Trip’s End

Sunday, Apr. 21

We finally got a break in the weather, but most of the Alto crowd had left. Jack and I headed to South Hill for foodstuffs enough to fix dinner for John (arriving without Mary, who has fallen under the weather, or possibly the pollen) and additional Floyd friends, Brad and Ellen. 

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Because we’re settled and they’re arriving in the afternoon and likely won’t be set up before dinner time, we texted with them to let everyone know we’d handle dinner for all of us. We found the fixins for the fennel chicken dish we like to cook in the Dutch oven, and we also got some pork loins to grill for Mary and Allen who were coming to the campsite on Monday. 

I began cooking circa 5:30, completing it by around 6:30, and served directly from the Dutch oven, with Omnia heat-and-serve rolls and roasted potatoes. Afterwards, we cranked the Solo fire, and the Karl & Hari crowd came over from loop C to share.

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It was another glorious sunset, with the sun peeking below the clouds and shining brightly on the end of our peninsula, making the trees look like they were about to combust.

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No good sunset is complete without a good reflection photo off Roomba (it’s a thing with the Alto models that have lots of windows).

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Here’s a gallery of photos I’m calling “Sunset After the Storms”

Monday, Apr. 22

First thing in the morning, I watched an adult bald eagle fly over. The day dawned cold (47 degrees) but I was outside watching for birds and enjoying the clear morning by about 7. I wasn’t the only early bird, as a couple of fishermen were plying the waters near our site also.

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Before lunch, we took a bike ride with Brad and Ellen while John took a kayak paddle-about. We toured around the campground, and across the hydro dam, where we stopped both coming and going to watch bald eagles and osprey and enormous fish near the dam. I could have watched the birds all day.

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Instead of going back to the campground, we turned right at Rt. 4 and headed to the tailwaters of the dam, where there were tons and tons of birds all doing wondrous things, just carrying on with their birdy lives. We got off our bikes again to watch eagles and osprey and herons and cormorants and so many more. Saw this heron trying to hide while roosting in a tree.

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Returned to eat a late lunch and enjoyed the sun. Even though the breeze picked up as we ate, the sky was incredibly blue-blue, and the sun was toasty hot.

Allen and Mary came for dinner around 6, and we grilled a pork loin. John, Brad, and Ellen brought their own dinners and we all ate together. Everyone enjoyed another campfire, topped off with a celebratory dram to mark the end of our trip, as well as Brad’s (Apr. 24) and Jack’s (Apr. 26) birthdays.

Tuesday, Apr. 23

Naturally, on the day we must leave, the temp soared to 52 degrees and the wind stayed dead calm. Heard several lonely loon calls in the early AM.

We enjoyed a leisurely morning and said goodbye to Brad and Ellen around 8:30. Watched a contest between a lone loon with a fish, versus an entire gaggle of cormorants. The cormorants were doing a tag-team “harass the loon so it drops its fish” game, with much of the action happening under water. The loon would dip below, with 2 or 3 of the cormorants flying over to where it dove and diving after it. The loon would pop up again and other cormorants would fly over to it and dive after it when it dove for cover again.

Finally, the loon surfaced and up-ended the fish so it would go down its gullet, and suddenly, all the cormorants looked like they were bored, as if they’d had nothing to do with the loon at all. They all went different directions after the game was won by the loon.

Once the water warmed up a bit, John took a final kayak tour before he began to load up for departure. We ate an early lunch and began breaking camp in earnest around noon.

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Just as we were nearing our own departure time, we saw a Canada goose family swimming by. The water was a bit choppy by then, but the little goslings were pretty easy to see. The hard part was getting the youngsters and both parents in my camera’s frame at the same time. But I finally managed.

It was an uneventful drive back home, and we parked Roomba in the driveway near his garage overnight. All was well with the house and critters and we were thankful for Surya, our house sitter. Naturally, the first thing Mischief wanted to do was play ball. 

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I grabbed some meat and went out to see how Beebs (redtailed hawk) was doing, and she seemed quite keen on the food, but not so sure about me.

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Thus the 2019 Spring Trip comes to a close. It was wonderful and fun and so very exciting to share with so many of our friends and to meet new friends along the way. 

More adventures to come—watch this space for the next peregrinations we undertake with our Alto camper.

 

Chippokes Plantation Campground, April 5 & 6

One last thing I forgot to mention as a big “pro” on the plus side of our Bike Florida Tour: Oranges.

All the rest stops had them in abundance, and they were cherry red, sweet, and O! so refreshing. So good, in fact, that we stopped at a roadside stand before leaving FL and bought a sack full. Yum.

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So we said goodbye to FL and headed to SC. Travel was unremarkable, thank goodness. But I did capture this pic of Angela and their Alto2114 traveling along ahead of us at one point.

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So Lynches River Campground was our overnight spot on Thursday, April 4, and that’s the campground that is mostly for tenters, with only 2 serviced RV sites. Mark and Angela got #2 (a pull-through) and we got #1 both with electric and water. The bathhouse was rustic to say the least, but it had exactly two private rooms, each with its own toilet, sink, and shower. For a one-night stayover, it was just perfect. Next stop: Chippokes Plantation Campground near Williamsburg, VA, April 5 and 6.

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Chippokes is actually in Surry, VA, and is a re-purposed grand farm and mansion, once an actual plantation. Today, it is quite a fine and spiffy Virginia State Park, with hiking trails, the mansion itself, equestrian trails, electric and water, and nice renovated bathhouses. Loop B has the most modernized and level campsites, where Loop A has older, less flat/improved sites.

We linked up with John and Mary at Chippokes, so we had three side-by-side sites with Mark and Angela. Roomba was in the middle, on site #2.

Mark and Angela’s son, Brent, linked up with them (and us), coming down from New York to see his parents while they were relatively close. He spent some of our arrival/set up day in Williamsburg and he and Mary and John all arrived around 5PM.

We all went out to dinner, hoping to catch the pub in Smithfield, but there was a minimum of an hour’s wait there, so off we went to Smithfield Landing where we had a delightful dinner, and all got to know one another a bit better. The walk through Smithfield from the pub to the Landing and then back to our cars after dinner was fun times together also.

The next day, Mark, Angela, and Brent headed to Jamestown, while Mary, John, Jack, and I headed across the ferry into Williamsburg. But first, we went to the Edwards Ham store and picked up some good old fashioned Virginia Ham products. Yum.

We rode the Pocahontas ferry and saw a smaller ferry passing across the river. It was overcast the day we headed into Billsburg, but it never rained despite the look of the sky.

We had a bit of a drive around the campus, telling J&M tales of our college days, and had a quite nice sandwich from Colonial Williamsburg’s famous Cheese Shop.

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That night, we all fixed our own dinners but joined up to eat at our site. We had shared appetizers and a fire to cozy up to as our final night together after our fun travels with Mark and Angela. Brent also was headed back north the next day, while John, Mary, Jack, and I were headed to Janes Island, MD for our next, longest stop of our Spring Trip.

Before everyone broke apart, I set up the timer on my camera to get a group shot. And Riley also had to have some fun before we bundled off to Maryland.

 

Kickapoo/Paint Creek

August 6-8

We checked into site #75, in the Illini loop of Kickapoo State Recreation Area (SRA) in Illinois, after stopping at a really nice grocery store en route to pick up some dinner entrees. Possibly due to the difficulty of keeping the water pipes from freezing in winter, none of the sites have water, although many have electricity. There are also sections where tent camping and/or unserviced RV camping is the norm. Cell service at the site is okay—we had two bars of Verizon LTE. The bath houses are clean and sufficient.

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Camping area map: detail from a larger, elderly map. That’s I-74 west and east on the right.

As is usual when we have stayed at Kickapoo in times past, an individual of the local deer population greeted us.

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We enjoyed the company of this very interesting tree in our site, too. If we’d been staying longer, we probably would have used it to hang a hammock to lounge about some.

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Instead of lounging, however, we set off on our bicycles to explore more of the park area than we’d ever had time to do in the past. This is a really huge recreational area, with hiking and mountain biking trails, and so many ponds and lakes I think one might get lost.

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At the turn of the century, the area was a surface mining operation. We tried to ride to a mine “shaft” designated on the map, but it was gated—even though we rode around the gate, we stopped at a dilapidated old wooden bridge that had way too many saplings growing on it for comfortable crossing. The entire SRA is 2,842 acres, with 22 deep water ponds (221 acres of water) along the Vermillion River. The state purchased nearly 1,300 acres of the mining operation in 1939 from United Electric Coal Co. Most of the purchase price was raised from Danville, IL residents at the time. So if you’re a water or fishing enthusiast, it’s a great place to visit. Check it out here.

There is a ton of infrastructure around, but on a Monday, we encountered only enough vehicles to count on two hands; and we saw only a few individuals and families taking advantage of the vast amounts of fishing and paddling (most of the waterways are designated electric motors only) opportunities available. Maybe things are different on the weekends, but overall we found the place quiet and sedate. Surprisingly, there were very few printed materials available to folks who might want to know more about the trails, the history, or the amenities. Without actually riding on any of the “trails,” most of them appeared to be rugged, mountain-bike-only trails.

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The park stretches on both sides of the I-74 corridor, with roadways going over and under the highway.

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I thought it odd that there was no safety structure along this overpass, keeping folks from pitching themselves or objects off the bridge . . . 

Here is a map of the whole shebang, that I’ve cut into two halves so it’s not so huge:

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Our ride took us over all of the roadways designated in white, plus a few that don’t seem to be on any maps at all. The roadways and some of the put-in areas for boats and fishing were somewhat unkempt and in need of some TLC, but its an old park, after all. We took our time and tootled about for a couple of hours. It was pretty hot and muggy.

Bike Stats:

  • Ride time = 1:25
  • Stopped time = 1 hour
  • Distance = 12.3 miles

After our exertions, we treated ourselves to another grilled salmon dinner—this time eating delicious wild sockeye, with grilled squash and Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice. Yum.

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We headed to Ohio the next morning, to Paint Creek State Park (near Bainbridge, OH), where it began to rain and refused to stop the entire time we were there. We also moved from central time to eastern time, and started the adjustment to misplacing an hour somewhere along the way.

Our site (#125) was the same one we’ve stayed at before, because so many of the sites are elevated (nice and level) parking areas where both sides of the “lawn” areas fall off sharply from the site, making erecting an awning difficult if not impossible. While #125 is rather sandwiched among other sites, the one to our “face” was empty this time, and with the rain keeping us indoors anyway, it was not a problem.

The bath house is fine, but augmented with a couple of toilet-only structures, and there’s a laundry, but no dish washing station. And the sites are all either unserviced or electric-only.

Since it was raining steadily, and since we stayed indoors the whole time, the lack of tremendous amenities was not a problem (check the link above to our prior, 2017 stop here to see more of the lay of the land). We have, however, thoroughly enjoyed a long bit of in-campground cycling in the past.

The State Park is another boating haven, with the reservoir created when Paint Creek was impounded providing power boat and jet ski entertainment, as well as more sedate fishing, canoeing/kayaking, and swimming opportunities. There are also hiking trails and a few Mountain biking trails, plus a disc golf course (and an archery range), but few cycling options other than the campground roadways. The park office offers wifi, but otherwise, cell service (Verizon) is non-existent.

We started a jigsaw puzzle we’d purchased in Michigan at the Sleeping Bear Dunes gift shop, featuring pretty Michigan rocks in the shape of the state. It was fun but very challenging.

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To the patter of rain on the roof, we got about a third of it put together on our nook table before calling it a day at 12:30A in the EST, where we felt it was still 11:30 CST.

The next day, we continued putting the puzzle together through breakfast and lunch, and finished around 2 in the afternoon. We didn’t want to get it partway done and have to undo all our work before our departure on Wednesday, August 8, so we kept at it. And it kept raining.

For our evening’s entertainment, we watched the third of the three movies we’d brought along: Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, MO. We found it to be a tight, unsettling story very well told, with just enough ambiguity to provoke lots of thought. Troubling, overall—leaves you wondering what you might have done in a similar situation. Well worth the look-see.

Still damp, we left for Grindstone Federal Campground in the Mt. Rogers Recreation area, near Damascus, VA: our final stop along this odyssey, back to Virginia with friends and neighbors for the first time in nearly 6 weeks. What a fun adventure it’s been.

La Jolie Rochelle

Arrived Tuesday, July 10 after about a 3-hour drive to Saint-Raphël de Bellechasse, easterly from Quebec City. There (with a bit of hunting) we found Camping La Jolie Rochelle, a simply wonderful private campground along a beautiful babbling river. 

It was hot by the time we were able to get in and, with tremendous help from our host—he actually backed Roomba into the tight spot opposite a serious stone wall—we set up our Alto in site #13 of a long string of Altos of all stripes, model numbers, colors, and ages. We joined a mini-rally. I was seriously relieved that I did not have to back Roomba into that spot.

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Our grassy site was simply excellent, right on the river embankment, even sandwiched among everyone else, some of whom we knew from the rally we attended last year, some from shared Alto travels, and some only virtually, via Facebook. So it was really fun to put some faces with names we knew from the Altoistes FB group.

After setup, I shared a beer with Alto friend Jim, and realized I needed more beer. So Jack and I headed out to scope the area for a grocery. We found a lovely place called “Marche Traditions” and it was surprisingly good for a small grocer with only two checkout lanes. Full of good veggies, cheeses, beer, wine and everything in between. We got some go-alongs so we would not starve while camped in a parking lot for the Anniversary Celebration (which begins Thursday), and of course beer and wine to share and consume.

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Roomba is at the right of the photo, with the awning that has the blue noodles on the guy lines.

The evening was a “gathered meal,” or one in which everyone brought to a central location (six picnic tables pushed together beside the pool area) whatever they were having for dinner anyway, and if one chose, bring something to share. If nothing in the cupboard to share, no worries. We all just ate together, and it was a very fun evening. We had gotten some desserts pre-made from the Traditions grocer, and they seemed to be a big hit with the group, although I did not have one.

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This is a pic from our picnic site of a few of the Altos gathered here.

Before and after we ate, we were able to tour one of the Alto model 2114s, an extra-long Alto version — the first than many of us had seen, and I think about the 11th ever sold (they had just been released earlier this year). 

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Also, another Altoiste who goes full time using a Safari Condo conversion van to pull an older yellow Alto rolled in to join us.

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A campfire was built and many gathered around it into the night, but I cocooned in Roomba to read and get my eyes closed by ten. Jack stayed with the group until about 11, but I did not wake up when he got in.

On July 11, I arose early (6:30) to find the temps had dropped to 40 degrees outside. With an extra shirt and long pants, I carried my tea outside and watched some gulls preen and dry themselves on some rocks in the river shallows. 

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I watched them for a long time before Jack got moving.The sun came over the trees and enlivened all sorts of life including a pair of kingfishers that flew above the water upstream and out of sight. 

After breakfast, we sat and read and visited and chatted with fellow Altoistes until plans began to come together for a bike ride. Mark, Richard, Jack and I ended up headed to a paved bike path that my understanding is was once a rail bed, now converted to a bike trail. In full, it is 70 km, paved the entire way.

We started by driving what seemed a long way to begin at “P7” in Armagh. This had been the rail station, and off the parking lot was a cafe/snack stand. We started at 1:30 and rode outbound about 12 miles, and turned around to come back for a total ride of 24 miles in 1:38 of ride time (we paused a few times to drink water and decide whether or not to continue).

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Along the route I saw a female pheasant, likely near her nest, just standing beside the trail. We also saw a goshawk zip past along the timber line near a gravel road, and saw many Monarch butterflies. We also heard but did not see a red-tailed hawk soaring above somewhere.

The trail was very nice, fairly straight and pretty flat, and it was a good ride. Richard is a serious cyclist so he kept our pace up, and I averaged 14.6 MPH over the duration.

Richard peeled off at Route Principale, on our return and somewhat close to the end of the ride, to take the main roads back to the campsite via a more direct route than we’d traveled to begin. Mark, Jack, and I stopped at the little cafe to grab an ice cream and some more water.

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Upon our return another 2114 had arrived. The family we have often camped with in the past “traded up” their 1723 for the larger 2114 to better accommodate their family. They came straight from the pickup at the factory to our little gathering, and moved that beast into their site with the Caravan Mover, with a little help from their Altoiste friends, since they’d never used one before.

A few of us gathered to share beverages at our campsite, and we talked to Cynthia and Gail—Alto owners from Australia here for the Celebration—for a long time, sharing stories and once again, putting faces with names we’ve corresponded with for years over the internet.

A simple meal after our showers, and more Alto friends, Michele and Claudette, whom we met for the first time in April when we were camping at Virginia Beach, arrived and we shared a glass and slapped mosquitoes together as the sun set.

Everyone is looking forward to the celebration activities tomorrow, so we (mostly) hit the beds early, although a hearty few sat by the campfire again into the evening. 

Into Canada

Our trip to and stay at Selkirk Shores State Park (July 8) on the New York shore of Lake Ontario was uneventful. We off-loaded our bikes upon arrival to see what the “beach” might be like, and to check out if there was any cycling of note.

Unfortunately, there was absolutely nothing of note — nothing to recommend this State Park for any of our future or our friends’ travels.

Possibly, it was because it was the Sunday of the weekend after the Independence Day holiday, but the place was full of trash. It looked beaten to a pulp, and none of the sites or the campfire rings had been cleaned in quite a long while. I never saw a camp host or a park ranger of any stripe. There were out-of-control kids screeching everywhere, and we didn’t even want to put down our outside “rug” because our site was so grody. Unidentifiable greasy spots everywhere, broken shards of who-knows-what on the “platform” and in the grass, bits of candy and cigarette wrappings hither and yon — it was seriously unkempt and dilapidated. Even many of the paved roadways around the picnic, camping, pavilion, and boat launch areas were pitted, pot-holed, broken-up, and useless as pavement.

Every site was chock-a-block to the next, without even a hint of privacy, even to the point of sharing the electric pedestal between every two sites (many of which were inconveniently situated in poison ivy and oak). The “platforms” for a trailer or tent were four cement squares arranged together to form a box, and many of the slabs were broken and heaved away from their partners.

The “beach” was okay, I guess, with a lifeguard and everything. But to one’s left peering to the southwest was a nuclear generation plant that was particularly ugly. Up to the right it might have been pretty, but we would have had to cross the beach to see that direction. Re: screeching children above.

We rode down to the boat launch area, and through a couple of picnic areas with pavilions, and there were tons and tons of people everywhere. So the place is popular. But definitely not our cup of tea.

The bath house was on the seriously elderly side, and not clean at all. I can take old facilities if they’re kept as clean as possible despite having old fixtures, etc. This was not that.

We read that the place was originally built as a CCC camp back in the 1930s, and one can imagine the well-to-do of Syracuse coming “to the shore” to escape the heat of the city. And I admire the effort to re-purpose and keep up infrastructure. But this place — at least the camping areas — is not keeping up with the minimum necessary maintenance.

Instead of sitting outside, we cocooned for our simple meal of re-heated shepherd’s pie, and decided to watch our first movie on the road from my laptop. Hidden Figures is a very very good flick. We enjoyed it immensely. 

We staged everything for an early departure on Monday, July 9, and were rolling out of Selkirk Shores by 6:40A. Not only did we not want to stay a moment longer than necessary (all this for just $45/night!!) we had a long drive to get to Camping de l’Ile in Roxton Falls, Quebec, Canada.

This is a place we’d discovered on our very first trip to Quebec to see if we wanted to purchase an Alto or not (of course, we did) and we were tent-camping in a lovely, shady, grassy area of this private campground. It was so nice, and the people so friendly, we decided to hit the ground there, beside a nice river (home to the falls, we assume).

Getting here from Selkirk Shores took us about 8 hours because we stopped for a while and a bit of wifi for breakfast, and then again for lunch (possibly 1.5 hours in stopovers) and there was a significant stoppage along the highway as our “faster” route AROUND Montreal merged back into the through-Montreal road. Never did figure out what the holdup was, but that added every bit of a half hour to the journey. 

But we finally arrived, and we’re right beside the river, surrounded by folks speaking French (two groups of which have already taken a tour of Roomba); the breeze is blowing fresh (although the mud in the river — or possibly a nearby farm using manure for fertilizer — is a bit stinky) and the temps are cooling to the low 80s. We have electric and water in Site #4 (although for one night and with our onboard jugs of water, we did not hook up the hose or filter). This arrangement is tight like Selkirk Shores was, with no privacy between the sites, but they’re bigger, and many trees shade each site. On top of which, it’s much more quiet and we can hear the river babbling to us at our back. It’s just a nicer place in nearly every respect (and has private showers that are clean and well-kept, as well as excellent wifi at the sites).

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I had forgotten, however, that to take a shower here, you need Canadian dollar coins. There is no heat control, no faucet control, just the meter. One dollar lasts a long-ish time, mind you. But be sure before you head to the shower rooms (each private with a toilet and sink also) that you have one or two dollar coins with you.

We fixed the second of the two Delmonico steaks we’d purchased at Pete’s Meats, the same way we’d done it our last night at Bald Eagle, with Gauvreau’s Compound melted on the top again. Accompanying was the last of our lettuce, a chilled can of green beans, topped with pecans and cheese for a salad, and good old fashioned grits from our “emergency stores.” We’d tried to empty our fresh and leftover foods before crossing the border in case they had a problem with some of the stuff in our fridge (they didn’t, even though the crossing fellow was a bit of a prat).

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Our view during dinner.

Sometime around 7 o’clock, in the town of Roxton someone had an accident that took out a power pole, so the campground was without any power at all for the evening. We had still been running our air conditioner, so we switched to the fan, and stayed outside for the evening. 

Lovely evening with an exceptional sunset.

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Although going to sleep was a bit hot in the high 70 to 80 degree range, we slept fine and the next AM the power was back on. The worst of it was that there were no lights in the bathrooms, so we had to remember to carry our headlamps with us — the toilets still flushed, though.

We arose early on Tuesday not for any rip-snort need to get to our next stop, but so we could have sausage rolls for breakfast and leave enough time for the grill to cool before we wanted to leave mid-morning.

Next stop: La Jolie Rochelle, site 13, where we’re likely to see an Alto friend or two before the Big Rally at Safari Condo.

July/August Adventure Post One

We arrived at Shenandoah River State Park in Virginia after a 4-ish hour drive from home, leaving there around 10A on Thursday, July 5. Since it was a one-nighter, we did not unhitch (except to level Roomba, but the hitch was hovering over the ball since we didn’t move the car) nor do our usual set-up routine inside.

Think minimalist.

The day was hotter than 40 hells outside, and inside Roomba, it was in the high 90s as we set up camp. We used the ceiling fan to vent some of the hot air, turned on the air conditioning, and hoped to have temps in the 80s by nightfall. 

I’d prepped some ground lamb for a shepherd’s pie and put that together once the air was breathable inside, and heated it for a while in the Omnia. Since everything was cooked already it didn’t heat up the inside too terribly much, and we ate outside. Lordy it was hot.

The downside of Shenandoah River SP is that it’s a young campground, and there are few shady spots anywhere in the grounds. But we survived and slept okay.

Rolled out of there early Friday en route to Bald Eagle State Park (PA) for a two-night stay. Tried to find ice and a grocery store, but ended up doing without until the “Roomba Landed” at Bald Eagle. Conducted the whole set up routine, then ran out to find a cold dinner to bring back, ice for the cooler, and dinner for Saturday night also.

Found the absolute best butcher up the road (toward Lock Haven) in a burgh called Beech Creek. It was easy to miss, and even with the sign directing us, it was way way down a residential road and past an Elks Park (or some such) and we almost gave it up a second time, when we finally found Pete’s Meats. 

Great stop. Got chicken salad for the night’s dinner (unfortunately, it had sweet pickles in it—not anywhere near my fave thing) but was good and edible; and a Delmonico steak for our Saturday dinner.

Watched the entire place fill up with campers into the evening. Next door at 9PM, the loop’s final slot was filled by the arrival of a pop-up. Felt sorry for those folks, just starting their setup as I waltzed off to brush my teeth, and the sun finished setting below the horizon.

Got up moderately early (after sleeping without the air conditioner, in 50-degree breezy weather under our blanket and with the ceiling vent on low) had sausage rolls for brekkie and then got on our bikes for a “reminder tour” of the entire park complex, which is rather huge. We’d done such a “take every left-hand turn” ride here a couple of years ago, but it was during the off season, and we were virtually alone. This time, everyone and his aunt with all the kids were headed to the lakefront beach, the marina, the canoe/kayak livery, the fishing spots, or the dog-walking areas. 

In the end, we logged nearly sixteen and a half beautiful, cool, breezy miles by riding every paved left-hand road we met along the way, plus a few gravel parking loops as well. There might have been one or two right-hand turns in there, but that was only so we didn’t miss any lefts.

This truly is a beautiful park with tons and tons of stuff to do on the huge lake and off of it. Walking/trekking paths, bird-watching (we saw a juvenile bald eagle during our ride), shady lanes, an enormous Inn overlooking the lake, and all the water sports anyone could ask for. 

Some of the scenes from our ride:

Returned to the campsite for lunch, and lounged for a while as the southwest-facing awning’s shade diminished steadily in the bright sun. Still, it stayed in the 70s to the low 80s outside, and we’d turned on the air conditioner early enough in Roomba to keep that temp in the 70s (even though the camper is not in any shade at all). There are sites that have larger trees than ours does, and all the sites are well separated from their neighbors by hedges and growth-left-tall between them. AND we had forgotten that not all the sites have water hookups (ours didn’t) and not realizing we’d be waterless, we did not fill our tank. 

Still, for two nights water was not any kind of a problem because there’s a nice dish-washing station right at the bathhouse, which is near our site (Sycamore loop #87). Next time, however, we will try to get a site with more shade (although the breeze continued to be cool and refreshing).

This trip had commenced a couple of days after we picked up the “Beta Version” of the replacement awning made locally by our yurt-making friend. Many Alto owners want the older and now-discontinued version of the awning Safari Condo had offered as an option with their Altos. So we are testing a replica to see if folks like it, and if they’ll buy it from our source. 

The one we’re testing has a couple of “warts” that will definitely need fixing if/when the awning goes into production. But overall we’re quite pleased with the Beta Retro-Awning. Next week, more of the folks who’d expressed early interest in our results will be able to see it “up close and personal.” So we’ll see how that goes.

We’re also testing a solar light string that we picked up to use when we won’t have power (or be able to erect an awning) at the Safari Condo Anniversary Celebration next weekend. Neat little “blue moons” charged with their dedicated solar charger. They’re kind of cool, although the blue light doesn’t provide the true lighting we like from our rope lights we normally string on the awning. But the blue moons are pretty.

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Later, after showers and packing up and racking up the gear (decided against a later-evening bike ride) we re-heated some macaroni and cheese from our freezer, roasted some fresh corn purchased yesterday from an Amish family’s roadside veggie stand, and the Delmonico steak we purchased from Pete’s Meats. What a delicious meal! We even topped the perfectly-cooked meat with Jim Gauvreau’s “compound.” What a treat.

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With the Solo Fireplace roaring and the sun setting, we began to enjoy the heat of the fire, and watched the birds go to roost in the “wild areas” of this marvelous park. Definitely a high recommendation to anyone passing through this part of Pennsylvania (Howard PA, near Lock Haven, PA).

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Bicycling and More

April 19

The plan for the three nights/two days we had left in our trip was to share some of the cycling opportunities in the area with Mark and Angie; they, too, were just starting the cycling season and wanted to take it a bit easy on some flat terrain. Two notable rails-to-trails conversions relatively nearby are the Tobacco Heritage Trail (Boydton) and the Highbridge Trail (Farmville).

Still, our first cycle jaunt was Jack’s and my usual tour of the North Bend campground. Our “game” is to take every paved left-hand turn we can make throughout the campground (even around the barriers to un-opened areas), hitting each campsite loop, boat launch, group-camp loop, picnic area, etc., and eventually ending up back at our campsite.

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The last time Jack and I did this at North Bend, we clocked just over 10 miles. On this adventure, we added a crossing to the other side of the major hydro-electric dam, and got in nearly 13 miles all told (my average speed was 9.5MPH). We were all hungry, so we decided to skip going downhill (and then back up—a serious chug) to the picnic and launch area “beneath” the hydro-plant itself, and instead decided to head back out again, aimed at the Tobacco Heritage Trail, after a good nosh.

The day was splendid, although the wind seemed to never die, as was the case at First Landing. At lunch Jack and I decided the wind was strong enough that we rolled up the awning, leaving it attached to Roomba by the Kieder Rail, and secured the poles and guy lines so they would not blow into the lake.

We loaded the bikes on Mark’s four-bike hitch rack, piled into his van and headed to Boydton to find a trail head for the Tobacco Heritage Trail. As it turned out, the parking area we were looking for wasn’t in Boydton at all, but rather LaCrosse, a small burb just east of Boydton.

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We got started around 2:45, and the beginning part of the trail at this section is paved, which is very nice for riding. But the wind was wicked (again), and we didn’t know exactly how far to go nor how long it would take us. Angie wanted to get back to camp (about a half-hour drive) in time to do some prep work for the dinner they wanted to host for us. So we decided we’d ride for an hour, turn around, and head back. 

Once we started peddling on the cinder/sand surface of the trail, things got more difficult because the footing didn’t seem to be packed as hard as some other cinder trails we’d ridden in the past. But the Tobacco Heritage Trail is a relatively new effort, and has been completed in sections only, so this was not surprising. The last time Jack and I had ridden this trail, we went all the way to Lawrenceville. On this day, we went about 14 miles (7 out and back). The return was a challenge since the wind was in our face the entire time, and still rising with significant gusts. We were all glad we’d decided to roll up our awnings before leaving camp.

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Once we got back to camp, Mark and Angie beavered around getting our dinner together, and insisted we bring nothing but ourselves. The effort was made to sit outside while we enjoyed starters, but the final decision was to make the room inside their 1743 for all four of us to sit down because it was so cold and windy. We had a wonderful meal of “chicken pouches” done on the grill. All the veggies, potatoes, and meat for each person—in other words, each meal—was combined and secured in a foil pouch and roasted on the grill until done. It was quite yummy, with Cole slaw on the side, and ice cream and strawberries for dessert. 

April 20

On the final full day of our trip, we had an appointment to show our Alto to some folks who live nearby. While in Virginia Beach, a newcomer to the Alto-interest group on Facebook (to which we have belonged for years) asked if there were any owners in the vicinity of Boydton. Since we were going to be there, Jack invited Scott and Myra to come by North Bend. We spoke to them for about an hour, and they had really done their research—had even tried a friend’s longer American-made trailer—and asked really good questions. 

After Scott and Myra hopped over to briefly see Mark and Angie’s fixed-roof setup, we used Mark’s bike rack in our hitch (to share the driving) and headed to one of our favorite rail-trails, Highbridge Trail in Farmville. It was about an hour’s drive and we decided that we’d eat lunch in town before setting off on the ride. Scott had recommended a place on the river called Charlie’s and we found it and ate quite a good meal of soup and sandwiches (the full name might be Charlie’s Riverside Cafe or some such).

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Farmville sits at the approximate middle of the entire rail-to-trail conversion. We headed toward the High Bridge itself, which is East of Farmville (we’ve ridden the trail west out of Farmville, but there is nothing to see and it’s an obvious, steady, significant uphill crank going that direction—truly exhausting outbound, but somewhat of a thrill coming back to town on the downhill).

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The High Bridge itself has lots of history both before and during the American Civil War. Just beyond the bridge is a stop with reader boards discussing the Confederates’ attempts to protect the bridge, and the structure’s importance during Lee’s retreat to nearby Appomattox, where the war ended with his surrender.

With Farmville being a college town, there were many young adults using the trail on the day we rode. The infrastructure for this trail is excellent so we did not want for pit stops, and the cinder footing is well-packed and tire-friendly. Also, the wind had finally decided to give us a break, which was a good thing, since the High Bridge is indeed, quite high.

We started the ride at about 2PM and peddled for about 1.5 hrs. covering a total of ~17 miles. My average speed was 11MPH, while Jack’s was up to 12.5MPH because he “found his zone” on the return from the bridge, and smoked the rest of us back to the car.

It was our turn to do dinner, so we put together some Brunswick stew (the area is famous for its Brunswick stew), grilled some bratwursts, and accompanied the whole with some fresh-baked rolls (in the Omnia oven).

During this entire trip, we did not have one campfire, due to the winds and rains. So on our last night, the air wasn’t exactly still, but it was still enough that we did not fear setting ourselves or our surroundings alight, so we enjoyed our dessert of Trader Joe’s chocolate-filled crepes (heated in the Omnia) by the fire until about 9 or so, and called it a night. 

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Mark and Angie wanted to be off early the next morning toward their next destination (Savannah). On our minds was the fact that our house sitter told us he needed to vacate by noon. Even though it’s just a 3-hour drive, we didn’t want the doggies to be left inside the house terribly long. So our goal was to be on the road no later than noon.

Thus ended the April Birthday and Bicycling trip. We hope to do a similar early-cycling adventure next spring.

PS – When we got home, the first thing we saw was our screened-in porch punched in on one panel, with muddy BEAR PAW prints on the outside of the screening. Interesting visitor in our absence, which the house sitter had heard during the 3AM incursion, and yelled at to chase it away. No damage done except the screen.

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Difficult to see in the pic, but the muddy paw prints around and below the tear in the screen indicate the bear was probably not an adult, but certainly (by any measure) big enough. From the ground (my flowers!) it was standing on, it’s about 4 feet up to the tear.