Pettigrew State Park, NC

Monday, January 8, 2018

AM temp was 20 where we were expecting 10, so it’s good news. We thought to try the new ceramic heater overnight, taking advantage of the electric hookup, so we lowered the propane heater thermostat to 45. By the wee hours, the propane had kicked on a few times—we guess between 3 and 4 total overnight. So the ceramic heater is good for maintenance, but for bringing or keeping the temps up, it’s slightly anemic, at least when it’s really frigid outside.

Had cheesy grits with bacon crumbled in it for breakfast, and headed toward Pettigrew State Park (NC) around 11, after giving a tour of the Alto to one of the rangers.

As we drove east, more and more snow was visible—left over from the “bomb cyclone” that hammered the east, all the way down to FL around New Years this year (if you’re not sure what a bomb cyclone is, check this out: https://www.popsci.com/bomb-cyclone. Anyway, through some of the small towns (we routed via backroads, and it was a pleasant and pretty drive) there were significant lumps of packed ice/snow in the main streets. By the time we were taking our final approaches to Pettigrew State Park, we had to avoid lots and lots of unscraped, hardened, lumpy snow/ice in the roads. Along the NC Rt. 64 (4-lane but not interstate) we traveled quite a lot in the left lane because there were so many shady places where masses of snow were packed solid along the middle of the road.

During our lunch stop in Plymouth, our friend and fellow Alto camper Mike called, because we’d not found any firewood and warned him to look for some early. He had taken the step to call Pettigrew, and the folks said they had firewood available for sale, so we all figured we’d just buy it there. As it turns out, it was far too cold and we were out far too late to mess with any campfires during this trip.

When we pulled in to the park, the Mike and Barbara were already there, discussing options with the staff. One fellow had recently been on the tractor clearing the 4 inches of snow from the campground. Barbara thinks they didn’t really think we were coming until they conveyed the info about the firewood, then they stepped on it to clear our designated camp sites.

The supposition by staff was that it would be inadvisable for us to go to the campsites because the tractor clearing snow had nearly gotten stuck. So we suggested we camp at the boat ramp (the majority of Phelps Lake itself is frozen solid, so no boats would be launched there). The staff laughed, and since we thought that was a real possibility we walked down to check it out.

0981-Jan9MistyAMPhelpsLake
The dock and frozen Lake Phelps.
0867-WalkToTheDock
The walk to the lakefront where we’d hoped to set up.

Alas, it would certainly have been a perfect set up—beautiful and flat/paved/dry—but when we actually stated that we’d like to do that, they (after quite a lot of discussion and trying to find the “right” person to ask, which resulted in a delay in our campsite set-up procedures) decided they would not be able to allow us to do that.

Assuring us that by tomorrow we’d be able to get into the campsites proper, the head ranger encouraged us to set up right there in the parking lot, which we (eventually) did. What an excellent opportunity we had taken away from us. I wonder if he thought there would be some sort of precedent set if he let us camp down there.

All of us who were familiar with snow and cold nights knew we were not going anywhere next day.

Anyway, we quickly set up (mostly 2 bars of LTE near the ranger station) and again did not unhitch the cars because it was late and we were all tired. After we’d both cranked up the heat and fixed our respective dinners, Jack and I carried our food over to Mike and Barbara’s Alto—just like ours but newer, and called Moon Shadow—and shared stories and food. The best kind of camping in the world.

Mattamuskeet Journey v. 2018

Mattamuskeet Journey to see migrating waterfowl v. 2018

In January of 2016, we headed out with a newly-acquired Alto camper trailer (we named Roomba) to accompany tent-camping friends to Mattamuskeet Wildlife Refuge, camping at Pettigrew State Park in North Carolina, just on Lake Phelps.

That was so fun we decided on a reprise of that trip with the same friends, who are now also Alto trailer owners (they named theirs Moon Shadow). Last time, the temps were quite chill, and Mike and Barbara were tenting, although we shared our camper’s propane heat on a couple of occasions. But it was bitter cold.

This time was not as gray and frosty, but still cold overnights, and — well, I’ll let you read all about it in several posts.

Sunday, January 7

Left MoD when the temp was about 10 degrees. We began prep around 8:30 – 9:00 AM and had said goodbye to the doggies and were driving down Rt. 59 by about 11.

The weird thing about the whole stowing and prepping during this type of winter camping is that nothing that would be damaged by freezing could be out in Roomba nor in the back of the truck overnight. So we could not pre-pack as we so often do to assure an early departure. We removed our bathroom kits from our clothes bags, and put all the  food (including the ‘fridge food, as nothing was going in from our home freezer) and other things that would be damaged by freezing into the truck very last before hitting the road. We put the refrigerator food into the ‘fridge without turning it on, figuring that it would not freeze solid in the 3 hours it was going to take us to get to North Bend (halfway point overnight spot). Measuring by past experience, the interior of the camper gets really cold on cold traveling days, so we couldn’t even put the dishwashing liquid into Roomba where it usually stays.

So the whole packing up thing was a challenge. We’d left our bed topper rolled and in Roomba for the entirety of this deep freeze (started about New Year’s Eve and overnight temps were in the low single digits — one AM we had zero degrees F — steadily for the whole of 2018). So the topper was stiff as a board and we probably could not have unrolled it even if we’d wanted to. Our hope was that it could ride in the back seat of the truck and thaw a bit, but it was too wide/stiff to fit into the cab, so we had to leave it in Roomba.

Once we arrived at North Bend Federal Campground (around 3P, after a stop for lunch and another for fuel) we plugged up (site 51–with between 2 and 3 bars of LTE and/or 3G cell service) and cranked the propane heater which solved the problem of the frozen bed topper nicely.

North Bend was 28 degrees, and there was still significant amounts of snow along the roads, especially at the edges. The guard said that there had been about 5 campsites used last night, but everyone had left.

They had sites 51 – 77 open, with one heated bathhouse that has maybe 8 private toilet/bath rooms. Site 51 is far from the lakefront, but pretty close to the bathhouse.

We did not unhitch, only leveled and set up, again pondering what would go where when we take off for Pettigrew State Park in NC tomorrow. We’re about 3 hours away from our next stop and, happily—although tonight will be lows in the teens again—the temps will be trending upwards for our whole stay at Pettigrew.

We have brought yeast rolls rising in Omnia, plus a lovely (but untried) chicken stew in the Billy Boil. After set up and a quick walk down to the lake (water levels are waaaaaay low—the “beach” I walked along was really the lake bottom) we are now happily ensconced in the warmth, and getting ready to continue our listen to another of the “Department Q” crime/mystery series (by Jussi Adler-Olsen) with Carl Merk: The Hanging Girl.