite of Cavendish. As you come into French River there is a field of lupins (which cover the island along the sides of the roads).The lupins were in full bloom in July when we were there and it's quite amazing to see all the flowers covering the whole island. With lighthouse among the dunes and red sand beach that stretched into a red rock shoreline, French River was one of the most beautiful places I've been. It's low key and there was only about 3 people on the beach.

After that we drove around the island some. PEI is a big agricultural community with over 1/3 of the land being farms. Potatoes are the largest crop and export for the island, but they also raise pigs and cattle and grow other crops. Roaming further along the north shore of the island we found teacup rock along an unmarked beach near the entrance to Malpeque Bay.

The next day we packed up camp as we expected to head south on the first leg of the trek home. Before that, we wanted to do a little more exploring of the island. My wife wanted to visit the Anne of Green Gables Museum just outside of French River. This house was where Montgomery was married and lived for a bit after being married and she called it Silver Bush in some of her other novels. They also do carriage rides but we unfortunately didn't have time to do one and they had a tour bus there who had booked out the rides till after lunch.


Yellow Canola fields on Prince Edward Island
Next we headed for the south shore of the island and turned northwest at Canoe Cove where we spotted some fields of Canola in full bloom. They looked like a yellow sea waving in the wind.. We drove northwest along the south coast headed for the Confederation Bridge. At Cape Traverse we took a local road down to the beach to get a view of the bridge. The bridge connects New Brunswick to Borden-Carlton which is about 5 mins northwest of Cape Traverse. Cape Traverse was the original ice boat ferry launch. The iceboat would launch from there and cross the Northumberland Straight to New Brunswick. The Ferry had been operated out of there for much of the 1900s until the bridge opened in 1997. We talked with a local man, who'd spent most of his life on the island and learned a lot about the old ferry from him. I could sense a sadness when he talked about it that it was now part of the history of the island and no longer part of the character of the island. While a ferry takes longer to cross, it does give you the opportunity to slow down and enjoy life. You get to meet folks and talk. With the bridge, as much of a modern feat of engineering as it is, you drive across solo. No interactions with anyone. The destination is more important than the journey in these times. I probably spent 30-45 mins standing on the sea wall where the old ferry used to be talking with him. A stranger sharing a culture and way of life I wouldn't get to experience except through his words and memories. (Always take time to talk to the locals, you will learn more than any tourist brochure has to offer.)
Looking at the Confederation Bridge from Cape Traverse, Prince Edward Island.
I thanked him for his time and we headed on. It was time to leave this beautiful island and begin our journey home. We still had a lot of days and miles and adventures to go. One day we will come back. It's such a wonderful place; a dream land. You can really understand how much Montgomery loved this place and why she wrote about it.

The Trans-Canada Hwy stretched out before us towards St. John as we settled in for a bit of drive time it was going to be a long travel day. Maine, here we come...

The adventure continues with Epic Adventure 2: Carved Out