Monthly Archives: August 2015

Camping at Acadia National Park

Poodle Bath & Groom at a National Park

Toweling Sadie after a trailer bath in Acadia National Park.
Toweling Sadie after a trailer bath in Acadia National Park.

I took advantage of my topped up water tank by giving Sadie a bath and groom on the site on the final morning. Check out was a ridiculously early 10am and there was a camper on another site itching to get on mine who came by to let me know.  I was off by 10:37am after he came by a second time to say someone was waiting for his site. Sigh. I even had enough water to shower myself but nowhere to park while doing so – I showered while parked in line at the dump station! No problem as there was no one behind me and just one guy in front – I told him to take his time. Ha ha – it all worked out. Lunch at Seawall picnic area with Nellie parked alongside the ocean: a beautiful spot! On to Lamoine State Park where they have certain sites that are FCFS (first come, first serve) meaning they are non-reservable! So once you are on one, you can stay for up to 14 nights. What a great idea, ahem, National Parks. Sigh.

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Acadia National Park coastline is beautiful!

Peak Season and Coastal Areas
So I have been reflecting on the realities of traveling to popular tourist destinations during peak season. Acadia is stunning but super-crowded for our day-trips which detracted significantly from enjoying the sights. The campground topography similarly was beautiful but the camping experience was AWFUL due to neighbours all around, campfire smoke, barking dogs and screaming children. We just hid inside our RV while we were there. I had heard that the National Parks are ridiculously crowded and I know there are people out there who are bucket-listing a visit to all 400 National Parks. Of course, National Parks also have some amazing natural wonders to share. The key will be to try to avoid peak season times, something we did not succeed at here. Also, I suspect that there will be adjacent areas that will be almost as beautiful, nearby National Forests or even less popular sections of the National Park like the Schoodic Penninsula in Acadia, that may offer a great experience with fewer crowds. Sure enough while at Lamoine State Park, I took a day trip to the Schoodic Penninsula and found it every bit as beautiful as Mount Desert Island (the main areas of Acadia) but minus the crowds. With a new campground opening this fall at Schoodic however, odds are that the crowds will increase.

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Sadie freshly groomed at Seawalls picnic area!

Also, my expectations regarding coastal areas were borne out here. Everyone wants to be by the coast or lakeshore so these areas are more crowded and expensive and offer few (or no) free or discounted camping alternatives. The Harvest Host near Bar Harbor flaked out and the BDWs outside Belfast were both unable to accommodate me. Every night we have been here we have paid top dollar for campsites on top of our day admission, making this an expensive week in Acadia. I believe that we will find Florida to be similar: with coasts and a high tourist population over-winter, there will be few cheap or free alternatives near the coast and crowds everywhere. We do want to spend some time in Florida but a monthly rate at Cedar Key is looking more and more attractive. We need to have our eyes wide open: it’s okay to pay full pop for camping to be in a popular area at a peak time: just be aware that it will be crowded and it will cost more.

Longest Road Trip Yet: 6 weeks to Bar Harbor Maine

First Stop: Mosport Raceway for the Canadian Superbike Races
I brought Nellie to our home in Markham, Ontario from our seasonal site for packing and parked her overnight at a friend’s dad’s house around the corner. We loaded the scooter in Nellie to bring to Mosport, installing the heavy-duty D-rings we got from Taylor Coach in the floor inside the cabinets where they are out of sight when not in use. We discovered that not only is it free to camp at Mosport with the BMW ticket (last year I paid $60 extra for camping apparently in error) but we can stay on Sunday night for free too!

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Trackside at Mosport Raceway. Happy to have our Honda Jazz scooter to zip around the grounds.

Before we left, we dropped the scooter at a friend’s house halfway back toward home where we can pick it up after we return.

St Lawrence & the Adirondacks
Border crossing was easy and we chose Kring Point State Park for our first 2 nights for the beautiful sites right on the St Lawrence. Unfortunately, the camp office failed to mention until after we set up that the site she offered us was only available for one night. Grrr. So we learned another lesson: at campgrounds, you must confirm the number of nights you need when choosing a site without a reservation. As it turned out, moving wasn’t that difficult and the new site was shaded which was good as the weather was really hot.

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James keeping cool in the shade by the St Lawrence River in Kring Point State Park.

We scored an amazing free dispersed site in Adirondack Park, even though it is not a National Forest, and stayed 3 nights because it was a lovely waterfront spot. I called the ranger station ahead and a friendly woman helped direct me to a couple of options. Jones Pond is really a small, shallow lake with 2 loons and soaring bald eagles.  We even made a new friend, local Kate, who showed up with a canoe and no canoeing partner. I went out with her for a quick paddle and she thanked us by leaving her canoe for an extra night so James and I got to go out that evening and again the next morning before returning it to her down the road with our van.

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Heading out for a paddle with friendly local Kate! A win-win: Kate needed a canoeing partner and we just happened to have our paddles and life jackets with us.

Just 7 kms up the road from our site at Jones Pond is the Adirondack Park Visitor’s Interpretive Centre. A beautiful building affiliated with the nearby Paul Smith’s college that teaches predominantly outdoor education and offers free wifi! They had lots of well-marked trails through forest, marshes and bogs with boardwalks and an awesome outdoor butterfly pavilion. Summer student Ashley had answers to our many questions about butterflies and James got some excellent pictures.

Fresh Tracks Winery
Next up was Fresh Tracks Winery – a lovely spot with good wines but a bit pricey since they charged extra for tasting. $60 USD got us 2 bottles of excellent wine and a block of cheese plus an enjoyable experience, 2 nights boondock parking in the Vermont hills, with unlimited wifi and yummy fresh water refills.

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Cheese pose in the beautiful tasting room at Fresh Tracks Winery in Vermont. They even had a lovely bathroom and sofas.

New Batteries and GPS
We wanted to get to Bar Harbor quick but with a full black tank and dying battery we needed a plan. Driving all day got us to Ed’s Batteries in Westbrook just outside Portland where luckily they had no other customers at the moment and devoted all their attention to engineering the battery boxes to fit on our tongue. Success: 2 Trojan T125 golf cart batteries – 6 volt wired in series to make 12 volts with 225 amp hours – almost double the 120 amp hours we were getting from our pooched Group 27. New batteries work great and hold power well. Next up was the Cabela’s just 8 kms away – I called ahead to be sure their dump station was working as our black tank was situation critical. They scored a big purchase out of us for their generosity in providing us with free parking and dump facilities: a new Garmin GPS 2557 which can take programmable routes and has lifetime map updates. Hoorah!

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Our first overnight stay at a Cabela’s. With a free dump station for customers and a store full of goodies, it won’t be our last!

Our first overnight park at a Cabela’s was okay: a truck came in beside us overnight idling for awhile but was gone by morning. Not sure why he had to take the spot right next to us but oh well. I sleep really well in my RV in all sorts of locations so it wasn’t really an issue.

Scoring a Site without Reservations… Sort of
Another big driving day brought us to Bar Habor in August with no reservations anywhere. Lamoine State Park had sites but that was plan B: we really wanted to be in Acadia National Park. We called ahead and they had a few left at Seawall and would hold one once we were about an hour away. They could only sell us 2 nights but said a third night was available and we could call Reserve America to book it. We got set up on the site first and called after dinner: too late! The third night was already gone. Sigh. So we booked another site down the road and we have to move again. What a pain but on the plus side we used our tanks with impunity since we could dump when we moved. It seems the trade off with not having reservations in high season is not, not getting a site, but having to move sites during your stay. A bummer for sure but as we learned at Kring Point, not the end of the world.

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Stopped seaside for lunch at the look out across from Seawalls Campground in Acadia National Park.

Major Progress Toward our FT Plan

Surprised by 30 Days Notice
The end of our first big trip in June was punctuated by a surprise notice from one of our tenants: they are moving out in 30 days! Of course in Ontario 60 days-notice is required by law. Nevertheless, I was gracious, congratulatory and helpful, even offering them an extra day to finish moving out since their new home closing date was June 30th. Confession time: I have previously spent hours dreaming of how I could encourage them to move out: not only were they paying well below market rate, their apartment had all the household equipment in it and they were not always cooperative when breakdowns happened or access was needed. Yet I had concluded that trying to push them out early was wrong (yes, as in morally) and I just had to wait until the timing was right for them. So it was a blessing when their notice finally came, even with only 30 days warning!

Major Renovation
They had lived in that apartment for almost 5 years. I can’t attest to the condition when they moved in since they were already there when I bought the house, but it wouldn’t rent to it’s potential it in it’s current state. I knew taking a vacancy to make improvements was the best option. For the entire month of July, I didn’t have a single full day off except for Canada Day (the extra day I gave the tenant to move out!). All by myself, I completely retiled the bathroom (except shower/tub) with beautiful marble tile floor and backsplash, new faucet and toilet.

Gorgeous new marble tile in bathroom, new toilet, sink, counter, faucet, toilet, custom mirror and cabinet over the toilet.

I ordered matching quartz countertops in kitchen and bath plus tiled a stunning glass and marble herringbone backsplash in the kitchen with LED under-cabinet lights. I installed high-end, new vinyl flooring throughout the main areas and repainted ceilings, walls and baseboard throughout. The end result was incredible: an apartment that was previously renting for less than $800 was suddenly worth $1100.

Herringbone pattern backsplash in glass and marble plus under cabinet LED lighting and new vinyl strip flooring.

Hiring a Property Superintendent
But the best part was implementing a major step in our FTRV plan: rather than placing a regular tenant, I advertised a Superintendent Position, offering a rent reduction for taking responsibility for maintaining the home and dealing with breakdowns. This move turns the liability of having all the household equipment in the apartment into an asset. The position has the opportunity for further rent reduction in the future for taking over the maintenance of our other 2 nearby properties when we transition to FTRV. To my amazement, an Olympian athlete with a degree was interested in the apartment and position and had the necessary background in home repairs to do the job. He is one of those handy, can-do kinds of people with an established background of following through on his commitments and achieving his goals. Most importantly, he is charming with great people skills, necessary for mitigating tenant conflicts.

Quartz countertop with undermount sink and pull down faucet.

Successfully lining up a property superintendent to handle breakdowns and conflicts in our absence was a major hurdle to achieving the freedom to travel as FT RVers. It is a huge relief to have this piece of the puzzle in place a year in advance. It gives us the ability to test out this new arrangement while we are still nearby to deal with any unforeseen issues. Plus it means that next summer, we can focus on our own transition of selling our home and downsizing our things. As rental property investors, we have a unique advantage as FTRVers: we have storage that we own and control. The big house has a 2 car garage where we can store a motorcycle, scooter and some furniture. This means we can keep a basic set of household furnishings which would enable us to move into a vacant apartment temporarily in summer if we choose. However, the tenants have access to the garage for laundry and storage plus we keep our home repair supplies and tools there for the Superintendent: the space is limited and it is not completely secure.

Secure Outbuilding
The icing on the cake is the previous tenant who moved out had exclusive use of a separate outbuilding on the property that is now available to us. It is small, just 7 by 10 feet but will be secure when we replace the door, giving us a space where we can store valuables and sensitive documents without worry. This is an amazing opportunity for us: we don’t want to get rid of everything we own and there are some business documents that we must keep. But we will pare down significantly, keeping only what is most important. The opportunities for us created by this tenant leaving are huge and I can now see these previously missing pieces of our FTRV plan falling in place.