Our Chalet Truck Camper

Our Chalet Truck Camper

Monday, May 22, 2006

Niagara Falls - an awesome place

On the Road Again - this time to Niagara Falls, NY to see the famous falls and play tourist. This is a place on earth that both Joe and I had always wanted to see. 635 mile drive to get here from Maine but we took our time through the mountains of both NH and VT. Stopped at King Arthur Flour for their annual sale but it was pretty wiped out by the time we got there. Also went to Montshire Museum which is a hands on science museum also in Hanover, NH. Great for kids and we both enjoyed being kids and doing all the experiments. Rain continues to plague us but the LL Bean rain gear is perfect.

I did score a large number of Jamieson and Smith Fair Isle weight knitting skeins at a small VT store. She had the skeins in a trash bag in a closet because they were not selling well and took up too much room. My coup at $3.00 a skein. Best buys were the color Coral and a tweedy blue both in 8 ounce skeins.

We are staying at a KOA in Jamestown, NY. Very clean, quiet, well maintained spot. We took a bus tour into Niagara yesterday with one other couple/campers our age and had a great time. The "Maid of the Mist" boat trip is not to be missed. You literally float under the falls with spray and water pouring over you. Of course my camera battery died! We also walked down into the "Cave of the Winds" under the Bridal Veil Falls. That was awesome, very cold, wet and a true adventure. It was 43 degrees and we didn't thaw out for hours. Good campers that we were, we joined each other for a pizza supper. Joe and I also went back into Niagara today and walked about a total of 5 hours seeing what we hadn't seen yesterday. This included walking over the Rainbow Bridge into Canada. To be kind, where you land in Canada is quite tacky, geared towards souvenirs and you don't get to see any of the real Canada. Lines to cross the border were just too long to take the truck camper over and see the countryside. That will be another trip.

Headed east tomorrow to find more adventures. Truck Camper is working perfectly except for the mystery of why the bathroom vent hatch keeps coming open. Fellow TCers at http://rv.net on the truck camper forum are giving hints on how to fix it.

Very tired, quite content at all we have seen, glad our house sitter is so good and ready for more travel tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

New Bern and Outer Banks, NC to Maine

New Bern and Outer Banks, NC May 2-4, 2006

Headed to New Bern, NC to visit family. Picked up the kids from school in the Lance and what a hit! Ended up with 5-6 under twelve year old boys and a dog up on the bed looking out the front window for a too short ride home. Camped on the Neuse River at a KOA overnight. Quiet, nice, very clean site with wi-fi to catch up on emails. Walked New Bern next morning but since we are early risers and town doesn't open up early, nothing was open. Joe did find the home of Pepsi Cola though. Took off for the ferry across the Pamlico Sound at Aurora. Lunched in the Mattameskett Wildlife Refugee waiting for the ducks to come grab the sandwiches. Fun to drive very narrow road across NC's largest natural lake.

Toured the Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo, NC in the rain. http://www.elizabethangardens.org/visitorinfo_directions.aspx Are we cursed with rain? Beautiful flowers and great floral smells. We'd been here once in November when nothing was in bloom - this was better.

You can see how narrow the Outer Banks are on a map but you don't realize how truly narrow until you drive the road from Manteo down to Hatteras. Huge areas of preserved land for migrating bird flyways. Camped in Rodanthe snugged right up to a sand dune. Massive thunderstorm just as we were setting up but once over, we scrambled up the dune to see huge waves crashing in on a totally deserted beach. Walked for a long time in a place we drove a long time to reach, a very special time. Camper folk are fun. Met up with a couple from PA who are full timers and who are headed to ME this summer to the Rockland Lobster festival. We clued them in on all the "not to miss" spots on coastal Maine.

Next day, bright blue skies and warm temps for a change. Drove down to Hatteras and toured the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" museum. http://www.hatteras-nc.com/atlanticgraveyard/. Very interesting especially the history of Billy Mitchell proving that airplanes can sink ships - done right off Hatteras during WWII as a demo to the Navy. Joe then trotted up Cape Hatteras Lighthouse followed by softshell crab sandwiches at Dirty Dick's. Walked Pea Island Wildlife Refuge, http://www.stateparks.com/pea_island.html another preserve for migrating waterfowl. Saw lots of geese and other birds but we were too late for the huge spring flocks.
After taking the state ferry at Currituck over the Currituck Sound to Knotts Island and the entry to VA Beach, we headed to a KOA in VA Beach. This was NOT a good camp for us, the worse we were in the whole trip. It was a clean, well wooded site but right beside a major road and under the flight path for the Oceana Naval Air Station. If I'd spent more time with the Delorme map program I'd have seen the air field. Oh well - long day, lots of beach walking done and a couple of drinks and we finally didn't hear the planes anymore .

May 5-8th. More visiting with mom and family and then a leisurely drive back to Maine. Camped in Plattekill, NY at a very comfortable campground with lots of geese escorting the baby geese around. Skipped going through Hartford by heading up Route 87 towards Albany and then over to the Mass Pike and home to Maine.

We learned a lot about the truck, the Lance, planning routes, campgrounds, living together in a small space and how well it all worked. Oil and filter changed today, truck all cleaned and ready to hit the road again soon.

Total of 3164 miles, 273 gallons of diesel for 4717.30, 11.6 mpg or 22.6 cents a mile. Sure beats moldering on the couch waiting to get stuck in the "home".

Chimney Rock, NC

Chimney Rock, NC April 27, 2006
Heavy rain still but headed to Chimney Rock, NC anyway. http://www.chimneyrockpark.com/ We have all the bad weather gear including good hiking boots and slickers so figured what the heck. Just as we approached the rock, the sun broke, temps rose and the weather had kept the crowds away. What a challenging but fun drive up to the rock entry. One mile of switch backs to the park gate, then a mile up to the rock itself. I doubt a class A could have made it around some of the corners but the TC handled it perfectly. We have to return to this area and explore some more. Took elevator the 26 stories up to base of Chimney Rock but walked to the falls and all the way down. Kept thinking I'd meet Daniel Day Lewis running up the mountain like in "The Last of the Mohicans" movie which was shot partially in this park. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104691/.

One of the best roads we drove was a tiny one from Chimney Rock up to Black Mountain, NC. From Lake Lure on Route 64, head west to Route 9 at Bat Cave, NC. Follow the deep curves, steep hills and switchbacks through country side that hasn't changed much since the settlers. We've often thought of retiring to this area but a look at real estate prices might make us stay right where we are. Reluctantly left the area and went interstates up to VA to visit the family.
Lots of time with mom from April 28 - May 1, rescuing her from the assisted living facility for day trips and family time. Be kind to your kids - they are the ones who will kidnap you from the home when it is your turn.

Skyline Drive, VA

April 24-26, 2006
7AM - headed out on a two week trip in 48 degree pouring rain. We'd planned on doing a lot of geocaching along the way and had a bunch printed out. See http://www.geocaching.com/ for more information on a fun hobby that takes you to places you never knew existed. Lots of rain and ended up driving 11 hours and 526 miles to the Twin Grove Park and Campground in Pine Grove PA. Campground is super clean, very friendly staff, big site with a couple from Maine next door driving back from a winter in FL. On site diner type restaurant for a breakfast with way too many calories and carbs but delicious.

Noon saw Front Royal, VA and the start of a 100 mile trek over the Skyline Drive. We've always done most of our travelling out of season and this was no different. We felt like we were the only ones on the Skyline with a rare auto sighting and no one sitting on our bumper. The truck performed perfectly with the advice from the Truck Campers on rvnet.com about tow/haul working perfectly. Having an engine break on those down hill legs was comforting. Views over the mountain were worth the trip alone. Blue doesn't even begin to describe the mountain color and the vastness is awesome. Thankfully the land has been preserved in the Shenendoah Park system for all the enjoy.

Camped the 25th in the Shenendoah Valley KOA in Verona VA. Entered and almost ran over a huge multi-colored rabbit who was being followed by several ducks. Found out there are over 100 rabbits in this campground, all so large because the kids feed them all summer. Campground is on a river, large sites, friendly staff and clean restrooms. Had a pleasant evening visiting with two Maine couples who have travelled in their 5th wheelers all over the country. Got lots of great tips including why we couldn't get TV to come in well and why we should use propane all the time for the refrigerator. No wonder our battery was getting drained so quick.

Little excitement in the night during a very hot thunderstorm when the carbon monoxide alarm went off. Opened every window in the Lance and since we didn't have the propane on, finally figured it was the thunderstorm. Since we are still alive, had to have been a false reading but sure gets your heart going.

26th - headed to Roanoke and a day visit with friends who have camped for years. talked about fishing in Alaska, driving over the Rockies, sunning in New Mexico, enjoying the western National Parks. They have a new 5th wheeler as an 18 wheeler brushed by them and rolled their Airstream and truck last year. Totalled the unit but they were okay. First bad campground that night - Statesville NC, way too close to a major highway but the rain helped drownd out the truck noise. Lance was warm and dry. 1038 miles, 89 gallons of diesel for an average of 11.6 mpg so far. Pretty good over all those mountains.

Shakedown cruise - Mystic, CT

Easter Sunday April 16, 2006 - Five hour, 235 mile drive to Mystic, CT., slower than we thought but driving a loaded F-350 is a bit different than a much smaller Escape. What a test trip to go around Boston on an older rutted highway with heavy traffic even on a Sunday. Learned a lot about seeing and not seeing vehicles behind and around the truck camper and how to safely change lanes. This unit does not have a backup camera and we'll have to do something about better side vision (added convex mirrors later to the main side mirrors). Seaport Campground in Mystic was just opening and pretty sparce for campers. Since we have yet to take the Lance off the Ford, we drove the whole unit into Mystic Seaport. Big parking lot with easy room for the truck camper. What a wonderful museum full of American history with acres and acres of exhibits. We found the rope factory especially interesting as it shows how the huge old ship ropes went from hemp to hawser. As a fiber person, quilter/spinner/knitter, it was stunning to see the work that went into the ropes. After a walk through the tiny town of Mystic with all the shops closed for Easter, time was spent sitting by the camper, relaxing, knitting and being happy to finally be on the road.

Up early, used the Lance shower for the first time - tight but worked perfectly with more than enough hot water and ventilation with the roof vent fan. Spent most of the day at Mystic Aquarium especially in the exhibits from the Robert Ballard Titanic and Mediterranean dives. We played kid and sat in the 3-D ride that takes you undersea through the sea monsters and wrecks with shaking seat and all sorts of sea creatures reaching out for you. Fun to be a kid again. Parking was very tight at the Aquarium. We could have missed an RV parking area and ended up taking two regular spaces end to end.

A short drive up to Foxwoods Casino was next, my first time in a Casino. Needless to say, I didn't win the millions but had a great time spending a grand total of $7 worth of nickles. Too much smoke and noise but quite a place. Parking is very RV friendly including a shuttle bus from the far parking to the casino doors.

Back to Mystic, parked in the Seaport parking area as even the 25' Lance wouldn't fit into Mystic town very easily. Walked up to Mystic Pizza and had an excellent pizza. Joe loved the movie and had always wanted a pizza there. Next day headed back north with the idea of stopping in Newport, RI to walk the path behind the mansions. Unfortunately, couldn't figure out an easy drive to get around the Jamestown Bridge area. The old part of the bridge was being blown up and the drive around looked pretty long. VERY windy drive back to Maine so even slower than the drive down. Truck handles best at about 60-62 miles per hour. Mileage on the 590 mile trip was an average of 11.5 mpg - not bad for a heavy load and winds. This was a successful shake down cruise, learned a lot and eager to go again soon.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

At last - on the road

April 2, 2006 - After about 5 years of looking at different classes of RVs and never being able to settle on a size or configuration, we finally bought a unit. Great compromise on Joe’s part since he wanted a 30-32’ Class C with a car tow rig and I wanted as small as possible so we could get into small towns and small roads. We’ll start small and work up if needed though so far the truck camper is doing all we wanted. What made us finally decide to do it? Having to put my mom into an assisted living facility and realizing that there isn't that much time left for us to hit the road before our turn comes for the home!

We bought a 2005 Ford F-350 V-8 diesel,5 speed pickup with dual wheels with air bags carrying a 2005 Lance 1121 truck camper, bought used with only 3710 miles on it. Original owner’s wife decided after the first long trip that she wanted a Class A, his loss, our gain. We purchased through State Line Auto in Lebanon, ME and videotaped our 3 hour intro on how to work all the Lance systems. We spent the next ten days picking up gear and setting up the camper finding NetBoy's web site accessible from http://www.rv.net/ invaluable. There is a super discussion group for truck campers on this site with many willing people to answer questions on dewinterization, articles you cannot leave home without, etc. etc. We felt like we are getting a plane ready for flight.

Since we navigate with a GPS unit and laptop, time was spent with black iron pipe setting up a computer table between the seats. The tablet the laptop rests on was purchased online and the pipe from good old Home Depot. We ended up putting in a leg for extra support and sewed a padded pillow for the front of the tablet to rest on the area between the seats. Works perfectly with Delorme Street Atlas 2005 and a Delorme Earthmate LT-20 GPS suction cupped to the windshield. Sure occasionally you lose the GPS signal but for the most part works great.
Finally prepared for the first real trip to actually get on the road for a test trip to Mystic, CT.