So here I am at the end of our fourth and final camping season at New Lowell Conservation Area campground. When I got back from our Bar Harbor Trip at the end of Sept, I told Jane of our full-time plans and that we would be giving up our site. I had to call back a day or two later to say how much we have enjoyed our time there and are sad to go. Jane offered for me to move my trailer to an open spot not under the trees for winter storage and since Doane Road Storage rates are now $67 per month, $225 to keep Nellie here for 6.5 months is a deal too good to pass up.
James and I just enjoyed a fantastic Thanksgiving long weekend together at New Lowell with great weather and our friend Mel driving up for a day visit on Monday. We got out in the canoe twice, did some hiking and had a pizza from Life’s a Slice! We also enjoyed a beautiful fall colours motorcycle ride on Sunday meeting up serendipitously with friends Kerry and Jason at the Thornbury Fish Ladder – in all a great final weekend. James expressed sadness at leaving this park and I feel a bit sad as well. However, I have a much stronger feeling of excitement about all the new places we will be going to because we won’t be committed to one spot. This park has been a perfect fit for our needs while we had no tow vehicle and were tied to our house in Markham. Long term, however, it is not what we want: we want to travel, even within Ontario. There is so much we haven’t seen and so many beautiful places we want to revisit, like our fantastic winter camping/Taylor Coach Campout destination MacGregor Point Provincial Park on lake Huron.
James also mentioned that he feels our plan is a bit scary. He is definitely committed to our full-time RV plan and we have decided that we will not wait One More Year: we are go for 2016! However, as we get closer and start having to make changes and decisions to stay on track, like giving up our site at New Lowell, the reality of what we are doing closes in. Yes, it is scary and, like the sadness, I feel it a bit too. However, once again, I have a much stronger feeling of calm and confidence about our plan than feeling scared. While James is more fully engaged in our current life, working full-time and spending more time in the city this summer, I have connected with the full-time RV world through reading blogs and following RVers on Instagram. I am constantly engaging with this community of people and am keenly aware that they are out there enjoying this lifestyle while we are still in our sticks and bricks home.
In the years leading up to our go-date, I had wondered how I will feel about selling our beautiful home and leaving that comfortable, secure place behind forever. But now that we are getting close, I feel ready. Our neighbourhood is too busy now: a new building is going in across the street and a new mall just around the corner. This is great for resale but not great for me living here: the traffic and population density are more than I want, the noise, air pollution, lack of privacy are all reasons to go. Plus, I feel like I don’t want to live in the same house for 20 or 30 years. We have been here 14 years now and it feels like time for a change. It has been a great house for us: just the right size, an excellent location for James work, for getting around and extremely desirable for resale. No regrets on buying this home, but now it is time to go.
Being Odd Ducks
Did you know 80% of RVers are over the age of 50*? Not only that but most of the other 20% are work campers and/or travel with children. Boy, we are odd ducks out here: retired, childless, Canadian couple in their forties full-time RVing in a tiny travel trailer with a motorcycle on the road. We are not going to meet many RVers quite like us. I suspect that is true for most RVers: everyone has their own approach to the RV lifestyle and unique RV set-up. Still, I think we are extra weird: Canadians full-timers are rare to begin with. Most are retired snowbirds of retirement age and most have a much bigger RV than us.
Variable Cell Coverage
This transition year is about test driving our new lifestyle to learn what we need to make this work. While on the road, I am making lists of things we will need for real full-timing that we didn’t bring on this trip to Bar Harbor. I am experiencing the realities of finding campsites, obtaining resources when constantly in new places and pacing to enjoy my travels without overdoing it. One issue I have found is the variability of cell and data connectivity on the road. I know Cherie and Chris of Technomadia have developed a Coverage app for iPhone which conveniently provides coverage info on all the major carriers across the US. I have an android phone so will have to access coverage maps for individual carriers on their websites.
I haven’t had any cell or data signal for over a week now – nothing at my BDW spot or here in the White Mountains. However, the BDW had WIFI and there is WIFI at the visitor centre I am allowed to use for free for as long as I like – they even have a lovely sitting room. I’ve made phone calls with James on FB Messenger, Skype and Hangouts Dialer over this WIFI signal. Happily Bell Canada agreed to refund the cost of the second month of US long distance and data since their own records showed that I hadn’t used it at all.
Having a Plan
It makes me wonder to what extent we really both need to have cell and data plans? Since we will be parting ways and meeting up, in theory we MUST have plans. But if those plans won’t even be working in many of the places we want to stay, they could actually do more harm than good by providing us with a false sense of connection. Given this, when James will be riding ahead to scope out good dispersed campsites, we will need to have a clear PLAN for exactly where we will meet up in case we cannot reach each other. Simply assuming we will be able to call or text each other could backfire badly and leave us unable to find each other as darkness is falling.
When dispersed camping is the goal, meeting up at the previously located Ranger Station is probably the safest bet. But if James wants to ride ahead to scope out sites before I get there, he could leave instructions for me with the Ranger on what area to head to. If James fails to show up due to a crash or breakdown and I have no cell signal, he or the police could still leave me voicemail messages which I could pick up using any landline. We always carry emergency contact info cards in our wallets. Perhaps the best thing is to just stick together when we know we are heading into an area with limited cell coverage.
$16 for a Hike? Really?
My time in the White Mountains has presented a bit of a conundrum: this stunning National Forest has provided me with a beautiful, private free campsite for as long as I like and endless opportunities for free recreation including hiking, biking, swimming, scenic drives, visitor centres and just gazing at the incredible mountains all around. Yet, on the flip side, there are fee-based attractions which entice with a special experience but come with a surprising price tag in expensive US dollars: a day’s ride on the scenic train is $60; the cog train up Mount Washington is $68, riding in a packed van up to Mount Washington is $35 while it costs $26 to drive up in your own vehicle! Even to go on a simple hike on the Flume Gorge trail requires an admission fee of $16! Just to go for a hike! Wow!
I am torn in trying to decide just what is worth paying for. Spending money doesn’t come easily to me; with so many wonderful free things available, why spend money to see more? On the other hand, as snowbirds spending our entire 6 month allotment of US time down south, we literally will not have the opportunity to return to this north-eastern corner of the USA for years. I don’t want to look back and regret not trying something cool and interesting just because I didn’t want to spend the money. Plus the things that cost money are likely to be the best the area has to offer. How to decide?
I talked it over with James for his insight on a payphone at the Flume Visitor’s Centre (with no cell service at my site, I found an actual land line payphone and called his toll free work number haha!) He pointed out that since I am not spending any money on camping fees here, it would be okay to spend a bit on some attractions instead. I also noticed, as we were chatting, a poster about a Discovery Pass: $29 would get me access to the Flume Gorge hike and a ride up the Tram, a nearby funicular to the top of Cannon Mountain over 4000 feet. Well $29USD is about $40CAD right now – not cheap but not excessive either. It gets me access to 2 cool attractions and it is half the cost of the train rides! So I went for it and hiked the Flume Gorge twice – it was pretty spectacular and I enjoyed it even with Sadie having to wait in the van.
So the lesson learned? Well, first of all, don’t rush in. If you are going to be in an area for awhile, do something free on the first day to take some time to get to know the area and find out about the different attractions and their prices before deciding. Consider and ask if there are any discounts or combination passes available for any of the area attractions: as happened today, bundling up 2 or more attractions may provide some savings. Often there are discount coupons in tourist magazines so that is a good place to check too. If you are not sure, take some time to think it through logically and set your feelings aside so you don’t regret a rash decision later.
Driving my RV up Cherry Mountain Road
After a week in crowded pay campgrounds followed by a week at HH and BDW, I am more than ready for the independence and privacy of a dispersed camping experience. Like at Allegheny in May, I must find a site on my own without the benefit of James riding ahead to scope out conditions or secure a site. The White Mountains National Forest Ranger Station told me about Cherry Mountain Road having dispersed sites suitable for an RV. It is a gravel road not maintained in winter but they assured me that it was safe to drive and not too hilly. Hmmm.
So I head up this road and discover that it is a narrow, winding gravel road with a severe crown, meaning it slopes off into ditches on either side. Further, it climbs up and down as much as it winds from side to side and is only wide enough for one vehicle to pass most of the time. To accommodate this, there are small pull-off areas every 100 to 300 metres where one vehicle could pull over and allow another vehicle to pass. Hmmm.
Once I get started, I have to continue and maintain a certain speed on approach to each incline to be sure I will reach the top hoping I won’t come across an oncoming vehicle. Normally finding myself towing on a road like this could put me in a panic but somehow knowing that I may find a dispersed site settles my fears enough to keep pushing forward.
The sites are numbered: half are occupied, I stop to investigate the ones that are not but they are each too hilly or the entrance too rutted for my low-clearance trailer. Finally I reach site 8 and see that it is available, beautiful and has a manageable incline and passable entrance. I do something I don’t normally do: concerned another vehicle may come up behind me (one already passed while I was pulled over), I lined up and backed in without walking the site first. Once I am fully off the road and out of harm’s way, I climb out to investigate further and adjust to re-position in the best spot. The site slopes down toward the road so I can use the tongue jack post to level up but I have to crank it up all the way on 4 blocks to get there. Not ideal but with my solid chocks, I should be okay.
What did I learn from all this? Ask the ranger more specific and open-ended questions about the road conditions: How hilly are the road and the sites? Rate this road from 1 – 10 for passability for a minivan towing a travel trailer? Is it a one lane road with pull offs or a real 2 lane road? Would you drive a minivan towing a travel trailer down that road? Other RVers have said that if they are unsure about a road, they unhitch and go down it without the trailer first. But this is exactly what I am trying to avoid: hitching and unhitching are a lot of work. I am beginning to realize just how critical James is to riding ahead on his motorcycle to scope out free campsites before I get there. I got into my site okay but would I do it again knowing what I know now? I am not sure. As long as I don’t come across an oncoming vehicle on the way out, I should be okay.