Adjusting to Camper Life
..almost sounds like the basis for a reality TV show or a sitcom, doesn’t it? It should be.
We finally hit the road hoping to leave the Kentucky curse far behind. Since we rented a car and drove to visit friends in Detroit and Cleveland while our 4Runner was stranded in Kentucky, we headed straight toward the northeast.
We figured we’d go through Niagara Falls on the way, our map lead us through Buffalo anyway so we thought the falls to be an appropriate pit stop.
Estimate drive time? 8 hours.
An 8 hour drive is something most can easily make in a day. Not us. Not anymore.
I don’t know what it is but we have mastered the art of turning even a simple 3 to 4 hour drive into an all day affair. Boy, can it be draining.
That 8 hour drive took us three days. Yes, three days.
Our first stop was planned – we wanted to make it from Louisville, KY to Jackson Center, OH by 2pm to make the daily factory tour at one of only two Airstream production factories worldwide. We sailed in at 2:15pm – typical.
Dan rushed inside to learn the tour was unexpectedly big that day so it was split into two groups and the second had yet to leave. We grabbed our eye protection and ear plugs and hit the factory floor.
It was fascinating. We watched various production team members do everything in a perfect, streamlined process. A lot of it was work we had tackled, or at least tried to, in our renovation. Something that took us months was done seamlessly on the factory floor in minutes. Still, watching them piece together portions of the 18 Airstreams they crank out a day made me oddly proud. I was proud of Dan for all of his work and proud of our Penny Lane. I could picture her being built back in the ‘60s, and I was glad to have helped bring her back to life.
Still, I won’t lie to you. If any of those new Classics or Flying Clouds were actually for sale at the end of the tour, you better believe I would have walked away with a new one, no expense spared. The amenities and design are far beyond what Penny has to offer, although nothing can replicate her charm.
While you can stay at the Airstream factory for a nominal $10/night, we wanted to push on. We made it maybe an hour or so (probably three in our book) farther to Mt. Gilead State Park in Morrow County, Ohio.
What happened here is what has become our routine: Pull in, hoot and holler about backing the camper into a spot, get it level, untie everything we have tied down for travel, make crap food, eat crap food, pull out the bed, make the bed, sleep, or at least try to sleep, wake up, eat cereal, spend two hours putting away everything we took out, tie it all down again and THEN hit the road. It’s this cycle that became our daily routine, an exhausting one at that.
Maybe you’re thinking.. poor us, right? I know, but it was exhausting. Driving a lot coupled with not sleeping a lot is not a recipe for success.
As we inched north and east, we finally made it to Niagra Falls. Once there, did we find the picturesque campground I had imagined might surround the falls? Yes, that is if you consider a dirt parking lot behind the Senneca Casino picturesque. In this case, free trumped scenic in our book. Plus, the way the neon lights reflected off the aluminum-clad camper made for a pretty sight, sort of – that is until you tried to sleep.
We gambled a little and lost a little. Our free spot quickly wasn’t free anymore.
We walked down to the US side of the falls, only a few blocks away, that evening then set off to explore the much more developed and touristy side of the falls in Canada the next day.
Lucy made her first trip across the border a breeze. She didn’t bark at the customs agent, instead she sat patiently next to the camper awaiting clearance. It was a simple process – at least for us. The older couple in an RV ahead of our wasn’t as lucky. We watched as agents searched their camper, their dog waiting patiently outside as well.
An hour or so of taking in the views and we were set. We didn’t feel the need to pay for a boat ride to the base of the falls or to walk down boardwalks nearby, which we would have if we were on a quick vacation. Instead, we are back in travel mode where we have to be more selective about when and where to dish out the extra dough for adventures.
We headed out and made it a few hours along the shores of Lake Erie before we found a place to stop for the night. We haven’t planned our stops out very well. We usually make a decision of where we want to head the night before or the morning of our drive.
So, the exhausting cycle of setting up and breaking down continued – that is until we ran across the Adirondacks the very next day.
I’ve always heard they were beautiful, but I didn’t know how beautiful until we made our way through. Fiery orange and red foliage lined the roads through the mountains. The air was crisp and cool. The campgrounds were already closed across Adirondack park, that is all but one.
Fish Creek Ponds campground on the northern side of the Adirondacks was open for another week, and when we pulled in – it was clear we would stay, maybe even until it closed. Finally.
Finally, we spent more than one night in a spot, and we reveled in the time and freedom that seemed to bring. It was worth it. We found a spot right on the lake surrounded by the colors of fall only the north east can boast. It was breathtaking. This is what we had been looking for.
There were no services for RVs – fine with me, as I had been raised camping primitively in a tent. No showers for several days? No problem. I can still recall the old Coleman water cooler we had, and how the lid came off into a little plastic drinking cup. We would stand around it to brush our teeth and use cold water to wipe our face.
So the prospect of electric, water and even sewer for an RV wasn’t even on my radar. In fact, I didn’t even want it. I have always the scoffed at the campers I would see in RVs. I hated when we would ride our bikes around a campground and see people with antennas outside and the glow of a television inside. What the heck are you camping for?
Electric, water, sewer..don’t need it; just give me a campfire and I’m good. The campground was huge with bathrooms (flush toilets included) everywhere, but the large shower house was closed for the season.
We do have a shower in the Airstream. Does it work? Yes. Does it have hot water. No, not right now. For some reason the pilot light won’t stay on. Still, we made it work. Dan has stood outside in the cold relighting it every time it goes out, and that effort has given me just enough warm water to get clean.
Heat it seems is a problem for us. We took out the original furnace when we remodeled Penny Lane, but left a gas valve where it was so we could hook up a portable gas heater. Remember, we planned to head south for the winter, and didn’t anticipate too much cold weather.
Well, as the temperatures dipped so did our hope of staying warm using gas. The fitting on the gas heater and camper gas line are not compatible. Oh, and we discovered we needed a different fitting for our fresh water hose too.
We were able to fill up our tank when we pulled into the campground. It was a simple process, at least for me. I stood with the holding the hose into the camper. Dan on the other hand stood at the faucet, holding the hose to the nozzle using his hand to cover the connection. Any little move and he would get sprayed. That went on for a solid 20 minutes. Poor guy.
The water was one thing, the heat another. So, we made a quick trip into the Tupper Lake area to a hardware store to see what we could do. We couldn’t find an adaptor to make the heater run from the camper so we walked out with several small individual bottles of propane, the ones everyone uses when camping, to make it work.
Now that I think about it, that’s what we have been doing so far: making it work. And, it has. It hasn’t been perfect, but it has worked. And, as we get the hang this – I think we’re in for one heck of a ride.