Saturday, November 25, 2017

Camping, Unplugged

A week or so ago, we were at a free camping site. We wanted to explore the local attraction but didn't want to spend money on a campsite when we would be there only for dinner and sleep. 

We spent 2 nights watching the stars, playing cards, cooking simple meals, visiting the local caverns and enjoyed the silence. We had no TV, no microwave, no electric space heater. Our RV batteries operated lights, furnace and water pump, while our propane tanks ensured we could cook, keep our fridge cold and our hot water heater operating.

(click pictures to enlarge)
The Carlsbad Caverns Entrance (doubles as the exit for the million of bats, hence the seating area seen here)

I got up early to position the solar panel for the first ray of light. That would recharge the batteries for the day. I boiled water, in a pot, for our coffee. No coffee maker this morning. But, I ain't going without coffee. The Aeropress has been a blessing! I took my cup of coffee outside to make sure the panels were doing okay (I am a bit obsessive about solar panels). Walked around the field, back inside to start the Buddy Heater (yes, we are safe while operating propane apparels indoors). Time to wake up Rob so we can get started on our day of exploration. Came back later that afternoon to full batteries and a warm RV, thanks to the sun.

We had a great evening, complete with a camp fire and star gazing. Before heading in for the night, I positioned our solar panel eastward and prepped the coffee corner for the next morning.

Our free spot, complete with unobstructed sunrise views. We just don't do sunsets here!

Needless to say, we slept well in the silence of our empty corner of New Mexico.

But why would we want to do that? Isn't it easier just to go in an RV park and plug in? Yes, an RV park - or any park that has sites with water and electric (like state parks) - does come in convenient most often than not.

For example, even though we are Canadians, we had a Thanksgiving dinner. We had to find a place with electrical hookups. We're cooking turkey, mashed potatoes, green veggies, stuffing, etc. Having electricity sure makes it a lot easier. Turkey goes in slow cooker, potatoes on the electric element, stuffing in toaster oven, and gravy on the stove top. Open up a tasty bottle of white wine and we're happy campers! (sorry, no pictures of the turkey dinner)

Also, an RV park (and on occasion state parks) will have laundry, wifi and/or cable. Yeah sometimes we like to indulge in a bit of TV or YouTube binge watching! And not having to drag our laundry to the town's laundromat is quite convenient.

But we haven't left the comforts of a home/neighborhood, where everything is at our fingertips, to live in an RV like we would in a home.

No. We like to challenge ourselves. *

We love learning about water management, electricity limitations, best angles for our solar panels to capture a maximum of light, how to take an efficient shower to conserve both water and battery, etc.

We had no power to our wall outlets for 2 days, but we read, played cards, hiked, watched the sunset and the sunrise. You tend to not do these things when plugged in an RV park. Also, watching the sunset over your neighbor's awning is not very scenic nor romantic.

We will gladly save the $25-$40 a night in a crowded RV park to find ourselves occasionally camping with no amenities in the middle of nowhere, far away from our closest neighbor, where we can observe the sunset, watch the cows grazing by in the distance and enjoy a campfire.

When we started doing research and following all these other bloggers online, this is what attracted us to boondocking/dry camping in the middle of nowhere. And it is what keeps us coming back to it.

* Note: while we love boondocking/camping with no amenities, we did buy a generator that would allow us to use a microwave and watch TV if we wanted/had too. However, we view the generator as an emergency tool in case we don't get solar for a few days and need to recharge the batteries in order to avoid damaging them.

~~~ *** ~~~ 

Do you have questions about our lifestyle, or certain aspects of RVing? Please use the comment box below and ask us! If we get a couple of questions, we will answer them by video!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Back in America

Part I: Planes, Trains and Dressed Up Trailers

Our second adventure as RV travelers meant cutting across America as fast as we could. With the colder weather hot on our heels, we spent a week near Milton, Ontario, planning our next route which would ultimately lead us to "promised land" of Quartzite, Arizona. This time, we were armed with extra tools for the journey: a bright yellow Champion 2000 generator with a built-in inverter, perfect for emergency power needs during boondocking; a plastic hanging solar shower, with bag and hook to hang out in the sun to heat up water in the powerless desert; and, upgraded golf cart batteries more suited for charging from solar panels.

This time, we truly felt like rugged frontiersmen, bold adventurers eager to conquer the wild west, ready for whatever lay ahead. Our route would take us through Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, before reaching Tulsa, Oklahoma, at which point our dry camping experiences would begin. After that, Amarillo, Texas, awaited us, followed by various stops in New Mexico, Arizona, and, of course, California. In these various terrains we planned on discovering the rocky and dusty wildernesses of the desert landscapes in our path.

Michigan: the Great Lake State awaited us, but we almost didn't make it across the border. The officer asked us funny questions and clearly didn't like our answers, pulling us over to Agriculture for inspection. They took away a few pieces of wood with bark, but didn't care about our apples or potatoes or frozen broccoli. After close to an hour, they let us go. We drove through Detroit on Interstate 94 to I-75 South to Monroe, not far from the Ohio border, where we stayed at Harbortown RV Park, a well run marine-themed campground complete with all the amenities. But it didn't stop raining even once while we were in the state, so we stayed indoors and listened to the trains going by and contented ourselves with the movie Real Genius, a classic eighties comedy with Val Kilmer, and enjoyed the best version of Mexican Rice ever for dinner (thanks Mike and Sandy for the recipe!). We also visited my Aunt Irene in Dearborn, where she treated us to lunch and dinner the same day, while we chatted at length about travelling across America.

Indiana, the Hoosier State, was our next stop, where we camped at Mounds State Park, northeast of Indianapolis, just off of Interstate 69. Along the way, were were reunited with the things we love to see on American highways: billboards with lawyers' ads, beautifully spaced homes with wooden porches and screen doors; and lots of tempting roadside restaurants. We passed the small town of Casey, Indiana, home of the world's largest wind chime, the world's largest mailbox, and the world's largest golf tee and rocking chair, to name a few. The leaves had already fallen at our park, and were being pushed aside by staff with wind blowers.

The park office was fitted like a nature museum, complete with bird sanctuary and speakers in the observation room to listen to all the squawking near the feeders outside. There were many other RV campers already on our loop, and the locals here loved to decorate for Halloween a week early, their rigs decked out with cardboard cemeteries and hanging ghosts. There were trains nearby, and even a small airport and flying school next to us. We picked up some gas for the truck and were finally reunited with our favorite beer: Yeungling draft, from Pennsylvania (it had been a long six months). The trails were winding and fitted with boardwalks snaking through quiet forests, and we rested well here, our first quiet campground since Lawson back in Ontario.

Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, was next, as we took I-70 through St Louis, taking pictures along the way of the Gateway Arch, the famed entry point of the American West. We drove past a few quaint small towns, including Effingham and Vandalia, further reminding us that there were so many places to visit, yet so little time. We stayed at a place called Timber Trails Campground, just outside the very small, almost ghost town of Mulberry Grove, population 700. The park was almost forty years old, and the main office was covered floor to ceiling with family photos. We stayed two nights as the weather became cold enough to freeze the water pedestals. We consoled ourselves with hot chocolate and smores over a campfire. On really cold days it sometimes takes all day to maintain a good campfire, as we watched our neighbors go through a tall pile of wood in a matter of hours, huddled around their ring with coffee and jackets. Staying indoors at night, we watched another movie: E.T. (1982), a classic for Halloween week, and enjoyed slow cooker meatloaf, the world's best comfort food, along with cappuccino.

Missouri, the Show Me State, was next, and we had to keep going. Along the way, we found a fun radio station called KXMO Oldies, but were shocked to find out that Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was now considered an oldie. We drove along I-44 and, again, we passed through many interesting towns, including Cuba, Leasburg, and Springfield (there must be a Springfield in every state, I think). We also saw a very interesting road sign for a candy store and gift shop outside of the town of Uranus: "The Best Fudge Comes From Uranus." By this time we were on Historic Route 66, which goes from Chicago to Los Angeles, and Route 66 is well known for amazing little shops just like that.

Our first campground was called Onondaga State Park, which was once a giant amusement park one hundred years ago and hosted dance competitions back in the flapper days. Our camping host was a lady named Judy, who lived in a tiny trailer easily half the size of ours, yet seemed cozy with the custom painting on the exterior and the loyal dog waiting outside with its tail wagging. The park was filled with trails, and the sun came out just long enough to keep us warm while we walked through the forests. That night we had burgers and watched Mystery Men, a comedy about fake super heroes saving the day. There were no trains here, and state parks have very little night lights, so our campfire was extra dark and quiet and a bit spookier as Halloween approached, with a half moon above us, hiding behind passing grey clouds.

Along the way through Missouri, the Route 66 kept presenting itself, even at an interstate rest stop dedicated to the vintage shops and businesses of the era:

For Halloween we stayed at a KOA campground, further along I-44, eighty miles from the state line to Oklahoma. There were no kids to trick or treat us here on this cold night, so we enjoyed our own treats of chocolates and salted caramel lattes. The RV park here was all Route 66 themed, complete with a video history of the historic highway, and a laundry room decorated to the hilt with trinkets from the era. On this strange Halloween night, there were no decorations (few RVers use them), no handing out candy (too cold for most), just one more campfire with smores and settling down with the ultimate scary movie: Jaws (1975), although Chantal disagrees on that one.

Oklahoma now lies in our path, along with Amarillo, Albuquerque, and all the other stops awaiting on Route 66 and all the roads we have yet to discover. Every stop we have made has offered a little adventure to enjoy and remember, and we have never been more sure that getting there is just as special as being there. Chantal and I hope that your roads are just as exciting and fulfilling.

Thanks for reading, and happy travels!
Rob & Chantal