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

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Epic Adventure 2: Not where we're supposed to be... (Part 3 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 Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, Canada.
It was the day I was going to meet up with my family after being on the road a week. The plan was that they would fly from Atlanta to Manchester, NH where I would pick them up. I had spent the night at a quiet truck stop halfway between Concord and Manchester. Their flight wasn't expecting to land till after 4pm. I was a bit ahead of schedule due to leaving out Tuesday night instead of waiting till Wednesday morning. But one thing I've learned in life is that things don't always go as planned...

My family was to catch a flight that morning out of Atlanta to Charlotte with a 2.5hr layover. From Charlotte, they would fly to Manchester, NH where I would pick them up. I was in Concord and grabbed an EZPass for the toll roads that we would hit on the way back south while waiting on them (post on the toll situation coming soon). While airports aren't designed for RVs, they are designed for shuttle buses and fortunately the U-haul is about the same height as shuttle buses. So I wasn't worried about clearances inside of an airport. My biggest concern had been about whether I could find a spot in the cell phone lot or if I'd have to wait at a gas station or something off site. Little did I know when I woke up that morning that would be the least of my worries that day. The plane was delayed an hour getting to Atlanta. Once it arrived, my family boarded expecting to still be able to make the connection in Charlotte. Unfortunately, the plane had a flat tire and that takes an hour or more to change. By the time my family got to Charlotte, they landed 10 mins after the connecting flight had taken off. There was only one other connection to Manchester later that day. I had hope that the family could get on it since they only had carry on backpacks and no checked bags. That didn't work out as the flight was oversold and only had 2 seats available. My family needed 3 seats.

Flight display board at the Charlotte Airport
After many phone calls and my wife communicating with airline representatives in Charlotte, they were able to get them on a flight to Boston which was only 2 hrs from me. It would take the flight 2 hrs to get to Boston so I had time to make it there. At least the airports in the NE are close together. Once I received the text from my wife that they were seated on the plane departing for Boston, I had to recalculate our trip trajectory. We had booked a campsite that evening in the White Mountains near Mt. Washington at White Birches Campground. I called them to let them know we would not be able to make it due to the flight issues. And that I now had to drive 2 hrs in the opposite direction to get to my family.  Unfortunately, they refused to refund my money for the situation. I can only guess that they must have been so busy they were turning folks away before I called and had no empty sites at all.

I've heard nightmares about navigating Boston. I've never been there so I didn't know what to expect. The only thing I did know, was that most of the routes to the Logan involved tunnels. And you can't take propane tanks or other hazmats into the tunnels. That left me pulled off at a gas staging on my phone looking at a way to route around those to get to Logan. There's one bridge the Chelsea St. Bridge. But to get there you have to wind through surface streets. So i got off the I-93 before the tunnels and routed into the surface streets of Boston. I'm not sure I could find the exact route again, but it involved cobble stone back alleys and many complicated and confusing intersections. A couple of wrong turns due to being in the wrong lane and traffic (did I mention they were landing at 6:30pm?) and I found my way to the bridge. After crossing it came the fun of getting into the airport and finding out which terminal they were at. By the time I got to them, they'd been on the ground for about 30 mins. Clearances in the airport weren't a problem as I'd originally thought. Some large buses roll into Logan and are way taller than my camper. It was great to finally be able to be together again as a family. It was quite the adventure for my daughter's first plane ride too. 

With everyone in the car, we headed north for I-95. First stop was to find some dinner. We stumbled onto Sal's Pizza in Newburryport, MA. The pizza was really good, and we were all hungry from a long day. A few more miles north we crossed back into New Hampshire and pulled into the welcome center to spend the night. We found a quiet spot at the very back of the truck and trailer parking area and bedded down for the night as a family.

Me at the big boot in front of LL Bean in Freeport.
The next morning after a breakfast at Dunkin Donuts (they're one very corner in the northeast which made me super happy), we headed north into Maine. Our EZPass came in handy on the I-95 in NH as we cruised through the EZPass lane without having to slow down at all. Once into Maine we split off onto US Rt 1 for a while and wound our way north. Lunch was an incredible portion of Seafood at Ken's Place in Scarborough, ME. The fried clams were amazing! We stopped in Freeport, ME to visit the big L.L.Bean store and continued north.

Just north of Bangor we swapped over to the ME Rt 9. This is a long road to Calais (our targeted border crossing for Canada) with not much on it. There's only 1 gas station/restaurant we passed as we drove for a good 2 hours (~100 mi) on this road. After refueling in Calais and fixing a tail light that was out on the camper, we headed for the border crossing into Canada. It went fairly smooth and only took a few minutes and then we were into New Brunswick, Canada. An hour later we found a hotel in St. Johns. Tomorrow would be the final northbound leg of our journey.

exploring the bottom of the Bay of Fundy at low tide
Exploring the bottom of
the Bay of Fundy at Alma, NB

Exploring Hopewell Rocks
Exploring Hopewell Rocks
at the Bay of Fundy in NB.

We woke up anticipating a stop at the Reversing Rapids in St. John, NB which was only a couple miles from our hotel. Unfortunately, it was extremely foggy that morning and you couldn't see anything. We decided to stop by on our way back through. Our route was going to take us on a scenic drive around part of the Bay of Fundy. We headed for Fundy National Park, Canada is celebrating their 150th Anniversary this year so all the Canadian National Parks are free as part of that celebration this year. We picked up our free National Park Pass at the ranger station in Fundy National Park and drove through the park with some stops at various sites in the park. The road dropped  us out at Alma, NB which is a little tourist/fishing village. By the time we got there, the fog had lifted and the views were amazing. After an expensive seafood lunch and refueling, we drove along the bay taking in the amazing scenery and stopped at Hopewell Rocks. These are some amazing and large rocks carved out of the cliffs on the edge of the bay. During low tide you can walk around them but during high tide the only way to get to them is via boat/kayak. After a fun filled day taking the scenic route, we left the bay late afternoon and headed to the peak destination of our trip.

Prince Edward Island here we come...

The adventure continues: Epic Adventure 2: The Land of the Kindred Spirits

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Epic Adventure 2: The Soloing Stride ... (Part 2 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 Steamtown USA National Historic ParkI titled this the Soloing Stride since I was going to spend the next several days with just Zelda (our dog) and I making our way north. I can typically drive longer and later when I'm by myself. I was going to be working during the days and driving a lot in late afternoon/evening.

I had planned to leave the DC campground late afternoon on Tuesday, so as to get an early start and use the evening to put some miles down. I was hoping that navigating traffic would get better as it got later until I could into some more rural areas. The plan was to head north around Baltimore and then head toward Harrisburg, PA inland. I was going to wind north on an inland route that would take me through a few states and end up in New Hampshire on Friday.

As I wound north toward Baltimore, traffic wasn't too bad except when I got to some of the interstate transition points where things tend to go down to one lane. (I never understand why they take 3 interstate lanes and compress them to 1 to merge into another multi-lane interstate.) I took the I-95 North to the I-695 around Baltimore and then joined up with the I-83 headed towards Harrisburg, PA. As I crossed into Pennsylvania, I pulled off at a rest stop to stretch my legs and walk the dog. The rest stop had a nice wooded area that was quiet for walking the dog. My dog doesn't like a lot of commotion around her when she's doing her business. So places where you can walk back away from the cars are the best for her. She is definitely not one of those dogs that will use a tiny green grass island in a parking lot. Can you blamer her though? I like my privacy too. A little further north I pulled off for gas and dinner and stumbled on a little donut shop called Maple Donuts with 58 choices. It was a fun distraction from the driving. After loading up on food and fuel, I hit the road for Harrisburg.

I passed through Harrisburg on the interstate around sunset. It was a beautiful site of the downtown sitting there on the side of the Susquehanna River. I connected with I-81 and headed northeast into the night climbing through some hills and ending up in Wilkes-Barre for the evening at a quiet Walmart parking lot. Zelda and I bedded down for the first of 3 nights on the road.

View from the machine shop looking out at Steamtown NHS
The next morning I drove the short distance to Scranton, PA. Yes, you'll know it as the home of Dunder Mifflin from the tv show The Office. It's also home to another site that was on my list to see: Steamtown National Historic site. Steamtown is sort of like the adult version of Thomas the Train. It's a working locomotive museum based in a roundhouse with an actual working turntable. I spent several hours working and doing meetings in the parking lot but found a break after lunch to venture in and explore. I happened to walk in at the time they were about to start a volunteer led behind the scenes tour and joined the group. The volunteer was extremely knowledgeable and I learned a lot that I didn't know about the different types of trains and how they function "under the hood."  The behind the scenes tour takes you into the shop where they still have guys who work on the trains to keep them running and are renovating other trains. You get to see all the equipment they use which is really neat. I think kids would have a great time here walking around looking at the trains, but they'd need to be middle school or older to really get the behind the scenes tour. Younger kids are not probably going to be able to hang with listening to an old guy talk for an hour. And once you go into the shop, you're stuck because of safety issues they can't let you just leave without walking everyone out. There are a lot of real tools and sharp objects and heavy equipment in the shop too. So best to avoid with little ones. For the adults though, it's a real treat!

Old Truck with a Moose in Vermont
From there I headed to Albany, NY on a pretty uneventful path winding from I-84 to I-87 (the first toll road I had hit on my route).  North of Albany I planned to stay in Troy, but the Walmart had signs stating no overnight parking so I drove on another 30 mins on NY Rt. 7 to Bennington, VT where I spent the night in a grocery store parking lot with a few other RVs.

The next day I found a truck stop on the 2 lane highway with good cell signal in the mountains and worked and did conference calls for a few hours. I took a break and decided to check out the local area a bit.

Bennington Battlefield in NY
On the NY side of the border near Bennington is a small town called Hoosick Falls, it has all the charm of small New England towns. And was decorated for the Fourth of July with American Flags like a lot of other small towns I had passed through. Hoosick Falls is also famous as the last place where Grandma Moses lived (and died). You can definitely see where some of her inspiration came from in and around the little town. (Drive down Main Street in Hoosick Falls.)

Northeast of Hoosick Falls as you wind toward the Vermont line again headed towards Bennington is the Bennington Battlefield State Historic Site. This provided a great opportunity for the history buff in me to check out a Revolutionary War battlefield. The battle, and park, happened just outside of Bennington in Walloomsac, NY. Part of the Saratoga campaign, the battle was a key component to the American's winning the battle of Saratoga. Around 2000 militia men under General John Stark routed the British force that was looking for supplies to bolster the army at Saratoga. Without those supplies, Burgoyne eventually suffered defeat. The great thing about battlefields is you get to mix some history with stretching your legs and walking your dog.

After a late lunch in Bennington, I drove out across the Green Mountain area of Vermont and wound my way into New Hampshire. As evening approached, I found a quiet truck stop on a 2 lane highway south of Concord, NH to spend the night. Tomorrow would be the big day for me to meet up with my family after a week on the road.

The story continues with Epic Adventure 2: Not where we're supposed to be (Part 3)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Epic Adventure 2: The Journey Begins... (Part 1 of 6)

Our U-haul CT-13 fiberglass camper and 2011 Kia Sorento loaded up to head out on our epic adventure.
Three years ago we took our camper out on what we called our first epic adventure. This time we were going farther and for longer. That previous ten day trip to South Dakota and back was the longest road trip we'd made since having kids. We had a blast and it proved to us that we could handle long road trips as a family with our little camper. As soon as we got home, we started discussing what other adventures we'd like to tackle. Life has been busy in the past few years. My wife has gone back to school and my job has changed and gotten busier. This summer we knew my wife had a break in her schedule and wasn't going to be taking classes. So we set it as the target for our next epic adventure with our family and little camper. Unlike my first epic adventure post, I'm going to split this one up in to multiple posts because an epic adventure deserves a bit more space. So sit back and I hope you enjoy the tale.

My wife grew up like a lot of young girls in 80s as a big fan of Anne of Green Gables. This love of the book and the movies, would make it her heart's desire to see the land of Anne some day: Prince Edward Island. This became a life long dream of hers that would hopefully come to fruition this summer if I could make it happen. I spent the spring planning routes and details for the trip and prepping the camper and our tow vehicle for it's longest voyage yet. This journey was going to be close to 4000 miles.

Painted white, U-haul CT-13 fiberglass camper.
We had wanted to get the camper painted since we got her but had never made it a priority. I decided in May to get her painted and cleaned up before the trip. I also did some other maintenance jobs on the camper like new tires/wheels and adding a second spare tire. I also spent some time really focusing on how I would pack for this trip. As we learned with our first long haul, when you have to use your camper to sleep in along the way to the destination, you can't store everything in it unless you want to shuffle stuff between the car and camper all the time. Some maintenance and modifications were done to our Kia Sorento (tow vehicle) also in preparation.

We had talked about this trip for many years and had roughed out ideas of how to make it happen. Since I work remote, I could work some of the trip but I didn't want to be buried in my work the entire time. So a plan developed in which I would solo with our dog and work/camp up toward Maine. My wife and the kids would fly up and meet me later. Flights to Manchester, New Hampshire were cheaper than Maine so we booked and planned for me to pick them up there. Then we would head off for Prince Edward Island and work our way home through Acadia and some New England states trying to visit some friends and family along the way.

On June 24th, I left out of our Georgia home and said good bye to the wife and kids. Zelda (our dog) and I were packed and ready to begin. I drove the first day to Apex, NC, where a cousin of mine had moved to and got to spend the night with their family. It been a few years since I'd seen them so was great to catch up. I arrived just in time for a gully washer that revealed a leak with the new window I had installed. So there was something else to fix when I had time.

On Sunday, I left Apex and headed for Washington, D.C. My corporate home office is located there and I thought I'd stop in for a couple days and check on the rest of my team at work. The driving was good, the weather was nice that day. I took the I295 bypass north around Richmond as it was supposed to be faster but I had to slow down due to the road being rough and causing a lot of trailer bounce. I hate the bounce of concrete roads; much prefer the smoothness of asphalt. It seemed like every bridge transition had a major dip which would cause a lot of bounce. So I'm not sure that I really saved much time due to having to drive slower.

U-haul CT-13 fiberglass camper at campsite in Cherry Hill Park.
Basically the site was all gravel under nice shady trees.
In DC, one of the closest campgrounds is the Cherry Hill Park. Technically, it's in College Park, MD. but it's near the I495 perimeter and I95 on the north side of DC. It's not far from the Greenbelt metro station so you can ride the metro into the city (which I always do when I fly in for work). Cherry Hill Park has a lot of amenities. They have a camp store, cafe, 2 pools, splash pad, hot tub, fishing pond, laundry rooms, movie theater and an exercise room. There are also several playgrounds for the little ones. All the sites are full hookup except for the tent only sites and Wifi and cable are included. Of course you are paying a premium for location and all these features. With my GoodSam discount it came to $63/night for a small shady back-in site. However, that's a lot cheaper than a hotel in DC I can tell you. It's less than half of what my hotel cost per night for my previous trip in March up there. The staff was very friendly. I had asked about late checkout option and they told me I could check out at 6pm for a half-day fee when I had originally booked my site. I called the office while I was there just to verify that they were still ok with me staying late. The lady told me yes. She then called me back a few minutes later because she forgot to mention the cost and wanted to make sure I was ok with that (which of course I was since they'd told me that originally).

our dog Zelda taking up one of the kids spots in the back seat for the first week of our trip.
Zelda got to ride in the kids seat for the
first week while it was just the 2 of us.
Enjoying her setup with the kids book box,
Doubles as water cup holder and dog food mat 
I ended up in site 1512. I had asked for a shady site and this site fit the bill. It was also extra wide compared to most of the other sites. Across from me were some tent only sites. I walked around the campground and it's huge. I can only guess they probably have over 100 sites. Some of the sites are definitely close together almost like a parking lot but they do have grass and a fair number of trees around the campground. There are 3 bath houses and the one that was closest to me was still a bit of a hike to get to. One nice touch is that they have street lanterns on the end of each row with a sidewalk path. So I didn't even feel like I needed to use my headlamp at night walking to the bathroom.

The weather was refreshing in D.C. The first night it got down to around 60F and a bit cooler the second night. Highs were low 80sF the first day and high 70sF the second. There was also a good breeze most of the time which made it feel amazing. The week before they'd been in the 90sF so I was happy the weather had shifted cooler for a bit. Having camped in Georgia in 90sF with no AC, I can tell you it's not fun.

Tuesday late afternoon after a full day of work and meetings, it was time to head on and put some miles between me and DC. I was adjusting my schedule to work in the mornings and drive in the late afternoon/evenings. I had till 4pm on Friday to make it to Manchester with no real solid plans in between other than some conference calls and meetings I was going to need to pull over and deal with along the way.

The adventure continues with Epic Adventure 2: The Soloing Stride (Part 2).