Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Bites Along New Hampshire's Seacoast

The state of New Hampshire is 190 miles in total length but really shrinks as you get near the coast and only claims 18 miles of Atlantic Ocean.  We always like spending time here because the beach is beautiful, the food is great, and the neighboring towns of Portsmouth and Newburyport (click for a link to a previous blog) are charming coastal New England towns.  Plus, you are not far from the Maine border and their pretty towns of York and Kittery. 

Once again Covid-19 dictated what we were, and were not, going to do.    Portsmouth has a number of great restaurants, many of which sport plaques and framed accolades from food magazines and the James Beard Foundation.  This year we focused our eating on seafood joints and not fancy dining since the state restricted restaurants to curbside and outdoor dining and we decided seared scallops and beurre blanc would not taste as good in a cardboard container as on a plate.  So we dug out our Lobster Shacks book and set out to check off a few more boxes at places where outdoor dining is best.  Just down the road were Ray’s SeafoodRestaurant and Petey’s Summertime Seafood and Bar

Driving along coastal Route 1A, Ray’s bright blue two-story building stands out, but they are most famous for their 12-foot tall wooden lobster chainsaw sculpture.  Ray’s owner owns two lobster boats so there is a constant supply of fresh lobster.  Steamed whole lobsters and lobster rolls are popular items but there are also a half dozen other lobster dishes like lobster baked stuffed mushrooms, baked stuffed lobster meat with a Ritz cracker topping, and lobster pasta.  We opted for lobster rolls and clam chowder.  Lobster rolls come either hot (sautéed in butter) or cold (with a bit of mayo) and were very good. 

Just down the road you can’t miss Petey’s with its brightly colored buoys and other lobstering paraphernalia hanging on the sides.  They claim to have more lobster buoys than any other lobster shack in New England.  There is a full bar and outside dining on the second story which boasts a great view of the marsh in back and the beach across the street.  Petey too is a lobsterman and splits his time between running the restaurant and lobstering.  The menu is simple with lobster and deep-fried items.  Petey’s is famous for their chowders (clam, haddock, and seafood) and have won several local awards, so of course we had to try.  Most lobster rolls come on a split top bun characteristic of New England but this one came on a hamburger bun. 

For years, we have been hearing about Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery, Maine.  On the main drag (coastal Route 1) is Bob’s roadside stand that has been serving up fried clams and other coastal favorites since 1956.  Bob’s fried clams were the best Betsy claims to ever eaten.  Dipped in condensed milk before frying helps keep them sweet and juicy but costs more.

The New Hampshire seacoast may be small but it definitely is beautiful.  The beaches are beautiful and wide.  Unfortunately, they were all closed when we were there due to Covid-19 restrictions but the drive along coastal Route 1A is beautiful and has stately mansions that grace the coast and boast fabulous views.  One morning when my eyes popped open at 4:30, I decided to venture to the harbor at Rye Beach for the sunrise.  It was the perfect morning with broken clouds to magically light up the sky.  It started red with the first glow and then progressed to orange and bright yellow.   On my way home, I spotted a beautiful barn with an American flag standing proud among the cows and sheep that couldn’t understand why they were being photographed at such an early hour.

There is something we love about coastal New England and the simple charm that appears to be everywhere.  Between the beautiful Federal style homes, Atlantic beaches, seafood, and fresh cool air there is a lot to love about this area.

Friday, June 5, 2020

RV Park Review - Moose Hillock Camping Resort (Fort Ann, New York)

We really liked this park!  The sites at this park are huge.  So big that you could have parked two large RVs in our site and any other site, for that matter.  

Not only is your site large but there is great separation between sites with trees and shrubs that block out your neighbors and provide lots of privacy.  Yes, there are closer campgrounds to downtown Lake George (which is only a 10-minute drive) if you want to be near town, but none of them are as nice and the sites are so much closer together.  

The large pool (a.k.a. “Tropical Swimming Pool”) is a major attraction for this park.  It is touted as the “largest heated campground swimming pool in the northeast” and features caves, waterfalls, waterslides, LED lights, swim-in theater for nighttime movies, and cabana rentals.  It was closed while we visited due to Covid-19 precautions but you can bet it can get quite crazy in the summer.  There is also a café serving lunch and dinner which is convenient for being at the pool all day.  It's all lit up at night making for a great experience.

If you want internet, bring your own because there is none at individual campsites.  We were able to get good Verizon cell and internet.  There is a cable hook-up at each site and most would be able to get satellite reception.  All the RV sites are full hook up with 50 amp service. 

The bathrooms and laundry were clean but laundry costs were high at $3.50 for a wash and $3.00 for a dry. The park is very large so if you want to be near the pool/entertainment area or nearby bathrooms, pick your site accordingly; otherwise, it can be a long walk.  Rental golf carts are available for a steep $86/day for a 4-passenger cart or $89/day for a six-passenger.  The park has a nice camp store with everything from t-shirts to RV supplies to food.  There is a very convenient propane fill up as you drive in.

Nearby is good hiking in Adirondack Park where trails range from easy to difficult and have some great views of the lake and surrounding area.  The Inman Pond Trail (about 15 minutes north of the campground) is a nice 2.5-mile walk in the woods which takes you to a pretty pond that is a great place for dogs to swim and cool off.  There are also picnic tables and a fire pit if you want to picnic.  The trail on the south side of the pond ends in a large boulder that provides a nice view of the pond and surrounding woods.

One of the things we did not like was how dusty this park was.  It wasn’t bad when we first arrived because the park was nearly empty and it had rained.  As it started getting dustier, the park spread calcium chloride on the roads to mitigate the dust but after a couple of days and no rain it was bad.   What made it worse were all the golf carts that zipped up and down the roads as the park was full for Memorial Day weekend and it seemed everyone had a golf cart.  The other bad thing about this park is the cost.  We arrived before peak season and were paying $66/night (w/s/50 amp/cable) but that price jumped up to $99/night two nights later as it was peak season.  An additional $20/night was added for the holiday weekend and we would have not stayed except that our reservation at a Maine campground was cancelled and every other campground was full.

We did enjoy the large sites and sitting outside was very peaceful.  The Lake George area has lots to do with beautiful scenery and ample hiking opportunities. (Here is a link to our post about the area)  The town of Lake George was mostly shut down because of the pandemic when we were here so all we got to do there was walk around and look in store windows!  At another time it would have been fun to kayak on the lake and eat at restaurants.  We would definitely come back but only during the shoulder season when the nightly cost is more reasonable.   

Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Adirondacks, New York

Upper state New York is a place we have always liked exploring.  This spring, we ventured to Lake George at the foothills of the Adirondacks and instantly liked the area. 

The Adirondack region spans more than six million acres and is home to the largest protected natural area in the lower 48 of the United States.  Just our kind of place!  The region is a patchwork of communities, topography, and endless beauty.  Tall mountains are graced by towering trees cascading into deep blue lakes flanked by charming towns that have lured visitors for years.  What you find is clean crisp air and expansive views.  The word Adirondack is thought to come from the Mohawk word “ha-de-ron-dah” meaning “eaters of trees.”  The word was used by the Iroquoians as a derogatory term for groups of Algonquians who did not practice agriculture and therefore sometimes had to eat tree bark to survive harsh winters. 

The name Adirondack is synonymous with that laid back iconic chair bearing its name.  The Adirondack chair dates back to 1903 when a man named Thomas Lee created the chair that is characterized by its raked back and deeply slanted seat.  The slanted seat design allows you upright even when placed facing on a downhill slope.  But spending your day sitting in a chair is anything but what you want to do while you are here.  This place spurs you to get outdoors and explore. 

Covid-19 has totally transformed these summer tourist towns into almost ghost towns.  You get the sense Lake George is a very attractive summer destination with an amusement park (Great Escape), boat excursions, indoor water park, shopping, historic fort, zip lining, mountain top chair rides, fishing, and we counted nearly half a dozen miniature golf places.  Covid-19 closures kept these places and restaurants closed.  But that still didn’t keep people from coming out to the downtown on a sunny weekend day.  All of a sudden the town swelled with people sitting in green spaces having picnics, sunbathing, and taking the kids and dogs for a lakeside stroll.  We went downtown on a Saturday and couldn’t believe how many people were milling about.  It was the complete opposite from when we were there during the week.

So off to the woods we went to social distance.  The Adirondacks offer a plethora of hiking from difficult to easy and short to long.  Many lead to mountain summits with expansive views of the surrounding lakes and mountains.  One of our favorite hikes was a short one to a place called the “Bear Slide.”  The trail follows along Buttermilk Brook which provides attractive scenery and pretty water features.  The rock laden brook creates pools, riffles, and cascades down a slick rock face.  At the top of the trail, a beaver dam floods a depression and the surrounding dense dark woods create an interesting gnome-like space.  So, did we see a bear?  Not sliding down the “bear slide” but a black bear did cross the road in front of us as we drove the gravel road leading to the trail head. 

We have been very diligent about social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands, and limiting our exposure to other people.  Sadly, with most restaurants closed we have not been able to participate in one of our favorite daily activities - going out for lunch.  As much as we would like to support local businesses and even with carry out, we have been leery and abstained.  But, we made two exceptions and for the first time in a looooong time picked up food.  The local brewery was calling our names with beer brats, sauerkraut with apples, green beans, bread, and a cold cocoa porter.  Battle Hill Brewing Company is like every other small business trying to stay alive.  The owner nicely told us about a park on the Champlain Canal where we could enjoy our food outside in the fresh cool Adirondack air.

Driving to one of our favorite hiking spots, we passed a roadside stand that made us slow down and do a complete stop when we spotted a bin labeled "pies."  This nice lady hand makes jams, jellies, tea breads, pies, face masks, bird houses, flower arrangements, and grows herbs and flowers in containers for purchase.  We picked up a cherry pie and mask and found ourselves stopping for another pie the next time we drove by.  Thanks Webby's Mountain Stand!

The campground we stayed at was Moose Hillock Camping Resort in Fort Ann (review to come in a following post) and we loved it!  Even though it is a private park, it has a state park feel with lots of trees towering over sites, huge sites, and lots of privacy.  We were surprised that during the Memorial Day weekend, we felt our site was really private.  It was nice to hike in the morning, come back to our campsite (site 614) and hang-out in the afternoon and evenings.

Lake George area was a very pleasant surprise and we will definitely come back.  For you outdoor lovers, you should put this area on your list.  Despite being there during the New York Covid-19 shutdown, we still found lots to do and couldn't believe how quickly our 10-day stay was over.  

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Travel Interrupted: Full-time RVing During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Lots of people have been asking us about traveling and full-time RV living during this pandemic.  Our first response is that it has been challenging and certainly not the normal we are used to.  But really, that applies to everyone – RVers or not.  Traveling has definitely impacted full-timers since we don’t have a house where we can wait out travel restrictions, self-quarantine, or escape the Covid madness.

When the pandemic first broke out we were in Louisiana.  We were finally, and eagerly, getting rid of a small storage unit we had since we started full-timing nine years ago.  Yes, we were the ones who initially thought we might only RV for a couple of years and had “stuff” we just couldn’t live without.  After nine years, and lots of $$$, we finally decided to empty the unit and be free.  Our stuff (which we really couldn't remember what was there) was locked away in two wooden vaults back in 2011 when we started full-timing.  Please, don’t make the “storage unit” mistake if you are considering full-time RV travel!  

Our stuff was advertised on Ebay, Mercari, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace.  Selling on Marketplace was red hot in early March but turned south when the pandemic hit and people were leery about meeting face-to-face and spending money on items they really didn’t need.  Online selling was still an option for small stuff but larger and unique items were a challenge.  We found a very nice consignment store nearby the storage unit that agreed to take the remainder of our stuff.  They were officially closed as they were deemed a non-essential business by the state but they nicely opened up one morning so that we could drop off our remaining artwork, decorations, furniture, and nick-nacs (a term I have come to loath because so many of our boxes in the storage unit were labeled “nick-nacs.”  I thought those boxes would never end.)

That's just a small part of it!
When the pandemic broke out, every state and to some degree counties, responded differently.  Campgrounds were in a gray area.  Some states deemed them essential while others closed them.  States like Georgia remained wide open with public state park campgrounds and private ones being allowed to stay open.  Maryland to the other extreme was closing both private and public campgrounds.  We were lucky Louisiana allowed private campgrounds to remain open and we were not booted out.  RVers and campers were upset at state's decisions to close campgrounds and took to social media.  They cried, "Camping is by definition social distancing!"  It can be for some, but, it all depends on the individuals...as we were about to find out.

The RV park we were staying at remained open but management swiftly closed common areas.  So while temperatures hit the high 80’s, we could only dream of plopping ourselves in an inner tube and floating down the lazy river or relax by the adult only pool.  As much as we wanted to use the gym and relax in a lounge chair, we were glad precautions were being made.  Mail was placed on a table outside the office for you to pick up so you didn’t have to go inside.  For two weeks or so the park was quiet and people really kept their distance.  CDC warnings were being heeded.  But as time wore on, the weekends became a time for locals to dust off the camper and escape the confines of home.  Fridays were a flood of RVs stacked with bicycles, BBQ pits, corn hole games, and fire wood entering the park.  Social distancing among them was a term not recognized, nor practiced.

No social distancing when you have a "buddy" site with three RVs and nearly 20 people hanging out.  I took this picture from our roof early in the morning while they were sleeping their hang-overs off.

After our brief stint in Louisiana, we were scheduled to head back to Florida April 1st for annual doctors appointments and a vet appointment for Spirit. In March, we learned our camping reservation at the state park was cancelled.  We scrambled and found a private park nearby that had availability….but that came at a cost…a whopping $83/night!  Then guess what happened?  All of our doctors appointments were cancelled except Spirits which turned out to be at the end of our stay so we would be there for the duration.  Beaches were closed, restaurants were closed, parks were closed so we hung out at our $83/night site and bided our time.  We were very glad Florida did not close private campgrounds and that where we were staying was quiet and practicing safe guidelines.  Let's face it, even from a distance the Florida Panhandle white sand beaches and emerald green waters are nice to look at.  

Like many RVers we had the itch to travel but more importantly, we needed to!  You see, our one and only toilet broke.  And in the times of a contagious pandemic we were not eager to use a public restroom, even if they were open (which many were not).  So while we had a stash of toilet paper, we needed a place to use it!  Traveling was a must for us so off to service in Georgia we went.

National Indoor RV Centers (NIRVC) near Atlanta turned out to be a great service center who fixed our toilet immediately but also allowed us to stay there for three weeks as it turned out, at no cost and with full hook up.  NIRVC’s owner believed in helping out full timers since he lives full time in an RV in Dallas at one of his other centers.  We couldn’t be more appreciative and our stay there provided a learning experience about many different motor homes as they came and went and also provided the opportunity to develop relationships with other RVers and the staff at NIRVC.  And that got us through April and into May.

NIRVC nicely parked us in one of their bays so we could have access to the bathrooms inside the building.
Even now, RV travel has certainly become challenging and uncertain.  Our reservations in Maine were cancelled and the campground’s opening date was pushed back and eventually just left up in the air.  The cancellation of our two and a half months in Maine left us in a bind but it took us to places we may not have visited otherwise.  We strongly recommend calling campgrounds just prior to your arrival to verify that they are open.  A New Hampshire campground told us we could stay at their park back in late March but now says they won't let us stay because we are out-of-state residents.  Our Harvest Host membership came in handy to get us through states that closed all private campgrounds.  Oh gee, we had to spend the night in the vineyard that made craft beer and had a take-out burger stand instead of an overpriced KOA.  And we discovered the Adirondacks in upper state New York.  We found an exceptional campground (Moose Hillock Camping Resort) with huge, private sites in the woods with amazing hiking nearby. 

The love we have for traveling stems from the things we do and see and the experiences we have.  This aspect has definitely changed.  We are not able to go to museums, walk into a BBQ joint and smell the smoky atmosphere, wander deep into cold damp caverns, and browse through an art gallery.  Our northerly migration last year was based around James Beard Foundation Award restaurants and we ate our way to Maine.  Since I love to cook and experience regional foods, going to the markets and farm stands were daily activities.  And while some are still open, we limit our exposure by just grocery shopping once a week.  This year we base our travels around places where we can enjoy the outdoors.  Let’s just say we are saving money by eating at home and walking off those pounds from last year! 

We are trying to be very diligent about adhering to CDC safety precautions because catching the virus for us nomads would be very problematic.  We are not near our doctors, one of us could not quarantine from the other in our small space and if one of us was hospitalized, what’s the likelihood there is an RV park nearby?  These things weigh on our minds and spur us to keep safe.  Every state is different with their laws and restrictions and trying to figure these out is not always easy.  Are masks required, what businesses are open, are campgrounds open, etc.          

Our plans are still to spend the summer in Maine and we have been able to secure reservations beginning June 1, because yes, it has been way too long since we have had lobster plucked fresh from the ocean waters of Maine.  Traveling during this pandemic has certainly presented challenges but it has not diminished our love for RV travel nor has it made us reconsider our lives in an RV full-time.  Challenges in life often turn out to be just what you need and lead you to many new open doors.  Certainly did in our case so on we go!