We were at Wegman’s grocery store and saw something called a tomato pie. It was in a cardboard box, so we couldn’t see it very well, other than it had crust and a tomato based topping. We thought we would give it a shot.
We got home, unpacked, made dinner, and thought we would try the “pie” for dessert. Did you catch the quotes there? Yup, it was a pizza pie, as in a pizza with no cheese. What?! Who in their right mind makes pizza without cheese.
You would have thought I had learned my lesson that New Yorkers, who are supposed to have great pizza, are weird and don’t always put cheese on their pizzas. Nope. A few days later, I was ordering pizza online from a restaurant down the street from the campground. I ordered a few different things, including and “Old Fashioned Pizza” with half pepperoni. Guess what? No cheese! The other specialty pizza we got had cheese listed, so I just assumed that cheese came on all their pizzas (like it should).
So, if you are in New York and ordering pizza, make sure you ask if it comes with cheese (no matter how ridiculous you feel asking, because pizza without cheese is just sauce bread.
As crazy as pulling into a campground can be, leaving can be just as bad depending on the campground layout.
Some campgrounds have a very specific exit path that is well marked, while others have it as a free for all. We like to walk the campground the night before we leave to scope out our path. If we are leaving later in the morning or early afternoon, we will walk it again in the morning. Campgrounds change frequently; you may have gotten some late arrival new neighbors, someone may have parked too close to the street, a toy hauler’s balcony may be overhanging into the street and you will not fit by them. (All of which have happened.)
I would recommend having an A and a B exit plan. Sometimes your first choice doesn’t work out. For example, at our last campground, we had the route planned the night before with us turning to the left at the end of our row to get out of the campground. However, our neighbor parked really close to the corner with their car and there was just no way I was going to make that turn unless they moved their car. It was early in the morning and I didn’t want to wake them, so we ended up going right. The boys ran ahead and checked the rows for me to make sure they were clear. There were a couple of spots where the trees made it a little snug, but we made it out safely.
Above is an example of our planned exit from the last campground. Plan A was the red line. The turns near the office could be tight, but there were empty sites we could cut through to make it an easier turn. Plan B was the yellow line, which would be great as long as there were not a lot of cars parked in the side lot by the office. However, the morning of, our neighbor in C1 parked really close to the road and we ended up taking the purple route, which wasn’t even in our original planned options.
When we first started this adventure, we didn’t plan our departure route, but now it has become part of our routine. I would not worry about planning it until the night before (and double check it in the morning), as you just never know who could have arrived (or left) really late and how it could affect your route.
Nope, these weren’t bodily problems, but the bathroom decided to kick up a little fuss this past week.
First a quick rundown on RV toilets. Turns out most RV toilets are gravity flushed: there is a foot pedal to open the slide, which when pressed will open the slide and a small amount of water is released to help gravity do its thing and slide everything down the pipe to the black tank. (Hence why we have a water jug in the bathroom. Sometimes with a lot of paper, you need to add more water to encourage things along. It also helps with the black tank not getting clogged with poop pyramids and it helps things dissolve well in the holding tank.)
RV Gravity Fed Toilet
It started with the toilet overflowing. A small amount of paper had not gone down all the way and kept the slide from closing all the way, so the water kept continuously running. However, that same toilet paper also kept the water from draining and it overflowed onto the floor and spread to bathroom wall, the hallway, and then our room. Luckily, it was just water and had only made it a couple of inches into our room and we were able to clean everything up.
Several days later, we noticed water around the base of the toilet. It hadn’t overflowed, the boys hadn’t missed as it was just water. It didn’t look like it was leaking from the water connection points, but it could very slightly be wiggled. From what I read, it turns out that there is a gasket holding the toilet to the floor. It is mostly pressure fitted, so we took the screw covers off and tightened it down. No more wiggling! I’m hoping this solves the problem, since I really don’t want to have to replace a toilet. NOTE: Ours used a 1/2″ nut.
Then, as I was getting ready for bed, I noticed the shower floor was wet. No one had been in the shower since the morning, so it should have been dry. There was a small drip in the bottom left corner near the handles. Great. We did some research and took the handles plate off. We had to be pretty careful, since it is directly connected to the water supply pipes (which did not look like they had a good access panel to get to). Our shower is pretty small to start with, so it was a bit of a challenge to get to anything. I was able to reach in and tighten the hot water connection. I then had to remove and replace all the caulk and add the screws back in.
When we first started out, backing up was my biggest fear. I really was looking forward to finding all the pull-through spots that we could find. However, that’s not how life works.
I love pull-through spots since they are so much easier to maneuver. However, not every campground offers pull-throughs or they could all be booked and only the back-ins are left. We had never owned a RV, a trailer, or even anything that had to be towed before. I had certainly never had to back up a large truck and a 37′ travel trailer. It is a scary position to be in, knowing that if you mess up too badly you can damage your property, as well as someone else’s; especially when you have already sold your sticks-and-bricks (home) and this RV is now your moving home for a year.
We had watched so many videos before embarking on this adventure. In my head, I knew you had to turn the wheel the opposite of what you would expect when backing up a trailer. However, in the moment, that advice just added to my stress and confusion. It’s very different watching a video and then trying to do it in real life. My mother-in-law found a video and sent us a link. It was made with a piece of paper and a Lego truck and trailer. Honestly, I don’t know that I would have clicked on the video if I was scrolling through YouTube. It ended up being the best video for me! This YouTuber said something that helps me every time I have to back up. Starting with the wheels in the straight position, “Turn the bottom of the steering wheel towards the direction you want the trailer to go”. It is something I can see, something tangible I can focus on, and that made a huge difference. If you are just starting out and want advice on how to back into a site, please check out his video. He has some other useful tips on getting into a site.
I know of several people who bought RV’s for the first time this year. It can be daunting. We have had neighbors stare at us when trying to pull into/back into a site. At the worst, they’ve said that looked hard and that we needed a beer now that it was done. At best, some of them will try to help you. Don’t let it discourage you; everyone was a newbie once. If you can find a large empty parking lot to practice in, that can help. Find the one thing that will stick in your brain that will help you. I stressed out and struggled every time we had to back up, but it does get easier and the “Turn the bottom of the steering wheel towards the direction you want the trailer to go” method really helped me.
Also, don’t let back-in sites discourage you from a campground! Some of our favorite campgrounds have been back-in sites.
We have been pretty lucky on this trip; someone must be watching out for us. Although we had planned the route to stay out of severe weather, Mother Nature sometimes likes to throw a curve ball.
In Colorado, we had a crazy rain/hail storm, but we didn’t have any damage. There was some flash flooding on the streets, and I was very glad we were in a truck that sat higher up. We also had haze from the wildfires. It caused my asthma to flare up, but we were pretty far away from it. As we drove to Utah, we saw the smoke in the distance, with Highway warning signs of fires in the area, and we saw the burned hillsides along the road. It is amazing that just two months after we were in Estes and Rocky Mountain National Park, it was on fire.
In Utah, we had a night of very strong winds and had to look up how to prepare the RV for wind storms: fill the fresh water tank for weight, bring in your slides. It was a very noisy night and the campground was absolutely covered in leaves the next day. It looked like a blanket of green snow.
Before we even left Ohio, we had to reroute our original route because the Yosemite area had wildfires. We had some smoke haze while in San Diego, California for a few days as well.
Most of the western part of our trip was under a fire ban. Some places allowed a propane fire, while others did not.
In a house, you don’t think too much about the pipes when it gets close to freezing. You make sure your garden hose is disconnected and if it is a crazy cold night, maybe you let your faucets drip. It can get a little dicey in an RV. We had heard stories of pipes freezing and breaking, even with a slow drip of water. The water connections are above ground, which can cause them to freeze faster. The hoses are generally on the ground as well, which can make them freeze. We had been really hoping to avoid freezing weather, but weather is unpredictable and we had a couple of “rare” nights where it got to 32℉ or below. We wrapped the water hose in a foam pipe insulation or sometimes just unhooked it for the night. We didn’t want to buy the heated water hoses, as they are quite expensive and we were hoping to not have too many freezing nights. Most of the time, we could just use the electric fireplace for heat on for cooler nights, but freezing nights we ran the propane furnace. It kept us warm, as well as kept the tanks and pipes from freezing (our RV underbelly is enclosed and is warmed by the hot air ducts). I always left the bathroom fan cracked open for fresh air and ventilation when we used the propane furnace. Our RV carries two 20-gallon tanks and we carry an extra as well. I try to use the electric fireplace as much as possible, since we also use propane for the oven/stove and water heater. We have run into propane shortages around the country on our travels, including Texas where we had been a month and half before the winter storm hit the state.
All of this was doable with a little planning. Until, we made it to South Carolina/Georgia where we recently had the scariest weather we have run into so far. Tornadoes. Growing up in Ohio, tornado sirens are something every kid is familiar with. We have drills in school, everyone knows to go to the basement or an interior room, and to do it quickly if the siren is going off. While scrolling through Facebook, someone posted about a tornado watch for parts of Georgia and South Carolina for the next day. This had not popped up on my weather apps, not even on my paid alert. I downloaded a few more free, but highly recommended apps, and sure enough we were smack dab in the alert zone. Normally, we would say move if bad weather was coming as we see that as a benefit to having a house on wheels. However, the alert went from Florida up to part of Virginia, and was coming from the West. There was no good direction to go.
I had gotten too complacent and had not asked the campground about emergency weather shelter. When I called the office, the campground didn’t even know a storm was coming. The office told me that they would not go into their buildings for a tornado because they were old and she didn’t know how safe they were. What!? Twenty minutes later, they were going around to the RV’s telling people a storm was expected tomorrow afternoon/night. We decided to pack up our papers, electronics, and things we couldn’t replace, and to stay in a hotel for the night. We choose a historic building in Savannah to stay in. (Thank you COVID stimulus money.) Using the logic that a building that was 100 years old has managed the test of time. We filled the fresh water and grey tanks, closed the slides, turned off the propane/water/electric, and taped a note in each room that we were at a hotel and left our contact numbers. We left a little after lunch to make sure we could get the truck parked in a garage and be in the hotel by the time the storm hit.
The sirens did go off while we were at the hotel and we stayed in the bathroom for 45 minutes. Luckily our bathroom was as big as the living room in the RV. The tornado ended up being just some rain and thunder, both at the campground and the hotel, for which I am very grateful.
We got very lucky. It’s something we don’t think about most of the time, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure you have a good weather app or radio, and to ask your campground about a weather shelter.
Our weather apps currently consist of: Storm Shield (paid), Red Cross Emergency, Red Cross Tornado, NOAA Weather (the free version, it’s ok,), and Code Red (I find this one to have the most glitches and doesn’t seem to work 99% of the time).
So you probably guessed by the title, but we chose Universal, specifically Universal Studios!
Disney made a strong case for itself. Who doesn’t love Disney? However, we had been there already and the brochure didn’t sell the kids on it. Universal had the most appeal with the Harry Potter rides/decorations. We ended up choosing Universal Studios so that we could see Diagon Alley.
Spoiler Alert: The day started a little rough, as we got lost.
PREPARING FOR OUR VISIT:
I never thought this would happen. In my mind I had these firmly locked away back in the 80’s, but I bought fanny packs for me and the boys. While Disney and Universal allow you to bring a backpack/purse into the park, Universal only allows fanny packs on most of the rides. They do offer free lockers near the rides for other types of bags. These lockers are only free for a certain amount of time (park calculates time based on ride time and line wait time). There are lockers that you can pay to have longer time periods as well. Universal allowed bottled water and small snacks in the park, which was nice (click for rules). We kept a bottle of water, a poncho (there was a chance of rain), a bag of nuts, and a granola bar in each pack. I kept a tiny 1st aid kit in mine.
We also checked on how they were dealing with COVID, as we have been trying our best to be safe along our journey. I will say that in general they did a good job. Face masks were required, social distancing markers were placed on the ground and floors, limited capacity, temperature check before entering the park, and everyone got a squirt of hand sanitizer before getting on a ride. There were also a few other hand sanitizer stations for rides and in shops. They made announcements at each ride as well, reminding people of correct mask wearing and social distancing were required. If you failed to comply you could be asked to leave the park. We did see a few people get reminded on keeping the appropriate spacing.
We parked, went through the temperature station, and started walking into the park. It was our first time at Universal, so we followed the main street and the crowds. Newbie mistake!
We kept on the main path and walked through CityWalk (shops/restaurants) and accidentally ended up in Islands of Adventure (IOA), which is not where we wanted to be since we wanted to see Diagon Alley. Luckily, Will noticed that the decorations did not match what we expected and we ran quickly to Guest Services and they were able to transfer our tickets to Studios since the park had just opened. NOTE: On our way out of the park, we saw a small directional sign. It was either faded or done in pastels and Universal Studios was the very last sign. Bigger signs would be helpful for first timers, especially when it is crowded and you can’t see the sign through the people.
We hurried over to the Universal Studios entrance and got there by 8:00am. We were a little sweaty, as it was warm already with really high humidity, but we were excited to have an adventure.
TICKETS: Starting at $109+plus tax/adults (ages 10+), Starting at $104+plus tax/child (ages 3-9). COVID Restrictions: masks required, limited capacity including on rides, temperature screening.
HOURS: 8:00am to 10:00 pm
PARKING: Pay parking for day guests (non-hotel), free after 6:00pm
TIME RECOMMENDED: At least a day
*Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
When I was in High School I was exposed to a poet named Gary Snyder. My favorite poem of all time is a short one of his:
“After weeks of watching the roof leak, I fixed it tonight by moving a single board.”
This regularly comes into my head when I am being complacent or too lazy to fix something.
Our campground at Yellowstone was the first one that we had to back into. I have referred to the travel trailer as a reverse Tardis. It is bigger on the outside. After about 40 minutes of fighting it, we got the travel trailer kind of in in its spot. We had already made a bit of a raucous and our neighbors were out to gawk at the newbie goofballs. One even commented, “I bet you need a drink after that.”
Since we were in, and a little embarrassed, we decided to leave it how it was, even though the rig was not optimally where we wanted it on the site.
After getting the travel trailer disconnected from the truck, hooking up the sewer, electric and water, we pulled the slides out…and realized they wouldn’t extend all the way because we were too close to the fence in the back and the fresh water spigot on the side. We were exhausted and decided we would try it as is and see how it went.
You guessed it. It went poorly. After a week of fighting it, bumping into wall edges, windows half covered, and worried about leaks, we decided we had to take the time to fix it. With that mindset and a good nights sleep, we were able to fix it pretty quickly on a Saturday morning. Once positioned right, everything worked great.
NOTE: A month later a helpful YouTube channel pointed out that you should know the depth of your slides to make sure you won’t hit anything when you pull in. A tape measure to ensure this is a helpful device to have. This would have been handy information.
We had a good start, finished packing up inside and worked on the outside. I went to line up the truck and bumped the hitch into the trailer. It wasn’t raised up with the jack yet. I obviously needed coffee and to not rush. Luckily nothing happened, but not a great start to my morning.
The drive was uneventful (thank goodness) to our next campground in Hurricane, Utah. We checked in and they led us to our campsite. It was a back-in and they helped direct us in. We set up the RV. It was pretty hot out (104 degrees F), but at least the site had some shade! I am so glad we had a 50 amp site and could run both A/C’s.
The town was bigger than I thought it would be. There were several restaurants and grocery places close by. The one grocery store was within walking distance!
We ran into St. George (about 10-15 minutes away) to go to Costco. This Costco was not very different from others we have seen, although they did sell ice and had diesel at the fuel station. It was very crowded. It was the least amount we had ever spent: $34, including a pizza!
We unpacked the groceries and Ben took the boys into town to try to find a replacement cup and forks. I got to read for an hour by myself! It was so relaxing. The boys came back, but didn’t have much luck at the nearby store. We called it a night and settled in.
Moving day! The boys and I got a lot of the RV ready to move while Ben worked. When he was done we finished packing up and got on the road. We were still going to be in Colorado and it was going to be a pretty short drive to our next campground (just 1 1/2 hours).
There was a lot of construction on our way down. The RV park only had a back-in spot when we booked and I had called down a few days before to see if they had any pull-throughs available. They said they would see what they could do.
Unfortunately, our site was a back in. The plus was it was a little shaded! It’s been pretty warm and dry so far in Colorado (getting to 90 most days), so the shade was really nice. We had just enough room to put up Ben’s tent.
That was where the decent day ended.
The new bike rack made the turning tighter. I didn’t notice right away because I was paying attention to the RV back up camera and truck side view mirrors. I knew when to stop when it was just the RV and the truck, but hadn’t accounted for the bikes. I thought (stupidly) that they wouldn’t be in the way. The bolts on Will’s bikes tires ended up scratching the paint on the truck and the truck cap. It also made the rear wheel of Will’s bike now rub against the frame. There is no visible big bend in the wheel. We’re going to see if anyone can fix it, but it is the back wheel with the gears.
We have some extra paint for the truck, if I can find where we packed it, so I can help fix the truck and the cap.
Now the next part is not so easy to fix, nor do I have any idea of how it happened.
The rear passenger stabilizer arm bent. We didn’t have it down yet. We had leveled before putting the stabilizers down. I really can’t think of what we could have done to have caused this.
On the plus side, it’s nothing that is integral to the moving of the RV. (I don’t think.)
It was just not a good day and very stressful. Tempers were high and there was some arguing. Having loud neighbors up until long after quiet hours probably didn’t help anyone’s mood.
After working all day, Ben wanted to unwind and explore a little bit. We didn’t want a huge drive, so after some Google searching, we settled on Idaho Springs. I think during non-Covid times, this would be a really cute town to walk around in. They had a pizza place that looked amazing (unfortunately we had already eaten), several cute stores, and some brewery type restaurants. Unfortunately, a lot of the stores were closed even on a Friday evening.
We (I may have pushed it a little bit since we were so close) decided to drive to Saint Mary’s Glacier. (Thank you Allison for the idea!) I found the path on my trail app, put in the directions, and we were off. The road goes up the mountain (as you might expect) and ends in a private drive. The road gets pretty twisty and turny in some spots. There were two parking lots off the side of the road (on the left when going up). The lots were $5 to park (cash only and you paid via envelope in a box). There were a few port-a-lets there, and while they were not full, they hadn’t been serviced in a while. The air was cooler, but not too bad even in shorts.
Now, this was spur of the moment and we were rushing to hike before we lost daylight. The trail app said it was a 1.9 mile trail and that the “trail up is mostly rocks but not terribly difficult”, so I figured it was on the harder side of easy to an easy-ish moderate trail. We didn’t have our hiking boots, although we did thankfully have our walking sticks/hiking poles (thanks Dad!). I also did not bring a water or our spray with us on the hike. Yeah, not my best moment.
The hike was not easy. Nope. Not even a little bit easy in the beginning.
The trail up is steeper and definitely covered in various sizes of rocks. Our lungs are also not quite used to the altitude here yet, so that may have made it harder as well. It also could be I am in worse shape than I thought. Trails out here are not the same as back home! The path branches off in several spots, some going towards a private property, so I was glad I had the trail app to stay on course.
I had to stop several times to let my lungs acclimate and calm down. Luckily I didn’t need my inhaler this time. The hiking poles helped a lot on the rocky areas.
There were a few other groups there, but it definitely wasn’t crowded. We saw what looked like a small wedding finishing up when we got to the lake. Someone else had a snowboard on his backpack.
It was beautiful. The lake has a small beach and we saw a few people with swim suits in their bags, so I’m not sure if they went swimming or not. I would think it would have been very cold water, as the air was quite a bit chillier than down in town.
You can hike right up to the glacier. It was amazing. I haven’t been that close to a glacier before…well I haven’t seen a glacier before either.
It was a great experience, although I do need to plan these out a little better!
We ended up rushing back down because the sun was starting to set and we didn’t want to still be on the trail when it got dark. Although we were stressed at the end to get back to the truck before dark and get down the mountain once the sun set, it was still an amazing experience. How many people can say they touched a glacier?